Islamic History Podcast 2-19: Camel And Kharijites

Islamic History Podcast 2-19: Camel And Kharijites

Many things had changed in the five months since Caliph Uthman ibn Affan was murdered.

Ali ibn Abi Talib had assumed the position of Caliph. He was the son-in-law and cousin of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). And even though Ali was highly respected, his administration did not have much support.

Many of the influential Sahabah, companions of Prophet Muhammad, were upset that he did not do more to find Uthman’s killers. Ali countered that he could not go after the killers without the full support of the empire.

One of the most influential people in the empire was the Prophet’s widow, Aisha bint Abi Bakr. Like many others, she was upset that Uthman’s killers were freely walking about Medina. She partnered with two of her husband’s closest friends, Talhah and Zubair, to build a force of 1500 people.

They left Mecca for Medina with the intention of finding those responsible for Uthman’s death. But when they had gone about halfway, they decided to change course and head for Basra in Iraq instead. They were hoping to find more supplies and support there.

Their numbers continued to swell as they traveled to Basra. By the time they reached the city, Aisha’s group numbered over 3000.


The governor of Basra refused to allow Aisha into the city. Instead, an emissary shuttled back and forth between the governor and Aisha’s camp, carrying messages between them.

The first question the governor had for Aisha was, of course, why was she there.

Aisha sent back the message that they wanted to take revenge for Uthman’s death.

The governor was perplexed at this response. He replied that no one in Basra was responsible, and that Aisha should return home.

Not surprisingly, Aisha refused.

With the last message, the governor sent soldiers along with his emissary. Aisha’s refusal led to a standoff which quickly escalated to a small skirmish.

With Talhah and Zubair as her lieutenants, Aisha’s forces easily overran Basra’s defenders. The governor’s soldiers were outnumbered and the fighting was very brief with a relatively small number of casualties.

Aisha’s forces captured Basra and arrested the governor. She did not harm him and eventually ordered him set free.

Once free, he headed straight for Medina.

Even though she now controlled Basra, Aisha did not have the full support of the city.

The people of Basra were difficult to please and never showed any leader much loyalty. Along with Egypt and Kufa, they were among the biggest headaches for Uthman during his caliphate.

The modern city of Basra in Iraq does not occupy the exact same space as the one Aisha captured. “Old Basra” as it is sometimes called, is now the town of Zubayr about 10 miles southwest of the modern Iraqi metropolis.

Originally established as a military garrison during Umar’s Caliphate, Basra sits on one of the tributaries to the Tigris River. Just a mere 40 miles from the Persian Gulf, it is sandwiched between the modern nations of Iran and Kuwait.

The word “Basra” means “over watch,” perhaps an allusion to its military origins. While the modern province of Basra has a population of over 3 million, it could not have been more than 30000 back then.

Nonetheless, it was the capital of the Islamic Caliphate’s eastern territories and one of its most important Persian strongholds. From Basra, the Muslim armies had access to Iran, Afghanistan, the Indus Valley, and beyond.

Ali’s Response

Meanwhile in Medina, Ali was caught by surprise at the sudden turn of events. He was even more shocked when he learned he lost the city to none other than Aisha, the Prophet’s widow.

However, he was most deeply hurt and angered by Talhah and Zubair’s betrayal.

“Talhah and Zubair gave me their pledge,” he said, “and then they broke their trust. They obeyed Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, yet they stand against me.”

Ali had other problems as well. The Syrian governor, Muawiyyah ibn Affan, had refused to give Ali the pledge of allegiance, and would not step down from his position. This open act of rebellion prompted Ali to plan an invasion of Syria.

But Aisha’s surprising capture of Basra diverted his attention. While he recognized the importance of asserting his authority in Syria, Ali could not bear to lose any territory that he already had. He decided to postpone the invasion of Syria, and focus on putting things right in Basra first.

Ali put out a call to the people of Medina asking them to support him in this struggle against Aisha, Talhah, and Zubair. This must have been a sickening feeling for the residents of Medina. Raising arms against other Muslims, let alone the Prophet’s widow, was unthinkable.

Nonetheless, many people did respond to Ali’s call. Even some of the companions still living in Medina gave their reluctant approval. But the largest contingent of Ali’s Medina forces were from the same rioters lingering around from Uthman’s murder.

Ali departed Medina with a force of 11,000 people.

About 100 miles north of Medina, Ali halted and set up camp. He sent his two stepsons, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr and Muhammad ibn Jafar, to Kufah to get help from the governor there, Abu Musa Al-Ashari.

Abu Musa Al-Ashari

Show Notes

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Podcast: Ali and Aisha

Podcast: Murder and Chaos

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4 Responses to Islamic History Podcast 2-19: Camel And Kharijites

    • Wa Alaikum Salaam Sr. Samaya. Jazakallah Khair for the feedback, I sincerely appreciate. May Allah forgive me for any mistakes in this episode.

    • Jazakallah Khair, Br. Abdul Wajid. I appreciate your feedback. Inshallah, we’ll be continuing Ali’s struggles against the Kharijites in the near future.

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