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Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, married to the latter’s daughter Fatima, and fourth caliph; b. ca. 596, r. 656-661. Whether he was the second after Khadija (the Prophet’s wife) to believe in the Prophet’s mission, or the third after Khadija and Abu Bakr, was much disputed between Shias and Sunnis. In the Prophet’s lifetime he took part in almost all the expeditions and his courage became legendary. He at first refused to recognize Abu Bakr’s election as caliph. Although regarded as a valued counsellor, it is doubtful whether his advice ####was accepted by the second caliph “Umar Ibn Khattab. During the caliphate of “Uthman Ibn Affan”, Ali accused the caliph of innovation in religious matters, and on political questions he joined Uthman opponents. After the killing of Uthman, Ali allowed himself to be nominated caliph also by the rebels who had the former caliph’s blood on their hands. This provoked strong reactions in Mecca, Syria and Egypt. Mu’awiya, governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman, accused Ali of complicity with the murderers and refused to pay homage to him. The Prophet’s widow A’isha engaged in Mecca in active propaganda against the new caliph, and was soon joined by Talha Ibn Ubayd Allah and Zubayr Ibn al-Awwam. In the famous Battle of the Camel of 656 Talha and Zubayr lost their lives, and A’isha was peremptorily ordered by Ali to return to Medina under escort. Mu’awiya demanded the surrender of the murderers of Uthman, in the meantime still refusing to pay homage to Ali. The deeper cause of the struggle was whether pre-eminence lay with Syria or with Iraq. Ali took the offensive and the two armies met on the plane of Siffin. Mu’awiya, about to lose the battle, and his soldiers hoist copies of the Quran on their lances. Ali was forced to submit the difference to consultation of the Quran, i.e. to arbitration. Already at Siffin a group of individuals rejected arbitration with the cry “there is no decision save that of God”. After Ali’s return to Kufa in Iraq, they learnt that he had sent his arbitrator Abu Musa Ash’ari to meet Amr Ibn As, Mu’awiya’s arbitrator. The group then secretly left Kufa and were joined by dissidents from Basra at Nahrawan on the eastern bank of the Tigris river. These dissidents, those who had “departed”, were thereafter called “Kharijites”. Ali’s troops attacked and massacred them at Nahrawan but as a consequence many more defections from Ali’s cause followed and he had to give up the campaign against Mu’awiya. The arbitrators met at Adhruh. Abu Musa and Amr agreed to declare both Ali and Mu’awiya deposed, but in the public discourses that followed, Amr declared Ali deposed and confirmed Mu’awiya’s nomination. In the end, no decision on the caliphate was taken. Ali continued to be regarded as caliph by his partisans, though their numbers were daily diminishing, and Mu’awiya by his. Ali remained passive at Kufa when Mu’awiya made small incursions into Iraq, Arabia and Yemen. In 661 the Kharijite Ibn Muljam, in revenge for the men slain at Nahrawan, struck Ali with a poisoned sword before the door of the mosque at Kufa. Over his tomb outside Kufa, a sanctuary arose in the time of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, around which the town of Najaf grew.
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