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Ali: A Caliph beset by Crises

Hassan's pain was obvious in his eyes which had not seen sleep for days, and like all the people of Medina, he was breathing sadness. If the prayers of "if only" which were falling from the mouth of Medina during those days had been accepted on the plane of Truth, history would have been rolled back and written differently during those ill-omened days.

But none stands out in historical sources as striking as Hassan's lament:

 "Ah, my father! I told you time and again, but you never paid any attention to me. If only you had gone to Mecca instead of staying here. Then no one would hold you responsible for Uthman's murder or leave you under suspicion. When they came to give you allegiance, I told you: Extend your hand only if there is mass allegiance; otherwise don't accept. If only you had listened to me."

Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) beloved grandson was right. Developments occurring since Uthman's murder caused agitation not only in Medina, the center of events, but in a short period of time they had touched every corner of the Islamic state. Like a disease spreading from within the lands where peace was dominant, it had visited all hearts. The new caliph had become the unfair target of the anger felt over the former caliph's cruel martyrdom.

Ali, nodding his head with despair:

 "You speak the truth. But know, my son, I am sworn to fight with those who obey me against those rebelling. I swear to Allah, I have always been among those who helped since the death of your beloved grandfather.

"I swear I never oppressed Uthman or helped those who did. I never made a statement to anyone showing white to be black. Undoubtedly, you know that your father is the least guilty among men in the spilling of Uthman's blood. For you witnessed that many times I hindered those who had come from Kufe and other regions to attack the caliph out of rage. Was not I the one who wanted you to fight if necessary to help him, in fact, to die for this cause? Remember! But you know that Uthman prevented you. I swear to Allah, if Uthman had ordered me to fight, I would have fought for him and happily given my life at his side."

It was true that during the period when criticism of Uthman's rule increased, Ali was known to always protect the caliph, support him and make positive criticism. During the time of besiegement, it was he who sent his sons to stand guard at Uthman's door and, when he received news of the martyrdom, he was the first to show a reaction to his sons whom he considered responsible for protecting the caliph.

The support that Ali's family had given to his father caught the attention of Uthman's son Eban. He related that when the rebellious band began to shower rocks on them, Ali returned the attack by throwing rocks at the besiegers as long as he could.

Ali never supported the actions against the martyred caliph, but, like other Companions, he had not hesitated to make various criticisms from time to time during his rule. In particular, in his criticisms regarding some practices on the subject of legal punishment, he was never destructive; giving some ideas to the caliph regarding precautions that needed to be taken, he was careful to be constructive. He had warned the caliph that although officials had made every kind of injustice to the people, the caliph was not informed of these and that because he did not listen to the people's complaints, he was shown as the source of all wrong-doing in society.

By sharply rejecting offers of leadership made to him by the band of rebels before the siege, Ali tried to prevent Uthman's rule from disintegrating.

The person the caliph sought refuge in when the Egyptian rebels threatened to kill him if he did not do what they wanted was again Ali:

 "Hey, son of my uncle! You know my closeness to you. Also I have a great right on you as a relative. You see that these men have come and surrounded me and they are about to murder me. You are very much esteemed among Muslims; they will listen to you and obey you. Only you can make them leave me alone."

However, Ali was experiencing a fair doubt. He complained about the caliph's not taking into consideration his previous criticisms and suggestions, and he asked for a guarantee. Uthman promised to comply with Ali on every issue that he pointed out and made recommendations on.

Consequently, Ali went to talk with and calm down the Egyptians with a 30-member group of Ansar and Muhajir, and he convinced the Egyptians to turn back.

Unfortunately, the next day a talk made by Marwan, the caliph's relative and right arm, caused conflict among the Muslims. The waters made calm by Ali were again stirred up and the rebels returned to Medina with a determination that could not be compromised this time.

After this point, it would not be possible to convince Ali to mediate again. He did not look favorably at attempts to win his heart; he chose to remain in isolation in his home.

However, the rebel group had meanwhile tightened the siege around the caliph's house, and the caliph had begun to be deprived of food and water due to the siege. Ali was forced to abandon the isolation he had chosen as a result of helplessness. He went to the rebels and told them that what they were doing was inhumane, and he pointed out that even the unbelievers had not left Muslims they captured without water. He asked to see the caliph one more time to take him some water. But the hearts of the rebels had hardened too much. Extremely angered by this insolence, Ali took off his turban, threw it down and returned again to his house, hopeless and discouraged.

The pain of knowing that his good-intentioned initiatives had failed enveloped Ali's heart. On the one hand, there was a wall of flesh around the caliph made by prominent members of the Umayya family which forbid these two old friends, who had sat knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder in the Prophet's circle, to see each other; on the other hand, the obstacles the rebels had put tied Ali's hands. The path between hearts was closed off, and solutions were exhausted.

The bitter news that the fasting caliph had been martyred while reading the Quran reached Ali in the Mosque of the Prophet. Before long those who had committed this crime appeared before Ali. The hands that had smeared blood on the office in power were now at Ali's doorstep. The rebels who had overthrown the caliph from power with blood now wanted to put the person they wanted in power, by means of spilling blood if necessary. The crowds from Egypt, Kufe and Basra looked to the Ansar for direction and decided on the new caliph with their advice: "Without doubt, you know of Ali's closeness to the Prophet, his place next to him and his prominence in Islam. He will not abandon you to counsel. If we knew of anyone better, more appropriate and more virtuous, we would have called him to you."

Ali's resistance and objections carried no importance, because the offer had turned into a threat. The rebels publicly implied that if Ali refused, he would meet the same end as the murdered caliph. Although there are many different reports regarding under which conditions they made allegiance, first Talha gave allegiance to Ali, followed by Zubayr and the Muhajir, the Ansar, Arabs, Persians and judges.

Thus, Islamic regions got the news of Uthman's murder and Ali's ascension at the same time. The realization that those who spilled blood and those who chose the caliph were the same, led people to a simple cause-effect relationship: The new caliph is responsible for the old caliph's blood. Ali's hands being tied in regard to the issue of punishing the rebels was interpreted by various groups, the Umayya family in particular, to mean that Ali was behind the whole process of disorder. Thus, members of the Umayya family living in the Islamic centers of Mecca and Medina and those who were still in power in various regions of the Islamic state opposed the new caliph.

In spite of all his initiatives based on common sense, the Prophet's nephew took over  a sharp double-edged rule due to his being caliph in an atmosphere of great conflict that went so far as the murder of the ummah's (Islamic community) caliph. The feelings of disappointment and guilt felt by Muslims who had given their caliph as a victim to the rebels enveloped the rule of the new caliph like a nightmare.

The caliphate came to Ali, whose name had been mentioned in every election of the caliph after the Prophet's death, under unfortunate circumstances and it was about to leave before neither he nor the ummah found peace.

 

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