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Muslim Empire: Battle of Siffin

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Conflict:

The Battle of Siffin was part of the First Fitna (Muslim Civil War) which lasted from 656–661.

Dates:

Beginning on July 26, 657, the Battle of Siffin lasted three days, ending on the 28th.

Commanders & Armies:

Forces of Muawiyah I

  • Muawiyah I
  • Amr ibn al-Aas
  • approximately 120,000 men

Forces of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Battle Summary:

Following the murder of Uthman ibn Affan, the caliphate of the Muslim Empire passed to the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib. Shortly after ascending to the caliphate, Ali commenced consolidating his hold over the empire. Among those who opposed him was the governor of Syria, Muawiyah I. A kinsman of the slain Uthman, Muawiyah refused to acknowledge Ali as caliph due his inability to bring the murders to justice. In an attempt to avoid bloodshed, Ali sent an envoy, Jarir, to Syria to seek a peaceful solution. Jarir reported that Muawiyah would submit when the murders were caught.

With the blood-stained shirt of Uthman hanging in the Damascus mosque, Muawiyah's large army marched out to meet Ali, pledging not to sleep at home until the murderers were found. Moving across the Mesopotamian desert, Ali spotted his opponent's army along the Euphrates River, near the plain of Siffin. After a small battle over Ali's right to take water from the river, the two sides pursued a final attempt at negotiation. After 110 days of talks, they were still at an impasse. On July 26, 657, with the talks over, Ali and his general, Malik ibn Ashter, began a massive attack on Muawiyah's lines.

Ali personally led his Medinan troops, while Muawiyah watched from a pavilion, preferring to let his general Amr ibn al-Aas, direct the battle. At one point, Amr ibn al-Aas nearly broke through far enough to kill Ali. This was countered by a massive attack, led by Malik ibn Ashter, which nearly forced Muawiyah to flee the field. The fighting continued for three days with neither side gaining an advantage, though Ali's forces were inflicting a larger number of casualties. Concerned that he might lose, Muawiyah offered to settle their differences through arbitration.

Results:

The three days of fighting had cost Muawiyah's army approximately 45,000 casualties to 25,000 for Ali ibn Abi Talib. On the battlefield, the arbitrators decided that both leaders were equals and the two sides withdrew to Damascus and Kufa. When the arbitrators met again in February 658, no resolution was achieved. In 661, following the assassination of Ali, Muawiyah ascended to the caliphate, reuniting the Muslim Empire.

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