Arabic: siffīn

Battle of 657, fought between the forces of Caliph Ali and troops of Mu’awiyya, governor of Damascus. The scene, the field of Siffin, was near modern Raqqa in northern Syria, and the battle lasted for about 2 weeks during the months of June and July.

The battle had important consequences for Islam, causing its first schism when the group of Kharijis left the main fold of Islam, as well as paving the ground for the Umayyad Dynasty.

The background for the battle was the situation after the assassination of Caliph Uthman in 656, a kinsman of Mu’awiyya. Mu’awiyya claimed revenge for the killing and indicated that Ali had been implicated.

He, therefore, proposed a claim for the caliphate, and the two armies facing each other at Siffin was Ali’s way of trying to regain control over Syria, thereby legitimizing his position as leader of the Muslim territories.

The battle would last for a couple of weeks, with Ali’s party on the offensive. With few of his men left, one-day Mu’awiya sent his troops out to fight with leaves of the Koran to their lances. Thereby they both claimed that they would leave the judgment of the caliphate to God, and also prevented Ali’s troops from attacking.

Instead, the two agreed to settle their differences by negotiations. The negotiations took place about half a year later, in February 658, with an envoy from each side. Ali’s was outsmarted by Mu’awiyya’s and managed to stage an event in which it seemed as if he accepted Mu’awiyya being appointed caliph. Ali immediately protested, and the conflict between him and Mu’awiyya would continue for 3 more years when Ali died and Mu’awiyya assumed the caliphate and had its court and administration moved to Damascus.

A group of Ali’s followers had never accepted the negotiations, and now 4,000 of them rose in revolt against him. From them, the Kharijites would come.


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