Meaning of FITNAH in English


(Arabictrial, or test) in Islamic usage, a heretical uprising, especially the first major internal struggle within the Muslim community (AD 656661), which resulted in both civil war and religious schismbetween the Sunnites and Shi'ites. The third caliph, 'Uthman (reigned 644656), a member of the Umayyad family of Mecca, had incurred the opposition of Muhammad's closest followers, the Muslims of Medina, by favouring his own Meccan family in his official appointments. 'Uthman's murder by Egyptian soldiers (June 17, 656) elicited Meccan demands for revenge, and when Muhammad's son-in-law, 'Ali, whom the Medinese had proclaimed fourth caliph, failed to comply, opposition was directed against him. The Battle of the Camel (December 656), pitting the forces of 'Ali against those of 'A'ishah, one of Muhammad's widows, and Talhah and az-Zubayr, prominent Companions of the Prophet, temporarily secured 'Ali's position but inaugurated civil war. Mu'awiyah, another Umayyad from Mecca and governor of Syria, took up the demands for vengeance on 'Uthman's death and questioned the validity of 'Ali's caliphate. Their confrontation in the Battle of Siffin (657), which the arbitration at Adhruh (659) attempted to resolve, was disastrous: it split 'Ali's forces, some of his followers (Khawarij) refusing to acknowledge the validity of human arbitration in a case which they felt could be rightly decided only by God. 'Ali's position was also undermined when the arbitrators would not declare him the rightful caliph; the result was an irrevocable split in Islam by the formation of the shi'at 'Ali (party of 'Ali), political allies of 'Ali who eventually translated their political demands into a religious conviction that 'Ali and all his descendants were divinely appointed to succeed Muhammad as caliphs. Strengthened by this outcome, Mu'awiyah seized Egypt and began raiding 'Ali's stronghold, Iraq. The open warfare finally ended in 661 when 'Ali was assassinated and Mu'awiyah began his reign as the first Umayyad caliph, but the religious split endured between the Sunnites and the Shi'ites.

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