The two armies confronted each other for about three months. Many rounds of negotiations were held but they turned out to be fruitless. There was a great reluctance on both sides to commence hostilities. Most of the sincere soldiers were desirous of averting bloodshed but some miscreants who had penetrated deep into the armies of the rival factions, gradually assumed great influence. They were bent upon mischief and succeeded in their mission. They created unrest from time to time. Having tired of their intolerable and degrading behaviour, Hazrat Ali (AS) made up his mind to start a decisive battle. Before the commencement of the battle, Hazrat Ali (AS) issued the following instructions: “Do not take the initiative in opening hostilities against the enemy. If they start you must face them boldly. When they are defeated, do not put to sword any one of them. Do not harm any disabled person. Take care of women even if she abuses you because a woman is physically and mentally weak”. After this Hazrat Ali (AS) prayed: “O Allah! We look to Thee for help. Hidden enmity is exposed. People have become very jealous. We complain to Thee against our enemy. O Allah! Let truth prevail”.
Soon after the battle commenced. In the beginning the army of Hazrat Ali (AS) was pressed hard but the soldiers, under the command of Malik-e-Ashtar, checked their advance and compelled them to retreat. On the first day the fighting was ferocious. Ammar bin Yasir was killed and the prophecy of the Prophet (Suallu Alaihe Wa Aalehi Wasallam) came out to be true. He had said that Ammar would be slain by a heretic and rebellious race while he would be fighting on the side of the righteous. His death condemned the ranks against whom he fought and spread despair among the supporters of Moavia. The battle went on raging during the day. Towards evening the shades of night began to fall but darkness failed to set the combatants apart. The fight continued unabated throughout the night and caused great destruction on both sides. The clang of the armour and the clash of the swords were so loud that the cries of the wounded soldiers were inaudible. This night is known as the second “Night of clangour” (Laila-tul-Harir). None of the factions gained the upper hand. When the quivers of the soldiers were emptied, they began to fight hand to hand. There were many Quran Conners in Hazrat Ali (AS)’s army. They performed many heroic deeds. They continued to push attack with unflinching valour and persistence. Next day the fight went on as usual. When the third day of the battle dawned, both the armies were still fighting desperately. Neither was ready to give in. Many lives were destroyed with swords and arrows. The spears pierced into the hearts of the innocent soldiers. At last the forces of Moavia lost ground and begain to retreat in confusion. They trod upon each other like thirsty camels running in search of fountains and springs. Moavia was getting nervous and panicky. The feeling of defeat was sinking deep into his heart. He was preparing to take flight and inclined to a peaceful settlement. He consulted Amr ibn al’As as to what to do next. He worked out a scheme which saved Moavia from ignominy and the tables were turned upon Hazrat Ali (AS) who had almost won the battle. According to the planned stratagem, the Syrian army lifted the Holy Quran on the points of their lances and stepped forward as a sign that fighting should cease and the contention should be referred to the Holy Book for a decision. This was an open insult of the Holy Book of Allah by the soldiers of Moavia. The stratagem succeeded perfectly. The spirit of momentum was slackened. Thousands of Quran Conners stopped fighting immediately. They urged Hazrat Ali (AS) to settle their dispute in accordance with the Law of Lord. Hazrat Ali (AS) expostulated with them and said: “O People! It is a clever device of evil men who are afraid of the expected defeat. They wish to divide and disunite you. They intend to create sedition and fractions among you. Turn your faces against them. Entertain no doubts and suspicions. Act upon the instructions issued by the man who guides you on the Right Path”.
The fanatics paid no heed to him. They rose in open mutiny and threatened the unfortunate Caliph that they would desert him if he did not accept the judgement of the Book of Allah. Hazrat Ali (AS) put forth many arguments but of no avail. They replied, “We are called to the Book. We cannot decline it”. Seeing bitter opposition, Hazrat Ali (AS) yielded under the pressure. He sent a messenger to Moavia to find out how the Holy Quran would settle the issue. He proposed the appointment of two arbitrators, one from either side and their verdict on the authority of the Holy Quran, would be binding for both the parties. Moavia nominated Amr bn al’As to act as an arbitrator on his behalf and Hazrat Ali (AS) designated Abu Musa Ashari as his spokesman. After the appointment of arbitrators, Hazrat Ali (AS) left for Kufa and Moavia proceeded towards Syria. The Amir-ul-Momineen Hazrat Ali (AS) dispatched letters regarding the Battle of Siffin to the respected persons to apprise them of the actual situation. Some contents of the letter are: “What were the causes of the Battle of Siffin? It is quite evident that our and their (Syrian) religion is same. We do not want to claim our superiority over them. All of us are equal. The murder of Usman(RA) created this split but we had no hands in it. We exhorted them to sink our differences and put out the fire of sedition otherwise the troubles will become insurmountable. But they refused to accept my advice and proposed to decide all issues at the point of the sword. Unfortunately, we were involved in a horrible battle. When they found that they would be defeated, they suggested that the war should be stopped. We agreed to their proposal”.
Some chiefs of the Kufite clans objected to the arbitration and turned against Hazrat Ali (AS). He tried to satisfy them but in vain. Soon a detachment of 12,000 soldiers deserted him. They tried to undermine the Caliphate of the fourth Caliph.