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Many Sunni references point to the fact that Ayesha, along with some of the companions of the Prophet (saws) such as Talha and Zubair entered into a battle with Ali (a.s).

References :
History (Tarikh) of al-Tabari, Events of year 36 AH
History of Ibn al-Athir, v3, page 120
Usdul Ghabah, v2, page 252
Al-Mustadrak by Al-Hakim, v3, page 169 and page 371

What was the reasoning behind this?

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4 Answers

The historians like al-Tabari (that you referred in the question) and others mention that this fighting was instigated by a group known as The Sab'iyyah in order to prevent the conciliation between the Companions.

After the killing of Uthman, some of the companions wanted the murderers to be brought to justice, on the other hand Ali wanted to stabilize the situation to avoid an even bigger problems, so he chose not to immediately. A groups was formed among them A'ishah, Talha, and Azubayr (May Allah be pleased with them all) intending to go to Basrah for reconciliation. When ALi heard of this, he traveled to them an a large contingent with the intention of bringing understanding and them under his obedience, as well as figuring out what to do with the murderers.

The Sab'iyah saw this as a problem and a threat to them selves, so they hid in both groups and when they met, one would attack the other while the other group and call out that they are being attacked by the other group. This is how the battle started and a number of great companions died.


You can read more of Sab'iyyah in several books (even Shi'ite books like Al-Kafee) which is quoted in the below links :

The Ahl Al-Bayt Were Harmed, Grieved and Also Killed by the Shia of Al-Kufah

Battle of the Camel

Shi'ite Authorities on the Existence and Reality of Abdullah Bin Saba'

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(Shia view)

Short Answer:

Because she wanted her cousin Talha who was from her tribe to succeed Uthman (the first Umayyad caliph), and also for his envy of Ali Ib Abi Talib. These has been demonstrated by historical evidences collected by Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid. An example is when she heard the news of killing of Ali she did thanking prostration (Sajdah Shukr) out of happiness.

Detailed Answer:

(this answer is a summary translated from links below. if you need more details and more references for each part let me know or ask as a separate question)

Shia and Sunni scholars have different views about the causes of the war mostly because Aisha is highly regarded in sunni view. However, although Aisha is respected by Shias and insulting her has been made forbidden by Shia scholars, she is not regarded as a high ranking sahaba (prophet's companions) and she is highly criticized for her conduct especially after the passing of Prophet Muhammad.

Aisha, the daughter of Abu Baker from Bani Tamim tribe, treated Uthman differently over two periods. In the beginning she supported him along other muslims. But after a while, when Uthman distributed power among his close Umayyad relatives, musim public became angry at him. During Umar’s Caliphate, Aisha used to get 12,000 Dirhams in governmental salary each month. But when Uthman succeed Umar conflicts grew between him and Aisha, and he finally cut her salary. Aisha among other notable Islamic figures (such as Talha and Zubair) declared Uthman as Kafir (apostate). Because of this Muslims got together and seized Uthman’s house. Uthman access to water was prevented but Ali as and his sons protected Uthman’s home and delivered water to Uthman. Their reason for supporting Uthman at the time was that they wanted to prevent the precedent of killing of caliphs by muslims. But despite their efforts, Uthman was ultimately killed by revengeful muslims and his dead body remained on ground for 3 days and no one did any funeral for him. Finally Muslims left his body at in rubbish wasteland out of city where became his grave. But years later when Muaviyeh declared himself the caliph he extended the cemetery of Medina to include the grave of Uthman.

When Imam Ali (from Bani Hashim descent) accepted Caliphate in response to Medina muslims’ request, Muaviyeh, who was then the governor of Sham (Syria), sent two letter to Talha and Zubair and called them "Amir ul-Mumenin" (commander of the faithful) and told them that the people of Basra and Kufa wanted them to be their governors but they should rush before Ali’s governors take over the cities. Talha and Zubair came to Ali and asked him to give them the governments of Kufa and Basra arguing that they were the ones who helped Ali to rise to power by contributing to the fall of Uthman. But Ali refused their requests telling them that he needed them most in Medina. His refusal also implied that they were not seen as qualified for the position. Upset with Ali’s refusal Talha and Zubair went to Mecca under the pretext of pilgrimage to prepare an army to occupy Kufa and Basra by the support of Muawiya’s associates.

Aisha, who was in Mecca at the time, was delighted upon hearing the news of murder of Uthman and decided to travel to Medina to see her tribesman (from Bani Tamim tribe) succeeding Uthman. But on her way (to Medina) at Serf caravanserai, she met Ibn Umm Kilab who told her that the people of Kufa had pledged allegiance to Ali as their Caliph. Aisha furious at the news went back to Mecca and declared that she was to take revenge on the killers of Uthman (meaning people of Medina who had pled allegiance to Ali). Ummu Salma another wife of the prophet refused to accompany Aisha and even tried to discourage her by reminding her of prophet’s hadiths stressing the superior status of his son in law, Ali ibn Abi Talib to the rest of Muslims. Other among prophet’s wives also discouraged her and supported Ali’s caliphate. But Aisha made up other excuses to carry on the rebellion. She allied herself to Talha. Talha and Zubair relied on the status of Aisha as prophet’s wife to legitimize and garner support for their rebellion against Ali. Thus Mecca turned into the center of those who opposed Ali Ibn Abi Talib, for various reasons. Uthman governors financed the war against Ali. Among them were: Abdullah Ibn Rabi’ah governor of Sana, Yemen; Ya'li Ibn Umayyah, one of commanders of Uthman and others.

On their way to Basra, The army of Mecca reached a place called Hawab where they heard dogs barking. Aisha immediately recalled a prophecy by Prophet Muhammad in which he related to them that he saw one of his wives passing over a location named Hawab while dogs barking at her, and told them lest they be the one in the situation. Upon the recalling of the alarming prophecy she decided to give up and return to Mecca but Abdullah Ibn Zubair testified falsely that they had passed Hawab behind long ago and Aisha was thus fooled.

Ultimately the army arrived at Basra and secured it after suppressing opposing groups who had recognized the ill intentions behind the rebellion against the established Caliph. They put the governer of Basra who was faithful to Ali under arrest. Some rebellions plundered the city treasury after killing the guards.

Ali Ibn Abi Talib, left Medina to stop the rebellious army. His envoys finally managed to encourage ten thousands from Kufa to join the Medina army of four thousands. Notable figures among Ali’s army were Ibn Abbas, Ammar Yasir, Haatam Ta’ei, Malik Ashtra, Muhammad Ibn Hanafiya, Muhammad Ibn Abi Baker (Aisha’s brother) and Ali’s sons.

Ali sent many messengers to the three rebel leaders (Aisha, Talha and Zubair) to discourage them from war and to invite them to unity but despite the strong arguments of his messengers the rebel leaders were determined to fight as they thought they can easily win the battle.

The war started while Aisha was seated on a camel and dozens protecting her ride. She and her camel were seen by the rebelling army as a testimony to their legitimacy and also a source of morale as she was viewed as the wife of the holy Prophet. During the war Ali made many attempts to discourage the rebels and its leaders from war but to no avail. As war continued Ali ordered his men to approach the camel carrying Aisha and severe its legs. The camel collapsed and Aisha surrendered herself and the battle was over. Talha and Zubair were killed in the meantime.

Despite Aisha’s main role in agitating people against Ali Ibn Abi Talib, he treated her with utmost respect and ordered her brother and some women disguised in men’s dress to accompany her to Mecca. Aisha on numerous occasions expressed much sorrow and remorse at her decision to rebel against Ali.

Ali felt much sorrow for the ill fate of Talha and Zubair who used to be among faithful supporters of prophet during his life. He recited prayers for all victims of the war including those of the rebellions. The popular estimate sets the total death toll of the war at 20,000.

Ali ordered all properties of people of Basra taken by his army returned to them unless those with government asset marks. He also refrained from suing those involved in the rebellion.

During his lifetime, Prophet had predicted that Ali will have to fight with three groups, Nakesin, Qasetin and Mareqin. His companions were always interested to know these three groups were. “The Battle of the Camel” was the realization of Nakesin’s war against Ali.

References:

http://www.hawzah.net/FA/articleview.html?ArticleID=8571 (107 historical references are mentioned at end of this article) http://www.tebyan.net/newindex.aspx?pid=3056

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Caution about this issue

Either side of the debate should realize that we are dealing with a very divisive issue. We are talking about Ali(ra) the cousin of the Prophet(pbuh) AND Ayesha (ra) the wife of the Prophet(pbuh).

Both of them have more rights over the Prophet(pbuh) than probably anyone of us since both sides are the family of the Prophet(pbuh).


Islamic history VS Muslim history

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.(Quran 5:3)

When the above verse was revealed, "deen was perfected" and "Allah's favor was completed". Anything that happened after would be considered "Muslim History" rather than "Islamic History".

Here one must remember that I am not trying discredit either side's history rather seeking common ground in the "Islamic History" over "Muslim history".


No benefits in Resolution of this issue

We all know that this issue has not been resolved by big scholars of Islam and it will only get uglier as time goes by (unless Allah wills), but we must understand its resolution is NOT important to how we practice our faith.

The crisis that we face today is not what happened 1400 years ago, rather preventing ourselves from drowning into sins like riba, zina, smoking, drugs and alcohol. All of these are grave sins according to both sides and people of BOTH sides cannot claim victory on these issues.

People who dispute this issue are like "bald men fighting for a comb". There is nothing they can do with the comb even if they win the comb.


Silence is Golden

Islam frowns upon speaking ill of those that have passed away without evidence or witnesses. The reason for this is .... those not present today cannot defend themselves of any accusations laid and their affair is with Allah.

Either side of this debate were not witnesses to this issue (since it was years ago) and narratives of either side are not part of the Quran and do not carry the promise to be "guarded from corruption" hence cannot be used as evidence.

PS: I know I have risked -1s from both sides, but Islam exhorts me to speak the truth.

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:-).. thanks for -1. if someone asked me which is more halal ..wine or beer, my answer would be both are haraam , even though thats not the answer the question LEADS towards. similarly if some ask me whos at fault ... i said silence is golden. none of us are witnesses to the event, its all conjecture that people dwell in. –  islam101 Sep 3 '12 at 1:13
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(Sunnah view, I guess)

Well, this will be quite the story. My reference shall be the documentary series aired in Ramadan 1432 Hijri. (Al-Hassan Wa Al-Hussain [RA]).

First, to give you a complete idea about the situation, what were Ayesha (RA), Talha (RA) and Zubair (RA) doing? Where where they?

It all began with the murder of the Caliph Othman bin Affan (RA). He happens to be a relative to Moawiya bin Abi Sofyaan (RA) (Ruler of Al-Shaam [Syria, Jordon, Palestine ... etc.] and Ayesha (RA). So naturally, they, above all other Muslims, felt the need to pass judgment on these murderers promptly, before doing anything else. However, the murderers have already left Madina Al-Munawara (were they killed the Caliph) and went towards the east to Iraq.

EDIT:

Ayesha (RA) took some of the Caliphs belongings, that had blood on them, and sent them to Muaviyeh (RA) so he can help pass justice on the murderers.. She (RA) was against the Murderers!

EDIT END

After the death of the Caliph, there were two main issues:

  1. Appointing a new Caliph.
  2. Passing judgment on the murderers (whose numbers exceeded 100).

Ali bin Abi Talib (RA) was chosen by the Muslims as the new Caliph, and he decided that it would be wise to wait a few months for the events to calm down before pursuing the murderers. Ayesha (RA), along with a small army, decided to dispatch and pursue the murderers under the impression that the murderers would dissolve between the Muslims and would never be found later.

Ali (RA) in that context of events saw this as a bit chaotic for anyone to go pass judgement on his own. After all, he is the Caliph and he should take matters in his own hands. Thus, he dispatched and army, too, and told Ayesha's (RA) army to halt.

After reaching Ayesha's (RA) army's camp, they came to an agreement. I would like to emphasize here, this is only natural. History tells us how these people are all wise and in the end do not seek self interest. Sadly, however, war broke out.

How did that happen? Apparently, some of the murderers, who were later known as "Al-Khawarij" have entered with Ali's (RA) army, and during the night, just before dusk, they attacked Ayesha's (RA) army screaming that it's war!

Yes, this particular battle was a misunderstanding, and caused by "Al-Khawarij".

Not long after the war broke out, Ayesha (RA) herself went into the battle on her camel (She was inside the thing over the camel), and things slowly calmed down.

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P.S: I would like to talk to a moderator. Because of being an Arabian Muslim myself, and acquiring knowledge from various resources, that's the best I could do right here. I can summarize, and point to some resource. Exact quotations is not one of my abilities.. Am I still welcome here? Or is this site built on exact quotations and resource? –  Mazyod Sep 2 '12 at 14:10
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Exact quotations are not necessary (although useful in many cases), the most important thing is that facts be referenceable rather than just personal opinion and hearsay. –  goldPseudo Sep 2 '12 at 15:27
    
@goldPseudo, thanks man. I'll do my best to be as concrete as possible, but all this info is usually from the top of my head ;) –  Mazyod Sep 2 '12 at 16:33
    
@Mazyod I am tempted to -1 you, but I will not as you are new. This issue is a very divisive issue and hence quotes are extremely important. The quality of this site SHOULD NOT drop to "top of head" information. –  islam101 Sep 2 '12 at 16:40
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<Several comments deleted.> As I have said in other questions/answers, especially @Ahmadi, do not use comments to engage in extensive debate and try to force your opinion on others. If you know others have different opinions from yours, let it be at that. We all have a legitimate right to give our opinion here; do not engage in argumentation in comments. Use chat if you must discuss it further. –  ashes999 Oct 8 '12 at 20:55
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