Abu Amra al-Ansari - A Forgotten Man in Early Shi`ism
“I Swear to Thee … Obedience unto Death”
و عدّه البرقي في أولياء أصحاب أمير المؤمنين عليه السّلام و في شرطة خميسه
Al-Barqi confirms that he was among the closest companions of the commander of the faithful عليه السّلام and adds that he was part of his Shurta al-Khamis.
There has been an ongoing debate about the etymology of Shurta al-Khamis and its origins.
The most convincing explanation is that Khamis, meaning five, is a synonym for the whole army, because armies at the time were normally divided into five divisions. Thus the ‘Shurta of the army’ would be its elite vanguard. Our sources inform us that Ali’s Shurta al-Khamis consisted of around 6000 soldiers. The Shurta would be at the tip of the formation bearing the brunt of any offensive. They would see the riskiest action being the first to penetrate enemy lines.
A clue as to what made them distinct from the rest of the army is provided by a narration in al-Ikhtisas of pseudo-Mufid where a man asks al-Asbagh b. Nubata, himself a member of the Shurta, the secret behind the name:
قلت له: كيف سميتم شرطة الخميس يا أصبغ؟ فقال: إنا ضمنا له الذبح وضمن لنا الفتح
I said to him: how was it that you came to be called the Shurta al-Khamis O Asbagh? He said: we guaranteed to fight for him and he guaranteed victory for us [in this world or the next].
This indicates that the Shurta were Ali’s most loyal soldiers because they had sworn a personal oath to him in their zeal for him. Agreeing to join the Shurta meant fighting Ali’s enemies until death or victory, whichever comes first, without turning back.
The Shurta were the backbone of Ali’s force whom he could expect to remain steadfast when others faltered. This contingent fought not for worldly gain or political expedient but because they recognized him as their only leader. They were always around him like worker bees around their queen. He said to them once:
أنتم الأنصار على الحقّ، والإخوان في الدين، والجُنَن يوم البأس، والبِطانة دون الناس، بكم أضرب المُدبِر، وأرجو طاعة المُقبِل، فأعينوني بمناصحةٍ خَلِيّة من الغشّ، سليمة من الريب؛ فوَاللَّه إنّي لأولى الناس بالناس
You are supporters of truth, brothers in religion, shields on the day of attack, you are the faithful apart from the rest, by you do I strike the one lagging behind, and by you do I compel the outriders to obedience, so aid me with an assistance free of any deception and safe from any doubt, for by Allah I am the most rightful of men among all men [Nahj al-Balagha]
If Ali could not mobilize enough men to renew his attack against Muawiya after Nahrawan it is only because most of the Shurta had already given their lives in previous battles. A fact which he never stopped grieving over.
Contribution to the War Effort
عمرو بن محصن ... هو الذى جهز أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام بمائة ألف درهم في مسيره إلى الجمل
Al-Tusi notes in his Rijal that Amr b. Mihsan [sic. Abu Amra b. Amr b. Mihsan] … supplied the commander of the faithfulعليه السلام with one hundred thousand Dirhams when he began his march to Jamal.
Delegate to Muawiya
He was chosen by Ali to be part of the team that makes first contact with Muawiya at Siffin. This shows the level of trust the Imam had on this old hand [Ta`rikh al-Tabari]:
تاريخ الطبري عن عبدالملك بن أبي حرّة الحنفي - بعد ذكر القتال على الماء -: مَكث عليّ يومين لا يرسل إلى معاوية أحداً، ولا يرسل إليه معاوية. ثمّ إنّ عليّاً دعا بشير بن عمرو بن محصن الأنصاري، وسعيد بن قيس الهمداني، وشبث بن ربعي التميمي، فقال: ائتوا هذا الرجل، فادعوه إلى اللَّه، وإلى الطاعة والجماعة
Ali did not send anyone to Muawiya for two whole days nor did Muawiya send anyone to him. Then Ali called Bashir b. Amr b. Mihsan al-Ansari, Sa`id b. Qays al-Hamdani and Shabath b. Rib`i al-Tamimi and said to them: go to this man and call him to Allah and to obedience and unity.
فقال له شبث بن ربعي: يا أميرالمؤمنين!ألا تُطمعه في سلطان تولّيه إيّاه، ومنزلة يكون له بها اُثرة عندك إن هو بايعك؟
Shabath b. Rib`i said to him: O commander of the faithful! won’t you tempt him with a rule which you could promise to hand over to him or by appointing him to a position which he desires so that he can incline towards you - if he were to give you the pledge of allegiance?
فقال عليّ: ائتوه فالقوه واحتجّوا عليه، وانظروا ما رأيه. - وهذا في أوّل ذي الحجّة
Ali said: go meet him, reason with him, and observe what he intends. [This was in the beginning of Dhul Hijja]
فأتوه، ودخلوا عليه، فحمد اللَّه وأثنى عليه أبوعمرة بشير بن عمرو، وقال: يا معاوية! إنّ الدنيا عنك زائلة، وإنّك راجع إلى الآخرة، وإنّ اللَّه عزّوجلّ محاسبك بعملك، وجازيك بما قدّمت يداك، وإنّي أنشدك اللَّه عزّوجلّ أنْ تفرّق جماعة هذه الاُمّة، وأن تسفك دماءها بينها
They went and entered upon him, then Abu Amra Bashir b. Amr praised and extolled Allah and said: O Muawiya! this world will recede away from you and you are to be returned to the next abode wherein Allah the Mighty and Majestic will take you to account for your deeds, and recompense you for what your hands sent before. I beseech you in the name of Allah Mighty and Majestic that you shatter the unity of this Umma and you shed blood between them.
فقطع عليه الكلام، وقال: هلّا أوصيت بذلك صاحبك؟
He (Muawiya) interrupted his speech and said: didn’t you say all this to your man [Ali]?
فقال أبوعمرة: إنّ صاحبي ليس مثلك، صاحبي أحقّ البريّة كلّها بهذا الأمر في الفضل والدين والسابقة في الإسلام، والقرابة من الرسول صلى اللّه عليه وآله وسلم
Abu Amra said: my man is not your equal, my man is the most rightful of all men in this matter [Khilafa] if you are to look at merit, religion, precedence in accepting Islam and closeness in ties to the messenger صلى اللّه عليه وآله وسلم
قال: فيقول ماذا؟
He (Muawiya) said: what does he (Ali) say?
قال: يأمرك بتقوى اللَّه عزّوجلّ، وإجابة ابن عمّك إلى ما يدعوك إليه من الحقّ، فإنّه أسلم لك في دنياك، وخير لك في عاقبة أمرك
He (Abu Amra) said: he (Ali) orders you to fear Allah Mighty and Majestic, and to submit to your cousin (Bani Hashim and Umayya are related afterall) in what he calls you towards which is the truth, for that is more secure in your worldy affairs and better for you in terms of your final destiny.
قال معاوية: ونُطلّ دم عثمان! لا واللَّه، لا أفعل ذلك أبداً
Muawiya said: and we are to leave the blood of Uthman unavenged! No by Allah! that will never happen!
فذهب سعيد بن قيس يتكلّم، فبادره شبث بن ربعي فتكلّم، فحمد اللَّه وأثنى عليه، وقال: يا معاوية! إنّي قد فهمت ما رددت على ابن محصن، إنّه واللَّه، لا يخفى علينا ما تغزو وما تطلب
Sa`id b. Qays wanted to speak but was beaten to it by Shabath b. Rib`i who praised and extolled Allah and then said: O Muawiya! I have understood your answer to Ibn Mihsan, by Allah it is not hidden from us what you are fighting for and what you seek!
کان ابن محصن من اعلام اصحاب علي (ع)، قتل في المعرکه، و جزع علي (ع) لقتله
Nasr b. Muzahim: He was among the most knowledgeable of Ali’s companions. He died in battle [of Siffin]. Ali was greatly saddened by his death.
روى عبادة بن زياد عن محمد ابن الحنفية قال: رأَيت أَبا عَمرَةَ الأَنصاري يوم صِفَّيْن، وكان عَقَبيًا بَدْرِيًّا أُحُدِيًّا، وهو صائم يتلوّى من العَطَش، فقال لغلام له: تَرِّسْنِي، فَتَرَّسَه الغُلاَم، ثم رمى بسهم في أَهل الشام، فنزع نزعًا ضعيفًا، حتى رمى بثلاثة أَسهم، ثم قال: إِني سَمِعتُ رسول الله صَلَّى الله عليه وسلم يقول: مَنْ رَمَى بِسَهْمٍ فِي سَبِيْلِ الله، فَبَلَّغَ أَوْ قَصَّرَ، كَانَ ذَلِكَ الْسَّهْمُ لَهُ نُورًا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، وقتل قبل غروب الشمس
Ubada b. Ziyad narrates from Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya who said: I saw Abu Amra al-Ansari at Siffin, he was an Aqabi [was there at the pledge at Aqaba], a Badri and an Uhudi, he was fasting and bent-over [weak] because of thirst, he said to a servant of his: shield me, and the servant shielded him, then he placed the arrow to his bow very weakly, and could only throw three of them, then he said: I heard the messenger of Allahصَلَّى الله عليه وسلم say: whoever throws an arrow in the way of Allah, whether he hits the target or not, that arrow will be for him a light in the day of judgment, he was killed before the setting of the sun [al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihayn]
There could not be a greater honour among the Arabs then to have your death being important enough to merit poetry on your behalf. This is what happened for Ibn Mihsan. It came from opposing sides.
Najashi the poet of Iraq [who was on the side of Ali] composed a long poem mourning his death, it begins:
لنعم فتى الحيّين عمرو بن محصن
What a good man was Amr b. Mihsan …
On the other hand, an anonymous Syrian woman taunted Ali and his followers with this invective:
لا تعدموا قوما أذاقوا ابن ياسر
Do not deem as insignificant a people who have sent Ibn Yasir to his death
And ends with:
فنحن قتلنا اليثربي ابن محصن خطيبكم و ابني بديل و هاشم
For we are the ones who killed the Yathribi Ibn Mihsan … your pre-eminent speaker, and the two sons of Badiyl and Hashim [b. Mirqal] too
In conclusion, any historical study of early Islam must take into account the wealth of poetry we have about the period. These have not been analyzed thoroughly because of the difficulty of dealing with the highly complex language involved. An argument can be made that that these can serve as more reliable than prose documentation because of the difficulty of fabricating things in the medium. A treasure trove awaits any historian brave enough to delve into them.