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KHAWARIJ. The third major sectarian grouping in Islam, neither Sunnis nor Shi`is, came into existence as a consequence of “the great fitnah” between 656 and 661 CE and became known as the Khawarij (“exiters,” plural of Khariji). When the caliph `All agreed to submit his quarrel with Mu’awiyah to arbitration at the battle of Siffin, a group of his followers, mostly from the tribe of Tamim, accused him of rejecting the word of the Qur’an, surah 49.9, “If two parties of the faithful fight each other, then conciliate them. Yet if one is rebellious to the other, then fight the insolent one until it returns to God’s command.” `Uthman, they held, had deserved to die for his faults; `All was the legitimate caliph; and Mu’awiyah was a rebellious aggressor who was not entitled to arbitration. By agreeing to it, `All had committed the grave sin of rejecting God’s ayyahs (“signs”; verses of the Qur’an) and had excluded himself from the true community of the faithful. He should, they held, have obeyed the Qur’an, surah 8.39-40: “Fight them until there is no fitnah (temptation), and religion is wholly unto God.” God had given his hukm, or ruling, and there could be no other. La hukma illd lillah (no ruling but for God), became their watchword.

The dissenters left `All’s camp and gathered at Harura’ on the Nahrwan Canal, earning the name Haruris. They were persuaded by `All to return to Kufa, but when the attempted arbitration failed, they left the city with many sympathizers. It was at this point that they were labeled Khawdrij, or exiters. From Nahrwan they agitated and raided `All’s territories. When attempts at conciliation failed, he was forced to fight them on 7 July 658. This bloodshed caused them to swear vengeance, and on a Friday late in January 661 `All was murdered at the mosque in Kufa by Ibn Muljam al-Muradi, seeking retribution for “the slain of Nahrwan.”

From the first, Khawarij insisted that all Muslims must be treated equally, regardless of tribe or race (“there is no nasab [inherited honor] in Islam”). “Even a black slave” might be the first in the community. They were always successful in recruiting non-Arabs for their cause, although many early Khawarij came from the bedouins, as well as from South Arabian tribesmen opposed to the hegemony of the northern Arabs and to their ban on agriculture by Arabs. They also took very seriously-at a time when few did-the obligations of Muslims toward dhimmis, or protected non-Muslims.

Basra soon became the intellectual center of the Khawarij, who also had adherents in South Arabia and upper Mesopotamia. Arab armies carried the doctrine to North Africa, where it soon became the dominant form of Islam among the Berbers. The Khawarij are noted for steadfastness and unwillingness to compromise. Heresiographers mention more than twenty sects, each of which tended to elect its own imam and to regard itself as the one true Muslim community.

Kharijism’s basic tenets affirmed that a Muslim who commits a major sin (kabirah) is an apostate from Islam and outside the protection of its laws. If the imam sinned or lost his rectitude (`adalah), he might be deposed. Non-Khariji Muslims were deemed either polytheists or infidels, but people of the scriptures who sought Khariji protection were to be treated generously. The Qur’an was created, and human beings have free will.

Particularly well-known sects of Khawarij were the Azariqah, the Sufriyah, and the Ibadiyah; the first were probably named after Nafi` ibn al-Azraq, the son of a Greek ex-slave. The Azariqah, excluded from Islam all Muslims who would not make common cause with them, and they practiced isti’rad, the review of the beliefs of their opponents. Those who failed to pass were to be put to death, including women and children, since the children of polytheists were to be damned with their parents. They left the other Khawarij of Basra in 684 to conduct a fearful war in southern Iraq and Iran; in the end, all seem to have found the martyrdom they sought.

The Sufriyah also believed that non-Khariji Muslims were polytheists, but that it was permissible to dwell in truce with them as long as they did not attack. After failure to establish a firm base in the East during the third fitnah at the end of the Umayyad period, they concentrated on North Africa and established an imamate around 770 at Sijilmasah in southern Morocco, where they were active traders, like other Khawarij.

The Ibadiyah, the only sect to survive to modern times, has held that non-Khariji Muslims are only infidels, not polytheists. They produced some of the earliest mutakallimun (theologians) in Islam and were willing to live peaceably with other Muslims who did not harass them. From their Basra headquarters they sent out teams of teachers to spread their doctrine and, where possible, set up imams in the provinces. Like the Zaydi Shi’is and many Mu`tazilis, with whom they were in close contact, they admitted the possibility of more than one imam at a time, if true believers were widely separated. Under the Rustami imams of Persian origin who ruled at Tahart in central Algeria from about 760 to 9o9, they had a great following among Berber tribes from Tripolitania to Morocco and were recognized as far away as Oman. Ibadis admit four possible positions: manifestation (of the imamate), defense (where a war leader is recognized), shird’ or vending (this world for Paradise, in a struggle that must end in martyrdom), and kitmdn or concealment (when no imam is possible and a council of shaykhs makes religious decisions all equally appropriate at their times. At present there is no imam; the time for one will come.

The majority of Muslims and the ruling family in the Sultanate of Oman are Midis, and they are also found in the oases of the Mzab and Wargla in Algeria, on the island of Jerba off Tunisia, in Jabal Nafusa and Zuwaghah in Libya, and in Zanzibar and some towns of the East African coast. Today they may not number many more than one million. In this period of kitmdn, Ibadis dislike being called Khawarij; they emphasize their sympathy with other Muslims (with whom they will pray and cooperate socially and politically, though rarely intermarry), and they prefer to be called Sunnis, never Shi`is.

[See also Ibadiyah.]


Baghdadi, `Abd al-Qahir al-. Al-Farq bayna al-Firaq. Translated by Kate C. Seelye as Moslem Schisms and Sects (1920). Reprint, New York, 1966.

Levi della Vida, G. “Kharidjites.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4, pp. 1074-1077. Leiden, 196o-.

Lewicki, T. “Ibadiyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vOl. 3, pp. 648-66o. Leiden, 196o-.

Muqaddimat al-Tawhid. Muscat, n.d. An extensive Ibadi statement of doctrine, with commentaries, dating perhaps to the tenth century CE. This creed has been translated with other Ibadi materials in John Alden Williams, The Word of Islam, chap. 6 (Austin, 1993) and is still highly regarded by Ibadi scholars today.

Rubinacci, R. “Azarika.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. i, pp. 810-811. Leiden, 196o-.

Shahrastani. “Kitab al-Milal wa’l Nihal (The Kharijites and the Murji’ites).” Abr-Nahrain 10 (1970-1971): 49-75. Like Baghdadi, this Sunni author gives a hostile but useful description.

Vaglieri, L. Veccia. “Harura’.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vOl. 3, pp. 235-236. Leiden, 1960-


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khawarij/

  • writerPosted On: July 25, 2014
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