The Khawarij (Arabic: الخوارج, al-Khawārij, singular خارجي, khāriji), Kharijites, or the ash-Shurah (Arabic: الشراة, romanized: ash-Shurāh "the Exchangers") were members of a sect that appeared in the first century of Islam during the First Fitna, the crisis of leadership after the death of Muhammad. It broke into revolt against the authority of the Caliph Ali after he agreed to arbitration with his rival, Muawiyah I, to decide the succession to the Caliphate following the Battle of Siffin (657). A Khariji later assassinated Ali, and for hundreds of years, the Khawarij were a source of insurrection against the Caliphate.
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The Khawarij opposed arbitration as a means to choose a new ruler on the grounds that "judgement belongs to God alone". They considered arbitration a means for people to make decisions while the victor in a battle was determined by God. They believed that any Muslim—even one who was not a Quraysh or even an Arab—could be the Imam, the leader of the community, if he was morally irreproachable. If the leader sinned, it was the duty of Muslims to oppose and depose him.
The term al-Khariji was used as an exonym by their opponents from the fact that they left Ali's army. The name comes from the Arabic root خ ر ج, which has the primary meaning "to leave" or "to get out", as in the basic word خرج "to go out", "to walk out", "to come out", etc.
However, these groups called themselves ash-Shurah "the Exchangers", which they understood within the context of Islamic scripture (Quran 2:207) and philosophy to mean "those who have traded the mortal life (al-Dunya) for the other life [with God] (al-Akhirah)".
The origin of Kharijism lies in the First Fitna, the struggle for political supremacy over the Muslim community in the years following the death of Muhammad. After the death of the third Rashidun Caliph, Uthman, a struggle for succession ensued between Ali and Muawiyah I, the governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman, in league with a variety of other opponents. In 657, Ali's forces met Muawiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muawiyah but on the brink of defeat, Muawiyah directed his army to hoist Qurans on their lances. Mu'awiya proposed to Ali to settle their dispute through arbitration, with each side appointing referees who would pronounce judgment according to the Quran. While most of Ali's army accepted the proposal, one group, mostly from the tribe of Tamim, vehemently objected to the arbitration and left the ranks of Ali's army.
These dissenters, who initiated what would become known as the Kharijite movement, wished to secede from Ali's army in order to uphold their principles. They held that the third caliph Uthman had deserved his death because of his faults, and that Ali was the legitimate caliph, while Mu'awiya was a rebel. They believed that the Quran clearly stated that as a rebel Mu'awiya was not entitled to arbitration, but rather should be fought until he repented, pointing to the verse:
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. (Quran 49:9)
The dissenters held that in agreeing to arbitration Ali committed the grave sin of rejecting God's judgment (hukm) and attempted to substitute human judgment for God's clear injunction, which prompted their motto la hukma illa li-llah (judgement belongs to God alone). From this expression, which they were the first to use as a motto, they became known as Muhakkima. They also believed that Muslims owe allegiance only to the Quran and the sunna of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and Umar, and denied that the right to the imamate should be based on close kinship with Muhammad.
The initial group of dissenters went to the village of Harura' near Kufa, where they elected an obscure soldier named Ibn Wahb al-Rasibi as their leader. This gave rise to their alternative name, al-Haruriyya. Other defectors from Kufa, where Ali's army had returned awaiting the outcome of arbitration, gradually joined the dissenters, while Ali persuaded some dissenters to return to Kufa. However, when the arbitration ended in a verdict unfavorable to Ali, a large number of his followers left Kufa to join Ibn Wahb, who had meanwhile moved his camp to another location along the Nahrawan canal. At this point, the Kharijites proclaimed Ali's caliphate to be null and void and began to denounce as infidels anyone who did not accept their point of view. From Nahrawan they began to agitate against Ali and raid his territories. When attempts at conciliation failed, Ali's forces attacked the Kharijites in their camp, inflicting a heavy defeat on them at the Battle of Nahrawan in 658, killing Ibn Wahb and most of his supporters. This bloodshed sealed the split of Kharijites from Ali's followers, and Kharijite calls for revenge ultimately led to Ali's assassination in 661 by a Kharijite.
For hundreds of years the Khawarij continued to be a source of insurrection against the Caliphate. and they aroused condemnation by mainstream scholars such as 14th-century Muslim Ismail ibn Kathir who wrote, "If they ever gained strength, they would surely corrupt the whole of the Earth, Iraq and Shaam – they would not leave a baby, male or female, neither a man or a woman, because as far as they are concerned the people have caused corruption, a corruption that cannot be rectified except by mass killing." In a similar vein, the 10th century Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Ajurri said, "None of the scholars, in either past or recent times, ever disagreed that the Khawarij are an evil group, disobedient to Allah Almighty and to His Messenger - Peace Be Upon Him. Even if they pray, fast, or strive in worship, it does not benefit them, and even if they openly enjoin good and forbid evil it does not benefit them, as they are a people who interpret the Quran according to their desire." One modern historian describes Khawarij as "bedouin nomads who resented the centralization of power in the new Islamic state that curtailed the freedom of their tribal society."
Among the hadith that refer to the Khawarij (according to some sources) include:
A hadith attributed to Yusair bin Amr reports:
Beliefs and practices
Among the surviving Kharijites, three of them gathered in Mecca to plot a tripartite assassination attempt on Muawiyah I, 'Amr ibn al-'As and Ali. The assassination attempts were to occur simultaneously as the three leaders came to lead the morning prayer (Fajr) in their respective cities of Damascus, Fustat and Kufa. The method was to come out of the prayer ranks and strike the targets with a sword dipped in poison.
Muawiya escaped the assassination attempt with only minor injuries. Amr was sick and the deputy leading the prayers in his stead was martyred. However, the strike on Ali by the assassin, Abdur-Rahmaan ibn-Muljim, proved to be fatal. Ali was gravely injured with a head wound and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.
The circumstances in which Ali was attacked is subject to debate; some scholars maintain that he was attacked outside the mosque, others state that he was attacked while initiating the prayer and still others reiterate that ibn-Muljim assaulted him midway through the prayer while Ali was prostrating.
In the modern era, some of Muslim theologians and observers have compared the beliefs and actions of the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and like-minded groups to the Khawarij. In particular, the groups share the Kharijites' radical approach whereby self-described Muslims are declared unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death and their disinterest in Quranic calls for moderation. However, IS preachers strongly reject being compared to the Khawarij.
The Ibadis, a fellow early sect with similar beliefs, form the majority of the population of Oman (where they first settled in 686), and there are smaller concentrations of them in the M'zab of Algeria, Djerba in Tunisia, the Nafusa Mountains in Libya, and Zanzibar.
According to some Muslims (such as Abu Amina Elias), Kharijites will "continue to cause strife" in the Muslim community until End Times, and cite a hadith (# 7123) from Sahih al-Bukhari in support of this.
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3Salafis (Ahl-i Hadith & Wahhabis)
4Sevener-Qarmatians, Assassins & Druzes
5Alawites, Qizilbash & Bektashism; 6Nukkari
7Ajardi, Azariqa, Bayhasiyya, Najdat & Sūfrī
8Bahshamiyya, Bishriyya & Ikhshîdiyya
9Alevi – Bektashis & Qalandaris; Barelvis, Mevlevis, Süleymancıs & various Sufi orders
Early Muslim governance
The Khawarij considered the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar to be rightly guided but believed that Uthman had deviated from the path of justice and truth in the last days of his caliphate and hence was liable to be killed or displaced. They also believed that Ali committed a grave sin when he agreed on the arbitration with Muawiyah.
The Kharijites thus deemed the arbitrators (Abu Musa Ashaari and 'Amr ibn al-'As), the leaders who appointed these arbitrators (Ali and Muawiyah I) and all those who agreed on the arbitration (all companions of Ali and Muawiyah]) as kuffar "disbelievers", as they had breached the rules of the Qur'an. They also believed that all participants in the Battle of the Camel, including Talhah, Zubayr ibn al-Awam and Aisha had committed a major sin.
Doctrinal differences with other sects
Kharijites differ with both Sunni and/or Shiʿa on some points of doctrine:
- Sunnis accept Ali as the fourth rightly-guided Caliph and also accept the three Caliphs before him, who were elected by their community. Shi'a believe that the imamate was the right of Ali, and the rule of the first three Rashidun caliphs was unlawful. Kharijites insist that the caliph need not be from the Quraysh tribe, but any pious Muslim nominated by other Muslims was eligible to be the caliph.
- Unlike Sunni and Shia, Kharijites believed that Muslims had the right and duty to revolt against any ruler who deviated from their interpretation of Islam, or, according to other interpretations, failed to manage Muslim's affairs with justice and consultation or committed a major sin.
- Kharijites reject the doctrine of infallibility for the leader of the Muslim community in contrast to Shi'a but in agreement with Sunnis.
- Unlike the more extreme Kharijites, the Ibadis reject the murder of Uthman as well as the Kharijite belief that all Muslims holding differing viewpoints were infidels.
Many Khawarij groups believed that the act of sinning is analogous to kufr "disbelief" and that every grave sinner was regarded as a kafir unless they repent. They invoked the doctrine of free will, in opposition to that of predestination in their opposition to the Ummayad Caliphate, which held that Umayyad rule was ordained by God.
According to Islamic scholar and Islamist pioneer Abul A'la Maududi, using the argument of "sinners are unbelievers", Kharijites denounced all the above Sahabah and even cursed and used abusive language against them. Other non-Khawarij Muslims were declared disbelievers because they were not free of sin but also because they regarded the above-mentioned Sahabah as believers and religious leaders, even inferring fiqh from the hadith narrated by them.
The Khawarij considered the Qur'an as the source for fiqh but disagreed about the other two sources (hadith and ijma).
Based on Kharijite poetry writings, scholar Ihsan Abbas finds three categories of focus among them:
- the strong desire of Kharijites for martyrdom and dying for the sake of God
- detailed descriptions of how Kharijites defined a just and pious ruler
- their universal tendency to blame the self for failing to establish the previous two categories.
On the basis of women fighting alongside Muhammad, Khārijīs have viewed fighting jihad as a requirement for women. One famous example is the warrior and poet Laylā bint Ṭarīf.
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