There have been many groups and organizations that exploited the religious tendency of Muslims, misconstrued Jihad verses in the Holy Qur’an, taking them out of context and the historical circumstance associated with certain happenings, which coincided with revelations of Prophet Mohammed [PBUH] at a time he was laying the foundation for a righteous, powerful state. He [the Prophet] was warding off harm and aggression – serving the will of God – by war and fighting the infidels, who wanted to extinguish the light of Allah, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light.
Extremist groups traded in these verses to achieve political, mundane objectives that have nothing to do with the tolerance of moderate Islam. The Kharijites were the first sect that exploited religion to establish political opposition. Their ideas have been reproduced by a number of extremists and takfiris such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in the modern era.
During the rule of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Fourth Muslim Caliph and one of the ten promised paradise, the Kharijites emerged as an opposition to Ali, may Allah honor his face. The Kharijites took scriptures literally and charged many of the Prophet’s companions and Muslims with infidelity. Moreover, they labeled the blood [killing] of Muslims as permissible based on bizarre and odd fatwas (religious edicts).
In addition to Imam Ali, their opposition extended to the Umayyad Caliphate (A.H. 41–132 / A.D. 662–750), the second Islamic caliphate established by Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan (A.D 608-680), as they charged all of them [the Umayyad rulers] with infidelity. That movement opposed the Muslim society in all times.
The Kharijites first emerged in Harura’ near Kufa [in Iraq] after Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan suggested to Imam Ali arbitration and having recourse to the Holy Qur’an in a bid to put an end to war following the Battle of Siffin (A.D. 657). But a group from the tribe of Tamim rejected arbitration, claiming that “judgment belongs to God alone”. In response, Ali described their statement as “a word of truth by which is intended falsehood”.
They requested Ali to resume war on Muawiya, but he refused. They dissented and deemed both sides of Ali and Muawiya as infidels.
Religious beliefs of Kharijites
The Kharijites deem the common Muslim people as infidels as they embrace a particular concept of faith based on good deed, and label whoever disobeys God as infidel. The Kharijites condemn those who perpetrate major sins and die without repentance to eternal hell fire.
This idea was materialized in their intellectual and militant conflict with the Umayyads, when the issue of “rulers who committed major sins and wrongful acts” was raised. The Kharijites call for rebellion against Muslim rulers in case of the slightest infringement of Shariah (Islamic law). They recognize only the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Omar and the first six years of Uthman’s rule [the first three Rashidun Caliphs]. They recognized Ali’s rule prior to his acceptance of arbitration.
The Kharijites considered the killing of those who disagree with them permissible. They [all of Kharijite groups] unanimously denied mutable attributes of Allah, citing that the essence of God is immutable. Based on this principle, they believed in the creation of the Holy Qur’an. That triggered a major fitnah – religious persecution against Muslims who opposed the doctrine that the Holy Qur’an was created in the era of the Abbasid Caliphate.
The Kharajites split into numerous subsects in regard to noncore issues. However, all of them grasped the same intellectual fundamentals. The most well-known subsects are: Azariqa and Ibadiyya.
- Azariqa: Followers of Nafi ibn al-Azraq. They believed that those who are outside of their own group to be infidels and their children would be eternally sent to hell.
- Ibadiyya: Followers of Abdullah ibn Ibad. This subsect is the least extremist Kharijite group. They consider who commits major sins to be “unbeliever of grace” not “an apostate”. They did not say the children of unbelievers would be eternally sent to hell.
The Kharijites fought a number of wars, in most of which they were defeated. The most well-known battles include: Nahrawan (A.H. 37, A.D. 657) under the first Kharijite emir Abdullah ibn Wahb al-Rassibi, and Daskara in Khurasan (A.H. 38, A.D. 658), under the command of Ashras ibn Ouf al-Shibani. The Kharijites were defeated in Mas Bazan, Persia (A.H. 38, A.D. 658) under the command of Helal ibn Alafa.
When the Kharijites realized they would be defeated, they plotted to assassinate Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Amr ibn al-Aas and Muawiya. Ali was killed by Abdel Rahman ibn Muljam. Consequently, Al-Hassan ibn Ali handed over the rule to Muawiya.
Insurrection against the Umayyads
The Umayyad Dynasty, which was established by Muawiya, was never away from insurrections of the Kharijites. Sahm ibn Ghalib al-Tamimi and al-Khatib al-Bahli started an internal munity between A.H. 41 and A.H. 46.
In A.H. 58, the Kharijites of Banu Abd el-Qais rebelled, but were defeated by Abdullah ibn Ziad. In A.H. 59, the Kharijites rebelled under the command of Habban ibn Zebian al-Salami. But all of them were killed near Kufa.
In A.H. 127, an army of 120,000 Kharijites, recruiting large numbers of women warriors, under the command of al-Dahak ibn Qais al-Shibani defeated the Umayyads in Kufa.
In A.H. 129, the Kharijites rebelled in Yemen under the command of Abdullah Yahia al-Kindi and took over Hadhramaut, Yemen and Sanaa. A Kharijite army led by Abu Hamza al-Shari invaded Mecca and Medina. In A.H. 130, the Umayyad army defeated them.
All of these insurrections weakened the Umayyad Caliphate and increased the number of anti-Umayyad groups.
However, the Abassid Dynasty (of al-Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle), the third Islamic Caliphate, did not find it difficult to eradicate the Kharijites.
Abu al-Abbas al-Saffah, the first Abassid caliph, put an end to the Kharijites who had no political role. Many of Kharijite groups embraced extremist conceptions without drawing on violence.
In the modern time, the Kharijite conceptions were reproduced by a number of takfiris and extremists such Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979), one of key references of all takfiri groups, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), a takfiri theorist and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Office. Both of Maududi and Qutb are considered to be top takfiri magnates in the modern time.
A number of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, aka Daesh, followed the footsteps of Kharijites as they adopted labeling Muslims as infidels and armed insurrection for political change.