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Khrijite, Arabic Khawrij, the earliest Islmic sect, which traces its beginning to a religio-political controversy over the

Caliphate. After the murder of the third caliph, Uthmn, and the succession of Al (Muammads son-in-law) as the fourth caliph, Muwiyah, the governor of Syria, sought to avenge the murder of Uthmn. After fighting the indecisive Battle of iffn (July 657) against Muwiyahs forces, Al was forced to agree to arbitration by umpires. This concession aroused the anger of a large group of Als followers, who protested that judgment belongs to God alone (Qurn 6:57) and believed that arbitration would be a repudiation of the Qurnic dictum If one party rebels against the other, fight against that which rebels (49:9). A small number of these pietists withdrew (kharaj) to the village of arr under the leadership of Ibn Wahb and, when arbitration proved disastrous to Al, were joined near Nahrawn by a larger group. These Khrijites, as they came to be known, were opposed equally to Als claims and to those ofMuwiyah. Repudiating not only the existing caliphal candidates but all Muslims who did not accept their views, the Khrijites engaged in campaigns of harassment and terror. In the Battle of Nahrawn (July 658) Ibn Wahb and most of his followers were killed by Al, but the Khrijite movement persisted in a series of uprisings that plagued both Al (whom they assassinated) and Muwiyah (who succeeded Al as caliph). In the period of civil war (fitnah) following the death of the caliph Yazd I (683), the Khrijites were the source of serious disruptions within the Umayyad domain and in Arabia. Subdued through the intensive campaigning of al-ajjj, the Khrijites did not stir again until the collapse of the Umayyads, and then their two major rebellions, in Iraq and Arabia, ended in defeat. The Khrijites constant harassment of the various Muslim governments was less a matter of personal enmity than a practical exercise of their religious beliefs. They held that the judgment of God could only be expressed through the free choice of the entire Muslim community. They insisted that anyone, even a black slave, could be elected caliph (that is, head of the Muslim community) if he possessed the necessary qualifications, chiefly religious piety and moral purity. A caliph may be deposed upon the commission of any major sin. The Khrijites thus set themselves against the legitimist claims (to the Caliphate) of the tribe of Quraysh (among the Sunnites) and of Als descendants (among the Shites). As proponents of the democratic principle, the Khrijites drew to themselves many who were dissatisfied with the existing political and religious authorities. Besides their democratic theory of the Caliphate, the Khrijites were known for their puritanism and fanaticism. Any Muslim who committed a major sin was considered an apostate. Luxury, music, games, and concubinage without the consent of wives were forbidden. Intermarriage and relations with other Muslims were strongly discouraged. The doctrine of justification by faith without works was rejected, and literal interpretation of the Qurn was insisted upon. Within the Khrijite movement the Azriqah of Basra were the most extreme subsect, separating themselves from the Muslim community and declaring death to all sinners and their families. The more moderate subsect of the Ibyah, however, survived into the 20th century in North Africa, Oman, and Zanzibar, with about 500,000 members.

Kharijites: Early Muslim rebels espoused democratic principles

Little-known sect retains appeal to freedom, equality Tamim al-Barghouti


While most people know about the two major sects of Islam, Sunnism and Shiism, few non-Muslims know about the third major Islamic sect: Kharijism. Kharijism was the second Islamic sect to be given a name. When the question of succession after the Prophet Mohammeds death came up, those who supported the candidacy of Ali, based on his divine right to rule, were called the partisans of Ali: the Shiites. The partisans of Ali had to go to war with other Muslims who did not believe in Alis right to rule. In the course of the battle, a peace proposal was made by the anti-Ali forces. They proposed that instead of the ongoing civil war, each party would send an arbiter, and that both parties would commit to accepting whatever decision the two arbiters reached. The proposal turned out to be a trick; the envoy from the anti-Ali faction suggested to Alis envoy that they should impeach both Ali and his competitor, Muawyya, and that they should let Muslims elect a

third leader. Alis envoy agreed and impeached Ali, but Muawyyas envoy did not keep his word and refused to impeach his master. Of course Ali recognized that it was all a setup, and the war resumed. But the event caused Alis camp to split. A group of his supporters, who had been fighting in his name believing that he was divinely chosen and therefore infallible, saw that he had made a mistake by accepting the enemys proposal. When Ali told them that he was against the deal from the beginning and that it was his supporters who had urged him to accept it, they still argued that if he were really infallible he wouldnt have listened to them. That group decided to desert Alis army. Moreover, they concluded that no human being was infallible, that no human had a divine right to rule and that, therefore, no hereditary rule should be allowed in Islam. According to them, a ruler does not have the power to unilaterally legislate, and he is under continuous scrutiny by the community as an executive officer. If Muslims think that a ruler is no longer fit to rule, or if they think that he has misused his powers, they must impeach him. Legislative power was in the hands of the people. Everyone had the right to interpret the Koran, and it was assumed that the people would follow those who would present the most convincing

interpretation of the Koran i.e., that they would follow their scholars. Thus, the Khawarij, whose name simply meant the rebels, at least theoretically, became the first democrats in Islam. One of their scholars even argued that if people were to abide by their interpretations of the Koran, there would be no need for a government whatsoever. Yet, one should not rush judge the influence of Kharijism in Islamic history. Not only did Kharijites believe that it was the peoples right to rebel against an unjust ruler, they actually believed that it was the peoples duty as Muslims to do so. Whoever did not join their cause was therefore an abdicator. Whil, in Islam, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and even infidels were tolerated, abdicators i.e., those who became Muslim yet betrayed the faith were not. In practice, this meant that the Kharijites declared war, not only against a tyrant ruler, but against any entire society that failed to rebel against him. Moreover, a bad ruler was simply a ruler that Kharijites thought was bad, the opinion of others notwithstanding. This unforgiving radicalism drove the Kharijites into morally paradoxical situations. In the Middle ages, the Azraqites, a faction of the Kharijites, used to massacre Muslim civilians, including women and

children, yet refrain from cutting a palm tree owned by a non-Muslim. They would accept death with epical, almost superhuman courage, yet they would also kill with no restriction. And it was the Kharijites who killed Imam Ali, dearly loved by both Shiites and Sunnis. Yet it was also the Kharijites who posed the greatest military threat to the Umayyads, Alis principal enemies and the ones who set up the trick that resulted in the Kharijites disappointment in him. During most of the Sunni Umayyad rule, the Kharijites devoured one Umayyad army after the other. Their courage and their brutality were the subject of dozens of Arabic poems. The expression talks like a Kharijite meant that the speaker was making the utmost powerful argument both in style and content, yet the expression also meant that the speech might have terrible consequences. The typical slogan of the Kharijites was: Only God should rule, implying that no legitimacy should be derived from any source other than the Koran. Thus hereditary rule was considered illegitimate. A typical Shiite/Sunni answer to that used to be the repetition of Alis words to his first Kahrijite dissidents this is a true argument whose purpose is false, referring to the fact that his authority was based on the Koran as well.

It is paradoxical that, while the Sunnis ruled, those who argued for the divine right, namely the Shiites, could compromise, while the democrats, whose slogan was almost all the power to the people, turned out to be the most violent and least tolerant. Today, Kharijism has lost much of its revolutionary zeal, but it still retains all of its logical appeal to freedom and equality, as well as its legacy as the utmost resistance to tyranny. In the modern era, many governments in the Muslim world hasten to call every revolutionary movement a Kharijite movement. Had those rulers read the real history of the Kharijites, they would have thought twice before giving that name to the opposition, for their own good!

Tamim al-Barghouti is a Palestinian poet. He writes a regular feature for The Daily Star