The Kharijites and their impact on Contemporary Islam
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
of the excesses and extremism that we observe today may be understood in terms
of the origins and unfolding of Kharijism during the first few centuries of
a number of writers – both past and present – are of the opinion that this
sect is extinct, others are of the view that its not. I share the latter view.
The influences of this sect have always been present, in different guises and in
varying degrees, throughout the history of Islam. But it appears to have gained
a renewed momentum with the emergence of Muhammad Abdul Wahhab during the latter
part of the 18th century.
series will attempt to explore the relationship between the two and also to
critically examine the position of Abdul Wahhab himself.
origins of Kharijism date back to the time of the Prophet (SAW). Amongst the
clearest indications we have of this is the Hadith of Hurqus ibn Zuhair in
Bukhari and Muslim.
the Battle of Hunain the Prophet (SAW) – in distributing the booty – gave
preference to a number of non-Muslims. His aim was to attract them to Islam.
Hurqus rebuked the Prophet (SAW) by saying to him: “Be just in your
distribution O Messenger of Allah.”
Prophet was incensed by this remark and responded by saying:
who can be called just if I am not just?”
this the Prophet added:
will come a time when a group of people will leave our ranks. They will recite
the Quran with fervour and passion (lit. “with tongues that are moist”) but
its spirit will not go beyond their throats. They will leave our ranks in the
manner of an arrow when it shoots from its bow.”
is significant that this selfsame Hurqus was elected as one of the heads of the
Kharijites after the Battle of Siffin. This story needs to be told, albeit
Battle of Siffin was a battle for Muslim leadership, with Sayyidna Ali on the
one side and Muawiyyah on the other. This probably marks one of the most painful
moments in the history of Islam. But there are enormous lessons here and we need
to understand them.
Companions on both sides were disheartened by this conflict. The necessity,
therefore, for arbitration between the two parties was mooted by a certain
al-Ash’ath ibn Qais. The proposal was accepted by both parties with Abu Musa
al-Ash’ari representing Sayyidna Ali (RA) and ‘Amr ibn al-As (RA)
representing Muawiyyah (RA). Nonetheless, when the pact was read out by ibn Qais
a large group on the side of Sayyidna Ali objected vehemently to its terms. Most
of the members of this group belonged to the Bedouin tribe of Tamim. Their
spokesperson on the occasion was Urwa ibn Udaiyya.
said: “Are men to arbitrate in the affairs of Allah? There can be no
arbitration except by Allah.”
support of his view he quoted the following Quranic passage: “The prerogative
of command rests with none but Allah. He declares the truth and he is the best
of judges” (6:57).
Ali’s response to this was typical:
is a word of truth in what they say,” he said, “but their ends are
along with 12,000 others, then seceded from the party of Sayyidna Ali. Initially
they set up camp at a place called Harawra on the outskirts of Kufa. Here they
elected Abdullah ibn al-Kawwa as their head. Sayyidna Ali pursued them and
engaged them in debate. Ibn al-Kuwwa conceded to Sayyidna Ali’s arguments and
he, along with a few others, returned to his ranks.
rest of the Kharijites then left for Nahrawan. Here they elected Abdullah ibn
Wahb al-Rasibi and the above-mentioned Hurqus ibn Zuhair as their leaders. It is
interesting to note here that al-Rasibi was known for his fervour in reciting
the Quran and was also nicknamed Dhu al-Thafanat (the one whose kneecaps
appeared like two humps of a camel because of the intense and extended nature of
his prostration in Salaah).
on their way to Nahrawan, they encountered Abdullah ibn Khabbaab al-Aratt, one
of the governors of Sayyidna Ali. Amongst the things he said to them after they
identified him as an enemy was the following:
father related to me that the Prophet (SAW) said: ‘There will come a time when
the fitna (corruption and sedition) of the one who sits will be considered
preferable to the one who stands; and the fitna of the one who stands will be
preferable to the one who walks; and the fitna of the one who walks will be
preferable to the one who runs. So if it is at all possible then try to be
amongst those who are slaughtered rather than amongst those who will do the
ironically, was one of the first victims of Kharijite brutality. He, along with
his pregnant wife, was hacked to death.
the news of this slaughter reached Sayyidna Ali he set out for Nahrawan with an
army of 4,000 men.
subsequent meeting that ensued between Sayyidna Ali and the Kharijites merit a
separate and full treatment. This we will relate in the 2nd part of
it for us at this stage to know that by now this group of Kharijites – known
as the “Muhakkima”- had already resolved upon the following principles:
The declaration of Kufr (unbelief) on Sayyidna Ali, Muawiyyah, and all
those who had participated in and agreed to the process of arbitration
Takfir (charging with unbelief) of all those who disagreed with them on
any theological issues
The right to kill any of the above.
this context the response of Sayyidna Ali to their view that the “prerogative
of command belongs to Allah alone” by saying that it was “a word of truth
with a devious end” becomes quite apparent.
was evident to Sayyidna Ali that theirs was a political agenda - an agenda that
was inspired by an ill-conceived sense of political isolationism owing to their
Bedouin status. The spirit of Islam – as yet – had not served to
de-tribalise them. Strength, to them, resided in aggression and belligerence;
and not in the deeper recesses of the spirit and soul – the wellsprings of
genuine faith (Iman).
Ali understood this for he understood the meaning of the Quranic verse:
desert Arabs say, ‘We believe (amanna).’ Say:
‘You do not as yet have true faith.’ Rather say: ‘We have only
submitted our wills to Allah (aslamna), for not yet has true faith entered your
is therefore not surprising that the Hurub al-Ridda (the War against the
Apostates) that occurred during the time of Sayyidna Abu Bakr was inspired by a
group of people with similar backgrounds. It is even less surprising that most
of the claims to prophethood after the death of the Prophet (SAW) also emanated
from these localities.
the Kharijites, on the other hand, to legitimise their agenda and justify their
killing of Muslims they had to declare them as Kafir and hence the territories
in which they lived as a Dar al-Harb (an abode of war). This they legitimised
under the nefarious pretence of “the prerogative of command belongs to
Allah.” This statement – and more correctly read, in its Kharijite context,
as “only we (with our swords) have the prerogative of command” – spawned
thousands of little gods who maimed and massacred and killed in the name of the
most Merciful of the Merciful.
Ali’s position in that confrontation at Nahrawan is one every Muslim needs to