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Kharijites (Collective Plural Arabic: الخارجيةtranslit.: al-Khārijiyyah; Multiple Plural Arabic: خوارجtranslit.: Khawārij; Singular Arabic: خارجيtranslit.: Khāriji; literally 'those who went out'[1]) is a general term describing Muslims who initially supported the authority of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law and cousin of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, then later rejected his leadership. The name "Khawarij" comes from the Arabic root خ ر ج (K-R-J), which has the primary meaning “to go out”,[2][3] as in the basic word خَرَجُ (kharaju), meaning "to go out", "to walk out", "to come out" etc.[4] This group was the first group to exhibit extremist tendencies and the first sect to split away from mainstream Islamic thought—even before the Sunni-Shia split. They first emerged in the late 7th century, concentrated in today's southern Iraq, and are distinct from Sunni Muslims and Shi'a Muslims. With the passage of time the Kharijite groups fell greatly in their numbers and their beliefs did not continue to gain any traction in future generations.

One of the early Kharijite groups was the Harouriyyah; it was notable for many reasons, among which was its ruling that a Harūrī, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, was the assassin of Caliph Alī.



The origin of Kharijism lies in the first Islamic civil war, the struggle for political supremacy over the Muslim community in the years following the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. After the third caliph (Uthman ibn Affan), a struggle for succession ensued between Caliph Ali and Muʿāwiyah, the governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman, in league with a variety of other opponents.

In 657, Alī's forces met Muʿāwiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muʿāwiyah but on the brink of defeat, Muʿāwiyah directed his army to hoist Qur'āns on their lances.[5] This initiated discord among some of those who were in Alī's army. Muʿāwiyah wanted to put the dispute between the two sides to arbitration in accordance with the Qur'an. A group of Alī's army mutinied, demanding that Alī agree to Muʿāwiyah's proposal. As a result, Alī reluctantly presented his own representative for arbitration. The mutineers, however, put forward Abu Musa al-Ashʿari against Alī's wishes.

Muʿāwiyah put forward 'Amr ibn al-'As. Abu Musa al-Ashʿari was convinced by Amr to pronounce Alī's removal as caliph even though Ali's caliphate was not meant to be the issue of concern in the arbitration. The mutineers saw the turn of events as a fundamental betrayal of principle, especially since they had initiated it; a large group of them repudiated Alī.

Citing the verse "No rule but God's," an indication that a caliph is not a representative of God, this group turned on both Alī and Muʿāwiya, opposing Muʿāwiya's rebellion against one they considered to be the rightful caliph, and opposing ʻAlī for accepting to subject his legitimate authority to arbitration, thus giving away what was not his, but rather the right of the people. They became known as Kharijites: Arabic plural khawārij, singular Khārijī, derived from the verb kharaja "to come out, to exit."

ʻAlī quickly divided his troops and ordered them to catch the dissenters before they could reach major cities and disperse among the population.[citation needed] Alī's cousin and a renowned Islamic jurist, Abdullah ibn Abbas, pointed out the grave theological errors made by the Kharijites in quoting the Qur'an, and managed to persuade a number of Kharijites to return to Alī based on their misinterpretations. ʻAlī defeated the remaining rebels in the Battle of Nahrawan in 658 but some Kharijites survived.


A narration attributed to Unknown reports:

A narration attributed to Unknown reports:

A narration attributed to Unknown reports:

Assassination attempts[edit]

Among the surviving Kharijites, three of them gathered in Mecca to plot a tripartite assassination attempt on Muʿāwiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān, 'Amr ibn al-'As and Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The assassination attempts were to occur simultaneously as the three leaders came to lead the morning prayer (Faj'r) 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.[9]

Muawiya escaped the assassination attempt with only minor injuries. While 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 a fatal one. Ali was gravely injured with a head wound and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.[10]

The circumstances in which Ali was attacked is subject to debate; where some scholars maintain that he was attacked outside the mosque, others state that he was attacked while initiating the prayer, still others reiterate that ibn-Muljim assaulted him midway through the prayer, while Ali was prostrating.[9][11][12]

All the assassins were captured, tried and sentenced to death in accordance with Islamic laws.[10]

Modern times[edit]

The Ibadis, a group who stemmed from the same mother group as the Kharijites, have survived into the present day. They form a significant part of the population of Oman (where they first settled in 686),[13] and there are smaller concentrations of them in the M'zab of Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, Jebel Nafusa in Libya, and Zanzibar.

A minor but growing Kharijite sub-sect today are the Israelite Muslims who are a branch of the Karaites (Qaraim). They are the Israelite faction of the Kharijites and were known as the Isawiyya, a name derived from their allegiance to the Amir, Abu Isa Al-Isfahani. During the latter part of the 7th century, Abu Isa established the first Israelite Islamic school of learning. The school located at Isfahan in Iran clearly defined the role of the Children of Israel in relation to the Prophet Muhammad.

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Early Muslim governance[edit]

The Kharijites considered the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar to be rightly guided but believed that Uthman ibn Affan 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 ibn Abi Talib committed a grave sin when he agreed on the arbitration with Muʿāwiyah. In the Battle of Siffin, Ali acceded to Muawiyah's suggestion to stop the fighting and resort to negotiation. A large portion of Ali's troops (who later became the first Kharijites) refused to concede to that agreement, and they considered that Ali had breached a Qur'anic verse which states that The decision is only for Allah (Qur'an 6:57), which the Kharijites interpreted to mean that the outcome of a conflict can only be decided in battle (by God) and not in negotiations (by human beings).

The Kharijites thus deemed the arbitrators (Abu Musa al-Ashʿari and Amr Ibn Al-As), the leaders who appointed these arbitrators (Ali and Muʿāwiyah) and all those who agreed on the arbitration (all companions of Ali and Muʿāwiyah) as Kuffār (disbelievers), having breached the rules of the Qur'an. They believed that all participants in the Battle of Jamal, including Talha, Zubair (both being companions of Muhammad) and Aisha had committed a Kabira (major sin in Islam). [14]

Doctrinal differences with other sects[edit]

The differences between the Sunni, Shiʿa, and the Kharijites are the following:

  • 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 imaamate was the right of Ali, and the rule of the first three Rashidun caliphs was unlawful. Kharijites insist that any Muslim could be a leader of the Muslim community and had the right to revolt against any ruler who deviated from their interpretation of Islam.[15]
  • Kharijites reject the doctrine of infallibility for the leader of the Muslim community, in contrast to Shi'a but in agreement with Sunnis.[16]


Modern-day Islamic scholar Abul Ala Maududi wrote an analysis of Kharijite beliefs, marking a number of differences between Kharijism and Sunni Islam. The Kharijites believed that the act of sinning is analogous to Kufr (disbelief) and that every grave sinner was regarded as a Kāfir (disbeliever) unless he repents. With this argument, they denounced all the above-mentioned Ṣaḥābah and even cursed and used abusive language against them. Ordinary Muslims were also declared disbelievers because first, they were not free of sin; secondly they regarded the above-mentioned Ṣaḥābah as believers and considered them as religious leaders, even inferring Islamic jurisprudence from the Hadeeth narrated by them. [14] They also believed that it is not a must for the caliph to be from the Quraysh. Any pious Muslim nominated by other Muslims could be an eligible caliph.[14] Additionally, Kharijites believed that obedience to the caliph is binding as long as he is managing the affairs with justice and consultation, but if he deviates, then it becomes obligatory to confront him, demote him and even kill him.

[14] Regarding Islamic law, the Kharijites considered the Qur'an as the source for Islamic jurisprudence but regarding the other two sources (Hadith and Ijma) their concepts were different from ordinary Muslims. [14]

Ihsan Abbas, another modern-day Muslim scholar, analyzed the Kharijites from their own writings, a perspective which has rarely been taken by other Sunni writers. Based on their poetry, Abbas divided Kharijite expression into three categories of focus: 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, and their universal tendency to blame the self for failing to establish the previous two categories.[17]

Principal groups of Khawarij[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Schisms and Heterodoxy among the Muslims", hosted on
  2. ^ Hassanein, Ahmed Taher; Abdou, Kamar; Abo El Seoud, Dalal. The Concise Arabic-English Lexicon of Verbs in Context (New rev'd & expnded ed. n). New York: The American University in Cairo Press (2011). p105.
  3. ^ Google Translate. Retrieved 5 July 2015.خرج
  4. ^ Wehr, Hans; and Cowen JM (Ed). The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (Arabic-English), 4th Ed.n. Urbana, IL: Spoken Language Services. ISBN 978-0-87950-003-0. p 269
  5. ^ Ali, Ameer. 'A Short History of the Saracens' (13th ed.). London 1961: Macmillan and Company. p. 51. He (Muawiyah) made his mercenaries tie copies of the Koran to their lances and flags, and shout for quarter. 
  6. ^ Bukhari Book 9 Volume 84 Hadith 68
  7. ^ Bukhari Book 4 Volume 53 Hadith 378
  8. ^ Sahih Bukhari 4770, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
  9. ^ a b Cook, David (January 15, 2007). Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0521615518. 
  10. ^ a b "Hadrat Ali’s (r.a.) Murder". Islam Helpline. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Hitti, Phillip (2002). History of the Arabs. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 182. ISBN 0333631420. 
  12. ^ Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1979). Shi'ite Islam. Suny Press. p. 192. ISBN 0873952723. 
  13. ^ "CIA - The World Factbook". Central Intelligence Agency. June 5, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  15. ^ Goldhizer, Ignaz. "Muslim Studies", (Transaction Publishers, 1971) Vol.1 p.130 (Downloadable from:
  16. ^ Baydawi, Abdullah. "Tawali' al- Anwar min Matali' al-Anzar", circa 1300. Translated alongside other texts in the 2001 "Nature, Man and God in Medieval Islam" by Edwin Elliott Calverley and James Wilson Pollock. pp. 1001-1009
  17. ^ Hussam S. Timani, Modern Intellectual Readings of the Kharijites, pgs. 84-85. Volume 262 of American University Studies, Series VII: Theology and Religion. Bern: Peter Lang, 2008.ISBN 9780820497013

Further reading[edit]

  • J. J. Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam, Routledge (UK), 1 October 1972 ISBN 0-415-05914-3

External links[edit]