The Kharijites were members of the earliest sect in Islam that left the followers of Ali. In Arabic, they were known as the Khawarij which literally means, “those seceded” (globalsecurity.org). Other studies translate Khawarij as “those who went out” (arikah.com). There are studies which relate Khawarij to the verb “kharaja” which is understood as “come out, leave the hold.” History says that this Islamic group emerged during the late 7th century A.D., of which power were evident in today’s southern Iraq.
As their name suggests, the group originated from a bloody war between their fellow Muslims who held different ideology from what the group now holds. The Kharijites were born during the well-known first Islamic civil war better known as the Battle of Siffin which said to have occurred in 656 A.D. A struggle for political supremacy over the Muslim community in the years after the death of prophet Muhammad was said to have ignited the Islamic Civil War. The Battle was led by the opposing leaders; Sayyidna Ali and Muawiyyah.
THE CALIPH AND HIS SIGNIFICANCE IN THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY
Caliph is the English word for Khalifa, an Arabic term used as short word for Khalifatu Rasulil-lah, which means “Successor to the Messenger of God, the Holy Prophet Muhammad”. Abu Bakr was the first Khalifa, who was elected after the death of Muhammad. As a successor to the prophet and the head of the Muslim community, the Caliph is responsible for creating and maintaining conditions in order for the Muslims to live a life where justice is well-served and as what the Islamic principles dictates.
The Rightly-Guided Caliphs
The first four Caliphs elected after Muhammad is collectively known as The Rightly-Guided Caliphs. They are the Muslim leaders who have truly followed the steps of the Prophet. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali were the members of the Al-Khulafa-ur Rashidun. All four were said to have been the closest companions of Muhammad who had lived a simple and righteous life, who have served justice well, who were kind and merciful to the people after whom no one have ever ruled like them.
Election of the Caliphs
After the death of Muhammad, it was Abu Bakr al-Siddiq who was appointed to take his place. Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn ‘Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib, took the place of a caliph one after the other who were said to have exemplary governance of the Islamic community.
However, questions arose as to the legitimacy of Ali’s appointment as caliph. Ali was Muhammad’s cousin-in-law, whose election as caliph was not recognized by the parties of Uthman, the third caliph. As a backgrounder, Uthman, before he was killed, was accused of favoritism to the clan of Umayyah, his own clan. The governor of Syria, Mu’awiyah went against Ali’s appointment for the reason that the latter’s appointment was supported by those who are responsible for the death of Uthman. This conflict got worse and lead to the battle of Shiffin. Out of this battle was born the Kharijites.
THE BIRTH OF THE KHARIJITES
As has been said earlier, The Battle of Siffin was a battle between Sayyidna Ali and Muawiyyah. Cutting the events short, Ali settled for arbitration with Muawiyyah in order to end the conflict. What happened was a pact was made between the parties through their representatives: Abu Musa al-Ash’ari representing Sayyidna Ali and ‘Amr ibn al-As representing Muawiyyah. The arbiter was in the name of Ash’ath ibn Qais. When the results of the pact were read out, a large group from Ali’s party objected. Their argument was that arbitration should be left in the hands of Allah only, as being the only righteous judge. The spokesperson, Urwa convinced about 12, 000 men to withdraw their support from Ali. These were the people we now known as the Kharijites.
The Kharijites or the Khawarij in early Islam were the third most important group, after the Sunnis and Shi’ites (muslimhope.com). Like the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, Kharijites desire only the pure and original teaching of the Quran. The difference lies on their obedience to Ali as the rightful Caliph. Being lose supporters of Ali, they were also regarded as the “Disappointed Ones.”
THE IDEOLOGIES OF THE KHARIJITES
Quran was the sole authority over every Muslim – since the Quran was regarded as the sole authority and God the supreme authority and judge over every Muslim, the Kharijites had this belief a justification for withdrawing their support to Ali on the issue of arbitration.
From this, they believe that they could revolt against any form of secular Muslim rule. Also, they believe that are justified in killing all non-believers. What was so disappointing was that they also believe that they have the right to kill even their fellow Muslims who resist joining them. The right extends to carrying off the unbelievers’ properties as booty.
Kharijites claim that anyone who was found guilty of grave sin was an infidel –the group believed that anyone who commits mortal sin, they termed as “kabira” should be treated as an apostate (murtadd). Thus, this apostate should be considered as an unbeliever or Ali spent much of kafir. Kafir must be excluded from the Muslim community whose properties are no longer protected.
The Kharijites believed that the true caliphate ended up with Umar – During the time of Ali’s leadership, the fanatical Kharijites had brought a real pain to Ali and the Muslim community. The era of Ali’s caliphate was marred by civil strife (usc.edu). The group continued to convince the people that the Muslims should live without any ruler except God.
They were determined to kill Muawiyah, Amr bin al-Aas of Egypt and especially Ali. The group deployed assassins to do the job. Those who were assigned to kill Muawiyah and Amr failed in their mission and were captured and later executed. However, the one who was assigned to assassinate Ali succeeded by stabbing the caliph with a poisoned sword during a prayer in the mosque. Ali was the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who died on the 20th day of Ramadan, 40 A.H.
THE KHARIJITES AND CONTEMPORARY ISLAM
The influences of this sect have always been present, in different guises and in varying degrees, throughout the history of Islam (S. Hendricks). This group did not last long fter the death of their leader, Harqus. It is just however been sad that the group left a bad example for other sects of whom prominent ones are the Wahbabis and the Shi’ite Islam. Whether they are completely extinct or not, the Kharijites left the reputation of the Muslim community tainted with violence.
Today, the Kharijites were regarded by the Muslim community as renegades. “Anyone who revolts against the leader who rules over the Muslims in their land or against those who follow these leaders, regardless of whether the revolt occurred in the days of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, is a Kharijite (‘al-Milal wan-Nihal’). The greatest legacy of the Kharijites to the Muslim community is violence. By setting revolutions against its leaders, the Kharijites are calling for bloodshed and work for the downfall of governments.
They begin their ideology by declaring Muslim governments as apostate regimes and so anyone who does not oppose and anyone who is involved in the government are regarded as apostate. One famous example of a Kharijite was Usaamah bin Laaden as evidenced by his expressed joy in the Saudi Arabia bombing in 1998. As with the Muslim community, the Kharijites are considered as renegades who were never a part of Islam because of their contradictory ideologies relative to what Islam holds.
Hendricks ,Shaykh Seraj. “The Kharijites and their Impact on Contemporary Islam”. Retrieved on April 27, 2007 from http://www.sunnah.org/aqida/kharijites1.htm
Young, Michael. March 01, 2001. “The Latter-Day Kharijites of Kabul”. Islam for Today. Retrieved on May 01, 2007 from http://www.islamfortoday.com/taleban1.htm
“Kharijites”. Retrieved on April 27, 2007 from http://www.arikah.com/encyclopedia/Kharijite
“Kharijite Islam”. Retrieved on April 27, 2007 from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/intro/islam-kharijite.htm
“Muslim Movements and Schisms”. Retrieved on May 01, 2007 from http://answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/Vol1/9d.html
“Sects of Islam”. March 2005. Retrieved on May 01, 2007 from http://www.muslimhope.com/SectsOfIslam.htm
“The Rightly Guided Caliphs”. Retrieved on May 01, 2007 from http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/politics/firstfourcaliphs.html
“Islam and Islamic History in Arabia and The Middle East”. Retrieved on May 01, 2007 from http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/ihame/Sec3.htm
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