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Kharijites (Arabic Khawārij خوارج, literally "Those who Went Out"[1]; singular, Khariji) is a general term embracing various Muslims who, while initially supporting the caliphate of the fourth and final "Rightly Guided" caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, later rejected him. They first emerged in the late 7th century AD, concentrated in today's southern Iraq, and are distinct from the Sunnis and Shiites.

Whereas the Shiites believed that the imamate (leadership) was the right of Ali, the Kharijites insisted that any Muslim could be a leader of the Muslim community. And whereas the Sunnis believed that the imam's impiousness did not, by itself, justify sedition, the Kharijites insisted on the right to revolt against any ruler who deviated from the example of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. From this essentially political position, the Kharijites developed a variety of theological and legal doctrines that further set them apart from both Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Kharijites were also known historically as the Shurat (Ar: الشُراة), literally meaning "the buyers" and understood within the context of Islamic scripture and philosophy to mean "those who have traded the mortal life (aldunya) for the other life [with God] (alakhera), which, unlike the term "Kharijite", was one that many Kharijites used to describe themselves.

The only surviving group, the Ibāḍī of Oman, Zanzibar and North Africa, reject the "Kharijite" appellation and refer to themselves as ahl al-'adl wal istiqama (أهل العدل و الاستقامة) ("people of justice and uprightness"). One of the early Kharijite groups was the Harūriyya; it was notable for many reasons, among which was its ruling on the permissibility of women Imāms and that a Harūrī, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, was the assassin of ‘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 prophet Muhammad. The third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, and a struggle for succession ensued between Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and Muāwiyah, governor of Damascus and cousin of Uthman in league with a variety of other opponents.

In 657, Alī's forces met Muāwiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muāwiyah. On the brink of defeat, Muāwiyah directed his army to hoist Qur'āns on their lances.[2] This initiated discord among some of those who were in Alī's army. Muāwiyah wanted to put the dispute between the two sides to arbitration in accordance with the Quran. A group of Alī's army mutinied, demanding that Alī agree to Muāwiyah's proposal. As a result, Alī reluctantly presented his own representative for arbitration. The mutineers, however, put forward Abu Musa al-Ash'ari against Alī's wishes.

Muāwiyah put forward Amr Ibn Al-As. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari 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 (traditionally believed to be 12,000, mainly from Banu Hanifah and Banu Tamim tribes)[citation needed]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 Muāwiya, opposing Muāwiya's rebellion against one they considered to be the rightful caliph, and opposing ˤAlī 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 "come out, leave the fold."

ˤAlī quickly divided his troops and ordered them to catch the dissenters before they could reach major cities and disperse among the population.[citation needed] Ali's cousin, Abdullah ibn Abbas, managed to persuade a number of Kharijites to return to Alī.[citation needed] ˤAlī defeated the remaining rebels in the Battle of Nahrawan in 658 but some Kharijites survived and, in 661, ultimately assassinated Alī. They are said to have organized simultaneous attempts against Muāwiya and Amr as well, as the three men were in their view the main sources of strife within the Muslim community, but were only successful in assassinating Ali.[citation needed]


Al-Shahrastani defines a Khariji as:

Anyone who walks out against (seeking to overthrow) the true appointed Imam (leader) upon whose leadership the majority is in agreement is called a Khariji. This is the case, despite whether the walking out (against the Imam) occurred in the days of the Rightly-Guided caliphs or other than them from the Tabi'een[3].

Some of the Salaf used to call all those who practiced Islam based upon their desires as Kharijite.

Beliefs and practices

They 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 Taleb committed a grave sin whence he agreed on the arbitration. In the Battle of Siffin Ali acceded to Muawiyah's suggestion to stop the fighting and refuge 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 has breached a Qur'anic verse which states that The decision is only for Allah (Qur'an 6:57), and hence the Kharijites thought 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-Ash'ari and Amr Ibn Al-As), the leaders who appointed these arbitrators (Ali and Muawiyah) and all those who agreed on the arbitration (all companions of Ali and Muawiyah) as Kafirs (disbelievers), having breached the rules of the Qur'an. They believed that all participants of Battle of Jamal including Talha, Zubair (companions of Muhammad) and Aisha had committed a Kabira (major sin in Islam). [4]

They Kharijites believed that the act of sinning is analogous to Kufr (disbelief) and that every grave sinner was regarded as Kafir (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 Hadith narrated by them. [5]

They 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. [6]

They believed that obedience to the caliph is bounding 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 murder him. [7]

They 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. [8]


The Kharijites are the group of people who refused to accept Ali as the fourth Khalifa and said that Judgement (hukm) is ONLY with ALLAH. The Kharijites were the first sect to appear in the history of Islam. Later this sect split up into many sub-sects. However, the major sub-sects of the Kharijites are eight:i;

Some of the other sub-sects include:

  • al-Ibaadiyyah;
  • ash-Shamraakhiyyah;
  • as-Salaydiyyah;
  • as-Sirriyyah;
  • al-'Azriyyah;
  • al-'Ajradiyyah;
  • ash-Shakkiyyah;
  • al-Fadhaliyyah;
  • al-Hamas
  • al-Bayhasiyyah;
  • al-'Atwiyyah;
  • al-Fadeekiyyah;
  • al-Ja'diyyah;
  • ash-Shaybiyyah;
  • al-Hurooriyyah;
  • al-Khamariyyah;
  • ash-Sharaah.


The most extreme were the Azraqīs or Azariqah, founded in Persia in 685 by Nāfiʿ ibn ul-Azraq. These pronounced Takfir on all other Muslims, considering them to be Kuffar ('unbelievers') who could be killed with impunity.[9][10] Their distinctive practices included:

  • A test of sincerity (امتحان imtiḥān "examination") required of each new recruit, in which the neophyte was required to cut the throat of a captive enemy.[citation needed]
  • Religious murder (استعراض istiʿrāḍ "demonstration"), not only of men, but also of their wives and children (the killing of Muslim non-combatants is disallowed in Islam: Islamic military jurisprudence)

They regarded the territory occupied by other Muslims as part of Dar al-Kufr,[citation needed]the territory of unbelief where it was permitted to attack both people and goods - but also a territory from which one must exile oneself, as Muhammad had exiled himself from Mecca to escape the unbelievers there.[citation needed]


Less brutal was the Sufri sect, founded by Ziyād ibnu l-Asfar in an environment hostile to Kharijism.[citation needed] These condemned political murder, adhered the practice of taqiyya,[citation needed] and rejected the massacre of the unbelievers' children.[citation needed] They considered Sura 12 to be not truly part of the Qur'an.[citation needed]


The Najdat were the followers of Najdah ibn 'Amir, of Bani Hanifa, who established a Kharijite state in al-Yamamah (east-central Arabia). Like the Sufris, Najdah had split from the Azraqi movement over the issues of the killing of the enemy's women and children and over the status of those who refuse to join in battle, as the Azraqis believed that whoever stayed behind had become an unbeliever.


A third sect, the Ibādīs, developed further than the others. Founded by ˤAbdullāh ibn-Ibād, they maintained attitudes of political intransigence and moral rigor.[citation needed] They were, however, more flexible in their dealings with other Muslims - for example, they would not attack without first extending an invitation to join.[citation needed]


The branch founded by Habib ibn-Yazīd al-Harūrī held that it was permissible to entrust the imamate to a woman if she was able to carry out the required duties.[citation needed] The founder's wife, Ghazāla al-Harūriyya, commanded troops; in this she followed the example of Juwayriyya, daughter of Abu Sufyan, at the battle of Yarmuk. In one battle, she put the famous Umayyad general Hajjāj ibn-Yūsuf to flight.[citation needed]


Reenactors showing military Kharijites

The high point of the Kharijites' influence was in the years 690-730 around Basra in south Iraq, which was always a center of Sunni theology. Kharijite ideology was a popular creed for rebels against the officially Sunni Caliphate, inspiring breakaway states and rebellions (like Maysara's) throughout the Maghrib and sometimes elsewhere.

The Azraqī revolted against the Caliphate in 685 after separating from the Ibādī near Basra and departing for Fars. They were suppressed by Abd al-Malik's armies, under the command of Amir al-Hajjaj; their leader was killed, and by 699 they had vanished. Another revolt occurred in 695; Sunni traditions underline the massacre of Muslims at a mosque in Kufa as an example of Kharijite fury and brutality. Agitations such as these fatally weakened the Ummayad caliphate and paved the way for its overthrow by the Abbasids.

During this period, the Najdat, led by Najdah ibn 'Amir, established a state in al-Yamamah, in central Arabia, and annexed the eastern Arabian region of Bahrayn, including al-Qatif. Najdah also moved westwards and captured the city of Taif, south of Mecca, and was only dissuaded from taking Mecca and Medina by Abdullah ibn Umar, the son of the second Muslim caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was particularly revered by the Kharijites. Najdah was assassinated by some of his followers in 692, and the Najdat movement quickly disintegrated thereafter.

From the beginning of the Arab conquest of the Maghreb, the Kharijites sent representatives to join the local Berber population. The Berbers, used to a communal system of government and opposed to Arab domination, found in Kharijism an ideological framework for rebellion. In the last years of the Umayyad dynasty, the western part of the Islamic empire escaped from the central authority; Spain came under the rule of the Umayyad emirs of Cordoba, while several independent states were founded in the Maghrib.

A Sufrī community from southern Tunisia captured Kairouan in 755, at the price of fearful massacres. The Ibādī of Jebel Nafusa, outraged by the excesses of their rival sect, took the city and wiped out its Sufrī population. They proclaimed an imamate c. 757, founding a state which would cover parts of Tripolitania and Ifriqiya before it was conquered by Abbasid armies in 761. Among the leaders of this state was Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rustam, a Persian convert who would later found the Rustamid dynasty at Tahert.

Around the same time, a Sufri kingdom was founded in Tlemcen (western Algeria). Berber Sufrī from the tribe of Meknasa established the Midrarid state at Sijilmassa on the eastern slope of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Abū Qurra, a Sufrī of the Ifren tribe of Tlemcen, reconquered Ifriqiya from the Arabs in 771.

The region stabilized in 778, when ibn Rustam made a peace treaty with the Abbasid governor of Kairouan, and remained so until the arrival of the Fatimids in 909.

Modern times

The Ibadis have survived into the present day, though they now reject the designation "Kharijite". They form a significant part of the population of Oman (where they first settled in 686), and there are smaller concentrations of them in the Mzab of Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, Jebel Nafusa in Libya, and Zanzibar.

In modern times, Muslim scholars and governments have called terrorist groups which emphasize the practice of Takfir and justify the killing of innocent people as the new Kharijites; notable examples of groups described as such include the Groupe Islamique Armé of Algeria, the Takfir wal-Hijra group of Egypt, and the global Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

See also


  1. ^ "Schisms and Heterodoxy among the Muslims", hosted on
  2. ^ Ali, Ameer. 'A Short History of the Saracens' (13th Edition ed.). London 1961: Macmillan and Company. pp. 51. ""He (Muawiyah) made his mercenaries tie copies of the Koran to their lances and flags, and shout for quarter."" 
  3. ^ Khawaarij
  4. ^ Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  5. ^ Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  6. ^ Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  7. ^ Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  8. ^ Abul Ala Maududi, “Khilafat-o-Malookeyat” in Urdu language, (Caliphate and kingship), p 214.
  9. ^ al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  10. ^ - Studies in ibadhism

Further reading

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

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:



Arabic those who split off, or depart




Kharijite (plural Kharijites)

  1. (Islam) members of a reactionary Islamic sect in the 7th and 8th centuries

Simple English

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Vocabulary of Islam • Islamophobia

Kharijites were a movement during the early years of Islam. This movement has no followers today. At first they accepted the rule of Ali, but rejected him to later support the view that Abu Bakr, and his successors were the rightful Caliphs. The only group of Kharijites that still exists are the Ibadi. The Ibadi do not consider themselves to be Kharijite. Most Ibadis live in Oman. Smaller numbers live in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Zanzibar.

Sometimes, the term Kharijite (or Neo-Kharijite) is also used for some islamic terrorist groups. Examples of such groups are the Groupe islamique armé in Algeria, or the Takfir wal-Hijra in Egypt.


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