The Beginning of the Khwarij

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Regarding the Khwarij, we have to understand that lexically, “khuruj” denotes “insurrection” and “insubordination”.  The active participle, “khawarij”, refers to those who rebelled against ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.).  The movement originated at the murder of ‘Utsman (r.a.), and the allegiance pledged to ‘Ali (k.w.) as caliph.  Mu’awiyah (r.a.), then Governor of Sham, refused to acknowledge this allegiance owed, accusing him instead of covering over the murder of ‘Utsman (r.a.).  Thereafter, ‘Ali (k.w.) and Mu’awiyah (r.a.) faced each other at the Battle of Siffin and the latter would have been routed, but that ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.) enjoined his forces to hoist up copies of the Qur’an on their lances, invoking the authority of scriptural writ to decide between them.  Certain of ‘Ali’s (k.w.) supporters inclined toward seeking an arbitrated settlement between him and Mu’awiyah (r.a.), but a faction rejected the possibility of subjecting legitimate authority to such adjudication.  They proclaimed the slogan, “No decision save that of Allah,” and struck camp at Harurah, by which they are also known as al-Haruriyyah.  Refusing the outcome of the arbitration, they rebelled against his authority and thus became known as the Khawarij, literally, “those who left.”  They subsequently split into twenty schisms.

The most important articles of Kharijite doctrine are as follows.  They considered whoever is content with such arbitration to be unbelievers, kafirun.  They anathematised ‘Ali (k.w.), Mu’awiyah (r.a.) and ‘Utsman (r.a.); all of whom accepted arbitration in matters of authority.  They believed in appointing the caliph through free, valid election alone, as established by the Muslim majority, and not a group of delegates or the like.  They would support the caliph so long as he ruled in justice as upheld by the shari’ah; otherwise, they held it necessary to remove him from power, given also the necessity of rising against permissive authorities.  They upheld the permissibility of non-Qurayshite caliphs, and indeed that all contenders were equal regardless of tribal or ethnic origin - even that non-Arab claimants were preferable for they would be easier to remove from power in the event they acted against the shari’ah.  They themselves chose the non-Qurayshite ‘Abdullah ibn Wahb ar-Rasibi as their leader.  They held a radical conflation of belief and action, holding that faith, iman, necessarily yields righteous works.  This, in turn, meant they considered the perpetrator of sins an unbeliever, without distinguishing between enormities and minor sins.  Likewise, they considered those adhering to opposing judgements and schools to be unbelievers.  In support of such doctrines they offered the Qur’anic verses:

… pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah ― those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith; Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures. (Surah Ali ‘Imran:97)

They interpreted it to equate abandoning the rite of pilgrimage, surely a sin, with full disbelief, such that any sinner becomes a disbeliever.  They also cited the verse:

… If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath Revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers. (Surah al-Ma’dah:44)

They interpreted it to mean that every perpetrator of sins had decided his course of action by something other than Revelation and so had disbelieved.


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