The Kharijites (Arabic: الخوارج‎, al-Khawārij, singular خارجي, khāriji), also called the ash-Shurat (Arabic: الشراة‎, ash-Shurāt), were an Islamic sect that appeared in the first century of Islam during the First Muslim Civil War, the crisis of leadership after the murder of the third caliph, Uthman. Some members of the army of the fourth caliph Ali seceded after he agreed to arbitration with his rival, Mu'awiya I, to decide the succession to the caliphate following the Battle of Siffin in July 657. They asserted that "judgment belongs to God alone" and that leaving the matter to the judgment of humans was in violation of the injunctions of the Qur'an which commanded that rebels must be fought and overcome. Ali was unsuccessful in winning back their loyalty and after their murderous activities attacked and defeated them in the Battle of Nahrawan in July 658. Nevertheless, the Kharijites were far from eliminated and their insurrection against the caliphate continued. Ali himself fell to a Kharijite assassin in January 661.

After the establishment of the Umayyad caliphate by Mu'awiya I in 661, his governors kept Kharijites in check, but after the death of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid in 683 and subsequent civil war, the resulting power vacuum caused the resumption of the Kharijites' anti-government activities, which consisted of constant raids against settled areas. Internal disputes and fragmentation weakened them considerably before their defeat by the Umayyad governor Hajjaj ibn Yusuf in 696–699. In 740s, during the last days of the Umayyad caliphate, large scale Kharijite rebellions erupted again in several parts of the caliphate, but all of them were eventually put down. Although Kharijite revolts continued into the Abbasid period, the most militant Kharijite groups were gradually eliminated, and were replaced by the non-activist Ibadiyya, who survive to this day in Oman and some parts of Africa.

Kharijites believed that any Muslim, irrespective of his descent or ethnicity, could become the caliph, if he was morally irreproachable. If the leader sinned, it was the duty of Muslims to rebel against and depose him. They branded apostates any Muslims who erred in the religion, and many Kharijite groups declared such apostates worthy of death, unless they would repent and reenter the faith. Many modern Muslim extremist groups have been compared to the Kharijites for their radical ideology and militancy. On the other hand, some modern Arab historians have stressed the egalitarian and proto-democractic tendencies of the Kharijites.


The term al-Khariji was used as an exonym by their opponents from the fact that they left Ali's army. The name comes from the Arabic root خ ر ج, which has the primary meaning "to leave" or "to get out",[1] as in the basic word خرج "to go out".[2] However, the group called themselves ash-Shurat (the Exchangers), which they understood within the context of Islamic scripture (Quran 2:207) and philosophy to mean "those who have traded the mortal life (al-Dunya) for the other life [with God] (al-Akhirah)".[3][4]


Further information: First Fitna and Muhakkima

The Kharijites originated during the First Fitna, the struggle for political leadership over the Muslim community, following the assassination in 656 of the third caliph Uthman.[5] Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was elected caliph but soon had to face with opposition, first from Talha ibn Ubayd Allah, Zubayr ibn al-Awam and Muhammad's widow A'isha, whom he was able to defeat (November 656),[6] and later from Mu'awiya I, the governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman. Ali and Mu'awiya faced each other at the Battle of Siffin in July 657. On the verge of defeat, Mu'awiya ordered his soldiers to hoist Qur'an on their lances; a signal to stop the fight and negotiate peace. The pious group of Qur'an readers (Qura) in Ali's army were moved by the gesture,[7] which they interpreted as an appeal to the Book of God,[8][9] and demanded that Ali stop the fight immediately. Although unwilling, he had to yield under pressure and threats of violence against him.[7][10][9] An arbitration committee was setup with representatives from both Ali and Mu'awiya's side with a mandate to settle the dispute in the light of the Qur'an.[7] While most of Ali's army accepted the agreement, one group, mostly from the tribe of Tamim, vehemently objected to the arbitration and raised the slogan "judgment belongs to God alone".[10]


As Ali marched back to Kufa, his capital, resentment against the arbitration became widespread in his army. Some 12,000 dissenters seceded from the army and went to a place called Harura. They thus became known as the Harurites.[7] They held that the third caliph Uthman had deserved his death because of his faults, and that Ali was the legitimate caliph, while Mu'awiya was a rebel.[11] They believed that the Qur'an clearly stated that as a rebel Mu'awiya was not entitled to arbitration, but rather should be fought until he repented, pointing to the verse:[11]

If two parties of the faithful fight each other, then conciliate them. Yet if one is rebellious to the other, then fight the insolent one until it returns to God 's command. (Qur'an 49:9)

They held that in agreeing to arbitration Ali committed the grave sin of rejecting God's judgment (hukm) and attempted to substitute human judgment for God's clear injunction, which prompted their motto "judgement belongs to God alone" (la hukma illa li-llah).[12][a] From this expression, which they were the first to use as a motto, they became known as Muhakkima.[14][b]

Ali, after some time, visited the Harura camp and in order to win back their support argued that it was them who forced him to accept arbitration proposal despite his warnings against it. They acknowledged that they had sinned but argued that they had repented and asked Ali to do the same, which he did in very general and ambiguous terms. They subsequently offered back their allegiance to him and returned to Kufa on the condition that war against Mu'awiya be resumed within six months.[16]


The arbitration proceedings continued however and after a few months (March 658),[10] when Ali refused to denounce the arbitration and sent his arbitration delegation headed by Abu Musa Ash'ari to carry out the talks, Kharijites denounced Ali's caliphate and elected Abd Allah ibn Wahb al-Rasibi their caliph. In order to avoid being detected, they moved out of Kufa in small groups and went to a place called Nahrawan on the east bank of Tigris. Some five hundred of their Basran comrades were informed and they too joined them in Nahrawan, amounting to a total of 4,000 men.[17][18] Following this exodus, they were called as Khawarij.[19] They declared Ali and his followers apostates and killed several people who did not share their views.[17]

In the meantime, arbitrators declared that Uthman had been killed unjustly by the rebels. Other than that, however, they could not agree on anything substantial and the process collapsed. Ali now denounced the arbitrators and called on his supporters for renewed war against Mu'awiya.[20] He invited Kharijites to join him in war against Mu'awiya as before. They refused to do so unless he would acknowledge that he had gone astray and repent. Ali consequently decided to depart for Syria without them.[21] On the way, however, he received news of the Kharijites' murdering various people, and was urged by his followers, who feared for their families and property in Kufa, to deal with the Kharijites first.[22] Kharijites refused to surrender the murderers and consequently Ali's attacked them in their camp, inflicting a heavy defeat on them at the Battle of Nahrawan (July 658), killing Ibn Wahb and most of his supporters.[19] Some 1200 of them, however, surrendered and were spared.[23] This bloodshed sealed the split of Kharijites from Ali's followers, and Kharijite calls for revenge ultimately led to Ali's assassination in 661 by a Kharijite.[19]

Modern scholarly views on the split

At Siffin the people who supported arbitration were the same people who later vehemently objected to it and seceded from Ali’s army. The question as to what caused such a radical change in the same group of people has been discussed by various historians.

According to Rudolf Ernst Brünnow, Qurra supported the proposal because as pious believers in the Qur'an, they felt obliged to respond to the call of making Qur'an the arbitrator. The people who objected to the treaty were, in Brünnow's view, Bedouin Arabs who had settled in Kufa and Basra following the wars of conquest. In his view, they had devoted themselves to the cause of Islam and perceived the arbitration by two people as an acute religious injustice, which drove them into secession and later into open rebellion. As such, he regards the Qurra and the Kharijites as separate groups.[24] Julius Wellhausen has criticized Brünnow's hypothesis because all Basran and Kufan inhabitants were Bedouins, including Qurra, and since Brünnow regards these Bedouins pious people anyway, it makes them little different from the Qurra in this regard. Wellhausen argues that the group that first favored and then rejected the arbitration was the same group. According to him, their contrasting behavior is not illogical from their point of view. They accepted arbitration of Qur'an but some of them later realized, based on religious grounds, that it was their mistake, acknowledged it as such, repented and demanded the same from Ali and other people in his army. In his view, the Kharijites thus emanated from the Qurra.[25]

Martin Hinds regards the Kharijites and the Qurra as the same group. In his view, they supported the arbitration because they assumed it would bring end to the war but Ali would remain caliph and would return to Medina, leaving the administration of Iraq in the hands of the local population including themselves. But they denounced it once they discovered that Ali was not recognized as caliph in the document and that the arbiters could also use their own judgment in addition to the Qur'anic principles.[26] M. A. Shaban, although asserting that the Qurra and the Kharijites were the same group, does not recognize the Qurra as the Qur'an readers. According to him they were villagers who had gained status in Iraq during the caliphate of Umar, were dissatisfied with the economic policies of Uthman and saw Ali's caliphate as a means of restoring their status. When he agreed to talks with the relative of Uthman (Mu'awiya) they felt their status threatened and consequently rebelled. According to him, main role in forcing Ali to accept the arbitration was not of the Qurra, but of the tribal chiefs under the leadership of Ash'ath ibn Qays, who had benefited from the policies of Uthman. They were not enthusiastic supporters of Ali and considered the prospect of continued war not in their interests.[27] According to Fred Donner, one of the reasons may have been the contents of the treaty. When the agreement was drawn up, it stipulated that the arbitrators would decide on whether Uthman had been killed unjustly. Qurra, who had been involved in the murder of Uthman, feared the treaty could result in them being held accountable for the act.[28]

Later history

Kharijites continued to be a source of insurrection against the caliphate for decades to come. Five small Kharijite revolts, involving about 200 men each, following Nahrawan were defeated during the caliphate of Ali.[23][29] Under Mu'awiya, Basra replaced Kufa as the center of Kharijite disturbance. His governors of Iraq Ziyad ibn Abihi and Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad dealt with Kharijites with a heavy-hand and sixteen Kharijite revolts, with rebel numbers in individual revolts varying between 30 to 500, were suppressed.[29] From now on, they started the practice of raiding undefended towns in the neighborhoods of Basra in rapid cavalry attacks whereby they would seem to appear from nowhere, pillage the towns and disappear quickly before the government forces could respond. If pursued, they would flee into mountainous regions of Iran.[3] In Basra, Ibn Ziyad is reported to have been particularly hard on them. He jailed any Kharijite whom he suspected of being dangerous and executed several Kharijite sympathizers who had publicly spoken against him.[30] Ziyad and Ibn Ziyad are said to have killed thirteen thousand Kharijites in total.[31] To avoid suppression, Basran Kharijites fled to Arabia around 680 CE.[32]

During the Second Fitna, Najdat controlled Yamama in central Arabia, whereas Azariqa controlled Fars and Kirman in southern Persia.
During the Second Fitna, Najdat controlled Yamama in central Arabia, whereas Azariqa controlled Fars and Kirman in southern Persia.

Second Fitna

After the death of Mu'awiya in 680, the empire fell to civil war over the question of leadership. The people of Hejaz (where Mecca and Medina are located) rebelled against the new caliph Yazid.[33] When Yazid sent an army to end the Hijazi rebellion in 683 and Mecca was besieged, Kharijites assisted Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, who was based in Mecca and opposed Yazid, in defending the city.[32] However, Yazid died in November 683 and Ibn al-Zubayr proclaimed himself caliph. Kharijites, after discovering that Ibn al-Zubayr had proclaimed caliphate and did not share their view of Uthman and condemned his murder, abandoned him.[34] Some of them went to Yamama, in cental Arabia, under the leadership of Abu Fudayk, whereas the majority went to Basra. In the meantime, Basran tribal chiefs expelled Ibn Ziyad and the city fell to tribal warfare. Kharijites took over the city, killed the deputy appointed by Ibn Ziyad and broke 140 of their comrades free from Ibn Ziyad's prison.[35] Soon afterwards, Basrans recognized Ibn al-Zubayr and he appointed Umar ibn Ubayd Allah ibn Ma'mar his governor there. Umar drove Kharijites out of Basra and they escaped to Ahwaz.[36][37] Doctrinal differences led to split between the two of their leaders: Najda ibn Amir al-Hanafi and Nafi ibn al-Azraq.[34]


Najda, with his followers, moved to Yamama and the faction became known as Najdat.[34] There he took over, in 685, the Kharijite faction of Abu Fudayk, which was then led by a certain Abu Talut. The followers of Abu Talut were impressed by Najda's leadership abilities and deposed the former to appoint Najda as their chief. Najda started raiding towns in Ibn al-Zuabyr's domains[38] and soon extended his control to entire Yamama and Bahrain and defeated a 14,000-strong Zubayrid army that was sent against him. Thereafter he went on to seize Hadhramawt and Yemen in 687 and later captured Taif, a town close to Ibn al-Zubayr's capital Mecca, leaving the latter cornered in Hejaz; Najda controlled much of Arabia. Not long after, his followers became disillusioned with him for his alleged correspondance with the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, his refusal to punish a soldier who had consumed wine, and him safely returning a captive granddaughter of the murdered caliph Uthman. He was deposed for having gone astray and subsequently executed in 691.[39] Abu Fudayk took over the leadership and defeated several Zuabyrid and later Umayyad attacks. He was finally killed along with 6,000 followers in 692 by Umayyad forces in Bahrain.[40][41] Politically exterminated, Najdat retreated into obscurity and disappeared around tenth century.[42][43]


From Ahwaz area, Ibn Azraq, after whom his band became known as the Azariqa, raided Basran suburbs. These are described in the sources to be most fanatic of all the Kharijite groups for they approved of the doctrine of Isti'rad: indiscriminate killing of non-Kharijite Muslims including their women and children. An army sent against them by the Zubayrid governor of Basra in early 685 defeated the Azariqa and Ibn Azraq was killed. However, they chose Ubayd Allah ibn Mahuz as the new Emir, regrouped and forced the Zubayrid army to retreat and ransacking resumed. After a few more defeats, Ibn al-Zubayr sent Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra against them. Muhallab defeated them at the battle of Sillabra in May 686 and killed Ibn Mahuz. They subsequently retreated to Fars. However, in late 686, Muhallab had to discontinue his campaign against the Azariqa as he was sent against the pro-Alid Mukhtar and later appointed governor of Mosul to defend against possible Umayyad attack. Azariqa, now under the command of Ubady Allah ibn Mahuz's brother Zubayr, returned to Iraq and attacked al-Mada'in, in the neighborhood of Kufa, ravaged the town and after pursuit fled again to Iran and besieged Isfahan. They were driven away and, Zubayr ibn Mahuz being slain, fled to Fars and latter to Kirman. Reinvigorated by their new leader Qatari ibn al-Fuja'a, the Azariqa returned to Basra area soon afterwards and Muhallab had to be sent against them. For a long time, the Azariqa held Fars and Kirman although Muhallab prevented them from advancing to Iraq. In the meantime, Umayyads recaptured Iraq from the Zubayrids in 691. Umayyad princes took over the command from Muhallab but suffered severe defeats at the hands of the Azariqa. In 694 Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, a Thaqafite, was made governor of Iraq and he reinstated Muhallab to lead the fight against the Azariqa. After a series of attacks, he pushed them back into Kirman. There they split into two groups and were subsequently destroyed in 698–699.[37]

Arab-Sassanian dirham of the Azariqa leader Qatari ibn al-Fuja'a struck circa 694–695 with the Kharijite slogan la hukma illa li-llah on the margin
Arab-Sassanian dirham of the Azariqa leader Qatari ibn al-Fuja'a struck circa 694–695 with the Kharijite slogan la hukma illa li-llah on the margin


This sect of the Kharijites is generally attributed to a man called Abd Allah ibn Saffar or Asfar, who broke away from Ibn Azraq due to the latter's radical ideology. Sufriyya are thus described to have been a milder variety of the Kharijites. However, modern historians consider Ibn Saffar to be a legendary figure and assert that the name Sufriyya derives from sufr al-wujuh (yellow-faced), an appellation applied to the earliest Kharijites because their faces turned grey from excessive prostrating. Basran Kharijite leader, Abu Bilal Mirdas, a moderated Kharijite, is counted among their Imams.[44] In early 680s, when the Kharijite activities surged, those who preferred remaining inactive (qa'ad), as opposed to the activists Najdat and Azariqa, were called Sufriyya. A split within Sufriyya in 683–684 resulted in emergence of Ibadiyya. During the entire period of the Second Fitna, Sufriyya remained idle. However, in mid-690s they also started militant activities in response to persecution by Hajjaj.[44]

The first of their revolts was led in 695 by the ascetic Salih ibn Musarrih, which was defeated and Ibn Musarrih was killed.[44] It was after his death, however, that they became a serious threat to Kufa and its suburbs. The group was taken over by Shabib ibn Yazid al-Shaybani. With a small army of a few hundred warriors, he defeated on multiple occasions (in 695 and 696) Umayyad armies several-thousands-strong, looted the treasury of Kufa and occupied al-Mada'in.[45] From the base in al-Mada'in, he prepared to capture Kufa. Hajjaj had already requested Syrian troops from the caliph Abd al-Malik, who sent 4,000-strong army which succeeded in defeating Shabib just outside Kufa and he drowned during flight.[46] His band was destroyed, but the Sufriyya continued to exist in the Mosul area.[47]

Late Umayyad period

Although small Sufriyya insurrections continued, all of them from Mosul area, it was during the last days of the Umayyad empire that a major Sufriyya revolt erupted (744).[47] It was at first led by a certain Said ibn Bahdal al-Shaybani, and after his death from plague, Dahhaq ibn Qays al-Shaybani. Joined by many more Sufriyya from other parts of the empire, he advanced to Kufa and captured it in April 745 and later captured Wasit after a short siege. At this stage even Umayyad officials, including two sons of former caliphs (Sulayman ibn Hisham and Abd Allah ibn Umar II), recognized him caliph and joined his ranks. Later he went on to capture Mosul but was killed by the forces of the Umayyad caliph Marwan II in 746. His successor Shayban ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Yashkuri was driven out from Mosul by Marwan II and fled to Fars to join the Shi'ite leader Abd Allah ibn Mu'awiya, who ruled there in opposition to the Umayyads. Attacked there by the Umayyads, they dispersed and Shayban fled to Oman where he was killed by the local leaders around 751.[48][49]

By the mid 8th century, Kharijites, mainly Sufriyya, appeared in North Africa. They were mostly of Berber origin who were recruited through missionary activity. Around 740, Sufriyya under the leadership of Maysara al-Matghari revolted in Tangiers and captured the city from the Umayyads. Defeating Umayyad armies, they marched onto the capital Kairouan although were not able to capture it. Nevertheless, Sufriya disturbances in North Africa continued throughout the Umayyad period.[50]

Abbasid period

Under the Abbasids, Sufriyya revolts in eastern parts of the empire continued for almost two centuries although at small scale and were easily put down. However, revolts led by Abd al-Hamid al-Bajali in 866–877 and by Harun ibn Abd Allah Bajali in 880–896 seized control of northern Mesopotemia from the Abbasids for a while and collected taxes.[51] In North Africa, Sufriyya revolts continued for some time but were later replaced by the Ibadiyya into whom the remnants of the Sufriyya were later absorbed around 10th or 11th century.[52]


This sect is attributed to Abd Allah ibn Ibad (or Abad), who like Ibn Saffar, is supposed to have been a moderate Kharijite and having disagreed with and separated from the more extreme Azariqa and Najdat during the Second Fitna.[53] However, some historians, as discussed above, believe that all quietist Kharijites in the early 680s were called Sufriyya and the Ibadis later broke away from them.[44][54] Ibn Ibad is said to have been the leader of the Basran moderates after the death of Abu Bilal. Ibn Ibad, or his successor Jabir ibn Zayd, was in communication with caliph Abd al-Malik and Jabir had friendly relations with Hajjaj, the governor of Iraq. Jabir, a respected scholar and traditionist, is considered as the real organizer of the Ibadiyya sect.[55][56] Following the death of Abd al-Malik, the relations between Ibadiyya leaders and Hajjaj deteriorated as the former became inclined towards activism (khuruj). He consequently exiled some of them to Oman and imprisoned others. One of the imprisoned, Abu Ubayda Muslim ibn Abi Karima, who was released after the death of Hajjaj in 714, became next leader of the Ibadiyya. He at first attempted to win over the Umayyad caliphs to the Ibadi doctrine but was unsuccessful. He then sent missionaries to propagate the doctrine in different parts of the empire including Oman, Yemen, Hadramawt, Khurasan and North Africa. During the final years of the Umayyad caliphate, the Ibadi propaganda movement caused several revolts in the periphery of the empire, although the leaders in Basra adopted the policy of kitman; concealing beliefs so as to avoid persecution.[57][58]

Southern and eastern Arabia

In 745, Abd Allah ibn Yahya al-Kindi established the first Ibadi state in Hadramawt and captured Yemen in 746. His lieutenant Abu Hamza Mukhtar ibn Aws al-Azdi later conquered Mecca and Medina. Umayyads defeated and killed Abu Hamza and Ibn Yahya in 748 and the first Ibadi state collapsed.[59][60]

The majority of the Omani population had converted to Ibadism by the end of the 7th century as a result of missionary activity initiated by Abu Ubayda.[61] An Ibadi state was established in Oman in 750 after the fall of Abu Yahya but fell to the Abassids in 752. It was followed by the establishment of another Ibadi state in 793,[59] but it too collapsed after the Abbasid recapture of Oman in 893. Abbasid influence was only nominal though and Ibadi Imams continued to wield considerable power.[61] Ibadi Imamates were reestablished in subsequent centuries.[62] Ibadis form the majority of the Omani population to date.[63]

Africa and elsewhere

Ibadi missionary activity met with considerable success in North Africa.[63] In 757 Ibadis seized Tripoli and captured Kairouan the next year. Driven out by the Abbasid army in 761, Ibadi leaders founded state in Tahart. It was overthrown in 909 by the Fatimids. Ibadi communities continue to exist in the Nafusa Mountains in northwestern Libya, Djerba island in Tunisia and M'zab valley in Algeria.[64] In East Africa they are found in Zanzibar.[63] Ibadi missionary activity also reached Persia, India, Egypt, Sudan, Spain and Sicily, although Ibadis communities in these regions ceased to exist.[65]

Primary and classic sources

Almost no primary Kharijite sources are in existence, except for a few Ibadi works, and excerpts in non-Kharijite sources.[66][67] Notable among the surviving Ibadi works is the eighth century heresiographical writing of Salim ibn Dhakwan.[68] It distinguishes Ibadism from other Kharijite groups which it treats as extremists.[67] Twelfth century work of Al-Qalhati is another example of Ibadi heresiographies, which discusses the origins of the Kharijites and splitting within the Kharijite movement.[66]

Non-Kharijite sources include historiographical works such as the History of al-Tabari (d. 923), Ansab al-Ashraf of al-Baladhuri (d. 892), al-Kamil of al-Mubarrad (d. 899), and Muruj al-Dhahab of al-Mas'udi (d. 956).[69] These have extensive detail on the Kharijite revolts against the caliphate. Others notable sources include the histories of Ibn Athir (d. 1233), and Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), but these have drawn most of their material from al-Tabari.[66] The core of the information in these historiographical sources is based on the works of earlier historians like Abu Mikhnaf (d. 773) and al-Mada'ini (d. 843).[69] These histories were written significantly later than the actual events, and many of the theological and political disputes had been settled by then. As representatives of the emerging orthodoxy, the authors of these works looked upon the original events through the lens of this orthodox viewpoint.[70]

Other than histories, wealth of information is found in the heresiographical works of al-Ash'ari (d. 935), al-Baghdadi (d. 1037), Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), al-Shahrastani (d. 1153) and others. These sources are outright polemical, as the authors of these works tend to portray their own sect as the true representative of original Islam and are hostile to the Kharijites.[66][71] Al-Shahrastani, for example, compared the Kharijite slogan of tahkim to the traditional Islamic account of Iblis refusing God's command, for Islam demanded obedience to the ruler and by rebelling against the ruler they rebelled against God.[72]

Beliefs and practices

The Kharijites did not have a uniform and coherent set of doctrines. Different sects and even individuals held different views. Based on these divergent views, heresiographers have listed more than a dozen minor Kharijite sects in addition to the four main sects discussed above.[73]


The view common to all Kharijite groups was that any Muslim of whatever descent could become a caliph if he had credentials of belief and piety, and rejected that Qurayshi descent or close kinship with Muhammad was necessary for the office, as was held by majority of the people at that time.[74] This differs from the position of both Sunnis, who later went on accept the leadership of those in power, and Shi'a, who were to assert that the leadership rightly belonged to Ali and his descendants.[73] Kharijites held that the first four caliphs had not been elected for their Qurayshi descent or kinship with Muhammad, but because each of them was among the best of Muslims and most qualified for the post, and hence all of them were legitimate caliphs. In particular, they had a high regard for Abu Bakr and Umar as, according to them, they governed justly.[73] Uthman, on the other hand, had deviated from the path of justice and truth in the latter half of his caliphate and hence was liable to be killed or displaced, whereas Ali committed a grave sin when he agreed to the arbitration with Mu'awiya.[11] In contrast to the Umayyad idea that their rule was ordained by God, Kharijite idea of leadership lacked any divine sanctioning; only correct attitude and piety granted the leader authority over the community.[75] If the leader committed a sin and went off the right path or failed to manage Muslims' affairs with justice and consultation, he was obliged to acknowledge his mistake and repent, else he forfeited his right to rule and was subject to deposition.[73][76] In view of the Azariqa and Najdat, Muslims had the duty to revolt against such a ruler.[77]

Almost all Kharijite groups considered the position of a leader (Imam) to be necessary. Many Kharijite leaders adopted the title of amir al-mu'minin, which was usually reserved for caliphs.[78] An exception is the later Najdat; after their defeat in 692, they abandoned the necessity of war against the non-Kharijites in order to survive and rejected that Imamate was an obligatory institution.[79][80]

Azariqa and Najdat held that since the Umayyad rulers, and all non-Kharijites in general, were infidels, it was unlawful to continue living under their domain (dar al-kufr), for it was in itself an act of unbelief (kufr). It was thus obligatory to emigrate, in emulation of Muhammad's hijra to Medina, and establish a legitimate dominion of their own (dar al-hijra). Sufriyya and Ibadiyya held that although establishment of a legitimate dominion was desirable, it was legal to continue living among the non-Kharijites if rebellion was not possible.[81]

Other doctrines

Kharijites also asserted that faith without accompanying deeds is useless and anyone who goes against injunctions of religion is an apostate (murtadd) and a polytheist (mushrik) and must repent to reenter the religion else he would be subject to death.[82] Azariqa held a more extreme position that such apostates could not reenter Islam and were to be killed along with their women and children. Azariqa also held non-activist Kharijites as apostates.[73] Of the moderates, Sufriyya and Bayhasiyya considered all non-Kharijite Muslims polytheists but also abstained from taking up arms against them, unless necessary.[44] Ibadiyya, on the other hand, did not declare non-Kharijites as polytheists rather as disbelievers of a lower degree (kuffar),[83] and permitted marriages outside their own sect.[74]

Kharijites also held the idea of equality of all Muslims regardless of ethnicity and advocated for equal status of the mawali (sing. mawla; non-Arab, freed Muslims of conquered lands especially Iraq and Persia) with the Arabs.[84] Najdat faction in fact chose a mawla fruit seller their Emir. This, however, did not go well with their ethnic feelings and they soon asked him to step down and choose an Arab Emir for them, which he did.[85] The leader of the Azariqa, Nafi ibn al-Azraq, is said to have been the son of a mawla of Greek origin.[86] Kharijites also advocated for equality of women.[84] On the basis of women fighting alongside Muhammad, Kharijites viewed fighting jihad as a requirement for women. One famous example is the warrior and poet Layla bint Tarif.[87]

The Kharijites rejected the punishment of adultery with stoning,[69] which is prescribed in other Islamic legal schools. Although the Qur'an does not prescribe this penalty, Muslims of other sects hold that such a verse existed in the Qur'an, which was then abrogated. A hadith is ascribed to Umar, asserting the existence of this verse in the Qur'an.[88] The Kharijites rejected the authenticity of such a verse.[69] One of the Kharijite groups also refused to recognize the Sura Yusuf being part of the Qur'an for its contents were considered to be too worldly and frivolous.[89]

Traditional Muslim view

Non-Kharijite Muslims attribute several hadiths to the Islamic prophet Muhammad prophesying the emergence of the Kharijites.[90] After the Battle of Hunayn, a man named Dhu al-Khuwaysira is reported to have accused Muhammad of unjustly distributing the spoils. Umar reportedly asked for Muhammad's permission to kill the man, but the latter declined, saying:

Let him go, there will be people from him who will pray and fast so eagerly that your prayer and fasting will seem comparatively small to you; they plunge so deeply into the religion that they come out on the other side, like a sharp arrow through a target on which no trace of blood and flesh remains.[91]

According Wellhausen, the report is legendary and was invented retrospectively. Nevertheless, he describes the content of the hadith as an apt criticism of the Kharijites: "By tightening onto the principles of Islam, they are taken beyond Islam itself."[91] A similar hadith attributed to Muhammad says:

There will emerge from [Iraq[90]] a people who will recite the Qur'an but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will stray from Islam as an arrow strays from the animal.[90]

Other hadiths with themes of "arrow through the target" or "Qur'an not going beyond throats" are reported. Though the hadiths never name Kharijites or any particular Kharijite individual, these are generally seen by non-Kharijite Muslims to be referring to the Kharijites. Some hadiths of this sort encourage Muslims to eliminate them.[92]

The Kharijites drew condemnation by traditional Muslim historians and heresiographers of subsequent centuries.[93] The term Khawarij, which originally meant those who went out of Kufa to gather at Nahrawan during the time of Ali was subsequently understood as outsiders; those who went out of the fold of the Muslim community.[3]

Modern times

In the modern era, many of Muslim theologians and clerics have compared the beliefs and actions of the modern Islamic extremists, like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, to those of the Kharijites.[94][95][96] In particular, the groups are alleged to share the Kharijites' anarchist and radical approach whereby self-described Muslims are declared unbelievers and therefore deemed worthy of death. However, ISIS and Al-Qaeda preachers reject being compared to the Kharijites, instead calling themselves the true Muslims and their opponents lax Muslims.[97][98] In the 18th century, Hanafi scholar Ibn Abidin declared the Wahhabi movement of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab as modern Kharijites for they declared their opponents non-Muslims and did not recognize the Ottoman government.[99]

Although most modern Arab historians have been critical of the Kharijites, some have presented a more favorable view. The latter group argue that the Kharijites rebelled against economic injustice and had valid grievances. They also compare the Kharijite ideals of ethinic and gender equality with the modern equivalents of these values.[100][66] Modern Ibadi scholars have attempted to soften the image of the Kharijites in order to reconcile the differences with rest of the Muslims. They assert that mainstream Muslim accounts of Kharijite history are tempered and distorted and that Harurites did not rebel against Ali but only had a difference of opinion with him. It was not Ali, they asert, who fought them at Nahrawan but the Kufan nobleman Ash'ath ibn Qays.[101] They also protest against being labelled as a Kharijite sect.[102]


  1. ^ G. R. Hawting has suggested that the use of the tahkim by the Kharijites to denounce the arbitration is a later reworking by the Muslim sources. In his view, the Kharijites originally espoused the slogan, amid the religious disputes among the Muslims over the scriptural authority, to reject the authority of the Sunna and the oral law in favor of the Qur'an.[13]
  2. ^ According to Patricia Crone, the story of the dispute over the arbitration is inadequate and perhaps there was more to the dispute between Ali and the Kharijites.[15]


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