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IBĀIYYA . The Ibāiyya sect (also known as the Ibāī sect, or simply as the Ibāīs) constitutes one of the main branches of Islam. The Ibāīs are relatively few in number in comparison to the Sunnīs and the Shīʿah, and for many centuries they have lived largely in isolated areas, principally Oman and Zanzibar, Tripolitania in Libya, the island of Jerba in Tunisia, and the Mzab area of Algeria. This isolation has meant that until the late twentieth century almost all of what is known about the Ibāīs has come through prejudiced and hostile Sunnī sources. However, since the accession of Qaboos b. Said to the sultanate of Oman in 1970, there has been a sustained program for the publication of major Ibāī works, so that it is at last becoming possible to view the Ibāīs through their own tradition. Among the works that have come to light are a number that date back to before 800 ce and are crucial for an understanding of the development of Islamic thought in general. Unfortunately, very little has so far trickled through into English.

The origins of the Ibāīs go back to not much more than twenty years after Muammad's death. They have their roots in the groups, collectively known as Khārijites, that came into existence during the First Islamic Civil War (656661 ce). The basic doctrinal beliefs of the Khārijites were the same as those of all Muslims: the five pillars of Islam. It was in the further tier of doctrine that did not fully emerge until after Muammad's death that they had differences with the rest of the nascent Muslim community. Even in these further doctrines there were, in this early period, more similarities than differences with the other parts of that community. Like those who were the precursors of the Sunnīs, the early Khārijites held the views that infidels had no legal existence or protection unless they were Jews or Christians, that Muslims should not live among infidels, and that unprotected infidels should be fought until they were converted or killed.

What split the early Islamic community in the first instance were views about the actions of the third caliph, ʿUthmān, and the fourth caliph, ʿAlī. There was much opposition both to ʿUthmān, who was murdered by some of his opponents, and to ʿAlī. With the Khārijite groups that opposition acquired a doctrinal underpinning. Already outraged by the wrongdoings of ʿUthmān in his later years as caliph, they were further appalled when ʿAlī, during fighting against those who sought vengeance for the death of ʿUthmān, agreed to arbitration about the rights and wrongs of the killing. Summing up their feelings in the slogan "Judgment belongs to God alone," they broke away from the majority of the believers. They took a stern view of those believers who did not share their opinions, holding that their actions and beliefs had caused them to return to unbelief. At first they designated their opponents by the simple term al-qawm, "those people," a phrase that, somewhat confusingly, their opponents also used of them. For the Khārijites, al-qawm had fallen into a state of barāʾa (dissociation), having lost the walāya (loyalty both to God and fellow-Muslims) that was central to the community of true believers. This applied to those members of the community who accepted the legitimacy of ʿUthmān or ʿAlī. However, the Khārijites could not agree among themselves about how to deal with the qawm. The majority of early Khārijite groups favored armed confrontation with those whom they considered to have lapsed into infidelity, but a minority favored a live-and-let-live stance. Whenever an opportunity arose, the activist majority pursued its views to the death.

When ʿAlī was killed by a Khārijite activist in 661 ce, the Umayyad dynasty came to power, and for a time some stability was imposed. It appears that this was the period when there was a growth in the number of those Khārijites who, while holding that the majority of the Muslim community had lapsed into unbelief, came to the conclusion that those who had lapsed should be merely spurned rather than given the choice of submission or the sword.

By the time of the Second Civil War (688692 ce), the principal quietist group, living mainly in Basra, had become known as the Ibāiyya. This name derives from ʿAbdallāh b. Ibā, who appears to have been the political mentor of the group, though its spiritual leader was Jābir b. Zayd, a man universally recognized for his learning and piety, who became the first imām of the group.

While Jābir was alive, the Ibāiyya were tolerated by the central authorities (unlike the violent Khārijite groups, who fought and were fought to the death). The community devised rules, which still hold, to enable them to survive among a non-Ibāī Muslim majority (the qawm ). Thus it is permitted to marry non-Ibāīs and to enjoy mutual inheritance with them. Religious dissimulation (taqiyya ) is also permitted, though not to the point of serving non-Ibāī rulers.

After the death of Jābir in 711 ce, the Ibāīs found it more and more difficult to live in Basra, and their next two imām s encouraged them to migrate to places where they could follow their own faith without harassment. Most moved to the remote parts of the Arab worldOman, the Hadramawt, Yemen, and North Africaalthough some also went to Khurasan. It was only in Oman and the Mzab that they survived in numbers, with a religious, legal, and political tradition going back unbroken to their earliest days in Basra. In North Africa, in particular, the Ibāīs suffered from some schisms. None of the breakaway groups was particularly important, and only one, the Wahbiyya, survived to the twenty-first century.

The early Ibāīs were an earnest lot, much concerned with the coherence and rectitude of their beliefs and with their relationships with the qawm, whom they now increasingly called ahl-al-qibla (people who use the qiblaʾ), or ahl al-jumla (people who utter the shahāda ʾ), both phrases ironically indicating the superficial nature of any belief that such persons might have. These included not only those now called Sunnīs and Shīʿah but also the violent, activist Khārijite groups, such as the Azāriqa and the Najdiyya, and other movements that have failed to survive, such as the Murjiʾa. The Ibāīs designated such "lapsed" Muslims as infidels of a special category, classing them as hypocrites who claimed to be Muslims but whose deeds showed them to be ungrateful for the blessings of God (kāfir kufr niʿma ). As such, they were to be shunned and not killed unless they had committed a capital offence or become mischief makers (mudithūn ). Ibāīs who are corrupt or do serious wrong also lose their walāya.

Because of their doctrines about walāya and barāʾa, the Ibāīs have also retained the original Khārijite view about who may be the leader of the community, the imām. They believe that any believer who is morally and religiously irreproachable may be elected imām, regardless of his race or tribe, "even if he is an Ethiopian slave," as the texts graphically put it. Equally, the community has the right to vote to depose an imām from office if he goes astray and becomes corrupt, and it must take every step to remove him if it possibly can do so. This is the most democratic stance toward leadership in traditional Islamic thinking and is one of those points that sharply differentiates the Ibāīs from the Sunnīs, who basically believe that the imām must be from Quraysh, the tribe of Muammad, and from the Shīʿah, who believe that he must be from the family of ʿAlī.

In legal matters the Ibāīs put more weight on the Qurʾān and less on the adīth than other branches of Islam. Thus, they do not impose the (non-Qurʾanic) punishment of stoning for adultery. The nature of their community has also led to more thinking through of problems (ijtihād) than is found in the other branches, and unlike the Sunnīs but like the Shīʿīs, they have never "closed the gates of ijtihād." Ibāī scholars have never shut their eyes to the value of major works by writers from other sects, particularly Sunnīs and Muʿtazilīs, though such writings are always viewed from the standpoint of Ibāī intellectual tradition, which has always managed to flourish despite its isolation.

The fact that the Ibāīs differed so radically from the Azāriqa and the Najdiyya in their views about infidels led some Ibāī thinkers to deny their Khārijite origins. This view appears to have emerged in the ninth century, and it has become stronger ever since. Modern Ibāīs, therefore, tend to minimize these Khārijite origins, and even those whose accept that there is a historical link are outraged to be classed as latter-day Khārijites. This has recently become a matter of some importance, as modern Islamist groups have sometimes been likened to the activist Khārijites of the early Islamic era. It is a matter of pride for the Ibāīs that they have consistently opposed terrorist activity for over thirteen hundred years.


Cook, Michael A. Early Muslim Dogma. Cambridge, U.K., 1981. A general book on the development of Islamic doctrine; good on the Khārijites and Ibāīs.

Crone, Patricia, and Fritz Zimmermann, eds. The Epistle of Sālim ibn Dhakwān. Oxford, U.K., 2001. Though the main part of the work is a specialist edition and translation, it also contains much invaluable background material on the Khārijites and on the Ibāīs, mainly in chaps. 4 and 5.

Ennami, Amr Khalifa. Studies in Ibadhism. Benghazi, Libya, 1972. Originally the English part of a 1971Cambridge Ph.D. dissertation, this work is poorly printed but contains much information not available elsewhere.

Levi della Vida, Giorgio. "Kharidjites." In The Enyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 4, pp. 10741077. Leiden, Netherlands, 1960. Rather dated, but still useful.

Lewicki, T. "Al-Ibāiyya." In The Enyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 3, pp. 648660. Leiden, Netherlands, 1960.

Wilkinson, J. C. "The Early Development of the Ibāī Movement in Basra." In Studies on the First Century of Islamic Society, edited by G. H. A. Juynboll, pp. 125249. Carbondale, Ill., 1982. An excellent article that is still useful.

Alan Jones (2005)

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