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KHRIJĪS are the "third party" in Islam, who anathematize both the majority Sunnīs and the Shīʿī partisans of ʿAlī. Although few in number today, the Khārijīs played a role of great importance in the history of Muslim theology and political theory.

Their origins lie in the agreement between the fourth caliph, ʿAlī, and his challenger, Muʿāwiyah, kinsman and avenger of the murdered third caliph, ʿUthmān, to submit their quarrel to arbitration, following the Battle of iffīn (ah 37/657 ce). A group of ʿAlī's followers, at first mostly from the Arab tribe of Tamīm, held that ʿAlī had, by agreeing to treat with rebels, committed a great sin and could no longer be considered a Muslim. They made an exodus (khurūj ) from his camp and collected at arūrāʾ near ʿAlī's capital of Kufa in Iraq: Hence Khārijīs ("those who went out") are sometimes referred to as arūrīyah. From the beginning they insisted on the equality of all Muslims regardless of race or tribe, "even if he be a black slave," and they found an important following among the non-Arab converts.

Despite all efforts, ʿAlī was unable to conciliate them. In the end he was forced by their raids and provocations to attack their headquarters on the Nahrawān canal (July 17, 658). This attack became more of a massacre than a battle, and it aroused sympathy for the Khārijīs. Within three years ʿAlī was murdered at the door of his mosque in Kufa by Ibn Muljam al-Murādī, a Khārijī seeking revenge for the slain of Nahrawān.

The intellectual center of Khārijī doctrine for the next century was the great Iraqi port of Basra, but then moved to North Africa. There Khārijī doctrine struck a responsive chord among the Berber tribes, and North Africa became the Scotland of these Muslim Puritans. Khārijī revolts making effective use of guerrilla tactics helped to weaken Muʿāwiyah's Umayyad dynasty before it was overthrown by the Abbasid revolution in 750. Their revolts continued under the early Abbasids, and the appellation khārijī came to mean "rebel."

Being from the first people who could not compromise, the Khārijīs quickly separated into sects: Muslim heresiographers list more than twenty. Each sect usually elected an imam, a "commander of the faithful," and regarded itself as the only true Islamic community. Basic to Khārijī doctrine are the tenets that a Muslim who commits a major sin has apostatized, and the shedding of his blood is lawful; that any pious Muslim is eligible to become an imam; and that if he sins or fails to be just, he may be deposed. Non-Khārijī Muslims were regarded as either polytheists or infidels. Jews or Christians who accepted Khārijī rule were, however, scrupulously protected. Khārijīs who sought death in jihād (religious war) against other Muslims were considered shurāt, or "vendors" (of this world for paradise).

The principal sects were the Azāriqah, the ufrīyah, and the Ibāīyah. The Azāriqah probably took their name from Nāfiʿ ibn al-Azraq, son of a former Greek slave and blacksmith. They excluded from Islam all those who were content to coexist peacefully with non-Khārijī Muslims or who believed in taqīyah, dissimulation of their true beliefs, and all who would not make the hijrah, or emigration, to join them. They practiced istiʿrā, or "review" of the beliefs of their opponents, putting to death those who failed to pass their catechism, often including women and children, and held that infants of "polytheists" went to hell with their parents. They maintained that even a prophet was not immune from sin, and hence from final infidelity; that menstruating women should still pray and fast; that a thief's "hand" should be cut off at the shoulder; and that it was not lawful to stone adulterers, because this punishment is not prescribed in the Qurʾān. They broke with the other Khārijīs of Basra in 684 and left the city to conduct a terrible civil war in the southern provinces of Iraq and Iran. This was led by Zubayr ibn Māhūz until 688, then by Qaaī ibn Fujāʾah until their final defeat in 699. Qaaī was one of a series of gifted Arab Khārijī poets.

The ufrīyah are said to have originated among the followers of ʿAbd Allāh ibn affār al-Tamīmī. They believed that peaceful coexistence with other Muslims was legally permissible; unlike the Azāriqah they did not practice istiʿrā, and unlike the Ibāīyah they held that non-Khārijī Muslims were polytheists rather than merely infidels. They emerged as an active sect in 695 and found an enthusiastic following among the Arab tribes of the upper Euphrates Valley. Under a series of fierce leaders they made their own bid for supreme power in the troubled events at the close of the Umayyad caliphate. From 745 to 751 they fought in Iraq, then Fārs, then Kishm Island, and finally in Oman, where their imam was slain by an Ibāī imam. The sect's activities then moved chiefly to North Africa, where it had found Berber adherents after 735. Berber ufrīyah captured the important caravan city of Sijilmāsah in southern Morocco in 770 under an imam named Abū Qurrah. Like many other Khārijīs they were active traders. They maintained an imamate for about a century but at last seem to have been converted to the Ibāīyah and to Sunnism.

The Ibāīyah are the only surviving division of the Khārijīs, and because they have preserved their writings, they are also the best known. Numbering probably fewer than a million, they are found in the oases of the Mzab and Wargla in Algeria, on the island of Jerba off Tunisia, in Jabal Nafūsah and Zuwāghah in Libyan Tripolitania, in Zanzibar, and in Oman, where the ruling family is Ibāī. The merchants of the Mzab, Jerba, and Oman present a good example of closed religious trading communities similar to the Jews, the Parsis, or the Ismāʿīlī Muslims. Practicing Ibāīyah do not tolerate tobacco, music, games, luxury, or celibacy, and must eschew anger. Concubinage can be practiced only with the consent of wives, and marriages with other Muslims are heavily frowned upon. They disapprove of ūfīsm, although they have a cult of the saintly dead. Sinners in the community are ostracized until they have performed public admission of guilt and penance.

The sect was first mentioned about 680, in Basra. It took its name from ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Ibā, who broke with the Azāriqah in 684 and continued to live in Basra, where he presided over a secret council called the Jamāʿat al-Muslimīn (Collectivity of the Muslims). His work was continued under Jābir ibn Zayd, an eminent scholar and traditionist. The earliest mutakallimūn, or theologians, of Islam were Ibāīyah who debated with the circle of asan of Basra. Jābir was from the Omani tribe of Azd and did much to organize the sect. It had close contacts with the Basran Muʿtazilah and, like them, held that the Qurʾān was created, that humans have power over their own acts, and that there will be no beatific vision. The Ibāīyah have also been called the Wāilīyah, after Wāil ibn ʿAāʾ, an early Muʿtazilī.

After Jābir, the Basra collectivity was headed by Abū ʿUbaydah Muslim al-Tamīmī. He retained the Basra headquarters as a teaching and training center and prepared teams of teachers (amalat al-ʿilm ) to go and spread the doctrine in remote Muslim provinces. When the time was ripe, these teams were to set up imams: Like the Zaydī Shīʿīah and many Muʿtazilah, the Ibāīyah hold that there can be more than one imam if communities of widely separated believers need them. At other times, when circumstances dictate, Ibāī communities may legally dispense with the imamate, to be ruled by councils of learned elders.

Ibāī imamates rose and fell in Yemen, Oman, and Tripolitania in the eighth century. Omani traders carried the doctrine to East Africa in the ninth century. The greatest Ibāī imamate was that of Tāhart, founded in central Algeria around 760, which became hereditary in a family of Persian origin, the Rustamīs. During the latter part of the eighth century and the first half of the ninth century, the imams of Tāhart were recognized by Berber tribes from Morocco to Tripolitania, as well as by the Ibāīyah of Basra, Iran, and Oman. Their traders were early missionaries of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. In the latter half of the ninth century, this state was weakened by a series of religious schisms and by external enemies, and many of its Berber supporters converted to Sunnism. The remains of the state were destroyed in 909 by the rise of the Fatimid caliphate, based in Kairouan. The last imam fled to Sadrātah in the oasis of Wargla. The descendants of the fugitives of Tāhart live today in the oases of the Mzab, deep in the Sahara.

Twelve subsects of the North African Ibāīyah are mentioned by historians of the sect. Three of these, the Nukkārīyah, the Nafāthīyah, and the Khalafīyah, have survived to modern times in small numbers, chiefly in Tripolitania.

See Also

Caliphate; Imamate; Muʿtazilah; Ummah.


The best sources on the Khārijīs are, of course, in Arabic, with others in French, German, and Italian. Most of these will be found listed after three excellent articles in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. (Leiden 1960): G. Levi Della Vida's "K̲h̲ārid̲j̲ites," Tadeusz Lewicki's "Ibāīyya," and R. Rubinacci's "Azāria." Two classic Sunnī heresiographies have been translated into English, however, and are valuable reading, though written from a distinctly hostile stance. These are ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī's Moslem Schisms and Sects (Al-Far Bain al-Fira ), translated by Kate Chambers Seelye (New York, 19191935), pp. 74115, and A. K. Kazi and J. G. Flynn's "Shahrastānī: Kitāb al-Milal waʾl Nial (The Khārijites and the Murjiʾites)," Abr-Nahrain 10 (1970/71): 4975. A valuable article by a leading scholar of the Ibāīyah is Tadeusz Lewicki's "The Ibádites in Arabia and Africa," parts 1 and 2, Cahiers d'histoire mondiale 13 (1971): 51130. An older but still useful introduction is William Thomson's "Khārijitism and the Khārijites," in The Macdonald Presentation Volume: A Tribute to Duncan Black Macdonald (1933; reprint, Freeport, N. Y., 1968).

John Alden Williams (1987)