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Kharijites (Collective plural Arabic: الخارجية‎, translit. al-Khārijiyyah; multiple plural: Arabic: خوارج‎, translit. Khawārij; singular Arabic: خارجي‎, translit. Khāriji; literally "those who went out")[1] were a sect in early Islam that broke into revolt against the authority of Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib after he agreed to arbitration with his rival Mu'awiyah to decide the succession to the Caliphate following the Battle of Siffin (657).[2] A Khariji later assassinated Ali, and for hundreds of years the Khawarij were a source of insurrection against the Caliphate.[3] They survive today in small numbers in more moderate forms.[3]

Khawarij opposed arbitration as a means to choose a new ruler on the grounds that "judgement belongs to God alone", and arbitration was a means for men to make decisions,[2] while the victor in a battle was determined by God.[2] They believed that any Muslim (not just a Quraysh or even Arab) could be the leader of the community (imam) if they are morally irreproachable, but that if the leader sinned, it was the duty of Muslims to oppose and depose him.[3][4] The Kharijites developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. They were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir (claiming self-described Muslims were non-Muslims). [5][6] In modern times the Islamic State and some other extremist groups have been called Kharijites.[7]

Their name come from the fact that they left or "seceded" from Ali's army. They did not call themselves Khawarij, but the Shurah, (Arabic: الشراة‎, translit. Ash-Shurāh),[upper-alpha 1] literally meaning "the buyers" and 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-Aakhirah)".[3][8]


The name "Khawarij" comes from the Arabic root خ ر ج (KH-R-J), which has the primary meaning “to go out”,[9][10] as in the basic word خَرَجُ (kharaju), meaning "to go out", "to walk out", "to come out" etc.[11]



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 the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One source describes Khawarij as "bedouin nomads" who opposed the "centralization of power in the new Islamic state that curtailed the freedom of their tribal society."[4] After the third caliph (Uthman ibn Affan), a struggle for succession ensued between Caliph Ali and Muʿāwiyah, the governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman, in league with a variety of other opponents.

The Khawarij initially supported the authority of Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law and cousin of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but then later rejected his leadership, after he agreed to arbitration with Mu'awiyah rather than combat to decide the succession to the Caliphate following the Battle of Siffin (657).[2]

In 657, Alī's forces met Muʿāwiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muʿāwiyah but on the brink of defeat, Muʿāwiyah directed his army to hoist Qur'āns on their lances.[12] This initiated discord among some of those who were in Alī's army. Muʿāwiyah wanted to put the dispute between the two sides to arbitration in accordance with the Qur'an. A group of Alī's army mutinied, demanding that Alī agree to Muʿāwiyah's proposal. As a result, Alī reluctantly presented his own representative for arbitration. The mutineers, however, put forward Abu Musa al-Ashʿari against Alī's wishes.

Muʿāwiyah put forward 'Amr ibn al-'As. Abu Musa al-Ashʿari 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 repudiated Alī.

Citing the verse "No Command but God's" (Quran 6:57), an indication that a caliph is not a representative of God, this group turned on both Alī and Muʿāwiya, opposing Muʿāwiya's rebellion against one they considered to be the rightful caliph, and opposing ʻAlī 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 "to come out, to exit."

Alī's cousin and a renowned Islamic jurist, Abdullah ibn Abbas, pointed out the grave theological errors made by the Kharijites in quoting the Qur'an, and managed to persuade a number of Kharijites to return to Alī based on their misinterpretations. ʻAlī defeated the remaining rebels in the Battle of Nahrawan in 658 but some Kharijites survived.

One of the early Kharijite groups was the Harouriyyah; it was notable for many reasons, among which was its ruling that a Harūrī, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, was the assassin of Caliph Alī.

For hundreds of years the Khawarij continued to be a source of insurrection against the Caliphate.[3] and they aroused condemnation by mainstream scholars such as 14th-century Muslim Ismail ibn Kathir who wrote:

If they ever gained strength, they would surely corrupt the whole of the Earth, Iraq and Shaam [Syria] – they would not leave a baby, male or female, neither a man or a woman, because as far as they are concerned the people have caused corruption, a corruption that cannot be rectified except by mass killing.[5]


Among the hadith that refer to the Kharijites (according to some sources) include:

A narration attributed to Yusair bin Amr [13][14] reports:

I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, "Did you hear the Prophet saying anything about Al-Khawarij?" He said, "I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq "There will appear in it (i.e. Iraq) some people who will recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game's body.' "

A narration attributed to Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri [15][16] reports:

"There will come a people from the east who recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats. They will pass through the religion just as an arrow pierces its target and they will not return to it just as the arrow does not return to the bow."

A narration attributed to Abu Dharr [17][14] reports:

"Allah's Messenger (saws) said: Verily there would arise from my Ummah after me a group (of people) who would recite the Quran, but it would not go beyond their throats, and they would pass clean through their religion just as the arrow passes through the prey, and they would never come back to it. They would be the worst among the creation and the creatures."

Beliefs and practices

Assassination attempts

Among the surviving Kharijites, three of them gathered in Mecca to plot a tripartite assassination attempt on Muʿāwiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān, 'Amr ibn al-'As and Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The assassination attempts were to occur simultaneously as the three leaders came to lead the morning prayer (Faj'r) in their respective cities of Damascus, Fustat and Kufa. The method was to come out of the prayer ranks and strike the targets with a sword dipped in poison.[18]

Muawiya escaped the assassination attempt with only minor injuries. Amr was sick and the deputy leading the prayers in his stead was martyred. However, the strike on Ali by the assassin, Abdur-Rahmaan ibn-Muljim, proved to be a fatal one. Ali was gravely injured with a head wound and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.[19]

The circumstances in which Ali was attacked is subject to debate; where some scholars maintain that he was attacked outside the mosque, others state that he was attacked while initiating the prayer, still others reiterate that ibn-Muljim assaulted him midway through the prayer, while Ali was prostrating.[18][20][21]

All the assassins were captured, tried and sentenced to death in accordance with Islamic laws.[19]

Modern times


The Ibadis, descendants of the Kharijites, form a significant part of the present day population of Oman (where they first settled in 686),[22] and there are smaller concentrations of them in the M'zab of Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, Jebel Nafusa in Libya, and Zanzibar.

Like-minded groups

In the modern era, a number of Muslim theologians and observers have compared the beliefs and actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), al-Qaeda and like-minded groups to the Khawarij.[23][24][25][26]

In particular the groups share the Kharijites' radical approach to Takfir, (whereby self-described Muslims are declared unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death), and their disinterest in Quranic calls for moderation.[5][6][27]

In the 18th century, Hanafi scholar Ibn Abidin declared the Wahhabi movement of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab as modern Khawarij.[28] [29]

According to some Muslims (such as Abu Amina Elias) Kharijites will "continue to cause strife" in the Muslim community until end times,[16] and cite a hadith (# 7123)[16] from Sahih al-Bukhari in support of this.

Early Muslim governance

The Kharijites 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 Talib committed a grave sin when he agreed on the arbitration with Muʿāwiyah. In the Battle of Siffin, Ali acceded to Muawiyah's suggestion to stop the fighting and resort 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 had breached a Qur'anic verse which states that The decision is only for Allah (Qur'an 6:57), which the Kharijites interpreted to mean 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-Ashʿari and Amr Ibn Al-As), the leaders who appointed these arbitrators (Ali and Muʿāwiyah) and all those who agreed on the arbitration (all companions of Ali and Muʿāwiyah) as Kuffār (disbelievers), having breached the rules of the Qur'an. They believed that all participants in the Battle of Jamal, including Talha, Zubair (both being companions of Muhammad) and Aisha had committed a Kabira (major sin in Islam). [30]

Doctrinal differences with other sects

Kharijites differ with both Sunni and/or Shiʿa, on some points of doctrine:

  • Sunnis accept Ali as the fourth rightly guided Caliph, and also accept the three Caliphs before him, who were elected by their community. Shi'a believe that the imaamate was the right of Ali, and the rule of the first three Rashidun caliphs was unlawful. Kharijites insist that the caliph need not be from the Quraysh tribe, but that Any pious Muslim nominated by other Muslims was eligible to be the leader of the Muslim community.[31][30]
  • Unlike Sunni and Shia, Kharijites believed that Muslims had the right and duty to revolt against any ruler who deviated from their interpretation of Islam,[31] or according to other interpretations, failed to manage Muslim's affairs with justice and consultation,[30] or committed a major sin.[3]
  • Kharijites reject the doctrine of infallibility for the leader of the Muslim community, in contrast to Shi'a but in agreement with Sunnis.[32]

Other doctrines

Kharijites believed that the act of sinning is analogous to Kufr (disbelief) and that every grave sinner was regarded as a Kāfir (disbeliever) unless he repents. They invoked the doctrine of qadar or free will, in opposition to that of jabr or predestination, in their opposition to the Ummayad caliphate, which held that Umayyad rule was ordained by God.[33]

According to Islamic scholar and Islamist pioneer Abul Ala Maududi, using the argument of sinners are unbelievers, Kharijites denounced all the above-mentioned Ṣaḥābah (companions of Muhammad) and even cursed and used abusive language against them. Other non-Kharijite Muslims were also declared disbelievers, firstly because they were not free of sin, but also because they regarded the above-mentioned Ṣaḥābah as believers and religious leaders, even inferring Islamic jurisprudence from the Hadith narrated by them.[30]

Regarding Islamic law, the Kharijites 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.[30]

Based on Kharijite poetry writings, scholar Ihsan Abbas finds three categories of focus among Kharijite:[34]

  • the strong desire of Kharijites for martyrdom and dying for the sake of God,[34]
  • detailed descriptions of how Kharijites defined a just and pious ruler,[34] and
  • their universal tendency to blame the self for failing to establish the previous two categories.[34]

Principal groups of Khawarij

See also


  1. Not to be confused with shūrā.


  1. "Schisms and Heterodoxy among the Muslims", hosted on| Javeed Akhter
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Higgins, Annie C. (2004). "Kharijites, Khawarij". In Martin, Richard C. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World v.1. Macmillan. p. 390.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Glasse, Cyril (2001). The New Encyclopedia of Islam. California: Altamira Press. pp. 255–56. ISBN 0759101892. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schultz, Joseph P. (1981). Judaism and the Gentile Faiths: Comparative Studies in Religion. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 175. Retrieved 3 October 2015. bedouin nomads who resented the centralization of power in the new Islamic state that curtailed the freedom of their tribal society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 KHAN, SHEEMA (29 September 2014). "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 13 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad Jebara. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Mamouri, Ali (January 8, 2015). "Who are the Kharijites and what do they have to do with IS?". Al Monitor. Retrieved 9 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Bhala, Raj (2011). Understanding Islamic Law: Sharīʻa. LexisNexis. p. 49.05. Retrieved 1 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Hassanein, Ahmed Taher; Abdou, Kamar; Abo El Seoud, Dalal. The Concise Arabic-English Lexicon of Verbs in Context (New rev'd & expnded ed. n). New York: The American University in Cairo Press (2011). p105.
  10. Google Translate. Retrieved 5 July 2015.خرج
  11. Wehr, Hans; and Cowen JM (Ed). The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (Arabic-English), 4th Ed.n. Urbana, IL: Spoken Language Services. ISBN 978-0-87950-003-0. p 269
  12. Ali, Ameer. 'A Short History of the Saracens' (13th ed.). London 1961: Macmillan and Company. p. 51. He (Muawiyah) made his mercenaries tie copies of the Koran to their lances and flags, and shout for quarter.CS1 maint: location (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:68 (Bukhari Book 9 Volume 84 Hadith 68)
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Question & Answers. Sects in Islam. Who are the kharijites". Retrieved 9 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Sahih Bukhari 7123
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Abu Amina Elias (June 24, 2014). "Dangers of the Khawarij ideology of violence". Retrieved 9 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sahih Muslim Hadith 2335
  18. 18.0 18.1 Cook, David (January 15, 2007). Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0521615518.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Hadrat Ali's (r.a.) Murder". Islam Helpline. Retrieved 30 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Hitti, Phillip (2002). History of the Arabs. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 182. ISBN 0333631420.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1979). Shi'ite Islam. Suny Press. p. 192. ISBN 0873952723.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "CIA - The World Factbook". Central Intelligence Agency. June 5, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Prominent Islamic Scholar Refutes Claims of ISIS's Links to Islam". Think Progress. March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Shaykh Saalih Al-Suhaymee: It Is Obligatory to Name, Expose and Refute the Instigators of Extremist Ideologies and Activities". Islam Against Extremism. 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "It Is Criminal and Unjust to Ascribe the Actions of the Kharijite Renegades (Al-Qaidah, ISIS) to Islam and the Muslims". Islam Against Extremism. 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Imam Al-Albani: The Prophetic Description of 'Dogs of Hellfire' and Contemporary Takfiri Kharijites". Islam Against Extremism. 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. The Balance of Islam in Challenging Extremism| Dr. Usama Hasan| 2012| quilliam foundation
  28. Ahmad, Ahmad Atif (2009). Islam, Modernity, Violence, and Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 164. Retrieved 9 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Khaled Abou El Fadl, "9/11 and the Muslim Transformation." Taken from September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment?, pg. 87. Ed. Mary L. Dudziak. Durham: Duke University Press 2003. ISBN 9780822332428
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 Abul Ala Maududi, Khilafat-o-Malookeyat (Caliphate and kingship), (Urdu), p 214.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Goldhizer, Ignaz. "Muslim Studies", (Transaction Publishers, 1971) Vol.1 p.130 (Downloadable from:
  32. Baydawi, Abdullah. "Tawali' al- Anwar min Matali' al-Anzar", circa 1300. Translated alongside other texts in the 2001 "Nature, Man and God in Medieval Islam" by Edwin Elliott Calverley and James Wilson Pollock. pp. 1001-1009
  33. Campo, Juan Eduardo (2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 417. Retrieved 1 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Hussam S. Timani, Modern Intellectual Readings of the Kharijites, pgs. 84-85. Volume 262 of American University Studies, Series VII: Theology and Religion. Bern: Peter Lang, 2008.ISBN 9780820497013

Further reading

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

External links