"Khariji" redirects here. For the village in Iran, see Kharaji, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

The Khawarij (Arabic: الخوارج, al-Khawārij, singular خارجي, khārijiyy) or the ash-Shurah (Arabic: الشراة, translit. ash-Shurāh "the Exchangers") are members of a group that appeared in the first century of Islam during the First Fitna, the crisis of leadership after the death of Muhammad.[1] It broke into revolt against the authority of the Rashidun Caliph Ali after he agreed to arbitration with his rival, Muawiyah I, 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]

The Khawarij opposed arbitration as a means to choose a new ruler on the grounds that "judgement belongs to God alone". They considered arbitration a means for people to make decisions[2] while the victor in a battle was determined by God.[2] They believed that any Muslim—even if not Quraysh or even an Arab—could be the Imam, the leader of the community, if he was morally irreproachable. If the leader sinned, it was the duty of Muslims to oppose and depose him.[3][4]

Some Khawarij developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims. They were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to takfir (declaring self-described Muslims as non-Muslims).[1][5][6] In modern times, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and some other extremist groups have been referred to as "Kharijites" for their willingness to commit takfir and kill those they deem insufficiently Muslim.[7]


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",[8] as in the basic word خرج "to go out", "to walk out", "to come out", etc.[9]

However, these groups called themselves ash-Shurah "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][10][11]



Main article: First Fitna

The origin of Kharijism lies in the First Fitna, the struggle for political supremacy over the Muslim community in the years following the death of Muhammad. One source describes Khawarij as "bedouin nomads who resented the centralization of power in the new Islamic state that curtailed the freedom of their tribal society."[4]

After the death of the third Rashidun Caliph, Uthman, a struggle for succession ensued between Ali and Muawiyah I, the governor of Syria and cousin of Uthman, in league with a variety of other opponents.

The Khawarij initially were members of the "Party of Ali". They later rejected his leadership after he agreed to arbitration with Muawiyah rather than combat to decide the succession to the Caliphate following the Battle of Siffin.[2] In 657, Ali's forces met Muawiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muawiyah but on the brink of defeat, Muawiyah directed his army to hoist Qurans on their lances.[12] That initiated discord among some of those who were in Ali's army. Muawiyah wanted to put the dispute between the two sides to arbitration in accordance with the Qur'an. A group of Ali's army mutinied demanding for Ali to agree to Muawiyah's proposal. As a result, Ali reluctantly presented his own representative for arbitration. The mutineers, however, put forward Abu Musa Ashaari, against Ali's wishes.

Muawiyah put forward 'Amr ibn al-'As. Abu Musa al-Ashari was convinced by Amr to pronounce Ali'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 Ali.

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 Ali and Muawiya, opposing the rebellion against one whom they considered to be the rightful caliph and Ali accepting to subject his legitimate authority to arbitration, thus giving away what was not his but the people's.

Alī's cousin and a renowned Islamic jurist, Abd Allah ibn Abbas, pointed out the grave theological errors made by the Kharijites in quoting the Qur'an, and managed to persuade a number of Khawarij 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 groups were the Haruriyyah; it was notable for many reasons, among which was its ruling that a Haruri, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, was the assassin of Caliph Ali.

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 – 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] In a similar vein, the 10th century Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Ajurri said, "None of the scholars, in either past or recent times, ever disagreed that the Khawarij are an evil group, disobedient to Allah Almighty and to His Messenger - Peace Be Upon Him. Even if they pray, fast, or strive in worship, it does not benefit them, and even if they openly enjoin good and forbid evil it does not benefit them, as they are a people who interpret the Quran according to their desire."[13]


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

A narration attributed to Yusair bin Amr [14][15] 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‘id al-Khudri [16][17] 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 [15][18] 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 Muawiyah I, 'Amr ibn al-'As and Ali. 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.[19]

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 fatal. Ali was gravely injured with a head wound and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.[20]

The circumstances in which Ali was attacked is subject to debate; some scholars maintain that he was attacked outside the mosque, others state that he was attacked while initiating the prayer and still others reiterate that ibn-Muljim assaulted him midway through the prayer while Ali was prostrating.[19][21][22]

All the assassins were captured, tried and sentenced to death in accordance with Islamic laws.[20]

Modern times

Like-minded groups

The Ibadis, a fellow early sect with similar beliefs, form the majority of the population of Oman (where they first settled in 686),[23] and there are smaller concentrations of them in the M'zab of Algeria, Djerba in Tunisia, the Nafusa Mountains in Libya, and Zanzibar.

In the modern era, a number of Muslim theologians and observers have compared the beliefs and actions of the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda and like-minded groups to the Khawarij.[24][25][26][27][28] In particular, the groups share the Kharijites' radical approach whereby self-described Muslims are declared unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death and their disinterest in Quranic calls for moderation.[5][6][29] However, IS preachers strongly reject being compared to the Khawarij.[30]

In the 18th century, Hanafi scholar Ibn Abidin declared the Wahhabi movement of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab as modern Khawarij.[31] [32]

According to some Muslims (such as Abu Amina Elias), Kharijites will "continue to cause strife" in the Muslim community until End Times,[17] and cite a hadith (# 7123)[17] from Sahih al-Bukhari in support of this.

Early Muslim governance

The Khawarij considered the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar to be rightly guided but believed that Uthman 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 committed a grave sin when he agreed on the arbitration with Muawiyah.

The Kharijites thus deemed the arbitrators (Abu Musa Ashaari and 'Amr ibn al-'As), the leaders who appointed these arbitrators (Ali and Muawiyah I) and all those who agreed on the arbitration (all companions of Ali and Muawiyah]) as kuffar "disbelievers", as they had breached the rules of the Qur'an. They also believed that all participants in the Battle of the Camel, including Talhah, Zubayr ibn al-Awam and Aisha had committed a major sin.[33]

Doctrinal differences with other sects

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

Other doctrines

Many Khawarij groups believed that the act of sinning is analogous to kufr "disbelief" and that every grave sinner was regarded as a kafir unless they repent. They invoked the doctrine of free will, in opposition to that of predestination in their opposition to the Ummayad Caliphate, which held that Umayyad rule was ordained by God.[36]

According to Islamic scholar and Islamist pioneer Abul A'la Maududi, using the argument of "sinners are unbelievers", Kharijites denounced all the above Sahabah and even cursed and used abusive language against them. Other non-Khawarij Muslims were declared disbelievers because they were not free of sin but also because they regarded the above-mentioned Sahabah as believers and religious leaders, even inferring fiqh from the hadith narrated by them.[33]

The Khawarij considered the Qur'an as the source for fiqh but disagreed about the other two sources (hadith and ijma).[33]

Based on Kharijite poetry writings, scholar Ihsan Abbas finds three categories of focus among them:[37]

On the basis of women fighting alongside Muhammad, Khārijīs have viewed fighting jihad as a requirement for women. One famous example is the warrior and poet Laylā bint Ṭarīf.[38]

Principal groups

See also



    1. 1 2 Al-Yaqoubi, Muhammad (2015). Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious And Ideological Foundations. Sacred Knowledge. pp. xvii–xviii. ISBN 978-1908224125.
    2. 1 2 3 4 Higgins, Annie C. (2004). "Kharijites, Khawarij". In Martin, Richard C. Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World v.1. Macmillan. p. 390.
    3. 1 2 3 4 5 Glasse, Cyril (2001). The New Encyclopedia of Islam. California: Altamira Press. pp. 255–56. ISBN 0759101892.
    4. 1 2 Schultz, Joseph P. (1981). Judaism and the Gentile Faiths: Comparative Studies in Religion. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 175. bedouin nomads who resented the centralization of power in the new Islamic state that curtailed the freedom of their tribal society.
    5. 1 2 3 KHAN, SHEEMA (29 September 2014). "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
    6. 1 2 Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad Jebara. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen.
    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.
    8. Hassanein, Ahmed Taher; Abdou, Kamar; Abo El Seoud, Dalal. The Concise Arabic-English Lexicon of Verbs in Context (New revised and expanded ed.). New York: The American University in Cairo Press (2011). p105.
    9. 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
    10. Bhala, Raj (2011). Understanding Islamic Law: Sharīʻa. LexisNexis. ISBN 978-1-4224-1748-5.
    11. Martin, Richard C. (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 390. ISBN 0028656032.
    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.
    13. Al-Yaqoubi, Muhammad (2015). Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious And Ideological Foundations. Sacred Knowledge. p. 20. ISBN 978-1908224125.
    14. Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:68 (Bukhari Book 9 Volume 84 Hadith 68)
    15. 1 2 "Question & Answers. Sects in Islam. Who are the kharijites.". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
    16. Sahih Bukhari 7123
    17. 1 2 3 Abu Amina Elias (June 24, 2014). "Dangers of the Khawarij ideology of violence". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
    18. Sahih Muslim Hadith 2335
    19. 1 2 Cook, David (January 15, 2007). Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0521615518.
    20. 1 2 "Hadrat Ali's (r.a.) Murder". Islam Helpline. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
    21. Hitti, Phillip (2002). History of the Arabs. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 182. ISBN 0333631420.
    22. Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1979). Shi'ite Islam. Suny Press. p. 192. ISBN 0873952723.
    23. "CIA - The World Factbook". Central Intelligence Agency. June 5, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
    24. Al-Yaqoubi, Muhammad (2015). Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious And Ideological Foundations. Sacred Knowledge. pp. xvii–xviii. ISBN 978-1908224125. See also p.8.
    25. "Prominent Islamic Scholar Refutes Claims of ISIS's Links to Islam". Think Progress. March 2015.
    26. "Shaykh Saalih Al-Suhaymee: It Is Obligatory to Name, Expose and Refute the Instigators of Extremist Ideologies and Activities". Islam Against Extremism. 2015.
    27. "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.
    28. "Imam Al-Albani: The Prophetic Description of 'Dogs of Hellfire' and Contemporary Takfiri Kharijites". Islam Against Extremism. 2015.
    29. The Balance of Islam in Challenging Extremism| Dr. Usama Hasan| 2012| quilliam foundation
    30. "Counter-radicalisation (3): A disarming approach: Can the beliefs that feed terrorism be changed?". The Economist. 2 April 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
    31. Ahmad, Ahmad Atif (2009). Islam, Modernity, Violence, and Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 164. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
    32. 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
    33. 1 2 3 4 5 Abul A'la Maududi, Khilafat-o-Malookeyat (Caliphate and kingship), (Urdu), p 214.
    34. 1 2 Goldhizer, Ignaz. "Muslim Studies"(Transaction Publishers, 1971) Vol.1 p.130 (Downloadable from
    35. 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
    36. Campo, Juan Eduardo (2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 417. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
    37. 1 2 3 4 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
    38. Lori A. Allen, 'Jihad: Arab States', in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Law and Politics, ed. by Suad Joseph and Afsāna Naǧmābādī 319-21 (p. 319).

    Further reading

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