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Khawārij (Arabic: الخوارج, singular: Khariji) or Kharijites were a group of Muslims who rioted against Imam Ali (a) in the middle of, and after, the Battle of Siffin, as well as in the event of Arbitration. They then began the Battle of Nahrawan against the Imam (a). After their defeat in the Battle of Nahrawan, some of them started a social, political, military, and ideological sect in accordance to their views. In the long run, they branched into different groups and conquered parts of the Islamic territories. The sects of Khawarij ceased to exist throughout the history. Today, only Ibadiyya continue to exist in some areas such as Oman. Their views are close to those of other Muslims.


According to some sources, Khawarij were part of Imam Ali's (a) army in the Battle of Jamal and later in the Battle of Siffin, before the event of Arbitration. Most historiographers trace their origin to the event of Arbitration. According to other sources, they emerged after the verdict of Arbitration was announced.

Battle of Siffin

When people in the army of Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan put volumes of the Qur'an on spears and suggested that the parties of the war consult the verdict of the Qur'an, the army of Imam Ali (a) asked for Arbitration (Hakamiyya). The Imam (a) and some of his companions opposed the idea. During the ceasefire for Arbitration, some people asked the Imam (a) to continue the war and to repent to God, because they considered Arbitration to amount to infidelity (kufr). The Imam (a) refused to break the ceasefire. When he returned to Kufa, opponents of Arbitration went to Harura' near Kufa. Thus a group known as "Khawarij" was formed.

The Effort of Imam (a)

Imam Ali (a) sent 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas to debate with them. According to one account, 2000 or 4000 of Khawarij were convinced and returned to Kufa, but according to another account, none of them returned. The Imam (a) himself went to Harura' then and talked with them. As a result, many of them, including some of their heads, such as 'Abd Allah b. Kawwa' al-Yashkuri, Shabath b. Rib'i and Yazid b. Qays al-Arhabi, returned to Kufa.

Once again, Khawarij expressed their opposition in Kufa. They considered everyone who had accepted Arbitration to be an unbeliever. Moreover, they considered as an unbeliever everyone who did not take Ali (a) to be an unbeliever. They not only rejected the two Arbiters, but also any Islamic ruler. In public places, particularly in the Mosque of Kufa, they explicitly expressed their opposition to the Arbitration, accused the Imam (a) of being an unbeliever, threatened him to murder, and chanted slogans during the Imam's (a) sermons. They tried to dissuade the Imam (a) from sending the Arbitration delegate and persuade him to continue the war. However, the Imam (a) tolerated them and did not fight with them until they started the war and bloodshed.


After a few months, the Arbitration story ended with no result. The Imam (a) considered the verdict of the two Arbiters to be against the verdict of the Qur'an and prepared himself for a war with Mu'awiya once again. He wrote a letter to 'Abd Allah b. Wahb al-Rasibi and Yazid b. Husayn, two heads of Khawarij, and their companions in Nahrawan, announcing that the two Arbiters did not issue a verdict on the basis of the Qur'an, and so, he asked them to join him in a war against Mu'awiya. However, they asked the Imam (a) to admit his infidelity and repent to God. Otherwise, they would not join him. After the verdict of the Arbitration was announced, Khawarij became stricter in their opposition to the Imam (a).

Battle of Nahrawan

On Shawwal 37/658, Khawarij pledged their allegiance with 'Abd Allah b. Wahb as their ruler, and agreed over leaving Kufa and staying in Nahrawan. On their way, they killed innocent people. After calling them to the right path and giving an ultimatum, the Imam (a) had to fight with them. Most of the Khawarij were killed in the Battle of Nahrawan in 38/658. Some of them, led by Farwa b. Nufal, withdrew from attending the war against the Imam (a) because of their doubts about the legitimacy of the war. Their number is said to be from 4000 to 16000. In an exaggerated account, their number is said to be 24000.

After Nahrawan

Despite Imam Ali's (a) victory in the Battle of Nahrawan, Khawarij survived as a political, intellectual, and military group. The Imam (a) dissuaded the Shi'as from launching a war against Khawarij after his death. After his peace treaty with Mu'awiya, Imam al-Hasan (a) rejected Mu'awiya's offer to fight with Khawarij.

Grounds for the Origination

  • The Bedouin spirit: some authors trace the origin of Khawarij back to the Bedouin Arabs of the Jahiliyya period who rioted against the heads of their tribes, and their traditions and values. They became very excited for, and fought over, unimportant things. That none of the Sahaba, none of the Muhajirun and Ansar, joined Khawarij supports this account.
  • The tribal structure and hostility to the Quraysh: the tribal prejudice and the obedience of the heads of tribes is a factor in the origination of Khawarij and their survival. Heads of tribes, such as Ash'ath b. Qays al-Kindi, forced the Imam (a) to accept the Arbitration, the ceasefire, and the representation of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari. Khawarij were silent about the Arbiter being from the Quraysh, but they later rejected the condition of being from the Quraysh for the position of caliphate because of their dissatisfaction with the dominance of the Quraysh over the Islamic affairs. The Quraysh never joined Khawarij.
  • Riot against 'Uthman b. 'Affan: some people take the emergence of Khwarij to be in continuity with the riot against 'Uthman. The murder of 'Uthman and the disagreement among the Sahaba over the issue of caliphate led to the view that a caliph can be ousted or killed if he opposes people's views, breaks religious rulings, mishandles the affairs, or commits any injustice. Chief opponents of 'Uthman's policies, who were about 30 people, later constituted the core of Khawarij.
  • The solidarity of the reciters of the Qur'an with Khawarij: according to some early sources, a great number of the reciters of the Qur'an among the army of Imam Ali (a) and Mu'awiya in the Battle of Siffin joined Khawarij.
  • Other factors: there were other factors that led to the origination of Khawarij as well, such as the dissatisfaction with Imam Ali's (a) practice in distributing the booties of wars and gifts in an equal way, the internal battles of Jamal and Siffin in which Muslims fought with one another for the first time, the Imam's (a) order not to pick any booties in the Battle of Jamal, and the opposition of Haruriyya.

Other Names of Khawarij

In addition to their well-known title that appears in Imam Ali's (a) remarks, Khawarij were also known as "Muhakkima" (مُحَکِّمه), "Haruriyya" (حروریّه), "Mariqa" (مارقه), and "Shurat" (شُراة). Sometimes because of their hostility to Imam Ali (a) they were referred to as "Nawasib" (نواصب) or "Nasiba" (ناصبه). They were also known as "Mukaffira" (مُکَفّره) because they considered other Muslims as "Kafir" (unbelievers). They were also referred to as "Ahl al-Nahr" (أهل النهر) or "Ahl al-Nahrawan" (أهل النهروان).

The Branching of Khawarij

After the murder of Mirdas b. Udayh in 61/680 in a fight with the Umayyad government, Khwarij joined the riot of 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr in Mecca. When ibn Zubayr claimed the position of caliphate, Khawarij left him. They were divided over how to encounter the Islamic rulers and other Muslims, and thus, they branched into different sects.

Geographical Distribution of Khawarij

Early after their emergence, the main base of Khawarij were Kufa and Basra. The number of Khawarij in Basra was greater than that of Kufa. Many Khawarij in Kufa joined Imam Ali (a) after his talks with them. After that, Khawarij were scattered in different cities and areas. Some of the areas in which they resided in the first half of the 4th/10th century included different parts of Iran, Oman, Bahrain, Hadhramaut, parts of Yemen such as Khawlan, Zabid, and Sana'a, Zanzibar, North Africa, and some parts of the Islamic Morocco, such as Tiaret and Sijilmasa. Various sects of Khawarij ceased to exist throughout the history, and only Ibadiyya whose views are close to those of other Muslims continued to exist today. They live in Oman, Siwa, Hadhramaut, Djerba, Zanzibar, Tripolitania, and Algeria.

Features of Khawarij

In addition to what Imam Ali (a) said about Khawarij, some of their features are mentioned by authors of literary, historical, hadith-based works as well as books concerning sects and creeds. They are usually characterized by bad features.

  • Memorizing the Qur'an without reflecting on it,
  • Worshipping God without true faith,
  • Ignorance and narrow-mindedness,
  • Misunderstanding the Qur'an and misapplication of its verses to their own purposes in a very superficial way,
  • Arrogance and selfishness, and thus, considering other Muslims to be misguided,
  • Desire to have controversies, instead of making arguments,
  • Prejudice and bias in their views and beliefs,
  • Good talk and bad violent act,
  • Lack of organization and continuous branching,
  • Hostility to Imam Ali (a) even after his martyrdom,
  • Combativeness, courage, tolerance in spite of difficulties, and military discipline, which was why they could defeat the huge Umayyad army, despite their small number.

The Influence and Importance of Khawarij in the History of Islam

  • The split in the army of Imam Ali (a) was the first consequence of the emergence of Khawarij. They were the first political party and religious sect in the history of Islam.
  • Preparing the grounds for Mu'awiya's government
  • Fighting with the Umayyad government

Fight with Khawarij in the View of jurists

Sunni scholars of fiqh take it to be obligatory to fight with Khawarij because of their baghy (rebellion), but most of them did not take them to be unbelievers; they just consider them to be Muslim wrong-doers. On the contrary, Shiite faqihs (jurists) appealed to hadiths from the Imams (a) and unanimously considered them to be rebels and unbelievers who will stay in the Hell forever. They held that Khawarij's testimonies were not acceptable in adjudications, that animals slaughtered by them are not permitted to be eaten, that it is not permissible to marry them, and it is not obligatory to perform Funeral Prayer on their corpses.

Scholarly and Literary Activities

Early Khawarij exhibited tendencies to scholarly issues. For example, it is said that Nafi' b. Azraq discussed some problems of the exegesis of the Qur'an and philology with 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas. Since the middle of the 2nd/8th century, Khawarij turned from fights and uprisings to writing religious, jurisprudential, and historical books. Some transmitters, scholars, and fuqaha' rose from among Khawarij. They did not transmit hadiths and only rested content with the Qur'an as the only source of fiqh. Thus, they have simple views, and have no philosophical school or an extensive, organized fiqh. However, Ibadiyya have written books concerning the principles of beliefs and doctrines of fiqh.

In his mention of Khariji scholars of fiqh and theology, Ibn al-Nadim said that their authors, including Abu Firas Jubayr b. Ghalib, Abu l-Fadl al-Qurtulusi, Abu Bakr Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Barda'i, and Abu l-Qasim al-Hadithi, wrote about Qur'anic sciences, theology, fiqh, and usul al-fiqh.

Khariji scholars of theology who wrote books include: Yaman b. Rubab, Abu 'Ali Yahya b. Kamil b. Tulayha al-Jahdhari, Abu 'Ali Muhammad b. Harb al-Sayrafi, 'Abd Allah b. Yazid al-Ibadi, Hafs b. Ashyam, Ibrahim b. Ishaq al-Ibadi, Salih al-Naji, Haytham b. Haytham al-Naji, and Sa'id b. Harun. The topics about which they wrote include: monotheism, the creatures, believers, imamate, istita'a (or power), and rejections of their opponents, including the Mu'tazila, Murji'a, Shi'a, and Ghulat.

There were many Khariji orators and poets, some of whom were well-known. Most of their poems available to us are from 'Imran b. Hattan, and then Qatri b. Faj'a, 'Ubayda b. Hilal al-Yashkuri, Habib b. Khidra al-Hilali, A'raj al-Ma'na, and Malika Shibani. Most of their poems are paeans they used to recite in their wars.

Some letters and sermons of Khawarij are available to us, which are attributed to 18 of their leading figures. Some of them are only a few lines, and the most detailed one is by Abu Hamza al-Khariji. Their contents are concerned with the religious and political conduct of Khawarij, persuading people to jihad, amr bi l-ma'ruf (enjoining the good), and issues raised in their poems.

Beliefs and Views

Khawarij were always among important theological and political sects of the Islamic world, but they do not have a consistent set of views because they branched into many different sects. However, there are some common views among all the sects of Khawarij. They have two aspects: political and theological. In the early Umayyad period, their political aspect was more dominant, but throughout time, their theological aspect was highlighted. We do not know anything about the views and beliefs of early Khawarij except some Ibadi work in fiqh. Thus, their beliefs can only be known through work concerning sects and creeds (al-milal wa l-nihal).

  • Grave sins: the first view agreed upon by Khawarij was that a person who commits a grave sin counts as an unbeliever. This is because, in addition to knowledge by heart and linguistic testimony, they include actions in the definition of faith (Imān). Some of them maintained that a person who commits a major sin cannot become a believer again; thus, he and his children should be killed because of apostasy (irtidad), and they will stay in the Hell forever.
  • Imamate: they believed that everyone who acts upon the Qur'an and the Tradition and has knowledge of them is competent for the position of imamate. They also held that if two people pledge their allegiance with someone, he will thereby become an Imam (leader). They believe that the Imam is chosen through elections. Despite the standard conception, Khawarij believed that the caliphate of people other than Quraysh to be permissible as well. Most of them believed that it is not obligatory to appoint someone as an Imam; Muslims can handle their affairs without an Imam as well.
  • Fiqh: some jurisprudential views have been attributed to some Khariji sects, such as the rejection of stoning adulterers (because it was not mentioned in the Qur'an), the permissibility of killing the children and women of the enemy, that children of polytheists will stay in the Hell together with their fathers, and the impermissibility of taqiyya (dissimulation) in speech and action.
  • Khawarij and non-Muslims: it is said that Azariqa believed that Muslims who are not members of Khawarij should be killed, but it is forbidden to kill Christians, Zoroastrians, or Jews.

Other views are also attributed to Khawarij which are not specific to them, because they are attributed to other theological sects as well, such as the creation of the Qur'an, the denial of divine power to do injustice, the rejection of Shafa'a (intercession), the denial of punishment in the grave, using swords for enjoining the good and forbidding the evil (al-amr bi l-ma'ruf wa l-nahy 'an al-munkar) when there is no other way to do this.

Sects of Khawarij

The accounts provided by sources of sects and creeds (al-milal wa l-nihal) regarding the sects of Khawarij are inconsistent and confused. Thus, it is not easy to distinguish the main sects from the marginal ones.

Some sources only talk about 4 sects:

  1. Early Khawarij (al-Muhakkimat al-Ula; those who believed there is no verdict except by Allah),
  2. Najdiyya,
  3. Bayhasiyya,
  4. Azariqa.

Other sources talked about 5 to 20 sects of Khawarij. Some sources have considered some of these sects to be the main ones and others to be marginal. In addition to Muhakkima, these sources have referred to other sects such as Azariqa, Sufriyya, Bayhasiyya, Tha'aliba, 'Ajarida, Najdiyya, Ibdiyya, and Shabibiyya.

Criticism of Khariji Beliefs

Since the formation of Khawarij, many rejections and criticisms have been written about their speeches and practices throughout the Islamic history. They are classified into hadith-based, exegetical, and argumentative criticisms.

There are hadiths in some sources according to which the Prophet (s) predicted the origination of Khawarij and their apostasy. In general, such hadiths criticize the manner of their religiosity, as well as their political and social practice. Moreover, according to some hadiths, it is rewarding to fight with them and kill them.

Shiite scholars believed that whoever fights with Imam Ali (a), including Khawarij, are unbelievers by appealing to the hadith in which the Prophet (s) said to Imam Ali (a): "O' Ali! Whoever fights with you fights with me."

In exegetical rejections of Khariji works, it is attempted to respond to their Qur'anic arguments for their views. Most of them are concerned with the issue that a person who commits Major Sins is an unbeliever. In general, the exegetes of the Qur'an and theologians tried in such cases to show the weakness of the interpretation given by Khawarij for the verses in question.

See Also


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from خوارج in Farsi Wikishia.