Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part One

As ISIS continues its murder and violence across the provinces it controls and seeks to control, and as it continues to plague the conscience of the great majority of Muslims around the world, what’s worth recalling is that we’ve seen this before in history with the sect called the Khawarij (anglicized to Kharijites). So before tackling ISIS, let’s look at their forerunners; the Kharajites, to whom their pedigree can be traced.

I

The hadith canons relate that shortly after the battle of Hunayn while the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was distributing charity to a few people whose hearts needed to be reconciled, there came a man with a thick beard, prominent cheek bones, deep sunken eyes, protruding forehead and shaven head. He exclaimed: Fear Allah, O Muhammad! The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) responded: ‘Who will obey Allah if I were to disobey him? Am I not [sent as the] most trustworthy person on earth; and yet you trust me not?’ The man then turned back, whereupon one of those present asked for permission to kill him. But the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: ‘Verily, from the progeny (di’di) of this [man] shall come a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.[1]

isis1

Another hadith records that this man’s name was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah, from the tribe of Tamim, about whom the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) alerted: ‘Leave him; he has comrades whose prayer and fasting will make your prayer and fasting seem insignificant. They recite the Qur’an but it doesn’t go beyond their throats. They shall pass through the religion as an arrow that pierces clean through its prey such that, on inspecting the head; then the shaft; then the fletching; then the nock, would see no traces of blood or viscera on it whatsoever.’[2] Ibn al-Jawzi said: ‘The first of the Khawarij, and the most wretched of them, was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah … His problem was that he was too puffed up with his own opinion. Had he been granted grace, he would have realized that no opinion was above that of Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The followers of this man were those who fought against ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face.’[3]

A few decades after this post-Hunayn happening, and as had been prophesied, Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah’s ideological comrades and offspring took on the shape of the very first sect (firqah) to deviate from the main body of the Muslims: the Khawarij (culled from the Arabic word kharaja – “to go out” or “to leave” the main body of Muslims). Indeed, their very name was mentioned by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself, who said: al-khawarij hum kilab al-nar – “The Khawarij are the dogs of Hellfire!’[4] The emergence of the Khawarij as a sect occurred during the caliphate (khilafah) of ‘Ali, in the immediate aftermath of a civil war and its arbitration at Siffin.

Ibn al-Jawzi tells us: ‘‘Ali returned from Siffin and entered Kufah: the Khawarij did not follow. Instead, they settled in Harura. There were 12,000 of them, and they were declaring: la hukma illa li’Llah – “There is no judgement, except Allah’s.” This is how they initially started.’[5]

Imam Muslim narrates from ‘Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi‘, a freed salve of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), that the Khawarij came out against ‘Ali, and declared: ‘There is no judgement, except Allah’s.’ So ‘Ali replied: ‘A word of truth, intended for something false (kalimatu haqq urida biha batil).’[6]

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Imam al-Nawawi explains: ‘Meaning, the basis of their statement was true. Allah says: The judgement is for none but Allah. [12:40] What they intended by it, however, was to reject ‘Ali’s [acceptance of] arbitration, may Allah be pleased with him.’[7]

As with Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah who, blinded by his warped piety and self-righteousness, thought he had a keener sense of justice than the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the Khawarij were also possessed of holier-than-thou pretensions and smug convictions. It is this puritanical, embittered self-righteousness – devoid of any true glimmer of knowledge or spiritual wisdom – that is the hallmark of the Khawarij and their ideological cousins who drink from the same murky theological waters today. Of course, along with such fanatical zeal, their other great infamy was takfir – declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers, and spilling their blood because of it.

II

The historians al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir chronicle alarmingly precise accounts of their intimidation, violence and terror. Under the events of 37H/657CE they detail how the Khawarij began terrorizing the countryside around Nahrawan, Iraq, subjecting those whom they caught to an imtihan or “inquisition”. If the answers failed to satisfy their zeal for purity, or agree with their understanding of things, then the punishment was death. Things came to a head when they chose ‘Abd Allah, son of an early companion, Khabbab b al-Aratt, as their victim.

A number of the Khawarij rode into his village for supplies and thought to make an example of him. They fired their loaded questions at him. They first asked him about the caliphates of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. ‘Abd Allah extolled them all and praised their successive caliphates. So far, so good. They then asked him about ‘Ali, and his state before and after the arbitration or tahkim. ‘He has far greater knowledge about Allah than you do,’ replied ‘Abd Allah, ‘and has much more piety in terms of his religion and possesses greater insight.’ With that, his fate was sealed. They bound and dragged him and his pregnant wife to an orchard laden with date palms, next to a river.

As they were proceeding to kill him, a date fell to the ground, so one of the Khawarij picked it up and put it in his mouth. ‘Do you do that without the owner’s permission and without paying for it?’ said one of his Kharajite comrades. He spat it out instantly. Another Khariji, wielding his sword in threatening circles, accidentally killed a cow that had been wandering behind him. His comrades insisted he should go and find the owner and pay him the full price of the animal. They waited whilst he did so. Thus, having acted most righteously in the matter of the date and the cow, they slit ‘Abd Allah’s throat and then disemboweled his wife. Date spat out, cow paid for, husband, wife and unborn child butchered; and with the clearest of consciences, they purchased their supplies and went on their way.[8]

Theologians have differed as to the precise meaning of the Prophet’s words ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): ‘They will pierce through the religion (yamruquna min al-din) as an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’ The idea of maraqa – an an arrow ‘piercing’ or going ‘clean through’ its prey with such force and velocity that it exits its prey without any trace of blood or flesh sticking to its tip or shaft, describes emphatically how the Khawarij immerse themselves in religion, but exit straight through it. The question, however, is do they exit the fold of orthodoxy (and become heterodox, deviant Muslims), or do they leave the actual fold of Islam? A minority of scholars went with the latter view; most went with the former.[9] The majority view takes its cue from ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was asked: Are the Khawarij mushrikun? He said: ‘They flee from shirk.’ Are they munafiqun? He said: ‘The hypocrites remember Allah only a little.’ Then what are they? He said: ‘They are our brothers who transgressed against us (ikhwanuna baghaw ‘alayna), so we fought them for their transgression.’[10]

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27 responses to “Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part One”

  1. Amatullah says:

    One of the MOST informative article around! JazakhAllah khayr for the immense information about the Kharijites. May Allah protect our deen.

  2. Ibn Islam says:

    This article highlights some of the traits of the khawarij and links them to isis. However; it does oversimplify this matter. I strongly encourage the author and other scholars to thoroughly elucidate some of the actions of isis, rather than completely dismiss them as. Oversimplifying this matter by describing the actions of this group as “non-islamic”, is not doing justice.
    It is important to put things into correct perspective which it deserves in order not to loose the wide majority audience. Clarification is needed today more than ever because those who know the seerah of the prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salam in depth cannot consolidate with generalization of this matter. In no way or form do I support actions of isis, however we need proper guidance in this matter. Making the claim that Islam and the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salam are all about mercy and denying all other actions causes alienation of the young and mature Muslims at large, as well mistrust deviation. Using the “young” card and “lack of wisdom” is the wrong approach. The hadith pertaining to the “foolish” and “young” has its validity without a doubt. Needles to say that the youth has always been at the forefront bringing positive change while the majority of scholars have been remaining passive in the matters of the global Muslim community throughout history.

    In order to consolidate the matter things need to be addressed by those with adequate knowledge:

    1. What constitutes kufr (disbelieve) ie. the 10 nullifers of Islam
    2. How to work towards establishing Islam as a state
    3. What kind of allegiance is permitted to Muslims and to whom
    4. Denouncing the men made systems and upholding the Islamic identity while being part of the society.

    May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala give us the understanding of the right path and make us follow it.

    • Abu Aaliyah says:

      As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.

      I’m surprised at the comment and also rather baffled. I’ve not even got to the part about ISIS yet. I’ve made that abundantly clear at the beginning and end of part one. I’ve also not used the word “unIslamic” about them, since I don’t find that very helpful. Hence your commrbts seem somewhat untimely or misplaced. Surely the reasonable thing to do would have been to wait until the next part, till I actually wrote something about ISIS, before launching your criticisms and allegations.

      One reasons I decided to write something about this (after consulting some of my teachers) is because I wasn’t quite satisfied with much of what was currently out there. A lot of it was just telling us how harsh and unIslamic they are which, as I’ve said, isn’t very helpful. I was hoping to do a little more than that, bi’idhnillah. (Wether I succeed or not remains to be seen).

      A few of those on Muslim Matters know of my work for the last twenty years or so. I hope you believe me when I tell you I’m really not in the habit of tackling issues which I’m not qualified for, nor do I write for popularity. I write with the depth I believe does some justice to the topic, and only after things have been well thought out (even if, sometimes, that takes a year or two before putting pen to paper, as in this case). The end product can still be littered with errors, unhelpful and besides the point; though it’s unlikely to be shallow, or written in ignorance and haste.

      My brother, be patient, pray that Allah guides me to write something of substance, give me the benefit of the doubt, and – if I may ask – try not to be so assuming or judgemental about me.

      You may even be pleasantly surprised at part two; then again, you may not. It’s unlikely that any one single article could ever hit all the proverbial nails on the head in this matter.

      Let’s just wait; like many other sons and daughters of Islam, my heart bleeds for the situation too.

      Here’s hoping.

      Your brother, at your service.

      And Allah alone gives success.

      • Amatullah says:

        Agree with every word said by bro Abu Aaliyah. The comment by Ibn Islam is misplaced and doesn’t make sense. It was as if the article was read with a prejudiced mind of finding whatever the reader wanted to read and NOT what the article was for!

  3. Kamal Ahmed says:

    The article clearly has not yet directly touched any aspect of ISIS yet so I dont understand the fuss that brother Ibn Islam is trying to create. The article has only mentioned ISIS two times and that too in the opening paragraph. So my advice to Brother Ibn Islam is to either clarify his position or retract his comment. Jazakallah Brother Abu Aaliyah for the insightful article. Looking forward to the part 2.

    • GregAbdul says:

      I am not a Muslim scholar, but the atrocities committed by Da’esh are well documented and space is wasted here by going in to them here in detail. There is no justification for the slaughter going on in Syria by Assad or Da’esh. Innocent Muslims are being slaughtered and starved to death. One group does it under a false pretense of bringing the world pure true Islam. The analogy is pretty obvious, I thought. I fail to understand what details you seek. It’s as if you need convincing that Da’esh is killing innocent Muslims. Are you one of those who think Da’esh is a creation of America?

    • GregAbdul says:

      Sorry Brother Ahmed. I did not look carefully at what you wrote and shot off my mouth before having complete understanding. May Allah forgive me. I guess I am of the group that is prejudging Da’esh. Millions of Muslims are suffering. Yassir Qadhi is one who was off the deep end of Salfism, but al hamdullilah, he has pulled back and is a pleasure to listen to these days. For me, I see Muslims doing stupid things in the name of purity and I am very tired of it. I just listened to a lecture where the Imam said that a person has to invite you into their heart. Only Allah has unlimited access. Only Allah has final judgement. One of our primary commands is kindness. Da’esh, I don’t think anyone is debating how kind they are. I lose track of Muslim Matters sometimes. Al hamdulillah for this site and this article. I know, for me, I am pretty familiar with Da’esh, at least from a media perspective, but I am weak on Islamic history and this is what impresses me about this article. I learned the linguistics of why the Khawarij have a second name and the exact start of these “deviant Muslims.” This is valuable knowledge. May Allah reward the author. Those who criticize, may not see, but some of us see their criticism as a defense for Da’esh. Sorry being long and will soon shut up. Our job, after we find guidance, is to assist others in finding Allah’s guidance. The matter of being guided is strictly a matter of the heart and we pray that Allah allows us to be a way for others to escape the fire. We have to win hearts fee sabeelillah. What has that got to do with shooting people, torture and rape? May Allah make us successful as we continue the mission of our Prophet.

  4. tortal says:

    Sufaha’ al-ahlam would work much better translated as, “of foolish ambitions” or “having foolish notions” or something of that sort.

    When I read the Arabic, it just doesn’t strike me as meaning “weak of intellect”.

    • Abu Aaliyah says:

      Thank you for an alternative translation. However, when one consult the books of commentary on this hadith, one finds that the phrase is understood as a kinayah; a metaphor. It is a metaphor for those who lack depth of knowledge and understand; those who only understand things at a surface level.

      We also learn a valuable lesson, which is that to understand such important socio-political and theologically orientated hadiths, we must beware not to explain them merely by taking their lexical meanings. Rather, we need to rely upon the shariah meanings, as given by the qualified jurists, theologians and commentators.

    • Abu Aaliyah says:

      That said, one can see that these Khawarij, because they were “weak in intellect”, ended up with “foolish ambitions.”

  5. M.Mahmud says:

    I felt like Muslims were over emphasizing the “foolish youth” aspect of it which might almost be seen as an excuse. The core aspect of it highlighted in this article rightfully is their selfrightiousness and arrogance. It is one thing to be foolish and yet another to combine it with the self pride and contempt these crimins have. I have argued with many of them and they are exceptionally arrogant and often of despicable character.

  6. M.Mahmud says:

    What is also clear is their lack of respect and proper exaltation of Rasulullah sallahualayhiwasalam. It gets in the way of their stubborn arrogance. They ought to be annihilated like Ad was annihilated. May Allah destroy them very soon.

  7. Joe says:

    As salaam alykum
    One of the best articles I have read so far on the khawarij!!!
    Reminds me of the series by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks many years ago ”The Kharijites and their impact on Contemporary Islam” – I do not know if Shaykh Surkheel has read the series?
    The conversation between Hadrat Ali RA and Hurqus always gives me pause for thought. Hurqus words can be easily translated to the young angry men we find at our mosques and their facebook comments’, they think (and believe) their actions are for Allah:
    [[“‘The intractable Hurqus confronted Sayyidna Ali and said, “O son of Abi Talib, I fight you not except for the sake of Allah, and for my reward in the afterlife.”
    Sayyidna Ali retorted, “Your kind, Hurqus, is the kind that Allahu Ta’ala refers to in the Quran where He states, ‘Say: Shall We tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they imagined that they were acquiring good by their works‘ (18: 103). Amongst these – and I swear by this in the name of the Lord of the Ka’ba – are you Hurqus!”]]

    To the people of Allah this is the scariest verse in the Quran 18:103 – we ask Allah’s Pleasure through His Mercy and not through our actions.
    A scholar once told me that the spiritual reason for the khawarij and their deviance is that in the first interaction between Hurqus and the beloved Prophet SAW – Hurqus showed disrespect to the beloved. They have no love for our Prophet SAW inwardly.
    Looking forward to part 2.
    Was salaam

  8. GregAbdul says:

    subhanallah! Great Article…..I learned something today…al hamdullilah!

  9. Yusuf Smith says:

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    Are ISIS really the modern Khawarij, though? The Khawarij were known, as you say in your article, for exaggerated displays of righteousness and kindness towards non-Muslims and towards animals while they massacred the Believers over petty or ridiculous disagreements. ISIS, like Al-Qa’ida before them, although they do oppress Muslims in the lands they occupy, are not merciful to non-Muslims either in the lands they occupy or in the non-Muslim lands in which they operate (many of which allow Muslims to live unmolested and with greater freedom than in most Muslim countries) where they massacre innocent people, destroy property, menace travellers (notably by hijacking aeroplanes) and behave treacherously and break trusts with both Muslims and others. While they may have been intended to provoke non-Muslims into war against Muslims, and a few Muslims were killed, the immediate targets were non-Muslims. How then are modern extremists Khawarij?

  10. Munawar says:

    The article by brother Abu Aaliyah is very good & informative. You have drawn good parallels between the Khawarij & ISIS which is very true.
    I think the deeper picture is more disturbing which is as follows:- ( I may be wrong so Allah pardon me)
    The strength of a person is not in his body but in his spirit. The more a person is spiritual the more he is near to Allah the more strong he is. History has proved this in the battle of Badr & even after that when a handful of true spiritual muslims controlled half of the world.
    They fought not for hatred of the enemy but for the love of Allah. Thus they derived their strength from love not hatred.
    Today their descendants depend on a foreign power for their protection. Why?
    The reason is that some vested interests including the descendants themselves attacked our spiritual ethos under the garb of a puritinical Islam & the result is for everyone to see. Country after country which allowed the spiritual Islam to flourish came under attack under one pretext or the other. The first was Afghanistan followed by Iraq , Iran ( this country was saved by the grace of Allah), Egypt & now Syria. It is any bodys guess as to who is funding & supporting these activities. The west is only in the front & its business is to make hay while the sun shines. We cannot blame the west.
    Now their target is India & Pakistan ( although Pakistan today is in deep trouble — again because of the  followers of this puritinical Islam). 

    About a fortnight ago we had an article in The Times Of India which spoke of the Salafi & Sufi divide in India & how a rich middle eastern country is pumping money into India to support Salafism.

    In his 2nd part I request brother Abu Aliyah to throw some light on this aspect especially with regard to 2 renowned muslim scholars one of the12th century the 2nd belonging to the 17th century. Both had a puritinical attitude & were obsessed with Jihad. Most of the puritans follow them.

    It is for every one to see the spiritual divide between the Muslim countries.
    But the most disturbing part is the numbers of these puritans is increasing day by day because even if a false sermon  ( under pressure from vested interests ) is delivered from the pulpit of Haram Sheriff it will be considered as true by the lay Muslim.

  11. JAVAD says:

    Sorry has the part 2 been published yet? i couldnt find it!!

  12. […] Sh Abu Aaliyah Surkheel charted the rise of Islam's first heterodox sect, the Khawarij, in the first segment of this series. […]

  13. […] or that people are pretending to be Muslim to make us look bad. The reality is that those of us who study the sacred texts KNOW that these sinful, corrupt, murdering renegades ARE found, within our societies and […]

  14. […] One of the signs of such people that Rasoolullah  described is that their hearts will be (as if) made of iron; without any mercy. The ISIS has amply demonstrated its lack of mercy. There is nothing in Islam which permits what they do. Their actions are an abomination against Islam. […]

    • AshShifaa says:

      Indeed

      ..until you will fight them in the armies of the dajjal , goes the hadeeth, if I am not wrong. isis and Israel are buddies btw.. something to think about , Zionists are the armies of the dajjal, their false messiah being the dajjal himself .
      We have to read and study end time prophecy to underhand this ..

  15. Fahad says:

    Excellent article. Insha’Allah ISIS will be eradicated like their forefathers or Come back to mainstream Islam soon.

  16. Abu ahmed says:

    Brilliantly put together.
    Very informative.

    JazakaAllah

  17. Jav says:

    These khawarij separated themselves from the body politic of muslims ie the caliphate.
    The secular nationalist elites are the ones who did this in the 20th century.
    How are you applying it to others and not this group and their descendants whose islam does not go beyond their necks?

    • jule says:

      i totally agree
      the khawarij did it when the khilafah was florishing, from wat exactly did our brothers from dawlah islamyah seperate them selves from?
      from corrupt kings? or from people whom do not wish to apply sharia? so tell me exactly whom are the khawarij ?
      brings me to the next equation, we try to make parallels between khawarij between present muslim mujahideen whom are harsh with establishing a muslim country run by the laws God gave us.
      would we apply the parallels if abubakr saddiq was amongst us today?
      he was willing to fight every man neglecting the laws of allah he even did fight muslims that abandoned the pay of zakat, while the muslim army was busy fighting in the front lines he himself went to fight these so called muslims.
      i pray every sible day to bring the muslims together and abandon their differences so we can stand as one for one goal.
      that goal is to establish the word of god to be the highest. every one with a different goal must be put in paralel and questioned about whether he is mukhrij.

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