In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

In discussing Islamic history, the term Khawārij refers to a specific group, the roots of which were planted from the time of the khilāfah of ‘Uthmān radiAllahu ‘anhu. Though there are many groups and branches amongst the Khawārij (approx. 20) with various beliefs, there are two beliefs which they all share:

  • Declaring the following as kāfir:
  1. 1.‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu
  2. 2.‘Uthmān radiAllahu ‘anhu
  3. 3.The two arbitrators (discussed ahead)
  4. 4.Those who accepted and agreed to the decision of the arbitrators, or one of them.
  • Revolting against an oppressive ruler

The Khawārij criticized ‘Uthmān radiAllahu ‘anhu for nepotism and raised false claims against his administration. They were known as Al Qurrā’ due to their excessive tilāwah, ‘ibādah, and asceticism. However, they would interpret the Quran based on unqualified views.


After the martyrdom of ‘Uthmān radiAllahu ‘anhu, people approached ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu to accept the khilāfah. Initially ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu refused saying that the people should have a consultation in which this is discussed thoroughly. However, due to much persistence and in light of the potential fitnah which could arise due to not having a Kahlīfah for a long period, he accepted the responsibility. Great sahabah like Talhah and Zubair radiAllahu ‘anhum also pledged their allegiance to him.


However, emotions in Makkah were intensifying at this moment. The Makkans had decided that the death of ‘Uthman radiAllahu ‘anhu should be avenged immediately. When Talhah and Zubair radiAllahu ‘anhuma went to Makkah for ‘umrah, they were convinced by Ya’lā bin Umayyah, ‘Āishah radiAllahu ‘anha, and others to take the matter of qisās into their own hands. Hence, they marched to Basrah in this regard. When ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu heard of these developments, he also marched to Basrah. What ensued fills the dark pages of history. This was known as the Battle of Jamal. Both Talhah and Zubair radiAllahu ‘anhuma were martyred (neither of them took part in the actual battle).


Similar emotions were blazing in Shām where Mu‘āwiyah radiAllahu ‘anhu was the amīr. ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu (after Jamal) sent a message to Mu‘āwiyah radiAllahu ‘anhu for the people of Shām to pledge allegiance to him. Mu‘āwiyah demanded that ‘Uthman’s radiAllah ‘anhu death be avenged first, and thereafter they would take the pledge. ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu excused himself from the proposal for the time being because of two main reasons. The first, it was not feasible at the moment to pinpoint who was/were the actual murderer(s). Second, many corrupted people had secretly filled his ranks. If any steps towards qisās would be taken at the moment, they would stir up more problems. ‘Alī radiAllahu ‘anhu felt if his khilāfah would be firmly established, only then would he be able to carry out such tasks. Nevertheless, Mu‘āwiyah and ‘Alī radiAllahu ‘anhuma were unable to come to terms.


Once again, matters turned for the worse. This was known as the Battle of Siffīn. As the battle continued for months, upon the advice of ‘Amr bin Al ‘Ās, the Shāmī army held up copies of the Quran (during the battle) on their spears and proclaimed, “We invite you to the Book of Allah.” Many from the ranks of ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu dropped their weapons and eventually the battle came to a halt.


The Shāmīs proposed that an arbitrator be sent from each side along with those who had not chosen sides to decide on the matter. ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu and his sincere supporters accepted the proposal. However, the same group which was behind the murder of ‘Uthmān radiAllahu ‘anhu, the Khawārij, were unhappy with this proposal. It was agreed that the arbitrators (and others) would meet after a stipulated time in a place between Shām and Iraq (to announce the decision). For the time being, both the armies would return to their respective areas.


When ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu was returning to Kūfah, the Khawārij broke off from the army and camped in Harūrā’. They were approximately eight thousand in number under the leadership of ‘Abdullah ibn Al Kawwā’ and Shabath Al Tamīmī. They criticized ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu for appointing arbitrators and proclaimed, “The decision is only Allah’s.” Immediately ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu recited the verse of stipulating arbitrators in case of friction in marriage. He (‘Ali) argued that if an arbitrator can be stipulated for marital issues, then for major issues like the khilāfah, stipulating arbitrators should be more suitable. Thereafter, ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu sent Ibn ‘Abbas radiAllahu ‘anhu to discuss with them in greater detail       and repel their doubts. Eventually, many of them including their two leaders accepted and entered Kūfah with the rest of the army.


When the army entered Kūfah, the Khawārij spread a rumor that ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu has repented from appointing arbitrators and therefore we (Khawārij) returned with him. They persisted with their falsehood and threatened to continue until ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu would testify that he committed kufr by appointing arbitrators and repent. Nevertheless, ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu assaulted them (rightfully) in Al Naharwān. Only ten from the ranks of the Khawārij survived, and only ten from the army of ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu were martyred. However, those that were inclined towards the views of the Khawārij joined the survivors and remained discreet. The assassin of ‘Ali radiAllahu ‘anhu, ‘Abd Al Rahman ibn Muljim, was from the same group.


The details and historical accounts mentioned above are taken from Al Farq Bain Al Firaq by Abu Mansoor Al Baghdādī, Fath Al Bārī by Al Hāfiz Ibn Hajar, and Khilāfat e Rāshidah by Mawlana Idrees Kandhlawi.


And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best

Hisham Dawood

Student Darul Iftaa
Chicago, USA

Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.







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