The Khārijīs soon divided into several sects; from the first they were men who would not and could not compromise. Since their principles frequently led them to fight to the last against overwhelming odds, only the most
moderate of these sects, the Ibāḍīs, has survived into modern times.
Khārijī holy wars against other Muslims were always terrifying; even the women and children of their opponents were put to death with religious thoroughness. At the same time, their just dealings with the People of the Book made them many friends among the subject peoples. They were nothing if not sincere men, and in their devotion to the Qur’ān and the Divine Imperative as they understood it, one must admire, even if grudgingly, the harsh, uncompromising righteousness of the Semitic prophets whose followers they were.
While they found followers in the Arabian peninsula, it was North Africa which became "the Scotland of these Puritans of Islam." Here, the warlike Berbers proved willing to accept Islam, but not the dominance or the taxation of the Arab Caliphs. From A.D. 761 to 908, the Berber Ibāḍīs maintained a separate state under their own Imāms at Tiaret in Central Algeria. This state was destroyed by the rising Shī‘ī Fāṭimī Caliphate, based in Tunisia.
Their descendants fled to the Saharan oases of the Mzab, in Algeria, where they maintain a theocratic community under the Ṭolba, the Council of Elders. In addition, there are Ibāḍīs in the Jabal Nafusa of Libya and the isle of Jerba off Tunisia. In South Arabia, the more conservative Ibāḍīs of ‘Uman under their Imām maintain a running war with the moderates under the Sulṭān of Muscat. The ruling clique of Zanzibar are also Khārijīs.
In all, there are probably no more than half a million Khārijīs in the world today. They look upon themselves as the only Muslims, and have their own legal system and collections of Ḥadīth. They are exceedingly puritanical,
and forbid tobacco, games, music, Ṡūfism, luxury, celibacy and anger. Concubinage is permitted only with the consent of the wives. Intermarriage with other Muslims is rare, and heavily frowned upon. They maintain the classical Khārijī doctrines, as follows:
The Qur’ān is created, and must be literally interpreted. There will be no beatific vision of God in the hereafter. The Imāmate is not obligatory, but if there is an Imām, he may be any pious believer, "even an Abyssinian slave." If he commits a major sin he must be deposed. The commission of any major sin by a believer is apostacy, and exposes him to ostracism or death, unless he performs a thorough admission of guilt and public penance.
The following selection is the khuṭba, or Friday sermon, of an early Ibāḍī rebel who in A.H. 129/A.D. 747 briefly took Mecca and Medina. It has been preserved in several early collections of rhetoric as an example of Arab eloquence and moral fervor. It was intended to persuade other Muslims to make common cause with the Ibāḍīs, and one finds clearly expressed the Khārijīs' view of Islamic history, and their pious hatred of their opponents.
The Sermon of Abū Hamza the Khārijī
Abū Hamza the Khārijī entered Medina; 1 he was one of the Khārijī pietists and preachers. He mounted the pulpit leaning on his Arab bow. Mālik ibn Anas said, "Abū Hamza preached us a sermon which would have thrown doubt into the most perspicacious and refuted a skeptic." He said:
"I counsel you in fear of God and obedience to Him; to act according to His Book and the Sunna of His prophet--His blessing and peace be on him--and to observe the ties of blood, and magnify the truth of God which tyrants have diminished, and to diminish the falsehood they have magnified;
to put to death the injustice they have brought to life, and to revivify the just laws they have let die; to obey God--and those who obey Him disobey others in obedience to Him, for there is no obeying a creature which disobeys its Creator.
"We call you to the Book of God and the Sunna of His prophet, and to equal sharing, and to justice for the subject peoples, and to putting the fifths of the booty in the places God ordained for them.
"As for us, we have not taken up arms lightly or frivolously, for play or amusement, or for a change of government in which we hope to immerse ourselves, or for the revenge that was taken from us; but we did it when we saw the earth had grown wicked, and proofs of tyranny had appeared, and religious propagandists increased, but men did as they pleased, and laws were neglected, and the just were put to death, and speakers of truth treated violently, and we heard a herald calling us to Truth and the Straight Path, so we answered the summoner of God . . . and by His grace we became brethren. . . .
"Oh people of Medina! Your beginning was the best of beginnings--and your end is the worst of endings, for you have hearkened to your readers and your lawyers, and they cut you away from the Book which has no crookedness, cut you away with the exegesis of the ignorant and the pretensions of triflers, so that you strayed from the Truth, and became dead and unfeeling.
"O people of Medina! Children of the Muhājirīn and the Anṡār! How sound were your roots, and how rotten are your branches! Your fathers were men of certainty and religious knowledge--and you are people of error and ignorance. . . . For God opened the door of religion for you, and you (let it grow choked with rubbish); He locked the door of this world for you, and you forced it open; hasters to temptation and laggards in the way of the Prophet; blind to the demonstrations of Truth and deaf to knowledge; slaves of greed and allies of affliction! How excellent was the legacy your fathers left, had you preserved it, and how miserable will be that of your children if you hold on to it! Them He aided to the
[paragraph continues] Truth--you He deserts in your error. Your ancestors were few and pious, and you are many and malicious. . . . The preachers of the Qur’ān cry out to you, and you are not chidden; they warn you, and you do not ponder. . . . 2
"Oh ye people, the blessing of God and peace be on our Prophet, who never delayed or hastened save by God's leave, and command, and revelation. God sent down on him a book, in which He showed him what was to come and what was to be feared, and there was no doubt about His religion, and no ambiguity about His command. Then God took him, when he had taught the Muslims the landmarks of religion, and Abū Bakr led them in their prayers. The Muslims entrusted Abū Bakr with the matters of the lower world, since God's messenger had entrusted him with the matter of his religion. He fought the people of apostacy, and acted in accord with the Book and the Sunna, and he passed his way; God have mercy on him!
"Then ruled ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, God's mercy on him, and he went in the way of his friend and acted in accord with the Book and the Sunna. He collected the tribute and distributed the shares and . . . gave eighty lashes for drinking wine, and passed his way. God have mercy on him!
"Then came ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān. For six years he walked in the path of his two friends, but he was less than they. And in his last six years he rendered to no avail what he had done in the first six, and then he passed his way.
"Then ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib ruled, and he did not attain the goal in truth, and no beacon was given him for guidance, and he passed his way.
"Then ruled Mu‘āwiya son of Abū Sufyan, accursed of God's messenger, and son of one accursed. He made farmers of God's servants and possessions of God's property, and a briarpatch of God's religion, so curse him with God's curse!
"Then came Yazid the son of Mu‘āwiya--Yazīd of the wine, Yazīd of the apes and the hunting panthers! Yazīd of the lustful belly and the effeminate arse--and God and His angels curse him!"
And one by one he related the doings of the Caliphs, until
he reached ‘Umar the Pious, son of ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, and passed over him without mentioning him. He went on:
"There came Yazid ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik, a libertine in religion and unmanly in behavior, in whom was never perceived right guidance. God has said about the wealth of orphans: 'If you perceive in them right guidance, deliver them their property' (4:6), and the matter of Muhammad's Community was more than any property! He would eat forbidden food, and drink wine, and wear a robe worth a thousand dinars, through which you could see his flesh so that the veil of modesty was rent; an unpardonable disrobe. And Habāba the singing-girl on his right, and Salāma the singing-girl on his left, both singing--if you had taken drink away from him, he would have rent his garments! And he would turn to one of them and say, 'Shall I fly? Shall I fly?' Aye, he flew. To God's damnation, and the burning Fire, and a painful torment!
"The sons of Umayya are a party of error, and their strength is the strength of tyrants. They take conjecture for their guide, and judge as they please, and put men to death in anger, and govern by mediation, and take the law out of context, and distribute the public moneys to those not entitled to them--for God has revealed those who are entitled, and they are eight classes of men, for He says: 'The freewill offerings are for the poor and the needy, those who work to collect them, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and slaves and debtors, and those in the "Way of God," and travellers' (9:60). They make themselves the ninth, and take it all! Such are those who rule by what God has not sent down.
"As for these factions [of ‘Alī], they are a faction which has repudiated the Book of God to promulgate lies about Him. They have not left the people (of the Community) because of their insight into religion (as we have), or their deep knowledge of the Qur’ān; they punish crime in those who commit it and commit it themselves when they get the chance. They have determined upon tumult and know not the way out of it. Crude in (their knowledge of) the Qur’ān, following soothsayers; teaching people to hope for the Resurrection
of the Dead, and then expecting the return (of their imāms) to this world; entrusting their religion to a man who cannot see them! God smite them! How perverse they are!"
219:1 According to Isfahānī and Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi; but al-Jāhiz places the khutba in Mecca. Very likely there was more than one, and they have been confused.
219:2 Thus far translated from al-‘Iqd al-Farīd of Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (Cairo, 1944), Vol. IV, pp. 144-146. The section following is taken from the account by al-Jāhiz in al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn (Cairo, 1948-1950), Vol. III, p. 95.