The Kharijites and Their Impact on Contemporary Islam 4

Najda, as the new Amir and Mujtahid, had given himself the licence to introduce a few new innovations of his own. Amongst these “innovations” was his view that those of his followers who perpetrated major sins – such as stealing and fornicating etc. – were destined to be punished in a hell other than that reserved for genuine unbelievers. These transgressors remained Muslim for as long as they agreed with his views. Another of his “innovations” was that those who deviated slightly – but consistently – from his views or engaged – also consistently – in the telling of harmless little lies were all declared idolaters. Even more comical was the fact that he was told by a dissenting group to go to the mosque and repent from these innovations. This he did. Subsequently a party from this dissenting group apparently regretted their behaviour. They told him that he was the Imam and that he had the right to his ijthad. But it did not end there. They then ordered him to repent from his initial repentance. In addition he had to further instruct those who originally ordered him to repent to repent from that order. To add to his misery the group now threatened to remove him if he failed to comply with these new demands.

All of this appeared to be a little too much for Abu Fudaik. By now Abu Fudaik had taken control of al-Yamama. So while the followers of Najda were out warring along the coastline of Syria and in certain parts of Yemen, Abu Fudaik contrived to get rid of Najda. They snuffed him out in a house of one of his followers, decapitated him, and brought his head to Abu Fudaik. Meanwhile, Abu Fudaik and `Atiyya b. al-Aswad – erstwhile co-conspirators against Nafi’ b. al-Azraq – also appeared to have developed a new set of problems with each other. So each one blandly absolved himself of the others’ excesses. In the midst of this division between the two, the Umayyad ruler `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan sent an army to crush Abu Fudaik and his followers. The mission was a success. Abu Fudaik was killed in the process and `Atiyya fled to Sijistan where he founded the lesser-known Kharijite branch called the `Atawiyya.

Amongst the disciples of ‘Atiyya was Abd al-Karim b. ‘Ajrad. Abd al-Karim, in turn, founded the ‘Ajarida – another influential branch of the Kharajites. Their principles broadly corresponded to those of the Najadat, except that they denied that Surah Yusuf was a part of the Quran. They alleged that the Qissat al-‘Ishq (or the “story of passion” between Nabi Yusuf and Zulaikha) could never have been revealed by Allah. My personal view, however, is that Nabi Yusuf’s approach to the oppressive pharaonic political order flew in the face of their belief that all oppressive rulers must be eliminated by force. In Kharajite terms, there is no other way to deal with an unjust political order. Those who differ with their approach on this issue are either kafir or mushrik. It is this particular point that has lead many to conclude that the Kharajite movement was primarily a political one masquerading in the garb of religion.

The unfortunate consequences of their position however, was that much of their political “theory” – such as the freedom to elect political leaders irrespective of tribal or racial origins – that might have been useful to the Ummah became lost under the weight of their extremism. It is in this sense that the words of Sayyidina `Ali may be understood when he said: “Do not fight the Kharajites after my death. Those who fight for the truth but are mislead along the way are not as bad as those who fight for falsehood and achieve their ends.”

His former statement refers to the Kharajites; the latter, to the Umayyads.

Similar words were uttered by the only recognised leader of the Umayyad dynasty, `Umar b. `Abd al-Aziz when he addressed a group of Kharajites and said to them: “Indeed I am aware that you do not behave in the manner that you do for the sake of worldly gain. You do seek the blessings of the afterlife, but your approach is completely wrong.”

The one fact that does emerge from the statements of these two great leaders is their unparalleled tolerance towards those who opposed them. Sayyidina `Ali might have paid a heavy price for it, but it is precisely because of this that he is immortalised in the memory of Muslim history. Few indeed, are the examples that history can produce that are able to match up to the humanity of Sayyidina Ali.

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