What is Kharijite and when it emerged?

What is Kharijite and when it emerged?

Dr Hussein Muhammed Saleh Rahim

In Arabic language, the term “Kharijite” is a plural word to mean the “leaver” or “outsiders”. They say the person has gone astray from the command of the Imam Al-Haq (True Leader) or has not come under his command.3 In other words, it defines anyone who has gone out of the command of the true leader. What is meant by the leader? It is simply denoting someone who is elected as a leader a group of Muslims unanimously. It has remained the same whether that disobedience is at the time of the Prophet‘s companions when a Rightly Guided Caliph is present, or after them at any other time.4

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, the term Kharijites refers to the early schismatic group in the Muslim community who protested that “judgement belongs to God alone”, they rejected both ʿAlī B. Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, and his opponent Muʿawiyya Ibn Abi Sufian (hereinafter “Muʿawiyya”), and began a fierce and often brutal rebellion 5 against their authorities. At society level, they hold a strict view that if a Muslim commits a serious sin, he becomes apostate. At political level, they reject all Caliphs except Abu Bakr and ʿUmar (the first and second Caliphs after Prophet Mohammad), and the first six years of the third Caliph, Uthmān. Their argument is that any Muslim recognized as irreproachable can become Imam, known as Amir al-Muʾminin, “Leader of the Faithful”.6

For them, the first three Caliphs were irreproachable ones. From this strict perspective, one can define the Kharijites as a fanatic and ultraconservative group who are emphasizing the importance of strict adherence to Muslim principles of conduct and promoting the elimination of anyone who seriously violates those principles. In a broader sense, Kharijite promoted a revolutionary mentality for their times, and had both direct and indirect influences on the history of the Islamic empires for the last fourteen centuries. They also continue to influence the actions and thinking of Muslims to present day. Today, the name Kharijite has become the identity of any Muslim individual or group, who judge Muslims as disbelievers based on their conducts, making it permissible to shed their blood for committing serious sins.

Throughout the history of the Islamic empires, Muslim scholars have observed this group, and had their own undertraining of them. For example, during the ninth century, Ibn Abidin stated that the Kharijite is a group of Muslims who stepped out of the command of the true leading because they believed that he is false, a disbeliever or has disobeyed God. He explained they held power and fanatic ethics and consequently, they call to fight against him. Their fanaticism reached the level of authorizing Muslims, “blood to be shed, taking their women as slaves and call the Prophet‘s companions ‘disbelievers’ “. 7 However, Abu Hasan Ashaari had a different approach, he sufficed to refer to Kharijite only to those who disobeyed the command of Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib (hereinafter “Caliph Ali”).8

During the tenth century, Ibn Hazm advocated that anyone has the same thinking of the Kharijite (whether he agrees or disagrees) if; he does not accept the truce brokering between the to be Caliph Ali and Muʿawiyya, calls those who commit serious sins as disbelievers and will stay in the hellfire for eternity. Furthermore, the Kharijite finds it an obligation to disobey the command of a tyrant leader and believes that their succession is permitted regardless of whether he is from Quraysh tribe9 or not.10

Similarly, in the thirteenth century, Imam Al-Nawawī said that the Kharijites are a type of inventors (invent new laws into Islam), who believe that whoever commits a big sin becomes a disbeliever and will stay in the hellfire for eternity. They criticize the leaders and do not pray after them for the Friday prayers or in the [ordinary] group prayers.11 The above Muslim scholars wrote in the later centuries after the death of Prophet Mohammad. Their discourses on the Kharijite‘s ideology indicate that the influence of this group continued to exist in the Muslim societies, which is why scholars raised the issue of Kharijites in order to compare them with those groups who held similar ideologies during their generations. Based on their descriptions, it can be concluded that any individual or group, at any time in the past and the future, and anywhere sharing and implementing Kharijites beliefs, will fall under the definition of Kharijites.

Just as the definition of Kharijites provides a basis for discussion, it is important to understand how they emerged. According to Ibn Taymiyyah, a medieval Muslim scholar and jurisconsult, Prophet Mohammed informed his companions about the rise of this group after this death and describing them in some detail. To identify them, one of the tangible descriptions, the Prophet pinpointed that there will be a man among them who has an arm like a woman‘s breast. Hence, for Ibn Taymiyyah, this is the sign of the Kharijites‘ early emergence. However, it did not mean that they are the only group and that once they disappeared, they would never rise again. Rather, he depended on another Prophet‘s speech that this group (Kharijites) will continue to appear at the time of the appearance of Ad Dajjal (the Dark Messiah or the Anti-Christ). In fact, Ibn Taymiyyah agrees with the definitions of Kharijites provided by Ibn Abidin, Ibn Hazm and Imam Al-Nawawī mentioned earlier that Muslims in general agree the Kharijites are not those who have disobeyed the command of Caliph Ali.12 Hence, Kharijites influence will continue indefinitely.

Muslim scholars have conflicting views on the time when the Kharijites emerged. However, there are two methodologies discussed below used to find about the time of their appearance; looking at their attitudes (at personal level) and groupings. Firstly, in terms of their attitudes at personal level, some Muslim scholars like Shahristani 13 Ibn Hazim,14 and Ibn Jawzi 15 have the opinion that the emergence of Kharijites dates to the time of the Prophet Mohammad himself. They rely on both Bukhari‘s and Muslim‘s authentic Hadith collections narrating that an incident took place during the time of Prophet, as will be mentioned later. Based on this incident, these scholars described the Kharijites as those who “go out” of religion quickly leaving no sense of religion behind them comparable to an arrow which leaves no mark on its arch due to the speed at which it is released. They are markedly recognized by having a man among them whose arm is like breast of woman. They also appear during the time of disputes, skirmish, and partitions among Muslim societies, as reported by Al-Bukhari.16

In another narration, the text of Prophet‘s words for that occasion read as: “There will be some people coming out from him (At-Tamimi) who recite the Quran, yet it does not pass their throat. It does not enter their hearts and they do not do it with faith as there is none in their hearts. They kill Muslims and leave out the pagans. They go out of Islam like an arrow goes out of a bow if I meet them (i.e. if I live in their time), I will fight them like the people of Aad.” 17

However, the opinion of the scholars discussed above cannot fully be relied upon to make those attitudes of At-Tamimi as at the beginning of the appearance of Kharijite, his attitude was an objective in nature which can often happen. Besides that, At-Tamimi did not lead any group of people nor was he encouraged by anyone to behave inappropriately except for his personal and psychological greed. However, it can be argued that the desire to disobey and go out had existed from the time of the Prophet.

Secondly, there are two views which look at Kharijites in terms of groupings or when they first emerged as a group. The first view states that the beginning of Kharijite formation dates to the time of Caliph Osman Ibn Affan, the third Caliph after the death of Prophet Muhammad. This happened when a group of anarchists surrounded the house of the Caliph under the name of the reform revolution. At first, conversations between the Caliph and the anarchists saw the Caliph try to convince them by answering all their questions and criticisms. Yet, as they could not be convinced, they attacked the Caliph and murdered him. This was the first time they appeared in a group and went out in a group. This was the view advocated by Ibn Kathir18 and Ibn Abi al Ezz. 19 However, this opinion has not been approved to make those anarchists the start of the appearance of the Kharijite because they only intended to kill the Caliph and loot the House of Treasury.20 Also, they did not hold the characteristics of the Kharijite. In other words, they were not a group of a particular thought or ideology. Immediately after they committed the crime they joined Caliph Ali army. Although their action can be considered a serious violation of the true leader‘s command, they cannot be thought of as a group of the Kharijite since they were mere looters of the treasury.

The second view states that the first formation of the Kharijite dates to the time of Caliph Ali Ibn Abu Talib, after the battle of Siffin in 657 AD (37 AH) occurring during the Muslim civil war between the armies of the Caliph Ali and Muʿawiyya. The battle ended with both parties having to appoint a judge (truce broker), with the Quran to find common ground for the agreement. Hence, two judges were appointed, Abu Musa Al Aashariby Caliph Ali, and Amir Ibn Aas by Muʿawiyya. An agreement was reached, and the battle ended. As a result, a group from the Caliph‘s army did not approve the deal, declared their disobedience to the Caliph, gathered in Qurra and made their military camp. This was the first time the Kharijites appeared in group.21

Most scholars support this opinion because the term Kharijite, in its literal meaning, can only be put upon those who left Caliph Ali‘s army because they could not accept the judges‘ decisions in the battle of Siffin. Furthermore, they appeared to be a group of political people with their own beliefs which subsequently had considerable effects in terms of beliefs and ideology in the religion of Islam.22 That is why from time to time throughout Islamic history they have resurfaced under various names every time the scholars challenged them in thought and opposed their beliefs and views. Besides that, whenever Kharijites‘ aggressions reached the point of killing and terror, the moderate Muslim scholars have issued a Fatwa to fight against them, stopping them from killing and terrorizing people.

An example was during the time of Caliph Ali when first talks were held with the Kharijites: he saw that several them still insisted on their ideology and would not return to the true path of Islam. Subsequently, he declared war against them and fighting in Nahrawan by the end of his Caliphate in 658 AD (38 Hijri).23 In fact, Caliph Ali held a strong opposition against Kharijites. In his book Nahjul Balagha, Al-Sharif Al-Radi mentioned under Sermon 59  that Caliph Ali was told all Kharijites were killed in Nahrawan, he replied: “By Allah! No, not yet. They still exist in the loins of men and wombs of women. Whenever a chief would appear from among them, he would be cut down till the last of them would turn thieves and robbers.” 24

Apart from the above Hadith on ‘Abdullah bin Dhil Khawaisira At-Tamimi, there are several narrations in the Hadith books which talk about the Kharijites working outside the boundaries of Islam, their characteristics, and how the Prophet denounce them.

Firstly, it was narrated by Caliph Ali that “Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah’s Messenger, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick. No doubt I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ” During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words, but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”25 In this context, Ibn Hajar was in the opinion that the meaning of the “last days” is the last days of the Rightly Guided Caliphate because the Prophet says in a Hadith that “Caliphate after me will be for 30 years and after that it becomes a monarchy.” The fighting between Kharijite and Caliph Ali took place around 28 years after the death of the Prophet.

Moreover, Abu Dharr reported Prophet Mohammad as saying: “Verily there would arise from my Ummah after me or soon after me a group (of people) who would recite the Qur’an, but it would not go beyond their throats, and they would pass clean through their religion just as the arrow passes through the prey, and they would never come back to it. They would be the worst among the creation and the creatures.”26

In these authentic Hadiths, after the Prophet mentioned about the appearance of Kharijite, he condemned them to have faith only in their words, but faith has not entered their hearts. For them, this can be regarded as a terrifying denunciation since the Prophet directly stated it himself, not any other companion or subsequent Muslim scholars and writers. He also called them the worst of God‘s creatures. Another condemnation from the Prophet was that he said, “they kill the Muslims and leave the idol worshippers”. Furthermore, the Prophet encouraged Muslims to fight, saying: “If I meet them I will kill them like the people of Aad … Kill them wherever you meet them as their killing gains great rewards to the killer in the Day of Judgment.” Hence, one can understand the dangerous nature of Kharijites for Muslims, which explains why the Prophet encouraged Muslims to fight against those people carrying this mentality. Once Caliph Ali became sure that the Kharijites fall within the details of how Prophet Mohammad had described them, following speaking to them he found himself forced to fight against them to revert them to right way of practicing the religion of Islam. However, when he fought them, they started terrorizing and shedding the blood of innocent people and unlawfully assaulting the wealth and properties of the Muslims.


Dr Hussein Muhammed Saleh Rahim is currently based in Kurdistan Region of Iraq. His research interests are in Islamic History, Thoughts and Systemes. He obtained the Degree of B.A. in Islamic Shariah at University of Baghdad in 1991. Afterwards, he taught several subjects in Islamic Shariah, Theology and history at both basic education levels, and in public events and seminars. In 2002, he obtained the Degree of Masters in the Islamic History at University of Baghdad. After several years of continuous researches and studies, Dr Rahim obtained his doctorate in Islamic History in Baghdad in 2012. In his thesis project, he immensely focused on Islamic Thought Heritage and Islamic Systems. Apart from being a lecturer at universities of Sulaimani and Halabja, in 2014, he was appointed as the Head of Department of Social Sciences, University of Halabja, Iraq, and he is currently Dean of Faculty of Basic Education of the same University.

3 Ibn Manzoor al-Ansari al-Ruwaifi. Lisan Al-Arab [The Tongue of the Arabs], 3rd Edi (Sadir House, 1414H), 807-808.
4 Shahrastānī, M. ibn ʻAbd al-Karīm, Kitāb al-milal wa-al-niḥal [Book of Religious and Philosophical Sects] edited by Mohammed Sayed Kelani, Vol. 1 (Beirut: 1404H), 113.
5 ―Kharijites‖, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: Oxford University Press, 1997, last visited March 2, 2018, http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kharijites.
6 Shahrastānī, Kitāb al-milal wa-al-niḥal , 113-115
7 Zainadin bn Ibrahim bn Muhammed Ibn Nujaim, Albahr Alraayiq Sharah Kanz Aldaqayiq [The Beautiful Sea, Explanation of the Exact Treasure] 2nd Edi, Vol. 5 (Beirut: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Islami, 2009), 151
8 Abu Al-Hasan Ali bn Ismail bn Ishaq bn Salim Al-Ash‘ari, Maqalat Al’iislamiiyn Wakhtilaf Almusaliyn [Islamists‘ Articles and Differences of Worshipers], edited by Na‘eem Zarzur, Al-Maktabah Al asriyah, Vol. 1 (Cairo: 1426H), 111 
9 Being from Quraish Tribe as a condition to become the leader of Muslim nation is well disputed among Muslim scholars.

10 Ali bn Saeed bn Hazm Al Andalusi (commonly referred to as Ibn Hazm Al Dhahiri), Alfasl Fi Almilal Wal’ahwa’ Walnihl [Chapter on Religious, Whims and Philosophical Sects], Vol. 2, (Cairo: Al-Khanji Library, 2010), 90
11 ‘Abu Zakariaa Yahyaa Bin Sharaf Alhizamii Alnawawii Alshshafieii (commonly referred to as Imam Al-Nawawī), Rawdat Alttalibayn Waeumdat Almuftin [Students‘ Garden and Mayor of Muftis], edited by Zuhair Shawais, Vol.10, (Beirut: Al Maktab AlIslami, 1991), 51.
12Taqī ad-Dīn Ahmad (commonly referred as Ibn Taymiyyah), Majmu al-Fatwa al-Kubra [A Great Compilation of Fatwa], Edited by, Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed bin Qasim, Vol. 28, (KFCHQ, 1416 H), 495
13 Shahrastānī, Kitāb al-milal wa-al-niḥal, 20-21
14 Ibn Hazm, Alfasl Fi Almilal Wal’ahwa’ Walnihl, Vol 4, 22-24
15 Jamal al-Din Abu al-Faraj ‘Abd al-Rahman (commonly referred to as Ibn al-Jawzi), Talbis Iblees [The Devil‘s Deception], Vol. 1, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2001), 81
16 The incident is narrated by Abu Saeed who said: ―While the Prophet was distributing (something), ‘Abdullah bin Dhil Khawaisira At-Tamimi came and said, “Be just, O Allah’s Apostle!” The Prophet said, “Woe to you! Who would be just if I were not?” ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab said, “Allow me to cut off his neck! “The Prophet said,” Leave him, for he has companions, and if you compare your prayers with their prayers and your fasting with theirs, you will look down upon your prayers and fasting, in comparison to theirs. Yet they will go out of the religion as an arrow darts through the game’s body in which case, if the shot of the arrow is examined, nothing will be found on it, and when its blade is examined, nothing will be found on it; and then its rest is examined, nothing will be found on it. The arrow has been too fast to be smeared by dung and blood. The sign by which these people will be recognized will be a man whose one hand (or breast) will be like the breast of a woman (or like a moving piece of flesh). These people will appear when there will be differences among the people (Muslims).‖ Abū Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismāīl (commonly referred to as Imam al-Bukhārī), Sahih Al-Bukhari [Authentic Hadith by collected by Bukhari] , 1 st Edition, Vol. 9, Book 84, No 67, ( 2009), 1541. Ahmad ibn Ali ibn Hajar Abu al-Fadl al-Askalani al-Shafi’i (commonly referred as Ibn Hajar), Fath al-Bari Sharh Saheeh al-Bukhaari [Victory of the Creator: Commentary on Bukhārī], 1st edition, edited by Muhammad Fuad Abd al-Baqi, Vol. 12, Hadith No. 6933, (Beirut: Dar al-Maarifah, 1379H), 287-291

17 Muslim Ibn al-Hajjaj Abu al-Hasan al-Qusheiri al-Nisaburi (commonly referred to as Imam Muslim), Almasanad Alsahih Almukhtasar Min Alsunn Binaql Aleadl Ean Aleadl ‘Iilaa Rasul Allah Salaa Allah Ealayh Wasalam [the correct Sunan to transfer justice from justice of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him], Edited by Mohamed Fouad Abdel Baqi, Hadith No. 1064, (Beirut:
Dar ‘Iihya’ Alturath Alearabii), 74.
18 Abu al-Fidaa Isma’il ibn ‘Umar ibn Qatheer al-Qurashi (commonly referred to as Ibn Katheer), Al bidayat Wal nihaya [The Beginning and The End], Vol. 7, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1986), 189
19 Sadr al-Din Muhammad ibn Ala al-Din Ali bin Muhammad (commonly referred to as Ibn Abi al-Ezz Al Hanafi), Sharh alAqeedah al-Tahawiyah [Explanation of the doctrine of Tahawi], Edited by Ahmad Shaker, Vol. 1, (Saudi Arabia, 1418 H), 493.
20 The Khawarijs came and the Baitul Mal (house of treasury), which had lots of things in it. Ibid, 211
21 Hussam S. Timani, Modern Intellectual Readings of the Kharijites, about the writings of M. A. Shahban, In his Islamic History A.D. 600–750 (A.H. 132): A new Interpretation (1971), 58.
22 Ibn Abi al-Ezz, Sharh al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyah, 19

23 H U Rahman, A Chronology of Islamic History 570-1000 CE, (TA-Ha: 1999), 59.
24 Abul-Hasan Muhammad ibn Al-Husayn Al-Musawi (commonly known as Al-Sharif Al-Radi), Nahj ul Balagha, [Path of
Eloquence], translated by Yasin T. Al-jibouri, (Createspace Independent Pub: 2014), Sermon 59.
25 Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 6930
26 Muslim, Sahih al-Muslim, Hadith No. 1067