Polarization around the Character of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
Chapter 2: How the Khawarij came into Existence
The word “khawarij “, that is, “rebels”, comes from “khuruj“3 which means “revolt” and “insurrection”. This group came into being during the process of arbitration. The battle of Siffin, in its last day of fighting, was turning out in ‘Ali’s favour; Mu’awiyah, in consultation with `Amr ibn al-`As, conceived a skilful stratagem. He had seen that all his pains had produced no result, and that he was only one step away from defeat. He saw that there was no way to save himself except by having recourse to the creation of confusion, so he ordered that Qur’ans should be raised up on the points of spears to show that they were people of prayer and the Qur’an, and that the Book should be used to arbitrate between the two sides. It was not the first time that this had been done, for it was the same thing that ‘Ali had done before but which had not been accepted. Even now they had not accepted it; it was a subterfuge for them to find a way to save them and rescue them from a sure defeat.
`Ali cried out: “Strike at them! They are using the pages and the paper of the Qur’an as a ruse, they want to protect themselves behind the words and writing of the Qur’an and afterwards carry on in their same old anti Qur’anic way. When opposed to its truth, the paper and binding of the Qur’an is of no value and worthy of no respect; it is I who am the reality and the true manifestation of the Qur’an. They are using the paper and the writing of the Qur’an as an excuse to destroy its truth and meaning! “
A group of undiscriminating, unknowing and sanctimonious persons, who formed a sizeable proportion, gesticulate to each other. What does ‘Ali mean? They called out:
“Should we fight against the Qur’an?” Our battle is to reestablish the Qur’an, and now they have submitted to the Qur’an, so what are we fighting for?”
“I also say I am fighting for the Qur’an, but they have no connection with the Qur’an. They have put up the words and writing of the Qur’an as a means to save their own souls.”
There is a question in Islamic law, in the section on jihad, concerning the situation of unbelievers shielding themselves behind Muslims. The problem is that if the enemies of Islam put a group of Muslim prisoners of war at the front of their ranks as a shield, and they themselves are busy with their activities, making headway behind this front, so that if the Islamic forces try to defend themselves, or attack them and halt their advance, there is no alternative but to also eliminate, through necessity, their Muslims brothers who have become a shield; that is, if there is no possibility of access to the combating and attacking enemy apart from through the killing of Muslims, then in this situation the killing of a Muslim for the vital interests of Islam, and so as to save the lives of the rest of the Muslims, becomes permissible in Islamic law. In fact, they too are soldiers of Islam and will have become martyrs in the way of God. However, blood money must be paid for them from the Islamic treasury to their surviving relatives. This is, of course, not only a particularity of Islamic law, but there is a quite definite law among the international rules and regulations of war and military action that if the enemy wishes to use your own forces, you can eliminate those forces so as to reach the enemy and force them back.
“If, when there are real, live Muslims and Islam says ‘Attack!’ so as to ensure a Muslim victory, then there can be no objection made to the paper and bindings of books. Respect for pages and writing is because of their meaning and contents. Today the fighting is for the contents of the Qur’an, but these people have set up the pages as a means for the destruction of the meaning and contents of the Qur’an.”
However, the ignorant and uninformed drew down a black curtain in front of their minds and kept out the truth. They said:
“In addition to the fact that we will not fight with the Qur’an, we know that fighting with it is itself a sin, and we must kill so as prevent this. We will fight with those who fight against the Qur’an.”
Only an hour was needed to secure a victory; Malik al-Ashtar, who was a brave, devoted and unselfish officer, had thus gone out to destroy the pavilion of Mu’awiyah’s command and to clear the path of Islam of obstacles. At this very moment, this group pressured `Ali by saying they would attack from behind. `Ali urged them not to, but they increased their protest, and, what is more, showed that they would be completely obstinate.
‘Ali sent a message to Malik to stop the fighting and to return from the place where the fighting was.
He sent an answer back to `Ali that if he were to give his permission for a few moments more the battle would be finished and the enemy destroyed. But the Khawarij drew their swords and threatened to hack ‘Ali to pieces unless he called him back.
Then again word was sent to him that if he wanted to see `Ali alive, he should stop the battle and come back. He returned, and the enemies were jubilant that their stratagem had proved efficacious.
The fighting stopped so that they could leave arbitration to the Qur’an. An arbitration committee was set up, and arbitrators selected from the two sides to rule on the basis of what was agreed on by both sides in the Qur’an and sunnah and to bring an end to hostilities; or else they would add another difference to the already existing differences and cause the situation to deteriorate.
‘Ali said that they should choose their arbitrator, and then he would detail his own. Without the slightest dispute, they unanimously chose `Amr ibn al-`As, the deviser of the stratagem. ‘Ali proposed `Abdullah ibn al-`Abbas, who was versed in politics, or Malik al-Ashtar, a self-sacrificing, clear sighted man of faith, or else someone like them. But those fools were looking for someone of their own kind, and they chose a man of the like of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, a man of no perspicacity who was not on good terms with ‘Ali. However much ‘Ali and his friends sought to enlighten these people that Abu Musa was not the man for the job and that such an appointment was not suitable for him, they said that they would not agree to anyone else. Then he said that since things had got to that point, they should do whatever they wanted. So, in the end, they chose this Abu Musa as the arbitrator from the side of ‘Ali and his companions.
After months of consultation, `Amr ibn al-`As said to Abu Musa that it would be better for the interests of the Muslims if neither ‘Ali nor Mu’awiyah were caliph, that they should choose a third one, and that there was no one else they could choose but `Abdullah ibn `Umar, Abu Musa’s son-in-law. Abu Musa said that that was right and asked what they should do. `Amr ibn al-`As said:
“You should remove ‘Ali from the caliphate, and I will do the same with Mu’awiyah. Then the Muslims will go and elect a worthy person who will surely be `Abdullah ibn `Umar. Thus the roots of sedition will be destroyed.”
They terminated on this matter and announced that the people should gather together to listen to their conclusions.
The people assembled. Abu Musa turned towards `Amr ibn al-`As to stand up and announce his opinion. `Amr ibn al-`As said:
“Me? You are the respected, white-bearded man, a companion of the Prophet. Never would I presume such a thing as to speak before you!”
Abu Musa moved from his place to rise and speak. Now everyone’s heart was beating fast, Ali eyes were staring, each person held his breath, waiting to see what the result had been. He started to speak:
“After due deliberation on what was in the interests of the community, we saw that neither ‘Ali nor Mu’awiyah should be caliph. More than this it is not for us to say, for the Muslims themselves know what they wish.”
The he took his ring from the finger of his right hand and said:
“I have removed ‘Ali from the caliphate, just as I remove this ring from my finger.”
When he had finished he stepped down. Then `Amr ibn al-`As got up and said:
“You have all heard the speech of Abu Musa saying that he has removed ‘Ali from the caliphate. I too remove him from the caliphate, just as Abu Musa has done.”
Then he took his ring off his right hand and then put it onto his left hand, and said:
“I set up Mu’awiyah in the caliphate, just as I put this ring on my finger.”
When he had said this he stepped down. The meeting lapsed into commotion. The people began to attack Abu Musa, and some beat him with their whips. He fled to Mecca, and `Amr ibn al-`As went to Damascus.
The Khawarij, who had brought about this sequence of events, saw the scandal of this arbitration with their own eyes, and realized their mistake. But they could not understand where exactly their error lay. They did not say that their mistake lay in falling for Mu’awiyah and `Amr ibn al-`As’ scheme and bringing the war to a halt; nor did they say that after the setting up of the arbitration they had blundered in choosing their “referee”, in putting up Abu Musa as `Amr ibn al-`As’ counterpart. No; instead they said that in putting up two human beings to arbitrate and be “referees” in the matters of the religion of God they had gone against the divine law and had done an act of unbelief, for the judge is only God, not man.
Then came to ‘Ali and said:
“We did not understand. We chose a man as an arbitrator. You have become an unbeliever, and so have we. But we repent; you too should repent. Otherwise, the tragedy will be repeated.”
“In any situation, repentance is good. We are always repenting for our sins.”
But they said this was not enough, and that he had to confess that arbitration was a sin, and that he repented of that sin. But he said that it had not been he that had brought about the affair of arbitration, it had been them, and that they had seen the result themselves. What was more, how could he declare as a sin something that Islam had made lawful, or confess to a sin which he had not perpetrated.
From this point on, they set to work as a religious sect. At the beginning they were a rebellious and mutinous group, and it was for that reason that they were called “Khawarij”, but they gradually drew up basic beliefs for themselves and created a “party” that only had a political coloring to begin with but which step by step assumed the form of a religious group, taking on a religious coloring. Afterwards the Khawarij moved into action as a vehemently propagandist group as supporters of a religious sect. They eventually got the idea that they had discovered a worldly, corrupt root in Islam, and they came to the conclusion that `Uthman, ‘Ali and Mu’awiyah were all in error and sin. They decided that they had to struggle against this corruption that had come into existence, and they gave it the name of “bidding to good and forbidding evil.” Thus the Khawarij sect came into existence under this banner.
Now, “bidding to good and forbidding evil” has, before anything else, two fundamental principles: one is a profound and knowledgeable insight into the religion, and the other is a profound insight into how to act. If there is no profound knowledge of religion, as we learn from ahadith (traditions), the loss that will be incurred in doing this will be greater than its benefit. And a profound insight into the correct way to act depends on two conditions which are called, in Islamic jurisprudence, ihtimalu’t-ta’thir, that is, the possibility of effective action, and `adamu tarattub-i ‘l-maf’sadatin alayh. that is, the absence of any resulting cause of evil, and this can only come about by the exercising of reason in these two duties.
The Khawarij had neither a profound knowledge of religion, nor a profound insight into prudent action; they were people of ignorance, lacking in any profound knowledge. In fact, they rejected any kind of profound knowledge of how to act, because they understood this duty to be a matter of obedience and they claimed that it should be performed blindly.
3. If the word “khuruj” is used with an indirect object introduced by `ala, it has two meanings which are near to one another. One is to stand up in a position for battle or war, and the other is disobedience, insubordination and revolt. The Arabic dictionary al-Munjid says that “kharaja” with an indirect object introduced by `ala means to come forward to fight someone, or it can be used for subjects rebelling against the king: insurrection.
The word “khawarij “, meaning revolt, comes from “khuruj ” in the second sense. That group which evidence the command of `Ali and rebelled against him is called the Khawarij. Since they based their disobedience on a belief and on a religious ideology, they became a sect, and the name came to be used especially for them; and so it was not used for any other people who rose up after them and rebelled against the ruler of their times. If they had not had a particular creed and belief, they would have been like other rebels of the periods after them, but they did have a belief and later on this very belief found some kind of independent existence. Although they never managed to form a government, they did manage to create a school of law and a literature of their own.
There were individuals who never got around to actual rebellion, although they believed in it, as it is said of `Amr ibn `Ubayd and other Mu’tazilah. It was said of some of the Mu’tazilah who had beliefs similar to the Khawarij about “bidding to good and forbidding evil”, or about the matter of those Muslims who are guilty of moral sin still finding a place in paradise, that “they thought like the Khawarij”.
Thus there is a degree of commonality between the lexical meaning of the word and its particular reference.
4.. For further reference, the section on jihad in the French translation of Shara’i`u ‘l-Islam by al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli Arabic text, 4 vols., Najaf 1389/ 1969) may be consulted. See Droit Musulman, Recued des lois concernant les Musulmans Schyites translation by A. Querry (Paris 1871 ) .
5. What we mean here is that amr bi ‘l-ma’ruf wa nahy `ani ‘l munkar (bidding to good and forbidding evil) has as its purpose that ma’ruf (that which is good, beneficial) should be propagated and munkar (that which is detestable, atrocious) be effaced. Thus there must be bidding to good and forbidding of evil in a place where there is the possibility of the desired effect coming about. If we know that there will definitely be no effect, how can it continue to be an obligation?
Moreover, the purpose in the legal (in Islamic terms) basis of this activity is that what is of advantage should be carried out. Thus it must obviously take place in a situation where there will not result any greater disadvantage. The requisite for these two conditions, then, is a thorough understanding of how to act correctly. A man who is lacking in this knowledge cannot foresee whether the desired result of this action will follow or not, or whether some greater evil will be produced or not. This is why the corruption resulting from ignorant inciting to good will be greater than its benefit, just as has been related in hadith.
In the context of other duties, it has not been laid down as a condition that there must exist the possibility of their producing a useful result, and that if there is that possibility they become obligatory, otherwise not. Although something useful and of benefit manifests itself in every duty, the recognition of that benefit is not the responsibility of people. It has not been said about prayer, for example, that if you see that it is useful then pray, and if you do not, then do not pray. Neither is it said about fasting that if it contains the possibility of producing something beneficial then fast, and if it does not have that possibility then do not fast (only in fasting it is said that if you see there is harm in it, then do not fast), and likewise in hajj or zakat or jihad there is no such restriction. But such a restriction does exist in the matter of bidding to good and forbidding evil, that one must look to see what kind of result, and what kind of reaction will be produced, and whether the action is in the interests of Islam and Muslims or not. That means that the discernment of the benefit is the responsibility of the very people who carry out this duty.
Everyone has a share in this duty, but it is necessary that he introduces reason, intelligence, knowledge of how to act correctly and attention to its benefit, and these latter things are not merely a matter of religious obligation.
This condition that it is necessary to exercise knowledge of effective action in bidding to good and forbidding evil, is unanimously agreed upon by all the sects of Islam except the Khawarij. Because of their particular inflexibility, rigidity and fanaticism, they said that bidding to good and forbidding evil is an absolute religious obligation; it has no condition of the possibility of a useful result or the absence of any corrupting influence; one must not sit down and think about it. It was in accordance with this belief that they rose up and terrorized the lands knowing that they would be killed and their blood would be wasted, and knowing that no useful result would come out of their uprising