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The emergence of the heretical outfit, the Khawarij

Compiled by: Ayatullah Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari
All that has been said so far serves as an introduction to the fundamental issue pertaining to Alis caliphate on which I intend to touch on here. During the Prophets time, the group that was created by the Prophet was not one formed as a result of a revolution which simply gathers the masses under one flag. He trained a group, united them, brought them forward step by step and gradually penetrated Islamic morals and teachings into their souls.
The Prophet (s) was in Mecca18 for thirteen years. He suffered all kinds of torture, agony and pain from the people of Quraysh19, but continuously called for patience whenever his companions would say, O Messenger of Allah! Please give us permission to defend ourselves, how long should we suffer? How many should they torture or kill from among us? How many times must they lay us on the heated grounds of Hijaz and place large stones on our chests? How many more times must they lash us?
However, the Prophet (s) would never grant permission for a holy war and defence. Finally he only consented to emigration after which some groups emigrated to Habashah (Ethiopia)20, which was beneficial. However, what was the Prophet doing during these thirteen years? He trained and taught. In other words, he was creating the core of Islam. The group, who at the time of migration might have been around 1,000 people, were all familiar with the essence of Islam and the majority had Islamic training.
The main prerequisite of a movement is the presence of a teaching and training group which have already become familiar with the principles and goals as well as the tactical ideology of that movement. These groups can, therefore, form the focal point to which others can later join and be trained by in order to learn to adapt themselves to their teachers. This was the secret behind the success of Islam.
Therefore, the difference between Alis situation and that of the Prophet was, firstly, that the people with whom the Prophet (s) dealt were predominantly non-believers. This means he was confronting explicit paganism. He was dealing with a blasphemy that spoke for itself. However, Ali was dealing with covert paganism, i.e. hypocrisy. He was tackling a nation that was pursuing the objectives of the non-believers, but hid under an Islamic cover of sanctity and piety, bearing a Quranic appearance.
The other difference apparent in the era of caliphate, especially during Uthmans, was that the Prophets (s) methods of teaching and training were not explored and practised as much as was expected and instead other triumphs and many conquests were pursued. Conquests alone do not achieve much in the long run. Throughout the thirteen years that the Prophet remained in Mecca, he did not even allow Muslims to defend themselves. This was because the people were not yet capable of this sort of defence or jihad21.
If war and conquest is to take place, it must be simultaneous to the spread of Islamic culture and ethos which must be built up. People who become attracted to and those who convert to Islam must also learn and understand its objectives and principles, its core and crust. However, as a result of the negligence that took place during the time of the caliphs, an important social phenomenon took place in the Islamic world: formation of a new group in the Islamic community.
Although this group was fond of Islam and believed in Islam, it was only acquainted with Islams crust, its appearance. It did not know the essence of Islam. This was a group that concentrated on, for example, the act of praying with little knowledge and appreciation of the Islamic objectives behind it. A priggish and dogmatic group formed of people who had formed calluses on their foreheads, palms and knees as a result of their excessive and long prostrations.
These prostrations would sometimes last from an hour or two to five hours even on bare sandy grounds. When Ali had sent Ibn Abbas22 to them when they rioted and rebelled against him, Ibn Abbas came back saying, Their foreheads are wounded because of excessive prostrations; they have hands that have calluses like the knee of a camel. They have old, ascetic looking clothes. Most manifest are their resolute and indomitable faces23
An ignorant and puritanical faction oblivious in worship had come into existence in the Muslim World; a faction with no knowledge whatsoever of Islam yet very keen to be part of it. It was not familiar with the core of Islam but was glued to its crust.
Ali describes this group of people thus, They are a people who are rough, remorseless, tough, hard-hearted, rude, but with inferior, slavish characters and spirits. Their souls are not magnanimous. You cannot find nobility in their souls. They are a hooligan type of people. It is not clear which corner they have appeared from. One is from this corner, another is from the other. A group of lowborn and lowbred people, whose origin and background is unclear; a crowd who should come and sit in the first year of Islam and learn Islamic lessons. They are illiterate and have no knowledge. They do not know what the Quran is. They do not understand the meaning of the Quran. They do not know the traditions of the Prophet (s). They must be taught and trained. They have not gathered Islamic education and training. They are not part of the Emigrants [muhajirin] and Helpers [anṣar] who were trained by the Prophet (s). They are a group of people who have no Islamic demeanour.
Ali became caliph at a time when this group of people existed among Muslims. They permeated every area, even his army. You have probably heard many times the story of the Battle of Siffin and the con that Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As24 used. When they finally realized that they were losing, they plotted to use this group of people to their advantage. They ordered for Qurans to be raised on spears: O people! We all believe in the Quran. We are all people of the same Qiblah. Why are you fighting? If you want to fight then take aim at these Qurans.
Immediately, this group stopped fighting, claiming, We shall not fight the Quran. They came to Ali and said, All matters have now been resolved. The Quran has been set forth. Now that the Quran is brought forward, there is no reason for war. Ali said, Do you not know that from day one I tried to convince them to pass judgment and ruling about who is right based on the Quran? They are lying. They have not brought forward the Quran itself but its papers and cover so that they can rise up again against this very Quran. Do not pay attention. I am your imam. I am your speaking Quran. Go and progress forward. They said, What! What nonsense is this?! Up until now we considered you a good person and were of the belief that you are a decent person. Now it is clear that you have your own ambitions. You mean we should go and fight against the Quran? No, we will not fight. To which Ali replied thus, All right. Do not fight.
Malik al-Ashtar25 was progressing forward. They said, Send an immediate order to Malik to return. Fighting the Quran is no longer tolerable. They placed great pressure on Ali, who then sent a message to Malik requesting that he return. Malik did not return, saying, Sir! Please give me permission. In only two hours they will be defeated. The messenger came back informing them that Malik would not return, to which they replied, Either Malik returns or we shall cut you into pieces with our swords [they were about 20,000 in number]. You are fighting the Quran?! Ali (a) sent another message, Malik, if you want to see Ali alive, come back. Then, the issue of arbitration was put forward. They said, Well now! Let us choose an arbitrator, now that the Quran has been set forth. The other side chose the evil Amr ibn al-As. Ali chose the clever and honorable scholar Abd Allah ibn Abbas. They said, No, we should choose somebody who is not related to you. Ali then said, Malik al-Ashtar. They said, No, we do not approve of him. Some others also objected to this. They said, We only approve of Abu Musa al-Ashari26. Who was Abu Musa al-Ashari?! Was he a member of Alis army? No, he was a former governor of Kufah who was ousted by Ali. He was in his heart an enemy of Ali. They brought Abu Musa.
He was tricked by Amr ibn al-As in a con that was more similar to a game than any serious issue you may have heard of. When they realized they had been deceived, they said, We made a mistake. Now, from saying they have made a mistake, they mean to confess to another mistake. They did not say, We made a mistake when we stopped fighting Muawiyah and we should have continued the fight. This was not a battle against the Quran.
This was a battle for the Quran. They said, No, that was correct. They also did not say, We made a mistake for choosing Abu Musa. We should have accepted Ibn Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar. Instead, they said, Principally, the fact that we accepted two people to judge the religion was blasphemous. In the Quran it states, The judgment (command) belongs to none but Allah.27 Because in the Quran it says judgment (command) exclusively belongs to Allah, then no human has the right to make a judgment. Therefore, choosing arbitrators was fundamentally blasphemous and, in fact, a form of polytheism. We are now repenting, I ask Allahs forgiveness and turn towards Him.
They then went after Ali, Ali! You have become a non-believer like us. You must also repent. (Now, do you see the problem? Is Muawiyah Alis problem or these puritans? Is Amr ibn al-As, Alis problem or these puritans?) He replied, You are wrong! Arbitration is no blasphemy. You do not understand the meaning of the verse. It refers to the fact that the law must be set by Allah alone or somebody who is permitted to do so by Him. We did not want somebody to come and set us law. We said, Quranic law; let two people come and judge according to the Quran. They said, This is it. Ali said, I shall never confess to a sin I have never committed. I shall never say that something is against the religious law when it is not. How can I falsify something to Allah, the Honorable and Exalted, and the Prophet (s)? You want me to say arbitration and choosing arbitrators in the time of disagreement is against the religious law and is blasphemous? No, it is not blasphemous. You can do whatever you wish.

Imam Alis (a) demeanour towards the Kharijites
They parted ways with Ali and formed a faction known as the Kharijites, meaning the rebels against Ali. They began causing great suffering to Ali, who tolerated them until they started an armed riot. Thus, he endured them to the greatest degree possible; never stopping their share of the government treasury or limiting their freedom. They would disrespect him explicitly and yet Ali would be patient. When Ali gave sermons upon the podium, they would often heckle his speeches. On one occasion, when Ali was upon the podium, somebody asked a question. Ali gave an excellent reply without any hesitation, which caused great astonishment among the people causing them to all glorify Allah, the Glorified and Exalted [takbir].28 However, one of the Kharijites, who was present in the congregation, said, May Allah kill him. How knowledgeable he is.29 The companions of Ali poured onto him wanting to kill him, when Ali said, Leave him be. He cursed me. The most you can do to him is to curse him. Leave him alone.
Ali was busy praying. He was praying in congregation at a time when he was the ruler of the Muslims. (What kind of forbearance is this by Ali?) They never followed him in prayer, instead they claimed, Ali is not a Muslim. He is a non-believer and a polytheist. When Ali was reciting al-Fatihah30 and the Surat31 of his prayer, someone by the name Ibn al-Kawwab32 entered and recited this verse, And indeed, it has been revealed to you and to those [who have been] before you: Surely if you associate (other deities with Allah), your deeds will certainly come to naught.33
This verse is directed at the Prophet (s), O Prophet! We have sent divine revelations to you just like the prophets before you. If you become polytheist, all your deeds will go to waste, or if those prophets had become polytheists, their deeds would have gone to waste. By reading this verse he was implying: Ali! We agree that you are the first Muslim; this is what your records and services to Islam show. But because you have become a polytheist and considered a partner for Allah, the Glorified and Exalted, you have no more rewards left with Allah, the Glorified and Exalted. How was Ali supposed to react? Ali acted by considering the verse that says, And when the Quran is recited, listen to it, and keep silent, that you would possibly be granted mercy.34
This indicates that when you hear somebody reciting the Quran, pay attention and listen to it, and so Ali kept silent and listened. When Ibn al- Kawwab finished, he continued his prayer. As soon as the Imam proceeded, the person repeated the verse. Ali again kept silent and when Ibn al-Kawwab had finished, continued with his prayer. For the third or fourth time when he repeated the verse, Ali paid no more attention and read this verse, So have patience; verily, the promise of Allah is true; and those who have no certitude, never induce you to levity (make you unstable and divert you from your path).35
And he continued to pray.

The principles of the Kharijites sect
Were Kharijites satisfied with this? If they had been, they would not have been a major problem for Ali. They slowly gathered and formed a party which later became a religious sect. They formed an Islamic sect (by Islamic I do not mean them being truly a part of the Muslims, we consider them as non-believers) and a new religion within the Muslim World.
They also set their own religious dogmas and laws.36 They said, Whoever is with us should firstly believe that Uthman, Ali and Muawiyah, as well as those who agreed to arbitration, are non-believers. We also became non-believers, but we repented. And only those who repented are Muslims. They continued to say, Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil [al-amr bil-maruf wa nahy an al-munkar] have no conditions. One should rise up against any unlawful imam or any cruel leader even if they are convinced that this rising is of no use. This gave them a strange and violent face.
The other principle they set for their sect, which was also another indication of their greed and ignorance, was that action is fundamentally a part of faith. We have no faith separated from action. A Muslim is not a Muslim by just declaring shahadatayn.37 If a Muslim prays, fasts, does not drink, gamble, commit adultery, lie, or commit any other major sin, it is just the beginning of his Islam. If he lies, he is a non-believer; he is impure [najis]38 and becomes a non-Muslim. If he backbites once or drinks, he has left Islam. The perpetrator of a major sin was considered to have left Islam. The result was that these puritans considered only themselves as Muslims. It was as if they were saying, There are no Muslims in the world other than ourselves, and produced a series of principles for themselves.
Since the Kharijites considered Ali a non-believer and part of their doctrine was that enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil is obligatory [wajib]39 and unconditional, one must therefore rise up against an unlawful imam. There was no other choice but to rise up against Ali, they claimed. They all camped outside the city and began rioting officially.
They followed a set of rigid and rough principles during their riots and claimed, All others are non-Muslim and because they are not Muslim we cannot marry from them; that their meat slaughtered is forbidden [haram]40; that one must not buy meat from their butchers. Worst of all, they considered the killing of women and children from those other than themselves as permissible. Since they considered the killing of others as permissible, they went out of the city and began robbing and killing. A bizarre situation had come about.
One of the Prophets companions was passing by their location with his pregnant wife. They stopped him and asked him to disown Ali. He refused. They killed him and ripped his wifes stomach with a spear. You are non-believers, they said.
Once they were passing a palm garden (the garden belonged to somebody whose wealth could not be intruded upon, because he was highly respected by all). One of them picked a date and placed it in his mouth. They shouted at him loudly, Are you intruding on your Muslim brothers wealth?

Imam Alis attitude towards Kharijites
Their actions caused Ali to camp in front of them. It was no longer possible to let them be free. He sent Ibn Abbas to talk to them. This is when Ibn Abbas returned and said, I saw calloused foreheads because of excessive prostration. The palms of their hands were like the knees of camels. They wore old and ascetic looking clothes. Most manifest are their resolute and indomitable faces. Ibn Abbas did not manage to do anything. Ali himself went to talk to them. His words were effective and from the group of 12,000; 8,000 of them rued their actions. Ali raised a protection banner; whoever came under it would be safe. The 8,000 went under it. The remaining 4,000 said it was impossible and abstained. The necks of these calloused foreheaded puritans went under Alis sword. Only 10 survived, one of whom was Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam41.
Ali has a saying in the Nahj al-Balaghah (Ali is a remarkable being, his greatness appears here substantially). He says, It was I and I alone who removed the eye of this revolt. No one save me could have stopped them with his sword.42 Ali declares that only he could have pulled out the eye of this mutiny (i.e. the mutiny of the puritans). Besides Ali, no Muslim dared to draw their sword against the neck of the Kharijites, because this so-called religious group could only be killed by two other groups. One group comprises of people who do not believe in Allah and Islam, for example the companions of Yazid who killed Imam al-Husayn.
The other group comprises those who are themselves Muslims; however, to be Muslim and have the courage to speak against, let alone act against, the Kharijites was not in any mans capacity. Doing this required great courage. It needed the insight that Ali had to realize the danger for the Muslim World (later on I will tell you how Ali felt according to his own sayings). On one side, there were they praising Allah and reciting the Quran, and on the other side there was Ali drawing his sword to eradicate them. The insight required was something that could only be found in Ali. He said, No one except me advanced towards it. No other Muslim, not even from amongst the Prophets companions had the courage to draw his sword on them. But I did and I am proud that I did, after a time when the waves of darkness had taken their toll in this murky sea43 and its madness was intense.
This sentence is remarkable. Their disease (rabies) was spreading. Kalab means rabies. When a dog catches rabies, it is commonly known that the dog becomes wild. When this disease appears in the animal, it can no longer differentiate its owner from a stranger. It will bite whoever approaches it, bites them transferring the virus into the victims blood causing him to contract rabies. Ali says, These puritans had turned into dogs with rabies and just like such dogs, whoever they had contact with would turn into someone like them.
Just like when people give themselves the right to execute a dog with rabies so it could no longer bite and spread its disease, I saw no option but to eradicate them, otherwise it would not have been long before they had passed their disease to the Muslim World and sunk the society into an image of rigidity, petrifaction, idiocy and ignorance. I envisaged their danger to Islam. It was I who pulled out the eye of the mutiny. When the waves of their darkness, dubiousness and scepticism had raised and their rabies had progressed and was penetrating to others, no one save me had the courage for such a task.

Characteristics of the Kharijites
The Kharijites had a number of distinguishing characteristics such as tremendous bravery and devotion. Because they worked on the foundations of their belief, they remained extraordinarily devoted. There are amazing stories about their devotions. However, other characteristic that we can name include their dogmatism and excessive worshipping. Their excessive prayers were the cause of other peoples scepticism about them. This was also the reason why Ali had said that no one but him would have had the courage to kill them.
The third characteristic which can be mentioned here is their ignorance and lack of knowledge. I seek refuge in Allah from that which has been done to Islam by ignorance and lack of knowledge!
Nahj al-Balaghah is an amazing book. It is amazing from every aspect including its monotheism, advice, prayers and worships, its analysis of the history of its time, etc. When Ali analyzes, he analyzes Muawiyah, Uthman, the Kharijites and the other events astonishingly. For example, referring to the Kharijites, Ali says, You are the worst of people.44 Why does Ali claim that these puritans were the worst of all people? If it were us, we would ask, O sir! At the end of the day, they are harmless people. They are good people. We call such people good people. In our view they are good people. But then why does Ali say, You are the worst of people? In his next sentence he continues to say, You are the worst of people because you are spears in the hands of the devil (Satan). Satan places you in his bow instead of his arrows and crushes his targets with you. You are definite tools in the hands of Satan.
You must also pay attention to the fact that during Alis time a group of hypocrites had appeared consisting of the likes of Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As. They were very wise and well informed of the facts, and by God they knew Ali better than others. History bears witness to the high regard Muawiyah had for Ali; nevertheless he would go to war against him (lets not forget the power of materialism and greed or other complexities of that matter). The reason for this is that after Alis martyrdom when any of Alis close companions went to Muawiyah, he would ask them, Describe Ali to me! When they began describing, his tears would pour down; he would sigh and say, Alas! Time can never again bring a person like Ali.
Therefore, there were people like Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As who acknowledged Ali and his regime and were aware of his objectives, but greed did not give a chance to the belief in their hearts. These hypocritical groups always used puritanical factions to reach their goals. This big problem of Ali will always carry on in the world. There will always be hypocrites. Even today, we can find the likes of Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As in various guises. There will always be puritans like Ibn Muljam and other instruments in the hands of Satan, who are always ready to be deceived and accuse the likes of Ali of being a non-believer and a polytheist.
Someone once claimed that Ibn Sina (Avicenna)45 had become a non believer.46 Ibn Sina then dedicated the following quatrain in response to this claim, Being a non-believer is not easy for someone like me, No belief in religion is firmer than my own.
One of my kind in the world and a non-believer?
If so, there is not a Muslim to be found anywhere in the world!47
These puritans have claimed that almost every great scholar that Islam has had till now was either non-Muslim or a non-believer. I will recount an event to illustrate this point. Muslims! Be alert. Do not be like the Nahrawan48 Kharijites. Do not become arrows in the hands of Satan.
Notes:
17. Khwarij means the rebels.
18. Holy City of Mecca or Makkah al-Mukarramah is the holiest site of Islam, and pilgrimage to it is required of all Muslims who are able and can afford to go, at least once in their lifetime.
19. Banu Quraysh, the dominant tribe of Mecca, was the tribe to which the Prophet (s) belonged.
20. Ethiopia is a country situated in Africa. It is the second most populous nation in Africa.
21. Jihad is a war operated on the command of an infallible [masum] leader or his representative, which usually takes place to defend Islam and Muslims. The Quran calls those Muslims who die in this way (jihad), martyrs [shahids].
22. Abd Allah ibn Abbas was one of the cousins of the Prophet (s).
23. Ibn Abd Rabbihi al-Andalusi (d. 940), Al-Iqd al-Farid, (Beirut, 1983), vol. 2, p. 389.
24. Amr ibn al-As (c. 583-664 CE): at the time of Abu Bakr and Umar, he was military commander. He was famous for being crafty and cunning. In the Battle of Siffin, he helped Muawiyah in exchange for the governance of Egypt. He killed Muhammadibn Abu Bakr, the governor of Egypt, and finally became the governor of Egypt.
25. Malik ibn al-Harith al-Ashtar was one of the companians of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. He became Governor of Egypt in 658 (38 AH) when assigned by Imam Ali, after the Battle of Siffin had ended.
26. Abu Musa Abd Allah ibn Qays al-Ashari (d. ca. 662 or 672) was made the governor of Basrah and Kufah during the caliphates of Umar and Uthman. In the event of Battle of Jamal, he urged people not to join any side of the battlefield. After the Battle of Siffin was put on hold, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talibwas forced to choose him as his arbitrator by the Kharijites.
27. Surat al-Anam 6:57.
28. The takbir is an Arabic name for the phrase Allah-u Akbar, a common Arabic expression, which can be translated as God is Greater or God is the greatest.
29. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (Beirut, 1983), vol. 73, p. 436.
30. Al-Fatiḥah or al-Ḥamd is an Arabic name for the first chapter [surat] of the Holy Quran and means: the Chapter of the Opening.
31. Surat is an Arabic term. It means a chapter of the Quran.
32. One of the Kharijites.
33. Surat al-Zumar 39:65.
34. Surat al-Araf 7:204.
35. Surat al-Rum 30:60.
36. Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] is made up of the rulings of Islamic jurists to direct the lives of Muslims. A component of Islamic studies, fiqh, expounds the methodology by which the Islamic law is derived from primary and secondary sources.
37. Shahadatayn in Arabic means the declaration of belief in the oneness of Allah, the Glorified and Exalted, and in Prophet Muhammadas his last messenger. The shahadah means to testify or to bear witness.
38. In the Islamic law, najis are things or persons regarded as ritually unclean. There are two kinds of najis. The essential najis which can not be cleaned and unessential najis which becomes najis in contact with another najis and one of them are wet.
39. Wajib (also fard or faridah means obligation or duty) is an Islamic Arabic term which denotes a religious duty.
40. Haram is an Arabic word used in Islam to refer to anything that is prohibited by the faith. Its antonym is halal.
41. Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam was the Khawarij assassin of Imam Ali (a).
42. Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 92.
43. That is to say, this was essentially after the situation had become skeptical and ambivalent. Even when Ibn Abbas went to see them, he too became hesitant. The atmosphere was foggy. He said, The horizons are covered in fog. The situation was not one that would make a Muslim soldier certain to fight and work for the benefit of Islam. When he faced a group more religious and ascetic than himself, a group who commited less sins, prayed more and the effect of worship was more apparent in their faces than him, he would become baffled. When he raised his sword, his hands would shiver, his heart would tremble, How can I raise my sword on them? If it was not for Ali and his followers and the trust his followers had in him, it would have been impossible to raise his sword on them. The situation was extremely doubtful and rightfully so. If you and I were there too, we would also not have been able to raise a hand on them to the other side.
44. Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 126.
45. Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina or Avicenna (980-1037 CE) was a Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist, born in Afshanah near Bukhara in Persia. He wrote 450 books on a wide range of subjects including philosophy and medicine. Some of his Books were the standard medical text in European universities for 7 centuries.
46. When an ignorant person confronts a wise and knowlegable person they are awed by the respect society has for them, consequently, they become confused. If they say that the knowledgeable know nothing, the signs of the scholars knowledge would become apparent. If they say that the knowledgeable have no skills, their skills would be observed. If they say that the knowledgeable are unwise, their wisdom is evident. What else can they say? At the end, they claim that the knowledgeable have no religion, and that they are non-believers.
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