The Khariji [Kharijis, in Arabic Khawarij, singular Khariji, meaning "those that seceded"] were members of the earliest sect in Islam that left the followers of Hadrat Ali [cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad]. The third Caliph, Hadrat Uthman, was killed by mutineers in 656 AD, and a struggle for succession ensued between Hadrat Ali, and Mu'awiya, governor of Damascus. The Khariji left the followers of Hadrat Ali [the Shia] because of Shia willingness to allow human arbitration of Hadrat Ali's dispute with Mu'awiya in 657, rather than divine judgment. The Khariji believed that the Imam should be elected for his moral qualities. The Khariji considered that Hadrat Ali made a mistake in looking for a compromise with Mu'awiya. For this reason they are not considered as properly Shiite by some commentators. Hadrat Ali defeated their rebellion, but the Khariji survived and an adherent of the movement murdered Hadrat Ali in 661.

Khariji rejected primogeniture succession of the Quraysh, the tribe of Prophet Mohammad, and assert that leadership of Islam, the caliphate, should be designated by an Imam elected by the community from candidates who possess spiritual and personal qualities.

The Khariji theology was a radical fundamentalism, with uncompromised observance of the Quran in defiance of corrupt authorities. Khariji considered moderate Muslims to be "hypocrites" and "unbelievers" who could be killed with impunity. The Khawarij made takfir -- declaring a person to be Kafir -- of the main body of believers. The Khariji held that only the most pious members of the community could be entrusted with political power.

The most prominent quality of the Khariji movement was opposition to the caliph's representatives and particularly to Muawiyah, who became caliph after Hadrat Ali. Although the Khariji were known to some Muslims as bandits and assassins, they developed certain ideal notions of justice and piety. The Prophet Mohammad had been sent to bring righteousness to the world and to teach the humanity to pray and to distribute their wealth and power fairly. According to the Khariji, whoever was lax in following the Prophet's directives should be opposed, ostracized, or killed.

The Khariji Islamic school in late 7th and early 8th century AD was concentrated in today's southern Iraq. Khariji uprisings continued under the Umayyads in Iraq, Iran, and Arabia. The apogee of Khariji influence came between 690 and 730, when their main city, Basra, emerged as a center of Islamic learning. Finally, under the Abbasids, Kharijism was suppressed in Iraq.

Modern Khariji are sometimes called Ibadis after Abu Allah ibn Ibad (ca. 660-ca. 715), a moderate Khariji who spent considerable time in Basra, Iraq. Ibad's followers founded communities in parts of Africa and southern Arabia.

In the eighth century, some Khariji began to moderate their position. Leaders arose who suppressed the fanatical political element in Khariji belief and discouraged their followers from taking up arms against Islam's official leader. Khariji leaders emphasized instead the special benefits that Khariji might receive from living in a small community that held high standards for personal conduct and spiritual values.The Khariji movement continued to be significant on the Persian Gulf coast in the ninth through the eleventh century. It continued to play an important political role in eastern Arabia, North Africa, and eastern Africa. Over time the views of the movement moderated and adherents became less antagonistic to the rest of Islam. Eventually, the Khariji insistence on the primacy of religion in political life moved into the mainstream of Islamic thought.

The Khariji school survived into the twentieth century in the more moderate form of Ibadi Islam. Ibadis refer themselves back to the Khariji but reject their aggressive methods. There is a Khariji majority in Oman and, there are significant Khariji minorities in Algeria (in the Mzab, more than 150,000). Some 60,000 Berber-speaking Ibadi people living on Jerba [Djerba] Island in Tunisia still kept to austere Khariji beliefs.

Ibadi leadership is vested in an Imam, who is regarded as the sole legitimate leader and combines religious and political authority. The Imam is elected by a council of prominent laymen or shaykhs. Adherence to Ibadism accounts in part for Oman's historical isolation. Considered a heretical form of Islam by the majority Sunni Muslims, Ibadis were not inclined to integrate with their neighbors.

Oman became a Khariji centre early in the Islamic era, its mountains and geographic isolation providing them with a secure haven. The first Ibadi Imam of Oman, al-Jundala ibn-Mas'ud was elected at the beginning of the 'Abassid caliphate (751). For over a century the Ibadis of Oman defended themselves against attacks by 'Abassid forces attempting to bring Oman under 'Abassid rule. Their capital Nazwa eventually became the spiritual centre of the Ibadi movement as the Mashayekh (doctors of the faith) gradually migrated there from their original centre at Basra. The Ibadis were ruled by elected Imams until 1154 when the Banu-Nahban established a dynasty of kings. In 1428 Imams were once again elected by the community. In 1624 Nasir ibn-Murshid of the Ya'ribi tribe was elected Imam and ended tribal conflict. He and his successors fought the Portuguese (who had taken control of the Omani coast in 1507) throughout the 17th century, and under them Oman became the strongest power on the Indian Ocean coasts, expanding to Zanzibar. Their strong fleet was feared by all other powers.

The Persians dominated Oman for a while, until in 1741 Abu-Sai'd became Imam and expelled them. The rivalry between the two tribal confederations of the Hinawis (Yamanis, Qahtanis, south Arab) and the Ghafiris (Qaysis, Nizaris, North Arab) was renewed in his time - it had always characterised Omani history. In the 18th century Abu-Sa'id's descendants, who styled themselves Sultans and had Muscat as their capital, built an empire which included Zanzibar, was based on trade, and lasted until Oman came under British influence.

The Sultans and the elected Imams of Oman struggled for dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries. The tribes of the interior supported the Imam against the coastal tribes who supported the Sultan. The British, hoping to exploit oil found in the interior, backed the Sultans and in 1959 expelled the last Imam, Ghalib, who fled to Saudi Arabia.

Oman has the largest group of Ibadis in the Islamic world. Sultan Qabus, though an Ibadi, is not the Imam and is not recognised as the religious head of the sect. The Ibadis live mainly in the landward side of the al-Hajar mountains around Nazwa, the old capital of their Imams. They are equally divided between the two main tribal groups: the Hinawis, representing the South Arabian branch and the Ghaffiris who are of North Arabian stock.

After their defeat in Iraq and central Arabia in the 8th century, some Kharijis fled to North Africa where the Ibadis succeeded in 776 to found a state with its centre at Tiaret (Tahart in Algeria) under 'Abd al-Rahman ibn-Rustam.

In 908 the Fatimids conquered the kingdom of Tahart and the Ibadi survivors migrated south. The invasion of the Maghreb by the Banu-Hilal Beduin tribes drove them still further south into the desert, to the oasis of Wargla where they founded a new state based at Sadrata. To evade persecution by the Sunni al-Murabitun and al-Muwahidun dynasties of the 11th and 12th centuries they were again forced to migrate southward. For safety's sake they decided to settle in the most inhospitable region they could find along the Oued Mzab where they founded the Ibadi league of five towns in the Ghardaia oasis.

The Mzabis are Berbers numbering today some 150,000. Their first settlement, el-'Atf, was founded in 1010 AD. Their league of five walled cities is administered by a council of 12 elders-scholars called 'Azzabah who have taken over the authority once vested in their Imams. The population is divided into two groups: the Talaba, who are the religious elite, and the 'Awamm, or common people who form the majority. A lay person of good character can join the religious class by attending a Qur'anic school and passing examinations.

The 'Azzaba rule the community in both religious and secular areas. They make sure that the Shari'a is strictly kept and offenders punished in accordance with their laws. The strongest punishment they can mete out is excommunication, the mere threat of which is sufficient to restore the offender.

The commoners have their own assembly, the Jama'a, responsible for public order. A Qa'id (judge) presides over the Jama'a and relies on special guards, Makari, to perform police functions.

Ghardaia is the most important town and the administrative capital. It is fortified and has white and red clay houses that rise in terraces towards the pyramid-like mosque at its centre. Banu-Isjan is the Mzabi Holy Town and strangers are banned from entering it for four hours each day during the midday prayers. Strangers are also banned from spending the night within its walls (restored in 1860). At its west end stands a white 12th century mosque.

Malika is a town populated mainly by black African Mzabis and Bou-Nouara is built on a rock overlooking the river-bed. Two other towns, Garara and Barian were added in the 17th centuries.

Mzabis are strict Ibadis with a rigid moral code who do not permit non-members to enter their mosques. The Mzabis do not marry outside their own religious community. The men travel to other towns of Algeria to find work, mainly as shop keepers and owners of small businesses, but the women are discouraged from leaving the oasis.















  Page last updated: Friday, November 25, 2005 22:04:51 -0500