the necessity of deliberating and learning by example from khawarij sedition

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To turn the discussion of Khawarijism and the Khawarij into a discussion about a religious sect is pointless and to no effect, for there is no such religious sect in existence in the world today. However, a discussion about the Khawarij and the reality of what they did is nevertheless instructive for us and for our society, because, although the Khawarij sect has become extinct, their spirit has not died. The spirit of Khawarijism has been incarnated in the campaigns of many of us.

I should start with an introduction. It is possible that some sects may die as far as their motto is concerned, but live in spirit, just as the opposite may also happen: an ideology may live as a motto but be completely dead in spirit. Thus it is possible that one or several individuals may be counted as followers and adherents of some sect in name but not be followers of that sect in spirit, and vice versa, that is, some people may follow some sect in spirit although they do not accept the motto and slogans of that sect.

A religious sect may be dead, but its spirit lives on among other people who apparently are not followers of that sect but who deem themselves opposed to it. The Khawarij sect is dead, that is to say that today, on this earth, there is no observable group with the name of Khawarij which a number of persons, with that name, follow; but is the spirit of the Khawarij dead too? Has this spirit not incarnated itself, for example (may God forbid it), among us, especially among those of us who are, so to speak, pretenders to piety?

This is a matter which must be investigated separately. If we can truly recognise the Khawarij spirit, we can perhaps answer this question. This is, indeed, the value of a discussion about the Khawarij. We must know why 'Ali "repelled" them, that is to say, why his attraction did not pull them, but, on the contrary, his power of repulsion pushed them away.

It is certain, as we shall afterwards see, that not all the spiritual elements which had an effect on the personality of the Khawarij and the formation of their way of thinking were such as to be subject to the pressure and rule of 'Ali's force of repulsion. A good many bright distinctions and positive points are also to be found in their way of thinking, which, if they had not been there together with a series of dark points, would have been subject to the power and effect of `Ali's power of attraction. But the dark side of their spirit was so strong that they took their place in the ranks of 'Ali's enemies.

Religious narrow-mindedness was a special characteristic of the Khawarij, but we see this once again among the Muslims today. It is for this reason that we said that the banner of the Khawarij is dead and gone but the spirit of their religion still lives on, to a greater or lesser extent, among similar individuals and groups. We can find some bigots who look on all the people in the world except themselves and a very small number of people like themselves as disbelievers and infidels; they deem the number of those included within Islam and the Muslims to be very limited indeed.

Narrow-mindedness and muslims' excommunication by khawarij
The Khawarij were not acquainted with the spirit of Islamic culture but that they were courageous. Since they were ignorant, they were narrow-minded; and since they were narrow-minded, they were quick to condemn people as infidels and iniquitous, to the point where they restricted the meaning of Islam and Muslim to themselves, and marked other Muslims who did not subscribe to their beliefs as infidels. Since they were courageous, they often came up to those in power and, according to what they imagined, subjected them to "bidding to good and forbidding evil", but then were killed themselves.

In the subsequent periods of Islamic history their inflexibility, ignorance, pietism and pretensions to sanctity were inherited by others, but without their bravery, heroism and self-sacrifice. The non-heroic Khawarij, that is, the cowardly sanctimonious ones, put their steel swords on one side, dispensing with "bidding to good and forbidding evil" as far as those in power were concerned, who were a danger to them, and then fell upon the learned with the sword of words. They brought some kind of accusation against every learned person so that few are the learned persons in Islamic history who have not been the target of the accusations of this group. They would call one a denier of God, another a denier of the ~Resurrection~; a third they would call a denier of the ~bodily ascension~ of the Prophet (mi`raj-a jismani), a fourth a dervish, a fifth something else, and so forth. In this way, if the opinions of these half-wits were taken as a criterion, no real scholar could ever have been a Muslim. When 'Ali was charged with being an infidel, the position of others is clear. ~Ibn Sina~, ~Nasiru 'd-Din at-Tusi~, ~Mulla Sadra~, ~Fayd al-Kashani~, ~Sayyid Jamalu 'd-Din al-Asadabadi~ (al-Afghani), and, more recently, ~Muhammad Iqbal~ are a few of those who have tasted the bitter draught of this cup.

Ibn Sina wrote, in connection with this matter:

Calling me an infidel is no easy exaggeration,
For there is no faith stronger than mine.
If at one time there is only one like me and he an infidel.
Was there ever a Muslim in any period

Khwajah Nasiru'd-Din at-Tusi, who was accused of being an infidel by a person by the name of Nizamu'l-`Ulama' (the one who puts order among the learned) said:

If the "Organiser" who lacks order call me an infidel,
I can console myself that the lamp of falsity will never shine bright.
I shall call him a Muslim, for there is
No answer to a lie except a lie.

Anyway, one of the special characteristics of the Khawarij was narrow-mindedness, and it was their short-sightedness which called everyone irreligious. Against this short-sightedness, 'Ali argued that it was a very mistaken way of thinking which they followed. He said that the Prophet would punish someone and then read the burial prayers over his corpse, whereas if the committing of a great sin made one an infidel, the Prophet would not have done this; for it is not permissible to recite prayers over the corpse of an unbeliever, being something which the Qur'an has prohibited. [Surah at-Tawbah, 9:84] He gave lashes to the drinker of alcohol, cut off the hand of the thief, whipped the unmarried adulterer, and then gave them all a place in Muslim meetings, did not cut off their wages from the treasury (baytu 'l-mal), and married them to other Muslims. The Prophet meted out Islam punishments as they were due, but he never crossed the names of the punished off the list of the Muslims.

Ali asked the Khawarij to suppose that he had gone wrong, and that, as a result of that he had become an infidel. But why then did they condemn the Muslim community as infidels? Did that mean that because someone had gone astray the others too were necessarily lost and in error and should be called to account? He asked them why they carried their swords on their shoulders, and subjected the sinless and the sinners alike to the edge of their swords. [Nahju 'l-balaghah, Sermon no. 127]

The struggle of Ali(p.b.u.h) with the narrow-mindedness of khawarij
Here Amir al-mu'minin objected to them on two accounts; his "repelling" repulsed them on two sides. One was that they had generalised the sin to those who were guiltless, and had taken them to account for it, and the other was that they deemed the perpetrator of sin as necessarily an infidel and outside of Islam, that is, they had restricted the extent of Islam and said that anyone who stepped beyond the limits of some of the prescriptions of Islam had stepped out of Islam.

Ali condemned the narrow-minded and the shortsighted, and in reality the struggle of `Ali with the Khawarij was a struggle with this way of thinking not a struggle with individuals. For, if these individuals had not thought in this way, `Ali would not have behaved with them in the way he did and split their blood so that these ideas would die with them, that the Qur'an would be correctly understood, and the Muslims would understand Islam and the Qur'an as they are and as their Law-maker wished.

The result of this short-sightedness and crooked thinking was that they were taken in by the politics of holding the Qur'an up on spears, and thereby created the greatest of dangers for Islam. And `Ali, who had gone to dig out the root of hypocrisy and destroy Mu'awiyah and his plotting once and for all, had to turn back and deal with them. What a ominous event it was which happened to the Muslim community on that occasion.

As a result of their short-sightedness, the Khawarij practically refused to recognise other Muslims as Muslims, refused to recognise the animals they slaughtered as lawful food, recognised the spilling of their blood as lawful and marriage with them as prohibited.


attraction and repulsion of Imam Ali p.b.u.h-pages:121 and 127to128 and 147to150 and 157


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