Islamic History Podcast 2-21: Ali And The Khawarij

Islamic History Podcast 2-21: Ali And The Khawarij


After Siffeen

In the aftermath of the Battle of Siffeen, a new group emerged. Today, we call them Al-Khawarij, or Kharijites in English.

But at that time, they were known by different names.

Before they split from Ali, they were known as Al-Qurra, or The Reciters, because they were always reciting the Quran.

After the split, they took on a new name. They called themselves Ash-Shurah, or Those Who Were Sold, because they claim they sold their lives for Islam.

Whatever their name, one thing was clear: they had lost all faith in Ali.

They had fought for Ali because they believed he was the Caliph. When Aisha and Muawiyyah disobeyed him, they believed it was a sinful act that nullified Islam. In their extremist view, Aisha and Muawiyyah were hypocrites and should be treated as such.

However, on not one, but two occasions, Ali had the upper hand, and chose to go easy on them.

Ali defeated Aisha during the Battle of the Camel at Basra. He scattered her forces and recaptured Basra in less than a day.

Instead of executing the traitors, Ali let them go. He forgave them and even punished those who spoke out against Aisha.

On top of that, Ali didn’t let his soldiers claim any of the enemy’s wealth.

And then came the Battle of Siffeen. After weeks of negotiations, and several days of bloody fighting, it finally looked as if Ali would destroy the rebels.

Then Muawiyyah got the best of him.

Muawiyyah offered to stop fighting and find a solution in the Quran.

At first, the Khawarij had liked this idea. Let the Quran decide, they told Ali.

Since he was the rightful Caliph, there had to be some verses that would justify Ali’s claim. Once they found them, Muawiyyah would have no choice but to capitulate and repent for his sins.

But Ali let them down again.

To their horror, he agreed to let Abu Musa Al-Ashari represent him in arbitration with Muawiyyah’s counsel, Amr ibn Al-As.

The Khawarij believed that Ali had gone too far. He was letting men decide on matters that should be left with Allah.

The Khawarij did not return to Kufah with Ali. Instead, they settled in an area called Harura just outside the city. There, they declared both Ali and Muawiyyah had left Islam.

Their goal was simple. Gather enough strength and troops to overthrow both Ali and Muawiyyah. Then, build a new society based on the true practice of Islam.

Inside Kufah, Ali was frustrated with the Khawarij. It was bad enough dealing with rebellion outside of Iraq. Now he had to deal with a rebellion inside of Iraq.

But Ali was conflicted.

One the one hand, they had broken off from his leadership and were claiming that he had left Islam. Ali had battled Aisha and Muawiyyah over much less.

But on the other hand, these same malcontents had supported him from the beginning. They followed him into battle and fought and bled for him.

Ali could have easily crushed the Khawarij, but he wanted to avoid fighting at all costs.

So, he chose to reason with them instead. Perhaps logical, Islamic arguments would bring them back into the fold.

Ali sent for his closest advisor, Abdullah ibn Abbas.

Ibn Abbas

Like Ali, Abdullah Ibn Abbas was a cousin of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). All three men shared the same grandfather, Abdul Muttalib.

Therefore, Prophet Muhammad’s father, Abdullah, Ali’s father, Abu Talib, and Ibn Abbas’ father, Abbas, were brothers.

Ibn Abbas was much younger than Ali, who in turn was much younger than Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Abbas was in his late thirties when Ali became Caliph. Ali was in his late fifties and Prophet Muhammad, were he still alive, would have been in his late eighties.

Ibn Abbas was a second-generation Sahabah. This generation included Ali’s sons Hassan and Husayn, Abdullah ibn Zubair, and Abdullah ibn Umar.

All of these men would play significant roles in Islam’s future.

When Ibn Abbas was first born, his mother took him to Prophet Muhammad to perform Takhneek.

Takhneek is an Islamic ritual where a male relative chews a bit of date and rubs it inside the newborn’s mouth. Presumably, this is so the first thing the child tastes is something sweet and gives them a pleasant character.

Just like Ali years earlier, Prophet Muhammad grew fond of Ibn Abbas. As a youth, Ibn Abbas served in the Prophet’s household, performing minor duties. The Prophet would often hug Ibn Abbas and prayed for Allah to bless him with knowledge and wisdom.

Those prayers would come true as Ibn Abbas became known as the Scholar of the Nation. Being so close to Prophet Muhammad gave him a unique opportunity to learn Islam at a young age. But his pursuit of knowledge continued even after the Prophet’s death.

Ibn Abbas was about fifteen years old when Prophet Muhammad passed. Ibn Abbas then took it upon himself to continue learning from the adult companions. He was known to wait for hours in front of a companion’s home just to ask him a question about Islam.

Ibn Abbas soon became a source of knowledge and wisdom himself. When Umar ibn Al-Khattab became Caliph, he invited Ibn Abbas to sit in his court.

Some of the older companions were surprised that the Caliph allowed this teenager to sit with them. Many of them had sons older than Ibn Abbas.

To prove his point, Umar put them all to a test. One day, he asked the companions about the meaning of Surah Al-Nasr, or the Chapter of Divine Help.

Surah Al-Nasr is the 110th chapter of the Quran, is very short, and discusses the rapid growth of Islam in Arabia.

In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.

When the Victory of Allah comes and the Conquest, and you see people entering the religion of Allah in multitudes; then glorify Him with praises for your Lord and seek His forgiveness. He is ever accepting of repentance.

The older companions said it meant the conquest of Mecca or the victory of Islam over paganism.

Umar asked Ibn Abbas his opinion.

Ibn Abbas, then only about eighteen years old, said the chapter foretold the Prophet’s death. It was preparing him to leave this world.

Umar nodded and replied that is how he understood it as well.

From that point on, no one questioned Ibn Abbas’ wisdom.

Ibn Abbas was one of the first to support Ali. After Ali recaptured Basra in the Battle of the Camel, Ali made him the governor.

And now, in dealing with the Khawarij, Ali needed Ibn Abbas’ wisdom once more. Ali hoped Ibn Abbas could convince the Khawarij to return to his side.

The Khawarij had grown significantly since the Battle of Siffeen. Some estimates suggest they numbered as much as 12000.

At first, Ali was reluctant to send Ibn Abbas and feared for his safety. But Ibn Abbas brushed these concerns aside and replied: “I am a man of good morals who has never harmed anyone.”

Then, donning his best clothes, Ibn Abbas traveled to Harura to meet with the Khawarij.

Ibn Abbas was alarmed by what he saw. These young men were more religiously devoted than anyone he’d seen before.

They wore simple clothes, that were clean, but old and threadbare. Their ankles were swollen from standing in prayer for long periods. Their faces were dusty and tired from staying up all night in worship. The camp hummed like a beehive with their recitation of Quran.

In spite of their devotion, Ibn Abbas noticed that none of the Prophet’s companions were among them.

He met with the Khawarij leader, Abdullah ibn Al-Kawa, who was once Ali’s emissary to Syria. It was Ibn Al-Kawa’s poor diplomacy that heightened tensions between Ali and Muawiyyah and made the Battle of Siffeen inevitable.

Their conversation is one of the most famous theological debates in Islamic history.

Show Notes

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