What is Kharidjism?

A current born in the middle of the seventhe century, only twenty-five years after the death of Mohammed, amazes the young Muslim empire. The Kharidjites oppose the power of their time, want to impose an alleged religious purity on it, excommunicate Muslims who refuse to rally their views, and have no qualms about killing them. One of their detractors, quoted by the historian Hichem Djaït in his book The Great Discord (1), writes of them: ” They have deepened the religion to the point of coming out of it as the arrow cuts through the prey, right through “.

How does it appear?

The emergence of Kharidjism can be explained by the outbreak of a civil war – the Fitna (discord) – within a Muslim community which in a few years conquered Egypt, the Middle East, Persia and Syria. In 656, the Caliph Othman, accused of nepotism and mismanagement, was assassinated in his house in Medina. Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, succeeds him. However, he is suspected of laxity or even complicity with the murderers, and revolts follow one another.

Ali finally accepts the idea of ​​an arbitration between him and his adversary Mu’Awiya, relative of Othman, who also claims the caliphate. This solution, too human, is not to everyone’s taste. Some supporters of Ali then speak of betrayal of the divine will and leave his army, hence their nickname of khawarij or kharidjites, from the root kharaj which means “to go out” in Arabic.

Who are the Kharidjites?

It’s a dissent movement in the almost physical sense of the term », Remarks historian Hela Ouardi. The author of a series of books entitled The cursed Caliphs, published by Éditions Albin Michel, specifies: ” Very often, the divisions in Islam are primarily political in nature and relate to the question of the legitimacy of the one who exercises power.

And the Kharidjite critique of power is radical. ” The Kharidjites, from tribes in northeastern Arabia, do not recognize political authority, because this power circulated among the great families of the Hejaz (region of Mecca and Medina, Editor’s note) ”, notes Hela Ouardi.

Kharidjism also professes that the caliph’s lineage does not matter. ” Their slogan is “The power rests only with Allah” but this purism vis-à-vis authority can lead them either into total anarchism or to sink into absolute theocracy. », Continues the academic.

The alternative will not be decided. In 658, Ali destroyed the Kharidjites in Nahrawan, during a battle with the air of extermination. The few survivors then disperse to the outskirts of the Muslim world. In return, one of theirs kills Ali in 661.

Is kharidjism a first jihadism?

Ali’s assassination gives credence to the hypothesis of Kharidjism as the first movement to have extended jihad, “holy war” defined by the Koran, to a more chaotic notion, combining murder and fanaticism. “ The Kharidjites murdered Ali while he was praying in the mosque during Ramadan! It was a deliberately spectacular execution, a way of showing that they did not consider him to be a Muslim and had no limits. », Hela Ouardi analyzes.

The Kharidjites, in addition to erecting murder as a religious necessity, systematize takfir, that is to say, the excommunication of other Muslims. This practice has been picked up by modern jihadists, to the point of being sometimes used to characterize them. This parallel does not frighten Hela Ouardi: “ In the violence of the Kharidjites’ protest, their radicalism, their theoretical rejection of the political entities that Islam was trying to build, yes, there is a link with what we know today.

What remains of Kharidjism today?

Kharidjism as such has disappeared. However, a small community of two million descendants still exists today, wedged between Sunnis and Shiites: the Ibadites. ” There is an undeniable historical connection », Confirms historian Virginie Prevost, who published The Ibadites. From Djerba to Oman, the third way of Islam (2). However, she warns: ” Adam Gaiser, an American colleague, says Ibadi are related to Kharidjites like birds to dinosaurs.

From the VIIIe century, the Ibadites have indeed decided to break with violence to base their lives around quietism and compromise. But their attention to morality, their austerity in the face of money, their demystified vision of power still connect them to their Kharidjite origins. ” There is an egalitarian side to them, the idea of ​​sharing power and consulting each other », Describes Virginie Prevost, who sees in them the reasons for their success with the Berbers.

These values ​​made the Ibadites – today concentrated around the Algerian Mzab, the Tunisian island of Djerba, Libya and especially the Sultanate of Oman – the third current of Islam. And despite the memory of the murder of Ali, whose supporters formed Shiism, relations between them are harmonious. ” Today, I do not see any particular hostility of the Shiites against the Ibadites. They have other fish to fry than to return to questions which go back several centuries. “, Underlines the specialist, who adds that the embarrassing memory of Kharidjism leads on the other hand some Ibadites to lean in the opposite direction:” Now they sometimes present themselves as a fifth school of Sunnism!

Ibadism is retreating under the influence of Malikism, the branch of Sunnism which dominates in the Maghreb. Salafism and secularization also threaten. Virginie Prevost hesitates between fatalism and hope: ” The community seems doomed to disappear, but I hope it can resist thanks to its culture which is very lively.


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