Two successive wars had cost him thousands of his men the other thousands who died fighting under his opponents’ banner were no less dear to him. Kith and kin, brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, both sides in both wars were related to each other in blood and flesh and probably most importantly to him, in faith. At the battlefield he was seen roaming, stopping by every corpse to say prayers, crying and wishing he had not lived to see this day. Burdened with guilt inside for being a part of these bloody and unholy conflicts which were to haunt this newly born nation for centuries to come, worn out physically and emotionally and completely aware of the future that awaited his nation, that philosopher warrior of Muslim history Ali ibn abi Talib returned to Kufa. As if the wars and the stigma of unholiness attached to them wasn’t enough, another fitna awaited him.
As Ali ascended the steps of pulpit to deliver his first sermon after his return to Kufa, the drama that had been unfolding for the past few days, ever since he made peace with his cunning opponent Mua’awia, reached its climax. As some traditions say, a man named Abdullah ibn Wahb stood up and hurled his blames towards the closest and dearest relative of Prophet Muhammad. The blames were no less than apostasy. He blamed him of giving the authority to men over the Book of God, of exposing the seat of Caliphate to arbitration, which to him was solely a divine right. But Wahb wasn’t just a single dissenting voice, he was backed up by thousands as Ibn-e Kathir narrates (somewhere between 8000 and 14000). And thus was born the first fundamentalist faction in Muslim society. They were the Kharjites, or Rejectionists.
Not that this was the first mutiny within this still young nation. In fact there were a handful of these. Abu Bakar had to deal with quite a few of such uprisings. Then there was that undercurrent of dissent spanning the whole 35 years of this nation, the one lead by none other than Ali himself and his family. Though this dissent never grew to a full scale mutiny, nonetheless it existed all along. And last but not least, the one that arose in reaction to extravagancies of Othman and his operatives, mainly from his own clan Umayyad, alleged cronyism of Othman and ultimately exacerbated only by his lack of administrative and political wisdom. This full scale mutiny culminated in siege of Medina, brutal murder of Othman himself and ultimately selection of Ali as Caliph.
Ali’s conflicts with Mua’awia and Aisha proved to be the biggest, bloodiest and with most far reaching consequences. Yet all of these mutinies largely remained political, though cloaked under religious indoctrinations. There were no calls for “apostasization” of opponents and even if there were, as in times of Abu Bakar, their direction was from majority (state) to minority.
Kharijite rebellion stood different from all of the above mentioned in a sense that a small group of people separated themselves from the majority. Wahb declared that whole Kufa is mired in ignorance. “Let us go out, my brothers, from this place of wicked people”, exclaimed Wahb there in the mosque that day. And out they went. He and his people stood firm to these words, not only did they go out, they termed everyone not agreeing with them as apostate and worthy to be killed. “Anything that fell short of their standard of faith was nothing less than apostasy and had to be ruthlessly rooted out lest it contaminate the righteous” writes Lesley Hazleton in her book “After the Prophet – the epic story of the Shia Sunni split in Islam”.
At heart Kharijites believed that all other Muslims have strayed from the right path and they were the only ones following teachings of Islam in their true spirit. They considered themselves holier than everybody else, pious than the most pious ones and purer than the pure. This path of self righteousness lead to fanaticism, for it couldn’t lead anywhere else. One of their raids on a village to procure supplies for themselves explains the complete nature of their beliefs.
One of their companions who ate a date dropped on ground was forced by his fellows to spit it out because they believed it was a sin as the permission from owner of tree was not taken. In the same raid, one of their men was pursued to go and find the owner of a cow he had injured accidently and he could join the group only after he had paid the owner the cost of damage. Both of these acts speak out clearly as to what were the standards of righteousness for these Kharijites.
This was the way they upheld justice. But in the same incident, they killed pregnant wife of one of their opponents (son of a Muhammad’s companion), cut out the unborn infant and ran it through with the sword, right in front of the eyes of their opponent. For them this wasn’t sin, children and women of their opponents shared the crimes of their male kin. Justice upheld again, and upheld well!
A couple of years ago while listening to a leaked audiotape of an alleged conversation between an army backed Mullah and a Taliban ideologue, I heard Wahb’s line of argument echoing through fourteen centuries right into my ears. When asked why they kill innocent citizens at marketplaces and praying Muslims in mosques, this Taliban ideologue replied without a slight hesitation “Because we consider them part of the crime. Everybody who is silent (and hence not with us) contributes equally to this crime and hence spilling their blood is not only halal but in fact called for by God.”
Continues Reading…, Part 2
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