The Kharijites were an early theologico-political movement that emerged out of controversies surrounding the status of the third and fourth caliphs, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. The first members of this school were initially partisans of ‘Ali (shi‘at ‘Ali), but ‘went out’ or ‘seceded’ (kharaja) because of his ambivalent response to the murder of his predecessor ‘Uthman, which they believed was justified because of ‘Uthman’s wrongful actions. The first main issue that concerned the Kharijites was the question of the caliphate: who can legitimately claim to lead the Muslim community? They maintained, contra the Shi‘ites, that any believer who is morally and religiously beyond reproach and endorsed by the community is qualified to be caliph regardless of origin, but that any caliph who diverges from the right path is no longer a legitimate ruler and should be deposed. On these grounds they opposed ‘Ali’s caliphate while also condemning ‘Uthman and justifying his murder. A second – and closely related – issue with which they were concerned was the legal and eschatological status of Muslims who commit grave sins. On this question they argued that Muslims who sin are in effect unbelievers and accordingly forfeit all their rights and protections under Islamic law. Those who disagreed with them were, perhaps unsurprisingly, branded as unbelievers and treated as such. The Kharijites were notorious for their fanaticism and violent activism, and ultimately their ideas were rejected in favor of a more moderate position that acknowledged the legitimacy of both ‘Uthman and ‘Ali (as well as a broader, more nuanced conception of belief). Yet despite the extremism of their views, the Kharijites played a crucial role in the emergence and early development of Islamic theology.
   Further reading: van Ess 2006; Watt 1973, 1962/85

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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