The Kharijites and IS

The Kharijites first appeared under the reign of the third caliph, Uthman, from 644-656, when they rebelled against the leaders of the Quraysh tribe that controlled both the government and its financial resources. The group called for equality and to end the separation between ruler and parish. They believed that anyone had the right to lead the caliphate, even slaves. They led several revolutions against the rulers, even using violence against women and children to achieve their means.

Most of the Kharijite communities have died out, except for the Ibadis in Oman and certain regions in North Africa, notably in Algeria. These groups were moderate Kharijites who were not known to use violence or start riots.

Why are IS members described as Kharijites?

The similarities between IS and the Kharijites have prompted some to compare the two. Such similarities include: condemning other Muslims, killing children and women, and clashing with other Salafist jihadist groups to secure an exclusive grip on power. IS has dedicated significant attention to fighting Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army, even though they all oppose the Syrian regime. However, in some ways, IS is completely different from the Kharijites. The latter never expressed hostility toward non-Muslims and they never oppressed minorities, as IS has done consistently.

The Kharijites did not have Salafist tendencies. On the contrary, they refused to accept the arbitration of the first Muslims and the sahaba — the companions of Prophet Muhammad. The Kharijites did not consider the first Muslims to be holy, and they never prioritized their views in understanding and applying religion. They called for equality and expressed a desire to not distinguish between the first Muslims and later converts.

Yet, the similarities between IS and the various branches of Salafism — including the Saudi version — are far greater than the similarities between IS and the ancient Kharijites.

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