Tamara Sonn and Adam Farrar

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:

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The Kharijites (Arabic: khawarij; sing. khariji) were the first identifiable sect of Islam. Their identity emerged as followers of Muhammad attempted to determine the extent to which one could deviate from ideal norms of behavior and still be called Muslim. The extreme Kharijite position was that Muslims who commit grave sins effectively reject their religion, entering the ranks of apostates, and therefore deserve capital punishment. This position was considered excessively restrictive by the majority of Muslims, as well as by moderate Kharijites, who held that a professed Muslim could not be declared an unbeliever (kafir). The Kharijites believed it was forbidden to live among those who did not share their views, thus acquiring the name by which they are known in mainstream Islamic historiography—khawarij means “seceders” or “those who exit the community.” Radical Kharijites, on the other hand, declared those who disagreed with their position to be apostates, and they launched periodic military attacks against mainstream Muslim centers until they ceased to be a military threat in the late 8th century ce. The Kharijites were also known as Haruriyah (from Harura, the site of one of one of their main camps in Iraq), and more generically as ghulat (extremists).

Article.  2597 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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