THE KHĀRIJITES were the first group to separate from the main body of the Muslims, and they came out against the rulers of the Muslims on the issue of al-Ḥākimiyyah, which pertains to the absence of social justice, the absence of ruling with justice, as they claimed against ʿUthmān (رضي الله عنه) and granting men the right to judge, as they did with ʿAlī (رضي الله عنه).
They relied upon verses from the Qurʾān whose meanings they misunderstood and they applied these verses incorrectly. These misinterpretations and misconceptions persist till this day.
Their seeds were present in the time of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in the form of a band of hypocrites for whom Dhūl-Khuwayṣarah al-Tamīmī was a spokesman. They tried to find fault with the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) regarding distribution of wealth. The Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) prophesied the circumstances of their appearance in many authentic ḥadīths, and spoke of their continued emergence among the Muslims throughout the ages, while mentioning many of their traits. The first Khārijites were the Muḥakkimah, and their central issue was that of al-Ḥākimiyyah, in which they had misunderstandings and ignorance.
For a summary of these ḥadīths, see: Prophetic Descriptions and Rulings on the Khārijites
This is alongside the fact that the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also mentioned about the rulers of the Muslims, how after the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the rule will change and there will appear injustice and tyranny, and that there will be leaders who do not guide with his guidance and who advance their own interests over those of their subjects, even beating them and confiscating their wealth. He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) mentioned how among them there will be those with hearts of devils in the bodies of men. Alongside all of that, he ordered with patience and obedience in that which is good (maʿrūf), and absence of rebellion, except where there is clear, unequivocal, manifest disbelief, and ability to remove him without greater evil resulting.
Thus, throughout the ages, the Muslim nation will be plagued with the Khārijites, their ideology and methodology which leads to civil strife and bloodshed, and opening of the door for the enemies. Just as the Muslims will also be put to trial with sinful, unjust, tyrannical rulers. Both of these are a trial for the ummah, and it is for this reason that the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) gave us ample, sufficient, clear guidance with respect to both the Rulers and the Khārijites.
Some people deficient in īmān make revilement upon this and call it “bootlicking”.
This is a statement of kufr if what is behind it is rage, resentment, anger and hatred against these commands, meaning these legislations that the Sharīʿah came with. Not being satisfied with Allāh’s judgement in this matter, as has been frequently explained by Ibn Taymiyyah, is a sign of lack of īmān and not being satisfied with what Allāh revealed.
Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn (رحمه الله) said:
Whoever hated the Sharīʿah of the Messenger (عليه الصلاة والسلام), or hated a symbol [of worship] among the symbols of Islām, or hated any act of obedience with which people worship [Allāh] in the religion of Islām, then he is a kāfir, outside of the religion, due to the saying of Allāh the Exalted: “That is because they hated what Allāh revealed, so He made their deeds worthless..” (47:9-). And there is nothing that invalidates deeds except disbelief.
So whoever hates this legislation and guidance and resents that Muslims show patience and do not rebel against a sinful, tyrant, self-interested ruler, hating this legislation, considering it opposed to his reason, considering it opposed to justice, considering it “licking the ruler’s boots” denigrating the guidance of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) thereby, while having knowledge that it is the guidance of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), then this one is a kāfir without doubt due to his hatred of the Sharīʿah and his anger and resentment towards it.
This guidance is not to the liking of many because it came with the very opposite of what the intellects (ʿuqul) of men would require. Whereas the intellects of men would go with rebellion against the tyrant, and praise of the rebels, the Sharīʿah came with patience under tyranny, yet fighting against the Khārijites and severe condemnation of them. Reason would reject this, as we see in many ideologies and philosophies, seeing the necessity of rebellion against tyranny, but the Sharīʿah, in protection of the beneficial interests of the world and the hereafter, came with its opposite.
So whoever hated this legislation, and resented it, and showed enmity, range and anger towards those who believe it, and abide by it, then he is a kāfir no doubt, there being not an ounce of īmān in his heart, due to his hatred and rage against this legislation from the Lord of the Worlds and due to his hatred and rage that it should be implemented.
It is from the way of the Khārijites, in order justify their rebellion, to make takfīr of the rulers upon other than Sharīʿah principles with the desire and intent to argue that although rebellion is prohibited against sinful, tyrannical rulers, and this is granted, rebellion is necessary against rulers who fall into kufr and apostasy, and then they make charges of kufr and apostasy based on dubious issues such as trade relations with disbelievers, or giving gifts to them, or indifference to, or even promotion of sins and disobedience, or having treaties with non-Muslim nations, and so on.
As such it is important to have a correct and detailed understanding of their errors, misconceptions and deceptions in this respect, in relation to the verses that they rely upon.
The verses in Sūrah al-Māʾīdah in which it is stated that those who do not judge by what Allāh has revealed are disbelievers (5:44-), wrongdoers (5:45-) and sinners (5:47-), then they were revealed in connection to the Jews and Christians who are disbelievers in Allāh and His Messenger, and disbelievers in Tawḥīḍ and Īmān. When applied to this ummah, then it is a consensus that a Muslim does not become a disbeliever through this, rather, there is tafṣīl (detail) to the matter.
This consensus is based on what has come from the Companions such as Ibn ʿAbbās (رضي الله عنه) and his students in the interpretation of these verses. Imām al-Ṭabarī (d. 310H) (رحمه الله) explains in his tafsīr:
And the first of all of these sayings is most correct in my view, the saying of the one who said: “All of these verses were revealed for the Kuffār amongst the People of the Book”, because the verses before and after them were revealed about them as well and they are the ones meant by them, and these verses have come in the course of their discussion, hence, that these verses also refer to them is naturally so.
But if someone should say that Allāh, Exalted is His remembrance, has made this general for everyone who does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, so how have you made it specific (for the Kuffār amongst the People of the Book)?. It is said in reply:
Allāh the Most High has generalised this for a people who rejected the judgement of Allāh that He had decreed in His Book (the Torah). So he informed them that by their leaving this judgement in the manner that they did they are Kuffār. And this is the same saying (i.e. view) concerning everyone who does not judge by what Allāh has revealed due to rejection (juḥūd), for such a one is a disbeliever in Allāh, just as Ibn ʿAbbās said, because in his rejection of the judgement of Allāh after his knowledge that He revealed it in His Book, he is equivalent to one who rejects the Prophethood of His Prophet after having knowledge that he—Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)—is His Prophet.
Thus, the meaning is that when the Jews rejected that certain rulings (such as certain prescribed punishments) were in the Torah, doing so with full knowledge, then this is juḥūd (rejection after knowledge) and because of this, they were disbelievers, wrongdoers, sinners. So these verses were revealed in relation to them and what they did. And whoever resembled them from the Muslims in this action, such as one who rejects, after knowledge, a legislation from the legislations of Allāḥ, that it is from His Sharīʿah, then he is a disbeliever.
After quoting Ibn ʿAbbās and his students, al-Baghawī (d. 516H) (رحمه الله) cites from ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Kinānī that he was asked in relation to these verses and he replied, this being a summary of what has come from Ibn ʿAbbas and others:
These verses apply to the whole of what Allāḥ revealed, not to some of it. Thus, whoever did not judge by all of what Allāh revealed [inclusive of the affair of Tawḥīd], then he is a disbeliever, wrongdoer, sinner [outside the fold of Islām, like the Jews and Christians]. But as for the one who judged with what Allāh revealed [of the affair of] Tawḥīḍ and leaving Shirk, but then did not judge with the rest of what Allāh revealed of legislations, the ruling in these verses are not necessitated upon him [as they are to the Jews and Christians].
Al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī (d. 463H) (رحمه الله) has reported in his ‘Tārīkh’ (10/186) that:
A man from the Khawārij was entered upon al-Maʾmūn who said to him: “What has led you to oppose us?” He replied, “An āyah from the Book of Allāh, the Most High.”
Al-Ma’mūn said, “And what is it?” He replied: “And whoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, they are the Disbelievers.” (5:44-).
So al-Maʾmūn replied to him, “Do you have knowledge that this is a verse that has been revealed [by Allāh]?” He said, “Yes”. Al-Maʾmūn then asked, “And what is your proof?” He replied, “The concensus (ijmāʿ) of the Ummah”.
So al-Ma’mūn replied: “Then just as you are satisfied about their consensus that this is a revealed āyah, then also be satisified about their consensus regarding its explanation.” The man then said, “You have spoken the truth. May peace be upon you O Amīr al-Muʾminīn!”
Here, al-Maʾmūn silenced the Khārijite by citing the consensus of the Muslims with respect to the taʾwīl (meaning, tafsīr, explanation) of these verses. It was upon their misinterpretation of the Qurʾān that ʿAlī fought the very first Khārijites, as prophesied by the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) when he said:
Indeed, among you is one who will fight for the [correct] interpretation of the Qurʾān, just as I fought [the Pagans] for [the authenticity of] its revelation.
It is kufr that does not expel from the religion.
Ibn Aṭiyyah (d. 468H) (رحمه الله) said:
And a mighty and large group from the people of knowledge have said that the verse applies to everyone who does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, but for the rulers of this Ummah it is the kufr of disobedience which does not expel them from Īmān.
Meaning, that the verse is general for all the people of the earth who do not judge by what Allāh has revealed with respect to Tawḥīd, Īmān, affairs of ʿaqīdah, and likewise the legislations, as in affirming them and believing in them, that they are from Allāh. But as it relates to those in this ummah, such as the rulers, when they do not implement some of what is legislated, then if it is not out of rejection (juḥūd), then it is disobedience that does not reach major disbelief.
Abū Bakr al-Jassās (d. 370H) (رحمه الله) said in Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, (2/543):
The Khawārij have interpreted these verses to justify the takfīr of the one who does not rule by what Allāh has revealed without wilful rejection (juḥūd).
Abū al-Muḍhaffar al-Samʿāni (d. 489H) (رحمه الله) said in his tafsir, (2/42):
And know that the Khawarij use this verse as evidence and they say, “And whoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, they are the Disbelievers.” (5:44-) whereas Ahl us-Sunnah say such a one does not disbelieve by abandoning judgement by what Allāh has revealed.
In relation to a similar verse in the Qurʾān used by the Khārijites, “But no by your Lord, they do not believe until they make you judge in disputes between them...” (4:65-), Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728H) (رحمه الله) said:
This verse is amongst (the collection of texts) which are used as evidence by the Khārijites to make takfīr of the rulers who do not judge by what Allāh has revealed. Then they claim that their belief [that the rulers are disbelievers on account of this] is the judgement of Allāh.
01 The scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah have made clear the tafāṣīl (details) of this subject matter and explain how and when this act of not ruling by Allāh’s legislation becomes disbelief that expels from Islām, and from that is:
02 Just as the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah have also explained the rules and principles of takfīr of an individual who falls into major kufr, and that is detailed elsewhere. It is not the case that just because someone has fallen into major kufr, that he automatically becomes a kāfir, rather, he could be ignorant or he could have faulty interpretation (taʾwīl) and so these would become barriers to takfīr and would require establishment of the proof.
03 The manhaj of the Khārijites in this subject is characterised with absence of tafṣīl (detail) and instead to make iṭlāq (generalisation, absolution), leading them to make takfīr on account of affairs that, upon verification, do not amount to major disbelief, or making blanket takfīr (of rulers, or societies) through generalised statements, or making takfīr of a Muslim without consideration of the conditions and absence of barriers, and establishing the proof (iqāmat al-ḥujjah).
Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (رحمه الله) said:
Whoever’s Islām was affirmed with certainty, then it cannot be removed from him with doubt. Rather, his Islām will never cease until after the proof has been established against him and any doubt [concerning his case] has been removed.
The Khārijites do not have such waraʾ (fear, apprehension, abstention) in this matter and their judgements of takfīr are already cooked, baked and ready to serve.