The Khawarij Were the Forerunners of ISIS
The Khawarij (Outsiders), were a radical fundamentalist faction of early Islamic dissenters who emerged during a bitter succession dispute following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Their ideology, particularly their concept of Takfir, whereby Muslims who disagreed with them were deemed apostates and kafirs (infidels), and thus no longer covered by the prohibition against killing fellow Muslims, provides the philosophical foundations for modern terrorists such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.
Following Muhammad’s death, a succession dispute erupted between those who believed that leadership should be confined to Muhammad’s family and bloodline, and those who thought it should be open to whomever the Muslim community chose. The former, a minority, coalesced around Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali and became known as the Shiites, or faction, of Ali. The latter, the majority, became known as the Sunnis.
Muslims elected the first three Caliphs, or successors of the Prophet, from outside Muhammad’s family, bypassing Ali each time. On the fourth try, following the murder of the third Caliph, Ali was finally elected. However, the third Caliph’s relatives accused Ali of being implicated in the murder and engineered the election of another Caliph. The rival Caliphs went to war, but before the issue was settled in battle, Ali was prevailed upon to accept arbitration.
The Khawarij, who until then had supported Ali, opposed arbitration. Viewing the Caliphate as the collective property of the Muslim community, they argued that Ali had no authority to make a decision regarding who gets to be Caliph. Election by the community was the sole legitimate process for bestowing the Caliphate, argued the Khawarij, and the Muslim community had already elected Ali. By accepting arbitration to decide who would be Caliph, Ali was overstepping his boundaries and usurping a power of decision that was never his.
Ali went ahead with the arbitration, but it turned into a fiasco without settling the dispute or producing a result other than weakening him politically. The Khawarij soured on Ali, whom they now viewed as much of a usurper as his rival. So they decided to get rid of both, and hatched an assassination plot to kill the Caliphs on the same day during Friday prayers. Ali’s assassins succeeded, but those sent after his rival only wounded him, and surviving, he emerged as sole Caliph.