THE KHAWARIJ, OR THEOCRATIC SEPARATISTS,1 DEFEATED AT NAHRAWAN
37 A.H. / 658 A.D.
'ALI was not content with heaping on his rival malediction. He resolved on immediate renewal of hostilities. There was, however, other work before him in first dealing with an enemy nearer home.
Ever since they had broken up their camp at Harura, the Khawarij, instead of settling down in sentiments of loyalty and peace, had been gaining in aggressive force and turbulence. There should be no oath of fealty, was the cry, but to the Lord alone, the Mighty and the Glorious. To swear allegiance to either 'Ali or Mu'awiya was in derogation of that great name. "Both sides," they said, "are coursing along, neck and neck, in the race of apostasy: the Syrians run after Mu'awiya right or wrong, and ye swear for 'Ali through black and white. It is nought but blasphemy." So they drew up their creed in one short sentence No arbitration but that of God alone; and this they insolently flung in 'Ali's teeth.2 In vain the Caliph argued, as before, that arbitration had been forced upon him by themselves. "True," they readily replied; "but we have repented of that lapse; and thou must repent of it too or else we shall fight against thee; and if so be we are slain, we shall gladly meet our Lord." 'Ali yet hoped to win them
1 The name (Khariji, pl. Khawarij) may also mean "those who
have gone out for the sake of their religion," like Muhajirin Cf. Kor. iv. 101.
2 La hukuma illa lillahi.. The creed of the Separatists was
that Believers being absolutely equal, there should be no Caliph, nor oath of allegiance sworn to any man,
the government being in the hands of a Council elected by the people.
1 The name (Khariji, pl. Khawarij) may also mean "those who have gone out for the sake of their religion," like Muhajirin Cf. Kor. iv. 101.
2 La hukuma illa lillahi.. The creed of the Separatists was that Believers being absolutely equal, there should be no Caliph, nor oath of allegiance sworn to any man, the government being in the hands of a Council elected by the people.
over. He bore with their seditious talk; and made his intention known of treating them forbearingly.
They should have free access to the mosques for prayer. If they joined his army, they would share the booty like the rest. So long as they refrained from any overt act, he would use no force of arms against them."
Instead of pacifying the fanatics; this moderation but emboldened them. At last, when the umpires' judgment was delivered, they denounced it as amply justifying their secession, and resolved at once to raise the divine standard. They looked for heavenly interposition; but even if they perished, it was a righteous cause which must triumph in the end; and they themselves, protesting against a wicked world, would surely be inheritors of the world to come. Accordingly, about a month after the arbitration, they began, in concert with the brethren who sympathised with them at Al-Basra, to leave their homes by stealth. The conspirators from Al-Basra, 500 strong, under a Tamimite, were pursued by the governor, but effecting their escape, joined the party which in greater force had issued forth from Al-Kufa. Secular power, and the pomp of this life, were abhorrent from the covenanting creed; and it was only after many had declined the dangerous pre-eminence, and then simply as a temporary expedient that a leader was prevailed on to accept the chief command. The design was to seize Al-Medain, and there, under a Council of Representatives, establish theocratic rule as a model to the ungodly cities all around. But the governor had timely warning and repulsed the attempt. They passed on, and in small bodies crossing the Tigris farther up, assembled at Nahrawan 4000 strong, under a chief of their own choice, 'Abdallah ibn Wahb.
Like all fanatics, they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They perpetrated terrible atrocities; but one of them having speared a pig went away to compensate its owner, and another would not eat a date which he had picked up because he had not paid for it.
'Ali did not at first recognise the serious bearing of the movement. The number was comparatively small; and he hoped that, immediately they saw their former comrades in
arms marching against the graceless Syrians, they would not hesitate again to join his standard. So 'Ali mounted the pulpit and harangued the men of Al-Kufa. He denounced the umpires as having cast the Book of the Lord, equally with the Prophet's precedent, behind their backs. Both were apostates, rejected of the Lord, of the Prophet also, and of all good men;"Wherefore," said he, "we must fight our battle over again at the point where, on the eve of victory, we were forced to leave it off. Prepare to march for Syria, and be ready in your camp without the city by the second day of the coming week."
Then he indited a despatch to the fanatics at Nahrawan. It was couched in similar terms, and ended thus: " Now, therefore, return forthwith and join the army. I am marching against the common enemy, yours and ours. We have come back to the time when at Siffin ye fought by my side; now follow me again." In reply they sent an insulting message:"If 'Ali would acknowledge his apostasy and repent of it, then they would see whether anything could be arranged between them; otherwise they cast him off as an ungodly heretic." The stiff-necked Theocrats were thereupon, for the present, left to their own devices, and the business of raising levies for Syria proceeded with. But little enthusiasm was anywhere displayed. Of 60,000 fighting men on the stipendiary roll at Al-Basra, 3000 were with difficulty got together.
At Al-Kufa after vain appeal, a conscription was ordered through the heads of clans; and thus at length an army of 65,000 was brought into the field.
With this imposing force, 'Ali had already commenced his march on Syria, when tidings reached him that the fanatic host was committing outrage throughout the country in the very outskirts of the camp.1 A messenger sent to make inquiry met the common fate. Tidings becoming more and more alarming, the army demanded to be led against them; "for how," said they, "can we leave such outlaws at large behind us, with homes exposed to their unlicensed cruelty?" 'Ali, himself convinced of this,
1 The outrages were to the last degree barbarous and cold-blooded.
Travellers, men and women, refusing to confess the theocratic tenets were put to death; a woman great
with child ripped up with the sword and so forth.
1 The outrages were to the last degree barbarous and cold-blooded. Travellers, men and women, refusing to confess the theocratic tenets were put to death; a woman great with child ripped up with the sword and so forth.
changed his course, crossed the Tigris, and marched against the fanatics. When now near Nahrawan, he sent a messenger to demand surrender of all such as had been guilty of outrage and murder. "Give up these to justice," he said, "and ye shall be left alone until the Lord grant us victory in Syria, and then haply He shall have turned your hearts again toward us." They replied that "they were all equally responsible for what had passed, and that the blood of the ungodly heretics they had slain was shed lawfully." A parley ensued, in which the Caliph expostulated with the misguided fanatics, and offered quarter to all who should come over to his army, or retire peaceably to their homes. Some obeyed the call and came over; 500 went off to a neighbouring Persian town, and many more dispersed to their homes; but 1800 remained upon the field, martyrs to the theocratic creed.
With the who wild battle-cry, To Paradise! they rushed upon the lances of the Caliph's force and to a man were slain. 'Ali's loss was trifling. The date of the battle is 9, ii. 38 A.H., July'7, 658 A.D.
It had been better for the peace of Islam if not one of the 4000 had escaped. The snake was scotched, not killed. The fanatic spirit was strangely catching; and the theocratic cause continued to be canvassed vigorously and unceasingly, though in secret, both at Al-Basra and Al-Kufa. However hopeless their object, the fanatics were nerved, if not by expectation of divine aid, at the least by sure hope of the martyr's crown. In the following year, bands of insurgent fanatics once and again appeared unexpectedly in the field, denouncing 'Ali, and proclaiming that the kingdom of the Lord was at hand. One after another they were cut to pieces, or put to flight with ease. Still such continual risings could not but endamage the name and power of 'Ali, who now reaped the fruit of his weak compromise with the enemies of 'Othman, and neglect to bring them to justice. Fanatics in their extravagant doctrine, these men were too sincere to combine with any purely political sect, and hence they seldom came near to leaving any permanent mark of their creed behind them. But both in the present and in succeeding reigns, we find them every now and then gathering up their strength
dangerously to assail the Empire, and as often beaten back. Ever and anon, for ages, these Khawarij "went forth" (as the name implies) on their desperate errand, a thorn in the side of the Caliphate, and a terror to the well-disposed.
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