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A Concise History of Al-Ibadhiyah

[Condensed from the book, Al-Ibadhiyah, written by Dr. Amr Khalifa Ennami (an Ibadhi) and distributed by the Ministry of Awqaf & Religious Affairs, Sultanate of Oman.]

The name Ibadhiyah applies to a Muslim group, which was considered by most writers as a moderate branch of the Kharijite movement. [Most of the early Ibadhi authorities and also some of the later 'Omani authors used the term Khawarij for the Ibadhis, but distinguished the extreme Kharijites by the term, Khawarij al-Jawr (Unjust Kharijites).] Al-Ibadhiyah is one of the earliest Islamic sects, the foundation of which goes back to the first half of the first century H. The adherents of this school still form a number of independent communities holding fast to its teachings. The largest of these today is in the Sultanate of Oman in Southeast Arabia, where Ibadhis form the majority and Al-Ibadhiyah is the state religion. There are other minorities in Zanzibar on the east coast of Africa, in Jabal Nafusah and Zuwarah in Libya, on Jerba Island in Tunisia, and in Wad Mzab in Algeria.

The Ibadhis considered their movement a continuation of the opposition which overthrew 'Uthman bin Affan, the third Caliph and caused his death. They regarded that opposition as being a purely Islamic rejection of the innovations which they claimed were introduced by 'Uthman and his court. The Ibadhis approved of the Caliphate of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. They also approved of 'Ali in his wars against Mu'awiyah and regarded Mu'awiyah's party as the rebellious party which should be fought until they accepted the commands of God. But the Ibadhis disapproved of 'Ali's acceptance of arbitration, and they renounced 'Ali for killing the people of Al-Nahr and argued that he had no right whatsoever to fight them.

The Ibadhi school took its name from 'Abdullah ibn Ibadh Al-Murri Al-Tamimi, one of its early theologians. Very little is known about 'Abdullah ibn Ibadh in both Ibadhi and non-Ibadhi sources. However, chroniclers included Ibn Ibadh among the class of Al-Tabi'un who lived during the second half of the first century H. It is not known whether he participated in the military revolts which occurred during his lifetime, but it appears that he was not satisfied by the rule of Mu'awiyah and criticized its violation of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Ibn Ibadh was among the leaders of the Muhakkimah party, who derived their name from their moto, "La hukma illa lillah." To them, the Muhakkimah party was the only party struggling to resume the just Islamic Imamate as it was during the time of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, the first six years of 'Uthman's rule and the early years of 'Ali before he accepted the arbitration. But when the Kharijites withdrew from the Muslim community on the basis that their land was a land of war and they were all polytheists, Ibn Ibadh appeared as a leading figure who opposed this extreme line and refuted it openly. When 'Umayyad rule became established and made its aim to prevent any sort of opposition, the sympathizers of the Muhakkimah party, or "Al-Muslimun", or "Jama'at al-Muslimun" as they were called in the early Ibadhi literature, were obliged to hide their faith and to carry out their activities in secret. Perhaps, the school took the name of Ibn Ibadh because he used to openly propagate its views and was known to non-Ibadhi groups for refuting their views and his firm attitude against the extreme Kharijites. Another reason which made the Ibadhi school bear his name could be Ibn Ibadh's political activities and his contacts with the 'Umayyad Caligh 'Abd Al-Malik bin Marwan with whom he exchanged correspondence.

The information given in Ibadhi sources shows that Ibn Ibadh played a secondary part in the foundation and the leadership of the Ibadhi movement compared with its first Imam and founder, Jabir bin Zaid Al-'Azdi. Jabir bin Zaid was originally from the Nizwa area of Oman, but he migrated to Basrah and lived there for the rest of his life. He learned the Traditions of the Prophet from all the Companions that he met in Basrah, Madinah and Makkah. It is reported that he traveled between Basrah and Makkah no less than 40 times on the Hajj. He became one of the outstanding learned men of Basrah. Jabir's leadership of the Muhakkimah party was established after the Battle of the Camel. Non-Ibadhi scholars have tried to prove that Jabir bni Zaid had no relation with the Ibadhis, and various stories were reported to show that Jabir himself denied this sort of relationship. These stories contradict the Ibadhi version of events.

On the whole, Jabir's activies were intellectual. His position as an outstanding Mufti in Basrah provided him with useful cover and he used all means to ensure the security of his movement and safety of his followers. The relationship between Ibadhis and their Muslim opponents was established on the basis of the following principles:

  1. Ibadhis should fight only those who fight against them.
  2. The property of Muslims should not be taken as spoils and their women and children should not be killed or taken in captivity.
  3. Fighting the unjust Imam is not an obligation (as the Khawarij believe), and Muslims can live under the rule of tyrants resorting to religious dissimulation or secrecy, taqiyah, when necessary.
  4. Shira', sacrifice of one's life, is a voluntary duty for a group of forty or more persons, when they imposed it on themselves.

The outlines of the Ibadhis' attitude on their relations with the rest of the Muslim community were expressed by 'Abdullah ibn Ibadh in his well-known statement, "We do not regard our Muslim opponents (mukhalifun) as idolaters, for they believe in the unity of God, the Book, and the Messenger. But they are 'infidels-ingrate' (kuffar al-ni'am). We hold it lawful to inherit from them, marry from them, and live among them. The faith of Islam unites them (with us)." Kufr ni'mah, ingratitude for the blessings of God, was the term Ibadhis used for those Muslims who commit hypocritical grave sins, and for those who acknowledge the faith of Islam but do not practice it. The terms nifaq (hypocracy), kufr nifaq and kufr ni'mah are used in the same sense, for Ibadhis held that hypocrisy (nifaq) is only in deeds and not in the faith.

It seems that either Ibn Ibadh was already dead when Jabir died or else he was not important enough to take over the leadership of the movement, as Jabir was succeeded by Abu 'Ubaidah Muslim bin Abi Karimah. The development of the Ibadhi doctrine, the growth of their organization, and the rapid expansion of their movement in Yemen, Oman, Khurasan and North Africa is undoubtedly due to Abu 'Ubaidah, as he led the Ibadhi movement during the last period of the 'Umayyad rule and the beginning of the 'Abbasid rule. In his secret institution, which was no more than a deep cave somewhere in Basrah, he educated the men who played the most important part in the development of the Ibadhi doctrine and its political success and prepared them to be sent to all the Muslim countries to propagate it. Basrah remained the center of the Ibadhi movement until the end of the second century, though all of the activities of the Ibadhi movement were carried out in secrecy. They carefully avoided attempting any open revolution in Iraq, and focused their efforts on southern Arabia and North Africa instead.

Al-Rabi' ibn Habib, a student of Abu 'Ubaidah succeeded him as leader of the Ibadhi community in Basrah. The work which contains the Ibadhi collection of hadith is Al-Jami'I Al-Sahih also referred to as Musnad Al-Rabi' bin Habib. (The original version of the book composed by Al-Rabi' bin Habib is not in common use. The current version is that rearranged by Abu Ya'qub Yusuf bin Ibrahim Al-Warijlani, entitled Tartib Al-Musnad, which contains a total of 1005 traditions including the narrations added by Abu Ya'qub.) Most of the Traditions reported by Al-Rabi' bin Habib are reported by other Sunni sources with the same wording or with slight differences. However, the Ibadhi collection contains a number of Traditions, which were not accepted in the Sunni Collection and were described by them as being invented (mawdu'). Likewise, a number of Traditions regarded as authentic by Sunni authorities are to Ibadhi authorities considered lies or innovations (bida'). The Ibadhi legal system was derived from the material reported by Ibadhi authorities only.

The approved method among early Ibadhi authorities on the formulation of legal opinions was that the decision in any legal case should be based in the first instance on the Qur'an; if there was no ruling to be derived from the Qur'an, recourse should be to the Sunnah; if it was not dealt with in the Sunnah, it should be taken from the consensus of the Companions (ijma' al-Sahabah), and if the companions differed among themselves in their opinions then the utmost care must be taken to choose the best of the Companions' opinions. In any case, where there was no previous decision on the question to be derived from the above-mentioned sources, the decision should then be derived from the opinions of the early authorities of the Ibadhi school, and the soundest opinions must be followed. Individual judgement (al-ra'y) is allowed to every learned man ('Alim who possesses a full knowledge of the Qur'an, Sunnah and the opinions of previous authorities) at all times, and is forbidden to every ignorant man (Jahil) at all times. It was a recognized principle among Ibadhis that the Sunnah judges over Qur'an, and ra'y judges over Sunnah. The application of this principle appeared in the rules and law as laid down by Ibadhi authorities for the stage of secrecy (maslak al-Kitman) of their community. On grounds of analogical reasoning Ibadhis regarded the stage of secrecy of their movement as identical with the corresponding stage of the Prophet's life and the Muslim community during the Meccan period.

Ibadis always considered themselves as the true Muslims, and their laws as the true religion of Islam, regarding their schools as the true representative of the authentic Sunnah and superior to other Islamic schools. The modern Ibadhi Shaikh Muhammad Yusuf Atfaiyish expressed this view in the following words: "Our school is correctness bearing the possibility of error, and the schools of our adversaries are erroneous bearing the possibility of correctness."

Sub-divisions of the Ibadhiyah include the following sects: Al-Wahbiyah, Al-Nukkar, Khalafiyah, Al-Naffathiyah, Al-Husainiyah, Al-Sakakiyah, Umairiyah, and Al-Farthiyah.