the influence of islamic sects on each other and the importance of understanding the governing spirit on them

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The study of the lives of the ~Khawarij~ is profitable for us in so far as we can understand to what extent they have had an effect in Islamic history, from the aspect of politics, from that of beliefs and disposition, and from the ~legal~ or prescriptive aspect.

However much various sects and groups may differ from each other in their slogans and principles, it may sometimes happen that the spirit of one sect will penetrate into another one, and the latter, although it may be an opponent of the first, will absorb its spirit and soul. The nature of man is a thief; sometimes one can find people who, for example, may be Sunni, but who, in spirit and soul, are Shi'ah, and sometimes the other way round. Sometimes someone is naturally very dogmatic, legalistic and outward, but spiritually he is a Sufi, and vice versa. Similarly it is possible that some people are Shi'ah by imitation and by their speech, but spiritually and practically Kharijite. This is both true of individuals, and of communities and nations.

When social groups are associated with each other, even though each of them try to preserve their beliefs, these will spread from one to the other, just as, for example, "~qam-a zani~" [striking the head with a sword in order to self-inflict wounds, a practice among the common people, like the following two, associated with processions during the mourning ceremonies in the month of Muharam] and the beating of drums and blowing of horns, penetrated Iran from the ~Orthodox~ Christians of ~Caucasia~ [at one time part of Iran] , and since the spirit of the people was receptive to these customs, they spread like wild-fire.

For this reason, the spirit of each sect must be uncovered. Some times sects are born from a willingness to see good in certain events or persons to "look upon your brother's deed in the best light"; for example, the Sunni, who were born of a favourable predisposition towards certain personalities. And some sects may be born from a kind of special perspective and emphasis on the principles of Islam, not from individuals and personalities. And occasionally they will be critical people, like the early Shi'ahs. A sect may be born of an emphasis on the inward spirit and the interpretation of this inwardness, like the Sufis, and a sect may be born of an emphasis on bigotry and inflexibility, like the Khawarij.

When we have come to understand the spirit of a sect and its first historical circumstances, we are in a better position to judge what ideas passed from this sect to other sects in subsequent centuries, and who adopted their spirit as well as the slogans and the framework of stock phrases. In this respect, beliefs and ideas are like words when, without there being any intention, they enter from the language of one people into the language of another. For example, after the Muslim conquest of Iran, Arabic words entered the Persian language, and, in the opposite direction, some thousand Persian words entered the Arabic language. There is a similar influence of Turkish on the Arabic and Persian languages; as for example with the Turkish of the time of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, and the Turkish of the Seljuqs and the Mongols; and it is the same story with the rest of the world's languages. Such examples could easily be extended to fashions and tastes.

The way of thinking and the spirit of the ideas of the Khawarij - the inflexibility of their minds and the disengagement of intellection and religiosity in their thought - have leaked into the Islamic community down through the history of Islam in various forms. However much other sects may have considered themselves opponents of them, we can still see the spirit of the Kharijism in their ways of thinking; and the only reason for this is the result of what we said: the nature of man is a thief, and it is easy to keep company with this thief.

A number of the Khawarij have always believed that their slogans should battle with anything new. They even give a holy aura to the means of life, about which we spoke when we said that no material means or external form has been sanctified in Islam, and they consider the use of every new means as disbelief in Islam and atheism.

Among Islamic schools of beliefs and sciences, and in law too, we see those which were born from the spirit of the disengagement of intellection from religion, and such schools of thought are a perfect example of Kharijite thought. They completely repudiate the use of the intellect in discovering reality and in deriving secondary laws; they call the following of the intellect innovation and ungodliness, even though in many verses the Qur'an summons man in the direction of his intellect and establishes human insight and understanding as the cornerstone of the Divine call.

The Mutazilah, who came into existence at the beginning of the second century of the Hijrah, took their origins in the wake of the discussion of, and investigation into, the interpretation of belief and unbelief, as to whether commission of the larger sins necessarily resulted in the sinner becoming a disbeliever or not; and naturally their coming into existence was connected with the Kharijites. The Mu'tazilah were people who wanted a degree of free thinking, and to create an intellectual life. Although they did not benefit from any kind of scientific basis or origin, they managed to investigate, and think about, Islamic problems, to a certain extent quite freely. They critically evaluated ahadith to a certain degree, and they only followed those ideas and opinions which had been researched according to their own beliefs.

From the beginning, the Mutazilah took a stand against the disputes and opposition from ~those who based everything on ahadith~, and from the exoterists. These latter, who only recognised the outward meaning of ahadith as evidence, and who would have nothing to do with the spirit or inner meaning of the Qur'an and ahadith, did not believe that any clear judgements could follow from the intellect. However much the Mu'tazilah valued intellectual reflexion, these people considered that value could be attached only to outward meanings.

In the space of the one and a half centuries that passed in the life of this intellectual school of dissent, amazing ups and downs befell them, till, in the end, the ~Asharites~ came into being, and once again the value of sheer intellectual thinking and reflexion and the reckonings of pure metaphysics were denied. These Ash'arites claimed that it was necessary for Muslims to believe in the exoteric meanings of traditional explanations and not to think or reflect upon their deeper meanings; every kind of question and answer, or why and wherefore, was an innovation for them. ~Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal~, who was one of the four Imams of the ~Sunnis~, was strongly opposed to the way of thinking of the Mu'tazilah, to such an extent that he went to prison for his opinion and was tortured, but he still affirmed his opposition.

In the end, the Ash'arites were the winners, and the school of intellectual thinking closed down; and this victory dealt a great blow to the intellectual life of Islamic sciences.

The Asharites thought the Mutazilah innovators, and one of the Asharite poets wrote after their victory:

The reign of the people of innovation has come to an end.
Their yarn has become brittle and has broken;
The party which the Devil formed from them
Have warbled away to each other till they became split up.
O Companions in thought! Did they have a jurist
Or an Imam to lead them in their innovations?

The Akhbari school was also a kind of dissociation of intellection and religion. They were a Shiite school of jurists, and they reached the height of their powers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries of the Hijrah ( 18th century A.D.). They had a lot in common with the exoteric school and the traditionalists among the Sunnis. In their way of deriving laws, both schools followed the same method, their only difference being in which ahadith they chose to follow.

The Akhbaris completely shut down the work of the intellect, and denied any value or power of proof to the perceptions of the intellect in the derivation of the rulings of Islam from their texts. They considered the following of the intellect to be absolutely forbidden, and in their writings they led a campaign against the Usulis, who were the followers of the other Shiite school of legal thought. They said that the only sources of proof were the Qur'an and the sunnah. Of course, they also said that the power of proof of the Qur'an was by way of the exegesis given by the ~sunnah~ and ahadith; so, in fact, they virtually disregarded the Qur'an as a source of proof and only recognised the outward meaning of ahadith to be trustworthy.

Now we are not planning to go into a discussion of the ways in which various currents of Islamic thought differ from each other, and consider in detail those schools which have adopted the split between intellection and religion, which is what we have called the spirit of Kharijism. This would be a very lengthy discussion. Our only aim was to show what the influences of the sects have been on each other, and that the Kharijite sect, although it did not last long, continued to manifest its spirit in every century and age of Islam up to the present when a number of contemporary writers and "intellectuals" of the Islamic world have produced their way of thinking in a modern and up to date form by associating it with empirical philosophy.


attraction and repulsion of Imam Ali p.b.u.h- pages: 154to157


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