Previously in this series: Introduction: A Forgotten Study Of Female Political Power In Muslim History and Sultan Raziyye of Medieval India, and Shejer üd-Dür of Egypt.
In this article I would like to present a small chapter of the book written by the Tunisian writer Nadjia al-Wazami Bu ‘Adjila, who teaches at the University of Tunis, entitled “al-Islam al-Khariji” in English translation.
Khariji Islam and Islamic State
For months I had not even dared to write about the small sect of the Kharijites because many people in Islamic circles mention the Khariji sect as the anticipator of the “takfir” ideology perpetuated by ISIS today. They would like to link ISIS to this small group at the beginning of Muslim history, even if ISIS today is something completely different. To some it seems to represent Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Islam as a whole, even if beyond the curtain it is the opposite.
I am convinced that introducing an interesting historical analysis of the Khariji women and their military, political and social involvement in early Islam will make these scholars reconsider their position. It will help them understand that ISIS is an absolutely post-modern, pseudo-political, and anti-religious construction. It is positioned on the new-imperialist chess board the Middle East has become since 1948. On the same basis, Zionist Israel can be defined as an anti-Jewish nation based on apartheid, colonialism, militarism, occupation, and linked with neo-colonialist actors in the Western nations.
If we look at ISIS closer we realize Turkish President R.T. Erdogan had a very credible idea: that ISIS is a product of the West’s desire to perpetuate war and conflicts in the Middle East because borders keep people apart — borders engraved in the heads of Muslims since the Ottoman Empire came to an end almost 100 years ago. Now we see ISIS from another angle: part of a culture of war and hatred perpetuated by the USA, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to promote chaos among Muslim cultures, groups, and colonialistically fabricated nations. There is nothing easier than leaving all your enemies fighting one another.
One of those fabricated nations is Saudi Arabia, which re-invented Islam as a restrictive, misogynist and wrong picture of itself, so that the original religion of tolerance and peace became a religion of sectarism and takfir. I also think that this new Saudi Arabian construction of THE ISLAM has not so much to do with Wahhabi Islam as reformism, a movement fighting against any association of something else to God (which according to them is called shirk) and religion of true tawhid at its beginning.
Therefore I do not think that the takfir ideology many people perceive in the ISIS of today’s Iraq and Syria is an old Islamic tradition, but a re-conversion of authentic Islam into an invention of itself. After reading this chapter about how women were involved in politics, military issues, and social life in Khariji Islam from the beginning, I think you will agree with me that there is no connection to ISIS at all.
ISIS seems to be more of a US-invention drawing on connections with the school books of the regime of Ibn Saud in order to manipulate ignorant people to let Israel be exempt from punishment for its repeated war crimes, and to help Bashar Assad maintain his power in Syria. Another aim of ISIS and this war is to keep the colonial borders and to keep Muslim peoples split and separated, in order to encourage them to keep to fighting one another.
I am convinced that ISIS is so anti-Islamic that nobody in an authentic Muslim environment could ever have created it. But at the same time, ISIS is a big Sunni chess board on which ignorant people think to play the perfect Sunni Muslim of 2014. But looking beyond the curtain is not easy for anybody at the moment, especially if he or she is in the middle of oil fields everyone wants to conquer or in the middle of empty land where so many innocent civilians have died and which now all want to control.
Again, war is always based in cold materialism and imperialistic occupation more than religious ideology or any ideological justification of violence. However, the construction of a wrong Islam according to what the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn would call “invention of tradition” helps to keep people fighting and using Western weapons to empty a land which is so rich of oil fields. Remember Machiavelli said that to keep and conquer power you have to go beyond ethics and morality, but at the same time the ones fighting for you must be kept in the wrong belief that they will die for God.
The most significant social characteristics: The status of Khariji women
Khariji Islam was shaped in political conditions that forced its representatives to oppose prevailing opinions. This situation forced them to employ all their capabilities to support their party during their rivalry with ruling powers and to help their ongoing efforts to achieve their military and cultural targets. The group would never have been fully effective unless it adopted social values that minimized the weakness and passivity suffered by socially marginalized groups at this time.
In this context, we care for women. Indeed, the unstable state of affairs the group suffered from, as well as the type of critical principles it adopted in all its choices, made woman’s uniqueness, a very effective uniqueness at both a practical and intellectual level, one of the most significant anthropological characteristics for Khariji Islam.
In this section, we will try to examine this characteristic through the historical stages of the group in the east and west (i.e. northern Africa). Among them, we will chose issues relating to women’s military participation in upheavals and wars, through the stages of Khariji conflict with the Umayyad and the Abbasid authorities in the East. We will choose issues relating to their scientific participation and the excellence of their social status, through the periods of stability this movement enjoyed in northern Africa, in times of publicity or secrecy.
Continual military upheaval was the dominant characteristic of the Khariji movement in Eastern regions of the Islamic Empire during the period of the Umayyad (661-750) and the subsequent Abbasid Caliphates (750-1258). Therefore, the practical effectiveness of social group characteristics was measured on the basis of their participation in these military movements. And the Khariji women played an important rule in military life of the sect. In the particular subgroup called Ash-Shabibiyah (according to Shabib bin Yazid Ash-Shaybani) even theoretically considered the possibility of giving imamate (the highest leadership position) to one of their women.
As for their military role, the history books recorded different forms of women’s participation, starting from the rows of fighters under the leadership of specific commanders reaching to actual participation in leadership. Hereinafter, we will mention examples indicating the significance of this participation.
Khariji movements became strong in the era of Ziad bin Abih (i.e. Ziad son of his father), because of his injustice and extreme punishments against the members of the movement, whether fighters or peaceful individuals.
This is what he did with a woman (a Mujtahid woman of Kharijits) called Al-Baljaa, according to Al-Mubrd, because she opposed his unjust policy: He cut her hands and legs threw her in the market place. Therefore, the reaction of the Khariji people became stronger because of this policy. Indeed, women had a significant role in that issue, as proven by the morally violent reaction; i.e. putting off the clothes of the killed Khariji women. From then on, women did not participate in fighting the Ziad anymore. Whenever they were called to fight him, they would say, “Unless nude, we would get out to fight him.” Among what was spread among people about killing Khariji women is the saying of Umar bin Abu Rabiah:
|قتل حسناء غادة عطبول||إن من أعظم الكبائر عندي|
|إن لله درها من قتيل||قُتلَت باطلاً على غير ذنب|
|وعلى المحصنات جر الذيول||كُتِبَ القتل والقتال علينا|
English translation of this poetry:
Among the gravest sins in my opinion / Is to kill a pretty nice woman
She gets killed unjustly for no sin / What a kind of murdered person
Indeed, killing and fighting is ours / While the chaste women should draw the tails of their dresses
The Sunni speech devoted these conservative meanings to housewives by circulating some rulings and Fatawa that were exempt women from fighting. These include “Women are not obliged to fight” and “She should stay where women stay.”
The Azraqi military movements, another subgroup of the Khariji sect, were known for their strength and epic incidents. In addition, women had a role whose significance can be understood from various references, which mention that bin Al-Azraq was inclined to violence in dealing with his opponents based on the whims and orders of his wife.
What is significant in this is not only that it was possible; rather it is significant because it attests to the fame of Khariji women in general concerning their effectiveness compared to women of other groups, morally and in practical terms. Among the strangest rules in the Azraqi jurisprudence (attributed to Nafi bin Al-Azraq) there is the female obligation of performing prayer and fasting also during menstruation, while all other Muslim schools of jurisprudence prohibit it because menstruation makes women impure.
Also on the level of military moves, Khariji women, in opposition to women of other Muslim groups and schools, used to participate in the rows of soldiers, whether they were old or young. A fighter woman, i.e. Um Hakim, became a symbol of courage. A narrator said, “She was one of the most courageous, beautiful and faithful persons. Many of her people proposed to her, but she refused. Then, I was told by someone who met her that she used to attack people while poetizing:
|وقد مللت دهنه وغسله||أحمل رأسًا قد سئمت حمله|
|ألا فتى يحمل عني ثقله|
I am bearing a head I am bored of bearing it / And I got bored of washing and putting oil on it
Is not there a young man (able to) carry its weight instead of me?
“They were ready to give their fathers and mothers as ransom for her.” The narrator added, “I had never seen anyone like her before or after her.”
The participation of Azraqi women became one of the best known characteristics of Azraqi people. For example, a commander used to urge his soldiers to break the siege, which Azraqi people made around them, by reminding them that if they continued to be lazy, the person among them will not be able to defend himself from an Azraqi woman, not to mention men.
Women were also present in the moves of Kharijits led by Shabib. Indeed, the most prominent presence mentioned by historians was of his wife, Ghazala. She had great courage and chivalry. Moreover, history books recorded the incident of challenging Al-Hajaj, when she vowed to pray in Kufa mosque while this was under his authority, and then fulfilled her vow. She delivered a speech on the pulpit of the Kufa mosque, after it was dominated by Shabib. Then, she took leadership after Shabib was murdered. Furthermore, some references state that Al-Hajaj ran away from Ghazala during a battle; therefore, a poet reproached him by saying:
|فتخاء تنفر من صفير الصافر||أسدٌ علي وفي الحروب نعامةٌ|
|بل كان قلبك في جناحي طائر||هلا برزت إلى غزالة في الوغى|
You look like a lion when you meet me while you are like an ostrich in war / You flee when you hear the voice of declaring war
Did you meet Ghazala in the battle? / No, your heart was in wings of a bird.
Women participated in the movements of As-Sufairyah that were led by Ad-Dahhak. For example, in a battle, almost the same number of men and women Khariji fighters were killed (fourteen knights and thirteen women). Moreover, the Umayyad commander, Mansour bin Jamhour, was defeated by a veiled knight, who was discovered to be a woman, Um Anbar. Later, after he joined the Kharijits, he declared that he admired her greatly.
Al- Mubrd mentioned an incident showing that the presence of Khariji women in a fight caused serious embarrassment to the fighters of the Umayyad army. He talked about swordplay between an Umayyad commander and a Khariji knight later discovered to be a woman:
The other one attacked him and embraced him till they both fell on the ground.
Then Qais Al-Khashni shouted, ‘Kill us both.’
The horses of both sides approached and separated them. Thus, they discovered that the knight was a woman. Qais stood up feeling embarrassed.
Yazid said, ‘As for you, you encountered her in duel thinking that she was a man.’
However, he replied, ‘What if I was killed, would not people say that a woman killed me?’
Abadi women participated also in the large military operations the Abadiis engaged in during the last days of the Umayyad state, during the taking of southern Arabia and the Hejaz area. Maryam, the wife of Abu Hamza the commander used to fight on his side against the Umayyad armies. Then, she was martyred with him in the same battle in the outskirt of Mecca. The poetry dedicated to her includes:
|من سال عن اسمي فاسمي مريم||أنا الجعيداء بنت الأعلم|
|بعت سواري بسيف مخذّم|
I am the pretty woman and the daughter of the greatest scholar / For who would like to ask my name, it is Maryam
I sold my bracelet for a sharp sword
Whether attributing these words to her is right or not, their meanings are significant from the aspect of showing the kind of affairs attracting the Khariji women in the period. They are affairs summarized under the concept of “sword” away from the affairs of the housewife, summarized in the word “bracelet.”
Moreover, Abadi jurisprudence accepts the possibility of women’s participation in the stage of “buy”; i.e. the stage based on the military operations for establishing Dawah. The condition of buy is to have a number of Kharijits of forty. They can complete the number by adding one woman.
Furthermore, when the Kharijits rebelled against Ar-Rashid in the peninsula, their rows included men and women. Al-Walid bin Turaif, and then his sister Layla, after his murder, led this movement.
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