Nāṣir b. Sulaymān b. Saʻīd al-Sābiʻī, Al-Khawārij wa-l-ḥaqīqa al-ghā’iba, Mascate, al-Maktaba al-Jīl al-waʻīd, 1420/1999

Disguised under a rather romanesque name, this is a serious study. The author is an investigator in the Sulṭān Qabūs University in Oman and he provides us with a complete study on the ḥadīths produced on Khārijism. As a matter of fact, any reader of Ṭabarī or the classical Sunnī heresiography must have met at least one of those ḥadīth predicting the emergence of a deviant form of Islam clearly identified with Khārijism. The most famous one is predicting that « There will be (after me) a group that will despise your prayer with their own prayer, your fasting with their own fasting, your teachings with their own teachings. They will recite the Qur’ān but it will not go beyond their throats. They will pass through the religion as an arrow passes through its target ». Yet, the author identifies seven other hadīth  where the Khawārij are vigourously damned under the name of ahl Nahrawān, al-māriqūn or the « dogs of hell » (kilāb al-nār). These hadīth are still used by some preachers to denounce whoever they identify as the present-day « Khawārij » and they have flourished throughout Islamic history as a powerful instrument of exclusion (takfīr). The great merit of the author is to show that these hadīth were completely fabricated, a conclusion that sounds usual for any Western scholar but that will surely contribute to fight some prejudices in the Islamic sphere. The fact that this study has been  made by an Omani Ibāḍī investigator is not surprising, because this minority is precisely still accused of belonging to « Khārijism » by some fanatical preachers. Hence a huge part of the Ibāḍī own production has been dedicated to the following assertion : « The Ibāḍis are not khawārij (al-Ibāḍiyya laysū khawārij) ».

 Of course, the question is not if Khārijism has inheritors or not (a polemical question and a perfect exemple of how the history of the origins can be instrumentalized), but how this heresiographical category was fabricated from the beginning to exclude one of the most poweful nebula of opponents to the Caliphal Umayyad state, and to forge what would become the self-proclaimed « Sunnī » orthodoxy. In this way, deconstructing the fantasmatic image of khārijism is a very stimulating task.

 An interesting aspect of this book is that the author is making this deconstruction not with the tools of Western historical criticism, but with the very traditional Islamic method of hadith criticism. The first part of the book, conceived as a historical presentation of what was the Khāriji movement in the first centuries of Islam, is nothing more than another summary of this well-studied topic. But any investigator will be interested by the second part, in which the author mentions all the textual variants (riwāyāt) and isnād variants existing for each of the eight hadīth he has identified. The classical method of takhrīj is – not surprisingly but very efficiously – completed by the analysis of the contradictory asānid (chains of transmission), before focusing on the content itself (matn).

We have then a good reference for studying these traditions, hopefully a first step before reconsidering the « Khāriji question » at all.

 I should also mention that this book is easy to buy using Arabicbookshop or any good online Arabic bookseller.

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