The only Khariji sect to survive into the modern period, in Oman and North Africa, the Ibadis (Ibadiyya) first emerged as a distinct sectarian group in the late Umayyad Basra. At that time, the broader Khariji movement was split between those favoring immediate separation from other Muslims (hijra) and open hostilities against the state and those looking for at least a tactical accommodation with the political authorities until the time was ripe for open rebellion. What would come to be called the Ibadi sect emerged from the latter group. Having begun to systematize their principles and quietly organize themselves in the early eighth century, they sent out teams of missionaries known as “bearers of knowledge” to propagate Ibadi teachings and organize rebellions in distant regions. By the end of the Umayyad period, they could appeal to disaffected groups in several provinces— in particular, Berber tribesmen in North Africa and Arab tribesmen in the Arabian Peninsula, more specifically Oman and South Arabia. Imamates were established in both areas, beginning with the short- lived state founded in the Hadhramawt region during the 740s by the Ibadi rebel known as Talib al- Haqq, who for a short time also extended his control to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In Oman and the Hadhramawt, there were imamates on and off over the course of several centuries, a pattern that lasted (in highland Oman, at least) into the 1950s. In North Africa, a dynasty of imams (the Rustamids) held sway from Tahert (central Algeria) between 778 and 909, when they were overthrown by the Fatimids.
This history is reflected in Ibadi political thought. The literature of the sect describes several different ideal types of imamates clearly intended to rationalize different stages in its history and changing political fortunes. Unlike the extremist Kharijis, the Ibadis distinguished between a state of secrecy (kitmān), when weakness forced the true believers to live quietly under the rule of their oppressors, as in Basra, and the open proclamation of an imamate (ẓuhūr), such as what occured in North Africa and Oman. The state of secrecy could be modified in various ways, including by the rebellion of at least 40 men who decide to fight to the death in order to establish proper Muslim (Ibadi) rule, even absent realistic hope of proclaiming an effective imamate. This last category, the activist or heroic imamate known as shirā’ (selling oneself to God), appears to reflect an effort by the later Ibadis to maintain an association with venerated Khariji martyrs (shurāt) from the earliest days; at the same time, restrictions such as the 40- man requirement (modeled on the rebellion of the early Khariji figure Abu Bilal Mirdas b. Udayya [d. ca. 680]) were clearly intended to put limits around militant activity. Although the Ibadis grew increasingly uncomfortable with the label “Khariji” (ultimately reserving it in their own literature for the extremists while adopting for themselves labels such as “the people of rectitude”), their literary heritage shows that they shared the basic Khariji tenets. Merit (understood as piety and knowledge) rather than descent was deemed to be the principal qualification for the imamate (though the imamate in North Africa was dynastic and the imams in ninth- century Oman were drawn exclusively from one tribal grouping). The legitimacy of the first two caliphs is accepted in Ibadi thought, but both ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan and ‘Ali b. Abi Talib are regarded as having been rightfully deposed after proving themselves unworthy of the office. Ordinary Muslims are deemed to be infidels from whom dissociation (barā’a) is required. What distinguished the Ibadis from their now extinct extremist brethren was a willingness to regard non- Khariji Muslims as infidels of a special, limited sort: in the earliest terminology, they were “hypocrites” (munāfiqūn) such as those in the Prophet’s own day; later, they were “those ungrateful for God’s blessings” (kuffār ni’ma). Because such people were not classed as outright idolaters, practical coexistence with them was deemed possible even while a posture of internal or spiritual dissociation was maintained. Intermarriage and mutual inheritance were permissible; emigration (hijra)— signifying a complete rupture with non- Khariji Muslims— was not. Rebellion itself was permitted when circumstances allowed, but in no way was it to involve the permanent and devastating break with the ordinary Muslims demanded by the extremists. Accordingly, indiscriminate killing of such people (isti’rāḍ) was out of the question, nor could they be enslaved or their property taken as booty.
Unlike Shi’is, the Ibadis do not seem to have adjusted their doctrines for political use in the modern world, and circumstances have not compelled Ibadi thinkers to produce a distinctive vision of a modern Ibadi state. At the same time, Ibadi thought has never been immune to broader currents within the Muslim world, including 20th- century Salafism.
See also heresiography; Kharijis; theology
Patricia Crone, God’s Rule: Government and Islam, 2004; Patricia Crone and F. W. Zimmerman, The Epistle of Sālim ibn Dhakwan, 2001; ‘Amr K. Ennami, Studies in Ibāḍism, 1972; Adam Gaiser, Muslims, Scholars, Soldiers: The Origin and Elaboration of the Ibādī Imāmate