Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam

By Thomas Sizgorich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
“Do You Not Fear God?” The Khāwarij
in Early Islamic Society

SOMETIME IN THE year 37/657–58, a group of Muslim pietists encountered the son of one of the companions of the Prophet on a road leading from the city of Baṣra in Iraq. They asked the man, whose name was ʿAbd Allāh b. Khabbāb, what he thought of the Prophet’s son-in-law, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661). He replied that ʿAlī was “Commander of the Faithful and Imām of the Muslims.” To this he added that his father had passed on to him something Muḥammad had said during his time on earth. The Prophet had predicted, he said, that a great upheaval (fitna) would arise among the people sometime in the future, during which the hearts of men would die, and the faithful would become unbelievers and unbelievers would be taken as the faithful.1 Another version of this story reports that the son of Muḥammad’s companion recalled that his father told him that the Prophet predicted that “there will be an upheaval (fitna) [in which] the shirker will be better than the upright one, and the slanderer will be better than the striving one.” When matters came to this, his father had advised him, “be ʿAbd Allāh the killed one rather than ʿAbd Allāh the killer [or ‘a servant of God who is killed rather than a servant of God who kills’].”2

After Ibn Khabbāb delivered the ḥadīth passed down to him by his father, al-Balādhurī tells us, he and his pregnant umm walad (literally his “baby’s mama,” that is, a slave who had become pregnant with her master’s child) were seized and bound by the pietists they had encountered on the road, men who believed that they alone preserved among them the one true community

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