The Kharijite sect of early Islam arose out of the conflict between ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (r. 656-61) and Moʿāwiya b. Abi Sufyān (r. 661-80), the fourth and the fifth caliph respectively, when their opposing armies met at Ṣeffin in 657. An intransigent element in ʿAli’s forces withdrew their allegiance (Ar. ḵaraja to leave) when he agreed to arbitration with the leader of the Omayyad family. They formed the theological and political movement of the Kharijites (Ar. ḵawārej dissenters), contending that in such situations, judgment (taḥkim) belonged to God alone.

Driven out of their original stronghold among the Arab tribesmen of lower Iraq, the most uncompromising groups of the Kharijites withdrew into southwestern Persia under the leadership of Nāfeʿ b. Azraq (d. 685). His followers came to form the most fanatical of the sub-sects of the movement, the Azāreqa. From bases in Ahvāz, they threatened Basra but also pushed further eastwards into Fārs and Kerman and were active as far as Isfahan and Ray (Balāḏori, p. 118). The Zobayrid governor of Basra, ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥāreṯ Hāšemi, sent an army against Nāfeʿ, and he was killed at Dulāb in Ahvāz in 685 (Yāqut, II, p. 485). Nāfeʿ’s successor as leader (in their parlance, “caliph”) was Qaṭari b. Fojāʾa (d. ca. 697-98), who held out in Fārs and the mountainous regions of Kerman against Omayyad forces for a considerable period. He issued his own coins with Arabic and Pahlavi legends (Walker, pp. 112-13), using his self-assumed title of Amir al-moʾmenin at places such as Ardašir-Ḵorra, Bišāpur, and Dārābgerd (see DĀRĀB). An army led by Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra (d. 702 or 703) pursued Qaṭari into Ṭabarestān and killed him there between 696 and 698, while the remnants of his followers were annihilated at Qumes (Ṭabari, II, pp. 1003-07, 1018-21, tr. XXII, pp. 149-54, 162-65; Sadighi, pp. 21-22; Spuler, pp. 167-69).

In the latter part of Omayyad rule, the epicenter of Kharijite activity was in Upper Mesopotamia, i.e. northern Iraq and the Jazira, though Kharijite partisans persisted in the mountainous regions of southern Persia. At the time of the Abbasid Revolution in 747 and 748, a policy of pure opportunism gave support to the insurgent Abbasids (see ʿABBASID CALIPHATE) against the Omayyad forces retreating westwards. From Kerman, the Kharijites were particularly successful in establishing a presence in Sistān, more in the rural areas than in Zarang, the capital of the caliphal governors, although this does not necessarily imply a special appeal to local unrest or the existence of any other social factors. Kharijite groups formed at this time essentially an ethnically Arab, spiritually aristocratic movement. They are mentioned as active in Sistān among Arab settlers from the tribes of Bakr b. Wāʾel during the latter part of the governorship of Naṣr b. Sayyār (d. 748) in Khorasan (Sadighi, pp. 39-40; Bosworth, 1968a, p. 75). After his leader Żaḥḥāk b. Qays Šaybāni had died in battle, the Kharijite chief Šaybān b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Yaškori fled from Iraq and the Jazira to Sistān, and tried to raise support in Zarang before he in turn was killed (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, p. 133, tr. pp. 105-106; Bosworth, 1968a, p. 76).

The Kharijites had hated the Omayyads as their opponents and pursuers, but now came to hate the Abbasids hardly less. Kharijite groups continued to be important in the religious and political situation of Kerman, Sistān, and the eastern fringes of Khorasan such as Bādḡis and Quhestān, remote as these were from the center of caliphal authority in Baghdad. Whereas earlier Kharijites had essentially constituted an Arab movement, the stage was now set for a great Kharijite outbreak in the east, which emerged in 795 and 796, extended over thirty years, and was headed by an Iranian: Ḥamza b. Āḏarak (d. 828) came from the region of Roḵḵaj in what is now southeastern Afghanistan, while his partisans apparently stemmed from the branch of the Kharijites known as the ʿAjāreda, and came to form their own subgroup of the Ḥamziya. Between 797 and 798, Ḥamza’s adherents proclaimed him Amir al-moʾmenin. He combated Kharijite rivals in Kerman and Sistān, and his attacks on the towns of Khorasan became so serious that the caliph Hārun-al-Rašid (r. 786-809) in 808 resolved to march against him in person. But Hārun died in Khorasan in the following year, and the disorder in Iraq and the civil warfare amongst his heirs ensured that Ḥamza was long left undisturbed. According to Tāriḵ-e Sistān (pp. 174-76, tr. pp. 138-40), whose attitude is, however, distinctly favorable to Ḥamza and his cause, one of Maʾmun’s governors, Layṯ b. Fażl, reached something like a modus vivendi with Ḥamza and his partisans in Sistān. Only in 828 did Ḥamza at last die (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 179-80, tr. p. 143; Sadighi, pp. 54-57; Spuler, pp. 169-70; Bosworth, 1968a, pp. 91-104).

This was by no means the end of Kharijite groups on these eastern fringes of the Islamic lands. In Sistān, Kharijites continued to elect war leaders and to cause trouble. Between 852 and 854, they rose under their leader ʿAmmār b. Yāser, and it was not until 865 that the Saffarid Yaʿqub b. Layṯ (r. 861-79) was able to kill him (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, p. 207, tr. pp. 164-65; Bosworth, 1968, pp. 115-16; idem, 1994, pp. 78-79). Other Kharijite groups remained strong in the regions of Herat and Bādḡis. In 873, Yaʿqub solved the problem by incorporating them into his own army as a special contingent (Tāriḵ-e Sistān, pp. 217-18, tr. pp. 172-73; Bosworth, 1968b, pp. 543-44). Its name Jayš al-šorāt (lit. Army of those who sell) reflected that the Kharijites saw themselves as those who, echoing the Qurʾān, sell (Ar. šarā) their souls to God in return for the promise of Paradise.

After this time, militant Kharijite groups seem to have declined, though pockets of peaceful adherents appear to have survived. The geographer Moqaddasi (fl. 960-90) mentioned around 985 that the Karuḵ in Bādḡis were still predominantly made up of Kharijites (p. 323). His unknown contemporary (Ḥudūd, p. 91) described the inhabitants of Gardiz in eastern Afghanistan as Kharijites, and its line of local amirs was possibly also Kharijite (Bosworth, 1968a, p. 104). Yāqut (1179-1229) relied on Eṣṭaḵri (d. after 952) when he stated that the Kharijites of Sistān were still a distinct group and distinguishable from the mass of orthodox Muslims by their piety, their special dress (unfortunately not specified), and their commercial probity (III, p. 190). These Kharijites were clearly no longer violently activist but instead quietist (cf. Ar. qāʿed, pl. qaʿada seated, which can take on the meaning “to abstain from direct confrontation with opponents”), and after the 10th century they disappear from further mention in the sources (Bosworth, 1994, pp. 79-80).



For earlier Kharijite activities in Persia, the standard chronicles, in addition to the sources cited, were written by Yaʿqubi, Dinavari, and Ebn al-Aṯir.

Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Balāḏori, Anonyme arabische Chronik, Band 11: Vermuthlich das Buch der Verwandtschaft und der Geschichte der Adligen, ed. by W. Ahlwardt, Greifswald, 1883; partial edition of the Ketāb ansāb al-ašrāf.

Ḥudūd al-ʿālam: The Regions of the World, tr. by V. Minorsky, 2nd ed., London, 1970.

Moqaddasi, Aḥsān al-taqāsim fi maʿrifat al-aqālim, ed. by M. J. de Goeje, repr., Leiden, 1967.

Ṭabari, Ketāb taʾriḵ al-rosul wa’l-moluk, ed. by M. J. de Goeje et al., 15 vols., repr., Leiden, 1964; tr. as TheHistory of al-Ṭabarī, ed. by E. Yarshater, vol. I- Albany, N.Y., 1985-2007.

Tāriḵ-e Sistān, ed. by M.-T. Bahār, Tehran, 1935; tr. as The Tārikh-e Sistān, by M. Gold, Rome, 1976.

J. Walker, A Catalogue of the Arab-Sassanian Coins, Catalogue of the Muhammadan Coins in the British Museum 1, London, 1941.

Yāqut b. ʿAbdallāh al-Ḥamawi, Moʿjam al-boldān, 5 vols., Beirut, 1955-57.


M. Bates, “Arab-Sasanian Coins,” EIr., II, pp. 225-29.

C. E. Bosworth, Sīstān under the Arabs: From the Islamic Conquest to the Rise of the Ṣaffārids (30-250/651-864), Rome, 1968a.

Idem, “The Armies of the Ṣaffārids,” BSOAS 31, 1968b, pp. 543-44.

Idem, The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz (247/861 to 949/1542-3), Costa Mesa, Calif., 1994.

G. Levi della Vida, “Khāridjites,” EI², IV, pp. 1074-77.

R. Rubinacci, “ʿAdjārida,” EI², I, p. 207.

Gh.-H. Sadighi, Les mouvements religieux iraniens au IIᵉ et au IIIᵉ siècle de l’hégire, Paris, 1938.

B. Spuler, Iran in frühislamischer Zeit: Politik, Kultur, Verwaltung und öffentliches Leben zwischen der arabischen und der seldschukischen Eroberung, 633 bis 1055, Wiesbaden, 1952.

July 20, 2009

(C. Edmund Bosworth)

Originally Published: July 20, 2009

Last Updated: July 20, 2009