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The Khawārej

A glace at the political and social history of Iran clearly reveals that it was never a suitable haven for the various Khawārej sects. However, occasionally during the early Hijrah centuries as a retaliation towards the pan-Arabic policies of the Umayyads, and at times, as a move for gaining independence from the rule of the central caliphate, both, during the reign of the Umayyads as well as the Abbasids, the call of the Khawārej did receive some response in some parts of Iran for a limited period of time. Some of the general slogans voiced by the Khawārej sects like the non-conditionality of being Arab in order to qualify for imamate and caliphate as well as their opposition towards the existing social classes encouraged the mawālis an some other socially deprived people to join the Khawārej groups with a view to being able to fight for an equality of rights with the Arabs. The various Khawārej sects that were active in Iran were as follows:

The Azariqah: The presence of this sect dates back to the year 64 AH/684 AD when its founder, Nāfe’ bin Azraq, left Basrah for Khuzestān – which had earlier served as a haven for the Khawārej rebels – after declaring his radical and extremist stance and established a camp for himself in the Ahvāz region. Ibn Māhuz, the immediate successor to Nāfe’, spread his rule over the entire Khuzestān region and to some parts of Fārs and managed to set up a financial system for the Arzāqi rule. Zobeir bin Ali, Ibn Mahz’s successor, was however compelled to retreat to the Arjān, Rāmhormoz, and Estakhr regions (near Shirāz) in the year 66 AH686 AD and had to confine his rule to the Fārs region. While Zobeir’s military efforts for spreading his rule and dominion over Rey and Esfahān were met with defeats, his successor, Qatri bin Fajā’ah spread his rule to as far as Kermān and managed to further organize the financial system, thereby strengthening the foundations of his rule. He then chose Ardeshir Khoreh as the capital of his government and in the year 69 AH minted a coin in his own name in the Pahlavi language and script in Fārs and Kermān. Eventually, internal conflicts in the leadership of the Azariqah paved the path for their downfall. Qatri was deposed from the leadership and was finally killed in a war after years of wandering in Tabarestān and Qumas. His successor, Abd Rabbah Kabir, too, was severely defeated in a war with the army of “Mohlab”, in this way, bringing the political presence of the Azariqah in Iran to an end.

While analyzing the status of the Azariqah in the social history of Iran, even though most scholars emphasize upon the important role of the mawālis in the Azariqah camp, they stress upon the claim that the Iranian element had never been absorbed in the Arab element and that this phenomenon was particularly evident towards the concluding years of the leadership of Azraqi. The overthrow of Qatri and the offering of allegiance to Abd Rabbah were clear evidences of a political move on the part of the mawālis who aimed at eliminating the Arab leadership of the movement that was now in absolute minority.


The Ajaridah: The history of this Khawārej sect began in Iran when Atiyeh bin Aswad separated from his ally, Najdeh bin Āmer, and left Yamāmeh for Iran and began inviting people to his own movement in Sistān and Kermān while establishing an independent rule in that region and minting a coin in his own name. According to some scholars, Aswad had collected some followers in regions like Sajestān, Kermān, Qahestān, and even Khorāsān. The Ajaridah derived their name from a disciple of Atiyeh, called “Abd al-Karim Ajrad”, who was instrumental in organizing the Khawārej of east Iran at a time when the influence of the central rule had weakened in Iran to a considerable extent.

In the third quarter of the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD Hosayn bin Raqād initiated an uprising in Sajestān, marking the beginning of a political movement that was continued by his disciple Hamzeh bin Āzarak. He began his rebellion in the year 179 AH/795 AD, during the reign of Hārun al-Rashid, the Abbasid Caliph, after organizing his followers into an army and succeeding in gaining control over Sajestān and its surrounding regions like Makrān, Kermān, Qahestān, and even Khorāsān, where he ruled until the reign of Ma’mun. He had a relatively well-organized government and succeeded in defeating the Abbasid armies in numerous battles. People like Abu Yahyā Yusef bin Bashār Qāzi and Hayuyeh bin Mo’bad were the commanders of his army while Amro bin Sā’ed was the commander of his guards. A number of poets like Talheh bin Fahad and Abu al-Jolandi (who was in all probability from Oman) served in his court, thereby indicating towards the stability and power of his rule.

During the final quarter of the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD a change in Hamzeh’s attitude resulted in widespread suspicion about his government as a result of which the Ajaridah rule weakened to a great extent marking the beginning of their downfall. On the other hand, the most important outcome of this negative public opinion was the emergence of the Motawwa’eh who were the arch-rivals of the Ajaridah rule. Ma’mun officially occupied the caliphate in 198 AH/814 AD and in the year 205 AH/820 AD appointed Tāher Zu Al-Yaminayn as the governor of Khorsān, handing over to him, the responsibility of eradicating the Motawwa’eh who had gained a lot of power in east Iran under the leadership of Abd al-Rahmān Neishāburi and who now posed a real threat to the Abbasid rule. Even though when Hamzeh was killed he came to be succeeded by a person called Ebrāhim Nasr Tamimi, the Ajaridah lost their power and authority in east Iran even before the end of the 2nd Century. From the early 3rd Century AH/9th Century AD the people of east Iran began their movements for gaining independence from Baghdad’s central rule, but unlike their earlier policies, and mainly owing to their bitter experiences in the past two centuries they refrained from following the path of the Khawārej.

About the same time as the emergence of the Tāherids (the first independent Iranian rule since the advent of Islam) the Ajaridah rule in Khorāsān had completely deteriorated. It, however, apparently continued to have its followers until the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD. A person called “Derham bin Nasr” took the reins of the leadership of the Motawwa’eh in his hands in Sajestān, and after him, Ya’ghub Layth Saffāri took over and managed to severely suppress the Ajaridah. Soon after, Ya’ghub Layth founded an independent rule in Sajestān that came to be known as the rule of the Saffārids, which was well-known for its anti Khawārej inclinations. The Samanids and the Ghaznavids who proved to be more powerful than the Saffārids suppressed the Khawārej of east Iran more than ever before and to such an extent that as per historical records only sporadic groups of that sect managed to survive in east Iran during the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD.

Even though the surviving Khawārej continued with their limited presence in east Iran they did not play any significant role in the political history of Iran. However, the Khawārej of Sistān continued to make their presence felt and did not by any means conceal their opposition to the central rule and, in fact, even flaunted some of their religious and ethical principles. Moreover, they had even distinguished themselves from the rest of the people in respect to their lifestyles


* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.594 – 595

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