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An Early Kharijite Critique of the Azariqa: Najda ibn Amir’s Letter to Ibn al-Azraq

The following is an important, yet little known, document. It is one of the earliest Kharijite critiques of the radical movement of the Azariqa. It was written by Najda ibn ‘Āmir (d. 692), the founder of the Najdiyya sect, to Nāfi‘ ibn al-Azraq (d. 696). It was written as early as 690 (although it only survives in a late ninth-century collection) and shows that the mass violence and intolerance of the Azariqa was strongly opposed by other Kharijites. Although the critique of ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ibāḍ (d. 705), the eponymous founder of the Ibāḍīyya, is well known, that of other Kharijite sects has received less attention. Hopefully this provides a more nuanced perspective of the early Kharijites, who have too often been conflated with the Azariqa (which represented only a single sect out of two dozen). For those unfamiliar, Ibn al-Azraq had declared all other Muslims who did not follow him to be disbelievers and believed that it was permissible to murder them and their children. They also believed that it was obligatory for them to completely dissociate themselves from the Muslim community and wage war against it. It was in light of these radical position that he was critiqued in the following letter:

“My knowledge of you [Ibn al-Azraq] is such that you were a merciful father to the orphan, a kind brother to the weak. Nobody could ever reproach you, in anyway, with respect to your commitment to God’s [teachings]; [as attested in the way you] forbade lending any form of assistance to an oppressor. That’s the model [I’ve known] you and your companions to follow. Do you not recall what you used to say: “If I didn’t know that the reward of the just Imam is equivalent to that received by all his flock, I would not have taken it upon myself to serve as the Imam of even two Muslim men [let alone more].”When you had your soul purchased in the service of your Lord, you sought to please Him, pursuing the true path at its core (aṣabta mina alḥaqqi faṣṣahu); and in the process, endured all the severity this entailed (rakibta murrahu). That’s when Satan devoted his energy exclusively to you, for no one, more than you and your companions, had ever exerted such a burden on Satan. He thus sought to win your affection and lure and beguile you to his ways, and that he did. So you strayed away from the right path (ghawayta), and declared those whom God excused in His Book for staying at home to be unbelievers, on account of their weakness. God said—and His Word is the Truth and His Promise is unconditional: “In those who are weak, or are afflicted with sickness, or in those who find not wherewith to contribute to the war, it shall be no crime if they stay at home; provided they behave themselves faithfully towards God and his apostle”

Then you deemed it lawful to kill the children [of those who disagreed with you] when the Messenger of God forbade it, and God said to that effect that “no burdened soul shall bear the burden of another” (Q., VII 164). He also spoke well about those who stayed at home, notwithstanding that he favored those who struggled/ fought over them. He thus considered them to be believers, and favored the mujāhidīn over them, [only] on account of their work [i.e., fighting]. You also deemed it lawful not to render a trust (amāna) to its owners, if they did not espouse your beliefs, when God commands that trusts are to be rendered to their rightful owners. So fear God and reflect on yourself, and fear the day “whereon a father shall not requite something for his son, neither shall a son requite something for his father” (Q., XXXI 33). God, may His name be exalted, is on the watch (bialmirṣād), His judgment is justice, His word is final (faṣl). With peace.”

[al-Mubarrad Muḥammad ibn Yazīd, al-Kāmil (Cairo, 1956), pp. 286–287]