Dr. phil. Milena Rampoldi about Khariji Women on MintPressNews

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Dr. phil. Milena Rampoldi
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Great Women In Muslim History: The Women of Khariji Islam

An old worn illustration of armies fighting on horseback.

depiction of the Battle of Siffin, part of the first Islamic Civil War
and the era that gave birth to the Khairiji movement. (Wikimedia)

In this article I would like to present a small chapter of the book
written by the Tunisian writer Nadjia al-Wazami Bu ‘Adjila, who teaches
at the University of Tunis, entitled “al-Islam al-Khariji” in English

Khariji Islam and Islamic State
For months I had not even dared to write about the small sect of the
Kharijites because many people in Islamic circles mention the Khariji
sect as the anticipator of the “takfir” ideology perpetuated by ISIS
today. They would like to link ISIS to this small group at the beginning
of Muslim history, even if ISIS today is something completely
different. To some it seems to represent Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Islam as
a whole, even if beyond the curtain it is the opposite.
I am convinced that introducing an interesting historical analysis of
the Khariji women and their military, political and social involvement
in early Islam will make these scholars reconsider their position. It
will help them understand that ISIS is an absolutely post-modern,
pseudo-political, and anti-religious construction. It is positioned on
the new-imperialist chess board the Middle East has become since 1948.
On the same basis, Zionist Israel can be defined as an anti-Jewish
nation based on apartheid, colonialism, militarism, occupation, and
linked with neo-colonialist actors in the Western nations.
If we look at ISIS closer we realize Turkish President R.T. Erdogan
had a very credible idea: that ISIS is a product of the West’s desire to
perpetuate war and conflicts in the Middle East because borders keep
people apart — borders engraved in the heads of Muslims since the
Ottoman Empire came to an end almost 100 years ago. Now we see ISIS from
another angle: part of a culture of war and hatred perpetuated by the
USA, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to promote chaos among Muslim cultures,
groups, and colonialistically fabricated nations. There is nothing
easier than leaving all your enemies fighting one another.
One of those fabricated nations is Saudi Arabia, which re-invented
Islam as a restrictive, misogynist and wrong picture of itself, so that
the original religion of tolerance and peace became a religion of
sectarism and takfir. I also think that this new Saudi Arabian
construction of THE ISLAM has not so much to do with Wahhabi Islam as
reformism, a movement fighting against any association of something else
to God (which according to them is called shirk) and religion of true tawhid at its beginning.
Therefore I do not think that the takfir ideology many people
perceive in the ISIS of today’s Iraq and Syria is an old Islamic
tradition, but a re-conversion of authentic Islam into an invention of
itself. After reading this chapter about how women were involved in
politics, military issues, and social life in Khariji Islam from the
beginning, I think you will agree with me that there is no connection to
ISIS at all.
ISIS seems to be more of a US-invention drawing on connections with
the school books of the regime of Ibn Saud in order to manipulate
ignorant people to let Israel be exempt from punishment for its repeated
war crimes, and to help Bashar Assad maintain his power in Syria.
Another aim of ISIS and this war is to keep the colonial borders and to
keep Muslim peoples split and separated, in order to encourage them to
keep to fighting one another.
I am convinced that ISIS is so anti-Islamic that nobody in an
authentic Muslim environment could ever have created it. But at the same
time, ISIS is a big Sunni chess board on which ignorant people think to
play the perfect Sunni Muslim of 2014. But looking beyond the curtain
is not easy for anybody at the moment, especially if he or she is in the
middle of oil fields everyone wants to conquer or in the middle of
empty land where so many innocent civilians have died and which now all
want to control.
Again, war is always based in cold materialism and imperialistic
occupation more than religious ideology or any ideological justification
of violence. However, the construction of a wrong Islam according to
what the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn would call “invention
of tradition” helps to keep people fighting and using Western weapons to
empty a land which is so rich of oil fields. Remember Machiavelli said
that to keep and conquer power you have to go beyond ethics and
morality, but at the same time the ones fighting for you must be kept in
the wrong belief that they will die for God.

The most significant social characteristics: The status of Khariji women
Khariji Islam was shaped in political conditions that forced its
representatives to oppose prevailing opinions. This situation forced
them to employ all their capabilities to support their party during
their rivalry with ruling powers and to help their ongoing efforts to
achieve their military and cultural targets. The group would never have
been fully effective unless it adopted social values that minimized the
weakness and passivity suffered by socially marginalized groups at this
In this context, we care for women. Indeed, the unstable state of
affairs the group suffered from, as well as the type of critical
principles it adopted in all its choices, made woman’s uniqueness, a
very effective uniqueness at both a practical and intellectual level,
one of the most significant anthropological characteristics for Khariji
In this section, we will try to examine this characteristic through
the historical stages of the group in the east and west (i.e. northern
Africa). Among them, we will chose issues relating to women’s military
participation in upheavals and wars, through the stages of Khariji
conflict with the Umayyad and the Abbasid authorities in the East. We
will choose issues relating to their scientific participation and the
excellence of their social status, through the periods of stability this
movement enjoyed in northern Africa, in times of publicity or secrecy.
Continual military upheaval was the dominant characteristic of the
Khariji movement in Eastern regions of the Islamic Empire during the
period of the Umayyad (661-750) and the subsequent Abbasid Caliphates
(750-1258). Therefore, the practical effectiveness of social group
characteristics was measured on the basis of their participation in
these military movements. And the Khariji women played an important rule
in military life of the sect. In the particular subgroup called
Ash-Shabibiyah (according to Shabib bin Yazid Ash-Shaybani) even
theoretically considered the possibility of giving imamate (the highest
leadership position) to one of their women.
As for their military role, the history books recorded different
forms of women’s participation, starting from the rows of fighters under
the leadership of specific commanders reaching to actual participation
in leadership. Hereinafter, we will mention examples indicating the
significance of this participation.
Khariji movements became strong in the era of Ziad bin Abih (i.e.
Ziad son of his father), because of his injustice and
extreme punishments against the members of the movement, whether
fighters or peaceful individuals.
This is what he did with a woman (a Mujtahid woman of Kharijits)
called Al-Baljaa, according to Al-Mubrd, because she opposed his unjust
policy: He cut her hands and legs threw her in the market place.
Therefore, the reaction of the Khariji people became stronger because of
this policy. Indeed, women had a significant role in that issue, as
proven by the morally violent reaction; i.e. putting off the clothes of
the killed Khariji women. From then on, women did not participate in
fighting the Ziad anymore. Whenever they were called to fight him, they
would say, “Unless nude, we would get out to fight him.” Among what was
spread among people about killing Khariji women is the saying of Umar
bin Abu Rabiah:

قتل حسناء غادة عطبول إن من أعظم الكبائر عندي
إن لله درها من قتيل قُتلَت باطلاً على غير ذنب
وعلى المحصنات جر الذيول كُتِبَ القتل والقتال علينا

English translation of this poetry:

Among the gravest sins in my opinion / Is to kill a pretty nice woman
She gets killed unjustly for no sin / What a kind of murdered person
Indeed, killing and fighting is ours / While the chaste women should draw the tails of their dresses

The Sunni speech devoted these conservative meanings to housewives by
circulating some rulings and Fatawa that were exempt women from
fighting. These include “Women are not obliged to fight” and “She should
stay where women stay.”
The Azraqi military movements, another subgroup of the Khariji sect,
were known for their strength and epic incidents. In addition, women had
a role whose significance can be understood from various references,
which mention that bin Al-Azraq was inclined to violence in dealing with
his opponents based on the whims and orders of his wife.
What is significant in this is not only that it was possible; rather
it is significant because it attests to the fame of Khariji women in
general concerning their effectiveness compared to women of other
groups, morally and in practical terms. Among the strangest rules in the
Azraqi jurisprudence (attributed to Nafi bin Al-Azraq) there is the
female obligation of performing prayer and fasting also during
menstruation, while all other Muslim schools of jurisprudence prohibit
it because menstruation makes women impure.
Also on the level of military moves, Khariji women, in opposition to
women of other Muslim groups and schools, used to participate in the
rows of soldiers, whether they were old or young. A fighter woman, i.e.
Um Hakim, became a symbol of courage. A narrator said, “She was one of
the most courageous, beautiful and faithful persons. Many of her people
proposed to her, but she refused. Then, I was told by someone who met
her that she used to attack people while poetizing:

وقد مللت دهنه وغسله أحمل رأسًا قد سئمت حمله
ألا فتى يحمل عني ثقله

In English:

I am bearing a head I am bored of bearing it / And I got bored of washing and putting oil on it
Is not there a young man (able to) carry its weight instead of me?

“They were ready to give their fathers and mothers as ransom for
her.” The narrator added, “I had never seen anyone like her before or
after her.”
The participation of Azraqi women became one of the best known
characteristics of Azraqi people. For example, a commander used to urge
his soldiers to break the siege, which Azraqi people made around them,
by reminding them that if they continued to be lazy, the person among
them will not be able to defend himself from an Azraqi woman, not to
mention men.
Women were also present in the moves of Kharijits led by Shabib.
Indeed, the most prominent presence mentioned by historians was of his
wife, Ghazala. She had great courage and chivalry. Moreover, history
books recorded the incident of challenging Al-Hajaj, when she vowed to
pray in Kufa mosque while this was under his authority, and then
fulfilled her vow. She delivered a speech on the pulpit of the Kufa
mosque, after it was dominated by Shabib. Then, she took leadership
after Shabib was murdered. Furthermore, some references state that
Al-Hajaj ran away from Ghazala during a battle; therefore, a poet
reproached him by saying:

فتخاء تنفر من صفير الصافر أسدٌ علي وفي الحروب نعامةٌ
بل كان قلبك في جناحي طائر هلا برزت إلى غزالة في الوغى

In English:

You look like a lion when you meet me while you are like an ostrich in war / You flee when you hear the voice of declaring war
Did you meet Ghazala in the battle? / No, your heart was in wings of a bird.

Women participated in the movements of As-Sufairyah that were led by
Ad-Dahhak. For example, in a battle, almost the same number of men and
women Khariji fighters were killed (fourteen knights and thirteen
women). Moreover, the Umayyad commander, Mansour bin Jamhour, was
defeated by a veiled knight, who was discovered to be a woman, Um Anbar.
Later, after he joined the Kharijits, he declared that he admired her
Al- Mubrd mentioned an incident showing that the presence of Khariji
women in a fight caused serious embarrassment to the fighters of the
Umayyad army. He talked about swordplay between an Umayyad commander and
a Khariji knight later discovered to be a woman:

The other one attacked him and embraced him till they both fell on the ground.
Then Qais Al-Khashni shouted, ‘Kill us both.’
The horses of both sides approached and separated them. Thus, they
discovered that the knight was a woman. Qais stood up feeling
Yazid said, ‘As for you, you encountered her in duel thinking that she was a man.’
However, he replied, ‘What if I was killed, would not people say that a woman killed me?’

Abadi women participated also in the large military operations the
Abadiis engaged in during the last days of the Umayyad state, during the
taking of southern Arabia and the Hejaz area. Maryam, the wife of Abu
Hamza the commander used to fight on his side against the Umayyad
armies. Then, she was martyred with him in the same battle in the
outskirt of Mecca. The poetry dedicated to her includes:

من سال عن اسمي فاسمي مريم أنا الجعيداء بنت الأعلم
بعت سواري بسيف مخذّم

In English:

I am the pretty woman and the daughter of the greatest scholar / For who would like to ask my name, it is Maryam
I sold my bracelet for a sharp sword

Whether attributing these words to her is right or not, their
meanings are significant from the aspect of showing the kind of affairs
attracting the Khariji women in the period. They are affairs summarized
under the concept of “sword” away from the affairs of the housewife,
summarized in the word “bracelet.”
Moreover, Abadi jurisprudence accepts the possibility of women’s
participation in the stage of “buy”; i.e. the stage based on the
military operations for establishing Dawah. The condition of buy is to have a number of Kharijits of forty. They can complete the number by adding one woman.
Furthermore, when the Kharijits rebelled against Ar-Rashid in the
peninsula, their rows included men and women. Al-Walid bin Turaif, and
then his sister Layla, after his murder, led this movement.