Since the Syrian rebellion went to war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in January, there has been a parallel campaign of political warfare by the rebels and al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat an-Nusra, to delegitimize ISIS. This has often taken the form of referring to ISIS as Kharijites or the Khawarij.
This Khawarij are an ancient sect who broke from the Rashidun (Rightly-Guided) Caliphate in the name of righteous revolt in 658, and continued their campaign against the caliphate—by then in the hands of the Umayyads—for a century and more. Regarded as perhaps the first terrorists in Islamdom (by another definition it would be the Nizaris, a.k.a. “The Assassins”), the connotations of the Khawarij label are extremism and deviance, particularly a tendency to excommunicate (make takfir against) Muslims not only for sins that do not merit excommunication, but simply for reasons of political exclusivism. Continue reading