History and memory: Khārijism in Early Islamic historiography
The Khārijites are usually regarded as the first faction to separate from the early Islamic community. They are viewed as rebels and heretics, constituting the first sect within early Islam. This thesis seeks to examine the narrative role and function of Khārijism in the historiographical tradition of the formative period of Islam. To that end, it looks at the major Islamic chronicles of the 3rd and 4th centuries AH/9th and 10th centuries CE and investigates their portrayal of Khārijite history. The analysis covers the period from the apparent emergence of the Khārijites at the Battle of Ṣiffīn in 37 AH/657 CE until the death of the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān in 86 AH/705 CE. The thesis’ methodological approach is based on the premise that the historiographical works under study need to be approached as literary artefacts, as texts rather than databanks that can be mined for hard facts in order to reconstruct early Islamic and thus Khārijite history ‘as it really was’. This literary analysis of the source material on Khārijism leads to two major conclusions: first, there is hardly any narrative substance to the Khārijites as presented in the sources. Instead, the reports on Khārijite activities are mostly made up of structural components such as names and dates on the one hand, and topoi and schemata on the other. Consequently, no distinct and tangible identity, literary or otherwise, emerges from the material, pointing out the pitfalls of positivist approaches to Khārijite history and by extension early Islamic history in general. This phenomenon is directly connected to the second conclusion: the historiographical sources approach Khārijism not as an end in itself, but as a narrative tool with which to illustrate, discuss and criticize other actors and subject matters. The thesis is divided into six chapters. Chapters One and Two address those characteristics of and topoi in the representation of Khārijism that pervade the source material across the entire period investigated here. It emerges that the historiographers’ major concern in the depiction of Khārijism is the discussion of the perils of the rebels’ militant piety that threatens the unity and stability of the Islamic community. Chapters Three to Five look at the periods of ʿAlī’s caliphate, Muʿāwiya’s rule and the second fitna as well as t he reign of ʿAbd al-Malik, respectively, and identify the specific narrative purposes of Khārijism in the portrayal of each period. Chapter Six offers a number of observations on the early historiographical tradition as derived from the analysis over the preceding five chapters, addressing issues such as whether it makes sense to distinguish between proto-Sunnī and proto-Shīʿī sources. The Conclusion summarizes the main findings of this thesis and provides some suggestions regarding future research on Khārijite history and thought as well as early Islamic history in general.