THE KHAWARIJ, OR THEOCRATIC FACTION, REBEL AGAINST 'ALI
37 A.H. / 657-658 A.D.
THE quick sagacity of 'Amr had never been turned to better account than when he proposed that the Kor'an should be the arbiter between the contending parties. To be judged by the Book of the Lord had been the cry of the democrats from the beginning. The sacred text gave countenance neither to the extravagant pretensions of Koreish, nor to their rule of favouritism and tyranny. Its precepts were based on the brotherhood of the faithful; and the Prophet himself had enjoined the absolute equality of all. No sooner, therefore, was the Kor'an proclaimed than, as 'Amr anticipated, the Arab chiefs, caught in the snare took up the cry and pledged themselves thereto.
Reflection soon tarnished the prospect. They had forgotten how narrow was the issue which the umpires had to decide. The Bedawin and democrats were fighting not for one Caliph or the other, but against the pretensions of Koreish at large. It was this that nerved them to the sanguinary conflict. "If the Syrians conquer," cried one their chiefs, "ye are undone. Again ye will be ground down by tyrants like unto the minions of Othman. They will seize upon the conquests of Islam as if, forsooth, they were theirs by inheritance, instead of won by our swords. We shall lose our grasp both of this world and the next." Such were the alleged evils for which they had slain Othman, and from which they had been fighting for deliverance. By
the appointment of an umpire, what had they gained? It was a Theocracy they had been dreaming of; and now they were drifting back into the abuses of the past. The umpires would decide simply as between Mu'awiya and 'Ali; and, whatever the verdict, despotism would be riveted more firmly than ever upon them. What they really wanted had been lost sight of: nor was there any longer a prospect of its being won.
Angrily arguing thus, a body of 12,000 men fell out from 'Ali's army on their homeward march, but kept side by side with the rest, at some little distance off. Loud and violent in their speech, they beat about their neighbours in rude Bedawi fashion with their whips, and accused one another of having abandoned the cause of Islam into the hands of godless arbitrators; while others repented of their having betrayed the Caliph on the field of battle, and thus separated themselves from the great body of the Faithful. In this frame of mind they avoided Al-Kufa, but encamped in its vicinity at the village of Harura. Their leaders belonged to the tribes of Temim, Bekr, and Hamdan in Al-Kufa. They chose for themselves a temporary leader of the Azd tribe. Their war-cry was, "The decision belongs to God," that is, the question of the Caliph must be left to the arbitrament of the sword. Their resolve, however, was that, when they had gained ascendency, they would no longer have any Prince or Caliph at all, and vest the administration of affairs in a Council of State. Such theocratic dreams were not confined to these schismatics, but had widely leavened the factious and fanatic city Al-Kufa itself.
'Ali, aware of the danger, sent his cousin, Ibn al-'Abbas, to reason with the seceding body, but to no effect. He then proceeded in person to their camp, and gained over their leader by the promise of the government of Ispahan.
He urged that, so far from being responsible for "the godless but compromise," as they called the truce, he had been driven to it against his better judgment by their own wayward and persistent obstinacy; that the umpires were bound by its terms to deliver their decision in accordance with the sacred text, which the Theocrats equally with himself held to be the final guide; and if the umpires' deliverance should after all be in disregard of right, he would without hesitation
reject the same, and again go forth to fight with them against their enemies.
For the present they were pacified by these assurances; and so, breaking up their camp, they returned to their homes, there to await the decision of the umpires.
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