From Anarchy In Action

Currents of the Islamic sect of the Kharijites have historically opposed state rule, leading and some people to compare them to anarchists or anti-authoritarians. For example, Patricia Crone included the Kharijite subsect of the Najdiyya in a Past and Present article titled "Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists."[1] Wikipedia claims, "An early example of anti-authoritarianism in Islam is the movement of the Khawarij."[2] On social issues such as gender and sexuality, the Kharijites were not necessarily any more egalitarian than were other Muslims, Jews, and Christians of their time. And their historic "fanatical" opposition to all other Muslims has led mainstream sheikhs to liken them to present-day far-right groups such as Daesh (ISIS) and Al Qaeda.[3] However, this comparison overlooks the fact that the Najdiyya subsect of ninth-century Iraqi Kharijism, at least, opposed all forms of government. Moreover, despite their theoretically intolerant views, the Najdiyya "seem to have lived in perfect amity with their so-called infidel neighbors."[4]

Kharijites were known for their intense piety, and the historian Fred M. Donner argues that the Kharijites "represented the survival in its purest form of the original pietistic impetus" of Muhammad's original followers.[5]

Kharijites emerged in the seventh century CE during the First Civil War between believers in Muhammad's teachings (that crystallized at some point into the religion of Islam). When the prophet Muhammad died, he was succeeded by the first Caliph (Islamic ruler) Abu Bakr, then by the second Caliph Umar, and by a third Caliph Uthman. Uthman was accused of corruption and was assassinated in 656 CE, sparking a Civil War over the question of who should be the next Caliph. The side that favored Muawiyah became known as Sunnis, and the side that favored Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin, became known as Shiites. A much smaller sect, the Kharijites, meaning seceders, broke off from the Shiites. They may have been disillusioned in Ali's reported intentions to negotiate with Muawiyah. In any case, the Kharijites opposed both sides of the Civil War, and members launched assassination attempts against both Muawiyah and Ali. They did kill Ali, bringing the Civil War to an end in 661.[6]


The Najdiyya subsect of Kharijism appear to be the first Muslim group to collectively reject the necessity of a state. Emerging in revolt in the seventh-century, they argued that full consensus among a community was impossible and that no state could be legitimate. They said that even the first caliph Abu Bakr had been illegitimate since he was not universally supported. They also opposed contemporary post-caliphate local rulers known as imams. Because the Najdiyya considered large-scale consensus (ijma) impossible, they rejected law itself since no community could be expected to reach full consensus over any set of laws. Patricia Crone summarizes, "Najdite Islam was a do-it-yourself religion. Politically and intellectually a Najdite would have no master apart from God."[7]

  1. Patricia Crone, "Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists," Past and Present, 2000,
  2. "Anarchism and Islam," Wikipedia, accessed 4 June 2018,
  3. "The slow backlash," The Economist, 6 September 2014.
  4. Cone, Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists, 26.
  5. Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: The Origin of Islam (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2010), 164.
  6. Fred M. Donner, "Muhammad and the Caliphate: Political History of the Islamic Empire Up to the Mongol Conquest" in The Oxford History of Islam, ed. John Esposito (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 15-16.
  7. Cone, "Ninth Century Muslim Anarchists," 26.