The Descent of Bolshevism/The Khawarij

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The Khawarij

In Arabia, after the death of Mohammed, a party of extremists and fanatics renounced all existing authority, civil and religious, proclaiming Allah their only Master and Sovereign. The Prophet himself is more or less responsible for their action; for having given the Arabs a religion, a form of constitution, and a moral code, he failed to lay down or suggest any rule governing the right of succession. The field was open to any of his friends and companions who had the will, the power and the ill fortune to succeed him. The first two, however, commanded the confidence and obtained the suffrage of the Faithful. The third was the first to be assassinated; and the fourth, Ali, who ultimately met with the same fate as his predecessor, had many rival candidates, among them the powerful and wily Moawia. Forty years after the Prophet's death, therefore, the state of Islam was shaken by wars and torn by tribal strife.

This was not promising, was not edifying. And among the people who revolted against one claimant or another, were the group of extremists I have mentioned, who renounced them all and would obey only the Koran. The Prophet, they argued, did not name a successor, laid down no rule for the succession, did not evidently believe in delegating his divine power to man. The three leaders, Ali, Moawia and Amru, are all usurpers and it is the right of true Muslem to deny them their suffrage. Nay, it is their pious duty, in order to uphold Islam, to get rid of them all.

The Khawarij, or Seceders who started this movement, were the only so-called orthodox Muslems who, reading between the lines of the Holy Book, were able to con the esoteric wisdom and the divine will. All power emanates from God—a variation of Mazdak's All titles are vested in God—and mankind is responsible to Him alone. He is the one and only ruler, and they the Khawarij would recognize no other. Those that claimed to be vicars of God and his Prophet on earth, are usurpers, therefore, and impostors. Islam should not be ruled by an autocrat called khalif or imam, but by local councils elected by the people. This is the democracy that was so dear to the Arabs even before the Prophet; and the Khawarij called themselves the only true apostles of Mohammedanism and democracy. And they would proclaim its reign by the sword; they would reduce its enemies by assassination.

Accordingly, three of their leaders met one day in the Kaaba and swore by the Black Stone and the Koran to carry out their criminal plan. Each one of the conspirators chose his victim; and Ali, Moawia and Amru were to be assassinated at one appointed day and hour. But the plot was discovered and the Khawarij decided to fight in the open like true Arabs. They declared war on Ali and his rivals in the field; but they were defeated by Ali's forces in the battle of Nahrawan. They were dispersed; they were not crushed. Instead of a united army, they broke up into various sects, who conducted a secret propaganda both in Arabia and Persia against the civil and spiritual authority of Islam. The Prophet is dead, but Allah liveth forever. This was the slogan that was whispered in secret councils and was yet to shake the very foundation of the Faith.

It was not heard of, after the defeat of the Khawarij, for over a hundred years. But in the ninth century, Abdallah ibn Maimoun Kaddah of Ahwaz revived it and expanded upon it. He was wise enough to see, however, that not until his followers were strongly united and well armed would the method of the Khawarij be favorable to him and his ideals. For he was a man of lofty ideals, this Persian of Ahwaz. He began by founding a secret society which was to bind together Arabs and Persians, Muslems, Christians and Jews,—indeed, all mankind. Kaddah had political ambition also, which he could not realize by openly antagonizing the existing governments. But he proclaimed a new right of succession.

There was Ismail, the son of the sixth Imam after Ali and descendant from Ali's line. And Kaddah, who was a master of mystic lore, ingeniously evolved the theory of hidden and revealed successors to the Prophet. Ismail, he claimed, was the last revealed, and since his death the succession continued through hidden or unincarnate imams. But he, Kaddah, awaiting the psychological moment, harbored the secret purpose, the ambition of proclaiming himself to Islam the first revealed imam and khalif after Ismail. He died, however, a disappointed man. For one named Obeidullah was the founder of the new dynasty. But Kaddah and his followers were nevertheless called Ismailites, a name that even today is despised and dreaded by orthodox Mohammedans, because to them it is synonymous with infidelity, immorality, anarchy and crime.

For Kaddah's secret society was founded on a universal negation and wrapt in a crazy-quilt of philosophy. Its deep mysteries were revealed only to those who had attained the highest degree of the Order. It had novices and missionaries called dais to preach its political and outwardly religious doctrines. It offered inducements to all classes and creeds and led them on, from a mystical interpretation of Islam—the Ismailite method was allegorical—to a total renunciation of its teachings. "The inner doctrine," says one Orientalist, "was philosophical and eclectic." In other words, Mazdakism was resuscitated; the Khawarij idea was taken down from the shelf and dusted; and both were invested with the dignity of Neo-Platonic and Neo-Pythagorian wisdom. But in their interpretation of the Koran, some of the Ismailite doctors pushed the allegory so far that it ended in nothing less than the abolition of all public worship and the foundation of a purely philosophic—in name—and a very licentious moral code—in reality—on the ruins of all revelations and all civil and spiritual authority.