While most of us have heard this word, we understand its meaning, correctly so, to be a sincere prayer (ibadat). And it is mostly in reference to Islam. What I discovered some while back is that Ibadism is also a sect in Islam which is also one of the oldest ones, having founded only about 20 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death. It strives to follow Islam exactly, rigidly exactly, the way Muhammad taught and lived it.
Today, Ibadism has followers in Oman, and some parts of Zanzibar, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.
The reason Ibadism came about
Changes started taking place in the early Muslim community, with different viewpoints and schools emerging soon after the Prophet died. These different viewpoints were mostly regarding subjective interpretations of what the Prophet said, what something in the Qur’an means, how the Prophet followed the supposed commands of Allah and differing stories of examples from his daily life.
The Umayyads were people who wanted pre-Islamic power to return in the region. The Muslim community started cracking up into different sects around the time of, and in opposition to the policies of, the third Caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan. Affan gave Umayyads important positions in his empire. This clearly aggrieved the Muslims.
Different parties started emerging at this time, with different opinions towards these policies, and the Muslim communities started branching and shaping up as per their beliefs and reactions. This became a war-ravaged time and many people shifted bases for the sake of their beliefs. The first Ibadis shifted from Basra to Oman.
Ibadis came as a result of these struggles and to return the purity of the Islamic faith and society exactly on the lines laid by Prophet Mohammad. They are even known to disregard logic and reason against a proven traditional path followed by the Prophet. They opposed the third Caliph because they considered his policies to be against the Sunnah and thus, non-Islamic. Ibadis have always maintained their firm loyalty to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and to their fellow Muslims but not with people who disregard the Qur’an or the Sunnah.
The Muslim community witnessed long and bloody civil wars as a result of these differing opinions and soon, the Umayyad rule became established and would not tolerate any sort of opposition. This is what prompted the early Ibadi groups to carry out their activities in secrecy (kitman).
Ibadis, initially, did not use this name for themselves as a group. Rather they used names like Muslims al-Muslimun (‘community of the Muslims’), Jama’at al-Muslimin, or ‘Ahl el-da’wah (‘people of the mission’).
(Gold inlaid Quranic calligraphy displayed on the inner walls of the Grand Mosque in Oman’s Capital Territory.)
The name Ibadism comes from the father of Abdullah b Ibadh al-Murri al-Tamimi, who belonged to one of the main tribes of Mudar (Najd). He was one of the main leaders in the struggle against the Umayyad rule in defending Mecca because he believed the Umayyad rule to be a violation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In his attempts to find one strong leader for this group, when turned down by the leading men of the age, like Abdullah al-Zubair, Ibn Ibadh had to take up the leading position in this political struggle and this was the first time that Ibadi school started emerging with actual foundations and defined boundaries and leadership.
Ibadis and other Muslims
For a very long time, the mainstream Muslims refused to consider Ibadism as a school of Islam. It was with the efforts of Sulaiman Basha al-Baruni of Jabal Nafusah (Libya), in the early twentieth century that the interaction between Ibadis and other Islamic scholars & communities increased.
His political activities like loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and work towards the Muslim cause asserted the loyalty of Ibadis to the entire Muslim community, creating better dialogue and understanding among the Muslims that Ibadism was just a different school but was still well within Islam and loyal to Allah and Muhammad’s teachings. Sulaiman al-Baruni is also said to have started his own printing press as a medium of sharing and exchanging opinions among other Muslims and Ibadis. These efforts went a very long way into the recognition of Ibadism as a school of Islam.
(A picture of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman)
The first Imam of the Ibadi community and also one of the main founders associated with Ibadism is Jabir b. Zaid. Jabir b Zaid advised Ibn Ibadh on most of his political activities. They, together refuted groups like Qadarites, Mu’tazilites, Shi’tes, Muji’ites, and even Kharijites. For a very long time, the Ibadis carried out their activities and literature in secrecy because of the fear of persecution. They were a moderate simple group, initially limited in numbers.
Ibadis have always followed the attitude of unity with other Muslims, even if they are non-Ibadis. Ibn Ibadh is said to have stated once, “We do not regard our Muslim opponents as idolaters, for they believe in the unity of God, the Book, and the Messenger. But they are ‘infidels-ingrate’. We hold it lawful to inherit from them, marry from them, and live among them. The faith of Islam unites them (with us).” (Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih, al-‘Iqd al-farid., I, 261: Mubarrad. Kamil., III, 1041. Ibadis have always expressed the attitude of inviting people and giving them a chance to understand the views of the Ibadis, and waiting for them to decide their attitude first. They always made it clear that they would fight their opponents only when the latter attacked them first. Practical examples of this can be seen in history (al wuquf).
The System of Justice
As for the legal opinions, Jabir b. Zaid considered the following, in this sequence, to be the basis to make the judgements in legal cases in the Islamic community: The Qur’an, the Sunnah, opinions of other senior men, and then your own judgement.
If the answer to the problem at hand cannot be found straight away in the Qur’an, then one must turn to the Sunnah and search for any example of the situation at hand to see how the legal judgement was delivered. If so, then follow it. If not, then turn next to the opinions of other senior wise men. And lastly use your own judgement (Ra’y). If a sound opinion has been previously on a similar matter, they should follow that in the present case too, else use their judgement. The matters in which personal judgement was allowed are those which were not dealt with in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or by previous authorities. Their aim was to keep the example set by the Prophet, his two successors and to re-establish the Mislim community on the same lines as the first Muslim community. As for the Sunnah, Ibadis recognised Ali (Shi’ah) and only, if needed, relied on the Sunnahs reported by Ali and his followers.
Al-Walayah and Al-Baraah – Love and the Not-Love
Ibadism has strong concepts of loving Allah and his teachings, his angels, the Prophet – Al Walayah. It also obligates hatred of the infidels – Al Baraah. These concepts resound the general attitude that the Ibadis are supposed to follow towards their fellow Muslims and non-Muslims.
There is also al-wuquf – reservation of any attitude until an Ibadi is sure of his fellow being’s faith. An Ibadi is not to pass any judgement unless he is sure of what his fellow being believes in and to try and understand absolutely clearly what his attitude towards faith is. After that is the Ibadi to choose the attitudes of either al walayah or al baraah.
The Stages of an Ibadi Community’s Life
Ibadi scholars established that in every Ibadi community’s life, there are 4 stages in which the laws of shari’ah are to be carried out. There are only these 4 stages and no other. These stages are the “ways of religion” (masalik al-din).
- Manifestation (zuhur)
- Defence (difa)
- Sacrifice of one’s life (shira)
- Secrecy (kitman)
Manifestation (zuhur) is when the Ibadi community is independent and free to proclaim their independence and can appoint its own Imam. The Imam is the leader who ensures the main activities necessary for the safe running of the society as per the supposed commands of Allah. Hence the punishments, the taxes, the politics, wars etc are run by the Imam who ensures that the community stays on the Guided Path laid down by the Qur’an, the sunnah, and the shari’ah. The times of Abu Bakr and the Prophet himself are said to be the zuhur times.
(A picture of the Harat Al-Ayn (The Spring Quarter), an Ibadi mosques.)
Defence (difa) is the stage which comes when the Ibadi community is perceived to be under attack and requires military defence. An Imam is elected – Imam al-difa – who is a man of outstanding intelligence, faith to Allah, and of high military capability. Until the war is over, the Imam al-difa has the full authority of Imam al-zuhur. As soon as the war is over and the danger subsided, his Imamate is dissolved. Even if it is not a military war, and the Ibadi community is fighting against an unjust ruler, it is called the stage of difa. If in such a situation a war becomes difficult, the Ibadi community can go under the stage of secrecy (kitman) and operate secretly to ensure their safe continuation.
The sacrifice of one’s life (Shira) is said to have originated at the time of the Prophet himself, although there is no evidence or entirely plausible story that can substantiate it. The practice of shira finds reference in the sura/chapter of al-Anfal in the Qur’an. In Arabic, shira means buying or selling. In Ibadism, this word is used as the practise of shira is said to be the one of giving one’s soul to get a place in the Paradise. The first Ibadi to have followed the practice of shira is said to be Abu Bilal Mirdas Hudair against the tyrannical rule of Ubaidullah Ziyad. Ibadis believe that shira is a voluntary duty and should be done by those who impose it on themselves; a minimum of forty people should carry it out; they must not give up until they defeat the enemy or are killed; they must not give up unless only the last three of them are left (still disputed among scholars); and they must fight only those that fight them.
Secrecy (kitman) means hiding one’s beliefs from the ones who will not allow them. In such a situation, to preserve one’s beliefs, it is obligatory to hide them and follow kitman. The Ibadi movement was founded in secrecy when its founders were opposed to the Umayyad rulers. They carried all their activities in secret for many years. Ibadi scholars appropriated the following of kitman from some verses in the Qur’an which apparently suggest it and from the Prophet’s life who proclaimed Islam openly only after he had enough followers, and also his life prior to shifting to Medina was a sort of kitman. Ibadis appoint a leader from among the best among themselves who would be their Imam in this time of secrecy and who would run the major activities of the community. Ibadis are not to be of any help to the tyrants and must not hold any duties for them which would require them to harm the people. Ibadis can hold offices under tyrants only if they are in a powerful enough position to command them away from evil or if the duties assigned to them are according to the shari’ah like teaching children or calling for prayers (adhan).
Observations: How healthy is rigidity?
Late Dr Amr K Al-Nami’s book “Studies in Ibadhism” provided me my basic education on Ibadism and I must provide mention his and his book’s name, with deepest gratitude.