Islam / Orientations /
Branch of Islam with almost 2.8 million adherents in the Middle East and North Africa. Ibadi is distinguished from the Sunni and Shi'i branches of Islam, and is often referred to only as Khariji.
Ibadi mosque, Salalah, Oman.
*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000.
The Sultan' mosque, Ibadi branch, Musqat, Oman.
Ibadi mosque, Jerba, Tunisia.
Ibadi minaret, Ghardaia, Algeria.
Whether Ibadi is the 3rd branch of Islam, or whether it is just a sub-branch of Kharijism, is a matter of definition. The original groups of Kharijis disappeared long ago, and although Ibadism took root in Kharijism, the coexistence was brief. After the break, Ibadism developed values quite different from those of Kharijism. Ibadis themselves tend to reject being called Kharijis, considering the latter orientation to be distinctly different from their own.
The Ibadi branch takes its name from the moderate Abdullah ibn Ibad at-Tamimi, who became the leader of the group in Basra around 685. Still, the Ibadis claim that their true founder was Ibn Ibad's successor, Jabir ibn Zaid al-Azdi, originally from Oman.
The difference in role between the two may well explain this confusion. Ibn Ibad did in fact lead his followers away from the mainstream Khariji, but it was Jabir who collected the Ibadi hadith and defined the Ibadi doctrine. During Jabir's leadership, a new schism arose within the Ibadis themselves. Because the schism caused a rift with the governor of Iraq, al-Hajjaj, Jabir and his followers moved to Oman.
Today Ibadis represent the largest religious group in Oman, though their numbers are hard to assess. The figures to the left are best regarded as conservatively low. They also have pockets of communities in the M'zab Oasis in Algeria, the Nafusa Mountains in Libya and on Jerba Island in Tunisia. There are also groups of Ibadis in Zanzibar in Tanzania, which is beyond the scope of this encyclopaedia.
To the Ibadis, the Koran may only be read literally. They have their own hadith collections and also their own legal system, madhhab.
The Ibadi follow the Khariji line in defining good and bad caliphs. The first two, Abu Bakr and Umar, are deemed rightly-guided. Corruption in the form of the introduction of bid'a came, as they see it with Uthman. They regard the first part of Ali's caliphate as good, but were the first to object fiercly to his weakness when facing his opponents. Also, Ali was reportedly involved in the killings of the earliest Kharijis from an-Nahr. They do not entirely reject all preceding caliphs; due to his will to cooperate, they look favourably on Umar 2.
The Ibadi creed is based on clear distinctions between right and wrong, correct and incorrect belief, moral and immoral leadership. Considering it's break from Islam during its earliest period, this may not be much of a surprise. Yet, the corollary to this strictness for members of their own sect has traditionally been tolerance to outsiders, both for those of other Islamic orientations as well as for those belonging to other religions. An Ibadi has no problem with praying in a Sunni mosque.
Ibadis are conservative, although moderate and largely non-violent. The Ibadis reject violent methods of promoting their interests, and have been uninvolved in the many conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. They do not define other Muslim groups as unbelievers, but as lesser Muslims. The only circumstance in which an Ibadi is allowed to resort to violence is when there is a need to remove an unjust despot from power.
The theology of the Ibadis resembles the Mu'tazili school in the understanding of tawhid. Thereby they do not take any anthropomorphic descriptions of God literally, insisting that God may not be seen by man, and refusing to ascribe any attributes to God distinct from his essence. They also consider the Koran to be created, not eternal. In one respect they share the views of the Ash'ari school, and consider all human acts as divinely inspired, thereby rejecting the concept of a free will.
It is alleged that the Ibadis have a 6th pillar in their creed: jihad, the willingness to kill or be killed for Islam. Also it is said that they use taqiyya, saying that "the taqiyya is a cloak for the believer: he who has no religion has no taqiyya." Both rules seem to play a minor role in the Ibadi consciousness today.
Shaykh Ahmad, the Grand Mufti of Oman, has declared that the differences between Ibadi and Sunni Muslims are insignificant, and that there should be no hindrance to unity between these Muslim groups.
In general, the Ibadis have rituals quite similar to the Sunnis, most likely resulting from interaction between them in the centuries after the 7th century schism.
Among the smaller differences are that the Ibadis pray with the arms down their sides, just as is the case with Shi'is and Sunnis of the Maliki school. Friday prayer is only held in large cities where justice prevails, and they do not allow blessings for tyrannical rulers in the khutba.
Ibadis may pray together with Muslims of other branches, sharing their food and even marrying them.
Ibadis have quite similar institutions to Muslims of differing persuasions, both with respect to mosques, minarets and religious leaders in mosques. There seems not be any important functional differences between Ibadi mosques and Sunni mosques.
Central to their world view is the theory about who can be caliph, or imam, how he may be elected and what are the limits of his powers. The Ibadis state that anyone can be an imam or caliph, and he should be chosen for his skills and piety. He should be elected by the elders of the community, who also may depose him should he prove to be inapt.