What is Ibadism

Ibadism (al-Ibāḍiyya) attracts the interest of more and more scholars because of its rich history as a moderate branch and independent Islamic School within the Muslim community.  The origins of Ibadism go back to the first half of the Hijra. It emerged as a moderate branch during Islam’s first “civil war” or fitna (656-661), when the Muhakkima party, which advocated the principle “lā hukm illā li-lāh” (no judgment but God’s), opposed the arbitration between ‘Alī and Mu ‘āwiya at the Battel of Ṣiffīn (35-36H/656). Ibadism then spread to Baṣra in Iraq, where under the leadership of remarkable men, teachers, and imams, it elaborated a unique juridical and theological literature, which helps us to understand the first formative steps not only of the Ibadi School, but also of early Islamic history. Due to the unfavorable historical conditions, in particular during the crisis caused by the second fitna (61H/680) the main body of Ibadis in Baṣra sought refuge in Oman, Yemen and Ḥaḍramawt in the southeast peninsula of Arabia, as well as several Islamic countries in North Africa. At the Maghreb, an important literature was constructed in the various scattered communities and by numerous historians and theologists (‘ulama’). A little later, Ibadis spread to the eastern shores of Africa, where the modern Ibadi communities have retained the principles of their teachings, despite some local variations, which are to expected given their isolation. Today, the Largest of these Ibadi communities and the most prosperous is in the Sultanate of Oman, in the southeaste peninsula of Arabia. Other smaller communities exist in several historical places like Zanzibar and Kilwa on the eastern coast of Africa, Jabal Nafūsa and Zuwāra in Libya, on Djerba Island in Tunisia, and Wad Mzab in Algeria.

This remarkable school of Islam, which has found different interpretations within the diverse local Ibadi Communities, owes its name to ‘Abd Allāh b. Ibād al-Murra al-Tamīmī, one of the community’s first theologians. The main founder of the school is Ibn Ibād’s successor, the famous Jābir b. Zayd al- ‘Azdī (d. ca 100H), Ibadism’s most prominent scholar, who hailed from Nizwa in Oman.   Jābir b. Zayd was responsible for the most important contributions to the development of an independent Ibadi tradition.

Today, Oman is drawing researchers with its host of manuscripts containing valuable early material on the Ibadi community.  Old Ibadi communities, with their remarkable libraries and communitarian ties, are also still alive in the Maghreb. Ibadism calmly evinces its tolerant side, consistent with the centuries-old Islamic tradition of cooperation with all peoples.

(Retrieved from the volume On Ibadism, ed. by Angeliki Ziaka, p.11-12)

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