Reading Session on “Muslim Rebels” With Professor Jeffrey Kenney
March 9, 2015

Muslim Rebels

Date: Sunday, 22nd May 2015
Time: 4PM – 6PM
Venue: Graha Pemuda, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur


The first group of Muslim rebels in Islamic history is known as the Kharijites. It was a rebellious splinter group that separated itself from mainstream Muslim society and set about creating, through violence, an ideal community of the saved. How does it happen then, that the historical case of Kharijites was revived from the pages of history books and gained a new political import in the Muslim world? And indeed, with the rise of modern Islamic fundamentalism, modern scholarship in the West and in the Muslim world have given more attention to the study of Kharijites.

When the Egypt based al-Azhar University attributed the name of Kharijites to the Muslim Brothers, implying treason and sedition in their aspirations, was the historical analogy used as a political tool and how close to reality this imposed identification really was? It is not enough to label a group as Kharijites just because they rebel against the existing authority – the rift must be religiously predicated. As Professor Jeffrey T. Kenney puts it in his book “Muslim Rebels: Kharijites and the Politics of Extremism in Egypt”, in the case of Muslim Brotherhood “in the new politics, then, Kharijism has been reinvented to prioritize underlying material causes of extremism over the spiritual manifestation of extremism in misguided ideas and behavior”.

Not everywhere, however, does neo-Kharijism received a negative connotation. The Kharijites serve as a symbol for many Muslims across the Arab and Muslim world. In the turath (Islamic heritage), where the Kharijites are represented as ideal Muslims, their positive image prevails. And this positive image seems to gain ground in the minds of Muslim intellectuals whose aim was to promote a Western-type liberal modernism based on an early Islamic model. For these intelllectuals, the Kharijites are portrayed as being liberal in their theory of the caliphate, egalitarian in their attitude towards Arab and non-Arab Muslims, and tolerant in their treatment of women and pious Muslims.

Obviously a study of this nature of Kharijism is a distinct contribution to the understanding of early Islamic historiography. Hence, the aim of this reading session is to dissect the nature of Kharijism in its original sense and its contemporary interpretations in the various political contexts.


400-415PM:  Introduction by the Chairperson, Julia Sveshnikova
415-500PM:  Presentation by Professor Jeffrey Kenney
500-600PM:  Discussion
600PM:           Tea

Jointly organized byIslamic Renaissance Front and Penang Institute

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