Edit Translation

Ibadhi Muslim Scholars and the Confrontation with Sunni Islam in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Zanzibar

The Origins and Distinctiveness of Ibadhi Islam
Ibadhi Islam, the official sect of the Omani sultans who ruled Zanzibar from 1832-1964, grew out of Kharijism, an early, violent secessionist movement that emerged in the year 657 C.E. during the Caliphate of ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib. The main position of the Kharijis (or Khawarij) is that any Muslim who commits a grave sin has renounced Islam, and is to be treated as a non-Muslim and an apostate, whose blood may be shed. The Khawarij declared themselves to be the only true Muslims, and felt that it was necessary to follow the Prophet Muhammad’s example by making a new hijra (emigration) away from the rest of those who claimed to be Muslims, in order to establish a true Muslim community. Since they declared war on the rest of the Muslim community, it is not surprising that they have not survived in this radical form, although modern-day extremist groups are sometimes labeled neo-Khawarij by their opponents.

The Ibadhis are a moderate sect that emerged out of the Khariji movement, although they do not like to be referred to as Khawarij. They are found mainly in Oman, with smaller populations in East Africa, the Mzab valley of Algeria, the island of Jirba in Tunisia, and the Jabal Nafusa region of Libya. Ibadhis renounce the use of violence against alleged “non-Muslims,” but they hold firm to the notion of separation from Muslims who hold an erroneous belief. Ibadhi fiqh works all have extensive sections on the concepts of walaya and bara’a, here used in the sense of “friendship” and “avoidance.” Bara’a is the opening word of Surat al-Tawba: “Bara’a min Allahi wa rasulihi ila ’l-ladhina ‘ahadtum min al-mushrikin,” which announces an end to alliances between the Prophet and polytheists. The Ibadhis take bara’a to mean avoidance of all who persist in sin or err in any matter of doctrine, whether or not they identify themselves as Muslims.

Although Ibadhism emerged from Kharijism and shares with it a condemnation of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan and ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib, the desire to found a righteous Muslim society, and the belief that true Muslims are only to be found in their group, Ibadhis see themselves as quite different from the Khawarij. Whereas the Khawarij had labeled all Muslims who committed a grave sin without repentance mushrikin–unbelievers whose guilt is tantamount to idolatry and merits the capital punishment deserved by all apostates of the faith, Ibadhis see such people as kuffar ni‘ma, monotheists who are ungrateful for the blessings God has bestowed upon them. Ibadhis distinguish between kufr ni‘ma, the unbelief of ingratitude, and kufr shirk, the unbelief of idolatry. The Khawarij had not made such a distinction, and neither do Sunni Muslims, who likewise equate kufr with idolatry but, unlike the Khawarij, maintain that a sinning Muslim is still a believer.

The word kufr, which is typically translated into English as “unbelief,” literally means “ingratitude.” The characteristic position of human beings, according to the Qur’an is not their ignorance of the existence of God, but their failure to be grateful for His kindness and blessings, which should prompt people to turn to Him in worship and give generously to the poor, orphans and widows. The Qur’an contrasts the believers, who are grateful (shakirin), with the unbelievers, who are ungrateful (infidel, Qur’an (2:152, 27:40, 31:12, 76:3)). The Ibadhi attitude toward kuffar ni‘ma, whether they be sinning Ibadhis or non-Ibadhi Muslims, was that one should practice “dissociation” (bara'a) toward them. In his 90-volume summary of Ibadhi doctrine, Qamus al-Shari'a, written between 1844 and 1863, Omani scholar Jumayyil ibn Khamis al-Sa‘di quoted Sunni scholars as well as Ibadhis, and wrote that he believed that Sunnis agree with Ibadhis on the necessity of avoiding association with those who err on matters of doctrine. This “dissociation,” however, is usually an internal attitude of withholding “friendship” (walaya), rather than outright hostility. Hostile action is reserved for one type of person: the unjust ruler who refuses to mend his ways or relinquish his power.

The Ibadhis have traditionally been concerned with establishing righteous religious rule here on earth, creating an ideal Muslim state under the leadership of a pious Imam, who is selected by the leading religious scholars of the community on the basis of his merit, not his lineage. Rulers are held to the highest standards of morality and justice. The second continuous series of Ibadhi Imams in Oman ended in the twelfth century, followed by five hundred years of rule by the Nabhani clan. This period is portrayed in Ibadhi writings as five hundred years of tyrannical rule, Oman’s “Dark Age,” although, says Wilkinson, the Nabhani kings ruled exactly like most Imams, by manipulating tribal and secular power, but without pretension to religious legitimacy.(1) Only a- Din al-Salimi's Tuhfat ahl al-ayan bi Sirat 'Uman, a chronicle of the Omani Imamate, reads in a fashion similar to the book of II Kings in the Hebrew Bible: under good Imams prices were low, rain was abundant, crops flourished and people were happy; under bad Imams prices rose, drought prevailed, and people died of starvation.(2) As Wilkinson notes, “justice” was defined largely by not exceeding the legal taxation code.(3) Sa‘id al-Mughayri’s history of Zanzibar describes the reign of Sayyid Barghash in precisely such terms: by raising the taxes he undermined justice, impoverished the community, and ruined the economy.(4) The Omani Imamate that was founded in 1615 and inaugurated the Ya‘rubi dynasty was perceived as a renewal of Islam itself, despite the dynastic disputes and rivalries that marred much of Omani history in the subsequent period. The Ya‘rubi dynasty came to an end with the recognition of Ahmad ibn Sa‘id al-Bu Sa‘idi as Imam in 1749, but although his descendants succeeded him as sultans, none of them succeeded in gaining recognition as Imam after his son, Sa'id ibn Ahmad.

By contrast, Sunni hadiths endorse obedience to a ruler, even if he is unjust:

Whoever obeys me, obeys God, and whoever disobeys me, disobeys God. Whoever obeys the ruler, obeys me, and whoever disobeys the ruler, disobeys me. The Imam is like a shelter for whose safety the Muslims should fight and in which they should seek protection. If the Imam orders people righteously and rules justly, he will be rewarded for that; if he does the opposite, he will be responsible for that (‘ahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 204).

Whoever defects from obedience [to the ruler] and separates from the main body of Muslims and dies in that state, dies the death of the Jahiliyya [of the non-Muslim] (‘ahih Muslim, Book 20, Number 4557).

As the power of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate was usurped by non-Arab military families beginning in the tenth century C.E., Sunni political theorists tended toward pragmatic acceptance of rulers, regardless of whether they had any religious legitimacy whatsoever. Abu hamid al-Ghazali held that “any ruler is better than chaos.” Badr al-Din ibn Jama‘a (1241-1333) said, “We are with whoever conquers.”(5)

In theology, Ibadhis differ from Sunni Muslims in that their doctrine on the attributes and essence of God is similar to that of the Mu‘tazila: they deny that God’s attributes have any reality distinct from His essence, in order to avoid the assertion of multiple beings in God, which they see as a form of polytheism, and therefore also reject the doctrine of the eternity of the Qur’an. Like the Mu‘tazila, Ibadhis reject a literal interpretation of the anthropomorphic descriptions of God in the Qur’an and deny the possibility of seeing God, either in this life or the next. They also reject the teachings that on the Day of Judgment the Prophet will intercede on behalf of grave sinners and that there is any possibility of rescue from hellfire; punishment in hellfire is eternal, as the Qur’an says. However, they part ways with the Mu‘tazila in that they do not accept the notion that sinning Muslims are in an intermediate position between belief and unbelief; for the Ibadhis, anyone who is not a Muslim is a kafir. On the issue of predestination versus free will, their position is similar to that of Ash‘ari Sunnis, who say that God creates human acts and humans acquire them; that God gives humans the power to choose between alternative actions, but that the power of choice does not imply the power to act. Every “human” act is actually the act of God in human beings, but it is God’s habit to empower humans to do acts that accord with their choice.(6)

There are minor differences between the prayer observances of Ibadhis and Sunnis. Ibadhis, like the Shi‘a and Malikis, pray with their arms down at their sides. They do not say amin after the Fatiha, and they do not say the qunut invocation in the fajr prayer. They believe that Friday prayer should be held only in major cities in which justice prevails–meaning that for centuries Ibadhis did not observe congregational prayer because of the lack of a just Imam(7)–and they reject the blessing of tyrannical rulers in the khuṭba.

The importance of Ibadhi-Sunni differences in traditional Ibadhi thought is manifest in an anti-Wahhabi treatise written by Abu Nabhan Ja‘id ibn Khamis al-Kharuṣi (1734/5-1822), the chief Ibadhi scholar of Oman in his generation.(8) He belonged to a family which had been instrumental in selecting and appointing numerous Imams throughout Omani history. This short piece was motivated by concern over the incursion of Wahhabis in Oman in his time. Abu Nabhan described the Wahhabis as the sect that is most dangerous to Islam.(9) But it is curious that among the bida‘ Abu Nabhan listed in his condemnation of the Wahhabis are prayer practices that are characteristically Sunni: raising the hands to the ears or clasping them during prayer, a practice he deemed “frivolous”; saying amin after the Fatiha; and saying the qunut during the fajr prayer. These practices appear to have alarmed him as much as the innovations that are more distinctively Wahhabi: declaring non-Wahhabi Muslims idolaters, killing them, enslaving their children, and plundering their wealth. Ultimately, Abu Nabhan characterized the Wahhabis as a unique combination of elements of Azraqi Kharijism and hanbalism, an entirely new sect, which, from his point of view, was un-Islamic and posed a very grave danger to Muslims everywhere.(10)

Abu Nabhan employed typical Ibadhi language and distinctions: the only real Muslims are the ahl al-istiqama, the “people of straightness,"IU. the Ibadhis. Once he was asked about the status in the afterlife of a pious non-Ibadhi Muslim who had never committed any act prohibited by God, who was an ascetic all his life, devoted to worship, desirous of God’s reward, and not neglecting any of God’s commands, Abu Nabhan’s response was categorical:

No one who opposes the clear truth is in obedience to God, Lord of the worlds. He has strayed from the path of the believers who do good works. The people who oppose the religion of the true Muslims are of different types and sects, disagreeing with each other, and each sect claiming to be right. But the matter is not as they say; the truth is only in one group, not in all, for that is not possible. The people of the truth are the Ibadhis–they are the people of straightness on the path, and their religion is the true one and their teaching is the truth. . . . Nonetheless, only the sincere among them will be saved. . . . There is no escape from God’s punishment for anyone who disagrees with or is ignorant of a single letter of the true religion, so how is it for someone who denies many letters and words and accept countless heresies and deviations, as the people do who oppose the religion of the Muslims, even if he stays up all night praying and fasting and spends his whole life in worship?(11)

Nonetheless, non-Ibadhis who call themselves Muslims and pray facing the direction of the Ka‘ba are ahl al-qibla, not idolaters. They may be kuffar and condemned to hellfire, but they are only kuffar ni‘ma. Nur al-Din al-Salima (1869-1914) clarified the practical implications of this distinction when asked about the difference between bara’at al-mushrik (dissociation from a polytheist) and bara’at al-muwahhid al- fasiq (dissociation from a corrupt monotheist). Salimi replied:

Although the mushrik is further [from the truth] than the corrupt monotheist, both are cursed. Nonetheless, the Law allows certain things with the corrupt monotheist that it does not allow with the polytheist, such as intermarriage, eating their slaughtered animals, inheritance, giving the greeting of peace, saying “God bless you” if he sneezes (tashmit al-'Atis), praying behind him, praying over him if he dies, accepting his testimony, and interacting with him in all worldly matters just as one would interact with Muslims with whom one has walaya.(12)

He justifies such politeness and assistance to non-Ibadhi monotheists by pointing out that “the Muslims helped the Persians against the Byzantines, though the latter are ahl al-kitab and both are kuffar.”

Bu Sa‘idi Rule in Zanzibar

The first sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Sa‘id ibn Sulṭan,(13) was the grandson of the last recognized Imam, Ahmad ibn Sa'id al-Bu Sa'idi, whose reign from 1741-1783 (he was elected Imam in 1753-4) inaugurated the Bu Sa‘idi dynasty, which remains in power in Oman to this day. Omanis had long settled in East Africa, and city-states ruled by Omani families emerged in Mombasa and Pate. Successive Omani rulers were only able to subject these city-states to Omani rule temporarily. Periodically the ruler of Oman would be invited to repel the Portuguese from Mombasa, but the Mazru‘i family that ruled Mombasa would withdraw their fealty to Oman once the immediate threat had passed and the Omani ruler had gone. Perhaps this is why Sayyid Sa‘id (ruled 1806-1856) decided to settle in East Africa, a pleasant region with great potential for trade and agriculture. He first visited Zanzibar, then a small town of little consequence, in 1828, and decided at that time to make it his permanent residence. He transferred his council from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1832, officially making Zanzibar the capital of the Omani empire. Hundreds of Omanis accompanied him in his move to Zanzibar. After his death in 1856, however, the Bu Sa‘idi empire was divided, with the rule of Oman passing to his son Thuwayni, and the rule of Zanzibar passing to another son, Majid. The Bu Sa‘idis remain in power in Oman to this day, but were overthrown in Zanzibar in January 1964.

Although Zanzibar’s rulers were Ibadhi, the vast majority of their subjects were not. The overwhelming majority of the indigenous population of Zanzibar and the East African coast follow the Sunni school of al-Shafi‘i. Zanzibar was an extremely complex society during the period of Omani rule, consisting not only of Omani overlords and African subjects and slaves, but a sizable and mixed community of people originating from other parts of the Indian Ocean: hanafi soldiers from Baluchistan, Isma'ili, Bohora, and Hindu merchants from India, Shafi‘i scholars and traders from the hadhramawt, and Twelver Shi‘a of Arab, Iranian, and Indian background. The hadhramis frequently intermarried with the local population and became integrated into Swahili society, who were also Shafi‘i Sunnis, but the Omanis did so less often, and the Indians formed a very separate set of religious and social communities that married only among themselves, and tried to preserve their native languages.

Considering the Ibadhi attitude that non-Ibadhi Muslims are of doubtful Islamic status and ought to be avoided, what attitude did they take toward the different sects of Zanzibar, especially the Shafi‘i majority? Whereas in the Omani interior Ibadhi scholars engaged the questions of walaya and bara’a in relative isolation from contact with non-Ibadhi Muslims, in Zanzibar the situation was entirely different. Ibadhi scholars had to rethink the meaning of bara’a in a context in which they were required to work closely with Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, Sunni scholars on the Swahili coast were critical of Ibadhi doctrine, and succeeded in attracting converts to Sunni Islam from among the Ibadhi population of East Africa. The ubiquity and challenge of Sunnism confronted Ibadhi scholars of Zanzibar with dilemmas that could be ignored in the Omani interior.

It appears that the Zanzibar sultans were usually quite tolerant of Sunni Muslims, that indeed they honored Sunni scholars in a manner similar to the way they honored Ibadhi scholars. Sayyid Sa‘id encouraged both Ibadhi and Sunni scholars to come to his new capital. Scholars migrated there from the coasts of Somalia and Kenya, from the Comoro Islands, and from Oman itself. Qadhis were appointed for the Sunnis as well as for the Ibadhis, and there are cases in which Sunni and Ibadhi qa∙is delivered joint adjudication.(14) The first sultan of Zanzibar, Sa'id ibn Sultana, directed his governors in the provinces to have Sunni subjects ruled by Sunni judges, specifically mentioning in one of his letters “the shaykh and scholar Muhyi ’l-Din al-Qahṭani” as the authority to be consulted in matters of dispute. He also told the Ibadhis of Pemba to greet non-Ibadhi Muslims living on their island with courtesy, just as the Ibadhis in Zanzibar did.(15) In his account of the Shafi‘i scholars of East Africa, Abdallah Saleh Farsy (d. 1982) made a point of emphasizing the great honor various Sunni scholars received from sultans, to the point that some of them served as trusted counselors, and, if we are to believe him, virtual ministers of the realm.(16) Some of more prominent scholars so honored included Muhyi ’l-Din al-Qahṭani (d. 1869), ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Amawi (1838-96), his son, Burhan ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi (1861-1935), Sayyid Ahmad ibn Sumayṭ (1861-1925), and ‘Abdallah Ba Kathir (1860-1925). Zanzibar became a center of Sunni religious scholarship during the reign of the Bu Sa‘idi sultans, and it appears that Sunnis and Ibadhis, for the most part, coexisted amicably.

The greatest Sunni scholars of nineteenth-century Zanzibar came from outside Zanzibar. Of the four who are considered the greatest Shafi‘i scholars of Zanzibar, two came from Somalia (an interesting fact considering that Farsy mentions very few Somali scholars among those who worked in Zanzibar): Muhyi ’l-Din al-Qahṭani and ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Amawi were both born and studied in Brava; the latter originally came to Zanzibar for the purpose of studying with al-Qahṭani, and Sayyid Sa‘id appointed him judge in Kilwa at the age of sixteen. Sayyid Ahmad ibn Sumayṭ was born of a hadhrami scholar residing in the Comoro islands, and Abdallah Ba Kathir came from Lamu. Large numbers of students and teachers in Zanzibar came from the Comoros. Sa‘id al-Mughayri wrote that “the wars of the sultans of Ngazija led to the emigration of many Comorians to Zanzibar. In 1899, fifteen thousand Comorians migrated to Zanzibar, where they became part of the upper class, holding fast to the commands of their Islamic religion and spreading knowledge.”(17) The trend toward mobility among the scholars of Zanzibar diminished in the twentieth century; by mid-century, scholars who studied or taught in Zanzibar tended to come from Zanzibar, and those born in Zanzibar were less likely to travel for the sake of study.

Sayyid Sa‘id’s attitude toward Ibadhism may be discerned from his checkered relationship with the family of the aforementioned Abu Nabhan, the most powerful religious scholar of his day in Oman. Al-Salimi wrote, “Abu Nabhan was the most outstanding scholar of his time in knowledge, virtue, and nobility (sharaf), and the people had taken him as an example for guidance in all matters of their religion as well as their worldly affairs. The virtuous people obeyed him, because they knew his knowledge and piety.”(18) Abu Nabhan publicly denounced Sayyid Sa‘id and declared him unfit to lead the Muslims. His authority constituted a direct challenge to Sayyid Sa‘id, but the latter dared not act against him, not only because of Abu Nabhan’s popularity, but even more because of his well-known skill in ‘ilm al-sirr–the knowledge of hidden things, such as divination, the writing of talismans, and other esoteric secrets.(19) After Abu Nabhan’s death in 1822, his son, Nasir ibn Abi Nabhan, says that Sayyid Sa‘id was deceptively kind to him in order to convince him to write a talisman that would protect him from all other talismans. He did so, only to find that Sayyid Sa‘id commenced an all-out assault on their fortresses, which forced them after seven months to abandon their homes and property. Naṣir’s family beseeched him to write a talisman to protect them against Sayyid Sa‘id and his local governor. Naṣir was able to concoct a talisman even more powerful than the one he had given to the sultan, although it took a year and a half to prepare it, because of the previous talisman he had written protecting Sayyid Sa‘id. His work on this talisman was supported by the “pious people of Nizwa,” who kept him awake with coffee to enable him to recite his incantations through the night. The purpose of the talisman was to cause the kingdom of the sultan to be destroyed. “I did not want the sultan to die,” Naṣir is quoted as saying, “out of fear that the tyrannical Muhammad ibn Naṣir al-Jabari would come to power instead, and he is a hanafi [a follower of the hanafi school of Sunni Islam], and one could not be sure that if he came to power he would not force the people of Oman to convert to his rite.” Finally the talisman was completed, and the sultan began to experience defeats in his military engagements in Oman and overseas. Sayyid Sa‘id’s fear of Naṣir grew to the point that he took him into his inner circle and brought him on all his military expeditions, and finally to Zanzibar.(20) Upholding Ibadhi ideals was clearly not Sayyid Sa‘id’s priority, but neither could he afford to ignore the many dimensions of the potency of religion.

Sayyid Sa‘id’s chief Ibadhi judge belonged to a family with deep roots in East Africa, the Mundhiris (al-Manadhira). The Mundhiris were a wealthy family originally from the Omani interior, who had become major plantation owners in Mombasa, Pemba and Zanzibar. Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mundhiri (d. 1869) was a man of towering intellect. His known works include a book on theology entitled Al-Khulaṣa ’l-damigha,(21) another book dealing specifically with the theological problem of the vision of God, which the Ibadhis deny but the Sunnis affirm,(22) a book on etiquette,(23) a teacher’s text on grammar,(24) and a Sufi-style prayer of petition bearing special instructions for its recitation and promises of its efficacy in revealing divine secrets.(25) Shaykh Muhammad served the sayyids Sa'id ibn Sultan (1828-56) and Sa‘id’s son Majid (1856-70), until the shaykh died in 1869. His position was inherited by his younger brother, 'Abdallah. Shaykh Muhammad’s cousin, Muhammad ibn Sulayman ibn Muhammad al-Mundhiri, was chief Ibadhi judge during the reign of Sayyid Barghash ibn Sa‘id ibn Sulṭan (1870-88) and was among those who accompanied Sayyid Barghash during his visit to Europe in 1875.(26) Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Ali’s son ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Mundhiri (born in 1866, only three years before his father’s death), later became the chief Ibadhi judge during the reigns of Sayyids ‘Ali ibn hammud (1902-11) and Khalifa ibn harib (1911-60), until he died in 1924-5.

Ibadhi Conversions to Sunni Islam

We have no evidence that Ibadhis in Zanzibar made any effort to convert Sunnis to Ibadhism. We do not know why this is so, but perhaps a sect that had survived intense Sunni persecution by moving to remote areas had turned inward and was focused more on self-preservation than propagation. According to J. Spencer Trimingham, Ibadhism was associated with Omani ethnicity and privileged social status, so Ibadhis encouraged their African slaves to follow the Shafi‘i legal tradition (Islam in East Africa, 81). Sunni scholars, on the other hand, typically had strong spiritual links with the hadhramawt, which produced many zealous missionaries. The history of the hadhramawt can only be understood with reference to its strong tradition of male migration to different parts of the Indian Ocean—East Africa, India, and southeast Asia—where the men often married local women and had children, who would be sent back to the hadhramawt for their education. In this manner, the cultural and spiritual influence of the hadhramawt, oriented toward Sufism, devotion to the Prophet, and Shafi‘i scholarship, continued to influence the émigré community for generations, while the returning emigrants likewise impacted hadhrami society, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.(27) hadhramis claimed to have Islamized the Swahili coast as well as southeast Asia, all places where the Shafi‘i school predominates and where there are significant populations of hadhrami origin.

The first Ibadhis in East Africa to convert to Sunni Islam were Abdallah ibn Nafi‘ al-Mazru‘i and his son, ‘Ali. The Mazru‘i family had been politically prominent since the late seventeenth century, when the Imam of Oman, Sayf ibn Sulṭan, captured Mombasa from the Portuguese and appointed Naṣir ibn ‘Abdallah al-Mazru‘i governor of Mombasa and Pemba. After the Imam’s death in 1711, Oman was thrown into civil war. Portugal was able briefly to reconquer Mombasa in 1727, but for much of the eighteenth century the Mazru‘is of Mombasa ruled much of the Kenyan coast and Pemba, and the Nabhani family ruled Pate, while both families also warred with each other. When Sayyid Sa‘id definitively conquered Mombasa in 1837, 'Abdallah and' Ali al-Mazru'i left for Mecca. There they studied with Shaykh ‘Uthman ibn hasan al-Dimyaṭi, teacher of ibn Ahmad Dahlan Zayni (1817-1886), who later became Grand Mufti of the Shafi‘is in Mecca. Both father and son converted to Sunnism. After his father’s death in 1846, ‘Ali al-Mazru‘i returned to Mombasa. Sayyid Sa‘id’s son and successor, Sayyid Majid (1856-70), does not seem to have been disturbed by ‘Ali al-Mazru‘i’s conversion to Sunnism, and even offered him a Sunni judgeship, which Mazru‘i accepted. Farsy tells us:

When Sh. Ali bin Abdallah came to Zanzibar, Sayyid Majid asked him, “Have you seen Al-Khulasa al-damigha, which Sh. Muhammad b. Ali [al-Mundhiri] has written [on theology]?” Sh. Ali responded, “I have seen it.” The Sultan then queried, “Can you reply to it?” And Sh. Ali answered, “If I did not respect your creed, I would answer it.” So the Sultan replied, “Then I grant you permission to reply to it.” Sh. Ali thanked the Sultan and requested that he gather his court together so that he might recite his answer before the people. Note Sultan Majid’s goodness! Observe his laudable intentions! Sultan Majid indeed resembled his father in his even-handed policies. He found the use of coercion and force to be distasteful in the conduct of his affairs. For this reason, therefore, he was very beloved by his subjects. He was the opposite of [his brother and successor] Sayyid Barghash in this way.(28)

Sayyid Barghash had attempted to seize power from Majid with the help of the powerful harithi tribe, an Omani tribe strongly represented in East Africa, and which played an important role in Ibadhi rebellions in Oman.(29) Barghash was exiled to Bombay, which was said to have led him to take a more pragmatic approach to politics. After assuming the throne in Zanzibar in 1870, Barghash developed a close relationship with the British consul-general, Sir John Kirk, and played a major role in the abolition of the slave trade in East Africa, despite Zanzibar’s economic dependence on it. Despite such accommodations to political reality, it was clear that Barghash was vitally interested in upholding Ibadhism. He established a printing press in Zanzibar, which published a number of important Ibadhi works from Oman and North Africa. He did not take kindly to Ibadhi conversions to Sunni Islam.

In 1887 Shaykh Ali al-Mazru'i went to Pemba, where he conducted classes that led other members of his family to convert to Sunnism. Sayyid Barghash found out about this and sent an entire ship to recall him forcibly to Zanzibar. When he arrived, Barghash told him, “I’m going to incarcerate you until either you die in prison or I die myself.” To this Mazru‘i retorted, “That will not be far off.” He remained in prison until Sayyid Barghash died in March 1888.(30)

Shaykh ‘Ali ibn Khamis al-Barwani (1852-1885) was a great Ibadhi scholar of Zanzibar, a member of Sayyid Barghash’s inner circle, and a member of the harithi tribe. ‘Ali al-Barwani wrote laudatory poems to introduce some of the great Ibadhi works published in Zanzibar. To Barghash’s horror, however, 'Ali al-Barwani converted to Sunni Islam. Farsy writes:

There was no fury which Sayyid Barghash spared Sh. Ali; there was no fierceness! There was no pressure which he did not apply. When Barghash saw that all this was to no avail, he imprisoned Sh. Ali and told him that he would not free him until he recanted his Sunni beliefs or died. Every morning, Sayyid Barghash sent Sh. Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Mandhry [al-Mundhiri] to the prison to remonstrate with Sh. Ali. But Sh. Ali paid no heed at all to the petitions that this great venerable old gentleman gave him. Sultan Barghash, however, conceived of the effective plan of deporting him to Oman. And so he was sent. When he arrived there, he created the same sort of consternation and turmoil he had created in Zanzibar, until it finally behoved the people of that place [presumably the ruling Busaidi there too] to see that he returned to Zanzibar. So, he returned to Zanzibar and his imprisonment. Sayyid Barghash told his chief Qadi, Sh. Muhammad Sulayman Mandhry, to inform Sh. Ali b. Khamis that if he wished to be freed, he would have to take an oath before the Sultan and his court that he no longer adhered to his Sunni beliefs, but rather that he believed as he had formerly. Sh. Ali consulted with his shaykh, Sh. Muhammad Saleh [Farce], and Sh. Muhammad told him, “It is better that you swear this oath rather than submit your fate to Sayyid Barghash.(31) Speak only with your tongue while holding to your true beliefs.” So Sh. Ali returned to Barghash’s council and took the oath that secured his freedom. . . . Sh. Ali did not long survive his release from prison. He died in August 1885, at the tender age of only 36.(32)

As disturbing as the conversion of ‘Ali al-Barwani may have been to Barghash and other ardent Ibadhis, he was hardly the only one. The great Ibadhi shaykhs of the Mundhiri family must have been far more disturbed over the conversion of their own kinsmen, the Mundhiris of Mombasa and Pemba, to Sunnism, also during the reign of Barghash.(33) What would make an Ibadhi in a favored position with the government embrace Sunni Islam, even at the peril of his life or liberty? The sources do not give us any clue. Perhaps it was respect for the spirituality as well as learning of great Sunni scholars that led the Ibadhis to doubt their sect’s official attitude concerning Sunni Muslims. Both ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdallah al-Mazru‘i and ‘Ali ibn Khamis al-Barwani converted after studying with Sunni shaykhs. Sunni scholars also sometimes studied with Ibadhi scholars, especially if they were deemed extremely knowledgeable in Arabic language, grammar, and poetry.(34) One attraction that the Sunnis had over the Ibadhis in Zanzibar was that they kept the Friday congregational prayer, whereas, in the absence of a just Imam, the Ibadhis did not.(35) Some Ibadhis in Zanzibar began to go to Sunni mosques for Friday prayer. According to one anecdote, Barghash upbraided an Ibadhi in his circle for attending Friday prayer (at a Sunni mosque, because Friday prayers were not held in Ibadhi mosques), but the man cleverly averted Barghash’s anger by affirming that he was indeed living under the rule of a just Imam!(36) Another explanation for the large numbers of conversions to Sunnism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries may have been the desire to become an integral part of the larger worldwide Muslim community, of which Ibadhis were much more aware in cosmopolitan Zanzibar than in relatively isolated Oman. Finally, there may be theological explanations for Sunnism’s attraction. It is less austere and potentially less rigorous and more comforting than Ibadhism, with its teaching that Muslims will see God in paradise, and that Muhammad’s intercession will rescue them from hellfire. Another factor may be that Ibadhi theological texts were extremely long, dry, repetitive, and difficult to follow. One of ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mundhiri’s earlier works, Nahj al-haqa’iq, written in December 1896, The book is a summary of al-Istiqama, a classic Ibadhi work by one of the most authoritative scholars of Oman, Abu Sa‘id al-Kudami of the tenth century. In his introduction, Mundhiri explains why he wrote this book:

I have seen that many of our brothers in religion dislike reading Kitab al-Istiqama, because it is very repetitious, and consequently they have failed to understand it correctly. This book [that I am writing] intends to explain the meaning of Kitab al-Istiqama in an easier way, without leaving out any of its meanings. In fact, I have added some.(37)

Ali al-Mundhiri's Defense of Ibadism

We do not have any Sunni writings from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Zanzibar that indicate the nature of Sunni attacks on Iba∙ism. These can only be surmised from two short treatises by Shaykh ‘Ali al-Mundhiri (hereafter referred to as “Mundhiri”)(38) that were apparently prompted by Sunni attacks and Ibadhi conversions to Sunnism. The first, written in 1899 and Entitled Kitab Al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, is addressed to “the clever young man, Shaykh Salim ibn Sultan ibn Qasim Al-Riyami,” who had given him books written by “those who seduced this umma after the death of their Prophet, on whom be the most excellent prayer and peace, in order to convince him [al-Riyami] to fall into their fitna, as indeed he did.” The other is a fatwa written in response to an Ibadhi student’s question in 1914.

Mundhiri argues that Ash‘aris have a blind and fanatic allegiance to the founder of their theological school, although such taqlid inhibits exertion (mujahada), and God gives the guidance of His verses only to those who exert themselves to understand them, not to those who merely imitate the understanding of others. Ibadhis are under no obligation to follow anyone except one who is immune from error, and no one is immune from error but a prophet. Ibadhis are free to listen to anyone and take the truth wherever they find it.(39)

Mundhir's student, whose question prompted the fatwa of 1914, was horrified to learn that:

Shafi‘i says that God descends on the night of 15 Sha‘ban, and [his adherents] claim that He descends on every night in the last half of the month to the lowest heaven, and they claim that God created Adam in His image. Look at what Shafi‘i and his followers say! They describe their Creator with the characteristics of creatures, saying that He sits and descends and has finite dimensions and moves and is at rest! Whoever believes such things about his Creator has abandoned the teaching of the people of truth and enters perdition, and in the afterlife he will suffer the punishment of hellfire. What a horrible teaching they have believed! We dissociate from anyone who belongs to such a school and believes such things (Abra 'except Allah man like Switzerland madhhabuhu of i'tiqaduhu)!(40)

Mundhiri takes a more reasoned approach, clarifying subtleties in Sunni doctrine not appreciated by his student: “They say that He sits, but not like human beings. Ibn al-hawari said he rises but does not sit, and that he descends but does not come down (nazala of ma inÈadar). In another place he said, ‘not like the rising of the commander on his bed.’” Nonetheless, Mundhiri firmly agrees with his student that these subtleties contravene the prohibition against comparing God to human beings.(41)

Whereas Sunnis take the weighing of deeds on the Day of Judgment as literally true, Ibadhis do not. Mundhiri counsels his student: “If the opponents say this, ask them, ‘Are the deeds of people accidents or bodies?’ If they say, ‘Accidents,’ ask them, ‘How can accidents be weighed? When someone says, “Weigh the words that are said when you speak,” does this mean that the speaker is literally to weigh his words?’”(42)

A Sunni doctrine that Ibadhis find particularly offensive is that God can be seen. Al-Ash‘ari had argued that God can be seen because He exists, and every existent can be seen. However, Mundhiri points out, the Spirit exists but cannot be seen. He explains to Salim al-Riyami that, as the Qur’an says, “There is nothing like Him.”

Corporealism, accidents, inherence in a place, directionality, limitations, being encompassed, division, and all such things must be rejected concerning Him, and they are all necessary for visibility. To assert that God can be seen is to assert these impossibilities. Ibn Mas‘ud, ‘a’isha and ‘Ali all denied that the Prophet saw God, and likewise al-hasan and Qatada, using as their proof God’s words, “Eyes do not attain him” (Qur’an 6:103). And they know best the meanings of the Qur’an. “On that day faces will be radiant, looking at their Lord” (Qur’an 75:23) means “My umma will await permission from their Lord to enter paradise.” Muhammad ibn al-Muknadir gave a similar interpretation, and commented, “I have never met any rational person who said that God could be seen by one of His creatures, considering the fact that God said, ‘Those who do not expect to meet Us say, “If only he sent angels upon us or we could see our Lord!” They are arrogant and have committed a grave error’ (Qur’an 25:21).” If Moses’ request to see Him were proof of its possibility, you would not see its denial in the Book, the Sunna, and the sayings of the pious ancestors. When Ghazali rejected taqlid he saw the truth and inclined toward it and said that those of his Shafi‘i brethren who said taqlid was necessary had gone astray. He denied that God can be seen, and interpreted it in the sense of knowledge (ma'rifa) of God, which would increase in the afterlife. He also held that punishment in hellfire is eternal and did not say that one could leave hellfire, and he affirmed some other beliefs of ours in which we differ from the Ash‘aris, in agreement with the Book and the Sunna and the sayings of the salaf. Some of this is in his book called Al-Iqtiṣar fi ’l-I‘tiqad, and some of it is in Al-‘Aqabat, and some is in Kimiya’ al-Sa‘ada. . . .(43)

Mundhiri also defends the Ibadhi limitation of “believers” to those who observe their religious obligations, unlike the Sunnis, who acknowledge as “believers” those Muslims who believe in the teachings of Islam but fail to observe them. “We do not say that anyone who says ‘There is no god but Allah’ is a believer who will enter paradise, even if he has committed all the major sins and neglected to do all his obligations. We have no need to follow them in this doctrine, because the Book, the Sunna, and the sayings of the salaf contradict it. The Exalted One said, ‘By Time (wa ’l-‘aṣr)! Surely human beings are lost, except for those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to patience’ (Sura 103).” He also quotes Èadiths (presumably from the Ibadhi collection of al-Rabi‘ ibn habib) that deny the possibility of intercession for those who commit grave sins.(44)

Case (infidelity), argues Mundhir, is not limited to shirk (unbelief / polytheism):

God said, “Do We punish any but the ingrate (kafur)?” (34:17). They [the Sunnis]

know that God punishes those monotheists who die after committing a grave sin [without repentance], and they know that the Prophet said, “The killer of ‘Ammar(45) and those like him are sent to the Fire!” God says, “Its fuel is people and stones; it is prepared for the ungrateful (al-kafirin)” (2:24). They know that ‘Ammar was killed by Mu‘awiya’s group, and they [Mu'awiya's party] were not polytheists.

Among Mundhiri’s other proofs: (1) The Qur’an (3:97) refers to those who abandon performance of the hajj as kafara; (2) a Èadith affirms that anyone who has sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman is a kafir; and (3) in the Nahj al-Balagha, ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib said that, according to God’s Book, if he abandoned the fight against Mu‘awiya, he would be a kafir–and so passed judgment on himself as a kafir when he abandoned the fight, although he was not a mushrik. “Therefore, we do not agree with the statement that all kufr is shirk, but rather we say that there is a type of kufr that is not shirk, and that is the kufr of committing a grave sin that does not reach the severity of shirk.”(46)

Recognition of the category of kufr ni‘ma leads directly to discussion of the concepts of walaya (friendship) and Bara'a (avoidance/dissociation). These concepts are Qur’anic and all Muslims acknowledge them, but for the Ibadhis they occupy a central position in law and theology—which are not always in entirely separate domains, as they are among Sunnis. One must befriend those who are friends of God, and one must avoid or dissociate from those who are God’s enemies. The Qur’an says, “The believers do not take the kafirin as friends” (3:23) and “Do not befriend a people with whom God is angry” (60:13). From an Ibadhi perspective, those who hold wrong beliefs or commit grave sins are kafirin with whom God is angry, so a true Muslim avoids expressions of genuine friendship with such people. In theory, this means that Ibadhis should not have walaya with Sunni Muslims. This may not have been so problematic in the stronghold of Ibadhism, the mountains of inner Oman, but it is a problem in a diverse society, and perhaps especially for Ibadhis in Zanzibar, who were surrounded by Sunni neighbors, and for Ibadhi judges, who were forced to hold joint court sometimes with Sunni judges. Naṣir al-Rawahi, an Ibadhi judge in Zanzibar and a contemporary of ‘Ali al-Mundhiri, explained in his theological textbook, Al-‘Aqida ’l-Wahbiyya, that the obligation of bara’a does not mean that one cannot have cordial relations with kuffar, or even real affection for them, but that one should be careful not to do certain things that would imply walaya.

There is no harm in high morals, gentleness, polite speech, coexistence in kindness, cooperation, rescuing him from injustice, or helping him in a pious deed, as long as this does not strengthen him in rebellion against God or harm someone else. . . . If he is a monotheist, greet him and shake his hand if your heart is safe from religious love, and console him in his afflictions. If he is a polytheist, do not give him the greeting of peace or console him, except to counsel patience and contentment and to admonish him kindly. If he greets you with the greeting of peace, reply, “And on you.”(47)

Rawahi says that if a sinning Ibadhi, who is legally categorized as a “hypocrite” (munafiq), or a non-Ibadhi monotheist gives the greeting of peace, it is permissible to reply “And on you be peace and the mercy and blessings of God,” as long as one’s intention is to pray for God’s mercy and blessings in this life, not in the afterlife; it would be improper to pray for a heavenly reward for such people, as they are inevitably headed for hellfire if they do not repent and embrace correct doctrine and practice.(48)

Naturally, Sunnis found Ibadhi interpretation of walaya and bara’a offensive and deviant, and did not hesitate to say so. According to Mundhiri, the only reason Sunnis pay no attention to the duties of walaya and bara’a is because their books have omitted information on this, including hadiths like “The firmest tie of faith is to befriend in God, treat as an enemy in God, love in God, and hate in God,” and the Sunnis blindly follow their books. He decries Sunni unwillingness to denounce some of the Prophet’s Companions, especially with regard to the great civil war (fitna) that broke out after the killing of the third caliph, 'Uthman ibn' Affan, in 656, and pitched Mu‘awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, and later the Khawarij, against ‘Uthman’s appointed successor, ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib. Ibadhis declare walaya with the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, and believe that ‘Uthman was righteous in the first half of his twelve-year caliphate, but later committed grave sins that necessitated his assassination when he refused to repent and amend his ways, and that ‘Ali was the true caliph until he agreed at the battle of Ṣiffin in 657 to subject his dispute with Mu‘awiya to arbitration. Mundhiri writes:

They declare walaya with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar on the same level as with Mu‘awiya and his son Yazid and ‘Amr ibn al-‘aṣ, although none of these [last three] should be given walaya. They say that everyone who says, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” in all sincerity enters paradise. They also believe that at the end of time people who say “There is no god but Allah” and do not pray or fast will enter paradise. But the Messenger of God called the Murji’a the Jews of this umma, and [he called] the Rawafidha (Shi‘a) the Christians of this umma.(49)

Sunnis defend their “association” with all of the Prophet’s Companions by dismissing their disputes as a difference in the results of their ijtihad (their exertion to discern the truth), and, according to a Èadith, all mujtahids (people who do ijtihad) are rewarded for their effort to find the truth, whether or not they are correct in their conclusions; those who reach a correct conclusion receive a double reward. In their focus on the unity of the umma, they favor a hadith in which the Prophet says, “If a man calls his brother a kafir, the accusation is true of one of them.” In other words, a false accusation of kufr is itself a type of kufr. Such inclusivism in the definition of the community is a natural reaction of the Muslim mainstream against those with narrower definitions of a Muslim, especially the Khawarij. Mundhiri addresses Salim al-Riyami on this point:

Their claim that it is obligatory to maintain silence regarding the [faith status of the] Companions should be enough [evidence] for you [of the wrongness of their teaching], in addition to their claim that those who left ‘Ali because of the arbitration [the Khawarij] went astray—although the Khawarij were the chief Companions and the most knowledgeable of the Qur’an, as they [the Sunnis] admit in their scholarly writings! They claim that what happened between [the Prophet’s Companions] is merely ijtihad and that anyone who errs in his ijtihad is rewarded. They say the Khawarij went astray, and that the Prophet said that all those who go astray go to hellfire. So they contradict themselves and place them [the Khawarij] in hellfire after testifying that they [all mujtahids] receive a reward if they are mistaken, and two rewards if they are correct—although the consensus [of the Ibadhis] is that they [the Khawarij] were correct, as we explained earlier. So they nullify their reward after affirming it! Can any rational, fair-minded person say that this is silence concerning [the Prophet’s Companions]? This is worse than the accusation they make against us! Rather, their hearts are blinded. (50)

Sunnis claimed that Ibadhis had gone astray because they do not “associate with” all of the Prophet’s Companions, and apparently they claimed that Ibadhism involves cursing many of them. This may well have convinced some Ibadhis to convert to Sunnism, because Mundhiri’s discussion of walaya and bara’a leads directly to bemoaning the large numbers who had been seduced by Sunni criticisms on this point.

In spite of all that they never cease to say that Ibadhis are deviants who utter slander against them. They seduce the weak-minded among us and incline them toward them, so that they curse the Ibadhis and say they have gone astray, and they claim that our religious practice is to curse certain Companions. By this they repel people from us, because they have no knowledge of the matter. . . . How can they believe this slander? If cursing were really an Ibadhi religious practice or a form of worship, would our scholars have left us ignorant of it and not taught us about it, as they taught us how to pray and fast and do other religious practices? Cursing is not an act of worship among us. How can they make such a preposterous claim against us? They know that those whom they call deviant–that is, those who left [‘Ali] because he agreed to submit his dispute with Mu‘awiya to arbitration–are the remnant of the people of Badr and the helpers of the Prophet. They are the forerunners (al-sabiqun al-awwalun) among the Emigrants and the Helpers! Not–their hearts have been blinded by their adherence to the words of their Imam! My intention in writing this letter is to write only enough to warn you of their lies when they claim that our teachings are deviant. I have shown you many amazing evidences of their lack of truthfulness in all that they have claimed concerning this.(51)

Mundhiri criticizes the Sunnis for allowing Friday prayer in capital cities where the hudud of God are not observed. “They bless tyrants from the pulpits! And some of them allow congregational prayer with only two or three people!”(52) Mundhiri, like most Ibadhi scholars, felt that Friday congregational prayer should be held only in capital cities where Islamic law is applied.

Another point on which Mundhiri criticizes the Sunnis is that they allow non-alcoholic “intoxicants” like tobacco, henbane, and opium, although the prophet disallowed all intoxicants, and physicians affirm that these things corrupt the mind and harm the body, and their consumption yields no benefit in religion or in worldly affairs; rather, they cause the body to perish and wealth to dissipate. To consume such products is a form of suicide, and God said, “Do not slay yourself with your own hand” (Qur’an 4:29).(53)

He also criticizes Sunnis for allowing an adulteress to marry the one who committed adultery with her, although ‘a’isha said that if a man commits adultery with a woman and then marries her, they remain adulterers until the day of resurrection. “And they do not stop there, but say it is best for him to marry either the woman with whom he committed adultery or her daughter–that is, his daughter from the adulterous affair, although the Qur’an clearly condemns that! If it is prohibited even to marry one’s foster-children, how can it not be prohibited to marry the child who is born from one’s seed?”(54)

Mundhiri’s attitude on these points is consistent with Ibadhi tradition and with the attitudes of his contemporaries. Ibadhis teach that the only real Muslims are the ahl al-istiqama, the “people of straightness,” the Ibadhis. As the previously-referenced fatwa by Abu Nabhan indicates, apparently there have been Ibadhis who have wondered about the necessity of such exclusivism, but official Ibadhi doctrine remained thus until recently.(55)

Ibadhi-Sunni Interactions

Nonetheless, there is much evidence that in practice Ibadhis and Sunnis in Zanzibar were cordial and friendly with each other. A collection of letters written to and by the Sunni scholar, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi, includes correspondence with Ibadhi scholars, with questions addressed to and from Amawi on matters of grammar, and one question he addressed to an Ibadhi scholar on a matter of jurisprudence. All such questions are written and answered in the form of poetry, with the answer always following the metre and rhyme of the question.(56) In a book Amawi wrote on theology, Approximation ", IQD Fahmi al-ila al-aṭfal La'ali, Amawi records a letter he wrote to the Ibadhi scholar, Yahya ibn Khalfan ibn Abi Nabhan al-Kharuṣi, after Amawi’s wife had died, asking about the efficacy of a living person’s intercession for the dead in diminishing the dead person’s culpability, repelling punishment, and increasing the dead person’s rank in paradise. It is rather strange that Amawi should address such a question to an Ibadhi scholar, for this is one of the points of difference between Ibadhis and Sunnis—Ibadhis do not recognize the efficacy of intercession on behalf of sinners—but Amawi may have forgotten this at the time that he sent his question to al-Kharuṣi because of the closeness of their friendship. Apparently realizing the doctrinal difference upon receiving Shaykh Yahya’s response, Amawi readdressed the question to the Sunni scholar, Sayyid Ahmad ibn Sumayṭ, and received a response much more to his liking.(57)

It is interesting to note that despite the theological opprobrium attached to non-Ibadhis by Ibadhi docrine, British observers of Omani rule in East Africa often commented that Ibadhis are the least fanatic and sectarian of all Muslims, because of their generously considerate manners toward people of all religions. Ali Muhsin Al Barwani, a descendant of ‘Ali ibn Khamis al-Barwani, the convert to Sunnism who provoked Barghash’s wrath, writes about his memories of growing up in Zanzibar: “One would find in Zanzibar that all irrespective of personal belief celebrated the Prophet’s Birthday, Christmas or the Birthday of the Great Buddha or the Hindu Diwali.” He also wrote that Sayyid Sa‘id would not allow butchers to slaughter cows in Hindu districts, out of respect for their religious sensibilities. “In Oman as well as Zanzibar the Ibadhis and Sunnis pray together in the same mosques, intermarry and intermingle in every respect, without any feeling of estrangement. Indeed one may enter a mosque, follow an Imam and go out without knowing whether the Imam who has been leading prayers belongs to this or that sect.”(58) Even the most zealous Ibadhi of all the rulers of Zanzibar, Sayyid Barghash, had close Sunni advisers, and granted Anglican missionaries of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa permission to build a huge cathedral in the center of the city on the site of the slave market Barghash closed in 1873.

Ali Muhsin Al Barwani’s memoir was written to chronicle a lost society and the injustice of its overthrow. In January 1964 a Ugandan Christian named John Okello, who had been working as a laborer in Zanzibar, led a violent revolt against Arab rule that included massive bloodshed and atrocities inflicted on many Zanzibaris of Arab and Indian origin.(59) The revolutionary government adopted a Communist ideology, suppressed traditional Islamic scholarship, and are even said to have burned copies of the Qur’an, although about 97 percent of the population of Zanzibar was Muslim.(60) Most of the surviving Arab population fled to other countries, many of them to Oman, where there are many “Omanis” who speak Swahili rather than Arabic. The Ibadhi population of Zanzibar that remains is negligible, and much of the Islamic scholarship that flourished under Bu Sa‘idi rule has disappeared.

It is noteworthy that official interpretation of Ibadhi-Sunni relations has undergone dramatic change in contemporary Oman since the accession to the throne of Sultan Qaboos bin Sa‘id in 1970. The Grand Mufti of Oman, Shaykh Ahmad b. hamad al-Khalili, denounces sectarianism and dismisses the theological differences between Sunnis and Ibadhis as minor, coming to the foreground only as a result of Sunni criticisms or misunderstandings.(61) Most Omanis do not know what the theological differences between Ibadhis and Sunnis are.(62) Ibadhis acknowledge their historical linkage with the Khawarij, but strongly deny that they themselves are Khawarij, as they are so often labeled by outsiders. It is perhaps not insignificant that Shaykh al-Khalili hails originally from Pemba, an island that is part of the country of Zanzibar, where his perspective on sectarian relations formed in a manner that differs from the traditional perspective of the Ibaṣi heartland in Oman.(63) There are no institutes for advanced theological training in Oman today: the old schools of Nizwa and Rustaq no longer exist; students study for a baccalaureate in Islamic studies at the Shari‘a Institute in Ruwi, a town that is part of Greater Muscat. Those who wish to go beyond the baccalaureate study in Sunni universities in Medina or Cairo. Unlike ‘Ali al-Mundhiri, however, Shaykh al-Khalili does not seem concerned that this might lead to a decline in allegiance to Ibadhism. He was confident that the Omani students going overseas would retain their allegiance to Ibadhism, and that eventually higher theological institutes specializing in Iba∙ism would come into existence in Oman.


Ibadhi theological doctrines emerged from the heat of the political disputes of early Islam, and were nurtured in relative isolation from people of other faiths, in the mountainous interior of Oman and remote areas of North Africa. The cosmopolitan character of East Africa brought Ibadhis into close contact with Sunnis, Shi‘a, Hindus, and followers of other faiths. The Ibadhi sultans of Zanzibar ruled over a highly diverse population, who were mostly Sunni Muslims. Bu Sa‘idi rule in Zanzibar inaugurated the development of a scholarly Islamic culture in Zanzibar, where scholarship was fostered and attracted both teachers and students from other parts of East Africa. Ibadhi doctrine excludes Sunni Muslims from the category of “Muslim,” so theoretically Ibadhis should abstain from religious friendship with them, although they are included in the ahl al-qibla, and are accorded all the rights of a Muslim. In practice, Ibadhi-Sunni relationships were very friendly, and the Bu Sa‘idi sultans sponsored Sunni as well as Ibadhi scholars and appointed them as judges, and some Sunni scholars have been among the sultans’ closest confidants. During the reign of Sayyid Barghash (1870-88), there were some prominent conversions of Ibadhi scholars to Sunni Islam, provoking a severe reaction from the monarch, who established the first printing press devoted to the publication of Ibadhi works. The brief treatises by Shaykh ‘Ali ibn MuÈammad al-Mundhiri indicate the real sense of threat late-nineteenth-century Ibadhi scholars in Zanzibar felt from the attraction Sunni Islam held for many Ibadhis. Nonetheless, Ibadhi scholars had cordial and collegiate relationships with their Sunni counterparts, and in the second half of the nineteenth century some scholars crossed sectarian lines for the purposes of study and adjudication.

Religious conflict was remarkably absent from the domains of the sultans of Zanzibar.

Note: Financial support for this research was provided by the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (spring semester 2003), the Fulbright program for research in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (2000-2001, research in Oman), the University of Illinois Research Board (spring and summer 2000), the William and Flora Hewlett award issued by the Office of International Programs and Studies at the University of Illinois (summer 1999, research in Zanzibar), and the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (summer 1998, research in Zanzibar).


1. John C. Wilkinson, The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 12.

2. Nur al-Din 'Abdallah ibn al-Salimi humayd, Tuhfat al-a'yan sirat bi-ahl 'Uman, 2 vols. (Sib: Maktabat Nur al-Din al-Imam al-Salimi, 2000).

3. Wilkinson, The Imamate Tradition of Oman, p. 12.

4. Sa‘id ibn ‘Ali al-Mughayri, Juhaynat al-akhbar fi tarikh Zinjibar, and. Muhammad ‘Ali al-Ṣulaybi, 2nd ed. Muscat: Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, 1407/1986, p. 351 and elsewhere.

5. Hamid Abu Muhammad al-Ghazali, Al-Iqtiṣad in the i'tiqad, and. M. al-Qabbani (Cairo, n.d.), 105 ff.; Badr al-Din Ibn Jama‘a, Tahrir al-Ahkam fi governance Ahl al-Islam, and. H. Kofler, Islamic 6 (1934): 355; both cited in Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), ch. 1, “The Islamic State,” 14-15. Hamid Enayat also provides an excellent summary of Sunni and Shi‘i political thought in Modern Islamic Political Thought (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

6. For a brief twentieth-century Ibadhi self-presentation, see 'Ali Yahya Mu'ammar, Al-Ibadhiyya: Madhhab Islami mu'tadal (Muscat: Maṭba‘at al-Alwan al-haditha, 1988. A poorly-translated English version has also been published: Ibadhism: A Moderate Sect of Islam (Muscat: Ministry of Justice, Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, 1979). The Grand Mufti of Oman, Shaykh AÈmad ibn \amad al-Khalili, also wrote a more detailed defense of Ibadhi doctrine entitled Al-haqq al-damigh (Sib, Oman: Maktabat al-conscience li 'l-nashr of' l-tawzi ', 2001). On the one hand, Shaykh al-Khalili dismisses the differences between Sunnis and Ibadhis as relatively insignificant, and denounces sectarianism; on the other hand, he readily defends Ibadhism as the most rational interpretation of Islam.

7. There have always been some Ibadhis who have disagreed with this teaching, including Nur al-Din al-Salimi, WHO wrote hujaj Al-al-al-Salat ahkam muqni'a in jum'a (Muscat: National Ministry of History and Culture, 1996) in defense of congregational prayer even in the absence of a just Imam.

8. Wilkinson named him Abu Nahdha, “father of the [modern Ibadhi] renaissance.” The Imamate Tradition of Oman, p. 231. More properly, Wilkinson should have called him Abu ’l-Nahdha.

9. I have found three copies of this treatise in different manuscripts, in one of which Abu Nabhan’s polemic was reproduced in response to a question written in Muharram 1223/ March 1808, asking which sect was most dangerous to Islam. The three manuscripts are all in the Bu Sa‘idi library in Sib, Oman: 1) Abu Nabhan, Kitab Shifa’ al-qulub min da’ al-kurub, Bu Sa'idi ms. #320, pp. 141-51; 2) Ajwibat Abi Nabhan, Bu Sa'idi ms. #378, possibly the original in the author’s hand, pp. 1-16; and 3) in a collection of different manuscripts, Bu Sa'idi ms. #1766, pp. 40-60.

10. Bu Sa'idi MSS. #378, p. 3; ms. #320, pp. 142-3; ms. #1766, pp. 42-43.

11. I found this fatwa in a collection of manuscripts in the Zanzibar National Archives, FOR 8/40, but it is undoubtedly included in other collections, and was known to the Grand Mufti of Oman.

12. Nur al-Din ‘Abdallah ibn humayd al- Salimi, Jawabat al-Imam al-Salimi, and. ‘Abd al- Sattar Abu Ghadda, flight. 6, 2nd printing (Muscat: National Ministry of Heritage and Culture, 1999), p. 210.

13. Sayyid was the common title of the rulers of Oman and Zanzibar, until the British began referring to them as sultans. It does not refer to descent from the Prophet, whereas the use of the title Sayyid preceding the name of Ahmad ibn Sumayṭ and other Sunni scholars does indicate descent from the Prophet.

14. E.g. Sunni offenders Ahmad ibn Sumayṭ (1861-1925) and Burhan ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi (1831-1935) heard cases jointly with Ibadhi judges. Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi explained in a conversation with an adviser to Sultan hamad ibn Thuwayni (1893-96), “The sultan of Zanzibar rules according to all the sects and customs and laws, because he is entrusted with the guardianship of all the Muslims, and they follow many sects—Shafi‘is, Maliki, hanafis, hanbalis, and Shi‘a. Each must be judged according to the requirements of his sect. His judgment also extends to the Hindus, Banyans [Indian traders], and Zunuj (Non-Muslim Afrikaans), and they are people who have customs and laws; he should not compel any one to follow what he does not approve.” This conversation was recorded by Amawi and I found it in some miscellaneous papers owned by the Amawi family and found in Dar Es Salaam by Mwalimu Muhammad Idris Muhammad Ṣalih of Zanzibar.

15. Mughayri, Juhaynat al-press, 271.

16. Abdallah Saleh Farsy, The Shafi‘i ‘ulama’ of East Africa, as. 1830-1970, trans. and ed. Randall L. Pouwels (Madison: University of Wisconsin African Studies Program, 1989).

17. Mughayri, Juhaynat al-press, 524-5.

18. Salimi, Tuhfat al-a'yan, 2: 192.

19. Sa'id ibn Sultan's predecessor, Imam Ahmad ibn Sa'id, offered a handsome bribe to anyone who would kill Shaykh Abu Nabhan. The shaykh wrote a talisman that his son Nabhan hung over the water of the canal by the mosque where Abu Nabhan was staying. He ordered his son not to let the talisman touch the water, because if it touched the water the Imam would die, and the shaykh did not want that; he merely wanted to weaken him. Then, Salimi tells us on the authority of Naṣir ibn Abi Nabhan, “the ambition of the sultan failed and his strength weakened and his kingdom left him. His brother, Son of Sultan Ahmad ibn Sa'id of, rebelled against him and took every place in his kingdom except Rustaq. He [Imam Sa‘id] lost the respect of the people to the point that fish would be taken from a dish in his hand as he carried it from the market, and he could not stop them. He became a warning to onlookers and a sign to passersby. All the people knew this came from the shaykh’s work against him, and they all humbled themselves before the shaykh, and he became the most highly respected person. The shaykh then ordered his son to stop the work of the charm and to destroy it, lest it kill him.” After that the Imam left him in peace. Salimi, Tuhfat al-a'yan, 2: 202-203.

20. Ibid., 2:196-205.

21. Mentioned by Abdallah Saleh Farsy in the context of a Sunni book written in response to it, to be discussed below. I have not found any copies of this book, either in Zanzibar or in Oman.

22. Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Mundhiri, Jawab al-sa’il al-hayran al-mushtabah ‘alayhi fahm ayat al-Qur’an fi jawaz ru’yat al-bari ta‘ala, 'Ali ibn' Abd Allah al-Mazrui [Answering the bewildered questioner, 'Ali ibn' Abd Allah al-Mazrui, who is unable to understand the Qur’anic verses concerning the permissibility of seeing the exalted Creator] (Muscat: Ma‘had al-Qadha’ al-Shar‘i wa-al-Wa‘ẓ wa-al-Irshad, 1997), 160 pp. This book was written in response to a question put to him by ‘Ali al-Mazru‘i, the same Omani convert to Sunnism who wrote a response to Al-Khulaṣa ’l-damigha (see below).

23. Manuscript ZA 9/1 in the Zanzibar National Archives, a response to questions regarding: teaching and disciplining students (among other things, the shaykh recommends contests between students, in which the winner is allowed to beat his opponent!); the legality of buying what is hidden in the the ground, like onions, carrots and garlic; whether it is permissible for a woman to adorn her body with things like henna; the necessity of waiting for permission before entering someone’s house; and the necessity of giving a proper greeting. The Arabic Literature of Africa, and. John O. Hunwick and R.S. O'Fahey (Suffer: E.J. Brill), flight. 3: The Writings of the Muslim Peoples of Northeastern Africa, compiled by R.S. O’Fahey and currently under preparation, calls this collection Risalat al-irshad.

24. Kitab al-tashil muta'allim, the third manuscript in a collection listed as ZA 8/40 in the Zanzibar National Archives.

25. Ms. FOR 2/4 in the Zanzibar National Archives is a hodgepodge of mixed papers of magic and medicine belonging to and written by Muhammad’s brother, Sulayman, and dated 27 Rabi 'al-akhar 1274 (14 December 1857). For some reason, someone has marked an X over the text on pp. 4-10 that has the du‘a’ of Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mundhiri. The X stops precisely at the point where the prayer stops. This is followed by instructions for the care of the du‘a’: it should be written on a piece of silver or white silk on a night of full moon at a particular sign of the Zodiac, fumigated with musk and amber, carried on the head, kept clean of all contamination, and recited seven times a night with incense, but 21 times on Friday nights. “Whoever does this will have divine proofs revealed to him.”

26. Mughayri, Juhaynat al-press, p. 361.

27. There are many sources on hadhrami society and religion, including: R. B. Serjeant, The Saiyids of Hadramawt: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered on 5 June 1956 (London : School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1957); Linda Boxberger, On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002); A. S. Bujra, A.S. The Politics of Stratification: A Study of Poltiical Change in a South Arabian Town (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971); and Ronald Lewcock, Wadi Hadramawt and the Walled City of Shibam (Paris: Unesco, 1986). On the \a∙rami emigrant communities in East Africa, see Ulrike Freitag and William G. Clarence-Smith, eds., Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s (Suffer, New York, Koln: Brill, 1997) and Anne K. Bang, Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860-1925 (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

28. Farce, The Shafi‘i ‘ulama’ of East Africa, p. 32.

29. Ali Muhsin Al Barwani, a descendant of Barghash’s supporters, says the rebellion was in protest over Majid’s acquiescence over the British-directed division of the Omani empire between Zanzibar and Oman after the death of Sayyid Sa‘id in 1856. Sayyid Majid ruled the African domains, and his half-brother Sayyid Thuwaini ruled Oman. Conflicts and Harmony in Zanzibar (n.p.: n.d.), pp. 12-20. Although there is no date of publication, there is a photograph of the author in 1992.

30. Farce, The Shafi‘i ‘ulama’ of East Africa, p. 32. Farsy also wrote, p. 22, “Sayyid Barghash was indeed the Harun al-Rashid of the Zanzibar Busaidis, as well as their Ma’mun. The grandeur, pomp, reverence, and other attributes associated with Harun al-Rashid, the greatest of the Abbasid Caliphs, are also associated with Sayyid Barghash, the greatest of the Busaidi rulers.”

31. Pouwels translates this, “to avoid the fate which awaits Sayyid Barghash,” but that is incorrect.

32. Ibid., pp. 20-22.

33. Mughayri, Juhaynat al-press, p. 78.

34. Among the Sunni scholars Farsy mentions as studying with Ibadhi scholars are: Sayyid hasan ibn Muhammad ibn hasan Jamal al-Layl (d. 1904), who studied under two Ibadhi qadhis, Shaykh Yahya ibn Khalfan al-Kharuṣi and Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Mundhiri; Shaykh Sulayman Muhammad al-‘Alawi (1900-1970), who studied under several Ibadhi ‘ulama’, e.g. Shaykh Sayf ibn Naṣir al-Kharuṣi, Shaykh Naṣir ibn Salim al-Rawahi, and Shaykh Kaswar ibn hammud al-Rashidi; Sayyid ‘Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Shaṭiri (1865-1960) studied under Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Mundhiri; Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Barwani (1897-1953), son of one of the first Ibadhi converts to Sunnism, Studied under Sayf ibn Nasir al-Kharusi, who served as qadhi from the reign of Sayyid Barghash (1870-88) to the time of Sayyid hammud ibn Muhammad (1896-1902) and was considered the greatest Ibadhi scholar in Zanzibar; Shaykh Burhan ibn Muhammad Mkelle (1884-1949), who studied under shaykh Sayf Naṣir al-Kharuṣi and Naṣir ibn Salim ibn ‘Udayyim al-Rawahi, a great Arabist and poet; and Shaykh hasan ibn ‘Umayr al-Shirazi (1883-1978), who studied under Shaykh ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Umayr al-Azdi and Shaykh ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mundhiri.

35. This tendency was reversed by the current sultan in Oman, Qaboos ibn Sa‘id ibn Taimur, who ordered that Friday congregational prayer be observed in all major mosques. He also departed from the Ibadhi tradition of simple, unornamented mosques without minarets by building a huge and elaborately ornamented Grand Mosque in the capital in 2001.

36. I am unable to confirm this story, which was related to me by Mwalimu Muhammad Idris Muhammad Ṣalih in Zanzibar.

37. 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ali al-Mundhir, Nahj al-haqa’iq, Oman’s Ministry of National Heritage and Culture (hereafter MNHC) ms.#2602, written in the author’s hand and 2 Jumada 'l-ula 1314/ 9 Oct 1896.

38. I found them inserted into a manuscript of Risalat ikhtiṣar al-adyan in the library of the famous Nur al-Din al-Salimi (d. 1914) in the town of al-Mintirib in the province of Bidiyya, ms. #209. Although Kitab Ikhtiṣar al-adyan fi ta‘lim al-ṣibyan has been published (Oman: Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, 1986), I have not seen the published version and do not know whether it includes Kitab Al-Ṣiraṭ al-mustaqim or the fatwa, both of which I discuss here. Pagination for these two letters is separate from pagination for Kitab ikhtiṣar al-adyan. In this paper, I refer to page numbers for Al-Ṣiraṭ al-Mustaqim and for Fatwa, meaning these two letters that are included in with Kitab Ikhtiṣar al-adyan in ms. #209 of the Salimi library.

39. Al-Sirat al-mustaqim, pp. 2-3.

40. Fatwa, p. 4.

41. Ibid. Although there is an Ibadhi scholar named Muhammad ibn al-hawari, he is usually called “Abu ’l-hawari,” and the context seems to indicate a Sunni scholar. It is possible that Ibn al-hawari is ‘Urwa b. al-Zubayr (as. 643-713 CUE), an eminent traditionist and legal scholar whose father, al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awamm, was nicknamed al-hawari, “the disciple.” The Prophet allegedly said, “Every prophet has his true disciple, and al-Zubayr is mine.” Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Waqidi, Kitab al-Ghazi, and. J. M. Jones (Oxford 1966), 2:457, cited in I. Hassan, “Al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (Suffer: Brill), CD-ROM version, 2002.

42. Ibid.

43. Al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, pp. 4-9. Al-Muknadir (sometimes called al-Mundakir) was a hadith scholar whose father, al-Munkadir b. Hudayr, was a Companion of the Prophet. Al-Ghazali, though a Sunni, is highly respected among Ibadhis, especially on matters related to Sufism; so it strengthens the Ibadhi position to be able to claim him on this matter.

44. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

45. Abu ’l-Yaqẓan ‘Ammar ibn Yasir ibn ‘amir ibn Malik, a mawla and Companion of the Prophet, who was an early convert to Islam, suffered torture for his faith, and was among those who emigrated to Abyssinia. After the hijra he came to Medina, and fought with the Prophet in all his battles. He became an ardent partisan of ‘Ali and was killed by Mu‘awiya’s forces at the battle of Ṣiffin in 657.

46. Al-Sirat al-mustaqim, pp. 12-13.

47. “Peace be upon you” (As-salamu ‘alaykum) is a greeting that Muslims address only to other Muslims. If one is greeted in this way, the appropriate response to a Muslim would be “And on you be peace” (wa ‘alaykum as-salam), or, better yet, “And on you be peace and the mercy and blessings of God” (wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa raÈmat Allah wa barakatuh). RawaÈi is advocating the shortened response of “and on you” (wa ‘alayk) to avoid giving the Muslim greeting, while at the same time maintaining a level of etiquette.

48. I have relied on three different manuscripts of Al-‘Aqida ’l-Wahbiyya, all found in the library of Sayyid MuÈammad ibn AÈmad ibn Sa‘id al-Bu Sa‘idi in Sib, Oman: The oldest and most consistently reliable of the copies is #1739: 181 pages, copied by Salim ibn Sulayman, dated 8 Jumada al-Ula 1343 AH/6 December 1924. The copyist notes that his copy was checked againt the author’s own copy; the second is #270 ‘ayn, 111 pages, copied by Sayf ibn Musallam ibn Nujaym, completed 20 Ramadan 1380/ 11 March 1961; the third is not assigned a number and appears to have been printed with a computer, although apparently it has never been published. It was edited by Shaykh Sayf ibn Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Farisi, a teacher at the Institute of Shari‘a Studies in Ruwi, Muscat, from an annotated copy done by one of his students, Ṣalih ibn Sa‘id ibn Naṣir al-Qunubi. This copy is useful for the footnotes providing references to Qur’anic verses, hadiths and the works of MuÈammad ibn Yusuf Aṭṭafayyish and other Ibadhi authors, but the text contains many errors.

49. Fatwa, p. 4. The Murji’a (“the postponers”) opposed the Khariji teaching that Muslims who commit grave sins or persist in minor sins are apostates. The Murji’a held that judgment should be left up to God, and that evil deeds do not affect one’s status as a believer. Although this group came to be regarded as a heresy because of their insistence that faith is unaffected by works, their doctrines are remarkably close to those of Sunni Muslims, and Abu hanifa, founder of the hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, is said to have been a Murji’i.

50. Al-Sirat al-mustaqim, 24.

51. Ibid., 21-24.

52. Fatwa, p. 4.

53. Al-Sirat al-mustaqim, p. 14.

54. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

55. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi, As’ila wa ajwiba min wa ila ’l-‘allama ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Amawi, written in the author’s own hand on 13 Dhu al-Qa‘da 1299 (26 September 1882), in the private library of Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bu Sa‘idi, ms. 579 alif, pp. 101-105.

56. The Grand Mufti of Oman, Ahmad ibn hamad al-Khalili, denies that that the differences between Sunni and Ibadhi Muslims are significant enough to warrant concern, although his book, Al-haqq al-damigh, indicates that he remains convinced of the superiority of Ibadhi doctrine.

57. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Amawi, Approximation, IQD Fahmi al-ila al-aṭfal La'ali, manuscript No.. 667 ta’ in the library of Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bu Sa‘idi in Sib, Oman, pp. 240-253. Taqrib ‘Iqd al-La’ali is a prose commentary Amawi wrote on his own theological poem, ‘Iqd al-La’ali. Amawi’s question and the responses by al-Kharuṣi and Ibn Sumayṭ are all in the form of poetry, following the same metre and rhyme.

58. Ali Muhsin Al Barwani, Conflicts and Harmony in Zanzibar (Memoirs) (Dubai: n.p., 1997), pp. 32-33, 131. Barwani credits the Algerian Ibadhi scholar, Shaykh MuÈammad ibn Yusuf al-Aṭṭafayyish (1820-1914, whom Ibadhis refer to as quṭb al-a’imma, “Pole of the Imams”; Barwani calls him “Al It’feishi”) with ameliorating inter-sectarian misunderstanding through his publications, a task being continued by the current Grand Mufti of Oman, Shaykh Ahmad ibn hamad al-Khalili. Barwani also comments, “Many mosques used by Sunnis have been built by Ibadhis in East Africa, who also put up religious schools and maintained their teachers for the benefit of all, the majority of whom were Sunnis. There was no attempt by any group to convert a Muslim from one sect to another either by coercion or trickery such as luring a person by bribery, or office, or gifts, of journeys abroad or scholarships. Even in the days of slavery no master tried to compel or to induce those under his control or influence to change their sect.” Ibid., 133. Barwani also commends the generous philanthropism of Isma‘ili Shi‘a in Zanzibar.

59. On the Zanzibar revolution, see Anthony Clayton, The Zanzibar Revolution and Its Aftermath (London: C. Hurst, 1981); Michael F. Lofchie, Zanzibar: Background to Revolution (Princeton, 1965); And. B. Martin, Zanzibar: Tradition and Revolution (London: Hamilton, 1978); Petterson, Donald. The Zanzibar Revolution: An American’s Cold War Tale (Oxford and Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 2002); Amir A. Mohamed, Zanzibar: Facts, Figures and Fiction (Zanzibar: Alkhayria Press, 1994); and John Okello’s own account, Revolution in Zanzibar (Nairobi: East Afrikan Publishing House, 1967). There are also riveting accounts of the atrocities on the internet.

60. See Aman Thani’s internet site on the Zanzibar revolution and his own experiences of its atrocities, http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/abbey/313/truth8.html. I heard of this and far worse as well from Professor Ibrahim Noor of the Fine Arts Department at Sultan Qaboos University, in the course of conversations we had in 2000-2001.

61. For an interesting discussion of tensions caused by Saudi criticism of Ibadhism in 1986, see Dale F. Eickelman, “National Identity and Religious Discourse in Contemporary Oman,” International Journal of Islamic and Arabic Studies 6, 1 (1989), 1-20.

62. Eickelman notes, “The prescribed curriculum has made Islamic studies a scrupulously non-sectarian subject. . . . As a consequence, the formal curriculum contains no discussion of the development of Ibadhism nor of major doctrinal divisions within the Muslim community.” Ibid., 11. During my research, I found that Omanis were thrilled that I was actually reading Ibadhi works, but they were often unaware of what made Ibadhism different from other sects of Islam, and would ask me to explain the matter to them.

63. Shaykh Salim b. Hamad al-harithi, an Ibadhi mufti in the provincial town of al-Mudhayrib, is an elderly man whose background and education represent a continuity with the tradition of Nur al-Din al-Salimi. In an interview in September 2000, he confirmed that Ibadhis practice bara’a (dissociation) from Sunnis. In an interview with Shaykh al-Khalili in June 2001, he initially dismissed the idea that Ibadhis practice bara’a from Sunnis, or that Sunnis will go to hellfire. When I pointed out Shaykh Salim al-harithi’s response to my question on this matter, and quoted Abu Nabhan’s fatwa stating that the only ones who will enter Paradise are righteous Ibadhis, Shaykh al-Khalili acknowledged that this was Ibadhi tradition, but that perspectives had changed, and the differences between Sunnis and Ibadhis were now deemed insignificant. He was more wary of the doctrines of the Shi‘a, however.

This article contains No comment

Write your comment here

Please put article below
Your comment