In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful;

Peace and Blessings upon the last Messenger ﷺ


Muhammad Ziyaad R


Despite the twenty first century being an era of information and communication, it is very unfortunate that there still exist many misconceptions regarding Islam. One such misconception is on the issue of terrorism. Naturally, any misconception has roots somewhere and when it comes to modern day terrorism associated with Islam, it is an ideological group historically known as Kharijism that has caused much of the confusion among the Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. In this paper, I will examine the creed and principles of the early khawarij, how they influenced modern day extremist groups and why they have deviated from traditional mainstream Islam.


Kharijism is the sect that the khawarij belong to. The word ‘Khawarij’ is the plural word of “khariji” and it comes from the Arabic root word ‘Kharaja’ which means ‘to leave’ or ‘to exit’ (Green 18, 1.2.1). In Islamic terminology, khawarij refers to the seceders, those Muslims who leave mainstream Islam, declare other Muslims as apostates and rebel against the rulers (Al-Shahrastaanee pp98-114). Imam Al Nawawi mentioned in Rawdat Ut Talibeen that “The Khaarijites are a group of heretics who believe that a person who commits a major sin is an unbeliever and will thus be punished in Hellfire for all eternity…” (Aal-Haamid p60).

The first of them, Dhul Khuwaisarah Al Tamimi, dared to call the Prophet ﷺ unjust because he did not agree with how some wealth was being distributed. This feeling of self-righteousness was shared by the other chiefs of Najd such as Dhul Khuwaisarah’s people who later rebelled against Abu Bakr’s caliphate under the leaderships of Sajaah and Musailama (Philips p21). This mentality of rebellion picked up pace again during the caliphate of ‘Uthman, led by a man by the name of Ibn Saba. His effort resulted in the assassination of Caliph ‘Uthman, May Allah be pleased with him. Ibn Saba and his followers joined the army of Ali, may Allah be pleased with him and caused further bloodshed. After Ibn Saba’s plot was discovered, he fled from Iraq and started preaching the divinity of Ali, a belief that was accepted by the Shia (Philips p37 footnote 73). Over time, the khawarij divided into subsects each having their own sets of beliefs, some more extreme than others such as the Azraqis, Ibadis and Sufris (Philips p31).


As I cited above, the khawarij are well known for declaring Muslims as disbelievers due to major sins (Ibn-Abdil-Izz p266). They claim that sins take the Muslims out of Islam and land them in hellfire forever (Ibn-Abdil-Izz p272). Based on this logic, they said that Ali committed kufr because he did not judge by the book of Allah but instead used arbitrators in the dispute with Mu’awiyah. This conviction that Ali was in opposition to their beliefs and thus an unjust ruler who committed kufr led them to assassinate him (Green p26).

The khawarij felt that rebelling against rulers and overthrowing them was a religious duty since they considered these rulers as unjust and going against their ideology (Green p29). The killing of the two righteous caliphs was the direct consequence of the khawarij outwardly criticizing and publishing their faults, which created resentment in the hearts of the people (Green p146). This behavior among the khawarij continued against the Muslim authorities resulting in the massacre of men, women and children during both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties (Philips p30).

The distinctive charateristice of the khawarij was their splitting from the jama’ah, which consisted of the sahaba and taabein at that time. In their zeal to practice their deviated version of the religion, they did not pray with Muslims in the masjid because they believed that the imam and his followers are disbelievers (Green p32). Not only did they separate from the Muslims, but they also treated them badly. They were known to plunder, pillage and take slaves and concubines from the Muslims they attacked. According to them, the Muslims were disbelievers and lived in ‘dar al harb’ i.e land where there is no truce with the Muslim land or the place they gathered (Green p34). A good example of this was when six thousand khawarij broke off Ali’s army after the battle of Siffin and encamped in Haroora, a town near kufa, Iraq. There, they chose Shuaib ibn Rib’ee al Tamimi as leader for battle (Philips p23). Although they were defeated, this example gives us a brief look at their way of thinking: this group, with no sahaba on their side were ready to fight and kill some of the best people of this ummah.

The khawarij were known to be extremely devoted to the religion: they wanted to adhere to its principles, practice the verdicts and stay far from the prohibitions (Green p34). One hadeeth states that the khawarij would be so pious that even the sahaba would consider their prayer and Quran recitation inferior to the khawarij (Al-Bukhari had. # 6931). In another narration, fasting also is mentioned (Al-Bukhari had. #6933). They are very serious regarding prayers and they are known for their long prostrations, and the mark of prostration on their forehead. Moreover, they had black marks under their eyes due to excessive crying (from piety) (Al-Shahrastaanee p107). We have a good insight from the words of Abdullah ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, after he visited them for the purpose of negotiation:

“When I entered their camp, I found a people whose devotion in prayer the like of which I had never seen. Their foreheads were scarred from continuous and prolonged prostrations, and their palms were calloused like the knees of camels. Their clothes were washed and their faces lined from staying awake all night.” (Philips p24)

Due to these signs of faithfulness, many among the Muslims and non-Muslims conclude that they must be representing true Islam, when in fact, they deviated from it. Because of their lack of knowledge in Islam, the khawarij follow their desire in understanding the Quran, interpreting it the way they want to. This course of theirs is only natural seeing that they left the Jama’ah which comprised of the scholars among the sahaba at that time (Philips p24). Thus they had to rely on their own opinions and idea of justice, which led them astray although they had a strong sense of virtue. In the same hadeeth quoted above, the meaning of “they will recite the Qur’an, the teachings of which will not go beyond their throats” is that they will recite it and yet will not understand the correct meanings. One example of their deviation is their misunderstanding of the verse “And whosoever does not rule by what Allah has revealed then they are disbelievers” (Quran 5:44). The correct understanding of this verse, as explained by Ibn Abbas is that whoever rejects what Allah has revealed is a disbeliever whereas someone who believes in it but does not rule by it is a sinner (Ibn-Kathir 5:44). The khawarij understood this verse to mean that all sinners are disbelievers. This shows us that one should not be fooled into believing groups that claim they are the saved sect despite their eloquence and devotion.


In modern times, we can see a number of groups in Muslim countries that arose calling to topple governments and set up states where they would rule by the book of Allah. These groups exist in different parts of the Muslim world such as the Al Shabab in Somalia, Jamat al Takfeer wal Hijra from Egypt, Al Qaeda from various countries and most recently, Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Their ideology has no doubt influenced many people, who may have other beliefs and yet they caught the disease of the khawarij in regards to criticizing the Muslim rulers.

All these groups in fact conforms to the creed and practices of the khawarij mentioned earlier. If one looks at the news these days, it is very clear. One example of a leading personality with such traits is Abu Hamza Al Misri, someone influenced by the Qutbi ideology who took asylum in the UK in the 1990s and openly preached jihad against governments. He was mistaken to be salafi but in fact he attacks Salafism and particularly the rulers of Saudi Arabia, especially after the Iraq war. His ideas have unfortunately become very popular among Muslims who are quick to adopt these khawarij principles (Green p159). Even worse than this nowadays is the group called Al Qaeda, out of which came ISIS which is even more extreme. It is clear that the disease of kharijism spread once again from the Ikhwan al Muslimeen movement from Egypt, which called for fighting westernization and colonialism.


Through studies of early kharijsm, one can apply the refutations of the early scholars against their modern counterparts. There are many narrations that describe the characteristics of the khawarij and their deviations. When one reads the following ahaadeeth, one can see the description of the people who belong to those jihadist groups:

  • Ubaidullah bin Abu Rafi’, the freed slave of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), said: When Haruria (the Khawarij) set out and as he was with ‘Ali b. Abu Talib (Allah be pleased with him) they said, “There is no command but that of Allah.” Upon this ‘Ali said: The statement is true but it is intentionally applied (to support) a wrong (cause). The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) described their characteristics and I found these characteristics in them. They state the truth with their tongue, but it does not go beyond this part of their bodies (and the narrator pointed towards his throat)(Al-Bukhari had.#6930). This hadeeth shows that they uttered the verse “There is no command but that of Allah” but they meant something else because they twisted its meaning to try to disprove Ali (Al-Nawawi 1066).
  • Allah’s Apostle, peace be upon him said, “During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith)”(Al-Bukhari 6930). Imam Ibn Hajr explained in Fath al Bari that these people will be ‘shabaab’ (i.e. young in age) and their minds will be of poor intelligence. ‘The best words’ refers to the Quran, as Abu Dawood and Al Tabarani said “يُحْسِنُونَ الْقَوْلَ وَيُسِيئُونَ الْفِعْلَ” meaning they will utter the best words but they will have the worst action (Al-Asqalani 6531)[1].
  • Ibn Majah recorded a Ḥadith from Ibn ‘Umar that the messenger of Allah said: “There will arise a group of people who will recite the Quran but it will not reach beyond their throats. Every time a new generation of them rises, they will then disappear.” Ibn ‘Umar said, “I heard Allah’s messenger say, ‘Every time a new generation of them rises, they will then disappear,’ more than twenty times and then said: “Until the dajjal finally appears in their midst.” Al Sindhi commented that the phrase ‘in their midst’ actually has two meanings in Arabic. It can mean among the last of them while they are in their worst deception, debating under many banners or it can mean in their great army or great number of followers (al-Sindhi had. #174)[2]. In other narrations, it is recorded that the place where the dajjal would emerge is between Iraq and Syria (Muslim had. #7015).
  • “It is related on the authority of ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him): ‘When you see the black flags, remain where you are and do not move your hands or your feet. Thereafter there shall appear a feeble folk to whom no concern is given. Their hearts will be like fragments of iron. They are the representatives of the State (Ashab al-Dawla). They will fulfill neither covenant nor agreement. They will invite to the truth, though they are not from its people. Their names will be aliases [i.e. Abu So-and-so], and their ascriptions will be to villages [e.g. Al Baghdadi]. Their hair will be long like that of women, till they differ among themselves, and then Allah will bring forth the truth from whomever He wills.’” (Nu’aym had. #557). This hadeeth is mawquf and has not been categorized authentic or weak by any of the classic scholars[3]. The chain of transmission is weakened by Rashdeen ibn Sad and ibn Lahee’ah[4]. This narration may be indicative of a prophecy towards the end when the khawarij will abandon shaving their head. In other narrations, it is mentioned that the khawarij who rebelled against Ali were known by their shaved head. It is recorded in Fath ul Baari that the Khawarij originated from the east i.e. Iraq, and it was their habit to shave their heads as a sign of worship but it was a bid’ah they invented(Al-Asqalani had. # 7123)[5].
  • Narrated Yusair bin `Amr: I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, “Did you hear the Prophet (ﷺ) saying anything about Al-Khawarij?” He said, “I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq. “There will appear in it (i.e, Iraq) some people who will recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game’s body.’ “(Al-Bukhari had. #6934)
  • Another of their sign is that “they would kill the followers of Islam and would spare the idol-worshippers”(Muslim had. #1064)

One major sign of their deviation is the lack of scholarship in their ranks and having so called scholars giving fatwa on issues that will benefit their cause (Baksh p4). Just as Dhul Khuwaisarah thought he knew better than the Prophet, peace be upon him and just as the harooris thought they knew better than Ibn Abbas (RA), similarly the modern khawarij go against the words of the scholars. Sheikh Saleh al Fawzan said that the people who make takfir of rulers and ignorant and misguided. In regards to bombing and killing civilians, Sheikh Al Uthaymeen said that it is a filthy methodology that causes harm to Islam (Khawārij p20)[6]. Similarly, Imam Al Shawkanee said that killing women, children and old, except out of necessity is not permitted and it is also not permitted to torture by mutilation or burning by fire. Even when the Prophet’s companions were mutilated at Uhud, he did not return the act of barbarity (Green p230).


Some Muslims nowadays have taken to criticizing Muslim rulers without realizing that this is in fact a trait adopted from the khawarij ideology. They justify their criticism from the oppression of the rulers or what they perceive as injustices towards the ummah. However, we can find clear evidence in the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ that criticizing is not the Sunni way, rather it is the way of the khawarij. What is confirmed in the sunni tradition is to make dua for them to be upon the guidance of the Creator and to be good rulers for the ummah.

Al-Imam Al-Ajurri (d360H) states (Al-Shari’ah Vol 1 p371), ‘I have mentioned warnings against the ways of the Khawarij that convey the message for everyone who Allah protects against the ways of the Khawarij, and who does not hold the views of the Khawarij, but is [instead] patient over the injustice of the rulers and who prays for the wellbeing and righteousness of the rulers, and who does Hajj and Jihad behind the rulers against every enemy of the Muslims, and who prays the Jumu’ah and Eid prayers behind the rulers. Whoever fits this description is upon the Straight Path; insha Allah.’

Al-Fudayl bin Ayyad [Allah have mercy on him] said, ‘If I had one supplication that was going to be answered I would make it for the ruler, for the wellbeing and righteousness of the imam, for it means wellbeing for the land and its people.’ Al-Dhahabi, Siyar A’lam Al-Nubala`

Al-Barbahari (Sharh Al-Sunnah p113, 114) states, ‘If you see a man supplicating against the ruler, know that he is a heretic (sahib hawa), and if you see a man supplicating for the ruler, know that he is a Sunni insha Allah.’

According to Imam Al Tahawi, the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah does not make takfeer anyone of Ahlul Qiblah for committing a sin

It is Sunnah to hear and obey the Imaams and Ameers of Muslims, the righteous among them as well as the corrupt,as long as they do not command the disobedience of Allaah. For no one deserves obedience [if it involves] disobedience to Allaah. It is obligatory to obey whoever administers the caliphate, whether people agree on him and are pleased with him, or whether he captures the caliphate by conquest with the sword and is called Ameerul-Mu’mineen (Leader of the Faithful). It is forbidden to oppose and disobey him or to revolt against him and break the unity of Muslims.[Lum’atul I’tiqaad]

The Prophet (r) was authentically reported by ‘Imraan to have said, “No obedience is due to the creatures if it involves disobedience to the Creator.” [Ahmad and al-Haakim, and authenticated in Saheeh al-Jaami ‘ as-Sagheer, vol. 2, p. 1250, no. 7520]. There is also another narration related by ‘Alee ibn Abee Taalib in which the Prophet (r) said, “No obedience is due to anyone if it involves disobedience to Allaah. Indeed obedience is in what is good.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, pp. 128, no. 203 and Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1022, no. 4534. The wording here is that of Muslim.)

“The Messenger of Allaah (r) called us and we made an oath of allegiance to him. Among the injunctions he made binding upon us was: listening and obedience (to the ameer ) in what is pleasing for us and what is displeasing, in times of adversity and prosperity, even when somebody is given preference over us, and without disputing the delegation of powers to a man duly invested with them except when we see clear and open disbelief from him, for which we have evidence from Allaah.” (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1023, no. 4541)

Waa’il al-Hadramee related that Salamah ibn Yazeed asked Allaah’s Messenger, “Prophet of Allaah, if we have rulers who rule over us and demand that we discharge our obligations towards them, but they don’t discharge their own responsibilities towards us, what do you order us to do?” The Messenger of Allaah avoided giving any answer, so Salamah asked him again, but again he avoided giving an answer.Ash‘ath ibn Qays pulled him aside and the Prophet (r) said, “Listen to them and obey them, for on them will be their burden and on you will be yours.” (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1027, no. 4551.)


In the sunni traditions, we understand Najd according to what the great imam, commentator of Saheeh Al Bukhari, Ibn Hajar described. He said: “Al-Khattaabee said: The Najd in the direction of the east, and for the one who is in Madeenah then his Najd would be the desert of Iraaq and it’s regions [baadiya al-Iraaq wa Nawaaheehaa] for this is to the east of the People of Madeenah. The basic meaning of Najd is that which is raised/elevated from the earth in contravention to al-Gawr for that is what is lower than it. Tihaamah [the coastal plain along the south-western and southern shores of the Arabian Peninsula] is entirely al-Gawr and Mecca is in Tihaamah.” [Fathul Bari 13/58-59][7]. Hence, Najd is not only in Arabia but also part of Iraq. This point is important because some Muslims restricted the definition of Najd to an Arabian region only. Then, they went to extremes in labelling those from the Arabian region as heretics and disbelievers based on certain narrations taken out of context. Out of ignorance these Muslims favored the ideology of takfeer from the khawarij causing division in the Ummah by labelling whole groups as unbelievers. The Sunnis however, must acknowledge all the narrations about Najd in Arabia and Iraq, as explained by the scholars such as Imam Al Nawawi and Ibn Hajar al Asqalani. Only the ones with an agenda will continue to promote their ideology that Najd is in Arabia only.

To understand the fallacy in their arguments, one can look at the very hadeeth they quote to make their claim. It is a hadeeth in Saheeh Muslim that specifies tribes: “Verily Iman is towards this side (Yemen), and harshness and callousness of the hearts is found amongst the rude owners of the camels who drive them behind their tails (to the direction) where emerge the two horns of Satan, they are from the tribes of Rabi’a and Mudar” (Muslim, had. #51). None of the great commentators of ahaadeeth concluded what they caimee. Imam Al Nawawi commented that the emergence refers to the east where the dajjal emerges (Al-Nawawi). It is well known from many clear narrations that the dajjal will emerge from Iraq. Likewise in the explanation (sharh) of Sahih Al Bukhari, what is referred to is Iraq and even the Majoos from the Farsi Kingdom, and those people who are the Bedouins from the two tribes of Rabi’a and Mudar. The understanding of what is meant by “they are from the tribes …” in no way mean every single one from Rabi’a and Mudar is evil, rather the fitna will be caused by those from these tribes:


قَوْلُهُ : ( رَأْسُ الْكُفْرِ نَحْوَ الْمَشْرِقِ ) فِي رِوَايَةِ الْكُشْمِيهَنِيِّ ” قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ ” وَهُوَ بِكَسْرِ الْقَافِ وَفَتْحِ الْمُوَحَّدَةِ أَيْ مِنْ جِهَتِهِ ، وَفِي ذَلِكَ إِشَارَةٌ إِلَى شِدَّةِ كُفْرِ الْمَجُوسِ ، لِأَنَّ مَمْلَكَةَ الْفُرْسِ وَمَنْ أَطَاعَهُمْ مِنَ الْعَرَبِ كَانَتْ مِنْ جِهَةِ الْمَشْرِقِ بِالنِّسْبَةِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ ، وَكَانُوا فِي غَايَةِ الْقَسْوَةِ وَالتَّكَبُّرِ وَالتَّجَبُّرِ حَتَّى مَزَّقَ مَلِكُهُمْ كِتَابَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَمَا سَيَأْتِي فِي مَوْضِعِهِ ، وَاسْتَمَرَّتِ الْفِتَنُ مِنْ قِبَلِ الْمَشْرِقِ كَمَا سَيَأْتِي بَيَانُهُ وَاضِحًا فِي الْفِتَنِ[8]

(Al-Asqalani had. #3125)


Another hadeeth that clarifies what the “horns of satan” is comes from the collection of Sahih Muslim Book 041, Hadith Number 6943:

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عُمَرَ بْنِ أَبَانَ، وَوَاصِلُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الأَعْلَى، وَأَحْمَدُ بْنُ عُمَرَ الْوَكِيعِيُّ،-وَاللَّفْظُ لاِبْنِ أَبَانَ – قَالُوا حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ فُضَيْلٍ، عَن أَبِيهِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ سَالِمَ بْنَ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ،بْنِ عُمَرَ يَقُولُ يَا أَهْلَ الْعِرَاقِ مَا أَسْأَلَكُمْ عَنِ الصَّغِيرَةِ وَأَرْكَبَكُمْ لِلْكَبِيرَةِ سَمِعْتُ أَبِي عَبْدَاللَّهِ بْنَ عُمَرَ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏”‏ إِنَّ الْفِتْنَةَ تَجِيءُ مِنْ هَا هُنَاوَأَوْمَأَ بِيَدِهِ نَحْوَ الْمَشْرِقِ ‏”‏ مِنْ حَيْثُ يَطْلُعُ قَرْنَا الشَّيْطَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ وَأَنْتُمْ يَضْرِبُ بَعْضُكُمْ رِقَابَ بَعْضٍ وَإِنَّمَا قَتَلَ مُوسَى الَّذِي قَتَلَ مِنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ خَطَأً فَقَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لَهُ ‏‏ قَالَ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ عُمَرَ فِي رِوَايَتِهِ عَنْ سَالِمٍ لَمْ يَقُلْ سَمِعْتُ

“Ibn Fudail reported on the authority of his father that he heard Salim b. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar as saying: O people of Iraq, how strange it is that you ask about the minor sins but commit major sins? I heard from my father ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar, narrating that he heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying while pointing his hand towards the east: Verily, the turmoil would come from this side, from where appear the horns of Satan and you would strike the necks of one another.” In this narration, is being specified.

Ibn Hajar also came to the same conclusion in his commentary on Al Bukhari’s hadeeth Book 93 Hadith 651, narrated by Abu Saeed Al Khudri:


قوله ( يخرج ناس من قبل المشرق ) تقدم في ” كتاب الفتن ” أنهم الخوارج وبيان مبدأ أمرهم وما ورد فيهم ، وكان ابتداء خروجهم في العراق وهي من جهة المشرق بالنسبة إلى مكة المشرفة

“It is mentioned in the “Book of Fitan”, that they are the khawarij … their beginning was in Iraq, which is east from Makkah”

What can be concluded from all the narrations available regarding Najd is that fitna was to come from Najd, as in the example I gave from the false prophets in Yamama as well as all the way east in relation to the coming of the dajjal in Iraq.


The purpose of this paper was to identify the traits of the early Khawarij as compared to modern extremist and analyze their beliefs and actions in the light of Islamic texts. One can clearly see the similarities of the early khawarij and those of this age. Despite their claims to the truth and their eloquence in voicing it out, their actions of extremism, criticizing, rebelling against rulers and killing the Muslims shows that they have deviated from the truth, since the left the main body of the Sunni Muslims. Their call is so deceptive due to their talent in twisting the verses of the Quran that many people got tricked into at least accepting and propagating some of their ideology. However, as time goes by, their actions will betray and expose them as who they really are, especially when the dajjal finally emerges amongst them.


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[7]English translation taken from