|The transfer of power from the Sufyani to the Marwani branch of the Umayyads was attended by an interregnum during which the early Muhakkimah threw their lot in with `Abd Allah b. Zubayr who advanced a claim to caliphate. Following their abortive attempt to seize power what had up to that time remained dormant in terms of creedal and political differences among the Muhakkimite leaders came to the fore in the form of a fundamental schism. In 65 AH the leaders of the movement left the camp of Ibn Zubayr for their homes in Basra and Yamamah. They were split over the method of treating non- Muhakkimites and thus went on to set up their own sects. Nafi` b. Azraq and his followers, especially the Bani Ma’huz, are mentioned in historical sources as the main culprits for the breakup of the Muhakkimah and Ibn Zubar.
Upon their arrival in Basra Nafi` b. Azraq along with a group of Muhakkimites were arrested on the orders of Ibn Ziyad. As a result of the developments that followed Yazid’s death Nafi` and his followers managed to gain their freedom. Taking advantage of the ethnic disturbances that had broken out in Basra, Nafi` soon moved to muster a powerful army whose imminent threat was realized by the Basran leaders only when it had become too late. Upon the establishment of an Azraqite army in Ahwaz, Nafi` declared a number of extreme religious positions, severed his ties with the Qa`adah, and announced armed insurrection as an inevitable course of action. In the second half of the 1st century AH, especially in 64 – 78 (684 – 697 AD), the Azariqah played a crucial political role. During this period of 14 years they succeeded in establishing an external imamate and harried various parts of the Iranian territory under a succession of leaders.
In spite of the fact that the early Azraqites were among the Arab tribes of Basra, certain aspects of their belief created an attraction for free Iranians as well as for the slaves who had been disaffected by the social limitations imposed by the Umayyad government and who viewed the Azraqite religion as a way to their salvation. This made the Azraqites to appear more than just a band of dangerous insurgents. However, the Azraqite army suffered from deep divisions in the later years of its existence and the last traces of the Azraqite political influence disappeared in 78 AH. The last rump of the Azraqite movement which survived the bloodshed was a group of the followers of `Ubaydah b. Hilal in Qumis who remained loyal to the Azraqite cause to the very end. During a period in the reign of Hajjaj b. Yusuf (reigned 75 – 95 AH) there existed a band of Azraqites in Rayy whose advocacy of the notion of isti`raz (killing of the enemies along with their women and children) had caused great concern among the people of the region.
As regards the theological views of the Azraqites the following is worthy of mention. Nafi` b. Azraq considered all Muslims who opposed his position as apostates and as having completely abandoned the religion of Islam. The Azraqites considered taqiyyah (dissimulation of one’s beliefs) as unlawful both in word as well as in action, with the logical corollary of the need for hijrah and armed rising. The practical consequence of Azraqite beliefs was reflected in their practice of isti`raz and killing of their enemies. Even the women and children of other sects were not spared the Azraqite wrath for they were considered as infidels whose murder was sanctioned by religion.
The Najdites who were named after their founder Najdah b. `Amir were among the moderate Muhakkimah who unlike what is asserted in heresiographical sources were more of a political union than a uniform theological school. Najdah set up a small imamate in Yamamah in 61 AH and took an active part in the Muhakkimite coalition with Ibn Zubayr. However, the extreme positions adopted by the latter in the aftermath of the Muhakkimite schism caused Najdah to distance himself from the movement. Following the great Muhakkimite schism Najdah was also joined by Abu Talut and Abu Fadayk, the leaders of the major tribe of Bakr b. Wa’il, as well as by `Atiyah b. Aswad, one of Bani Hanifah chieftains. Around 68 AH the Najdite imamate fell victim to internal strife and disappeared in 73 AH, along with the last remnants of the Najdites. Najdah and his followers and allies were of a moderate orientation. In a letter addressed to Nafi` b. Azraq, Najdah underscores such views as the lawfulness of qu`ud, avoidance of isti`raz, and the need for honoring obligations to enemies. The Najdites, unlike the rest of the Muhakkimah, did not consider those who commit grave sins (kabirah) as apostates and as worthy of eternal damnation.
The impetus for the formation of the `Ajaridah and Tha`alibah branches of the Muhakkimah must be sought in the teachings of `Atiyyah b. Aswad who was a leader in the Najdite coalition in Yamamah. He broke off form the group in 72 AH and established himself in southeastern Iran where he succeeded in attracting followers who came to be known as the `Atawiyyah. `Atawite teachings continued to strike roots in that part of Iran in the decade of 70 AH. However, with the death of `Atiyyah around 80 AH and the transfer of power to his followers the `Atawite religion began its gradual splintering into the two sects of `Ajaridah and Tha`alibah, both of which remained loyal to the core principles of the `Atawite religion. `Abd al-Karim b. `Ajrad was a pupil of `Atiyyah, with his own set of idiosyncratic ideas, who managed to rally a large number of `Atawites around a body of revised `Atawite teachings which served as a foundation for the `Ajarite religion. In addition, he succeeded in reconstituting the short-lived and weakened Muhakkimah imamate in Sajistan. The absence of `Atiyyah, as an indomitable source of authority, resulted in an atmosphere of factionalism and mutual renunciation (bara’ah) among the `Atawites. The major cause of division between the two sects of `Ajaridah and Tha`alibah was the divergence of opinion between Tha`labah b. `Amir (also known as Mishkan) and Ibn `Ajrad over the subjects of wilayah and excommunication (bara’ah) of children, a fact that resulted in their mutual denunciation of each other as apostates.
Another personality involved in the schism was Abu Bayhas Haysam b. Jabir who for a time was a firebrand leader in the Najdite coalition. Among his particular teachings is the moderate position on the distinction between “ma yasa`ah jahluh” and “ma la yasa`ah jahluh” and that it is lawful to suspend judgment on the latter. The rise of the Sufriyyah, whose extremist positions were not far behind those of the Azraqites, even if not placed during the great schism of 65 AH, as reported by Tabari on the authority of Abu Mikhnalif, was not much later. The first historical record of the Sufriyyah dates to 76 AH in the Jazirah (the northern part of the territory situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates). The movement was led by Salih b. Musarrah who also enjoyed a following in Kufah. Salih was so venerated by the later Sufriyyah that his tomb in Mosul was turned into a shrine.
Finally, in the discussion of the great schism mention should be made of the Ibadiyyah whose leader `Abd Allah b. Ibad was among the prominent leaders of the Muhakkimah who stood up to the fanaticism of Nafi` b. Azraq. Another personality who played a crucial role in the formation of Ibadi ideas was Abu al-Sha`tha’ Jabir b. Zayd, one of the prominent Successors of Basra, who was recognized as imam by the Ibadiyyah, in spite of the fact that he was on a par with Hasan Basri in terms of his education. The Umayyad government remained tolerant of the group in Basra during the life of Ibn Ibad. However, their militant actions caused them to fall out of favor with Hajjaj who eventually sent Jabir and a group of Ibadi leaders into exile in Oman.