Murji’ites

(murji’a)
   Like the Kharijites and Shi‘ites, the Murji’ites were a theological-political movement that arose in response to the formative controversy surrounding the third and fourth caliphs, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. They were vexed by the same questions that occupied the Kharijites – the question of the legitimization of political authority and the status of Muslims who commit grave sins – but took a considerably more moderate stance on both. First, the Murji’ites endeavored to restore unity to the Muslim community by advocating a kind of agnosticism with regard to ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. They maintained that any judgement about that matter must be deferred to God, and believers accordingly should neither affiliate themselves with nor dissociate themselves from either caliph. This was referred to as the doctrine of ‘deferral’ or ‘postponement’ (irja’) – hence the name murji’a, which means those who defer or postpone judgement. Second, they believed – contra the Kharijites – that consistently right action is not a necessary condition of being a believer, and that Muslims who commit grievous sins should not be legally excluded from the community of believers. They can be qualifiedly condemned as sinful believers, but whether they are ultimately to be punished or forgiven is a function of God’s will, which human beings cannot pretend to know. This ushered in a broader, more inclusive conception of faith as knowledge in the heart (specifically, submission to and love of God) and affirmation by the tongue. Although later rejected by Mu‘tazilites as well as many Ash‘arites and traditionalists, the Murji’ite doctrine of the primacy of belief initially won support from a broad array of heterogeneous scholars (perhaps most notably Abu Hanifa, the founder of the legal school of Hanifism), helping to usher in more equitable treatment for recently converted non-Arab believers. Once Muslims had come to a consensus regarding the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs, Murji’ism in many ways lost its political raison d’être, and subsequent theological schools focused increasingly on more speculative matters. However, unlike the extremist ideology of the Kharijites, the Murji’ites’ ideas were for the most part taken up into mainstream Islamic thought.
   Further reading: Watt 1962/85, 1973

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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