Where is the Murji’ah Movement Today?

Much have been written about the Murji’ah and can be found in the classical texts Muqaalaat al-islaamiyeen, al-Farq baynal Firaq and in Abi Al-Fath al-Shahristaani (d.548AH)’s Al-Milal wan Nihal. Shahristaani explains that the word al-Irjaa has two meanings: one, ‘to defer’ (judgement) and the other to ‘give hope’.  According to the Shahristaani when one speaks about the Muji’ah it is the deferring of judgment that is popularly implied and not that of giving hope. He cites verse 111 of chapter 7 to indicate where that meaning has been derived from in the Arabic language.

Shahristaani explains that the Murji’ah earned the title of those who defered judgment, because they delayed acting on intention and religious obligation. As for the second meaning of Ijraa that too is naturally implied, because they argued that disobedience does not negate belief or Imaan in Allah. Hence, if a Muslim or believer commits acts of disobedience, for instance, Zina and theft, that does not mean that they are faithless. Similarly, being obedient (to God) is of no benefit to Kufr; meaning that for a disbeliever who denies the Oneness of Allah or even His existence in the first instance, acts of obedience, such as prayer are fruitless.

“لا تضر مع الإيمان معصية، كما لا تنفع مع الكفر طاعة”

The essence of this whole contention lies in the meaning of al-Imaan and al-Kufr, two concepts that we continue to take for granted, around which sprung up a lot of civil strife in the early formation of Muslim civil order.

Jahm bin Safwaan who many have attributed to the rise of Mu’tazilism, according the the author of the Maqaalaat al-islaamiyeen, Abil Hasan Al-ash’ari, was the first to define, Imaan or faith as merely ‘Knowing Allah’ or knowing about God (المعرفة بالله) alone, and Kufr or disbelief as being ‘Ignorant’ or not knowing about God (الجهل بالله).

Think about what is implied in holding this position and the wider impact this understanding of faith and disbelief can have upon our understanding of the other and social and religious relations in general. Can you imagine the repercussions these ideas amongst others, which we are not dealing with at the moment, would have had upon the intellectual climate of  around 100AH. Now fast forward and think about the current rise of so called liberal Muslim forces in the wider context of the achievements of Western modernity and calls for the separation of religious beliefs from social spaces and of the public domain of politics. I am referring to post modernist notions of ‘Religious Freedom; Multifaithism; Inclusive Monotheism as understood to encompass that of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and a host of isms under the praxis of ‘anything goes’ so long as one believes in a supreme designer or Creator of the Universe.

Enough imagining. Shahristaani identifies a range of splinter groups that held similar beliefs to the Muji’ah and thus were classified as such. Without mentioning names here is a summary of definitions and ideas of Imaan put forward by various Murji’ah groups:

1. Faith is knowing Allah, and being humble towards Him and loving Him with the heart; so whosoever, has these traits is a Mu’min or a believer. Actions are not considered part of faith, so one will not be punished for non obedience in matters of actions.

What is meant here is that those choosing not to pray will not be punished, if their faith is sincere and their conviction truthful. They cite an example of this when Iblis (May Allah curse him) who believed in Allah, but was characterised as a disbeliever because of his pride and arrogance towards Allah. This they argued is the meaning contained in chapter 2 verse 34 of the Holy Quran.

2. All acts except Shirk are forgiven, so if a person dies on Tawheed, sins committed will not harm him or her.

3. Faith is knowing Allah His messenger, acknowledging what Allah has revealed and what His messenger brought without delving into specifics. So when Allah commands the performance of alHajj, to Mecca, that could be India and not necessarily in Mecca.

4. Faith is knowing Allah and that only implies that the world has a Creator alone and denying that essential understanding is Kufr. So if someone believes in the Trinity that in itself is not Kufr. However it is expressed belief that one is likely to hear from a kafir, they argue.

These are some of the ideas of those who held extreme Murji’ah views. There are those who were accused of being Murji’ah, like Imam Abu Haneefah (May Allah have mercy upon him) for holding the belief that those committing major sins cannot be excommunicated from Islam, nor be declared to be among those that will be assigned to Hell for eternity. He also believed that faith was acknowledgement by statement and belief and did not include action in the meaning of Imaan.

The Ahnaaf position was a semantical one and not one promoting laxity in the practice of Deen, because it is quite clear in the Hanafee Fiqh for instance,that prayer and alms giving is compulsory and if not done such a person will be punished by Allah.

In all fairness, forms of Murji’aism have put forward arguments worth our consideration. Abul Hasan al-‘Ash’ari mentions a whole range of the their approaches, one approach which demonstrates the maturity of the views which is very much the essence of that of Abu Haneefah for instance, is that of Muhammad bin Shabeeb. Al-Imaan, was defined by him and his followers as: Acknowledging the existence of a God, and that there is non-comparable to Him and acknowledging all of His Prophets and Messengers and all that they gave to us from Allah as well as that which has been transmitted to us from the Holy Prophet (pbuh) related to prayer and fasting, those matters of religion about which there is no dispute or disagreement. As for those matters which there has been disagreement, those who rejects an opinion in favour or another cannot be excommunicated from Islam, because the position that such a person holds is a matter of belief …

The Murji’ah Movement like most of  the early social and political movements in Islamic history were made up of protagonists and antagonists seeking a better life for Muslims. It is the case with new ideas that are born in period of crisis and turmoil, that through a process of debate and criticism they usually find a place in human thought and history in a modified and palatable form.

Like the Shia’h, who supported the leadership of the Prophet’s cousin Ali (ra) and his linage’s right to rule over that of Mu’aawiyah (ra), the usurper of power; those who called to sticking to the traditions of the Holy Prophet (Sunnah) and Unity (Jamaa’h) of the early Muslims by conceding power to the house of Ummayyah; the Khawaarij, who took a Takfeeri or excommunication of some Muslims leaders and those that agreed with them – above referring to the Word of Allah’s approach – in the civil war between Mu’aawiyah and the House of ‘Ali; the Murji’ah, who argued for a personalised approach to religious duty and social inclusiveness and the Mutazilah and those coming after them who championed the role of Human Reason and the Muttasawwifah who later consolidated their arguments for the esoteric and humble life that was reminiscent of some companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), all of these Movements have endured today and continue to shape voices against various forms of oppression or repression, even though some have modified their theological positions over time in accommodating social stability and power.

This issue of defining who was a Believer and who was not, was born in a climate of instability and conflict what is important to take into consideration when looking at these dismal events and who said and did what, is to imagine the expanding muslim rule outside of the birth place of Islam, largely Medina; the internal strife and the need to make sense of the key issues at the heart of the madness, such as the meaning of Faith and Disbelief. This was the back ground of the politics of the age and it is in context as many matters which make up our ‘Aqeedah or Belief system today that such matters were spurned. I believe given the timeline of the entrance of the Murji’ah on the stage of early Islamic history that their views were forged in the spirit of avoiding bloodshed and fostering some form of social stability.

Where is the Murji’ah Movement today? Obviously as a movement they have been assigned to history, but their thought and aspirations linger on in the subconsciousness of many Muslims today. We hear of calls for the separation of theological arguments from politics or religion from state. This is a catch twenty situation, because both politics in the sense of managing peoples social, economic and many lives are done on the basis of polices and polices are ideas, albeit practical ones and religious doctrine also share the realm of ideas. The question that remains is to what extent can religious ideals be practical, all embracing and deliver prosperity in this world? Or is religion the subject of the Afterlife on not the here and now?

So where are the Murji’ah today? They are all around us in every Muslim city and community stating that it is enough that they and other coreligionists believe in some divine being, that acts of religion are the personal choices of people; and they are resisting in places like Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East and fast becoming a reality in the Muslim West. They are called the liberal Muslim lobby, what are you?

Malick Elias