The application of disbelief through irja
Indeed the accusation of disbelief (takfīr) is an affair that is exclusively restricted to Islamic legislation so it should not be based upon anything but authentic and explicit evidence. So no one should be considered a disbeliever except the one who has been deemed a disbeliever by Allah and His Messenger. And no one should be disgraced with that label except after the conditions for the application of disbelief are fulfilled and the factors that prevent the application of this ruling are eliminated. These are the things that make the accusation of disbelief an affair that doesn’t apply to the general masses, those who follow the rulings of others (al-Muqallidah), or those who have recently begun pursuing knowledge. Truly this affair is restricted to the scholars who are familiar with the texts of Islamic legislation, and the conditions that restrict their application, and how they can be applied to individuals.
The ideology of (the Murjīʾites) irjāʾ is from the baseless ideologies that was introduced very early in the history of Islam. This ideology appeared to counter the corrupt understanding of the Khārijites which accused believers of disbelief due to sins.
And irjāʾ in the Arabic language means to delay. It is said that irjāʾ is synonymous with taʾkhīr (delay) to the extent that it is said: arjāʾtuhu idhā akhkhartuhu. And from this meaning is what we find in the statement of Allah: “They said: ‘Delay (literally arjiʾ) him and his brother for a while, and send forth collectors and gatherers to all the cities.”(1)
As for the meaning which was agreed upon by the people of knowledge from Ahlus-Sunnah wal-jamāʿah that it is to be applied to everyone who places actions outside of what can be considered faith. So whoever places actions outside of what is considered faith and differentiates between actions and faith, then according to the more deliberate and meticulous scholars from Ahlus-Sunnah wal-jamāʿah a Murjīʾite.
And the linguistic definition of irjāʾ, agrees with the technical definition in indicating delay, which is a reference to delaying actions or obstructing them such that they cannot be considered a part of faith.
So the Murjīʾites view that believers in the issue of faith are on a single level and do not differ amongst themselves. They believe that faith involves only affirmation and the profession of belief and nothing else.
Shaykhul-Islām Sufyān ibn ʿUyaynah said (about the Murjīʾites): “They say: faith is merely the profession of belief while we say that faith consists of the profession of belief as well as actions. The Murjīʾites say that whoever bears witness to lā ilāha illa Allah with the intention of completely abandoning Islamic obligations with his heart is deserving of Paradise. They call the abandonment of Islamic obligations a sin similar to the sin of falling into prohibitions while they are not truly similar. This is because falling into prohibitions doesn’t validate or legitimize sinfulness. And the intentional abandonment of Islamic obligations that is not the result of ignorance or a valid excuse constitutes disbelief.”(2)
The ideology of irjāʾ is an innovated and misguided ideology which is founded upon excluding actions [from what is considered faith]. And this understanding has been derided and censured by the scholars of this nation past and present.
Shaykhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah said in the context of his refutation of the Murjīʾites: “And the pious predecessors were severe in their rejection of the Murjīʾites because of their expulsion of actions from what is considered faith. They said: ‘in the matter of faith, the people are the same.’ And their can be no doubt that their statement concerning the singular level of faith amongst people is from the most disgraceful mistakes. Rather, the people do not remain on the same level of faith regarding affirmation, or love, or submissiveness, or knowledge; rather they are different from one another in many ways. And similarly, it could be understood from their expulsion of actions, that the actions of the heart are also expelled from faith which is falsehood without question. For indeed whomever believes the Messenger while concealing hatred and enmity for him in his heart and in his body is without question a disbeliever by necessity. And if they include the actions of the heart in faith they have still erred because of the impossibility of faith becoming established in the heart without the actions of the limbs. The intent here is not to mention a specific action. Rather, whoever believes in Allah and His Messenger in his heart; could he imagine that if he saw the Messenger and his enemies fighting; if he was able to see them and incite others to aid and support the Messenger without any harm reaching him; is it possible that something like this might occur without the slightest movement in order to aid the Messenger? So it is well-known that this would be impossible.”(3) Since the ideology has become misguided to this level of religious innovation, it has become excessive towards those who possess little knowledge regarding the application of the label of irjāʾ to those who do not deserve it. They did so while thinking that accusations of irjāʾ are plausible and can be applied to whomever is not completely satisfied by their opinion. And they rely upon the scholars’ demonization and censure of the Murjīʾites and the declaration of their misguided religious innovation in order to include –into their claim- everyone who does not agree with them concerning their allegations regarding the disbelief of the ṭawāghīt. So they approached the door from other than the front and caused harm while intending good.
And building the issue of irjāʾ upon the basic foundations of the issue of al-Ḥākimiyyah is from the isolated opinions of the extremist takfīrī because the speech concerning irjāʾ is originally and fundamentally the expulsion of actions and the placement of them outside what is considered faith regardless of what that action is or its station in Islam whether it is obligatory or supererogatory.
And the people of takfīr think that whoever doesn’t agree with them concerning whomever they have accused of disbelief of specific rulers are people who deserve the label of irjāʾ and are pleased to espouse that ideology. They gathered several evidences in support of the obligation of ruling according to the Islamic legislation and the disbelief of whoever distanced themselves from it. And how great is the difference between this and that. And knowledge certainly gathers the similar issues and differentiate between dissimilar issues.
And the pure Murjīʾites, aside from the Jahmites, no one from the pious predecessors accused them of being disbelievers. So how is it that irjāʾ according to the takfīrīs of this era is a reason for an individual’s disbelief.
Shaykhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Then the pious predecessors and the Imāms were severe in their censure of them and declared them to be religious innovators and made stern statements regarding them. I do not know of anyone of them who stated that they were disbelievers. Rather, they were in agreement that they would not accuse them of being disbelievers for that. And certainly Aḥmad and other than him from the Imāms have explicitly stated that the Murjīʾites should not be deemed disbelievers and whoever reported from Aḥmad or other than him from the Imāms that they are disbelievers or that they were considered from those people of religious innovation whose disbelief was debated has committed a great error.
What has been confirmed from Imām Aḥmad and the like of him from the Imāms is that it is only the Jahmites who liken the Creator to His creation and those who are similar to them. And Aḥmad did not hold the Khārijites or the Qadarites to be disbelievers if they affirmed [the attribute] of knowledge and rejects the creation of actions and the generality of Allah’s will. However, there have been two different transmissions regarding his opinion concerning their disbelief.
As for the Murjīʾites, then there is no difference concerning his statement regarding how they should not be considered disbelievers. Even though Aḥmad did not accuse specific individuals from the Jahmites of disbelief or every one of those who said that they were Jahmites or even those who agreed with the Jahmites in some of their religious innovations. Rather, he prayed behind the Jahmites who openly called to their ideology and were a trial for the people by punishing whomever does not agree with them through severe torture; in spite of this, Aḥmad and those like him did not accuse them of disbelief.
Rather, he used to recognize their faith and leadership (Imāmship) and used to supplicate for them and viewed that prayers were complete if prayed behind them just as the Ḥajj and military expeditions were to be performed with them. Likewise, rebelling against them is prohibited so long as they were still considered from the Imāms. And he rejected what they introduced [into the religion] from baseless speech which constitutes great disbelief even though they don’t realize that it is disbelief. He used to criticize them and struggle against them in an effort to refute them according to his ability. So he combined the obedience to Allah with obedience to His Messenger in making apparent the Sunnah and the religion and refuted the religious innovations (bidʿa) of the heretical Jahmites. He also combined between ensuring the rights of the believers from the Imāms as well as the Muslim nation even if they be ignorant religious innovators and oppressive transgressors.”(4)
And it is unnecessary to mention that the proponents of takfīr who mention those who do not agree with them when they make accusations of disbelief; certainly they intend the scholars that they were referring to by pointing at them. They are the points of reference for many of the Muslims concerning the rulings of Islamic legislation. And they were not known for the innovated concept of irjāʾ to begin with not to mention how they arrived at the level of the Jahmites whose situation was mentioned along with Imām Aḥmad. And his manner of interacting with them as mentioned by the previously mentioned speech of Shaykhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah.
1) Sūrah al-Aʿrāf 7:111.
2) As-Sunnah by ʿAbdullah ibn Abū Aḥmad volume 1 page 347.
3) Majmūʿ Fatāwā volume 7 pages 556.
4) Majmūʿ Fatāwā volume 7 pages 508.