February 21, 2015

THIS IS EASIER FOR CHRISTIANS, JEWS AND SHI'A...:

A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration (Mustafa Akyol, 2/17/15, NY Times)

If Islamic thought is to liberalize today, it must take a Lockean leap. This would not mean importing any Western cultural notion, for a Lockean tradition has long existed in Islam, buried in the late seventh century, in a largely forgotten school of theologians called the Murjites. They arose at a time of strife, when proto-Sunnis and proto-Shiites were fighting over who the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad was, and a fanatical group called the Kharijites, or "Dissenters," deemed all Muslims but themselves to be apostates and started killing them off.

To counter this zealotry, the more urbane Murjites presented a brilliantly simple argument: No Muslim had the right to judge others on matters of faith; only God had that ultimate authority. Thus, they reasoned, all doctrinal disputes should be postponed to the afterlife, to be resolved by God. (The Quran itself supports this view: "Had God willed, He would have made you a single community"; "Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.") This is why they were called "Murjites," which means, "the Postponers."

Writing a thousand years later, in the midst of passionate intra-Christian conflict, Locke made the same postponement argument. In "A Letter Concerning Toleration," he argued that there is no "judge upon Earth" to adjudicate various churches on "the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship," adding, "The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous."

Locke also believed that faith was "the inward persuasion of the Mind," and could not be compelled by "outward force." In this, too, he was like the Murjites: For them, faith was a marifa, an inner knowledge of the heart -- not to be measured by external manifestations, and beyond the judgment of any religion police.

The Postponers disappeared as an independent sect after the first centuries of Islam, having been marginalized by successive despots who upheld more rigid views. But they influenced the Maturidi school of theology and Hanafi jurisprudence, the most rational and lenient strains of Sunni Islam, which remain popular among Turks and Central Asians.

The Murjites' ideas are well worth reviving for all Muslims today, now that the Muslim world has come to bear an unsettling resemblance to their own. 


...who await the Messiah, who'll sort it out for us.

Posted by at February 21, 2015 7:08 AM
  

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