The participle murji˒ derives from irja˒, the most profound meanings of which are "giving hope" and "postponing." The first meaning indicates that there is a hope for salvation when someone dies with faith albeit he or she has done grave sins. The second and perhaps the earliest meaning of this religiopolitical label was that the judgment about those involved in the conflict between ˓Uthman, ˓Ali, and al-Zubayr is "postponed" until the Last Day.
Historically, the Murji˒ite sect, which is considered an extreme contrast to the Kharijite, was founded by ˓Ali's grandson al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya as a response to the fanatical Kharijite and Shi˓ite sects. While Kharijites hold the view that the third caliph, ˓Uthman, was a grave sinner and hence an unbeliever, and Muslims are not bound to his leadership, the Murji˒ites were very much interested in the preservation of the unity of Muslim community rather than pronouncing judgment on whether or not ˓Uthman and ˓Ali were believers. As a consequence, Murji˒ites postpone their judgment and give ˓Uthman and ˓Ali a temporary status of believers and accept their leadership. Any attempt to rebel against legitimate leadership is therefore unacceptable. Murji˒ites also hold the view that a (grave) sinner should be punished but should not be excluded from the community, since punishment by exclusion can mean loss of security, life, or property. Another point of difference concerns the eternity of punishment. While the Kharijites strongly hold that a grave sinner is doomed in Hell forever, the Murji˒ites gives the possibility of forgiveness by God's will and grace.
The Murji˒ite interpretation does not belong specifically to the Shi˓a or the Sunnis. Some Shi˓is followed the Murji˒ites in postponing their judgment of ˓Uthman's and his adversaries' affairs while Sunnis adopt the Murji˒ite view that no sin, other than shirk (idolatry or God's partnership with other than Himself) and kufr (infidelity), can make one an unbeliever.
See alsoKharijites, Khawarij.
Watt, W. Montgomery. The Formative Period of Islamic Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973.