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When we say that such a man is fulfilling the purpose for his creation and existence, it is obvious that that man’s obligation to serve God is felt by him as normal because it comes as a natural inclination on the man’s part to do so. This natural tendency in man to serve and worship God is also referred to as deen, here in the religious context it has a more specific signification of the natural state of being called fitrah. In fact deen also means fitrah. Fitrah is the pattern according to which God has created all things… Submission to it brings harmony, for it means realization of what is inherent in one’s true nature; opposition to it brings discord, for it means realization of what is extraneous to one’s true nature.


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The Linguistic Meaning of Fitrah

‘Every new-born child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian, just as an animal is born intact. Do you observe any among them that are maimed (at birth)?’ [1]


The word fitrah comes from the Arabic radicals fa ta ra, the verbal noun being fatrun. The root action means, he clove, split, slit, rent or cracked it. Note the usage of the first form fatarahu (He created it); that is, He caused it to exist, newly, for the first time. Thus fatiru’s-samâwât, the Originator or Creator of the heavens. [2]


The second form, fattara(hu) (verbal noun taftir), denotes repetition, muchness and frequency of the root action which means, as we saw, he clove, split, slit, rent or cracked it. Futira (‘ala shay’) is equivalent to tubi‘a, which is the passive form of taba‘a (verbal noun tab‘un) he sealed, stamped, printed or impressed, being a synonym of khatama, he sealed. Ar-Râghib says that it means the impression of a thing with the engraving of the signet and stamp; thus taba‘a’llâhu ‘alâ qalbihî ‘Allâh sealed his heart’, that is the unbeliever’s heart. Similarly, khatama ‘alaihi, pertains to the natural constitution which denotes a quality of the soul; either by creation or habit, but more especially the creation. Also, taba ‘a’llâhu ‘alâ amr – ‘Allâh created (him) with a disposition to the affair, state or condition’. Likewise, tubi‘a ‘ala shay’ ‘he was created with a disposition to a thing’ which is synonymous with jubila or futira.Tab‘un – originally a verbal noun – signifies nature or an inborn disposition. Its synonyms are sajjiyah, jibillah, khalîqah, tabî‘ah and mizâj. These are names for innate natural disposition which cannot change, and which exists at birth in all human beings. Thus, fitrah, having the same meaning as tab‘un, linguistically means an inborn natural disposition.


The term fitrah literally means, creation; the causing a thing to exist for the first time; and the natural constitution with which a child is created in his mother’s womb. It is said that is the meaning in the Qur'an (30:29), and in the central, opening hadith. [3]


The Religious Meaning of Fitrah

In the context of the hadith, according to Abû Haytham, fitrah means to be born either prosperous or unprosperous [in relation to the soul]:


‘And if his parents are Jews, they make him a Jew, with respect to his worldly situation; [i.e. with respect to inheritance, etc.] and if Christians, they make him a Christian, with respect to that situation; and if Magians, they make him a Magian, with respect to that situation; his situation is the same as that of his parents until his tongue speaks for him; but if he dies before his attaining to the age when sexual maturity begins to show itself, he dies in a state of conformity to his preceding natural constitution, with which he was created in his mother’s womb.’


Fitrah is also associated with Islam and being born as a Muslim. This is when fitrah is viewed in respect to Shahadah – that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah – which makes a person a Muslim. Fitrah, in this sense, is the faculty, which He has created in mankind, of knowing Allah. It is the natural constitution with which the child is created in his mother’s womb, whereby he is capable of accepting the religion of truth. That fitrah refers to religion is further shown in a tradition in which it is related that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, taught a man to repeat certain words when lying down to sleep, and said: ‘Then if you die that same night, you die upon the fitrah (in the true deen).’ Also by the saying: ‘The paring of the nails is of the fitrah (i.e. of the deen).’



This meaning is affirmed by sûrah 30 âyah 30: ‘Set your face to the deen in sincerity (hanîfan) which is Allah's fitrah (the nature made by Allah) upon which He created mankind (fatâra’n-nâs). There is no changing the creation of Allah. That is the right deen but most people know not.’


Apparently Abû Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, cited this ayath after the central hadith which means that, in his view, the fitrah of the hadith is the same fitrah in the ayah. The ayah refers to the fitrah as good because the right religion is being described as Allah's fitrah. Thus according to Abû Hurairah, fitrah is associated with the deen of Islam.


Since Allah's fitrah is engraved upon the human soul, mankind is born in a state in which tawhîd is integral. Since tawhîd is intrinsic to man’s fitrah, the prophets, peace be upon them, came to remind man of it, and to guide him to that which is integral to his original nature. The ayah describes a fitrah of primordial faith which Allah Himself implanted in human nature. It implies Islam's essential message of submission to the will of Allah as taught as practised by the prophets.


The Laws or the sharî‘ahs, which the prophets were sent with, are guiding lights to the essential faith in Allah which is created in every human being. Furthermore, since this faith comes from Allah, it naturally follows that only laws capable of guiding man back to it must also come from Allah, hence Islam is also called deen al-fitrah, the religion of human nature.



That every child is born in this pure state of fitrah is also supported by the following hadith concerning the polytheists: ‘It is related that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said that he saw in a vision an old man at the front of a large tree and around him were children and in the vision he was told that the old man was Ibrahim and that the children who were around him were the children who, before attaining the age of discretion, had died. At this, some Muslims had asked hum: "And the children of the polytheists too, Messenger of Allah?" The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, replied: "The children of the polytheists as well."


Being with Ibrâhîm meant being in Paradise, and this includes children of polytheistic families. It is clear, from the Qur'an and from the hadith, that every child is born with a pure nature, as a Muslim. Islam recognises that all children, whether born of believing or unbelieving parents, go to Paradise if they die before attaining the age of discretion.


Scholars view

Imâm Nawawî defined fitrah as the unconfirmed state which exists until the individual consciously acknowledges his belief. Hence, if a child were to die before he attains discretion he would be on of the inmates of Paradise. This view applies to the children of polytheists as well, and is supported by the above-quoted hadith. The legal implication of this hadith is that all children are born pure, sinless and predisposed to belief in one God; moreover they are of the inmates of Paradise; however, if their parents are non-Muslims, the religion of their parents will be applicable to them in this world. [4]


Ibn Qayyim (d. 751 A.H.), a disciple of Ibn Taymiyyah, held similar views on the positive interpretation. He did not regard fitrah as mere knowledge of right and wrong at birth but as an active, inborn love and acknowledgement of Allâh which reaffirms His Lordship. He also explained that Qur’ân 16:78 (‘And Allâh brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers, knowing nothing…’)does not refer to innate knowledge of Allâh or Islâm, but rather to knowledge of the particulars of religion in general which is why the latter type of knowledge is absent at birth. Moreover, fitrah is not merely the capacity or readiness to receive Islâm, in which such a condition can be unfulfilled when parents choose Judaism or Christianity as the child’s religion; Ibn Qayyim argued that fitrah is truly an inborn predisposition to acknowledge Allâh,tawhîd and dîn al-Islâm. [5] [6]


Latest Research – “Children are born believers in God, academic claims”

Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, claims that young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose. He says that young children have faith even when they have not been taught about it by family or at school, and argues that even those raised alone on a desert island would come to believe in God.
"The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"If we threw a handful on an island and they raised themselves I think they would believe in God." In a lecture to be given at the University of Cambridge's Faraday Institute on Tuesday, Dr Barrett will cite psychological experiments carried out on children that he says show they instinctively believe that almost everything has been designed with a specific purpose.
Dr Barrett said there is evidence that even by the age of four, children understand that although some objects are made by humans, the natural world is different. He added that this means children are more likely to believe in creationism rather than evolution, despite what they may be told by parents or teachers.
Dr Barrett claimed anthropologists have found that in some cultures children believe in God even when religious teachings are withheld from them. "Children's normally and naturally developing minds make them prone to believe in divine creation and intelligent design. In contrast, evolution is unnatural for human minds; relatively difficult to believe." [7]


Islam is also called deen al-fitrah, the religion of human nature, because its laws and its teachings are in full harmony with the normal and the natural inclination of the human fitrah to believe in and submit to the Creator. Like the word al-Islam, the word deen also means, according to Lane, obedience and submission, among other meanings. Allah states: ‘And who is better in obedience (in deen) than he who resigns himself to Allah?’ (Qur'an 4:125)


‘There shall be no compulsion in obedience (deen).’ (Qur’ân 2:256)


Ad-deen implies religion in the widest sense of the word, embracing both the practical aspects of the acts of worship and ordinary transactions of life, and the teachings of religion; and it is a name for that whereby one serves Allah.


‘Truly, the religion (deen) in the sight of Allah is al-Islam. (Quran 3:19)


And, according to Lane, it means particularly the religion of al-Islam. The synonyms of ad-deen are ash-Shariah (the law), tawhîd (Oneness of Allah) and wara‘ (caution). Ad-deen also comes from the verb dana, meaning ‘he had indebted’. This is significant, according to al-Attas, because man is indebted to Allah for his existence and sustenance. The believer will realise that his spirit acknowledged Allah in pre-existence, and that the debt that he must return is his self, and this can be done by service and submission to Allah. This return implies a return to man’s inherent spiritual nature, to his fitrah. The one who submits to Allah is called ‘Abd (a slave) of Allah, and his service is called ‘ibâdah (slavehood or conscious submission to the will of Allah). By worshipping Allah in such a manner, man in fulfilling the purpose of his creation and existence.


‘I have not created the Jinn and man but that they should serve Me (li ya‘budûnî).’ (Qur'an 51:56)


Such worship or submission does not entail loss of freedom, for, freedom is to act as one’s true nature demands; that is, as one’s fitrah demands. [8]



[1] Sahîh Muslim bisharh al-Nawawî, Book of Qadr, Vol. 16 (al-Matba‘at al-Misriyyah bi al-Azhari, 1930) p. 207

[2] Lisân al-‘Arab al-Muhît. Vol. 4., ed. A. al-‘Alayali, (beirut: Dâru Lisân al-‘Arab, 1988), pp. 1108-1109; cf. also, al-Isfahânî, al-Raghîb, Mu‘jam Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’ân ed. Nadîm Mar‘ashlî. (Dârul Karîb al-‘Arabi, 1984) p. 2415; cf. also, Lane, E. W., Arabic-English Lexicon. 2 volumes, Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1972), p. 397.

[3] Ibn Manzûr, Lisân al-‘Arab, op.cit., p. 1109; cf. also Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, op.cit, pp. 2415-2416.

[4] Ibn Taymîyya Dar‘u Ta‘arud al ‘Aql wa al Naql. Vol. 8, ed. Muhammad Rashad Sa’im. (Riyadh: Jami‘at al-Imâm Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud al-Islamiyyah, 1981), p. 382-3.

[5]al-Asqalânî, Fathul Barî, p. 198,




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