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Fit’ra – The Quintessential Innate Nature

Today we live in a society where you are encouraged to believe what you want to believe or to not believe at all, if you so choose. In many ways, the concept of religious identity is reduced to one’s individual perspective or emotional connection or it is the sum of life experiences, which becomes evident in the approach of how one appeals to others in defending or propagating his or her religious belief.

Aristotle suggests that there are modes of persuasion, namely: ethos, pathos and logos [1] which one may utilize. Nonetheless, irrespective of the method of appeal, which, ultimately reflects belief or disposition, and regardless of one’s stance in respect to religious belief, there is one underlining common factor which cannot be ignored.

Islam has acknowledged that the fabric of humanity is woven with an existential thread we refer to as “fit’ra” (الفطرة). It is the quintessential innate nature of man and his hardwired spiritual DNA which links him to the Source.

قال رسول الله صلى الله علیه وآلهکل مولود یولد على الفطرةیعنی على المعرفة بأن اللهعزوجل خالقه، فذلک قوله: (ولئن سألتهم من خلق السموات والارض لیقولن الله)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Every newborn is born upon the origination (fit’ra) of Allah, meaning [born] with inner knowledge that affirms that Allah is his Creator and this is the meaning of His words, “If you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they will surely say, ‘Allah’.”[2]

Deep down in every human being this fit’ra exists and hence the yearning to understand God, creation and to seek answers to the fundamental questions of life:

Where did we come from? What is our purpose? Where are we going?

Some struggle to understand God while others are openly defiant and stand in opposition and thus strive to put out this light of their fit’ra within themselves and substitute or realign it with something or someone else.

This is similar to a popular meme depicting a man falling from mountainous height or clinging to a cliff with the caption: “Atheist be like: O God, help!” or other similar memes which suggest that there is an inherent connection to Allah, Glorified be His Names, and this truth may come to light at times of severity and extenuating circumstance when undoubtedly, He is the giver of life and death and only He can change the outcome of any situation. This was the case for Firoun, or Pharaoh:

 وَجاوَزنا بِبَني إِسرائيلَ البَحرَ فَأَتبَعَهُم فِرعَونُ وَجُنودُهُ بَغيًا وَعَدوًا ۖ حَتّىٰ إِذا أَدرَكَهُ الغَرَقُ قالَ آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذي آمَنَت بِهِ بَنو إِسرائيلَ وَأَنا مِنَ المُسلِمينَ

We carried the Children of Israel across the sea, whereat Pharaoh and his troops pursued them out of defiance and aggression. When overtaken by drowning, he called out, ‘I believe that there is no god except Him in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am one of those who submit [to Him]!’[3]

The holy Qur’an references the existential connection of creation and the creator in many verses (just as the holy Prophet alluded in the above-mentioned tradition), namely the following: 

وَلَئِن سَأَلتَهُم مَن خَلَقَ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضَ لَيَقولُنَّ اللَّهُ ۚ قُل أَفَرَأَيتُم ما تَدعونَ مِن دونِ اللَّهِ إِن أَرادَنِيَ اللَّهُ بِضُرٍّ هَل هُنَّ كاشِفاتُ ضُرِّهِ أَو أَرادَني بِرَحمَةٍ هَل هُنَّ مُمسِكاتُ رَحمَتِهِ ۚ قُل حَسبِيَ اللَّهُ ۖ عَلَيهِ يَتَوَكَّلُ المُتَوَكِّلونَ

If you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they will surely say, ‘Allah.’ Say, ‘Have you considered what you invoke besides Allah? Should Allah desire some distress for me, can they remove the distress visited by Him? Or should He desire some mercy for me, can they withhold His mercy?’ Say, ‘Allah is sufficient for me. In Him let all the trusting put their trust.’ [4] 

وَلَئِن سَأَلتَهُم مَن خَلَقَ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضَ لَيَقولُنَّ اللَّهُ ۚ قُلِ الحَمدُ لِلَّهِ ۚ بَل أَكثَرُهُم لا يَعلَمونَ

If you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they will surely say, ‘Allah.’ Say, ‘All praise belongs to Allah!’ Yet most of them do not know. [5]

Therefore, it is necessary to cultivate and develop our innate nature with our aql (intellect) through various methods in order to strengthen our comprehension of God Al-mighty and for us to gain proximity towards Him. This may require extensive use of one’s intellectual capacity through diligence, research, and reflection.

If this yearning to know and connect to God is not channeled with righteous knowledge and pure worship, then deviations arise intentionally or unintentionally. How often have we seen those who have substituted the God, the Creator and Lord of the Worlds with titles like: “the Universe”, “Consciousness”, “Higher Power”, “Spirituality”, “Science” etc. Whereas, in reality, one who comprehends God’s true divinity and tawhid (oneness) comprehends that at best these are only creations of Allah.

Of course, it is noteworthy to mention that every individual at this stage is not deviant at heart. That is to say that often, due to lack of guidance, in the process of reaching the Real and the One and the true Beloved one may become preoccupied infatuations of lesser realities.

Even so, Allah in His incredible grandeur, benevolence and mercy does not discard those or the requests of those who are not yet aware of Him, just as we recite in the supplication of the month of Rajab:

يا من يعطي من سأله
يا من يعطي من لم يسأله

ومن لم يعرفه تحنّناً منه ورحمة

O He who gives to one who asks Him.
O He who gives to one who does not ask Him

and does not know Him,
Out of His affection and mercy.

[1] Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility [or authority] of the persuader. Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response. Logos is an appeal to logic, and is a way of persuading an audience by reason. See: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-ethos-logos-and-pathos.html

[2]  AL Tawhid, p. 331, no. 9

[3] Holy Quran, Chapter Jonah/Yūnus (10), verse 90

[4] Holy Quran, Chapter Zumar (39), verse 38

[5] Holy Quran, Chapter Luqman (31), verse 25

Editor’s note: Islamic Insights is honored to host a series on “Refinement of the Self” by esteemed guest columnist and scholar from Qom, Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki. His column will focus on interrelated topics ranging from akhlaq, ethics and morality as an all-comprehensive approach for character refinement based on Islamic teachings. For past articles in the column see here.

About Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki

Shaykh Husayn El-Mekki received his Masters degree in Islamic studies at I.C.A.S. (Islamic College for Advanced Studies) and completed Islamic courses at the Islamic Seminary of Qom. He has spoken at numerous Islamic centers and university campuses due to his relatability with the youth, exceptional Islamic knowledge and public speaking skills.

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