Ibn Taymiyyahs View on Fitrah

By Yasien Mohamed

Adapted with slight modifications from "Fitra: The Islamic Concept of Human Nature" 1996 TA-HA Publishers Ltd.


According to Ibn Taymiyyah every child is born in a state of fitrah; in a state of innate goodness, and it is the social environment which cause the individual to deviate from this state. There is a natural correspondence between human nature and Islm; man is suited for Dn al-Islm and responds spontaneously to its teachings. Dn al-Islm provides the ideal conditions for sustaining and developing mans innate qualities.[1] Mans nature has inherently within it more than simply knowledge of Allh, but a love of Him and the will to pracitise the religion (dn) sincerely as a true hanf. This points to the element of the individual will, a pro-active drive which purposefully seeks to realise Islamic beliefs and practices. Ibn Taymiyyah responded to Ibn Abd al-Barrs notion of fitrah and argued that it is not merely a dormant potential which should be awakened from without, but rather the source of awakening itself, within the individual. The hanf is not the one who reacts to sources of guidance, but one who is already guided and seeks to establish it consciously in practice.[2] The central hadth refers to a change which may be affected by the social environment; Ibn Taymiyyah maintained that this change is one from a given state, a positive state of Islm, to Judaism, Christianity, Magianism, etc. The social environment may be also guide the individual to mn and good conduct so that the motivation in him to do good may be expressed, aided by external sources of guidance.[3] Ibn Taymiyyah was of the view that the human soul possesses an innate receptive capacity and a need for Islmic guidance while Dn al-Islm is an adequate stimulus for this capacity and a sufficient fulfillment of this need.

Moreover, if sources of external misguidance are absent, the fitrah of the individual will be actualised involuntarily and good will prevail.[4] In support of this view, Ibn Taymiyyah cited Ab Hurairahs reference to the central Qurnic yah (30:30) after the latters quoting the central hadth.[5] In other words, whenever Ab Hurairah, may Allh be pleased with him, reported the central hadth, he used to recite after it the following Qurnic yah:

Set your face to the dn in sincerity (hanfan: as a hanf) which is Allhs fitrah (the nature made by Allh) upon which He created mankind (fataran-ns). There is no changing the creation of Allh. That is the right dn but most people know not. (Qurn 30:30)

Ab Hurairahs citation of this yah after the hadth apparently means that the fitrah of the hadth refers to the fitrah of the Qurnic yah, which is a good fitrah because the right dn is being described as Allhs fitrah. The logic of this argument is that Ab Hurairah, may Allh be pleased with him, meant that fitrah is associated with Islm (al-Qurtubi, 1967). And according to Ibn Taymiyyah it is the social circumstances, as represented by the parents, which causes the child to be a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.

Since the Prophet, may Allh bless him and grant him peace, did not mention the parents changing the child from a state of fitrah to a state of Islm, we must suppose that the childs state at birth is in harmony with Islm, in the widest sense of submission to Allh (Ibn Taymiyyah, 1981). Another implication of this view of fitrah is that, while good constitutes the inner state of a persons nature, evil is something that happens after the person is born. That is to say, deviation after birth is due to the corrupting influence of the social environment.

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 Allh which reaffirms His Lordship. He also explained that Qurn 16:78 (And Allh brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers, knowing nothing) does not refer to innate knowledge of Allh or Islm, 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 Islm, in which such a condition can be unfulfilled when parents choose Judaism or Christianity as the childs religion; Ibn Qayyim argued that fitrah is truly an inborn predisposition to acknowledge Allh, tawhd and dn al-Islm.[6]

Imm an-Nawaw (d. 676 A.H. / 1277 C.E.), a Shfi faqh who wrote one of the principal commentaries on Sahh Muslim, defined fitrah as the unconfirmed state of mn before the individual consciously affirms his belief. We have already alluded to this positive view of fitrah and the implications it has for children whose parents are polytheists.

Al-Qurtub (d. 671 A.H.) supported the positive view of fitrah by using the analogy of the physically unblemished animals in the central hadth to illustrate that, just as animals are born intact, so are humans born with the flawless capacity to accept the truth; and, just as the animal may be injured or scarred, so can fitrah be corrupted or altered by external sources of misguidance.


Notes and References

[1] Ibn Taymiyya Daru Taarud al Aql wa al Naql. Vol. 8, ed. Muhammad Rashad Saim. (Riyadh: Jamiat al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud al-Islamiyyah, 1981), Vol. VIII, p. 383 and pp. 444-448.

[2] Ibid., p. 385.

[3] Ibid., p. 385.

[4] Ibid., pp. 463-364.

[5] Ibid., p. 367. cf. also al-Qurtub, Al-Jmiu al-Ahkm al-Qurn, p. 25.

[6] al-Asqaln, Fathul Bar, p. 198

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