Musings on Fitrah

“Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true” -Thomas Paine [Credit: This Facebook post by Joseph A. Islam]


I believe that all human beings are endowed with an innate sense of morality. This is confirmed in Surah Shams of the Quran. In Arabic, we call this natural state of one’s soul the fitrah.

The fitrah is strongest in babies and young children, and usually gradually dissipates as people get older. It gets polluted with nonsensical ideas and indoctrination along the way. Being 14, I would hope that I retain some sense of fitrah.

I believe the Quran is in line with human nature. I have no difficulty understanding that it is Divinely revealed, or that it is universal and timeless, and flawless. I don’t have empirical proof for this. Nor do I have empirical proof for the fact that God exists. They’re just things that I know. I’ve never really had cause to doubt them.

The Quran’s verses are lyrical, lilting in my voice, haunting at times, jarring. No translation can capture them adequately. During the early days of Islam, people used to hear the Quran and convert on the spot. The verses are that moving. If I could put it into words, I’d say they touch the fitrah.

I think this is why I’m so relentlessly determined to expose the difference between traditional Islamic teachings and God’s teachings. I know that God’s teachings are in line with fitrah, but traditional doctrine often isn’t.

When I first started researching Islam, I was shocked by much of what I learned. That’s probably what led me to do ridiculous amounts of Arabic lexicon mining and Internet surfing. I was disillusioned, but the Quran’s pure teachings saved me.

I believe wholly in the Quran’s Divinity, so I don’t feel the need to modify verses to make them agree with modern-day reasoning or with traditional reasoning. Some people I know seem to have internalized vestiges of Islamophobia. They approach the Quran with the expectation that it will oppress them, and that they will then have to fight against said oppression. So they end up modifying verses, taking them out of context. That’s not what I want. I just want us to follow the Quran instead of other sources.

I used to have crises of faith, since my iman wasn’t very strong. I was scared that Quranic verses would end up being as inhumane as much of traditional doctrine is. But I discovered that the Quran is entirely different.

I no longer have crises of faith. When I don’t understand a verse, I can simply look at it and make a mental note to examine it later. It doesn’t bother me anymore. There’s no lasting emotional effect.

They call this yaqeen, or conviction in belief. I’m grateful to say that I have it now.

“Violent” verses of the Quran no longer bother me, because now that they’ve been returned to their contexts, it turns out they’re not advocating murder but self-defense. It’s the same for every other “religious” edict that’s fundamentally out of touch with our fitrah. God doesn’t prescribe injustice. It is we who pretend He does.

One of the problems in today’s Muslim community is that we suffocate our children’s innate sense of morality. I remember my six-year-old sister once asking why our *mosque hardly accommodates women, in the but that’s not fair tone of voice typical of little kids.

My parents shut her down immediately. Misogyny? In the Muslim community? Oh, God forbid she should bring that up!

But she was right. No servant of God of any gender should be prevented from going to a mosque. The six-year-old was better aware than most adults are. We need to stop squashing our children’s sense of morality in favor of pseudo-religious teachings. We’re murdering our own future as an ummah.

Sometimes I feel like our ummah is dreadfully immature. We have adults arguing over things like the length of one’s beard and whether a woman showing her wrist is haram. It’s almost as if we’re indoctrinating our children with our own immaturity. Why can’t adults act like actual adults?

It will take a revival of the Quran to combat this.

Nowadays, Muslims don’t know what the Quran actually says. Muslim children are actively prevented from learning translation on their own. Instead, they read the Quran in a classical dialect they don’t understand, shackling it to mere recitation. It’s tragic. We’re ruining everything the Prophet (sws) stood for.

We replace Quranic teachings with our own. We establish the death penalty for blasphemy, **veil our women in black on the precedent of purdah, and execute people for independent thinking. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Of course, not all Muslims do this. But it’s widespread enough that it can’t be ignored. It needs to be stopped.

How many more innocent lives will we lose as we disregard our fitrah? How many more of our sisters will be murdered? How much more unQuranic legislation will we create, allowing this, excusing this? Are we serious? What would the Prophet think?

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be amused.


*For clarification, this was a Saudi-built-and-funded mosque in the Los Angeles area, so I’m not surprised its quarters for women were pitiful.

**This refers to forced facial coverage and seclusion.


Edit

I’ve been asked to clarify what I mean by the human fitrah, and how it relates to moral relativism.

To me, fitrah is the antithesis of moral relativism. Fitrah refers to the sense of justice God gave us, while moral relativism is born of following one’s (potentially sinful) desires devoid of any sense of Divinity.

Of course I understand that following what we “perceive” to be our fitrah can be a mistake. Oftentimes our natural sense of morality is obscured by personal desires. Our challenge is to overcome this, to get more in tune with the fitrah by abolishing sin (or attempting to do so, since sin can’t be eradicated completely).

I maintain that on some level, we do have an innate distinguishing mechanism between right and wrong. We know, for example, that murder is wrong, and that unprovoked violence merits retribution. We know that punishing someone for a crime without evidence is wrong. This is what I mean by fitrah.

Fitrah is in contrast to the base desires of the nafs-al-ammarah, or the soul that beckons to sin, unrestrained. The nafs-al-ammarah calls us to evil, while the fitrah enjoins good and teaches us balance:

“91:1 By the Sun and its brilliance,
“91:2 And the Moon that comes after it–
“91:3 And the day when it reveals,
“91:4 And the night when it veils–
“91:5 And the heavens and what He built,
“91:6 And the earth and what He sustains–
“91:7 And a soul and what He made,
“91:8 So He gave it an understanding of evil and good–
“91:9 Successful is the one who purifies it,
“91:10 And failing is the one who corrupts it….”

Fitrah can be polluted/corrupted according to verse 91:10, which is why it’s necessary to keep it pure through prayer. Our natural, uncorrupted sense of fitrah is in line with the Quran, since God gave it to us–and God also wrote the Quran.

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7 thoughts on “Musings on Fitrah

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  1. This is a really nice post! We need to do better to reconnect with our fitrah, like you say. Common adage is that adults should teach the youth, but the elderly need to learn from the innocence of the youth as well.

    One small caveat: children are more susceptible to letting society change more of their beliefs and attitudes.and adults are more narrow-minded. This means that it’s easy for children to accept ideas that are bad. The idea is used as a plot-point in common literature like An Inspector Calls so it’s not an uncommon idea and there are various studies supporting this.

    They’re more connected to their fitrah than most of us but that quote shouldn’t be used as a rule with no exceptions. What one child views as good may shock the mind of another child.

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    1. Yes, similar to how children are sometimes indoctrinated into extremist ideologies, as it can be easier to mold them than adults. I think the untainted mind of a child is fairly objective, but when children are forcibly indoctrinated it’s much worse than with adults.

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  2. This is very well written! I have to agree with you and this is something that bothers me too, how so many Muslims just read the Qur’an in Arabic and call it a day! We are supposed to read and try to understand God’s words. Of course, we may not be able to understand everything and I believe we probably aren’t supposed to but that does not mean we leave everything to scholars and just follow blindly.

    Liked by 1 person

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