Ibn Taymiyyah on Fitrah
All the praises are due to Allah and may peace and blessing be upon his last messenger
In the following paragraphs I will quote two scholars regarding the views of Sheikh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah about Fitrah. Fitrah as we know is an important part of Islamic beliefs but right from the rise of Rationalist of 2nd century till modern Hadith Rejecters this important topic remained the talk of the tongue because most of the rationalists reject Fitrah and hold intellect superior to intuition.
First we will quote some lines from Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s document “Knowing God through Reason, Revelation and Intuition
After giving the basic concepts of Kalam Sheikh yasir Qadhi Says in his documents:
What did this do, how did this impact the Kalam movements? First and foremost, the belief that knowledge of God is not inherent i.e. it is not oblivious that God exists rather on needs to prove that God exists; this is the whole point of the Kalam argument. It is a philosophical premise, that you approach everything with a blank mind, that you do not know if god exists or not and are required to prove it with rational proofs (Descartes proved his own existence); and this is something that Al-Qadi ‘Abd al Jabbar mentions, ‘the very first obligation on the rational individual is the intention to rationally contemplate the existence of God’. Al-Juwayni and Al-Baqillani also say the exact same thing, that the very first obligation upon the one who comes age is ‘ to rationally prove that God exists because there is no way they can know this inherently;, Al-Baqillani explicitly states that ‘one cannot know that God exists rather must prove it rationally, belief in God is not inherently known’. The second issue, related to this, is that sound /acceptable ‘Iman must be built upon rational proofs for the existence of God, in other words, in order to be a good Muslim according to Mu’tazila and many Ashrites and Maturidis you need to prove God in this manner and if you do not do so your Iman is problematic according to many of them, this is the position of Al-Juwayni, Al-Baqillani, Al-Razi and the Mutazila.
This led to the third issue of controversy, what is the status of the faith/Iman of the blind follower, suppose you are Muslim because your parents are/society is?, you never thought on whether it was true or not, you never compared it with anything, in fact you just assumed that it was correct as you are a ‘blind-follower’ in this regard, so what is the status of your Iman.? The majority of the scholars from the Mu’tazila said that such a person according to them is not a Muslim. Abu Hisham Al-lJubbai said that whoever does not know the existence of God through rational proofs is kafir’ which is the most extreme position, others amongst them, Al-Juwayni, in his Al-Shamil says that ‘if a person had enough time to think of the rational proofs of the Existence of God and did not do so then such a person is considered amongst the Kuffar (Yulhaqu bil-Kuffar).
Al-Ghazali in his Munqidh min al-dalal, early Al-Ghazali was very different to late Al-Ghazali, in his Munqidh he presents the Ghazalian paradox, and states, ‘children who are born to Muslim parents are Muslim; and children who are born to Jewish parents are Jewish; and children who are born to Christian parents are Christian, and so I realize that I need to rediscover the truth of my religion, i.e. we need to step outside the ‘box of Islam’ and consider all the religions neutrally and then logically and rationally decide that we should be Muslim – and this, he states, is why he studied the various sects/religions that his paradox is actually quite profound, for as a Muslim if someone were to question them ‘why do you say that Islam is true?, you have not studied anything, what gives you the right to have this assumption?’ then from within the frame work of Kalam we do not have a good answer we have not ‘legitimized the belief in the existence of God’.
Taqiyy Al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Abd Al-Salam ibn Al-Khadar Ibn Taymiyyah Al-Harrani, Shaykh Al-Islam b. Taymiyyah took neo-sunnism/Hanbalite orthodoxy and communicated it in a vernacular for the people and place of his time. Prior to this, no theologian that ascribed to simple Sunnite Islam was able to communicate with the theologians in a language that they deemed acceptable, before ibn Taymiyyah they would quote Quran and Hadith only, and because of this, they were called ‘those who fling texts’ Al-Hashawiyya, i.e. they were not rational or logical rather they were considered to be shallow etc. Ibn Taymiyyah came along and raised the discourse to another level thereby allowing orthodoxy/neo-sunnism a foot in the door of political discourse, all the previous scholars had apprehended their students from engaging with the issue- however that discourse could only get them so far; it was no successful in the time of ibn Taymiyyah.
It was with the ‘advent of Ibn Taymiyyah that for the first time an intellectual theologian studied Kalam and falsifa and Sufi/Ismaili thought and disagreed using not only orthodox sources but Kalam itself as well. It is not that Ibn taymiyyah was exactly the first, even though some ideas did not exist before him, however he proved the belief of neo-sunnism/Orthodoxy using textual and intellectual evidences and of the things that he addressed was their statement that knowledge in God is not inherent. He proposed rather that belief in God was inherent, the Qur’an tells us of the existence of the Fitrah and he said that God has already put knowledge of His existence in us.
So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the faith; (establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind; no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah that is the standard religion; but most among mankind understand not.(al-rum:30)
The above tells us that there is an ‘intuition’ that God has placed in every single creation (fitrat allahi llati fatar alnasa alayha) which is further expounded in a tradition of the prophet, narrated by Bukhari and Muslim,….. ‘Every single new born is born upon the Fitrah and then his parents make him into a Jew/Christian or Zoroastrian’. Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim, his main student, comment on this extensively, and say that ‘and then his parents make him a jew, chirstian and Muslim’ means there is something about Islam that is related to the Fitrah, the Fitrah is amenable to Islam and similar to Islam and is if you like Islam with a small “I” i.e. submission.
Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim related this to the concept of the Mithaq, ‘the covenant’ which is mentioned in
‘When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam-from their loins- their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (Saying): “Am I not your Lord (Who Cherishes and sustains you)?”-They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), Lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful”: (al-araf: 172)
Where Allay says ‘and remember when you Lord took a covenant with children of Adam’ and the covenant was ‘Am I not your Lor?’ and they said ‘Yes [You are]’ so he says that the covenant deals with the existence of God, this, says Ibn Taymiyyah proves that the existence of God is ingrained in us and is intuitive, i.e it does not need to be proven. Challenging the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Creation and the Existence of God, he said this [that god needs to be rationally proven] basically means that majority of Muslims are not Muslim, because you are saying that a person who does not have ration proof for the existence of God doesn’t have sound faith and yet we know that the sahabah, our predecessors and our earlier scholars did not rationally/logically prove the existence of God, they simply accepted the faith as is and in this sense they were muqallids, he solved it by saying that we have an inner compass that allows us the luxury of saying that we do not have to leave our faith, check it and then ‘re-‘ embrace it and he quotes the paradox that arises when you believe in his stating that the net result of believing in this is that you have to become a kafir before becoming a Muslim and what type of religion would ask its people to leave it before re-embracing it!
The only way to get out of it is to say that there is something within us, in the way that God created us, that gives us this knowledge, our intuition tells us this already/automatically; so we do not need to prove the existence of God, we do not need to prove it in this complicated way that no one knew before Al-Allaf and which many do not understand to this day.
Similarly Dr. Abdul Haq Ansari writes in “Ibn Taymiyyah expounds on Islam”
Every human being is born in the nature of Islam. If this nature is not subsequently corrupted by the erroneous beliefs of the family and society, everyone will be able to see the truty of Islam and embrace it.
Then he quotes the same hadith which I quote above from Bukhari and Muslim and the ayah regarding the Mithaq “The covenant”…. Then further coments
Elucidating this concept, the prophet alaihi salam said, “Man is born with a perfectly sound nature (fitrah), just as a baby animal is born to its parents, fully formed without any defect to its ears, eyes any other organ.”(bukhari, muslim, abu daud and others) .He thus emphasized that a sound heart is like a sound body, and a defect is something alien which intervenes. Muslim, the famous compiler of hadith, has recorded in his Sahih from ‘Iyad Ibn Himar that the Prophet alaihi salam once quoted God’s words: “I created my people faithful to none but Me; afterwards the devils came upon them and misled them. They forbade them what I had permitted, and commanded them to associate with me ones I had never authorized” (Muslim)
The fitrah is to the truth as the light of the eye is to the sun. Everyone who has eyes can see the sun if there are no veils over them. The erroneous beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism act like veils, preventing people from seeing the truth. It is common experience that people whose natural sense of taste is not spoiled love sweets; they never dislike them unless something spoils the sense of taste.
However, the fact that people are born with fitrah does not mean that a human body is actually born with Islamic beliefs. To be sure, when we come out of the wombs of our mother, we know nothing. We are only born with an uncorrupted heart which is able to the truth of Islam and submit to it. If nothing happens which corrupts the heart we would eventually become Muslims. This power to know and to act which develops into Islam when there is nothing obstruct it or affect its natural working is the fitrah on which God has created man. [Fatawa 4:245-7] (Ibn taymiyyah expounds on Islam page: 3-4 by Dr. Abdul Haque Ansari)
Similarly Ibn taymiyyah further propounded that
Prophets address the fitrah of man and appeal to it, for knowledge of the Truth is inherent in the fitrah.
No prophet has ever addressed his people and asked that they should first all know the Creator, that they should look into various arguments and infer from them His existence, for every heart knows God and recognizes His existence. Everyone is born with the fitrah; only something happens after wards which casts a veil over it. Hence, when one is reminded, one recalls what was there in one’s original nature (fitrah).
That is why God sent Moses (and Aaron) to Pharoah. He said, “Speak (to him) in soft words; he might recall” (20:44); [that is, he might recall] the knowledge inherent in his original nature regarding his Lord and His blessings on him, and that he depends upon Him completely. This may lead him to faith in his Lord, or cause him “to fear” (20:44) punishment in the Hereafter in case he denies Him. This, too, may lead to faith. That is why God has said, “Call to the path of you Lord with wisdom (Hikmah) and polite admonition (maw’izah)’ (16:725). Hikmah is to explain the truth so that one who wants to accept it rather than reject it may accept. But if he rejects it because of his evil desires he should be admonished and warned.
Knowledge of the truth leads to its acceptance, because the love the truth is endowed in human nature. Truth is dearer and more acceptable to the fitrah of man than untruth, which has no basis on which to stand and is abhorred by the fitrah. However, if truth and knowledge do not lead a person to faith, he should be warned against his refusal and threatened with punishment. People do fear punishment and try to avoid what may cause them pain,
Some people only indulge in base desires and belie the punishment they are threatened with, or try to forget it so that they may do what they want without feeling any prick in their hearts, for if they recognized the punishment and remembered it, they would not indulge their evil desires. One is either ignorant or forgetful before one commits evil. That is why all sinners against God are ignorant.
(fatawa 16:338-9) (Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam P: 5 Dr. Abdul Haque Ansari)