Man’s Natural Disposition : the Fitrah
Since Allaah made all human beings swear to His Godhood when He created Adam, this oath is printed on the human soul even before it enters the fetus in the fifth month of pregnancy. So when a child is born, it has with it a natural belief in Allaah. This natural belief is called in Arabic the fitrah.4 If the child were left alone, it would grow up aware of Allaah in His unity, but all children are affected by the pressures of their environment, whether directly or indirectly. The Prophet (pbuh) reported that Allaah said,
“I created My servants in the right religion but the devils made them go astray.”5
The Prophet (pbuh) also said,
“Each child is born in a state of ‘fitrah’, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian. It is like the way an animal gives birth to a normal offspring. Have you noticed any (young animal) born mutilated before you mutilate them?”6
So just as the child’s body submits to the physical laws which Allaah has put in nature, its soul also submits naturally to the fact that Allaah is its Lord and Creator. However, its parents try to make it follow their own way and the child is not strong enough in the early stages of its life to resist or oppose its parents.
The religion which the child follows at this stage is one of custom and upbringing, and Allaah does not hold it to account or punish it for this religion. When the child matures in youth and clear proofs of the falsehood of its religion are brought to it, the adult must now follow the religion of knowledge and reason.7 At this point the devils try their best to encourage him to stay as he is or to go further astray. Evils are made pleasing to him and he must now live in the midst of a struggle between his fitrah and his desires in order to find the right road. If he chooses his fitrah, Allaah will help him overcome his desires, even though it may take most of his life to do so; for many people enter Islam in their old age, although most tend to do so before that.