Maintaining the Characteristics of Fiṭrah

Since Almighty God made all human beings swear to His Unique Divinity and Lordship when He created Ādam (see Holy Qurʾān 7:172), this oath is printed on the human soul even before it enters the mother’s fetus. So when a child is born, it has with it a natural belief in God. This natural belief is called in al-ʿArabīc the “fitrah”. If a child were left alone, it would grow up aware of Almighty God in His Unity, but all children are affected by the pressures of their environment. The Prophet Muḥammad – the Final Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, reported that Almighty God the Exalted said: “I created My servants in the right religion, but the devils made them go astray.” (Reported in Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim.) The Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, also said: “Each child is born in a state of fitrah, but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian.” (Reported in Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukharī and Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim.)

It is obligatory for all Muslims to ibnd themselves to the teachings of the Book of God (i.e. the Qurʾān) and the authentic sayings of His Messenger Muḥammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. By the light of these teachings we should live and their guidance we should adopt in all of our affairs. In regards to this, Almighty God, The Most High and Exalted, says in the Qurʾān:

“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if anyone disobeys God and His Messenger he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” (Noble Qurʾān Chapter 33, Verse 36)

(Noble Qurʾān Chapter 33, Verse 36)

And additionally, God, the Most High and Exalted, has said:

“And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it)! and fear God. Verily, God is severe in punishment.” (Noble Qurʾān, Chapter 59, Verse 7)

(Noble Qurʾān Chapter 59, Verse 7)

The fitrah is the natural inclination to worship God alone, and it includes compliance with what God and His Messenger explained to be from the characteristics of fitrah. The acts of fitrah are specific features which God has created in man and found within his natural tendency to like as well as to dislike what contraḍīcts these acts. The great Islamic scholar al-Sayyuti said: “The best explanation of fitrah is that it is the Sunnah (way) of all of the Prophets which is in agreement with (all of) the revealed Laws, indicating that it is a response to naturally created inclinations.” In the Holy Qur’an, Almighty God, the Most High and Exalted, has identified the pure fitrah with which He created mankind:

“So set your purpose for religion as a man upright (hanifan) by nature (fitrah) – the nature (fitrah) framed by God, in which He created mankind. There is no altering (the Laws of ) the creation of God.” (Noble Qurʾān Chapter 30, Verse 30)

(Noble Qurʾān Chapter 30, Verse 30)

In this verse, God, Most High, also identifies the fitrah with the way of the hanifah, which means the way of Pure Monotheism as practiced by Abraham, peace be upon him. The religion of Abraham and all of the prophets, peace be upon them all, was one of the true fitrah, in which they worshipped Almighty God alone without intermediaries or an incarnate “Saviour”.

Since it is obligatory on Muslims to following the commands of the Prophet Muḥammad, may God bless him and give him peace, as the previously mentioned verses from Qurʾān clearly state, all Muslims should make every effort to comply with and maintain the characteristics of fitrah as described by God’s Messenger, may God bless him and give him peace, when he said: “Five practices are characteristics of the fitrah: circumcision, shaving the pubic hairs, cutting the mustaches short, clipping the nails and plucking the hair of the armpits.” (Reported in Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukharī and Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim.) This same saying of God’s Messenger is further elaborated upon in Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, where ‘Āʿishah, may God be pleased with her, reports that the Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, said:

“Ten are the practices of fitrah: clipping the mustache, letting the beard grow, using the tooth-stick (siwaak), snuffing water up the nose, cutting the nails, washing the finger joints, plucking the hair under the armpits, shaving the pubic hairs and cleaning one’s private parts with water.” The narrator said: ‘I have forgotten the tenth, but it may have been rinsing the mouth.’

In regards to the circumcision, it is desirable that it be done on the seventh day after the birth of the child. It is reported that the Prophet Muḥammad, may God bless him and give him peace, circumcised Ḥasan and Hussain, the two sons of Fāṭimah and ‘Ali, may God be pleased with all of them, on the seventh day after their birth. However, there is no harm in delaying the circumcision until later. It is reported in Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukharī that Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, performed his own circumcision at the age of eighty. In regards to Abraham, Almighty God the Most High says in the Noble Qurʾān:

“And (remember) when his Lord tried Abraham with (His) commands, and he fulfilled them . . . ” (Holy Qurʾān Chapter 2, Verse 124)

(Holy Qurʾān Chapter 2, Verse 124)

“And who forsakes the religion of Abraham save him who fools himself? Verily We chose him in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he is among the righteous. (Noble Qurʾān Chapter 2, Verse 130)

(Noble Qurʾān Chapter 2, Verse 130)

The trimming of the mustache means that it should be trimmed so that none of it hangs over the lip. Additionally, the beard must be left alone so that it grows thickly on the face. The Prophet Muḥammad, may God bless him and give him peace, whom we are ordered to follow, made it clear that the Muslim male must let his beard grow. Ibn ʿUmar, may God be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, ordered us to trim closely the mustache and leave the beard as it is.” (Reported in Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukharī and Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim.) Abū Hurayrah, may God be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of God, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: “Trim closely the mustache and grow the beards, and oppose the Magians (fire-worshippers).” (Reported in Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim)

According to the Sunnah of God’s Messenger, Muslims should pluck the hair in their armpits and shave their pubic hairs. If they feel that they cannot pluck the hairs of the armpits, they can shave them or remove them in another fashion. The nails of the hands and the feet should also be trimmed. It is best to start with the right hand and then continue with the left, and then move to the right foot and finish with the left foot. It is reported that the Prophet Muḥammad, the grace and peace of God be upon him, liked to do it in this manner. Muslims who do these acts with the sole intention of following the Sunnah of God’s Messenger, may God bless him and give him peace, will be rewarded by God Most High. It is reported in both Ṣaḥiḥ al-Bukharī and Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim that the Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, said:

“Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.”

Difference Between the Creator and His Creation

Ibrahim and his believing family, i.e. the Prophets and those who believed in them, knew that there had to be a difference between the Creator and His creation, and between obedience and sin.

The more the slave realises this difference, the more he increases in love and servitude towards Allah, so he turns further away from worshipping, loving and obeying anything except Allah. Those misguided mushrikin, on the other hand, view Allah and His creation as equal. Ibrahim said:

“Do you then see whom you have been worshipping – you and your fathers before you? For they are enemies to me; not so the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds.”
Al-Qur’an 26:75-77

But they use as evidence the ambiguous words of their shaykhs, just as the Christians did the words of their priest.

An example of this is the concept of fana’ (extinction of individual consciousness, recedence of the ego, obliteration of the self). Fana’ is of three types:

The fana’ of the Prophets and awliya’ who have attained perfection;
The fana’ of the awliya’ and righteous people who are striving in the right direction even though they are not perfect; and
The fana’ of the hypocrites and heretics who liken Allah to his creation.

The first type of fana’ means the obliteration of the desire for anything except Allah, so that a person does not love anyone or anything except Allah, he does not worship anything except Him, he does not rely on anyone except Him, and he does not ask from anyone except Him. This is the sense, which should be understood from the words of Shaykh Abu Yazid:

“I want not to want anything except what He wants what pleases the Beloved (i.e. Allah).”

This is what is meant by the religious will of Allah. Perfection means that a man does not want, love or like anything except what Allah wants, loves and likes, which is what He has commanded and made wajib or mustahabb. He only loves those whom Allah loves, such as the angels, Prophets and righteous people. This is what is meant by their interpretation of the ayah:

“But only he (will prosper) who brings to Allah a sound heart.”
Al-Qur’an 26:89

They said: it is sound and safe from everything except being a slave to Allah, or everything except wanting what Allah wants, or everything except loving Allah. The meaning is the same and whether it is called fana’ or not, it is the beginning and end of Islam, the focus of the entire religion.

The second type of fana’ is oblivion towards others, which is attained by many of those who follow the path, because their hearts are strongly attracted to remembering, worshipping and loving Allah, and distracted from noticing anyone or anything else. Nothing crosses their minds except thoughts of Allah; they are not even aware of anything else, as was said in the interpretation of the ayah:

“But there came to be a void in the heart of the mother of Musa: she was going almost to disclose his (case), had We not strengthened her heart (with faith) … ”
Al-Qur’an 28:10

They said: Her heart was oblivious to everything except thoughts of Musa, which is a kind of thing that often happens to those who are overwhelmed with some concern, whether it be love or hope or fear, the heart is distracted from everything except that which is loved or hoped fro or feared, so that it is unaware of anything else.

If this kind of fana’ overwhelms a person, his focus on Allah becomes so intense that he is no longer aware of anything else, not his own existence or the dhikr he is doing, and everything diminishes in his senses, every created being, the person himself and everyone else, and there remains only the Lord. What is meant is that everything is diminished in a person’s perception, so that he no longer notices or remembers anything, and is quite oblivious to what is going on around him. If this feeling becomes so strong that the person becomes confuse and can no longer make proper distinctions, he may think that he is his beloved, as it was said that a man fell into the water, and the one who loved him himself in after him. The former said, “I fell by accident: what made you fall?” and the latter replied, “I was so overwhelmed with love for you that I thought I was you.”

This idea has caused many people to stumble, so that they thought in terms of physical unity whereby there is no longer any difference between a person and the object of his love. This is incorrect, for the Creator cannot be united with anything at all. Indeed, nothing can be totally united with anything else without becoming something else altogether; the essence of two things is lost when they unite, and they become a third thing, neither this not that, as is the case when water and milk are mixed together, or water and wine, and so on. But what is loved and wanted by both becomes one, and what is hated and loathed by both becomes one, so they love and hate the same things. One loves what the other loves, hates what the other hates, befriends those whom the other befriends and takes as enemies those whom the other takes as enemies.

This kind of fana’ is far from perfect.

The greatest awliya’, like Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, and the earliest muhajirin and ansar, let alone the Prophets who are above them in status, did not experience this kind of fana’. This emerged after the time of the sahabah.

The sahabah never experienced this type of fana’ or any loss of their faculties because of the strength of their iman in their hearts. The sahabah, may Allah be pleased with them, were too strong and firm in their faith to loose their minds in this fashion, or to experience any kind of swooning, loss of consciousness, intoxication, oblivion, rapture or ecstasy.

These things began to emerge at the time of the tabi’in, among the worshippers of Al-Basra, among whom were some who would swoon or even die when they heard the Qur’an, such as Abu Juhayr ad-Darir and Zararah ibn Awfa, the qadi (judge) of Al-Basra.

Some of the sufi shaykhs experience a kind of oblivion and intoxication where they are unable to make proper distinctions, and when they are in this state, they may say words which, when they come round, they realise are wrong. Such stories are reported about (ascetics such as) Abu Yazid, Abu’l-Hasan an-Nuri and Abu Bakr ash-Shibli, and so on and so on, unlike Abu Sulayman ad-Darini, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, and Fudayl ibn Ayyad, let alone Al-Junayd and so on, who remained of sound mind through out all their experiences and who never fell into states of oblivion or intoxication etc. those who have reached a level of perfection have nothing in their hearts except love for Allah and the desire to worship Him alone. They have vast knowledge and proper discretion, so they see things as they really are, and they see that created beings exist only by the command of Allah, and are controlled by Him, submitting to His will and turning to Him. This increases their faith and insight, and whatever they see of His creation supports and enhances the sincerity and submission of their worship of Him alone, with no partners or associates.

This is the reality to which the Qur’an calls. This is the basis of the perfect faith of those who truly know Allah, of whom our Prophet is the leader and most perfect. Hence when he was taken up into the heavens (the mi’raj), and saw the signs and wanders that he saw, and received Revelation there, the next morning no trace of his experience could be seen on him, and he did not look any different, unlike Musa who had lost consciousness (when he spoke to Allah). May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both.

The third type, which may be called fana’, is where a person affirms that nothing exists except Allah, and that the existence of the Creator and the existence of His creation are one and the same, so there is no difference between the Lord and the slave. This is the fana’ of misguided heretics who think that Allah is part of the universe. This ides was disowned by the shaykhs, one of who said, “I do not see anything except Allah” or “I do not look at anything except Allah” and so on. What was meant by this was: I do not see any Lord except Allah, or any Creator or Controller except Him, or any God except Him, and I do not look to anyone but Him with love and fear and hope. For the eye looks towards that to which the heart is attached. Whoever loves a thing, or has hope in it or fears it, will turn towards it. If there is no love for it in the heart, or hope or fear or hatred, or any other emotion that ties the heart to it, then the heart will not turn deliberately towards it or look towards it. If it accidentally glances at it, it will be like a man who happens to glance at a wall or anything else that means nothing to him.

The righteous shaykhs, may Allah be pleased with them, mentioned something about true tawhid and sincere submission, whereby the slave does not turn to anything except Allah and does not look to anything other then Him, whether in love, fear or hope; the heart is empty of every created being and does not look at them except with the light of Allah.

So he hears with the truth, sees with the truth, strikes with the truth and walks with the truth. He loves that which Allah loves and hates that which Allah hates; he takes as friends those whom Allah takes as friends, and regards as enemies those whom Allah regards as enemies. He fears Allah with regard to His creation, but he does not fear created beings with regard to his duties towards Allah. He places his hope in Allah with regard to His creation, but he does not place his hope in created beings with regard to his duties toward Allah. This is the sound, believing Muslim heart, which has perfect faith in Allah alone and truly understands the message of the Prophets and Messengers.

This third type of fana’, which believes that Allah is what one can see (pantheism), is the idea, belief and tawhid of the people of Pharaoh, and of other similar types such as the Qaramitah (Karmathians) and so on.

On the other hand, the kind of fana’ experienced by the followers of the Prophets is the praiseworthy kind of fana’, and the one who experiences it is one of those whom Allah praised by calling them His pious friends (awliya’), successful supporter and victorious troops.

These shaykhs and righteous people did not mean “what I see of the created beings is the Lord of the heaven and earth.” No one would say such a thing except those who are totally misguided and corrupt, whether the fault is in their way of thinking or in their beliefs. Such people are in a state between madness and heresy.

All the trustworthy shaykhs agree with the consensus of the early generations and imams of this ummah, which is that the Creator, may He be glorified, is distinct from His creation; there is nothing of His essences in His creation, and nothing of His creation in His essence. It is essential to distinguish the Ancient and Eternal One Who has no beginning from the finite event of existence, and to distinguish the Creator from His creation. The shaykhs have said much more on this topic then we can discuss here.

They have spoken about the diseases and doubts that may affect people’s hearts and minds. Someone may see creation, and think that it is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, because he cannot distinguish between them in his mind. This is like the one who sees a ray of sunlight and imagines this to be the sun itself.

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