Fitra: Original Virtue Not Original Sin

During Prophet Muhammad’s night journey and ascension the Angel Gabriel brought him a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk and he was made to choose. He chose milk, to which Gabriel said, “You have chosen Fitra.” Common definitions of Fitra include, “innate predisposition” or “primordial nature.” This event occurred during the Meccan period before any prohibition of alcohol. So, we know that part of choosing Fitra is conformity to an inclination toward right action we have prior to instruction. It’s also interesting to note that milk is the first food we have as infants. So, we know that part of choosing Fitra is preserving and trusting our earliest preferences. It is for these reasons that I choose to define Fitra as, “Original Virtue.” The Islamic concept of Fitra is that God has engraved upon the human soul an inborn tendency toward goodness, and a primordial sense in monotheism. That all human beings are born in a natural state of spiritual purity. This position apposes both the Doctrine of Original Sin proposed by Christian theology, and the Tabula Rasa proposed by the philosophers. As with all Islamic concepts, fleshing out the definition requires a look at the Arabic root, and it’s use in the Quran. Thankfully, you already know everything there is to know about it, you just don’t remember it yet. The root verb, Fa-ta-ra, commonly means to split, or cleave asunder. Less commonly it means to knead and shape like dough and connotes repetition. Interestingly it appears in the Quran eight times, always translated simply as “created” as in “I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth.” (6:79). Al Fatir is an attribute of God derived from this root which means, The Originator, or One who creates from nothing. This appears in the Quran 6 times, as in “Shall I take for my protector any other than God, The Creator of the heavens and the earth?” (6:14) So, we come to see that the meaning of Fitra is that the reflection of God’s beautiful attributes are scribed into the tablet of the human soul in preexistence, like fingerprints in clay.

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