Fitra, Khalifah, And Human’s Religious Activities – OpEd


Since the time of Aristotle Greek philosophers have thought that mankind’s ability to use tools was what made human nature unique. However, that is not true because we now know that several different  species (including birds) use and make tools. Most modern scholars now have pointed to the human ability to domesticate wild animals and to farm the land as what makes human beings unique. 

I believe that religious spirituality is what makes humans unique. Religion; like art, music and advanced language capabilities are found universally among all tribes, ethnic groups and nations in the world. The concept that every human child is born with a natural belief in God; and an inborn inclination to worship only one God, is called in Arabic; “Fitra”. As Prophet Muhammad taught, “No baby is born but upon Fitra. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426)

Children are not born out of any sin, original, inherited or derived. They are all born with the natural  ability to believe in a religion as part of their nature, just as they are born with the capability to learn any human  language. 

It is reported on the authority of Abu Mu’awiya that (the Prophet) said: “Every new-born babe is born on the millat (organized religion) and remains on this until his tongue is enabled to express himself (is able to talk in sentences)”. This Hadith has (also) been narrated on the authority of Abu Mu’awiya through another chain of transmitters (as follows):” Every child is born only with this Fitra, so long as he does not express himself with his tongue.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, #6427)

Thus, every (normal) human baby is naturally endowed by its creator with the ability to speak a language; and to believe in a religion of unseen spiritual beings (angels) and the power of ritual practices. 

Parents provide the specific language content (words, grammar, syntax, etc.) and the specific religious content (polytheism, idolatry, monotheism, etc.) Thus, “It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” This does not occur because parents rationally convince their children that their own beliefs are true.  Rather, children believe what their parents teach them because during the last 5-10.000 generations, the importance of human culture became increasingly important, and young children who ignored what their parents and society taught them, had a lower survival rate than those who believed their parents. 

All sentient beings are able to respond to the challenges of life. In each species some individuals respond to new environmental challenges better than others do; and their descendants increase. All sentient beings that are conscious, are capable of learning from the challenges of life. They can improve themselves. 

A few species are even able to show others in their species what they have learned; and thus improve their group and their descendants’ chances of survival. These species have developed cultural ways of meeting life’s challenges. Our species has developed the God given ability to believe in our parents and our society’s religion with great skill.

For almost all of the last 200,000 years Homo Sapiens were small group, hierarchically organized, social primates. Although biological evolution occurs in individuals, any genes that enable the group (extended family and/or band) to function better as a group, will contribute to individual survival rates and reproductive success within the group.  

Increasing mental capacities were  productive from a tool making perspective; but these same increasing mental capacities sometimes had negative side effects such as anxiety, stress, self imposed tension and neurosis.  

Any genetic adaptation that increased individual and community levels of  social and individual trust, confidence, and optimism would in turn help correct or ameliorate individual mental disabilities due to negative mental states. 

Such genes would be selected for, and would spread throughout that population. If that gave the group better survival rates and increased population growth the genes would keep spreading. 

Spiritual activities among our species have evolved over the last 100-120,000 years. If one takes seriously the Biblical claim that humanity was created in the Divine image, and the Qur’an’s statement that humans were created to be vice-regents with God, spiritual evolution testifies to the creation by God, of creatures who are social co-creators of purpose driven, non-material religious responses to environmental and social challenges. 

You might think that if children were left alone, they would all worship Allah the right way, but that  cannot happen because all children must be raised by other people or they would die. Even if they could be raised by Godless robots, all children are affected by all the things around them, seen or unseen.

The evolution of spiritual activities that enhance the successful survival of humanity is not only concerned with enhancing the survival of our own species. With the recent domestication of plants and animals and the very recent industrial revolution, humans acquired a great deal of responsibility for the evolution of most of the species on the planet itself. 

Thus, the behavior of religious people themselves now becomes a factor in the evolution of life on earth. Islam teaches that humans are vicegerents under God in managing our personal and social lives on this planet. Mankind is the vicegerent of Allah on earth. (Qur’an 2:30) The word vicegerent means to act in such a way so as  to improve the world for and on behalf of Allah, to rule people justly, to apply the laws of Allah to people, animals and even non-living things.   

The Qur’an tells us that just before Allah created Adam He told all the angels: “Surely I am about to place a khilafah- vicegerent on the Earth.” (2:30) The angels reply that unlike angels who are always busy worshipping God, and thus unable to commit sins, humans will do all kinds of terrible evil things on earth. Allah says, “I surely know what you do not know.” (2:30)

Khilafah means succession referring to the humans who will be responsible for improving life on earth because they will know the names that Allah will teach them. This knowledge enables humans to tame their own wild inclinations; and submit to the words of Allah as brought to them by their prophets. 

Ali Unal, a Turkish elucidator of the Holy Qur’an, writes that: “Since the angels do not have to struggle against sins, they do not progress spiritually.” Human males and females were created by Allah to be partners and helpmates in the moral struggle that leads to spiritual progress. 

As the Qur’an states:  “He is the one who created you from a single being; and from that being He created his mate, so that he might find comfort with her.” (Qur’an 4:1, 7:189, and 39:6) The same teaching comes from the Torah of Moses, which also relates the events concerning the creation of Adam and Eve (Havvah in Hebrew, Hawwa in Arabic).

In the Jewish religious tradition the great events of the Torah are often retold and re-imagined in order to gain clearer insights for later generations. A good example of this process (called in Jewish tradition; Midrash), as applied to the archetypal humans, is this account of how and why God’s gift to Adam was Eve. Muslims will see how my Midrash fits in with Muslim teachings of our duty to respect our wives. 

At first, Adam was all alone. He didn’t have parents and he didn’t have children. He did not even have a brother, a sister or a friend  to talk to. Adam was lonely, and he was unhappy. 

God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone.(Genesis 2:18) But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don’t have to share things with others. You don’t have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you. You don’t have to help when others need help. You don’t have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”  

“I don’t like being lonely” said Adam, ” I have lots of things for fun and games; but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me. I still feel lonely and all alone. I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.” 

God knew just what Adam needed. “What you need is a help-mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a responsible, kind and loving human being. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help-mate.(Genesis 2:21-23) 

The Hebrew word for helper or help-mate is ezer. Traditional male religious scholars thought a helper was like an assistant, which would mean a lesser partner. But female scholars have pointed out that God is Himself called ezer when He comes forth in times of need to help the People of Israel. (Genesis 49:25 and Psalm 37:40)

So the two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore. You will have to think about another person’s feelings. You will have to listen to what she tells you. You will have to think less about yourself and more about another. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.

God looked down and saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn’t always tame their self centered inclinations, and become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would become much better by trying. 

And those who were fully responsible partners and help mates would become God’s blessing for each other. Then the sons of Adam, instead of claiming that Eve caused Adam to sin and thus introduced original sin into human life, would realize that the daughters of Eve (Havvah in Hebrew, Hawwa in Arabic) were meant to become blessings from God.  

Also without Eve men’s health declines greatly. A pooled analysis of data from 34 studies published between 1963 and 2015 involving more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who weren’t (never married, divorced, widowed) were at heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42%) and coronary artery heart disease (16%). 

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

The analysis showed that divorce was associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16 per cent more likely to have a stroke. While there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried, this was not the case after a heart attack, the risk of which was significantly higher (42%) among those who had never married because they lacked a good wife to help them stay healthy.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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