Imam an-Nawawi on the Fitrah

Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,

مَا مِنْ مَوْلُودٍ إِلاَّ يُولَدُ عَلَى الْفِطْرَةِ فَأَبَوَاهُ يُهَوِّدَانِهِ وَيُنَصِّرَانِهِ وَيُمَجِّسَانِهِ كَمَا تُنْتَجُ الْبَهِيمَةُ بَهِيمَةً جَمْعَاءَ هَلْ تُحِسُّونَ فِيهَا مِنْ جَدْعَاءَ

“No child is born except on the Fitrah and then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian. Just as an animal produces a perfect young animal: do you see any part of its body amputated?”

Then Abu Hurayrah said, “And recite if you wish:

فِطْرَ‌تَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ‌ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّـهِ

“The fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah.” [30:30]

[Muslim #6423]

Imam al-Nawawi wrote the following in his explanation of Sahih Muslim about this hadith:

قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( ما من مولود إلا يولد على الفطرة ، فأبواه يهودانه وينصرانه ويمجسانه كما تنتج البهيمة بهيمة جمعاء ، هل تحسون فيها من جدعاء ؟ ثم يقول أبو هريرة : اقرءوا إن شئتم : فطرة الله التي فطر الناس عليها لا تبديل لخلق الله الآية وفي رواية : ما من مولود يولد إلا وهو على الملة وفي رواية ليس من مولود يولد إلا على هذه الفطرة حتى يعبر عنه لسانه قالوا : يا رسول الله ، أفرأيت من يموت صغيرا ؟ قال : الله أعلم بما كانوا عاملين وفي رواية : إن الغلام الذي قتله الخضر طبع كافرا ، ولو عاش لأرهق أبويه طغيانا وكفرا وفي حديث عائشة : توفي صبي من الأنصار ، فقالت : طوبى له ، عصفور من عصافير الجنة ، لم يعمل السوء ، ولم يدركه . قال : أو غير ذلك يا عائشة إن الله خلق للجنة أهلا خلقهم لها وهم في أصلاب آبائهم ، وخلق للنار أهلا خلقهم لها وهم في أصلاب آبائهم . .

His statement (ﷺ), “No child is born except on the Fitrah and then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian, as an animal produces a perfect young animal: do you see any part of its body amputated? Then Abu Hurayrah said, “And recite if you wish:’The fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah.'”

It comes in another narration as “No child is born except upon the millah“,

And in another another narration, “Every child is born on this Fitrah so long as he does not express himself with his tongue” They said, “What is your opinion about him who dies in infancy?” He said, “It is Allah alone Who knows best what they would be doing”.

And in another narration, “The young man whom Khadir killed was a kaafir by his very nature and had he survived he would have involved his parents in defiance and unbelief.”

And in the hadith of ‘Aaishah: A child from the Ansar died, so she said, “Glad tidings for this child who is a bird from amongst the birds of Paradise for it committed no sin nor has he reached the age when one can commit sin” So he (ﷺ) said, “‘Perhaps it may be otherwise, O ‘Aaisha, because Allah created for Paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father’s loins and created for Hell those who are to go to Hell. He created them for Hell while they were yet in their father’s loins.”

أجمع من يعتد به من علماء المسلمين على أن من مات من أطفال المسلمين فهو من أهل الجنة ; لأنه ليس مكلفا . وتوقف فيه بعض من لا يعتد به لحديث عائشة هذا ، وأجاب العلماء بأنه لعله نهاها عن المسارعة إلى القطع من غير أن يكون عندها دليل قاطع ، كما أنكر على سعد بن أبي وقاص في قوله : أعطه إني لأراه مؤمنا ، قال : ” أو مسلما ” الحديث . ويحتمل أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم قال هذا قبل أن يعلم أن أطفال المسلمين في الجنة ، فلما علم قال ذلك في قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ما من مسلم يموت له ثلاثة من الولد لم يبلغوا الحنث إلا أدخله الله الجنة بفضل رحمته إياهم وغير ذلك من الأحاديث . والله أعلم

The majority of Muslim scholars have confirmed that any child of the Muslims who dies is one the people of Jannah, because he is not legally responsible. Some who did not hold this position refrained from taking such a definitive stance due to the hadith of ‘Aaishah, to which the scholars respond that perhaps he (ﷺ) wanted to prevent her from rushing to a definitive conclusion without having had definitive evidence to support it, just as he corrected Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas when he said, “Verily I see him to be a mu’min”, so he (ﷺ) said, “or a Muslim.” And perhaps he (ﷺ) said this before he knew that the children of Muslim are in Jannah, for it is known that he (ﷺ) said, “Any Muslim who loses three children before they reach the age of maturity will be granted Jannah by Allah, the Exalted, out of His Mercy for them” and elsewhere in other hadith narrations. And Allah knows best.

 وأما أطفال المشركين ففيهم ثلاثة مذاهب . قال الأكثرون : هم في النار تبعا لآبائهم . وتوقفت طائفة فيهم . والثالث ، وهو الصحيح الذي ذهب إليه المحققون أنهم من أهل الجنة ، ويستدل له بأشياء منها حديث إبراهيم الخليل صلى الله عليه وسلم حين رآه النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في الجنة ، وحوله أولاد الناس قالوا : يا رسول الله ، وأولاد المشركين ؟ قال : ” وأولاد المشركين ” رواه البخاري في صحيحه . ومنها قوله تعالى : وما كنا معذبين حتى نبعث رسولا ولا يتوجه على المولود التكليف ويلزمه قول الرسول حتى يبلغ ، وهذا متفق عليه . والله أعلم .

But as for the children of the mushrikoon, then there are three opinions.

Most say: they are in the fire, following their fore-fathers.

Some scholars held off on taking a definitive position.

The third opinion – which is the correct one which the precise and authoritative scholars held – is that they are  among the people of Jannah. There are a number of things that support this position, one of which being the hadith of Ibrahim al-Khaleel (ﷺ) when he was seen by the Prophet (ﷺ) in Jannah and he was surrounded by children. The people said, “O Messenger of Allah, even the children of the mushrikoon? He said, “Even the children of the mushrikoon.” This is narrated by al-Bukhaari in his sahih. Another evidence is Allah’s statement:

وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

And never would we punish until we sent a messenger [17:15]

And according to the Prophet’s statement which comes in both al-Bukhari and Muslim, a newborn is not legally responsible until he reaches maturity. And Allah knows best.

 وأما الفطرة المذكورة في هذه الأحاديث فقال المازري : قيل : هي ما أخذ عليه . في أصلاب آبائهم ، وأن الولادة تقع عليها حتى يحصل التغير بالأبوين . وقيل : هي ما قضي عليه من سعادة أو شقاوة يصير إليها . وقيل : هي ما هيئ له هذا كلام المازري . .

Now, as for the meaning of the word fitrah found in these narrations, al-Maazari said,

Some say: it is what one clings to in the loins of their fathers and so he is born upon that until his parents cause him to change. Others say: it is the ultimate joy or sorrow that has been decreed for him which he travels towards. Still others say: it is what has been prepared for him

and this last position was the one that al-Maazari held.

وقال أبو عبيد : سألت محمد بن الحسن عن هذا الحديث ، فقال : كان هذا في أول الإسلام قبل أن تنزل الفرائض ، وقبل الأمر بالجهاد . وقال أبو عبيد كأنه يعني أنه لو كان يولد على الفطرة ، ثم مات قبل أن يهوده أبواه أو ينصرانه لم يرثهما ، ولم يرثاه ، لأنه مسلم ، وهما كافران ، ولما جاز أن يسيء فلما فرضت الفرائض ، وتقررت السنن على خلاف ذلك علم أنه يولد على دينهما

And ibn ‘Ubayd said:

I asked Muhammad ibn al-Hasan about this hadith, and he said, “that is in the beginning of Islam before the obligatory duties were sent down, and before the command for jihaad.”

Then Abu ‘Ubayd said: It is as if he means that if one were to be born upon the fitrah and then die before being made a Jew or a Christian then he would not inherit from his parents nor would his parents inherit from him because he is a Muslim and they are disbelievers. But then when he becomes able to sin, that is when the obligatory duties come into effect for him. However this is contrary to what the hadith narrations indicate.

وقال ابن المبارك : يولد على ما يصير إليه من سعادة أو شقاوة فمن علم الله تعالى أنه يصير مسلما ولد على فطرة الإسلام ، ومن علم أنه يصير كافرا ولد على الكفر

And Ibn al-Mubaarak said:

He is born upon either the ultimate joy or the ultimate sorrow that he will travel towards. Anyone that Allah knows will become a Muslim is born on the fitrah of Islam, while anyone that He knows will become a disbeliever is born on the fitrah of disbelief.

وقيل : معناه كل مولود يولد على معرفة الله تعالى والإقرار به ، فليس أحد يولد إلا وهو يقر بأن له صانعا ، وإن سماه بغير اسمه ، أو عبد معه غيره والأصح أن معناه أن كل مولود يولد متهيئا للإسلام ، فمن كان أبواه أو أحدهما مسلما استمر على الإسلام في أحكام الآخرة والدنيا ، وإن كان أبواه كافرين جرى عليه حكمهما في أحكام الدنيا ، وهذا معنى ( يهودانه وينصرانه ويمجسانه ) ، أي يحكم له بحكمهما ما في الدنيا .

Some said that it means that every person is born having awareness of Allah and affirming His existence; no one is born without affirming that Allah is his creator, even if he refers to Him by some other name or worships others alongside Him.

But the most correct understanding is that it means that every child is born ready to accept Islam. So if both or at least one of his parents are Muslim, then he will be considered as a Muslim legally both in the hereafter and in this life [e.g. he would receive a janazah and it is expected that he would be one of the people of Jannah]. But if his parents are disbelievers, then he takes their legal ruling regarding worldly matters [e.g. he would not receive a janazah]. That is the meaning of, “then they make him into a Jew or a Christian or a Magian,” i.e., he takes the same legal ruling that they have in worldly affairs.

. فإن بلغ استمر عليه حكم الكفر ودينهما ، فإن كانت سبقت له سعادة أسلم ، وإلا مات على كفره . وإن مات قبل بلوغه فهل هو من أهل الجنة أم النار أم يتوقف فيه ؟ ففيه المذاهب الثلاثة السابقة قريبا . الأصح أنه من أهل الجنة . والجواب عن حديث الله أعلم بما كانوا عاملين أنه ليس فيه تصريح بأنهم في النار ، وحقيقة لفظه : الله أعلم بما كانوا يعملون لو بلغوا ولم يبلغوا إذ التكليف لا يكون إلا بالبلوغ . وأما غلام الخضر فيجب تأويله قطعا لأن أبويه كانا مؤمنين ، فيكون هو مسلما ، فيتأول على أن معناه أن الله أعلم أنه لو بلغ لكان كافرا ، لا أنه كافر في الحال ، ولا يجري عليه في الحال أحكام الكفار . والله أعلم

Then if he reaches maturity will still having the legal ruling of a disbeliever and still following the religion of his parents, is Allah has decreed ultimate joy for him he will become a Muslim, otherwise he will die on his current state of disbelief.

But if he dies before he reaches maturity, will he be one of the people of Jannah or of Hellfire, or is it not possible to say? The same three positions we mentioned previously also apply here. But the most correct opinion is that he will be one of the people of Jannah. And the response to the hadith “It is Allah alone Who knows best what they would be doing” is that it does not explicitly state that they are in the hell-fire. What it actually says is that Allah knows best what they would be doing if they had attained maturity, and they did not attain the status of legal responsibility, which only applies to those of mature age.

Now as for the boy in the story of al-Khidr, then an explanation is certainly necessary, because his parents were believers, so he was in turn a Muslim. This can be explained by saying that Allah knew that if he were to reach maturity he would become a disbeliever, not that he was already a disbeliever as an infant or that he had already taken the legal status of a disbeliever as a child. And Allah knows best.

 وأما قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( كما تنتج البهيمة بهيمة ) فهو بضم التاء الأولى ، وفتح الثانية ، ورفع البهيمة ، ونصب بهيمة . ومعناه كما تلد البهيمة بهيمة ( جمعاء ) بالمد أي مجتمعة الأعضاء سليمة من نقص ، لا توجد فيها جدعاء بالمد ، وهي مقطوعة الأذن أو غيرها من الأعضاء . ومعناه أن البهيمة تلد البهيمة كاملة الأعضاء لا نقص فيها ، وإنما يحدث فيها الجدع والنقص بعد ولادتها .

And as for his statement (ﷺ) “Just as an animal produces a [whole] animal” – meaning just as an animal gives birth to an animal “whole” with all its limbs present, free from defects, and you will not find any alterations like a slit in the ears or other such things in it. Meaning that the animal gives birth to a whole and complete animal with all its limbs and no parts of it missing, and the alterations or amputations only occur after its birth.

[Sharh al-Nawawi ‘alaa Muslim #2658]

See also: “All of you are astray except whomever I guide”: Explanation of Ibn Rajab

See also: The meaning of al-Ma’roof and al-Munkar: Ibn Rajab

See also: “Consult your heart”: Clarification from Ibn Rajab

5 thoughts on “Imam an-Nawawi on the Fitrah

  1. Pingback: “All of you are astray except whomever I guide”: Explanation of Ibn Rajab | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: The meaning of al-Ma’roof and al-Munkar: Ibn Rajab | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: “Consult your heart”: Clarification from Ibn Rajab | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: “There is no one who does not have a Qareen from the Jinn”: Sharḥ al-Nawawi | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: Allah created His creation in darkness: Sharh al-Mubaarakfoori | Tulayhah

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