Answered by Ustadh Ali Ataie
Question: There is a hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in which he mentions that every new child is born upon ‘fitrah’. Does this mean that every new child is already born Muslim? Or does it mean that every child is born with the natural disposition to believe in Allah but they will have to consciously make a decision to accept the truth once they are at the age of religious legal responsibility in order to be called a true Muslim. Also, what happens to the souls of the children of non-Muslims and Muslims who die before the age of puberty.
Thank you for your question.
The Four Factors
According to classical theologians, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (may Allah preserve his secret), there are four factors that establish takleef (responsibility) thus rendering it incumbent upon someone to follow the shari’ah and become Muslim. They are:
1) sound intellect (‘aql)
2) maturity (bulugh)
3) sound senses; meaning the person is not deaf AND blind (salamat’ul hawas) and
4) a sound prophetic summons reached him (balaghat hu al-da’wat al-sahih).
If one of these is not established then the person falls under the category of divine amnesty, meaning they are freed from the fire.
Fitrah and al-Islam
Every child is born into an innate state of purity (fitrah) that facilitates his acceptance of Islam as a religion when he matures. The deen is a conscious choice. The child is only a “Muslim” in the sense that he has not willfully disobeyed Allah (subhana-hu wa ta ‘ala) due to the lack of reaching his intellectual capacities. Al-Islam as a deen, however, is a conscious acceptance of the guidance brought forth by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). With this understanding, it is more proper to use the word convert rather than revert when a non-Muslim adult enters the religion.
Therefore, it is our belief that children who die before puberty (whether they were raised by Muslim parents or not) fall under the category of divine amnesty and will enter Paradise. And Allah knows best.