Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: Could you please explain the state of the fitra in non-Muslims? For example, does the fitra change in essence when a person becomes “a Christian, Jew, or Zoroastrian”?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
Thank you for your question.
There has been extensive disagreement between scholars on the definition of the term fitra that impacts the way in which we understand the tradition, “There is no child except that he or she is born on the fitra, and it is the parents who make him Jewish, Christian, or Magian.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
I have listed some of the major interpretations below:
(a) Fitra refers to the sound natural disposition and constitution of the human being that allows one to discern the existence of God, His oneness, and His religion. In other words, the fitra is not a form of knowledge, nor an actual state of belief or disbelief.
(b) Fitra refers to Islam. In other words, every child is born a Muslim, namely in terms of recognizing God, or with an inclination towards Islam.
(c) Fitra refers to the decree of God in terms of the individuals being damned or saved. In other words, every child is born upon that state which God knows he will eventually die upon.
[Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Tamhid (18:65-84); al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih al-Muslim (16:208); al-`Ayni, `Umdat al-Qari (8:178); al-Subki, Fatawa (2:361-62)]
In each of the interpretations above, the adoption of a religion other than Islam does not entail the removal of the fitra in its essence. This is most clear for the first and third interpretations, since a person always in some capacity possesses the ability to discern the truth and since decree of God is unchanging and based on His pre-eternal knowledge.
As for the second interpretation, it may be that the fitra is lost in its essence in so far as a person is in fact no longer on it i.e. he is not on Islam. However, even here, there still may be deep down a natural inclination towards the truth that can never be erased from the heart of an individual.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani