It has been my deep concern since I had entered into the field of religious studies as a young pupil at the Islamic Madrasa in Sarajevo, then as a student at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and, of course, later on as a postgraduate student at the University of Chicago to figure out if there is an innate nature of faith that is shared by all humanity. To be precise, I wanted to know the difference between a natural faith and a formal or artificial religious theology. But, first, is there a difference between the two? I felt somehow in my deep consciousness that there was a difference between the two because of the drastically divergent and deviant streams in religious and theological interpretations of faith as a matter of collective background and personal experience.

Furthermore, I felt that if humanity comes to the original terms with a natural faith that is common to all human beings, it would be easier for humanity to accept the fact that we humans are a single humanity because God is the One and the Same Creator of all the universe, nay the multiverse, and within it the whole humanity. The very idea that we share the same core and the same substance of trust in God as an innate item in our soul, moves us closer to each other and inspires us to cooperate with each other for good. After all, God is the light of heavens and earth and His light touches everything and everyone on earth. God is love as well.

His love reaches every human being whether he/she is aware of it or not. Unlike the animals and plants, the humans are additionally equipped with God’s light in their mind, i.e., in their human reason that cannot but tackle with everything around regardless whether this would be good or bad for humanity. Of course, the most challenging of all is human thought about God as God is hidden from man’s sight but man feels God’s presence in his soul as an innate sense of his trust in God.

If we accept the premise that all human beings share the same potential of trust in God, which is a natural faith as such, then begging the question (petitio principia) is whether the premise assumes the truth of conclusion. In fact, it does assume the conclusion that all men are equal in their original or innate ability to trust in God even before they are exposed to a divine word. In fact, the role of the divine word or revelation is to shape the natural matter of faith (al-īmān) into the form of religion (al-dīn), i.e., the divine law (al-sharīʿah). This idea is explicit in the Holy Qur’an in the verses: 44, 46, 47 and 48 of the 5th Chapter Al-Māʼidah:

Surely We revealed the Torah, wherein there is guidance and light. Thereby did Prophets - who had submitted themselves (to God) - judge for the Judaized folk; and so did the scholars and jurists. They judged by the Book of God for they had been entrusted to keep it, and bear witness to it. So (O Jews!) do not fear men but fear Me, and do not barter away My signs for a trivial gain. Those who do not judge by what God has revealed are indeed the unbelievers (44).

And We sent Jesus, the son of Mary, after those Prophets, confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah. And We gave him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, and which confirms the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah, and a guidance and admonition for the God-fearing (46).

Let the followers of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein, and those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed are the transgressors (47).

Then We revealed the Book to you (O Muhammad!) with Truth, confirming whatever of the Book was revealed before, and protecting and guarding over it. Judge, then, in the affairs of men in accordance with the Law that Allah has revealed, and do not follow their desires in disregard of the Truth which has come to you. For each of you We have appointed a Law and a way of life. And had Allah so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a Law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you. Vie, then, one with another in good works. Unto Allah is the return of all of you; and He will then make you understand the truth concerning the matters on which you disagreed.

This explicit Qur’anic plurality not only of formal religions but also of “divine laws” (shirʿah) and “a way of life” (minhāj) is the most convicting proof for a shared natural faith (al-imān) in competition with a formal or artificial religion (al-dīn or al-islām), which might become an extreme and exclusive ideology tempered by unreasonable politics. On this very point I have found an interesting analysis by my professor Fred Donner from the University of Chicago on the development road of the early Muslim community from “Believers” to “Muslims”. Namely, Donner argues that Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his followers initially saw themselves as a community of Believers (ar. al-muʼminūn), a community to which all who had a strong faith in the One God and the Day of Judgment belonged. Furthermore, Donner argues that the root of Islam lies in what we might call the “Movement of Believers,” started by Muhammad, a. s., as a religious reform. This movement emphasizes strict tawḥīd, monotheism, and righteous conduct in accordance with God’s revealed covenant/law. Thus the “movement of believers” in the early years of Islam included righteous Christians and Jews, because like believers in the Qur’an, both Christians and Jews were monotheists and agreed to live righteously according to their revealed law, the Tawrāt and the Injīl. The belief that Muslims form a separate religious community, different from Christians and Jews, emerged a century later, when the leaders of the belief movement decided that only those who held the Qur’an as the final revelation of the One God and Muhammad as the last messenger of God, were legitimate BelieversMuslims. This decisively separated them from the monotheists, who identified with the Torah or the Gospel (Fred Donner, 2003).

Here I found the puzzle intriguing. I am intrigued to know why and how the shift from a natural faith or belief that is common to all humans is being altered as such to become so unnatural that it does resemble itself anymore? Really, the question is how this natural faith is being transformed into a formal or artificial religion/theology with diametrically different conclusions not only by formal different religious traditions but also by the followers of the same formal religion? Indeed, our question should be as to how the religion (al-dīn) of the same divine (natural) root becomes an exclusive dangerous ideology tempered by hazardous politics? 

In Search for Natural Faith. I am sure, the Jews and Christians have their own internal theological differences and extreme groups that should be their own internal concern. We are told in a ḥadīth, narration by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which was reported by ‘Awf bin Malik that the Prophet said: “Jews were divided into 71 sects. One of them is in Heaven, seventy of them are in Hell. Christians are split into 72 sects. Seventy-one of them are in Hell, the one is in Heaven. I swear to Allah whose mighty hands hold the Muhammad’s will, beyond any doubt, my umma, nation, will be divided into 73 sects. One will be in Heaven, seventy-two will be in flames. “Oh, the Messenger of Allah! Who are they?”, “They are al-jamā‘ah (the group or community that holds themselves together)”.

Obviously, I will not dwell on the Jewish and Christian theological differences and extreme groups. I am concerned with natural faith of Islam and its formal or artificial religious/theological interpretations that are sometimes unrecognizable to its original nature. Indeed, I want to find my innate sense of trust in God in order to be able to deal with a formal or artificial belonging to a theology, whatever it might be. Because the belonging to a particular religious group (al-jamā‘ah) is not necessarily genuine faith but may be a delusive loyalty to deceitful leaders of a fake ideology. In fact, I want to prove to myself, before anyone else, that “faith” is an innate trust in God, which is common to and shared by all mankind. I want to grasp the idea that “faith” is a self-evident entity just as “Being” (Heidegger’s “Sein”) “is all concepts the one that is self-evident”. Paraphrasing further Heidegger’s notion of indefinability of “Being”, we may say that “whenever one comports oneself towards entities, even towards oneself, some use is made” of “Faith”, i.e., “Trust” in God; “and this expression is held to be intelligible “without further ado”, just as everyone understands “The sky is blue”… (Martin Heidegger, 1962) Thus, like “Being” (al-wujūd), “Faith” (al-īmān) is the most obvious spiritual entity, and yet it is the most hidden both essentially and conceptually. Just as there is no need to define “Pure Being” because of its self-evidence, there is no need to define “Pure Faith” because of its self-evident manifesto. Thus, faith is natural state of human soul. For, what is pure and self-evident is definable in itself; and what is definable in itself has neither genus nor species that would define it in relation to other entity of a different trait. “Pure Faith” is a gift of God about which the human mind has nothing to say but to accept it as it is or neglect or reject it.

Being an innate state of huma spirit, the trust in God or faith in a broad meaning is not acquired in experience, but it is given by birth. Therefore, turn your face to the natural way of creation (fiṭratallah), the way that all people were created by God because there is no alteration of God’s creation; Indeed, every child is born in a natural way of God’s creation (ʿalā fiṭrah).

Although ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle and the Stoics, had the idea of tabula rasa, it was not widely elaborated though until the eleventh century when the Persian Muslim philosopher Ibn Sinâ (980– 1037) forged his phrase al-ṣafḥah al-bayḍāʼ (“white paper” or “tabula rasa”). The Andalusian philosopher and novelist Ibn Ṭufayl (1105–1185) developed Ibn Sinâ’s idea of tabula rasa into a theory of reflective experiment by showing the development of the mind in a wild boy on a desert island (Ibn Ṭufayl, 2018). In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) introduced this idea or theory of tabula rasa into Christian theological and philosophical thought from Aristotle and Ibn Sinâ. In the modern age, further elaboration of the idea of the theory of tabula rasa is attributed to John Locke (1632–1704), who believed that all knowledge comes from experience, because our soul is by birth a “tabula rasa” without prior rules. Therefore, every soul or every mind is free to shape itself of its own free will on the basis of its own experience. Unlike John Locke, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), believed that man is born with an innate mental structure, of which selfishness is most obvious. Hence, Hobbes considered the natural state of man to be “a war of all against all” (“bellum omnium contra omnes”), as well as his infamous remark that “man is wolf to man” (“lupus est homo homini”).

Contrary to this pessimistic view of the nature of man, the Islamic perspective of mane is that in his pure nature lies an innate trust in God, his natural faith. This natural faith of man is the grace of God’s spiritual breathe (nafkhah rūḥiyyah) into man’s pure soul as well as a dictate of his pure mind. Two epic witnesses testify to this fact. One is called the “Living Son of the Awake” (“Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān”) and the other is called the “Noble Son of the Speaker” (“Fāḍil bin Nāṭiq”). The story of the former was narrated by Ibn Ṭufayl, and the story of the latter was reported by Ibn al-Nafīs. They both borrowed the idea of natural theology of Ibn Sinâ, who had imagined the “Living Son of the Awake” before them (Ahmad Amin, 2018). Ibn Sinâ’s “Living Son of the Awake” does not resemble Robinson Crusoe, nor does Daniel Defoe resemble either Ibn Ṭufayl or Ibn al-Nafīs. Robinson Crusoe is an adventurer at sea on a desert island, while Ibn Ṭufayl’s “Ḥayy ibn Jaqẓān” is a curious human being on a desert island in search for the truth of his human nature and the nature around him. Defoe’s hero is an adventurer who has one wish ant that is to survive on a desert island while expecting a salvation from someone. Ibn al-Nafīs “Fāḍil bin Nāṭiq” is not an adventurer. He is a boy who is born spontaneously without his mother and father on a desert island. Ibn al-Nafīs is aware that there are people who do not accept that man can be born without father and mother. 

On another much larger inhabited island, opposite a desert island, there was a cruel ruler, who had a sister, whom he did not give to anyone for marriage. However, without his knowledge, she married Awake (Yaqẓān) and was interested in a male child with him, whom, after breastfeeding him, and out of fear of her brother, she put a coffin and let it float down the water. “Lord, You created this child when there was no mention of him. You kept him alive in the darkness of my womb and cared for him until he was fully formed and matured. I leave him to Your nobility, for I fear for him from this unjust, violent and cruel ruler. I trust in Your mercy and goodness...”.

Unlike Ibn Ṭufayl, Ibn Nefīs did not turn his attention to objections to the impossible birth of man without father and mother. His hero Fāḍil bin Nāṭiq tells the story of a hero, called the Perfect (Kāmil), who is spontaneously born without a father and mother after a flood on a lonely island with a temperate climate and an abundance of plants, fruits and vegetables. The flood brings to the island new ingredients of clay, which is deposited in the cave, whereby a fermentation takes place, from which the organs of the human body are formed, from which man is created. In the cave one feels the air, which gives the heart breath or spirit (rūḥ), which when mixed with purified blood gives a vital soul, which keeps Kamil alive in the cave until he strengthens so that, like a chicken from an egg, he does not experience that he can turn into a white world. Unlike Ibn Ṭufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqẓān, who as a baby grows up with the help of a gazelle, Ibn al-Nafis’s Kāmil emerges from the cave as a boy alone and begins life without anyone’s help. Ibn Ṭufayl’s hero himself comes to know about fire and learns for himself what shoes and clothes he needs, while Ibn al-Nafis’ hero learns all this from his visitors. Perhaps uninten tionally, but Ibn al-Nafīs in this way emphasized the idea, unlike Ibn Ṭufayl, that life becomes civilized only in human society. After all that the Living Son of the Awake had seen and experienced, he comes to the conclusion that man can understand the nature of his soul and reach the essence of God through his pure unaided mind. 

But Ibn Nafis’ Perfect Man does not deny the power of the pure mind, but man still needs the help of God’s messengers, especially with regard to the organization of the human community. Thus, Ibn Nefis’s hero reveals not only the necessity of man’s piety and social solidarity, but also the necessity of a periodic prophetic appearance. Also, the life history of the last Prophet and the end of the world with certain signs, which precede it, are important aides to the real truth. Ibn Tufayl’s hero meets a community of believers or God’s trustees who follow God’s previous messengers and prophets. Ibn Nafis does not mention any religion by name, but it is understood that it is Islam, which is not only the last authentic dictate of religion for all times and places, but is also the surest answer to the question of how to believe, how to act and how one should save himself/herself.

Mustafa Ceric, 
Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia

Additional Information

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