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Is the mind of a baby a blank slate or are there certain concepts ingrained in the human mind? Can human nature be demonstrated in infants from birth? Do thoughts about God and moral values naturally occur to a human growing up or are they fabricated ideas invented by previous cultures? Why are certain ideas and values so widespread among people? 

People have long wondered and debated about human nature. Are there some behaviours which arise naturally from the human being and others which arise solely due to the influence of the surrounding culture? Some would argue that many of the good traits of human beings arise naturally, including moral traits like compassion and concern for others.

The man known as the father of modern economics, Adam Smith (d. 1790CE), argued that sympathy must be inherent. He wrote, “No matter how selfish you think man is, it’s obvious that there are some principles in his nature that give him an interest in the welfare of others.”1Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Copyright ©2010–2015 All rights reserved. Jonathan Bennett electronic print version Others, like English philosopher John Locke (d.1704CE), argued that the human mind is essentially a blank slate at birth and that all knowledge is acquired through experience.2Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 2, Chapter 1, pt. 2

Muslim scholars centuries earlier preceded such comments with a vast, rigorous and systematic analysis of human nature when defining the Fitrah – the primordial nature of all human beings.

What is the Fitrah?

Fitrah is an arabic word used in Islamic theology to refer to the natural constitution of human beings, i.e. the pure and pristine original state upon which God creates all human beings. The human’s natural state encompasses an inclination towards that which is morally and spiritually pure, upright and wholesome.3Teeth are not present at birth, but they grow naturally in a baby. Likewise, not everything in the fitrah is present at birth, for the Prophet Muhammad included in the fitrah matters of personal grooming and hygiene like nail cutting and removal of body hair (Sahih Bukhari). However, it all grows naturally in the uncorrupted human child. The concept of the Fitrah comes from the Qur’an which states:

“So turn your face toward the true natural way of life – God’s chosen fitrah (constitution) upon which He has formed humanity. There is no altering the primary state of God’s creation. That is the correct way of life though most men fail to realize it. It is the path of turning towards God, remaining dutiful to Him, establishing prayer, and being not of those who ascribe partners to Him.” (Qur’an 30:30-31).

This is the default ‘factory setting’ with which all humans are delivered, if you will. The Qur’an presents the most fundamental aspect of the fitrah to be the spiritual inclination toward God, expressing one’s love of God in prayer and gratitude, and striving to come closer to God. In addition, the moral inclination towards caring for others and doing good is also part of this primordial state (the spiritual and moral are also interconnected – refer to this article). This is what accounts for our “moral conscience” that we speak about in every day life. If it is not corrupted, our moral conscience will be upset when we know we are doing something wrong. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Righteousness is good character, while sin is that which agitates and disturbs your soul and you would hate others to uncover” (Sahih Muslim). The fitrah is like having an internal compass that always points in the direction of good works which bring us closer to God.

Despite the fact that human beings live with so many different ideologies, religions, belief systems, and world-views, Islam teaches that we are all born with the same inherent nature and that these manufactured labels are acquired through one’s upbringing, one’s culture, one’s society and one’s environment. These labels are human ways of recognizing their own “brand”. Prophet Muhammad famously said, “Every single child is born upon the fitrah, and then his parents may make him into a Jew or Christian or Magian. Similarly, animals are born unbranded. Have you ever found an animal born branded until you brand it yourselves?” (Sahih Bukhari). The fitrah means a tendency that naturally develops and shapes the way we see ourselves and the world – it does not mean being born with set a of facts in one’s head, since the Qur’an states, “And God brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, but He granted you hearing, seeing, and reasoning so perhaps you may show gratitude” (Qur’an 16:78).

How does Islam relate to the fitrah?

Without guidance, the fitrah is corruptible. The system of guidance revealed by God (known simply as ‘surrendering to Him’ or ‘Islam’) is the fulfillment of the natural disposition of human beings. The fitrah finds comfort in Islam as naturally as a hand fits in a glove. The early hadith scholar, Ibn Qutayba al-Daynuri (d.276H) points out that Islamic theology does not teach that children are born Muslim,4Ibn Qutayba writes: و الفطرة عندنا، الإقرار بالله والمعرفة به، لا الإسلام . Ibn Qutayba al-Daynuri, Islah fi ghalat Abi Ubayd. Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, Beirut. 1983. pp.58-59. The same point is established by Ibn Abdul-Barr al-Maliki (d. 463H), al-Tamheed li-ma fi’l-Muwatta min al-Ma’ani wa’l-Asaneed, Egypt 1967. vol. 18, p.77. He states: يستحيل أن تكون الفطرة المذكورة في قول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم كل مولود يولد على الفطرة الإسلام؛ لأن الإسلام والإيمان قول باللسان واعتقاد بالقلب وعمل بالجوارح، وهذا معدوم من الطفل، لا يجهل ذلك ذو عقل. but rather that they are born with a simple spiritual and intellectual inclination towards God and towards good,5Ibn Qutayba uses the term fitrah in conjugation with intellect (Ar. ‘aql) to include in this primordial nature the essence of man’s faculty of intellectual reasoning. He writes about the fitrah: و هي الحنفية التي وقعت لأول الخلق و جرت في فطر العقول . Ibid. p. 58. for God took a covenant with humanity prior to their earthly existence (referenced in Qur’an 7:172) and it is this primordial affirmation of God that yields the tendency to journey towards Him and towards good in this earthly existence. Thus, every child is born with a natural spiritual, moral and intellectual constitution by which they make sense of reality, and this inborn tendency is affirmed and nourished by the revealed system of guidance known as Islam.

Unlike assertions of man’s original sin or inherent evil in other theological and ideological systems, the Qur’anic discourse argues that the fundamental nature of human beings is inherently good. However, rather than cultivating that natural inclination towards good, human beings often descend into the gratification of lower desires including greed, hatred, envy, lust and power. These lower desires are termed the nafs in Islamic theology. The human soul constantly battles with a desire to feed the appetite of the nafs, which the human being knows to be destructive by virtue of the fitrah.

In his colossal work on reason and revelation entitled Dar’ ta’arud al-Aql wa’l-Naql,6This encyclopedic work by Ibn Taymiyyah has been extensively studied in two recent PhD dissertations: Carl Sharif El-Tobgui’s “Reason, Revelation, and the Reconstitution of Rationality: Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya’s “Dar’ ta’arud al-‘aql wa-l-naql” (McGill University, 2013, unpublished) and Yasir Kazi’s “Reconciling Reason and Revelation in the Writings of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328)” (Yale University, 2013, unpublished). Both are outstanding scholarly works with unique strengths. El-Tobgui’s work contains a very precise analysis of Ibn Taymiyyah’s terminologies and epistemological framework, while Kazi’s work has meticulously documented a tremendous quantity of Ibn Taymiyyah’s quotations on the subject of the Fitrah and their intriguing implications. A very useful exposition of Ibn Taymiyyah’s views on the Fitrah is also provided by Ovamir Anjum in Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (2012), as well as Wael Hallaq in “Ibn Taymiyya on the Existence of God,” Acta Orientalia (Copenhagen), 52 (1991), 49-69. the famous Islamic theologian Ibn Taymiyyah writes, “The servants of God are inherently compelled by their fitrah to love God, though amongst them are those who corrupt this fitrah… and this love of God intensifies according to one’s knowledge of Him and the soundness of one’s fitrah. And it diminishes with diminished knowledge, and the pollution of one’s fitrah with corruptive vain desires.7Ibn Taymiyyah, Dar’ ta’arud al-Aql wa’l-Naql. Riyadh 1991. vol. 6, p.67,p.73

While the concept of the inherent human disposition has been discussed in Islamic theology for centuries, many of its implications are remarkably being elaborated by contemporary research from childhood psychologists, cognitive scientists, ethicists, anthropologists and linguists. Some of the details of the fitrah shall be explored in parallel below.

Compassion, Justice, and Morality

A large volume of experimental research in childhood psychology has established that infants and toddlers demonstrate compassion, empathy, as well as a sense of fairness and justice. The psychologist Paul Bloom outlines copious evidence in his book, Just Babies – The Origins of Good and Evil. Bloom notes that, “Developmental psychologists have long observed that one-year olds will pat and soothe others in distress.8Bloom, Just Babies, p. 48

There is also a clear capacity to discriminate moral good from evil at a strikingly early age. When five month old children were shown puppets demonstrating good behaviour (like helping to open a box or rolling a ball back) and other puppets demonstrating bad behaviour (like slamming the box shut or stealing the ball), the children invariably preferred the good puppets.9J. K. Hamlin and K. Wynn. Five- and 9- Month-Old Infants Prefer Prosocial to Antisocial Others. Cognitive Development 26 (2011): 30-39. As cited in Bloom, Just Babies, p. 30 Eight-month old infants even demonstrate a sense of disciplinary justice – they prefer a puppet that is mean to the bad puppet over one that is nice to the bad puppet; and at 21 months of age, toddlers will prefer to reward the good puppet with a treat and prefer to remove a treat from the bad puppet.10J.K. Hamlin, K. Wynn, P. Bloom and N. Mahajan. How Infants and Toddlers React to Antisocial Others. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (2011): 124-30. As cited in Bloom, Just Babies, p.97-8

This fairness and justice arises from the fitrah. Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H) writes, “Souls are naturally disposed (majbula) to love justice and its supporters, and to hate injustice and its supporters; this love, which is in the fitra, is what is meant for [justice] to be good.11Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Radd ‘ala al-Mantiqiyyin, p. 423. Citation and translation from Anjum, Ovamir. Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment, p 224. The moral values upon which we construct our lives stem from the intuitions which naturally arise in childhood and which are not stamped out by overriding sociocultural pressures.12It may be argued that there are also many immoral behaviours that come naturally to children. Children can be mean, selfish, bullies, prone to fits of uncontrollable yelling and temper tantrums. This is true, but misses the point altogether. There is a child-like way of construing reality and providing a conscience of what is right and what is wrong, and this is termed the fitrah. A natural moral outlook. Then there are childish behaviours and impulsive urges, even though one may recognize them to be wrong by the fitrah if given a moment to reflect. Thus, there is this constant tension between fitrah and nafs. Behavioural patterns may contradict one’s fitrah when the human tendency to act upon greedy and aggressive impulses overrides the inherent conceptualization of reality as an arena for moral growth.”

God, Purpose and Spirituality

Everyone wonders about purpose. Asking “why?” is perhaps one of the most quintessentially human acts fathomable. As an individual, one comes to realize many undeniable facts about the human condition. I am a sentient being, aware of myself and the universe I inhabit; I feel love, joy, pain, anguish; I can choose how to live my life; I may spend my life chasing livelihood until I inevitably die, buried beneath the earth and forgotten by all. What is it all for? Is life altogether pointless? Some people chase after pleasure and happiness, making more money, relying on frequent forms of entertainment, looking from one vacation to the next until retirement – but at the end of the day, life may feel hollow, shallow, empty, and meaningless. A human being can distract oneself from the deeper questions of life by pursuing the fleeting bodily pleasures as many do, or challenge oneself to engage in a serious search for meaning.

As it turns out, the search for meaning is a very early human intuition. Infants at 3 and 6 months of age will follow the eye gaze of an adult to visualize the intended object of interest.13D’Entremont B. A perceptual-attentional explanation of gaze following in 3- and 6-month-olds. Developmental Science, 2000, 3: 302–311. In fact, even testing on infants two days after birth, shows that newborn babies will prefer to look at actions that are purposeful – they prefer to look at a hand reaching toward something when an object is present and the hand is traveling in the appropriate direction.14Craighero, L et al. Newborns’ preference for goal-directed actions. Cognition. Volume 120, Issue 1, July 2011, Pages 26–32).

But the research on young children goes much further than this. The psychologist Justin Barrett discusses a large volume of experimental studies in this regard in his book Born Believers – The Science of Children’s Religious Belief.  Children have a very strong propensity to see natural objects and events as the result of unseen intentional agency – something referred to as the Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (HADD). Children offer teleological explanations for phenomena, preferring to think about the purpose behind things. So, how do children end up believing in God? The idea that belief came from one’s parents – the indoctrination hypothesis – has been supplanted by psychological research in favour of the preparedness hypothesis – children naturally develop this belief because their mental mechanisms have properties that favour learning about God.15Barrett, J. Born Believers. p.79

Moreover, children intuitively demonstrate certain theological notions about God. When asked who would know what was inside a concealed gift without opening it, three-year old children answered that a friend would not know what was inside, but God would know.16Giménez-Dasí, M. et al. Intimations of immortality and omniscience in early childhood. 2005. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.285-297. Ibn Taymiyyah writes that the God is known to be All-Seeing and All-Hearing by one’s fitrah.17Dar, vol.10, p.76

Barrett and colleagues also found that children as young as three-years had a strong sense that God is immortal and would never die.18Barrett, Born Believers, p.116 In fact, according to Barrett,19Barrett, Born Believers, p.137. He also notes on p.151 that he received emails from Muslims notifying him that this thesis is standard teaching in Islam, however he dismisses this by stating that the psychological research does not suggest that “children are born to believe in orthodox Muslim, Jewish, or Christian theology”. It should be evident from the foregoing discussion in this article that this is a simple misunderstanding on Barrett’s part – the concept of the fitrah is precisely just a natural tendency towards God and good, not being born with a religious theology the psychological research allows one to reliably reconstruct a child’s “natural religion” as including the following beliefs: existence of superhuman beings with thoughts, wants, perspectives, and emotions; and elements of the natural world have been purposefully designed by superhuman beings, who possess knowledge beyond humans, and may be invisible and immortal.

Language and Numbers

Language is humanity’s most remarkable gift, the foundation of all civilizational achievements, and a defining property of our species. Human language allows for the incredible ability to use a very small finite system of symbols to formulate an infinite range of profoundly complex meanings, such that the present sentence you are reading has never been expressed before in the history of the universe. Languages are spectacularly complex systems of syntax, semantics, and sounds, but perhaps the most puzzling aspect of all is how on earth babies acquire it so easily, especially in the absence of any focused training (this is known as the ‘poverty of stimulus’). Consider the sentences “Fred appeared to Jim to like him” and the sentence “Fred appealed to Jim to like him“.20Similar to an example cited by Chomsky in Language and Mind, p.97 Why does ‘him’ refer to Jim in the first sentence but to Fred in the second, even though the surface structure of both sentences is the same? Expressing a grammatical rule for such cases is no easy matter, but native speakers understand such sentences intuitively without any training.21Some of these rules have yet to be conclusively mapped out by grammarians. Noam Chomsky writes, “Hence pronominal reference depends on both deep and surface structure. A person who knows English has mastered a system of rules which make use of properties of deep and surface structure in determining pronominal reference. Again, he cannot discover these rules by introspection. In fact, these rules are still unknown, though some of their properties are clear.” Ibid. p. 97

When we search and study the 7000 or so languages in the world, we find that there is a common syntax or universal grammar by which all such systems operate. The renowned linguist Noam Chomsky writes, “There are very deep and restrictive principles that determine the nature of human language and are rooted in the specific character of the human mind“.22Chomsky, N. Language and Mind. p.90 The evidence points to the existence of an internal structure within the human mind which infants use to determine what a language should consist of, and this system is called the ‘language acquisition device’ (LAD). That such a structure should exist would come as no surprise to the student of Islamic theology. In his fascinating work Miftah Dar al-Sa’adah, the theologian Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H) notes that God is the one “who prepared the mind of the human by making it amenable to learning language in contrast to all other animals23Ibn al-Qayyim. Miftah Dar al-Sa’adah. p.290. The arabic reads: و من هيّا ذهنه لقبول هذا التعليم دون سائر الحيوانات؟.” and the Qur’an describes language as an inherent capacity of mankind (Qur’an 55:4, 2:31).

Understanding the natural numbers also happens to be a capacity that develops naturally in human beings. Rudimentary conceptions of numerical magnitude have been demonstrated in infants at six months of age, in experiments where they distinguish between displays with different quantities of items, as well as experiments with different numbers of repeated sounds.24Xu et al. Number sense in human infants. Developmental Science 8:1 (2005), pp 88–101. Ibn Taymiyyah provides the proposition “one is half of two” as an example of fitrah knowledge,25Ibn Taymiyyah. Majmu’ al-Fatawa, vol.9, p221. which seems particularly appropriate, given that at this early stage infants rely on “the ratio and not the absolute difference between two numbers, since infants succeeded in discriminating four versus eight sounds but failed at four versus six sounds”.26Ibid.

If one were to take a step back and examine even broader metaphysical notions, like causality, it would become evident that these too are grounded in the human being’s natural worldview. In fact, experimental research in preschool children (ages 3 to 5) suggests the precise kind of causal structure we prefer to see in the universe – children will act with the assumption of deterministic causal relations when intervening in a scenario, accepting stochastic inferences as a last resort or when there is no obvious direct causal link.27Schulz LE, Sommerville J. God does not play dice: causal determinism and preschoolers’ causal inferences. Child Dev. 2006 Mar-Apr;77(2):427-42.  We are likewise predisposed to view the universe as intelligible to human beings and governed by a natural order of uniformly applicable laws. When a leading cosmologist, Paul Davies, pointed out that these metaphysical views must be accepted on faith for no empirical data nor deductive argument can substantiate them, it created a flurry of startled responses. In fact, it is just part of the inherent meaning-making process by which the human mind operates. There is no a priori reason to presume that principles of logic devised in the minds of earthly organisms with limited capacities should apply unfailingly to the universe. Nevertheless, we wholeheartedly embrace the applicability of logical reasoning, simply because our fitrah dictates it.

What are the implications?

From the moment of birth, human beings are flooded with a tsunami of visual and auditory data. The world is bright, noisy, messy, and by any reasonable estimate – it should be unintelligible to the newborn. But the human mind is not a passive vessel which is simply filled with the accumulation of sensory data. Rather, right from the beginning, the human mind is actively applying its conceptual architecture to the surrounding world, and using this interpretative framework to filter the noise and sights so they can be parsed into meaningful packets of words, objects, people, events, occurrences, goals, ideas, values, and meanings. Humans are predisposed by their fitrah to find purpose and prosperity in the world, so they cry for guidance and care, observe their surroundings, interpret their environment with causation and deduction, seek morally upright patterns of behaviour, and yearn for an existence worthy of God’s friendship.

Some of the epistemological implications reflecting on the fitrah are quite profound. There is a natural way of looking at the world that is coherent and meaningful (discussed further in this article on meaningfulness). We try to fit everything together – our logical principles, our experiences, our moral judgements, our spiritual inclinations. When something doesn’t make sense, we constantly adjust and refine our understanding as we process our surroundings. A child initially incorrectly generates the plural “sheeps” by over-application of a correct rule, before using experience and sensory data to prune such errors from the system. When the human being encounters a new occurrence or phenomenon in the external reality, it is processed according to the internal architecture of the fitrah, interpreted and then incorporated. The result is a dynamic process of continuously refining intuitions to bring them in line with our complete picture of reality. It stands to reason that we should retain our default components of the framework unless and until there is overwhelming contradictory evidence suggesting that something needs to be adjusted to recalibrate our system with reality. It doesn’t make sense to talk about proof for the fitrah, for that falsely presupposes logic and proof as entirely extrinsic to the fitrah, whereas the very concept of proof itself only arises from the fitrah; the fitrah is inescapable. 28Ibn Taymiyyah writes in Majmu’ al-Fatawa vol. 2, p.72 that what is necessitated by the fitrah “requires no proof, because it is the most firmly-rooted of epistemologies, the most established of all knowledges, and the foundation of all foundations.” (فلا يحتاج هذا إلي دليل، بل هو أرسخ المعارف و أثبت العلوم، وأصل الأصول.)
This also indicates a subtle inaccuracy in some of the phrases that some authors have used in describing Ibn Taymiyyah’s exposition of the Fitrah, suggesting that it is “an alternative” to rational proofs, whereas in fact the very idea of proof and reason only surfaces in the human mind from the fitrah. Ibn Taymiyyah advanced a devastating critique of the presumed epistemological superiority of syllogistic argumentation in his Radd ‘ala’l-Mantiqiyyin and Naqd al-Mantiq, so to think that Ibn Taymiyyah is constructing a fitrah-based syllogism and then label it circular reasoning is evidently fallacious (see for instance Hallaq p.66 and Kazi p.322). 

Questioning any individual component of this native conceptual architecture is epistemically equivalent to questioning any other part of it. If one says, “why bother with believing in God, it’s just a childhood notion we should abandon!”, the response would be that it would make no sense to dispense with the central component of one’s fitrah and retain the periphery. If the universe is a pointless particle soup, then there’s no good or bad either, and morality can go out the window too. Causality, minds, time, and all the rest of the metaphysical baggage should be dropped as well. And where’s the sense in keeping our childhood axioms of numbers, reasoning and logic, or the childish expectation of an ordered and intelligible universe (on which all of science is constructed)?29As Justin Barrett writes, “That belief in gods begins in childhood and typically continues into adulthood places it in the same class as believing in gravity, the permanence of solid objects, the continuity of time, the predictability of natural laws, that causes precede effects, that animals bear young similar to themselves, that people have thoughts and wants that motivate and guide their actions, that some things are morally right or wrong, that their mothers love them, and numerous other ideas about the world… I favor the approach that regards our minds as basically trustworthy to deliver true beliefs and that our naturally arising “childish” beliefs should be regarded as true until we have good reason to suspect them as being problematic. It is not clear to me that we can do otherwise and still function as normal, sane, human beings.” Barrett, J. Born Believers. pp. 172-173. Dispense everything of the fitrah, and one can construct no sane or intelligible understanding of anything.30Ibn Taymiyyah writes that when something is established in the fitrah, “it is embedded in one’s nature, and imprinted in one’s mind, such that one cannot withstand discarding of it, nor is it even possible to discard it from oneself.” (هذا يدل علي تمكنها في الفطرة، و ثبوتها في الجبلة، و أنها مغروزة في النفوس، فمن دفع ذلك عن نفسه لم يقاوم نفسه، و لم يمكنه دفعها عن نفسه) Ibn Taymiyyah, Dar’, vol. 6, p. 105. The only sensible thing to do is to retain our sensible way of making sense of the world. And we only dispense with something that doesn’t make sense.

So we have come a long way from the ‘blank slate’ to a rather sophisticated notion of human nature. Language, moral values, spiritual inclinations, metaphysical notions – all of these represent structures within the mind, organized into a very robust functioning architecture. The fitrah is thus comprised of a conceptual apparatus with ethical, spiritual, and intellectual processing functions by which the external reality is rendered meaningful, and life’s journey towards God is appropriately conceived.

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References   [ + ]

1. Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Copyright ©2010–2015 All rights reserved. Jonathan Bennett electronic print version
2. Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 2, Chapter 1, pt. 2
3. Teeth are not present at birth, but they grow naturally in a baby. Likewise, not everything in the fitrah is present at birth, for the Prophet Muhammad included in the fitrah matters of personal grooming and hygiene like nail cutting and removal of body hair (Sahih Bukhari). However, it all grows naturally in the uncorrupted human child.
4. Ibn Qutayba writes: و الفطرة عندنا، الإقرار بالله والمعرفة به، لا الإسلام . Ibn Qutayba al-Daynuri, Islah fi ghalat Abi Ubayd. Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, Beirut. 1983. pp.58-59. The same point is established by Ibn Abdul-Barr al-Maliki (d. 463H), al-Tamheed li-ma fi’l-Muwatta min al-Ma’ani wa’l-Asaneed, Egypt 1967. vol. 18, p.77. He states: يستحيل أن تكون الفطرة المذكورة في قول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم كل مولود يولد على الفطرة الإسلام؛ لأن الإسلام والإيمان قول باللسان واعتقاد بالقلب وعمل بالجوارح، وهذا معدوم من الطفل، لا يجهل ذلك ذو عقل.
5. Ibn Qutayba uses the term fitrah in conjugation with intellect (Ar. ‘aql) to include in this primordial nature the essence of man’s faculty of intellectual reasoning. He writes about the fitrah: و هي الحنفية التي وقعت لأول الخلق و جرت في فطر العقول . Ibid. p. 58.
6. This encyclopedic work by Ibn Taymiyyah has been extensively studied in two recent PhD dissertations: Carl Sharif El-Tobgui’s “Reason, Revelation, and the Reconstitution of Rationality: Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya’s “Dar’ ta’arud al-‘aql wa-l-naql” (McGill University, 2013, unpublished) and Yasir Kazi’s “Reconciling Reason and Revelation in the Writings of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328)” (Yale University, 2013, unpublished). Both are outstanding scholarly works with unique strengths. El-Tobgui’s work contains a very precise analysis of Ibn Taymiyyah’s terminologies and epistemological framework, while Kazi’s work has meticulously documented a tremendous quantity of Ibn Taymiyyah’s quotations on the subject of the Fitrah and their intriguing implications. A very useful exposition of Ibn Taymiyyah’s views on the Fitrah is also provided by Ovamir Anjum in Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (2012), as well as Wael Hallaq in “Ibn Taymiyya on the Existence of God,” Acta Orientalia (Copenhagen), 52 (1991), 49-69.
7. Ibn Taymiyyah, Dar’ ta’arud al-Aql wa’l-Naql. Riyadh 1991. vol. 6, p.67,p.73
8. Bloom, Just Babies, p. 48
9. J. K. Hamlin and K. Wynn. Five- and 9- Month-Old Infants Prefer Prosocial to Antisocial Others. Cognitive Development 26 (2011): 30-39. As cited in Bloom, Just Babies, p. 30
10. J.K. Hamlin, K. Wynn, P. Bloom and N. Mahajan. How Infants and Toddlers React to Antisocial Others. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (2011): 124-30. As cited in Bloom, Just Babies, p.97-8
11. Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Radd ‘ala al-Mantiqiyyin, p. 423. Citation and translation from Anjum, Ovamir. Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment, p 224.
12. It may be argued that there are also many immoral behaviours that come naturally to children. Children can be mean, selfish, bullies, prone to fits of uncontrollable yelling and temper tantrums. This is true, but misses the point altogether. There is a child-like way of construing reality and providing a conscience of what is right and what is wrong, and this is termed the fitrah. A natural moral outlook. Then there are childish behaviours and impulsive urges, even though one may recognize them to be wrong by the fitrah if given a moment to reflect. Thus, there is this constant tension between fitrah and nafs. Behavioural patterns may contradict one’s fitrah when the human tendency to act upon greedy and aggressive impulses overrides the inherent conceptualization of reality as an arena for moral growth.”
13. D’Entremont B. A perceptual-attentional explanation of gaze following in 3- and 6-month-olds. Developmental Science, 2000, 3: 302–311.
14. Craighero, L et al. Newborns’ preference for goal-directed actions. Cognition. Volume 120, Issue 1, July 2011, Pages 26–32).
15. Barrett, J. Born Believers. p.79
16. Giménez-Dasí, M. et al. Intimations of immortality and omniscience in early childhood. 2005. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.285-297.
17. Dar, vol.10, p.76
18. Barrett, Born Believers, p.116
19. Barrett, Born Believers, p.137. He also notes on p.151 that he received emails from Muslims notifying him that this thesis is standard teaching in Islam, however he dismisses this by stating that the psychological research does not suggest that “children are born to believe in orthodox Muslim, Jewish, or Christian theology”. It should be evident from the foregoing discussion in this article that this is a simple misunderstanding on Barrett’s part – the concept of the fitrah is precisely just a natural tendency towards God and good, not being born with a religious theology
20. Similar to an example cited by Chomsky in Language and Mind, p.97
21. Some of these rules have yet to be conclusively mapped out by grammarians. Noam Chomsky writes, “Hence pronominal reference depends on both deep and surface structure. A person who knows English has mastered a system of rules which make use of properties of deep and surface structure in determining pronominal reference. Again, he cannot discover these rules by introspection. In fact, these rules are still unknown, though some of their properties are clear.” Ibid. p. 97
22. Chomsky, N. Language and Mind. p.90
23. Ibn al-Qayyim. Miftah Dar al-Sa’adah. p.290. The arabic reads: و من هيّا ذهنه لقبول هذا التعليم دون سائر الحيوانات؟.”
24. Xu et al. Number sense in human infants. Developmental Science 8:1 (2005), pp 88–101.
25. Ibn Taymiyyah. Majmu’ al-Fatawa, vol.9, p221.
26. Ibid.
27. Schulz LE, Sommerville J. God does not play dice: causal determinism and preschoolers’ causal inferences. Child Dev. 2006 Mar-Apr;77(2):427-42.
28. Ibn Taymiyyah writes in Majmu’ al-Fatawa vol. 2, p.72 that what is necessitated by the fitrah “requires no proof, because it is the most firmly-rooted of epistemologies, the most established of all knowledges, and the foundation of all foundations.” (فلا يحتاج هذا إلي دليل، بل هو أرسخ المعارف و أثبت العلوم، وأصل الأصول.)
This also indicates a subtle inaccuracy in some of the phrases that some authors have used in describing Ibn Taymiyyah’s exposition of the Fitrah, suggesting that it is “an alternative” to rational proofs, whereas in fact the very idea of proof and reason only surfaces in the human mind from the fitrah. Ibn Taymiyyah advanced a devastating critique of the presumed epistemological superiority of syllogistic argumentation in his Radd ‘ala’l-Mantiqiyyin and Naqd al-Mantiq, so to think that Ibn Taymiyyah is constructing a fitrah-based syllogism and then label it circular reasoning is evidently fallacious (see for instance Hallaq p.66 and Kazi p.322). 
29. As Justin Barrett writes, “That belief in gods begins in childhood and typically continues into adulthood places it in the same class as believing in gravity, the permanence of solid objects, the continuity of time, the predictability of natural laws, that causes precede effects, that animals bear young similar to themselves, that people have thoughts and wants that motivate and guide their actions, that some things are morally right or wrong, that their mothers love them, and numerous other ideas about the world… I favor the approach that regards our minds as basically trustworthy to deliver true beliefs and that our naturally arising “childish” beliefs should be regarded as true until we have good reason to suspect them as being problematic. It is not clear to me that we can do otherwise and still function as normal, sane, human beings.” Barrett, J. Born Believers. pp. 172-173.
30. Ibn Taymiyyah writes that when something is established in the fitrah, “it is embedded in one’s nature, and imprinted in one’s mind, such that one cannot withstand discarding of it, nor is it even possible to discard it from oneself.” (هذا يدل علي تمكنها في الفطرة، و ثبوتها في الجبلة، و أنها مغروزة في النفوس، فمن دفع ذلك عن نفسه لم يقاوم نفسه، و لم يمكنه دفعها عن نفسه) Ibn Taymiyyah, Dar’, vol. 6, p. 105.
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