WE ARE IN constant battle, or jihad, against the shayâtîn. Let us pause to reflect on the fact that these are actual creatures, as alive and tangible as we are, though they are imperceptible in their original form to our five human senses. However, within ourselves is a substance belonging to the ghaib—the rûḥ, the soul—and there is an aspect of the human heart which is also tied to this unseen world. This part of our being, which lies within the ghaib, is in nearly constant contact with these creatures from amongst the jinn. Our hearts and souls must be fortified against their attacks if we are to be successful in the hereafter.
Allah says in Sûrat Al-Shuʿarâ’, 26:88-89:
The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, but only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.
The attacks of the shayâtîn are, generally, an attack of words, so to speak. Waswâs has been translated as “whisper,” which perhaps is the thing we can most liken it to, but their whisper is part of the ghaib and is an attack on the parts of us that are in the ghaib: the soul and the spiritual heart.
Say I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind…from the evil of the retreating whisperer, who whispers [evil] into the breasts of mankind, from among jinn and mankind. [Sûrat Al-Nâs, 114:1, 4-6]
This is the jihad we are constantly locked into, whether we choose to acknowledge it or we don’t. Many are the people who choose not even to acknowledge this battle and thus Allah says about them that they are like cattle:
And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and of mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like cattle; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless. [Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7: 179]
The majority of humankind lives under the influence of Shayṭân, so much so that he has taken these creatures as comrades rather than as enemies. However, on the Day of Judgment, when the veil of this world is lifted and the ghaib is exposed and Hell is in view, one’s shayâṭîn will abandon him. Shayṭân is never truly “allied” with the human being because of his relentless hatred and jealousy toward man. Instead, Shayṭân’s leader is Iblîs, the first one to take up his vendetta against the Children of Adam. The one who does not acknowledge this battle against the shayṭân is nothing more than an idiot and a laughing stock amongst the shayâṭîn—who will desert him on the Day of Judgment.
Then there are those who understand the nature of this battle against the shayâtîn but fight it only in varying degrees. As in any war, there are warriors, on the one hand, and cowards teetering on hypocrisy, on the other, and every manner of fighter in between. There are amongst humanity those whom the shayâṭîn fear, as well as those whom they can lead away from the straight path quite easily.
Iblîs himself vowed in response to Allah:
By Your might, I will surely mislead them all. [Sûrat Ṣâd, 38: 82]
It should be the goal of every Muslim to train himself to become a true warrior in the jihad against the shayâtîn, but as in any training it is not for the faint of heart (literally). But it is these true warriors who will be successful on the Day of Judgment, because they made the world of the ghaib their highest priority even when they could not see it:
…who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them. And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:3-5]
They accepted the transient nature of their physical existence in the dunya and did not prioritize it over their very heart and soul.
Within every human is the seed of his fiṭra, his original state—which is not a state of sin like other faiths assert or polytheism as some sociologists claim. This word “fiṭra” comes from the root word “Faṭara” which means to create something out of nothing, and it shares the same root as the name Allah has given Himself “Al-Fâṭir,” which means the One who Creates something out of nothing.
This fiṭra is part of man’s first substance; it is put inside him when he is still in his mother’s womb; it is not the result of anyone or anything’s influence on him, and its very existence is a sign, or âyah, of his Creator’s existence and power over him.
He is born pure and he inclines toward good and toward belief in tawḥîd: belief in the One God who Created Him and is above him and greater than him. It is narrated in the two Ṣaḥîḥ collections (Bukhâri and Muslim) that the Prophet ﷺ said:
Every child is born upon the Fiṭra; it is only his parents who turn him into a Jew, a Christian or a Zoroastrian. Just as animals are born having full bodies, do you see any of them having a cutoff nose (when they are born)?
It is the fiṭra which makes the human being look up into the heavens rather than at an idol or priest when his soul longs to know and understand who God is. It is our fiṭra that presses us to call out in duʿâ’ to the One and Only God in moments of crisis, even when we may have ignored our need for Him in times of comfort:
And when they board a ship, they supplicate Allah, sincere to Him in religion. But when He delivers them to the land, at once they associate others with Him. [Sûrat Al-ʿAnkabût, 29:65]
When Did We Get Our Fitra, and How Does It Work?
When Allah brought forth all the children of Adam before we were born into this world, we were led to testify to Allah’s existence and to negate that of any other deity.
The fiṭra is a gift from our Creator; it is because of this gift that we can do something as simple as look within ourselves, namely our heart’s natural inclination, to find guidance about God and our purpose in life.
Additionally, the fiṭra guides us to the basics of right conduct and universal justice. Stealing, murder, lying, adultery, laziness, abuse, back-biting, arrogance, envy and so on are all generally accepted across time and place as abhorrent and even criminal. To reject vice and punish its more extreme forms is part of our fiṭra. Virtues like patience, honesty, generosity, compassion, and fairness are all generally universally-accepted, praiseworthy traits, and it is our fiṭra that has deemed it so.
The fiṭra of the human being is also one that includes intelligence and education, and it is this fiṭra that has led humankind to study, invent and reach technological heights which no other creature can.
The fiṭra remains always present, and the heart is the vessel that communicates it to the human being and lends clarity to his judgment. However, the fiṭra can become buried in vice, and its voice drowned out by the diseases of the heart and sin. Pride in family and culture has led many people to adhere to the religion of their family and forefathers even though such religion clearly made no sense; rationalizations based on pride and ego drowned out the voice of the fiṭra.
In Saḥîḥ Muslim it is recorded that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
Allah said, “I created My slaves Ḥunafâ’ (monotheists), but the devils came to them and deviated them from their religion, prohibiting what I allowed.”
Perhaps more relevant to the Muslim are issues related to character and good behavior. The fiṭra, which is the truthful “whisper” of the heart that counters the wiswâs of Shayṭân, tells us to incline toward modesty in speech, manners, and dress, and this is equally applicable to both men and women. Our Prophet ﷺ was the most modest of all human beings and an example for all of us.
Allah’s messenger ﷺ said:
Every faith has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty.
In our societies—many of which collectively have smothered their fiṭras—lewdness and brashness is promoted as strength and authenticity, and modesty is scoffed at as weak and stifling.
We are far too open with the parts of ourselves that we should keep private, whether it be our body parts or our thoughts and feelings. Slowly people have become desensitized and deluded so as to accept seeing and hearing things that their fiṭra bucks.
Counter-Conditioning Our Fitra
Shayṭân is always trying to drown out the voice of the fiṭra with his wiswâs, and to cover our hearts in disease and sin so that eventually he needn’t work so hard to mislead us.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, Shayṭân’s goal is to condition us; he wants us to provide ourselves with “rationalizations” and false reassurances for rejecting our fiṭra’s call. The one who is a warrior against the shayṭân is in-tune with his fiṭra, always, and shuns anything that may cloud its voice.
- He avoids doubtful matters, because it is in the ambiguous matters that Shayṭân can seize him and slowly manipulate him.
- If he feels a twinge of unease in his heart about something, he exerts his will-power to resist the urge to justify it to himself.
- Instead, he puts his pride or desires aside and avoids things like immodesty, vain talk, listening to music even if he believes it’s permissible, or “lying” even in joking.
The warrior keeps the blade of his fiṭra honed to sharpness and does not allow it to be dulled.
The fiṭra of the human being is inclined toward compassion and humility. He feels sympathy for his fellow human beings and is moved by those who are suffering. In a world where bloodshed, murder, and tyranny has become commonplace, his heart still feels pain. The human’s fiṭra is one of softness and raḥma.
Shayṭân is the one who stokes instinctive feelings of jealousy, anger, or dislike in an individual’s heart until they eclipse this raḥma and he becomes a jealous person, an angry person, or a hateful, prideful person. In spite of his belief in Allah, and his virtuous deeds notwithstanding, these diseases—if left unchecked—will taint his heart and sever him from his own nature. Sometimes we even find some non-Muslims who are more in-tune with certain aspects of their fiṭra than are Muslims.
Purifying Our Fitra
Practically speaking, we must do what we can to insure that our fiṭra is continually cultivated. Why? Because îmân needs a clean place to take root. Like a window, the heart must be kept free of stain and grime so that the Light of Allah can permeate and illuminate our entire being.
It is our goal to come to Allah on the Day of Judgment with a qalbin salîm, a sound heart. If we want the roots of îmân to take firmly to our earthly hearts, the soil must be rich and free of weeds. The cleaner the soil, the richer and stronger will grow the îmân.
The following are some practical steps toward restoring the heart vis a vis the fiṭra. In fact, these are steps that any person, Muslim or not, can take for restoring to his heart and mind the clarity that is his birthright and for opening him- or her-self up, Inshâ’Allah, to the Guidance of his Creator.
- Regarding Belief in God: Seek to understand who God is. Root out the worship of anything other than Allah, and do not seek Divine Help from anything or anyone else, be it idol, priest, or spirit.Spend time in solitude reflecting on the creation of the universe in its vastness and incredible intricacies. Study the ninety-nine Names of Allah—the ways in which he describes Himself in the Quran—to understand Who He is (and isn’t) so that you can develop a relationship with Him.Make duʿâ’ to Him by the Names that you find are relevant to your life and situation. Commit to praying the five daily prayers and read at least one of the general duʿâs of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the morning and the evening. When you make sujûd, pray to Allah in your own language in a heartfelt way.
- Regarding Good Character: Practice being Grateful to Allah for all of your blessings, and remember that comparison is the thief of joy. All the blessings of this life are temporary and what someone has today may be gone tomorrow, so appreciate what is yours now and know that what someone else has may vanish.Try to give in charity in small ways; many stores ask for a dollar donation to a good cause. Smile at other people and be friendly, make eye contact and show concern, compassion or a good disposition. Say thank you or hold the door open for someone or other small favors.Do not spend time on things that make you angry or spiteful toward others; if you have a temper, make it your habit to say: aʿûthu bi-llâhi min al-shayṭân al-rajîm (“I seek refuge with Allah from the cursed Shaṭân!”)Remember, this is a duʿâ’ and Allah never leaves a duʿâ’ unanswered.Do not criticize other people and make excuses for their poor behavior or choices (i.e., maybe they don’t know or maybe they had a bad day).Study the sîrah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and try to emulate his qualities.
- Regarding the Body: Practice cleanliness and tidiness in appearance and in your home, office and car.Do not overeat and if you have a weight problem, control your eating habits and exercise lightly.Smell good and be well-groomed, dress well to the best of your ability.Do not do things that are opposed to the fiṭra, things that Shayṭân has tricked us into thinking are attractive; dress modestly, do not pluck the eyebrows, do not press on the foreheads of newborns to flatten their skulls, etc.Practice ruqya for your ailments in addition to medicine.Sleep early and rise early.
- Regarding Vice: Avoid listening to music or watching TV shows or movies except for those which are educational or have only wholesome content. “The eyes are the window to the soul,” a famous quote goes; and perhaps nothing warps us more than that which we consume through our eyes.Practice removing visual entertainment as much as possible and read instead.Lower your gaze away from magazines, billboards, and people who appear indecent. Practice feeling repulsed by seeing indecent behavior whilst simultaneously feeling compassion and sympathy for those who are misled by Shayṭân.Spend less time on the internet unless it’s for work or daʿwah. Find better methods of entertainment like taking a walk or creating something or exercising. Allow yourself a wholesome reward for avoiding sin or controlling bad habits. Develop a liking for solitude and have at least one friend who is supportive of positive changes in your life to whom you can turn.If there are certain evil things to which you are drawn, then mindfully refrain from doing them and eventually your fiṭra will become apparent to you again.
- Regarding Intelligence and Emotion: The fiṭra of the human being is one that is inquisitive and inclines toward learning, education and invention. Read and learn to better yourself and to refine and expand the intelligence that Allah has given specifically to the son of Adam.Shayṭân was not blessed with the gift of this intelligence. He is envious, so he does not want the human being to succeed in becoming a reasoning, educated person who develops himself and his society. Shayṭân would rather we waste our time on entertainment or in dwelling on our emotions; in fact, the jinn and human beings share common emotions. Thus, as a jinn himself, it is through emotional manipulation that the shayâṭîn work best.A person who spends his time developing his mental capacities, who studies and learns new things rather than watching shows or listening to music that excite his base emotions will find an additional barrier between him and Shayṭân.A person who reads informative magazines or books rather than getting involved in gossip or other people’s emotionally riveting dramas will find Shayṭân has far less material to use against him.On the other hand, the most pious and knowledge-driven Muslim should feel a strong emotional connection with his Creator and should feel the positive emotions of love, compassion and protectiveness. However, he should not allow Shayṭân to mislead him into thinking that his own “righteous” emotions of anger or hatred toward his fellow Muslims—who may indeed be sinning—are in any way commendable. Rather, he must keep in mind that even such “righteous” anger or hatred can be turned into what will lead him to the disease of arrogance (kibr)!
May Allah guide us always, by His help (and Whose help alone we seek) to be returned—Salah-by-Salah and Zakah-by-Zakah—to our true nature and state.
The only true “mother-nature”—the nature with which we are born—is the fiṭra, the seed of purity and goodness that Allah has gifted to the heart of every human being.
Let us all try our best to cherish and to tend to this “mother-nature” of ours like we would love and tend to a mother. And as we take care of it, it too will take care of us.