Fitra, or fitrah (Ar. فطرة), is an Arabic word meaning ‘disposition’, ‘nature’, ‘constitution’, or ‘instinct’. In a mystical context, it can connote intuition or insight.
According to Islamic theology, human beings are born with an innate inclination of tawhid (Oneness), which is encapsulated in the fitra along with compassion, intelligence, ihsan and all other attributes that embody what it is to be human. It is for this reason that some Muslims prefer to refer to those who embrace Islam as reverts rather than converts, as it is believed they are returning to a perceived pure state.
The Islamic concept of fitra stands in contrast to the Christian concept of “original sin.” Actually, you could say that Adam and Eve existed in a state of fitra in the Garden of Eden before they were ejected for sinning. But Christians believe that humans are all born, not just with a propensity to sin, but with a core of sinfulness. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that although humans do sin, their natural state is pure. It is what happens to us after birth that causes us to stray from or abandon our fitra.
This is why Muslims sometimes call converts “reverts.” When a person becomes a Muslim, he is really returning to the relationship he had with God before he was even born. We are born “at one” with Allah. Not only that, but we are conscious of God’s “oneness” (tawhid). You can see this in a young child who is first learning about God. She may repeat what her parents and others tell her, but if you ask her what she thinks God is like, she will describe Him as one being. I know when I was a child, I was taught that Jesus was the Son of God, but that didn’t mean anything to me. When I prayed, I prayed to God alone. Muslims would argue that this is the natural inclination of every child before he or she has been indoctrinated with other beliefs about the concept of God.
Some scholars say that all of creation is Muslim because it naturally recognizes the Oneness of God. So, when a person “becomes” Muslim, he is not becoming something foreign to him, but is actually reclaiming his innate identity. Becoming a Muslim means that he is submitting not just to God, but to his inborn understanding of God.
This is not exactly a belief unique to Muslims. St Augustine wrote at the start of his Confessions, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” Some Christians have described this as having a “God-shaped hole, which only God can fill.” John Calvin believed that there is an awareness or sense of God (sensus divinitatis) implanted in all people by nature. He even argued that atheists must have an awareness of God in order to reject Him.
Maybe we all have more in common than we thought.