In this verse, three propositions are made:
- the natural world functions in a well-defined and orderly manner,
- a system is required to govern mankind’s life in this world and
- the more these laws conform to the natural order, the more facilitative they will be and the easier they will be to uphold.
The initial verses of this ‘Philosophical Discourse’ reveal the existence of a clearly defined natural order. In verses 6 and 7, the parallel drawn between the intellect’s capacity to perceive and the eyes’ ability to see, in that both are need of an external source of light, is not solely a metaphor to help understand how the intellect perceives but in fact outlines the key tenets of the Fatimi system of education: man will not be able to learn without the guidance of a teacher. Similarly, the conclusions presented in verses seventeen, eighteen and nineteen underline the end result of this learning process: acknowledging the presence of the Creator and His omnipotence.
Comparing the function of the natural world with that of the human body leads to the realisation that both are governed by similar processes, which in turn indicates that human interaction also needs to be regulated by a well-defined system. This is further substantiated by scholarly discussions on the indispensability of a ‘social contract’ to regulate the autonomy of individuals and thereby ensure the overall stability and betterment of society. In this verse, the author’s preference for the definite article, ‘the’ – al-nizām -, used to indicate istighrāq, comprehensiveness, reveals that these laws should extend to each and every aspect of human interaction.
The need for implementing laws raises questions pertaining to the relationship between law and morality, the extent to which laws can limit one’s freedom, the nature of one’s obligation to adhere to them and the justification of legally sanctioned punishment. The answers to these questions are not derived through the primacy of individual judgment, but rather through divine decree: fiṭra.
The word fiṭra means a beginning, the commencement of an event or activity. Maulana Abdullah bin Abbas RA narrates, ‘I was unaware of the meaning of Fāṭir (one of Allah’s names) until two Bedouins came before me arguing over a well. One of them claimed ‘anā faṭartohā’: It was I who started to dig it.’ Therefore, the canons governing this particular ‘state of nature’, the initial creation of the world, should be the ones which regulate the conduct of the created. Fatimi texts elucidate that cleanliness is an aspect of fiṭra. Amirul Mumineen AS mentions that the Words of Ikhlāṣ (purity): the Kalemah al-Shahādat are fiṭra and by virtue of which so is the faith of Islam. Likewise, Rasul Allah SAW states that each child is born according to fiṭra, after which some succumb to external influences. Similarly, in one of his sermons, Amirul Mumineen AS stipulates that at the time of birth, which is the state of fiṭra, man is in a state of perfection. Man came into being with the divine intent of realising the purpose behind his existence and if he adheres to fiṭra, he will do so. Thenceforth, it is due to his habits that his state changes. In another instance, he counsels his followers to always adhere to and follow him, ‘for I am born upon the fiṭra’. Amirul Mumineen’s AS assertion personifies fiṭra: the norms and values espoused by those who have enlightened their intellect with divine faiḍ. In essence, conformity with fiṭra can be measured by the extent of one’s adherence to the counsels and directives of Amirul Mumineen AS as well as with the laws of sharia which have been laid down with the intention of clarifying fiṭra, strengthening man’s adherence to it in all aspects of his life and eventually ensuring his reunification with the Faṭir.
The above definitions of fiṭra elucidate the fundamentals of ruling systems that adhere to fiṭrat and by doing so facilitate the realisation of man’s ultimate purpose in this world: preparation for the hereafter. By ensuring that fiṭrat is the foundation of all human conduct and systems, we underscore the fact that Creation is with purpose and that there exists a Creator. It is this foundation that guarantees the contemporary relevance and significance of these systems and that they will not need to be repealed or amended in the face of new challenges. Such systems convey a clear agreement on the definition of good, the morals to which a society aspires to and that complying with them is innate. Furthermore, although these laws highlight the path to the hereafter, they also ensure that one’s life in the temporal realm is an enriched one. It is the level of conformity to fiṭra that determines whether or not a social order, an economic standpoint or a legal injunction will lead to the betterment of human existence or not. Finally, one can also identify paradigms that conform to fiṭrat by studying those statutes that were not aligned with fiṭrat and thus sowed the seeds of destruction rather than development, as discussed by the author in the following verse.