fa-aqim wajhaka liddīni hanīfā
Then be devoted to the upright religion.
(Sūratur Rum, No. 30, Āyat 30)
Two words must be understood well in this verse to get its message:
Wajh – translated as face. Here it means the inner essence and soul of a person. To turn with the face is to turn with the entire being as the face is the most important part of the body and controls the rest of the body.
Hanīf – to move away from falsehood towards truth, from that which is crooked to that which is straight.
The religion that is hanīf is one which has removed all crookedness and wrong from it and is straight and pure.
Tafsīr al-Mīzān explains setting the face upright for religion as the following:
– focusing on the religion of Allah
– giving it complete attention with no heedlessness
– not moving away from it
The verse has also been explained as being sincere in religion, and believing in only One God with no associations.
The religion that is hanīf or upright is that which Nabī Ibrāhīm (a) preached. Allah says about him: Ibrahim was not a Jew nor a Christian but he was upright, a Muslim, and he was not one of the polytheists (Q 3:67). It was a religion that moved away from the worship of false gods towards the worship of the One God who created the heavens and the earth. To propagate that religion Ibrahim (a) had to face opposition from family, the society, and the king. But he was not deterred and no threat scared him into giving up his mission.
The people who continued to be upright on the religion of Ibrāhīm after his death and invited people towards it were known as the hunafā (pl. of hanīf). They were few in number but persisted in seeking the truth and worshiping One God. In the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam as brought by the Prophet Muhammad (s) they were the small group that stayed away from worshiping idols. They were known in society for their virtue and knowledge. Among them was Waraqa bin Nawfal, the cousin of Sayyeda Khadija (a), who bore witness to the Apostleship (nubuwwah) of Prophet Muhammad (s).
Imam al-Bāqir (a) says about this quality of uprightness: Hanifiyyat (being upright on the right) is from the natural instinct of the human being in accordance with the way Allah has made human beings (Al-Kāfī, v. 2, p.12).
To be a hanīf is to be upright on a pure religion that is in line with the natural instinct. Let this verse remind you of the need to be a hanīf, to be firm on the belief in only One God, to adhere to His laws and embody virtues of piety and servitude. A group of such people will always remain on earth, even amidst much deviations and indecency.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; http://rasekhoon.net/article/