Quranic Reflection No. 515. Ayat 4:125 – The Best in Religion

وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ دِينًا مِّمَّنْ أَسْلَمَ وَجْهَهُ لِلَّـهِ وَهُوَ مُحْسِنٌ وَاتَّبَعَ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا ۗ وَاتَّخَذَ اللَّـهُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ خَلِيلًا
Waman ahsana dīnan mimman aslama wajhahu lillāhi wahuwa muhsinun wattaba‘a millata ibrāhīma hanīfan wattakhdhallāhu ibrāhīmā khalīlā
And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Ibrāhīm, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Ibrāhīm as a close friend.
(Sūrat al-Nisā, No 4, Āyat 125)

This verse is in the form of a question, but it is a verification of the qualities required for true religiosity. Three main qualities are outlined in this verse:

1) Submission to Allah ‘azza wajall. An outstanding quality of a true believer is complete submission to His laws. Once a human being accepts that there is a Creator to whom will be the return, life is all about living according to the Creator’s expectations. There can be no independence to act according to personal likes and dislikes. The concept of servitude is the basis of Islam and requires the understanding that we are nothing but servants of the Lord. There cannot be a choice of which laws to follow and which to ignore. This would be like the people Allah condemns: Do you then believe in a part of the Book and disbelieve in the other? (Q2:85). Instead, the motto of the believer is to hear and obey: They say: We hear and obey (Q2:285).

Submission has been described in Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān as worshipping Allah and paying attention to the relationship with Him. As Prophet Ibrāhīm ‘alayhis-salām says: Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah (Q6:79).  It also means to act purely and sincerely for the sake of Allah. Submission is the singular most important criteria for a believer. Imam al-Sādiq ‘alayhis-salām was asked, ‘how does a believer know he is a believer?’ The Imam replied: Through submission to Allah and being pleased with what befalls him of happiness or grief (Bihār al-Anwār, v.2, p.205).

The word wajh implies essence. The believer submits with his entire being, his inner essence. The word is also used in Everything will perish but He (Q28:88), signifying that the essence or being of Allah will always exist.

2) Doing good. The believer does good with the heart, the tongue and in actions. Every act is done in the best way possible. Imam al-Sādiq (a) was asked what is ihsān? He said: When you pray, do your rukū’ and sujūd well, when you fast avoid anything that will spoil your fast . . . every action that you do for Allah must be pure from any pollution (Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn, v.1, p.184).  The goodness in this verse is also interpreted as worshipping One God. The Prophet (s) was asked about ihsān this verse and he said: To worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you don’t see Him, He sees you.

3) Following the religion of Prophet Ibrāhīm (a). The believer walks on the path of Prophet Ibrāhīm, the patriarch of all monotheistic religions. The Prophet had complete faith and servitude to Allah and enjoined it on his family and society. He invited to the path of Oneness of God and His justice. He struggled against all that was unworthy of servitude. His teachings and actions are found in many Islamic actions such as prayers and Hajj.

The verse ends with the statement that Allah took Prophet Ibrāhīm (a) as a friend. According to a hadith of Imam al-Sādiq (a), Allah had no need of friendship, but He chose Prophet Ibrāhīm as a special loved one because he was active in seeking the pleasure of Allah and benefitting others.

Let this verse remind us of the qualities required to be a true believer, one who follows the path of Prophet Ibrāhīm (a) and earns the love of the Almighty.

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh