Reflection No. 49 on Q 16:120-123 – The personality of Ibrahim (A)

Indeed Ibrahim was a nation, obedient to Allah, upright, and he was not of the polytheists. Grateful for His blessings, He chose him and guided him to the right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he will indeed be among the righteous. Then We revealed to you [saying], follow the creed of Ibrahim, upright, and he was not one of the polytheists.
– Sura an-Nahl, verses 120-123



This passage praises the great Prophet of Allah, Nabi Ibrahim (a), the Patriarch of monotheistic religions. His personality is an inspiration for all believers. His sincerity, his search for the truth, his firm stand against the polytheists, and his close relationship with Allah, all bear testimony to his illustrious character. In this passage Allah describes five qualities of Nabi Ibrahim (a) and five outcomes of these qualities.

Nabi Ibrahim (a) was:

1) A Nation: Nabi Ibrahim (a) – a single individual – is referred to as an Ummah. Tafsire Namune says that the following could be possible reasons he was referred to as an entire nation:

a) His personality was so great that it was equivalent to that of a whole group of people. The rays of his personality reached far beyond that of a single person.

b) He was a leader and a teacher of humanity. Others followed him.  As a leader he was the inspiration behind all their deeds and is thus regarded as a nation himself.

c) He was the only monotheist of his time – a nation of monotheism among a nation of idolaters.

d) He was the origin and source of the Muslim nation.

A Hadith in Safinatul Bihar from the Masumeen (a) says about Abdul Muttalib who was also a very great personality: He will be raised on the Day of Judgment as one nation, on him will be the dignity of Kings and the characteristics of Prophets.

2) Obedient to Allah: He obeyed Allah in all matters.

3) Upright: the word Haneef is used for showing the middle path, not leaning towards either extreme. It refers to one who stands up straight on the middle and balanced path which is right. The word is used more than six times in the Holy Quran to describe Nabi Ibrahim (a) and his creed.

4) Thankful to Allah: Nabi Ibrahim (a) was thankful in the true spirit of the word. He acknowledged that all he had was from Allah and used it to serve Allah. The correct use of the favours bestowed by Allah is true gratitude.

5) Not from the polytheists: Despite living in a society of idolaters Nabi Ibrahim (a) submitted to the One True God. He ordered his people to renounce the worship of idols. To convince them that the idols could neither do them harm nor good, he destroyed all the idols except the biggest of them. When asked about it he told them to ask the idols – if they could speak. Much to the chagrin of the people, they had no answer for him. The Quran says:  They turned to themselves [inwards] and said: Surely you are the wrong doers. Then they hung their heads [and said]: Indeed you know they cannot speak. (Sura al-Anbiya, 21: 64-65). This was his way of showing the people the utter fallacy of their beliefs.

So many great qualities were combined in the personality of Nabi Ibrahim (a). Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi in his Tafsir of this passage quotes an Arab poet who says:

It is not beyond Allah
To combine the world [all good qualities] in one [person]

The outcome of these noble qualities was that Allah:

1) Chose him for Himself. Allah entrusted the mission of spreading monotheism to him. He made him a friend (khaleel), a beloved servant. The Holy Quran says; and Allah took Ibrahim as a friend (4:125)

2) Guided him on the right path, protecting him from all types of mistakes and slips.

3) Gave him good in this world – Mufassireen interpret this as all the favours that were bestowed upon Ibrahim (a) in this world, namely; honourable reputation, virtuous progeny, raising the walls of the Ka’bah, long life , wealth, and prayers that were answered.

4) Placed him among the righteous in the Hereafter. This is a direct answer to his dua: My Lord, grant me wisdom and make from the Righteous. (ash-Shuara, verse 83)

5) Made his creed a part of the Islamic Ummah, not just for the people of his time. The last part of the verse above tells us that the Holy Prophet (s) was told to follow the creed of Ibrahim (a). Such was his status that he became an example for all times to come.

Points to Ponder
1) Being alone is not something to be apprehensive about. Nabi Ibrahim is an excellent example of one man who stood against the people and rituals of his time and established himself as the most praiseworthy leader of generations of believers to come. Human beings are wary of standing alone, afraid of the loneliness and isolation it brings, but it is necessary to do so when principles are at stake.

2) The righteous ones (Saliheen) are a chosen group of people and will have a high status in the hereafter. Many Du’as ask for a place among the Saliheen (My Lord, grant me wisdom and join me with the righteous, 26:83, Admit me, by Your mercy, among Your righteous servants, 27:19). The Holy Qur’an tells us that only certain people can be admitted into this group: And those who believe and do good deeds, We will surely admit them among the righteous. (al-Ankabut, 29:9)

It is an indication of the greatness of this group that even Nabi Ibrahim, despite being one of the first of the Saliheen, is not described as the chief of Saliheen or its foremost ones, but as being among them.

3) God chooses worthy people and praises them in the Quran, making them inspiring examples for others to follows. But the praise and status only comes after the person has shown sincerity and worthiness himself.

Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi (ed.), Tafsire Namune
Agha Muhsin Qara’ati Kashani, Tafsire Noor


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