إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَانِتًا لِلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
Inna Ibrāhīma kāna ummatan qānital-lillāhi Hanīfan walam yaku minal-mushrikīn
Indeed Ibrahim was a nation, obedient to Allah, upright, and he was not of the polytheists.
(Sūratun Nahl, No. 16, Āyat 120)
This passage praises the great Prophet of Allah, Nabī Ibrāhim (a)- the Patriarch of monotheistic religions. His personality is an inspiration for all believers. Allah describes him as a one man nation, who stood alone but upright and strong against the evils he saw in society. Being alone is not something to be apprehensive about. Nabī Ibrāhim 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.
Tafsīr-e Namūne says that the following could be possible reasons he was referred to as an entire nation:
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.
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.
He was the only monotheist of his time – a nation of monotheism among a nation of idolaters.
He was the origin and source of the Muslim nation.
A Hadith in Safīnatul Bihār from the Masumīn (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.
The word Hanīf or upright 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 Qur’an to describe Nabī Ibrāhim (a) and his creed.
Despite living in a society of idolaters Prophet Ibrāhim (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, so Ibrāhim destroy 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 Qur’an 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. (Sūratul Ambiyā, 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 Nabī Ibrāhim (a). Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī in his Tafsīr of this passage quotes an Arab poet who says:
It is not beyond Allah; To combine the world [all good qualities] in one [person].
An inspiring example to remember when facing challenges alone.
Sources: Āytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī (ed.), Tafsīr Namūne