Reflection No. 182 on Q 16:120 – Abraham: Father of Nations

إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَانِتًا لِلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
Inna Ibrāhīma kāna ummatan qānitan 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 verse praises Abraham (Nabī Ibrāhīm), the great Prophet of Allah, 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 verse Allah describes four qualities of Prophet Abraham (a). He was:

1) A Nation: Nabī Ibrāhīm (a) – a single individual – is referred to as an Ummah. Tafsīr-e Namūne 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 Safīnatul Bihār from the Ma‘sūmīn (a) says about Prophet Muhammad’s grandfther ‘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. (2:139)

2) Obedient to Allah: He obeyed Allah in all matters – a true Muslim who submitted in its entirety to the will and pleasure of Allah, subHānahu wa-ta‘ālā.

3) Upright: the word Hanīf 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 Abraham and his creed.

4) Not from the polytheists: It is one thing to say that someone is a monotheist. But to say that Abraham was not from the polytheists means he did not have an iota of polytheism; he was an absolute model of monotheism. Despite living in a society of idolaters Nabī Ibrāhīm (a) submitted to the One True God. He ordered his people to renounce the worship of idols. To convince them that the idols could not harm them nor do any 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. (Q 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 Prophet Abraham (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 [of all good qualities] in one [person]

Nabī Ibrāhīm 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.

Recite this verse when you feel you are alone, hanging on to the principles and values that come from God. Remember how Abraham was alone, but God called him a nation.

Source: Āytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī (ed), Tafsīr Namūne,