The verse Birr (Arabic: آیة البر) is the verse 177 of Qur'an 2 describing the act of goodness and those who do good. It is transmitted from the Prophet (s) that whoever acts according to this verse, his faith will be perfected. Some have considered the occasion of the revelation of this verse after the immigration from Mecca to Medina and some considered it after Change of the Qibla.
لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ
Piety is not to turn your faces to the east or the west; rather, piety is [personified by] those who have faith in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets, and who give their wealth, for the love of Him, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller and the beggar, and for [the freeing of] the slaves, and maintain the prayer and give the zakat, and those who fulfill their covenants, when they pledge themselves, and those who are patient in stress and distress, and in the heat of battle. They are the ones who are true [to their covenant], and it is they who are the God-wary.
|— Qur'an 2:177|
Occasion of Revelation
There is a disagreement about the occasion of the revelation of this verse. Some have mentioned the revelation of this verse upon the immigration from Mecca to Medina and some others believe that it was revealed after change of the qibla. These exegetes have mentioned that after the qibla was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca, some disputes arose among people and this verse was revealed referring to these disputes.
Perfection of Faith
In many hadith-based exegesis, it is transmitted from the noble Prophet (s) about this verse that whoever acts according to this verse, his faith will be perfected. Contrary to some views, Allama Tabataba'i did not consider this verse exclusively about prophets (a) and believed that although acting according to this verse is difficult, in addition to prophets (a), it also includes the Infallible Ones (a) and the possessors of intellect who remember God in all states.
Meaning of Birr
The word "birr" has different meanings including "faith", "goodness", "act of goodness", "mercy", "truthfulness", "God-wariness" and any desirable action. Some others considered it the comprehensive name for all acts of worship and goodness which bring human being close to God. Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi too believes that "birr" is descriptive and means "good-doing".
Exegetes have mentioned different views about the meaning of the word "birr" in this verse: some believe that it only refers to prayer; some others believe that in addition to prayer, the meaning of "birr" includes all religious acts of worship God has ordered; and another group have considered it referring to the prayer of Jews toward the west and the prayer of Christians toward the east. Addresses in previous verses which are reproachful to Jews and Christians are considered as the justification for this meaning of "birr".
About the meaning of "birr", Allama Tabataba'i believes that like many other cases, in this verse, God wants to define the meaning of a word using examples, therefore, He has defined it by mentioning the examples of goodness.
Interpretation of the message of the first part of the verse depends on the meaning of "birr". Thus, since some have considered "birr" meaning solely as "prayer", they have mentioned that the meaning of this part of the verse is that "goodness is not performing prayer alone without acting accordingly." Some others have mentioned that the meaning of the verse is that "goodness is not just performing prayer and doing religious acts of worship". Those who believed that the word "birr" refers to the prayer of Jews and Christians have considered the meaning of the verse reproachful about their efforts for proving the necessity of paying attention to Jerusalem. Some others have said that after the argument between Muslims and the People of the Book, the above verse was revealed, therefore, it addresses Muslims and the People of the Book and its meaning refers to this issue that goodness is not only regarding the qibla and the direction of worship.
In Majma' al-bayan commentary, it is mentioned that the prayer and other acts of worship are ordered and made obligatory by God for a special reason such as keeping humans away from deviation and corruption; therefore, goodness is to learn the philosophies of the acts of worship and prayer, not the observation of a certain direction upon performing prayer or other acts of worship.
Who are Good-doers?
According to the view of many scholars, based on this verse of the Qur'an, good-doers are those who have some ideological, moral and practical attributes:
- Believing in God, the hereafter, the angels and the prophets: Allama Tabataba'i believed that believing in God includes all true beliefs and teachings God has asked His servants. He believed that faith in this verse refers to perfect faith in which there is no doubt, question or ambiguity and stops human being from deviation in action and morality.
- Infaq (giving): for the interpretation of the phrase "and who give their wealth, for the love of Him" several views have been mentioned. Some have said that here the giving of properties is meant when the giver himself needs them, not when he does not need them due to inability. Some interpreted it as giving the properties one loves, meaning that you should give from what you love. Some others considered it giving with love and passion meaning that you give your properties out of love to others and they have finally mentioned that it means giving the properties for the love of God and for Him alone.
- Establishing the prayer: which refers to establishing obligatory prayers.
- Establishing zakat: which refers to establishing the obligatory zakat.
- Keeping the promise: Some have mentioned that keeping the promise here refers to keeping one's promise with God, but Allama Tabataba'i and Fakhr Razi disagreed this interpretation and believed that the phrase suggests any kind of promise.
- Patience: Some have mentioned that it refers to patience in poverty, illness and war.
- Truthfulness: some considered the reason why at the end of the verse good-doers are introduced once again with the phrase "they are the ones who are true [to their covenant]" is that truthfulness is an attribute which includes all the merits of knowledge and action.
- God-wariness: Allama Tabataba'i believed that the reason why God-wariness is mentioned at the end is that as long as good-doing and truthfulness are not achieved, God-wariness would not be obtained.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from آیه بر in Farsi WikiShia.