The Concept of Ummat/Ummah (Nation) in the Qur’an: Part 1

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The Glorious Qur’an is the first constituent that sets the concept of the nation in its new meaning; its broad and balanced concept that hinges on the unity of creed. It was the first to reach out for the whole existence with its universal and humane call that sets aside any tribalism or fanaticism. It addressed humanity at large without any regard for time or place.

The word “nation” was mentioned in the Qur’an in the singular form more than 50 times and we can easily extract at least five or six concepts for the word “nation” from the Qur’an.

First: The time and epoch as in the two verses

“If We defer their punishment till an appointed time…” (TMQ, 11:8).

“Then one of the two men who had been released and who, after a long time, remembered, said, ‘I shall tell you its interpretation; therefore, give me leave to go [to Joseph in prison].’” (TMQ, 12:45).

Second: The Imam who teaches righteousness and guides to the right path as in the verse

“Abraham was a nation in himself devoted to Allah and true in faith, He was not one of the polytheists;” (TMQ, 16:120).

Third: The followed practice or course as in the verse

“No indeed! They say, ‘We have found our fathers following a certain course, and we are guided by their footsteps.’” (TMQ, 43:22).

Fourth: A group of people in general as in the verses

“And when he arrived at the well of Madian, he found around it a group of men watering their flocks…” (TMQ, 28:23).

 “When some of them asked, ‘Why do you admonish a people whom Allah is going to destroy or to afflict with a severe punishment?’…” (TMQ, 7:164).

This above meaning was mentioned in many other verses.

Fifth: A group of people having the same faith and the verses are numerous when it comes to this particular concept as in:

“Had Allah pleased, He would have united you in one nation…? (TMQ, 16:93).

“…had Allah so willed, He would have made you all a single nation, but He did not so will, in order that He might try you by what He has given you…” (TMQ, 5:48).

“For all people a term has been set…” (TMQ, 7:34).

Al-Tabari thinks that this above meaning is the original concept for the word “nation” even though he accepts –in many instances– the interpretation of the word as equivalent to “community” or “group of people”.

Sixth: A partial group belonging to a particular faith like in the verses

“Let there be a group among you who call others to good, and enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong: those who do this shall be successful.” (TMQ, 3:104).

“Every time a nation enters, it will curse its sister…” (TMQ, 7:38).

Al-Wasit Dictionary defines the “nation” as: Each group for whom a messenger was sent whether they believed or disbelieved.

The Western studies come with a different conception as they see the “nation” being the resultant of an interaction between two types of factors:

The first are the objective factors like the language, history, race, single region, common interests, same aspirations, same traditions and habits, and same culture… etc. The second are the subjective factors like the individual awareness that each person a singular and separate character urging him to express this distinctive character in an organized manner.

In the eye of the Muslims the word “nation” extends far beyond all times in what we call “The Religion of God”; here the nation starts with Adam and it encompasses all the prophets and messengers throughout their sacred passage through history. The nation after Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) extends through all times and places, under all circumstances and for everybody alike.

Starting the age of the nation from the time of Adam (AS) as stated in the Qur’an gives a whole new meaning for the story; so it’s no longer just an acknowledgement of a fact or reality but it rather consolidates a concept upon which human unity can be founded. So what did the story tell us? It tells us the following facts:

A)   That Adam came from the earth, so the earth is his mother and father. Hence, his sons have to treat this earth the same way a son would treat his parents; this relation is after all founded on devotion. Also, since Adam is from the earth this means there is equality between all his sons since they all come from Adam and Adam came from the earth (dust). Ibn Omar narrates to us that the Prophet (SAWS) gave a speech to the nation on the day Makkah was liberated and said, “O you people! Verily Allah has removed the slogans of Jahiliyah from you, and its reverence of its forefathers. So, now there are two types of men: A man who is righteous, fears Allah and is honorable before Him, and a wicked man, who is miserable and insignificant to Allah. People are the sons of Adam and Allah created Adam from dust…

Since Adam is from the earth then he will return to it and his life if limited by his death. Hence this life is only a place where we are tested and assigned and not a place of immortality. Allah says, “From the earth We have created you and We will return you to it, and from it We shall bring you forth a second time.” (TMQ, 20:55). Since Adam is from the earth then he needs others and he can never be a stand-alone entity. From here comes the meaning of the word “There is no might or strength except in Allah” to indicate the reality of man’s existence on earth and the reality of his quest in it.

B)    Adam (AS) was given a breath from the Spirit of Allah and this Spirit is a graceful creature of His. Allah says, “When I have formed him and breathed My spirit into him, fall down in prostration before him,’“ (TMQ, 15:29).

C)   The angels were ordered to prostrate to Adam and this tells us that he is honored. Allah says, “We have honored the children of Adam, and have borne them on the land and the sea, given them for sustenance things which are good and pure; and exalted them above many of Our creatures.” (TMQ, 17:70).

D)   Adam represents the good in his core, as opposed to the evil in Satan. So whoever imitates Adam is good and whoever deviates and imitates Satan is evil. Allah says, “O you who believe, do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, and whoever follows in the footsteps of Satan should know that he enjoins only indecency and evil…” (TMQ, 24:21).

E)    Adam was shown both the two ways! Allah says, “…and shown him the two paths?” (TMQ, 90:10); that’s to say the path to good and the path to evil.

F)    Adam was honored and endowed with responsibility! Allah says, “We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, because they were afraid of it. But man bore it…” (TMQ, 33:72).

This perspective for humanity identifies the concept of the ‘nation’ that started with Adam as Allah says, “Your religion is but one religion-and I am your only Lord, therefore, fear Me.” (TMQ, 23:52), and “This nation of yours is one nation and I am your Lord, so worship Me.” (TMQ, 21:92).

This way we come up with: 1) The Nation that got Invited to the message (ummat al-dawa):This is the whole humanity, 2) The Nation that Accepted the Message (ummat al-ijaba):These are the people who believed Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), his faith and his life style. This concept encompasses the whole humanity and it makes the Muslims regard the non-Muslims as a nation worthy of being addressed as “O You People…!” even if the Muslims are addressed as “O You Who Believe…!” In our creed as Muslims we see how the Prophet’s intercession will be for all humanity till the words of Allah “And in no way have We sent you except as a mercy to the worlds” (TMQ, 21:107), come true.

Among the prerequisites of understanding this concept is to set our priorities straight, to identify an approach for dealing with this life, to identify our relation with others, to set a program for populating the earth. Hence realizing the concept of the ‘nation’ is essential if it will represent a launching pad for all these issues and many others. Activating this perception however, is more important than the perception itself.

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