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The Meanings of the Word Ummah Print E-mail

The word Ummah is used in the Qur'an and Sunnah with a number of different meanings. Sometimes when it is used it means a specified period of time. An example is the statement of Allah, the Exalted, in this verse,

﴿إِلَى أُمَّةٍ مَّعْدُودَةٍ﴾

(till a determined Ummah (term),) This is also the meaning in the statement of Allah in Surah Yusuf,

﴿وَقَالَ الَّذِى نَجَا مِنْهُمَا وَادَّكَرَ بَعْدَ أُمَّةٍ﴾

(Then the man who was released, now after Ummah (some time) remembered.) ﴿12:45﴾ The word Ummah is also used to refer to the Imam (leader) who is followed. An example of this is in the statement of Allah,

﴿إِنَّ إِبْرَهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَـنِتًا لِلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ﴾

(Verily, Ibrahim was an Ummah, obedient to Allah, Hanif, and he was not of those who were polytheists.) ﴿16:120﴾ The word Ummah is also used to mean religion and religious creed. This is as Allah mentions concerning the polytheists, that they said,

﴿إِنَّا وَجَدْنَآ ءَابَآءَنَا عَلَى أُمَّةٍ وَإِنَّا عَلَى ءَاثَـرِهِم مُّقْتَدُونَ﴾

(Verily, we found our fathers following a certain way and religion, and we will indeed follow their footsteps. ) ﴿43:23﴾ The word Ummah is also used to mean a group (of people). This is as Allah says,

﴿وَلَمَّا وَرَدَ مَآءَ مَدْيَنَ وَجَدَ عَلَيْهِ أُمَّةً مِّنَ النَّاسِ يَسْقُونَ﴾

(And when he arrived at the water (well) of Madyan, he found there a group of men watering (their flocks).) ﴿28:23﴾ Allah also said,

﴿وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِى كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولاً أَنِ اعْبُدُواْ اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُواْ الْطَّـغُوتَ﴾

(And verily, We have sent among every Ummah a Messenger (proclaiming): "Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid Taghut.'') ﴿16:36﴾ Allah also said,

﴿وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولٌ فَإِذَا جَآءَ رَسُولُهُمْ قُضِىَ بَيْنَهُمْ بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ ﴾

(And for every Ummah there is a Messenger; when their Messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.) ﴿10:47﴾ The meaning of Ummah here is those people who have had a Messenger sent among them. The meaning of Ummah in this context includes the believers and the disbelievers among them. This is like what has been recorded in Sahih Muslim,

«وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَا يَسْمَعُ بِي أَحَدٌ مِنْ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ يَهُودِيٌّ وَلَا نَصْرَانِيٌّ ثُمَّ لَا يُؤْمِنُ بِي إِلَّا دَخَلَ النَّار»

(By He in Whose Hand is my soul! there is no one of this Ummah, whether he be a Jew or Christian, who hears of me and does not believe in me, except that he will enter the Hell- fire.) In reference to the Ummah of followers, then they are those who believe in the Messengers, as Allah said,

﴿كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ﴾

(You (the followers of Prophet Muhammad) are the best Ummah ever raised up for mankind.) ﴿3:110﴾ In the Sahih the Prophet said,

«فَأَقُولُ: أُمَّتِي أُمَّتِي»

(Then I will say, "My Ummah (followers), my Ummah!'') The word Ummah is also used to mean a sect or party. An example of this usage is in the statement of Allah,

﴿وَمِن قَوْمِ مُوسَى أُمَّةٌ يَهْدُونَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُونَ ﴾

(And of the people of Musa there is an Ummah who lead (the men) with truth and established justice therewith.) ﴿7:159﴾ Likewise is His statement,

﴿مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَـبِ أُمَّةٌ قَآئِمَةٌ﴾

(A party of the People of the Scripture stand for the right.) ﴿3:113﴾

﴿وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَا الإِنْسَـنَ مِنَّا رَحْمَةً ثُمَّ نَزَعْنَاهَا مِنْهُ إِنَّهُ لَيَئُوسٌ كَفُورٌ - وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَاهُ نَعْمَآءَ بَعْدَ ضَرَّآءَ مَسَّتْهُ لَيَقُولَنَّ ذَهَبَ السَّيِّئَاتُ عَنِّي إِنَّهُ لَفَرِحٌ فَخُورٌ - إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ صَبَرُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّـلِحَاتِ أُوْلَـئِكَ لَهُمْ مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ كَبِيرٌ ﴾

(9. And if We give man a taste of mercy from Us, and then withdraw it from him, verily, he is despairing, ungrateful.) (10. But if We let him taste good (favor) after evil (poverty and harm) has touched him, he is sure to say: "Ills have departed from me.'' Surely, he is exultant and boastful (ungrateful to Allah).) (11. Except those who show patience and do righteous good deeds: those, theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward (Paradise).)

 
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