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Tafsir at-Tabari
  Tafsir of Surah Baqarah (2) Verse 213
Author: Ibn Jarir at-Tabari
Source: Tafsir at-Tabari
Article ID : TFS030001  [24134]  
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Those who advocate this view thus consider it permissible to refer to an individual with the designation for a community (jama'a) because the various virtues found dispersed among members of the community come together in that individual whom Allaah designates as umma. Thus one says: 'So and so constitutes an umma', when he assumes the position of such a person.

It is (also) possible that Allaah so designated Adam because the latter brought together various people in the virtues to which he called them. Since Adam now constituted the occasion for the coming together of his descendants, who were grouped together until they (later) came to disagree, Allaah designated him as an umma.

Other (exegetes) say that the meaning may be as follows: In those days the people were a single umma with a single religion (din) when Allaah caused the children of Adam to come forth from the loin of the latter and presented them to him. To be cited (as authorities) for this view are (the following):

'Ammar has related to us ... the following statement of Ubayy ibn Ka'b concerning the words of Allaah 'the people were a single umma': When the people were presented to Adam, they were a single umma. At that time Allaah created them so that they found themselves in the state of submission to Allaah (islam). They devoted humble adoration to him and were a single umma and were altogether people submitted to Allaah (mushmun). Then after (the death of) Adam they came to disagree. Ubayy read (the text of the Qur'an as follows): 'The people were a single umma, but later came to disagree; then Allaah sent the prophets as messengers of good tidings and as warners.' (According to Ubayy) Allaah first sent forth the messengers and sent down the books on account of the disunity of the people. ...

Interpreting the verse according to this view is in accordance with the interpretation (ta'wi7) of those who maintained with Ibn 'Abba~s that between Adam and Noah the people followed a single religion - this view is explained above. However, the time during which the people constituted a single umma according to this view is not the same as that suggested by Ibn Abbas.

In opposition to these views, other (exegetes) say that Allaah's words 'the people were a single umma' mean nothing more than that they followed a single religion and that Allaah then sent the prophets (without signifying anything further). To be cited (as authorities) for this view are (the following):

Muhammad ibn Sa'd has related to us ... from Ibn 'Abbas (the following interpretation of) the words of Allaah 'the people were a single umma': They constituted a single religion and then Allaah sent the prophets as messengers of good tidings and as warners.

(At-Tabari concludes that) among the interpretations of this verse one comes closest to what is correct if one says that Allaah proclaims the following to his servants: The people were a single umma (in the sense of a community) with a single religion (din) and a single creed (milla). ... The religion which they followed was the religion of truth. ... Later they became at variance in their religion; then, on account of the disunity in their religion, Allaah sent the prophets as messengers of good tidings and as warners, and he sent down with them on each occasion the Book in order to decide between the people concerning their disagreement. Allaah did this out of mercy towards his creatures and in order to be just with them (when he later calls them to account).

It is possible that the period during which the people were a single umma lasted from the time of Adam to the time of Noah, as 'Ikrima relates from Ibn 'Abbas and as Qata~da maintains. It is (however also) possible that this was the case (only) at that time when Allaah presented his creatures to Adam. (Finally) it is (also) possible that this was at another time. There exists no hint in the Book of Allaah and no report through which a trustworthy argument might be produced to show that this period was that of the Fall. On the contrary, it is impossible to say regarding it other than what Allaah has said: that the people were a single umma and that after they came to disagree he sent among them the prophets and messengers. In this matter, ignorance of the time in question produces just as little harm to us as knowledge of it produces benefit for us, since it does not represent an act of obedience to Allaah.

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