The people were a single community, then Allaah sent forth the prophets
as messengers of good tidings and as warners. And He sent down with them
the Book with the truth, that He might decide between the people concerning their
differences. But those to whom it had been given disagreed concerning it, after
clear signs had come to them, being insolent one to another. Then, by His leave,
Allaah guided those who believed to the truth concerning the matters about which
the people disagreed; and Allaah guides whomever He wills to a
straight path. (Quran 2:213)
The people were a single community (umma wahida) ... : The
commentators (ahl at-ta'wil) disagree regarding the meaning of (the word)
umma in this passage and regarding the people whom Allaah
characterizes as a single umma. Some (commentators) maintain that the
people referred to are the ten generations between Adam and Noah, all of whom
followed a law of truth (sharia min al-haqq), after which the people came
to disagree. To be cited (as authorities) for this view are (the following):
Muhammad ibn Bashshar has related to us the following statement
of Ibn 'Abbas on the basis of (a chain of authorities including) Abu Dawud
(at-Tayalisi), Hammam ibn Munabbih, and 'Ikrima:
Between Noah and Adam lay ten generations which followed a law
of truth. The people later came to disagree and Allaah sent the prophets forth as
messengers of good tidings and as warners. Ibn Abbas says that 'Abd Allah (ibn
Mas'ud) is reported to have read (the present verse): 'The people were a single
umma, but later came to disagree;then Allaah sent.. .’
Al-Hasan ibn Yahya has related to us ... the following
statement of Qatada concerning the words of Allaah 'the people were a single
umma': They all found themselves on the path of right guidance, but then
came to disagree. Then Allaah caused the prophets to appear as messengers of good
tidings and as warners. The first prophet to appear was Noah.
Thus, the interpretation (ta'wil) of (the word) umma,
according to the report (qaul) of Ibn 'Abbas which is related above,
is 'religion' (dih), as (the poet) an-Nabigha adh-Dhubyani says:
I swear it, and leave behind no suspicion in your soul.
a man with umma then go astray?
What is meant is a man with religion. According to the meaning
contained in the statements of these authorities, the (present) verse is to be
interpreted as follows: The people were one umma which was unified by a
single creed (milla) and a single religion (din), but then came to
disagree. Then Allaah caused the prophets to appear as messengers of good tidings
and as warners.
The original meaning of umma was a 'community'
(/ama'a) which was unified by a single religion. One then spoke of 'the
umma' instead of 'the religion' because the latter indicated the former.
In this sense Allaah says: 'If Allaah had willed, He would have made you one umma'
(Sura 5:48/53; 16:93/95), that is, adherents of a single religion and a
single creed. Thus, in his interpretation of Allaah's words 'the people were a
single umma', Ibn 'Abbas followed the view that they were adherents of a
single religion, but then came to disagree.
Other (exegetes) maintain (however) that the interpretation is
(as follows): Adam was in reality a model (imam) for his children; then
Allaah caused the prophets to appear among his descendants. These commentators
interpret (the word) umma in such a way that obedience to Allaah as well as
the demand to acknowledge his unity and to follow his command (therefore, a
manner of action as was characteristic of Adam) are also contained in the
meaning of this term. To support this view they refer to the words of Allaah:
'Surely, Abraham was an umma obedient to (the one) Allaah, a man of pure
faith (hanf)~ and no idolater' (Su~ra 16: l20/l21~), since here with the
word umma Allaah means a model (imam) by which one is led to virtue
and which one follows. To be cited (as authorities) for this view are (the
Muhammad ibn 'Amr has related to us ... the following statement
of Mujahid: By Allaah's words 'the people were a single umma', Adam is
AI-Qasim has related to us ... the following statement of
Mujahid: By Allaah's words 'the people were a single umma', Adam is meant.
Between Adam and Noah there were ten prophets; then Allaah sent forth the (other)
prophets as messengers of good tidings and as warners. Adam was a single
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
'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
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
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
This may therefore remain undecided, but it should be noted
that in every case the Qur'an clearly shows that those whom Allaah proclaims to
have been a single umma were so designated on the basis of their belief
and their religion of truth and that there was with them no unbelief and no
idolatry. Allaah has said in the sura in which Jonah is mentioned: 'The people were
(originally) only one umma; then they fell into disagreement. Had it not
been for a word from thy Lord that preceded, a decision would already have been
given between them concerning their differences' (Sura 10:19/20). Thus, Allaah has
pronounced a threat against disunity and not against harmony and the existence
of a single umma. If the people were in agreement in unbelief before
disunity entered and if they became at variance later, then such disunity would
have originated only under the assumption that some of these people turned (from
unbelief) to belief. In this case, however, it would have been more appropriate
to divine wisdom for a promise to be pronounced rather than a threat, since it
then would have been the case that some of these people would have turned to
obedience to Allaah. It is unthinkable that Allaah would pronounce a threat if such a
condition for repentance and conversion existed, or that he would neglect to do
so if all (people) were in agreement in unbelief and idolatry.
Indeed (at -Tabari concludes), Allaah's words then Allaah sent
forth the prophets as messengers of good tidings and as warners mean that he
sent messengers to those who obeyed him, bringing good tidings concerning
abundant reward and precious return (to Allaah). With the expression as warners
Allaah means that the prophets should warn the disobedient and the unbelievers
about severe punishment, harmful revenge, and their eternal stay in the
And He sent down with them the Book with the truth, that He
might decide between the people concerning their differences: by which Allaah means
that the Book (al-kitab), that is, the Torah (at-taurat), should decide between
the people concerning that about which they disagreed. Allaah has assigned the
decision to the Book and has established it and not the prophets and messengers
as that which decides between the people, since whenever one of the prophets or
messengers had to bring down a decision, he did this on the basis of the
indications which are given in the Book which is sent down by Allaah. Thus the Book
was the deciding factor between the people on the basis of its indications of
that which (at that time)had qualified as an indication of the right decision,
since the verdict between the people was also set down from the other side (that
is, from the prophets).
The discussion of the interpretation (ta'wil) of Allaah's
words But those to whom it had been given disagreed concerning it, after
clear signs had come to them, being insolent one to another. His words
disagreed concerning it mean that they disagreed concerning the Book
which Allaah had sent down, that is, the Torah. (His words) those to whom it had
been given mean the Jews of the Children of lsrael.~ They are the ones who
had been given the Torah and its knowledge. ... (His words) after clear signs
had come to them mean: after they had received the arguments and the proofs
(adilla) of Allaah indicating that the Book, concerning which they disagreed
in their decisions, had come from Allaah and that it constituted the truth,
concerning which they were not to disagree and which must not be disobeyed.
Thus, Allaah proclaims that the Jews of the Children of Israel disobeyed the Book,
the Torah, and disagreed concerning it in spite of the knowledge that it
contains. Thereby they deliberately disobeyed Allaah since they violated his
command and the decision of his Book.
Thus Allaah proclaims that this (disunity) occurred through mutual
rebellion among themselves, when they sinned intentionally and committed
disobedience by disobeying Allaah's command. ...
Allaah's words But those to whom it had been given disagreed
concerning it, after clear signs had come to them, being insolent one to another
mean: Those who disagreed among the Jews of the Children of Israel disagreed
concerning my Book, which I sent down to them by my prophets, not because they
had not known it; on the contrary, they came to disagree regarding it only after
knowing it, for they disobeyed the decision of the Book, when its arguments had
already been presented thoroughly. (This disunity originated) out of rebellion
among themselves because some of them desired mastery over the others and
regarded them with scorn. ...
The discussion of the interpretation (ta'wil) of Allaah's
words Then, by His leave, Allaah guided those who believed to the truth
concerning the matters about which the people disagreed; and Allaah guides whomever
He wills to a straight path. Allaah's words Then ... Allaah guided those who
believed to the truth mean that Allaah has granted success to those who are
believing, that is, those who support belief in (the one) Allaah and his Messenger,
Muhammad, and who put their trust in the latter and are convinced that his
message, concerning which those to whom the Book had been given previously
disagreed, comes from Allaah. The disunity in which Allaah left these people alone,
while rightly guiding and helping to the truth those who believe in Muhammad,
concerns (Friday as) the 'day of gathering' (for worship). Although this day had
been enjoined upon them as a duty just as it has been upon us, they deviated
from it and changed (their day of worship) to the Sabbath. The Prophet has said:
Although we are the last, we surpass (the others in following Allaah's commands),
even though the Book was given to them before it was given to us and we thus
possessed it after they did. Allaah has rightly guided us to this day, concerning
which they have disagreed. The Jews have taken the following day and the
Christians have taken the day after that (as the day of worship). ...
Concerning the matters about which the people disagreed, Ibn
Zaid is reported to have said, according to Yunus ibn 'Abd al-A'la, that Allaah's
words 'then Allaah guided those who believed to the truth' mean (that he led the
believers) to Islam. The people disagreed concerning prayer. Some prayed facing
towards the East while others faced towards Jerusalem (bait al-muqaddas).
Then Allaah led us to the (right) direction of prayer (qibla) towards
Mecca.(Also) the people disagreed concerning fasting. Some fasted at
certain times of the day while others fasted at certain times of the night. Then
Allaah led us to the (right) times of fasting. (Also) the people disagreed
concerning the 'day of gathering' (for worship). While the Jews chose the
Sabbath, the Christians took Sunday; then Allaah led us to the (right) 'day of
gathering' (on Friday). (Also) the people disagreed concerning Abraham. The Jews
considered him to be a Jew and the Christians considered him to be a Christian.
Then Allaah freed him from such a suspicion and showed him to be a hanif was
surrendered to Allaah (hanifan musliman), who also was not to be classed
among the heathen as some maintained, who claimed that he had been one of the
unbelievers. (Finally) the people (also) disagreed concerning Jesus. The Jews
considered him to be the victim of a falsehood while the Christians considered
him to be a Allaah (rabb). Thereupon Allaah led us to the truth concerning him.
Allaah says all of this (with his words):
Then . .. Allaah guided those who believed to the truth concerning
the matters about which the people disagreed.
(At-Tabari concludes that) when Allaah by his goodness leads to
the truth those who believe in Muhammad and his message, concerning which these
groups of the Children of Israel who had possessed the Book previously
disagreed, then this guidance lies in his assisting them to (return to) the
truth, according to which the people lived before the disunity that Allaah depicts
in this verse existed. For those people were a single umma, namely the
religion (din) of Abraham, the hanif who was surrendered to Allaah
and the friend of the compassionate. Those who believe have been
made an umma standing in the middle' so that they may be 'witnesses among
the nations' - so your Lord describes them (in Sura 2 :143/l37).