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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  [18614]  
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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.
Can 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 following):

Muhammad ibn 'Amr has related to us ... the following statement of Mujahid: By Allaah's words 'the people were a single umma', Adam is meant. ...

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 umma.


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