Saturday 1 Ṣafar 1442 - 19 September 2020
English

Meanings of the word ummah in the Qur’aan

Question

Whilst reading the Qur’aan I have come across the word “ummah” several times and I have the feeling that it has numerous meanings, not just one meaning. Is this correct? How should we understand this word?

Answer

Praise be to Allah.

Praise be to Allaah.

Shaykh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shanqeeti (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: 

The word ummah is used in four senses in the Qur’aan: 

1 – The word ummah is used to mean a period of time, as in the aayahs (interpretation of the meanings): 

“And if We delay the torment for them till a determined term [ila ummatin ma’doodah]”[Hood 11:8] 

“Then the man who was released (one of the two who were in prison), now at length [ba’da ummatin] remembered”[Yoosuf 12:45]

2 – It is used to mean a group of people, which is the usual usage, as in the aayahs (interpretation of the meaning): 

“he found there a group of men [ummatan min al-naas] watering (their flocks)”[al-Qasas 28:23] 

“And for every Ummah (community or nation) there is a Messenger”[Yoonus 10:47] 

“Mankind were one community [ummah]”[al-Baqarah 2:213]

and there are other similar aayahs. 

3 – The word ummah is used to refer to a man who is taken as a leader, as in the aayah (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Verily, Ibraaheem (Abraham) was an Ummah (a leader having all the good righteous qualities)”[al-Nahl 16:120]

4 – The word ummah is used to mean a way or religion, as in the aayahs (interpretation of the meanings): 

“They say: “We found our fathers following a certain way and religion [ummah]”[al-Zukhruf 43:23]

“Truly, this, your Ummah [Sharee‘ah or religion (Islamic Monotheism)] is one religion”[al-Anbiyaa’ 21:92]

and there are other similar aayahs. 

Source: Adwaa’ al-Bayaan, 3/13