The Quran about the term “ummatun”
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful
One of the key concepts in Islam is the term “ummatun“. Traditionally, this term means the entire Muslim community on earth. Of course, this understanding is a stimulus to the unity of all believers, however in the Quran this word is used in another sense. The term “ummatun” is formed from the root “ummun” – “the basis, (the first) source, the main part“. That is, “ummatun” carries the following meanings: “foundation, basis, primary source, headship“. Depending on the context and meaning of the Quran, this term will be understood in one of the given meanings.
Initially, beginning with Adam, people had common ideas and values, which eventually changed, which was the reason for the message to a certain group of society by the messenger of God.
Mankind was on one basis (ummatan). Then God sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Prescription in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over it except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves. And God guided those who believed to the truth concerning that over which they had differed, by His permission. And God guides whom He wills to a straight path. (2:213)
And mankind was not but on one foundation (ummatan), but they differed. And if not for a word that preceded from your Lord, it would have been judged between them concerning that over which they differ. (10:19)
And if it were not that the people was on one foundation (ummatan) , We would have made for those who closed themselves from the Gracious – for their houses – ceilings and stairways of silver upon which to mount (43:33)
A departure from the original worldview led to the formation of a peculiar culture for each nation. The elaborated culture carried a distorted ideology, which people considered to be their foundation:
Rather, they say, “Indeed, we found our fathers upon this foundation (ummatin), and we are in their footsteps guided.”
And similarly, We did not send before you any warner into a city except that its affluent said, “Indeed, we found our fathers this foundation (ummatin), and we are, in their footsteps, following!” (43:22-23)
Any worldview is initiated by intellectuals who, in fact, are “priests.” Naturally, the “priests” in their societies were at the head of it.
That was headship (ummatun) which has passed on. It will have what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do. (2:134)
That is headship (ummatun) which has passed on. It will have what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do. (2:141)
It was the leading group of society which explained to people the meaning of life, developed rules of conduct, in general, and created a system for controlling the masses.
And do not insult those they invoke other than God, lest they insult God in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have beautified to every headship (ummatin) their deeds! Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do! (6:108)
Any headship is inherent in the desire to increase the zone of its influence, which inevitably leads to the conflict of interests with other headships. At such times, these headships are guided only by their own interests:
And do not be like she who broke her yarn after fastening the threads. You take your oaths to get wealth, to make your headship superior to the other. Indeed, God tests you thereby! And He will surely make clear to you on the day of standing before Him that over which you used to differ! (16:92)
In our world there is nothing permanent, which is true for any elite. One group of leaders is replaced by another:
And for every headship (ummatin) is a term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede. (7:34)
And they say, “When is this promise, if you should be truthful?”
Say, “I possess not for myself any harm or benefit except what God should will. For every headship (ummatin) is a term. When their time has come, then they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede!” (10:48-49)
No headship (ummatin) will precede its term, nor will they remain thereafter. (15:5)
No headship (ummatin) will precede its time, nor will they remain. (23:43)
With the arrival of the messengers of God, the distorted ideology was corrected, but with the passage of time again took the wrong forms. An example is the holders of the Prescription:
And if only they upheld the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them is a moderate headship (ummatun), but many of them – evil is that which they do! (5:66)
Supreme leaders are the carriers of the original knowledge. It was they who gave faith the needed form based on their interests. But among them there were also sincere people.
Indeed, Ibrahim (Abraham) was a leader (ummatan), devoutly obedient to God, inclining toward truth, and he was not of those who associate others with God. (16:120)
Abraham understood that the dominant part of society has a great influence among people. Fearing the injustice and distortion of the truth, Abraham asked the Creator for a humble headship for his people:
Our Lord! Make us both humble to You and from our descendants a humble headship (ummatun) before You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. (2:128)
This request was satisfied, because from the descendants and the followers of Abraham there appeared truly believing in the Lord people:
They are not the same. Among the holders of the Prescription is persistent headship (ummatun). They recite the signs of God during periods of the night and prostrating. (3:113)
And when to headship (ummatun) among them said, “Why do you exhort a people whom God will destroy or punish with a severe punishment?” they said, “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may beware!” (7:164)
For an objective understanding of the word “ummatun“, the stories given in the Quran are indicative. It is this term that designates the pharaoh during the times of Joseph:
But the one who was freed and remembered after the leader (ummatin) said, “I will inform you of its interpretation, so send me forth!” (12:45)
By the same term, the people which Moses met at the watering place are named:
And when he came to the well of Madyan, he found there headship (ummatan) watering, and he found aside from them two women driving back.
He said, “What is your circumstance?”
They said, “We do not water until the shepherds dispatch; and our father is an old man.” (28:23)
Undistorted worldview needs the divine source of knowledge. Such knowledge was brought to the people by the messengers of God. Somewhere this knowledge was simply memorized, and somewhere fixed. It is generally known that under Moses divine laws were fixed on two tables and the subsequent headship should be guided by them:
And among the people of Moses is a headship (ummatun) which guides by truth and by it establishes justice. (7:159)
Only reliance on the truth undistorted by human intervention makes it possible to make the right decisions and hope for a happy outcome.
And among those We created is a headship (ummatun) which guides by truth and thereby establishes justice. (7:181)
And for every headship (ummatin) is a messenger. So when their messenger comes, it will be judged between them in balance, and they will not be wronged (10:47)
Each messenger of the Creator from people brought primary information to his nation. The need for it was dictated by the dissemination of delusions.
And We certainly sent into every headship (ummatin) a messenger, that they serve God and avoid transgression. And among them were those whom God guided, and among them were those upon whom error was decreed. So proceed through the earth and observe how was the end of the deniers! (16:36)
Then We sent Our messengers in succession. Every time there came to a headship (ummatin) its messenger, they denied him, and We made them as the subject of the tales. So away with a people who do not believe. (23:44)
The nation of Nuh (Noah) denied before them and the factions after them, and every headship (ummatin) intended for their messenger to seize him, and they disputed by vainness to invalidate thereby the truth. So I seized them, and how was My penalty! (40:5)
As we see, the resistance was violent, since people declared the transcendental information a lie. Of course, the Creator could not give the message from Himself. One-time “notice” for mankind could be sufficient. However, knowing our weak essence, susceptibility to manipulation and blind adherence, the Supreme with each messenger provided us with the necessary spiritual source.
And We have revealed to you, the Prescription in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Prescription and as a guardian. So judge between them by what God has revealed and do not follow their passions away from what has come to you of the truth.
To each of you We prescribed straight direction and a method. Had God willed, He would have set you on one basis (ummatan). But to test you in what He has given you; so race to good. To God is your return all together, and He will inform you concerning that over which you used to differ! (5:48)
And if your Lord had willed, He could have made one headship (ummatan) for mankind; but they will not cease to differ. (11:118)
And if God had willed, He could have made you one headship (ummatan), but He causes to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And you will surely be questioned about what you used to do. (16:93)
And if God willed, He could have made for them one headship (ummatan), but He admits whom He wills into His mercy. And the obscurantists have not any patron or helper! (42:8)
The difference between the primary source and the “priestly” developments is that the rituals in it are limited and not complex. One of such rituals is the rite of sacrifice.
And for all headships (ummatin) We have appointed a rite of sacrifice that they may mention the name of God over what He has provided for them of animals.
For your god is one God, so to Him humble yourselves!
And give good tidings to the obedient! (22:34)
For every headship (ummatin) We have appointed rites of sacrifice which they perform. So let the disbelievers not contend with you over the matter but invite them to your Lord. Indeed, you are upon straight guidance. (22:67)
The whole practice of “post-Prescription” development shows that there is necessarily an additional material appeared to the source that was sent down, both written and oral. If this additional material were declared as human development, people would not be so mistaken. However, additional information is declared as yet another divine source, which is fundamentally contrary to the truth.
Indeed this, your foundation (ummatukum), is the only foundation (ummatan), and I am your Lord, so worship Me. (21:92)
And indeed this, your foundation (ummatukum), is the only foundation (ummatan), and I am your Lord, so beware of Me!” (23:52)
The last messenger among the people, Muhammad, relayed to us the speech of God – the Quran. He steadfastly followed the command of the Lord and did not add anything from himself.
Thus have We sent you to a headship (ummatin) before which headships (umamun) have passed on so you might recite to them that which We suggested to you, while they closed themselves from the Gracious!
Say, “He is my Lord; there is no deity except Him. Upon Him I rely, and to Him is my return!” (13:30)
Illuminated by the divine Light, the faithful followers of Muhammad acted as the main leading part of their society, which took responsibility for its development.
And thus we have made you as a head (ummatan) centre that you will be witnesses over the people and the messenger will be a witness over you. We appointed the direction on which you were so that We might distinguish those who follow the Messenger from those who turn on their heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided. And never would God have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed God is, to the people, Gracious and Merciful! (2:143)
You are the best headship (ummatin) raised up for the mankind. You commanded the approved, detained from the hated and believed God.
If only the holders of the Prescription had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are apostates. (3:110)
Vocation to be the “elite” of their people is for those who believed the Creator and His Prescription – the Quran.
And let there be from you a headship (ummatun) calling to good, commanding the approved and detaining from the hated. Those will be the successful. (3:104)
It is very important to believe the revealed one, because all the warnings necessary for us are provided in it.
Indeed, We have sent you with the truth as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And there was no headship (ummatin) but that there had passed within it a warner. (35:24)
Of course, many are skeptical of the warnings of the Lord, which will cause great distress during the main part of events for humanity – the Day of Debt.
And if We hold back from them the punishment before the main (ummatin) accounting, they will surely say, “What detains it?” Unquestionably, on the day it comes to them, it will not be averted from them, and they will be enveloped by what they used to ridicule! (11:8)
All interreligious and intra-religious strife will be resolved on the Day of Debt.
So how when We bring from every headship (ummatin) a witness and we bring you against these as a witness? (4:41)
And the day when We will resurrect from every headship (ummatan) a witness. Then it will not be permitted to the closed ones nor will they be perceived. (16:85)
And the day when We will resurrect among every headship (ummatin) a witness over them from themselves. And We will bring you, as a witness over your nation. And We have sent down to you the Prescription as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the humble. (16:89)
And We will extract from every headship (ummatin) a witness and say, “Produce your proof!” and they will know that the truth belongs to God, and lost from them is that which they used to invent! (28:75)
The testimony on the day of Debt will be based on the original source.
As mentioned, the structure of society is built on the principle of hierarchy. On the same principle, people will be called on the Day of Debt: in the forefront will be the leaders, because they took responsibility for their entire society.
And you will see every headship (ummatin) kneeling. Every headship (ummatin) will be called to its book. That day you will be recompensed for what you used to do. (45:28)
Therefore, it is very important to study and adhere to the primary source, so that on the Day of Debt you do not appear among those who have strayed from the direct path. On the way to the fire, the leaders will also be in the forefront.
He will say, “Enter among headships (umamin) which had passed on before you of invisible creatures and mankind into the fire!” Every time a headship (ummatun) enters, it will curse the other one until, when they have all overtaken one another therein, the last of them will say about the first of them “Our Lord, these had misled us, so give them a double punishment of the fire!
He will say, “For each is double, but you do not know!” (7:38)
And the day when We will gather from every headship (ummatin) a company of those who deny Our signs! So they will be sorted. (27:83)
This is a warning to all the “elites” of the earth. To avoid a sad fate, they need to be guided by the Quranic principles, that is, people who truly believe God should be the main part of their society, and for this they need to be qualitatively ready to bear such responsibility.