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