Tafseer

“Let there be an ummah among you who calls to good”: Is the ‘مِن’ partitive or explanatory?

In Surah Ali ‘Imran verse 104 Allah (ta’ala) says,

وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌۭ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى ٱلْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ

“Let there be a group (ummah) among you who call ˹others˺ to goodness, encourage what is good, and forbid what is evil—it is they who will be successful.”[1]

In this translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, أُمَّةٌ (ummah) is translated as group, so the command is to establish a group or groups[2] who perform the three duties of calling to good (al-khair), enjoining good (al-ma’ruf) and forbidding evil (al-munkar).

In another translation by Abdul Haleem it says,

“Be an ummah that calls for what is good, urges what is right, and forbids what is wrong: those who do this are the successful ones.”[3]

Here the meaning of the command is for the entire Muslim ummah to perform the three duties not just a group of them.

Why is there a difference in meaning?

The reason for the difference in meaning is due to the particle مِن at the beginning of the verse مِّنكُمْ. In Arabic grammar مِن has multiple meanings, two of the most common are:

من للتبعيض Partitive min – indicating a part as distinct from a whole, e.g. رجل من الرجال (one of the men)

من لبيانExplanatory min – explains more about the noun, e.g. كرسي من خشب (a chair [made] of wood)

The evidence used for a partitive min

The majority of the mufasireen interpret the مِن as partitive, because the duty of enjoining ma’ruf and forbidding munkar in origin is fard al-kifiya (obligation of sufficiency)[4], and it’s not within the ability of everyone to undertake this duty.

Ahmad Mahmud says, “‘From amongst youمِّنكُمْ, here is partitive (tab’eedh) due to a Shar’ee indication (qareenah) which is that the obligation of enjoining the ma’ruf and forbidding the munkar is a collective obligation, and not within the ability of everyone to undertake it, since it requires knowledge, understanding and wisdom that not everyone has.”[5]

Al-Imaam Al-Ghazaali said the following in ‘Al-Ihyaa’ when presenting the deduction of the Hukm of fard al-kifiya from this verse: “It includes an explanation that it (the ordering of the Ma’ruf and forbidding of the Munkar) is a Fard Kifaayah and not a Fard ‘Ain (individual obligation). That is because if an ‘Ummah’ (group or section of the Muslims) undertakes it then the Fard falls from the rest. And it specified those who undertake it with Al-Falaah (success) and if the whole creation was to not engage in it then the sin would (inevitably) encompass them all (i.e. all of those who are capable).”[6]

Ibn Kathir says, “The objective of this Ayah is that there should be a segment of this Muslim Ummah fulfilling this task, even though it is also an obligation on every member of this Ummah, each according to his ability.”[7]

Imam Al-Qurtubi says, “We have already discussed what enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong entails. ‘Min’ here is partitive. It means that those who enjoin must be people with knowledge, and not all people have knowledge.”[8]

Jalal ad-Din al-Maḥalli and Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti in Tafsir al-Jalalayn say, “Let there be one ummah of you calling to good, to Islam, and enjoining decency, and forbidding indecency; those, that call, bid and forbid, are the successful, the victorious (the particle min, ‘of’, [in minkum, ‘of you’] is partitive, since what is mentioned is a collective obligation [fard kifāya], and is not incumbent upon every individual of the ummah, for not every person, such as the ignorant, is up to it.”[9]

Won’t having different groups lead to disunity?

An argument can be made that multiple groups and parties will lead to disunity within the ummah and the Islamic State. This is true if the groups and parties did not call to Al-Khair i.e. Islamic objectives as the ayah orders, but instead called for foreign thoughts and concepts such as nationalism, secularism and socialism. Any party founded on a basis other than Islam and calling for any thoughts and concepts contradicting Islam would be forbidden in an Islamic state. Historically, one of the major factors in the destruction of the Khilafah was the establishment of Turkish and Arab nationalist parties supported by the colonial powers of the time Britain and France. They sowed the seeds of division which continue to this day.

If we look to the verses 103-105 of Surah Ali ‘Imran we find in verse 103 the command,

وَٱعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًۭا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟

“Hold fast to the rope of Allah all together, and do not separate.”[10]

then in verse 104, the command,

وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌۭ

“Let there be a group(s) among you”

and finally in verse 105, Allah orders us,

وَلَا تَكُونُوا۟ كَٱلَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا۟ وَٱخْتَلَفُوا۟ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا جَآءَهُمُ ٱلْبَيِّنَـٰتُ ۚ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌۭ

“Do not be like those who split up and differed after the Clear Signs came to them. They will have a terrible punishment”[11]

On the surface the order to form a group i.e. separate, seems to contradict the commands in verses 103 and 105 not to separate. This is especially the case since the waw (و) at the beginning of verses 104 and 105 is a conjunction (‘atf) which links them together similar to ‘and’ in English. So how is this apparent contradiction addressed?  Ibn Ashur answers this in his Tafseer,

وقَوْلُهُ ولا تَكُونُوا كالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا مَعْطُوفٌ عَلى قَوْلِهِ ولْتَكُنْ مِنكم أُمَّةٌ وهو يَرْجِعُ إلى قَوْلِهِ – قَبْلُ – ولا تَفَرَّقُوا

“His (ta’ala) speech “Do not be like those who split up” is a conjunction to His speech Let there be a group(s) among you, and also returns to His speech before “do not separate”

وفِيهِ إشارَةٌ إلى أنَّ الِاخْتِلافَ المَذْمُومَ والَّذِي يُؤَدِّي إلى الِافْتِراقِ، وهو الِاخْتِلافُ في أُصُولِ الدِّيانَةِ الَّذِي يُفْضِي إلى تَكْفِيرِ بَعْضِ الأُمَّةِ بَعْضًا، أوْ تَفْسِيقِهِ، دُونَ الِاخْتِلافِ في الفُرُوعِ المَبْنِيَّةِ عَلى اخْتِلافِ مَصالِحِ الأُمَّةِ في الأقْطارِ والأعْصارِ، وهو المُعَبِّرُ عَنْهُ بِالِاجْتِهادِ. ونَحْنُ إذا تَقَصَّيْنا تارِيخَ المَذاهِبِ الإسْلامِيَّةِ لا نَجِدُ افْتِراقًا نَشَأ بَيْنَ المُسْلِمِينَ إلّا عَنِ اخْتِلافٍ في العَقائِدِ والأُصُولِ، دُونَ الِاخْتِلافِ في الِاجْتِهادِ في فُرُوعِ الشَّرِيعَةِ

…the reprehensible differences which lead to separation, are the differences in usul ul-deen (foundations of the religion) which leads some of the ummah to kufr (disbelief) or fisq (transgression), and not the differences in the furu (branches) which are based on differences in the interests of the ummah in the regions and the ages, through ijtihad. If we examine the history of the Islamic Schools of Thought (madhahib), we do not find separation arising between the Muslims from differences in aqeeda and usul. We only find differences in ijtihad in the furu of shari’a.”[12]

Imam Al-Qurtubi says, “There is no evidence in the āyah for the prohibition of disagreement concerning secondary rulings. That is not true disagreement. The disagreement intended here is that which makes harmony and joining together impossible. As for rulings in matters of ijtihād, disagreement regarding them is due to the deduction of precepts and fine meanings of the Sharī‘ah. The Companions continued to disagree in respect of judgments about different matters. In spite of that, they were in complete harmony. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘The disagreements of my ummah are a mercy.’ Allah is forbidding any sort of disagreement that results in discord.”[13]

Rather than being a source of disunity, the groups which arise from verse 104 calling to al-khair, enjoining ma’ruf and forbidding munkar will in fact be a source of unity within the Islamic State. They will combat all thoughts which cause division within the ummah and which weaken the foundations of the deen.

The evidence used for an explanatory min

The Arabic language of the Qur’an allows multiple meanings and commands to be derived from the same verse. As mentioned previously while the majority of the mufasireen interpret the مِن as partitive, they also permit it to be explanatory. This doesn’t negate the command to establish group(s) but rather is an additional command which reinforces what is already established by other evidences.

In Tafsir al-Jalalayn it says, “However, it is also said that this particle is extra, and what is meant is, ‘so that you are an ummah [calling to good and so on]’).”[14]

Imam Al-Qurtubi says,

وَقِيلَ: لِبَيَانِ الْجِنْسِ، وَالْمَعْنَى لِتَكُونُوا كُلُّكُمْ كذلك

“It is also said that it [min] is generic (bayan il-jins), and the command is general for everyone.”[15]

In Al-Kashaf, Al-Zamakhshari says,

وقيل «من» للتبيين، بمعنى: وكونوا أمّة تأمرون، كقوله تعالى: (كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ)

“It is also said the min is explanatory with the meaning: ‘Be an ummah enjoining…’ like in His (ta’ala) saying,

كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ

“You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind.”[16]

Ibn Ashur says,

جازَ أنْ تَكُونَ (مِن ) بَيانِيَّةً وقُدِّمَ البَيانُ عَلى المُبَيَّنِ ويَكُونُ ماصَدَقَ الأُمَّةِ نَفْسُ الصَّحابَةِ ، وهم أهْلُ العَصْرِ الأوَّلِ مِنَ المُسْلِمِينَ فَيَكُونُ المَعْنى

ولْتَكُونُوا أُمَّةً يَدْعُونَ إلى الخَيْرِ فَهَذِهِ الأُمَّةُ أصْحابُ هَذا الوَصْفِ قَدْ أُمِرُوا بِأنْ يُكَوِّنُوا مِن مَجْمُوعِهِمُ الأُمَّةَ المَوْصُوفَةَ بِأنَّهم يَدْعُونَ إلى الخَيْرِ

“It is permissible for it to be an explanatory min, and the statement was presented over the clear, and the evidence of the ummah is the same as the sahaba, and they are the people of the first era of Muslims, so the meaning is “And so that you may be an ummah that invites to goodness”, for this ummah of those who have this description have been commanded to form from their multitudes the ummah described as calling to goodness.”[17]

Who does أُمَّةٌ (ummah) refer to?

The order to establish a group or groups is an order to establish Islamic political parties. This is deduced from the fact that the verse has determined the duty of this group which is the call to Islam, enjoining the good (Ma’ruf), and forbidding the evil (Munkar). The duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil is unrestricted (mutlaq) due to the prefix alif-lam (ال), and therefore includes the rulers which implies holding them accountable. The holding of the rulers accountable is a political task performed by political parties and it is the most important task of the political parties. Therefore, the verse indicates the duty of establishing political parties which would call to Islam, enjoin good and forbid evil, and would hold the rulers accountable for their actions and conduct.[18]

The munkar committed by an individual has a limited effect, whereas the munkar committed by a government affects the lives of millions. This is why in a future Islamic State we need strong political parties guarding the Islamic thoughts in society, and holding the rulers accountable, otherwise decay and weakness will set in as we saw in the past. Ibn Khaldun says,

“Good rulership is equivalent to mildness. If the ruler uses force and is ready to mete out punishment and eager to expose the faults of people and to count their sins, (his subjects) become fearful and depressed and seek to protect themselves against him through lies, ruses, and deceit. This becomes a character trait of theirs. Their mind and character become corrupted. They often abandon (the ruler) on the battlefield and (fail to support his) defensive enterprises. The decay of (sincere) intentions causes the decay of (military) protection. The subjects often conspire to kill the ruler.”[19]

In the time of the Prophet ﷺ and the Rightly Guided Khulufa’ the group referred to in this verse were the senior sahaba.

Ibn Ashur says,

فَهم خاصَّةُ أصْحابِ الرَّسُولِ وهم خاصَّةُ الرُّواةِ

“They are the elite of the companions of the Messenger, and they are the elite of the narrators.”[20]

Ad-Dahhak says, “They are a special group of the Companions and a special group of those after them, that is those who perform Jihad and the scholars.”[21]

Dr As-Sallabi mentions one of the factors that led to the civil war and fitna caused by the assassination of Uthman bin Affan was the dispersal of this elite group. He says, “Umar had prevented the prominent people of Quraysh, the Muhajireen, from leaving to other countries, except with permission for a short period…But Uthman allowed them to go out and was easy going with them. Al-Sha’bi said: When Uthman became Khaleefah, he let them go and they went all over, and the people gathered around them, so he was dearer to them than Umar.

As a result of that expansion, some of Quraysh gained wealth and property in the regions, and people gathered around them. According to one report, when Uthman proved not to be strict with them as Umar had been, they spread all over. When they saw this world and the people saw them, those who had no virtue and nothing to offer Islam and were not known among the people at all gathered around them, and thus different groups formed. That was the first weakness that appeared in Islam, and the first fitnah that affected the masses.”[22]

Thinking Ummatically

Allah (ta’ala) describes the Muslim ummah as One Ummah (أُمَّةًۭ وَٰحِدَةًۭ) and a brotherhood (إِخْوَةٌۭ), and if we take the additional meaning of the explanatory min then we must, “Be an ummah that calls for what is good”. This means while we may belong to a group, our principal bond is the ummatic bond. The world today is a global village which provides opportunities that were unavailable to our predecessors even just a few decades ago. It’s important to grab these opportunities and develop styles (uslub) and means (waseelah) which will bring radical change to the ummah’s situation.

Although the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Islam began as something strange, and it would revert to being something strange, so glad tidings for the strangers,”[23] closer to revival and victory, Islam shouldn’t be strange anymore. There should be a blurring of the lines between Islamic revivalist movements and the ummah, as the ummah adopt the groups call as their own. Taqiuddin an-Nabhani says, “The party should perceive and sense that whole Ummah is the party, and at the same time, the Ummah should perceive and sense that the party is her party and she as a whole is the party, hence the Ummah would naturally become one single party and would proceed altogether.”[24]

While rhetoric and slogans have their place in stirring the emotions of the ummah. There needs to be serious intellectual work based on deep, enlightened thinking to move the ummah to the next level. Taqiuddin an-Nabhani says, “The style (usloob) is a specific way for undertaking the action. It is not a permanent manner. This is different to the method (Tareeqah), which is a permanent aspect of undertaking the action…It is not necessary for the method to be derived by the creative mind, but it is necessary for the style to be produced by the creative mind or the genius mind, whether he is educated or not. This is because deriving the style is not related to knowledge or information, rather it is related to the intellectual process carried out to attain it.”[25]

Ummatic cooperation coupled with healthy competition is an essential element in moving the ummah forward. Allah (ta’ala) says,

وَتَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْبِرِّ وَٱلتَّقْوَىٰ

“Cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness”[26]

فَٱسْتَبِقُوا۟ ٱلْخَيْرَٰتِ

“So compete with one another in doing good.”

An ummatic approach to revival is therefore required. May Allah accept the efforts of all those working in this path.

Notes


[1] Dr. Mustafa Khattab, ‘The Clear Quran: A Thematic English Translation’

[2] The word أُمَّةٌ is nakira (indefinite) which means plurality in this context

[3] M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, ‘The Qur’an: A New Translation’

[4] Dr Muhammad Khair Haikal says, “Despite that, the changing of the Munkar becomes Fard ‘Ain upon the one who witnesses the Munkar and is from those capable of removing it. That is upon the condition that he does not fear the assault upon his Hurumaat Al-Khaassah (private sanctities; life, honour and property) and as long as a Mafsadah (harm and corruption) greater than the Mafsadah of the Munkar that he is confronted with, does not result from his forbidding it. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “There is not any man within a people amongst whom acts of disobedience (Ma’aasiy) take place, and they are capable of changing it and then don’t do so, except that Allah will afflicted them with a punishment before they die.” (Abu Dawud, Ibn Maajah)

[5] Ahmad Mahmoud, ‘The Da’wah to Islam,’ First edition, http://www.khilafah.com, 1995, p.76

[6] Ihyaa’ ‘Uloom id-Deen, Al-Ghazaali: 2/211; quoted in Dr Muhammad Khair Haikal, ‘Al-Jihaad Wal-Qitaal Fee As-Siyaasah Ash-Shar’iyah,’ Vol.1, Dar ul-Thaqafah, 2019, p.139

[7] Ibn Kathir, http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Aal-e-Imran/The-Command-to-Establish-the-I— ; https://tafsir.app/ibn-katheer/3/104

[8] Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Vol.4, translated by Aisha Bewley, Diwan Press, p.42; https://tafsir.app/qurtubi/3/104

[9] Jalal ad-Din al-Maḥalli and Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Translated by Feras Hamza, 2007, Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, p.69

[10] Holy Qur’an, Surah Ali ‘Imran, ayah 103

[11] Holy Qur’an, Surah Ali ‘Imran, ayah 105

[12] Ibn Ashur, Tahrir wan-Tanwir, https://tafsir.app/ibn-aashoor/3/104

[13] Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Op.cit., p.35

[14] Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Op.cit., p.69

[15] Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Vol.4, translated by Aisha Bewley, Diwan Press, p.42; https://tafsir.app/qurtubi/3/104

[16] Holy Qur’an, Surah Ali ‘Imran, ayah 110

[17] Ibn Ashur, Tahrir wan-Tanwir, https://tafsir.app/ibn-aashoor/3/104

[18] Abdul-Qadeem Zallum, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ translation of Nizam ul-Hukm fil Islam, Khilafah Publications, Fifth Edition, p.297

[19] Ibn Khaldun, ‘The Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History,’ Translated by Franz Rosenthal, Princeton Classics, p.249

[20] Ibn Ashur, Tahrir wan-Tanwir, https://tafsir.app/ibn-aashoor/3/104

[21] Ibn Kathir, http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Aal-e-Imran/The-Command-to-Establish-the-I— ; https://tafsir.app/ibn-katheer/3/104

[22] Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘The Biography of Uthman ibn Affan,’ Darussalam, p.470

[23] Sahih Muslim 145, https://sunnah.com/muslim:145

[24] Hizb-ut-Tahrir, ‘The Departure Point,’ Rabi’i Al-Thani 1373 – January 1954, Al-Quds

[25] Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘Thinking,’ a translation of at-tafkeer, Al-Khilafah Publications, 1973, p.67

[26] Holy Qur’an Surah al-Ma’ida, ayah 2

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