Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:143)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Ummatan Wasatan [أُمَّةً وَسَطًا] – Part 1
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
سَيَقُولُ السُّفَهَاءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلَّاهُمْ عَن قِبْلَتِهِمُ الَّتِي كَانُوا عَلَيْهَا قُل لِّلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ ﴿١٤٢﴾
2:142: The foolish among the people will say: “What has turned them (Muslims) from their Qiblah [prayer direction (towards Jerusalem)] to which they used to face in prayer.” Say (O Prophet): “To Allah belong both, east and the west. He guides whom He wills to the straight path.”
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلَى عَقِبَيْهِ وَإِن كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّـهُ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 Thus We have made you Ummatan Wasatan, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you. And We made the Qiblah which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels (i.e., disobey the Messenger). Indeed, it was great (heavy, difficult) except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never make your faith (prayers) to be lost (i.e., your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.
Commentary: The descendants of the Children of Israel in Medina criticized the change in the direction of the Qiblah. The Qur’an asked the Prophet to respond to their criticism by saying that all lands to the east and west belong to Allah (SWT) [(قُل لِّلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ)]. He is omnipresent; hence, He sees and hears regardless of the direction we pray in.
…….قُل لِّلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ ﴿١٤٢﴾
2:142: …..Say (O Prophet): “To Allah belong both, east and the west. He guides whom He wills to the straight path.
The house of Kaaba was the intended Qiblah for Muslims. However, at the beginning of the Prophet’s mission, infidels were worshipping idols in the Kaaba. The Holy Prophet (SAWA) could have prayed towards the Kaaba, but that would imply that the Prophet was also worshipping the idols. So, Allah (SWT) asked the Prophet to pray towards the Al-Aqsa Masjed while he was living in Mecca.
After the migration of the Prophet to Medina, praying towards the Kaaba no longer implied that Muslims were worshipping the idols. Hence, Allah (SWT) asked the Prophet to pray towards the house of Kaaba from then on. Therefore, the change in the direction of Qiblah was to uphold the guidance of believers on the straight path, and the phrase Allah “guides whom He wills to the straight path” attests to this point [Al-Mizan, Vol. 1, P.481].
In the course of divine reasoning for the change in the direction of Qiblah, the verse 2:143 introduces the concept of Ummatan Wasatan [(أُمَّةً وَسَطًا)]:
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا …… ﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 Thus We have made you Ummatan Wasatan, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger be a witness over you. …..
The word [(وَكَذَلِكَ)] at the beginning of the verse means “similarly” or “for the same reason” and it underscores the similarity in goals and objectives of changing the direction of Qiblah and the existence of the Ummatan Wasatan [Al-Mizan, Vol. 1, Page 481].
As it was said earlier, the change in the direction of Qiblah was to uphold the guidance of believers on the straight path. Therefore, the meaning of verses 2:143 could be as follows:
وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا ……﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 [Allah (SWT) upholds believers on the straight path with changing the direction of Qiblah.] Similarly, [for the same reason], We (Allah) have made you Ummatan Wasatan….
The word Wasat [(وَسَط)] means 1) middle 2) equidistant from the extremities of something and 3) good, excellent and noble, [Tafseer-e-Namonah, Vol. 1, Page 487]. For instance:
- [(الصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَى), Al-Baqara 2:238] means middle prayer,
- [(أَوْسَطِ مَا تُطْعِمُونَ أَهْلِيكُمْ), Al-Ma’ida 5:89] means the average food you give to your families, and
- [(قَالَ أَوْسَطُهُمْ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكُمْ لَوْلَا تُسَبِّحُونَ), Al-Qalam 68:28] means the best among them said: “Did I not say to you: why do you not glorify (Allah)?”
With this context, Ummatan Wasatan [(أُمَّةً وَسَطًا)] is interpreted as a moderate and just nation that is free from extremism. This trait in itself is noble and praiseworthy. Many verses of the Quran, for instance Al-Furqan 25:67 and Al-Baqara 2:201, echo the importance of exercising moderation in life. A moderate and a just nation serves as a distinguished role model for other nations to follow; it is a witness [(شُهَدَاءَ)] over mankind since characteristics of a just and moderate nation is a criterion for mankind to discern right from wrong, [Tafseer-e-Namonah, Vol. 1, Page 488]. Hence, the meaning of the verse 2:143 would be as follows:
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا …..﴿١٤٣﴾
2:143 [Allah (SWT) upholds believers on the straight path with changing the direction of Qiblah]. Similarly, [for the same reason], We (Allah) have made you a moderate and a just nation, that you be witness (role model) to mankind and the messenger be a witness (role model) to you.
In this interpretation, Ummatan Wasatan [(أُمَّةً وَسَطًا)] means a just nation and Shaheed [(شَهِيد)] is inferred to mean a role model; since witnesses on the Day of Judgment are amongst the role models.
The verse states that Allah (SWT) made a certain community a just and best nation, however this does not include every individual who calls himself a Muslim. Rather, it implies that among the greater Muslim nation, Allah (SWT) made a just and best nation to serve as a role model to other nations. This has a similar connotation as when Allah (SWT) said to the Children of Israel “I exalted you above all the peoples of the world.” This does not infer that every single individual amongst the Children of Israel were exalted above all people of their time.
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿٤٧﴾
2:47 O Children of Israel! Just recall to mind My favour that bestowed upon you, and remember that I exalted you above all the peoples of the world.
وَلِلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ ۚ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ ﴿١١٥﴾
2:115 To Allah belong the East and the West. Whichever way you turn, there is God’s presence. God is Omnipresent and Omniscient.
حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُوا لِلَّـهِ قَانِتِينَ ﴿٢٣٨﴾
2:238 Guard your daily prayers, and [especially] the middle prayer, and stand before Allah with obedience.
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ قَوَامًا ﴿٦٧﴾
25:67 And those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor stingy, but are in a just balance between them.
وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَقُولُ رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ ﴿٢٠١﴾
2:201 And of them there are some who say: “Our Lord! Give us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the torment of the Fire!”