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My focus here is on the translation of the word Ummah (أُمَّة) in Arabic, by which Allah attributed Ibraheem in verse (16:120). As shown below there are different interpretation in its translation:

إِنَّ إِبْرَهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً
Sahih international and Muhsin Khan
Indeed, Abraham was a [comprehensive] leader,... .

  • while Pickthall and Dr. Ghali used the word "nation",
  • Yusuf Ali used the word "model"
  • and Shakir "exemplar".

All these words could certainly fit to describe this prophet (), but my question is:
What is the actual meaning of this word in this context and why was it used as an attribute of Ibraheem and how -if it actually does- does it differ from it usual meaning? Which was discussed before in:

Or is there a secret behind calling Ibraheem "ummah"?

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    I remember a hadith where Zaid ibn Amr was referred to as an "ummah of his own" because he was individually on the Hanif religion. Maybe it is a similar usage.
    – The Z
    Apr 10, 2019 at 16:44

4 Answers 4

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Allah swt actually defines it right after that, "devoutly obedient to Allah, strictly inclining to the truth, and to not associate others with Allah." That is what is meant by referring to Ibraheem as an ummah. Allah knows best.

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  • Are you familiar with this meaning of the word ummah? Have you found that elsewhere?
    – Jeschu
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:40
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الباقر (علیه السلام)- أَنَّهُ کَانَ عَلَی دِینٍ لَمْ یَکُنْ عَلَیْهِ أَحَدٌ غَیْرُهُ فَکَانَ أُمَّهًًْ وَاحِدَهًْ.

Imam Baqir said:

(Prophet) Ibrahim was of a belief that no was like him. Because of such he was a nation of his own. [Tafsir Ahl-al-Beyt, Vol. 7, Pg. 758]

Or in another hadith from Imam Saidq (a.s.):

الْأُمَّهًُْ وَاحِدَهًٌْ فَصَاعِداً کَمَا قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّوَجَلَّ إِنَّ إِبْراهِیمَ کانَ أُمَّةً قانِتاً للهِ یَقُولُ مُطِیعاً لِلَّهِ عَزَّوَجَلَّ. (قِلَّةُ الْمُؤْمِنین )

Imam Saidq: ...A nation/tribe is from one and more. As Allah has said about Prophet Ibrahim. He was an obedient nation before Allah (due to the few number of believers). [Kafi Vol.5 Pg. 59]

To think of this differently:

If there 10 people and they were separated into two groups of left hand and right hand, then if we had 9 people right handed and a single person left hand, then the left hand person would still be a group of their own.

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Whatever the Muslims view as good is good to Allah, and whatever they view as evil is evil to Allah.” -Musnad Ahmed 3600

P1: the view of Allah is infallible.

P2: the collective view of muslims(Ummah) is view of Allah.

P3: prophet Ibrahim had views which were infallible in sight of Allah. He said the sun, the moon and a celestial body(venus) are not Rabb.

Conclusion: Allah called him an ummah.

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Apart from the word stems for people and nurse, female slave which still have similar forms in current Arabic, I have found in my Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary:

Hebrew אַמָּה [ammɔh] Aramaic אַמָּא [ammɔ'], Assyrian ammatu

I) cubit, yardstic (also figurative); German: Elle, Maßstab (a. übertr.)

II) foundation, basis; German: feste Grundlage, Basis, Feste

Maybe امه or امة was also a rare word in Arabic having the same meaning.

This would go into the sense of the translation of Yusuf Ali:

Abraham was indeed a model, devoutly obedient to Allah, (and) true in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah

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