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What is the Muslim Understanding of "Ummah"?


"Ummah" is a common Arabic word meaning "people group", or "nation." The term takes on a religious connotations in the Qur'an where God is said to have sent to each ummah its own messenger. The messengers given special prominence as recipients of scripture and founders of an ummah are Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Jews are an ummah based on the Torah which God gave to Moses, Christians an ummah based on the Injil (gospel) which God gave to Jesus, and Muslims an ummah based on the Qur'an, which God "sent down" to Muhammad.

The concept of ummah might seem to correspond to our understanding of a nation, but there are important differences. The nation is a strictly political concept; it may be defined as a community of peoples possessing a given territory with their own government; citizenship involves giving allegiance to the State, independently of a person's religious commitment. By contrast, citizenship in the ummah very much involves commitment to a particular religion. To the Muslim way of thinking, the only ummah that counts is the Ummah Islamiyyah, the Islamic Community, an entity that theoretically comprises all Muslims throughout the world, whatever their national origin. In Islamic thought, "The Ummah" represents a universal world order, ruled by an Islamic government (the Caliph) in accordance with the "Law of God" (the Shariah, Islamic religious law), and patterned after the community founded by Muhammad at Medina in 622 AD; it even includes Jews and Christians living within its territory as separate (and inferior) communities.

I think you begin to see the conflict that exists between these two concepts. This is especially true in the Muslim World which finds itself divided into a number of independent nation-states, each with its own constitution, usually patterned on western political models as much as on the values and principles of Islamic law. Today, a growing number of Muslims reject this situation, which they view as favoring the "big powers", and are pushing for a return to a single umma once again. One might say this is the Muslims Hope. One Arab political party, the Hizb ut-Tahrir or Liberation Party, is actively seeking to bring the Muslim World under one umbrella; opposing democracy (rule by the people), its utopian rallying cry is that "the rule is for none but Allah." But, since achieving its goals involves political struggle, it has been outlawed in the Arab World and is carrying on its activities from--where else but England!

For us as Christians, however, the conflict between the ummah and the church of Christ is more important than that between ummah and nation. The church also is a universal community; it comprehends all the redeemed, past present and future, who have given their allegiance to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, regardless of sex, race, culture, or nationality. It does not, however, like Islam, pretend to be a divine political order--yet! That will not happen until Christ returns at the end of time and sets up Gods Kingdom; only then will there be a truly just society. This is the Christians Hope. There is an important message here for Muslims: only a society in which the executive, legislative and judicial functions are in the direct control of God can be considered a divine order. Anything less, i.e. where these functions are in human hands, such as those of Caliph and Qadi, is still a human order even though it may be based on religious law, and is no better than any other society.

Arab World Ministries

 

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