بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Word ‘Ummi’ is from root ( ا م م ), the same root from which the word Umm/Mother is formed. Common perception is that this word means ‘un-lettered’ i.e someone who is ‘unable to read or write’. This word is not a common word in Arabic usage, therefore not well defined in dictionaries. We will see occurrences of this word in Al-Kitab, to see what could be the intended meanings of this word.
In Al-Kitab, the word ‘Ummi’ is used for a prophet and also for a nation in which the prophet was sent. The word is used in a positive sense for the prophet and in the negative sense for the nation. The traditional rendering of the word ‘Ummi’ is ‘un-lettered’. We will look into the Ayas to see if the ‘Un-lettered’ rendering of this word makes sense in light of Quran.
62:2 هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ
It is He, Who sent amongst the Ummi people a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to purify them, and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom,- although they had been, before, in manifest error;-
Allah sent down among the ‘Ummiyyin’, a messenger from among them who recites ayahs on them and teaches them Al-Kitab and Widsom and before that, they were in manifest error. In this ayat, ‘un-lettered’ would not fit as meaning of ‘Ummiyyin’ because if the nation does not know how to read and write then what is the purpose of sending a book to them. Also, historically we know that, the whole community at that time was not unlettered. There were many people who knew how to read and write at that time.
The word ‘Ummi’ is from the same root as of the word ‘Umm’ (mother). ‘Ummi’ could be referring to ‘motherly’ or ‘original’ state. ‘Ummiyyin’ in above Ayat seems to be those people who are at their original state of belief in which they were born. i.e they don’t get guidance from the Book. They just believe what their environment and people around them tell them to believe. They have not themselves studied the Book and gained knowledge from it. Does not necessarily mean that they don’t know how to read and write. It just implies that they did not change their direction of belief in the light of the Book (2:141) and remained on their original belief system on which they were born.
2:78 وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَظُنُّونَ
And there are among them Ummis, who donot know about the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.
Now what about Nabi Ummi mentioned in Al-Kitab? Is there a prophet mentioned in Al-Kitab who also remained on his original belief system? When we study Al-Kitab, we find that, one prophet in Al-Quran is referred to by his mother i.e Essa ibne Mariam (a.s). He is the one, who is prophet from birth as a sign of Allah, i.e he was not granted prophet-hood at a later stage in life, but was made prophet since birth and was able to talk to people since that time.
19:29-30 فَأَشَارَتْ إِلَيْهِ ۖ قَالُوا كَيْفَ نُكَلِّمُ مَن كَانَ فِي الْمَهْدِ صَبِيًّا قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا
But she (Mariam) pointed to the baby. They said. “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” Essa / Jesus said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He (Allah) has given me Al-Kitab / The Book and made me a prophet.
The Messenger of Allah declares to all mankind to believe in that Ummi prophet, who believes in Allah and his Words. The Ummi prophet in Al-Kitab declares that he and his mother are no gods but they are only servants of God (5:72, 5:116-117)
7:158 قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيعًا الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ النَّبِيِّ الْأُمِّيِّ الَّذِي يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَكَلِمَاتِهِ وَاتَّبِعُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
Say. “O people! I am to you all, the messenger of Allah, to Whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. there is no god but He. It is He who gives life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Ummi Prophet, who believes in Allah and His words. And follow him so that you may be guided.”
The Ummi prophet teaches them from Hikma, the Book (Al-kitab), Taurat and Injeel, informs them about lawful and unlawful things and removes un-necessary burdens on them (3:47-50)
7:157 الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُم بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّورَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ مَعَهُ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“Those who follow the messenger, the Ummi Prophet, whom they find written in what is with them,- in the Taurat/law and the Injeel/Good News;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.”
For clarity on Ahlal-Kitab please see previous post (https://topicsfromquran.com/2017/03/26/who-are-ahlal-kitab/ ). The below Ayat mentions ‘Ahlal Kitab’ and ‘Ummiyyin’ as two groups. There can be some overlapping between the groups as well. Ahlal Kitab are those who have the Book. ‘Ummiyin’ are those who don’t change the direction of belief in which they were born, so they can be of any religion or sect. The below Ayat mentions a portion of Ahlal Kitab who are not very honest in financial dealings because they have made by themselves some rules of financial transactions based on religious beliefs. They have a tendency to treat people differently in financial transactions based on religion. Their rules are tilted disadvantageously to people belonging to different religion than theirs.
3:75 وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مَنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِقِنطَارٍ يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِدِينَارٍ لَّا يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ إِلَّا مَا دُمْتَ عَلَيْهِ قَائِمًا ۗ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ سَبِيلٌ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
Among the People of the Book are some who, if entrusted with a hoard of gold, will pay it back; others, who, if entrusted with a single Dinar/silver coin, will not repay it unless you constantly stood demanding, because, they say, “there is no call on us with these Ummi people.” but they tell a lie against Allah, and they know it.
The message of the Messenger to Ahlal Kitab and Ummiyyin is ‘submit to the ayajs of Al-Kitab. If they submit to Al-Kitab they get guidance, but if they deviate to other teachings, the duty of the Messenger is to convey the message only.
3:20 فَإِنْ حَاجُّوكَ فَقُلْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّهِ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِ ۗ وَقُل لِّلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ وَالْأُمِّيِّينَ أَأَسْلَمْتُمْ ۚ فَإِنْ أَسْلَمُوا فَقَدِ اهْتَدَوا ۖ وَّإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلَاغُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ
So if they dispute with you, say. “I have submitted myself to Allah and so have those who follow me.” And say to the People of the Book and to Ummis. “Do you (also) submit yourselves?” If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, your duty is to convey the Message; and Allah is an observer of (all) His servants.
3:47-50 قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ وَيُعَلِّمُهُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَالتَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنجِيلَ وَرَسُولًا إِلَىٰ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَنِّي قَدْ جِئْتُكُم بِآيَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ أَنِّي أَخْلُقُ لَكُم مِّنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ فَأَنفُخُ فِيهِ فَيَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۖ وَأُبْرِئُ الْأَكْمَهَ وَالْأَبْرَصَ وَأُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۖ وَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا تَأْكُلُونَ وَمَا تَدَّخِرُونَ فِي بُيُوتِكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَلِأُحِلَّ لَكُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي حُرِّمَ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ وَجِئْتُكُم بِآيَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُونِ
She (Mariam) said. ‘O my Lord how shall I have a son when no man has ever touched me?’ He (Allah) said. ‘This is how Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed an order, He says it to, `Be` and it is!’ And (Allah) will teach him(Essa), Al-Kitab (The Book) and Al-Hikma (The Wisdom) And At-Taurah (The Law) and Al-Injeel (The Good News). And a messenger to the children of Israel, that is I have come to you, with Ayat (Sign) from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird (flyer), and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird (flyer) by Allah`s leave. and I heal the blind , and the lepers, and I give life to the dead, by Allah’s leave. And I inform you in what you consume, and what you store in your houses. Surely it is an Ayat(sign) for you if you are the believers. “‘(I have come to you), to attest the Taurat/Law which is between the hands and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign/Ayat from your Lord. So take guard of Allah, and obey me.