Middle Nation

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Middle nation or Ummat-an wasaṭ-ā (Arabic: امّة وسطا) is a title referring to a chosen group who are the medium between people and the Prophet (s) and witness the actions of all people in this world and bear testimony to them in the hereafter. This title is mentioned in the Qur'an 2:143 about Muslims and in Shi'a and Sunni commentaries, different views are mentioned about its meaning and examples. Most Shi'a exegetes have considered Imams (a) of the Shi'a as its examples and have considered characteristics for them such as infallibility and justice.


"Ummat-an wasat-a" (a middle nation) is a title given by God about Muslims in the Qur'an 2:143 and considered it a reason for their superiority over other nations and regarded its goal to be Muslims' witnessing upon other nations.[1]

It is a compound title meaning that God made you a nation safe from extremism[2]. In different commentaries, being safe from extremism is interpreted as not having exaggeration or lack of faith, suffering from materialism or reclusion, dogmatism about one's own knowledge, using others' knowledge, making mutual social relationships with other countries and people and all aspects of being a Muslim[3].

Exegetes interpreted "middle nation" as the just nation[4], best of nations[5], chief, central and master of people[6] and the exemplary nation having intellect[7]. Also, some scholars interpreted it with their moderation in religion and religious rulings and believe that Islam is moderate in beliefs, rulings, moralities and moderate rulings[8] and finally considered it the chosen group who are medium between people and the Prophet (s) who witness the actions of all people in this world and bear testimony to them in the hereafter[9].


Determining exactly who "middle nation" is, has been disagreed by exegetes. They have mentioned different examples for it, including "Imams (a) of the Shi'a", "all Muslims", "companion of the Prophet (s)" and "people of Sunna".

  • Imams (a) of the Shi'a: most Shi'a exegetes believe that although some have deduced the authority of the consensus of all the nation and their justice from the verse, it does not mean that every member of this nation is infallible, as individuals can be found among them who can be witnesses due to their infallibility and also considering the Islamic nation as "the middle nation" is due to the existence of this elite group among them[10]. Therefore according to hadiths[11] and other verses of the Qur'an, such a position is specific to Imams (a) who have the tolerance of seeing the truth of people's actions in this world and on the Day of Judgement bear witness to them[12].
  • All Muslims: Many Sunni exegetes consider all those who accept Islam as the example of "the middle nation". In explanation of the middleness of the nation of the Prophet (s), they mention this point that Muslims are middle comparing to the People of the Book on the one hand, and in comparison to polytheists and idol-worshipers on the other hand; because, some of the People of the Book only occupied themselves with refinement of the soul and left bodily perfections. On the contrary, polytheists left virtues of the soul and turned toward carnal pleasures; while, the Islamic nation have made a balance between spiritual and bodily needs[13].
  • Companions, Followers and Sunnis: Some Sunni scholars including Ibn Taymiyya considered the companions of the Prophet (s), then the Followers and then the Followers of the Followers and finally those who follow the conduct of the companions as the examples of this verse. To such people, the Islamic nation was divided after the Rashidun Caliphs and some people like Khawarij with making wrong innovations and some others like Shi'a with exaggeration and making troubles exited the middle path and only Sunnis who followed the conduct of the Companions and remained in the path of truth are the examples of the "middle nation"[14].


From the issues mentioned in exegetical and hadith books about the "middle nation", some characteristics can be mentioned for "middle nation" including justice, infallibility, knowledge[15] and intellect[16].

  • Infallibility: Shi'a exegetes believe that those who witness upon people should be infallible. Their reason for this claim is that the actualization of the middle nation is among the wishes of Prophet Abraham (a) and Prophet Isma'il (a) who asked God upon building the Ka'ba to choose a messenger from among his progeny to read the verses of God for people.[17] Exegetes believe that the Qur'an 22:78 [18] reports about the fulfillment of the supplication of Abraham (a) and also mentions an elite group who do not disobey divine orders and are pure from sins. Their other justification is a special kind of testimony only practicable by the Infallible Ones (a)[19].
  • Justice: Many exegetes refer to some hadiths from the Holy Prophet (s) and consider justice among important characteristics of the "middle nation" which keeps them away from extremism in order to pass the middle path[20].


  1. Thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be witnesses to the people, and that the Apostle may be a witness to you. We did not appoint the qiblah you were following, but that We may ascertain those who follow the Apostle from those who turn back on their heels. It was indeed a hard thing except for those whom Allah has guided. And Allah would not let your prayers go to waste. Indeed Allah is most kind and merciful to mankind.
  2. Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Mufradāt alfāẓ al-Qurʾān, under the word wasat.
  3. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 1, p. 320; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 1, pp. 488-89.
  4. Suyūṭī, al-Durr al-manthūr, vol. 1, p. 144; Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, vol. 4, p. 84.
  5. Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, vol. 4, p. 84-5.
  6. Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, vol. 4, p. 84-5.
  7. Ṭaliqānī, Partuwī az Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 324.
  8. Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-. Jāmiʾ al-bayān, vol. 2, p. 5.
  9. Rabbānī, Ummat-i wasaṭ, p. 287.
  10. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 1, p. 321.
  11. Ṣaffār, Baṣā'ir al-darajāt, vol. 1, p. 82; Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 191; Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 22, p. 441.
  12. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 1, p. 415; Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 1, p. 32-21; Ṭayyib, Aṭyab al-bayān, vol. 2, p. 229; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 1, p. 221.
  13. Sayyid Quṭb, Fī ẓilāl al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, pp. 130-31.
  14. Ṣallābī, al-Wasaṭiyya fī l-Qurʾān, p. 3.
  15. Qirāʾatī, Tafsīr-i nūr, vol. 1, p. 221.
  16. Ṭaliqānī, Partuwī az Qurʾān, vol. 2, p. 2.
  17. Qur'an 2:129: ‘Our Lord, raise amongst them an apostle from among them, who will recite to them Your signs and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed You are the All-mighty, the All-wise.’
  18. And wage jihad for the sake of Allah, a jihad which is worthy of Him. He has chosen you and has not placed for you any obstacle in the religion, the faith of your father, Abraham. He named you ‘Muslims’ before, and in this, so that the Apostle may be a witness to you, and that you may be witnesses to mankind. So maintain the prayer, give the zakat, and hold fast to Allah. He is your master—an excellent master and an excellent helper.
  19. Rabbānī, Ummat-i wasaṭ, pp. 288-89.
  20. Suyūṭī, al-Durr al-manthūr, vol. 1, p. 144; Fakhr al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, vol. 4, p. 84.


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