Allah (swt) states in His Kitaab Al-Kareem:
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا
And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you (Al-Baqarah 143).
It is important that some people do not fall into a trap, whether their intentions are good or bad, of taking Western meanings and applying them on Islamic words by twisting their necks and contrived interpretation.
"Ummah Wasat" is a word used in the Qur'an by Allah regarding the Islamic Ummah, and hence it is the best Ummah brought forth for mankind.
"Ummah Wasat" is an honorable Qur'anic description bestowed by Allah upon His believing slaves through the message of Islam, and made it their duty to inform the world about its message.
"Ummah Wasat" is a specific Shar'iee (legal) criterion, upon which the Ummah of Islam's performance is judged, so we see if it is in a state of trying to please people, or pleasing Allah.
Ummah Wasat is this specific criterion; it is this honorable Qur'anic description; and it is this important Qur'anic word. But today, this word no longer holds that important meaning with the people in their daily lives, since the meaning of it has become mixed up in the minds of some, and was corrupted by others. Some people removed its true meaning, and inserted new meanings that do not come from the Shari' (Islam), but rather come from man's mind and human desires.
Some have interpreted it based on modern interpretations, that give in to the current reality, and that emanate from a defeated mindset and from the culture of surrender to the enemy. They said that "Wasat" means to be somewhere between extremism and giving in. Some said that "Wasat" is meant in a geographical sense, related to our physical location, atmosphere and bearings. And some even established "Wasat" political parties, called "Hizb Al-Wasat", where their policies were somewhere between being "religious" and secular.
In this manner, the meaning of this word became confused amongst the people, and the correct could not be distinguished from the incorrect, and thus the matter now requires re-explanation and clarification. We need to set the spotlight on it once again, so that we can know its reality clearly, and understand its meaning correctly, where it's image in one's mind becomes clear, accurate, and removes all misunderstandings from it.
Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, said: "And thus We have made you an "Ummatann Wasata", so that you may be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger a witness over you". In this honorable Ayah, the word "Wasat", which was used to describe the "Ummah" of Islam, is attached to two additional realities: The witnessing of the Ummah over other nations, and the witnessing of the Messenger Muhammed, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, over the Ummah of Islam.
Linguistically, the word "Wasat" means the just, the best (in goodness), the top choice, the finest, the best (in quality), and the most honorable. It was stated in Lisaan Al-Arab: "The most 'Wasat' of a thing is the best of it, the finest of it and the most just of it". Ibn Katheer said: "The 'Wasat' is the top choice and the best quality", as it was said: "Quraysh is the most 'Wasat' of the Arabs in lineage and in quality of living", i.e. the best. And it is said: "Muhammed, the Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, was the 'Wasat' amongst his people", i.e. the most honorable amongst them in lineage.
The meaning of 'Wasat' linguistically is very similar to its legislative (Shar'iee) meaning. It was narrated by Al-Tirmithi of Abi Sa'eed Al-Khudree of the Prophet, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, regarding the Ayah "And thus we have made you an 'Ummatan Wasata'", he said: "(meaning) a just (Ummah)", and he said this Hadith is Hasan Saheeh. As for Al-Qurtubi, he said "Al-Wasat: is what is below the Prophets and above other nations, and Al-Wasat means 'the just'. And the origin of this is that the most thankful of all things is the most "Wasat" of them." And it was mentioned by the 'Ataa Abu Rashta, the author of the book "Al-Tayseer Fee Usool At-Tafseer" (Making the Fundamentals of Tafseer Easier to Understand), regarding the meaning of the above Ayah, he said: "The wording here, in the form of 'notification' (Seeghat Al-Ikhbaar), comes as a request (Talab), meaning a request for us to call to Islam" and he added: "Justice is a condition to being witnesses (over other nations), therefore the 'Wasat' Ummah are the ones who are fit for the role of being witnesses over other nations. This is an honor from Allah (subhanahu wa Ta'ala), and a privilege for the Muslims, that He made them a 'Wasat Ummah'."
To apply this meaning to reality, it is necessary for the Islamic Ummah - seeking to fulfill the meaning of "Wasat" - to speak out to the world, and be in a position of addressing and leading them, so that they can clearly establish the proof (Hujja) for them.
From this we can see that the meaning of "Wasat" is unrelated to being extreme or moderate, or finding a middle solution, or having a geographical or material meaning, or anything similar. The word "Wasat", as mentioned in the Ayah, is a level of justice and goodness that the Ummah must reach, not some level of "moderation", or finding a balance between two contradictions, or some compromise that the West calls to; rather it is clear to see that what is meant by this word here is a level of justice that allows us to be witnesses over mankind, and a level of goodness that allows us to carry the guidance of Islam to the world. Goodness here is a simile to justice, and they are both required when calling to Islam, ordering the Ma'roof (good), and forbidding the Munkar (evil).
This meaning is further supported by the Ayah: "You are the best nation brought forth to mankind, you order the Ma'roof, you forbid the Munkar, and you believe in Allah", and the Ayah: "And let there come from amongst you a group that calls to The Good, orders the Ma'roof, and forbids the Munkar, and they are the successful ones", as well as the Hadith: "Goodness is in me and my Ummah until the Day of Judgment".
These evidences match the Shar'iee meaning of "Wasat", and match the meaning of "witnesses over mankind" mentioned in the Ayah "…so that you may be witnesses over mankind", so the core relationship between "being witnesses" and "Wasat" becomes apparent, meaning "just".
The author of the book "Al-Tayseer Fee Usool At-Tafseer" said: "This is in the meaning that the Islamic Ummah is a just witness over all other nations after Islam, from their calling them to Islam. On the other hand, they are also just witnesses over all other nations before Islam from their knowledge of previous prophets having informed their people of the Message of their Lord, as mentioned in the Hadith narrated by Al-Bukhari and Ahmed: "On the Day of Judgment, a prophet is brought forth with one man, or two, or more, and then his people are called forth and are asked 'Did this man inform you (of the Message of Allah)?' and they will reply 'No.' (The prophet) will be asked 'Did you inform them (of the Message of Allah)?' and he will reply 'Yes.' He will be asked 'And who is your witness?' and he will reply 'Muhammed and his Ummah.' So Muhammed and his Ummah will be brought forth and they will be asked 'Did this man inform his people?' and they will reply 'Yes.' They will be asked 'What is your knowledge (of this matter)?' and they will reply 'Our prophet Muhammed, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, came to us and informed us that the (previous) prophets had informed their people. This is in the Words of Allah (And thus We have made you an Ummatann Wasata, so that you may be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger a witness over you)'." And in another version of the Hadith: "…so Muhammed, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, is brought forth and is asked about his Ummah, and he says good things about them and bears witness regarding their just qualities, and this is in the Words of Allah (And thus We have made you an Ummatann Wasata, so that you may be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger a witness over you)."
It was narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim that Anas said: "They passed a funeral and said good things about it, so the Prophet, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, said "It has become and obligation, it has become an obligation, it has become an obligation". Then they walked past another funeral and said bad things about it, so the Prophet, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam said "It has become and obligation, it has become an obligation, it has become an obligation". Umar, radhiAllahu 'anhu, then asked what this meant, and the Prophet, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, replied: "Whoever you spoke well of, Jannah (Heaven) is an obligation for them, and whoever you spoke badly about, Jahannam (the Hellfire) is an obligation for them. You are the witnesses of Allah on earth, you are the witnesses of Allah on earth, you are the witnesses of Allah on earth." And Al-Tirmithi added in his version of the Hadith: "Then the Messenger recited the Ayah "And thus we have made you an Ummatann Wasata".
Being an Ummah Wasat is also affirmed in the third part of the Ayah "…and the Messenger (be) a witness over you", which includes the present, the past and the future of the Ummah. Added to this is the Hadith of the Prophet, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, "Oh Allah, have I conveyed (the message of Islam)? Oh Allah witness (that I have)", where he made conveying Islam a pre-requisite to bearing witness, hence conveying Islam is the subject of bearing witness, which will continue until the Day of Judgment.
This meaning is further confirmed by the Ayah "And fight in Allah's Cause as you ought to fight. He has chosen you (to convey His Message), and has not laid upon you in the Deen any hardship. It is the path (Millah) of your father Ibrahim. It is He (Allah) who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (the Qur'an), that the Messenger (Muhammed) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind"
From this, we can see that these attempts to confuse the meaning of "Wasat" mentioned in the honorable Ayah by using new and strange terms related to extremism or moderation are all rejected, for they only lead to dividing the Ummah into categories that fight amongst each other, causing Fitnahs (tribulations) and civil wars. The meaning of "Wasat" in the Ayah is referring to all Muslims and all categories, and it is not permitted for any one category, group, or school of thought to monopolize it. This word is one of the firmly establishing principles of Islam, and measures must be taken to ensure that it applies to the whole of the Ummah. Describing one group or another, this can only lead to internal conflict within the Ummah, and submitting the Ummah to their enemies. Therefore, it is a duty upon all groups within the Ummah, their scholars, and their schools of thought, to restrict their definition of the word "Wasat" to "justice" alone, as was defined by the Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, and defined by the great scholars of old. Regardless of one's good or bad intentions, we must not fall into the trap of borrowing Western meanings and applying them to Islamic words by twisting them and using contrived interpretation to force them to match up.
The Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, cried when he heard a Companion reciting the Ayah "And how will it be when We bring forth from each Ummah a witness, and we bring you (oh Muhammed) as a witness on them (the Muslims)?" He said: "Hasbuk", while tears rolled down his cheeks. It was as if the Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu 'alayhi wasallam, was expecting what was to come of news of the Muslims; what they invented of Bid'ahs, what they let go to waste, what laws they transgressed, and how they caused the Muslims to become weak, losing their honorable position that is suitable for them, after the fall of their true Islamic State, the Khilafah. Their lands were torn into pathetic, weak, small countries, incapable of defending themselves against even the smallest foreign threat, and they lost the resources they needed to spread guidance and Islam to the world.
Thus, the shortest path to returning the Islamic Ummah to implementing the true meaning of "Wasat" is through their return to ruling with what Allah has revealed, resuming the Islamic way of life by re-establishing the true State of Islam, the Khilafah; only then can this honorable Ummah be described as the best Ummah, the Ummatann Wasata, the Ummah of Justice, the carrier of the true and great message of Islam to the world.
By Ahmed Al-Khateeb