Tabataba'i 1 explains the expression "Ila ummatin ma 'dudah" in this verse and gives several meanings from different mufassirin :
1- The word umma means "time"
2- It is also possible that "umma" means "community", and in this case the meaning of the verse would be "and if we delay the punishment of the nonbelievers until the arrival of a limited community, they would say: why that punishment did not appear?" "Limited community" would refer to the believers (mu 'minin), since God promised that one day He would grant this religion to a virtuous community, a community that would never consider anything above the religion of God, and whenever these people are gathered
1 Al-Mizan, Vol.10, p.217
together and ready, God would establish for them the religion that is pleasing to them, as it appears in the Qur'an 5: 54; O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things, 1 and in the Qur'an 24: 55; Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion - the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived), to one of security and peace: 'They will worship Me (alone) and not associate aught with Me. 'If any do reject Faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked. 2 And this view is acceptable.
3- Some of the commentators said that the word "Umma" means "community" but a community that would arrive after
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the non-believers, and would be even worse than the preceding one, and the members of this community would persist in their blasphemy and lack of belief. At that time, God would trap them in his punishment, just like he did at the time of the prophet Nuh.
4- Others said that the word "Umma" conveys the meaning of "community" but a community that will come after the present infidels and that will persist in sinning against God to the extent that the Day of Judgement will come because of its members.
However, these last two versions are weak and incorrect because they rely on a false foundation, which is that those punished are the future non-believers and not the ones discussed in the verse.
Tabataba'i then reports from the TO* of al-Nu'mani who, according to his own source from Ishaaq ibn `Abd al-`Aziz who himself reported from Imam al-Sadiq who said regarding this verse: "The meaning of punishment and penalty (`athaab) is the reappearance of the Mahdi and "Ummatin ma 'dudah" means the Companions of Badr and those who participated in that battle." 1 The writer adds that this last meaning is also reported by al-Kulayni in his Kafi and Qummi and `Ayyashi in
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their Tafsir works from Imam Ali, Imam al-Baqir and Imam al-Sadiq.
Finally, he mentions that in the Majma' al-Bayan, it is reported that some commentators said that "Ummatin Ma'dudah" refers to the Companions of the Mahdi who number just over three hundred and ten, the same number as the Companions of Badr, and who will gather around him on the day of his reappearance within an hour, in the same way as the clouds in autumn gather. It is said that this meaning was reported from Imam Abi Ja'far and Abi `Abdillah.