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A company
the former (people),

Sullatum minal awwaleen

Sahih International:

A [large] company of the former peoples

1 A. J. Arberry

(a throng of the ancients

2 Abdul Haleem

many from the past

3 Abdul Majid Daryabadi

A multitude from the ancients.

4 Abdullah Yusuf Ali

A number of people from those of old,

5 Abul Ala Maududi

A throng of the ancients,

6 Ahmed Ali

A number of the earlier peoples,

7 Ahmed Raza Khan

A large group from the earlier generations.

8 Ali Quli Qarai

A multitude from the former [generations]

9 Ali Ünal

A good many of them are from among the first (to have embraced God’s Religion);

10 Amatul Rahman Omar

A large party of them (will hail) from the early (believers);

11 English Literal

A group from the first/beginners.

12 Faridul Haque

A large group from the earlier generations.

13 Hamid S. Aziz

A multitude of those of old,

14 Hilali & Khan

A multitude of those (foremost) will be from the first generations (who embraced Islam).

15 Maulana Mohammad Ali

In Gardens of bliss

16 Mohammad Habib Shakir

A numerous company from among the first,

17 Mohammed Marmaduke William Pickthall

A multitude of those of old

18 Muhammad Sarwar

Many of them will be from the ancient people

19 Qaribullah & Darwish

a host of the ancients

20 Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri

A multitude of those will be from the first ones.

21 Wahiduddin Khan

a large group of the early believers,

22 Talal Itani

A throng from the ancients.

23 Tafsir jalalayn

a multitude from the former [generations] (thullatun mina'l-awwalna, the subject), that is to say, a group of individuals from communities of old,

24 Tafseer Ibn Kathir

The Reward of the Foremost in Faith

Allah states that the foremost of the close believers are a multitude, a crowd among the earlier generations and a few from the latter generations. There is a difference over the meaning of the first generations and the later generations. Some said that the former means earlier (believing) nations, while the later refers to this Ummah. This was reported from Mujahid and Al-Hasan Al-Basri, in the collection of Ibn Abi Hatim, and this is the preference of Ibn Jarir. He considered it supported by the saying of Allah's Messenger;

نَحْنُ الاْخِرُونَ السَّابِقُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَة

We are the later nation, but the foremost on the Day of Resurrection.

Ibn Jarir did not mention any other interpretation nor did he attribute this view to anyone else. There is another Hadith that could support this meaning. Imam Abu Muhammad bin Abi Hatim recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that when these Ayat were revealed,

ثُلَّةٌ مِّنَ الاَْوَّلِينَ

وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنَ الاْخِرِينَ