It seems the companions at the time of Muhammad were just as befuddled about the references of unnamed people in the Quran as everyone else. A hadith in Bukhari states:
“Narrated Abu Hurairah: While we were sitting with the Prophet Surah Al-Jumuah was revealed to him and when the verse “And He(Allah) has sent him(Muhammad) also to other(Muslims)…..(62:3)” by the Prophet, I said “Who are they O’ Allah’s Apostle?” The Prophet did not reply till I repeated my question thrice. At that time Salman Al-Farisi was with us. So Allah’s Apostle put his hand on Salman saying “If faith were at(the place of ) Ath-Thuraiya(pleiades, the highest star), even then(some men or man from these people (i.e. Salman’s folk) would attain it.” Volume 6 Book 60 Number 420
The explanation is that ‘they’ is referring to the people of Persia. This is because Salman was Farisi(Parisi i.e. Persian) and since Muhammad put his hand on Salman the inference of ‘they’ belonged to the men of Salman i.e. Persia.
What I wanna know is : 1. Why did Muhammad ignore the questioner and not answer until the third time? I’ve always noticed from hadith etc, that it is a regular habit of Muhammad to ignore people. Is he trying to stall until he and Allah can drum up an answer? 2. Why didn’t Allah just say all that in the ayah? What about all the people who would eventually recite that ayah and want to know who ‘they’ is? Ironically the next verse starts with ‘This is the Grace of Allah…”. Is it graceful to make people guess what your Kitab-ul-Hikmah(book of wisdom) means? That’s not graceful, it’s annoying.