Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.
Why the best of communities?
The Holy Qur’an has, in different verses, given several reason for declaring the Ummah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the best Ummah, the most important of which has appeared in Surah al Baqarah, that is:
And in the same way We made you a moderate Ummah
(community). (2: 143)
A detailed explanation of this verse can be seen in Volume I of this
commentary. This portion deals with the major reason why the
ummah of Muhammad (pbuh) has been called the best of human
communities. There it has been pointed out that moderation is its
great characteristic and that it is visible in all department of its collective life.
In this particular verse, another reason has been given. The reason
is that this community has been raised for the sole purpose of
dispensing good to all beings created by Allah. It has been actually
charged with the function of remaining concerned with their spiritual
and moral reformation. Seen in the perspective of past communities, it
was this community which contributed most in the mission of ‘bidding
the Fair and forbidding the Unfair’, even though this was already
enjoined upon past communities as mentioned in authentic ahadith.
However, to begin with, several past communities did not have Jihad
as a religious obligation, in which case, the mission of ‘bidding the
Fair’ could only be carried out by heart and tongue only. Available
with the followers of Muhammad (pbuh) is a third option of
‘bidding the Fair’, that of the power of the hand, which also includes
all sorts of Jihad. Then, the enforcement of Islamic laws through the
agency of the government is also a part of it. In the case of other
communities, distinguishing features of religion were gradually obliterated by general inertia. The obligation of amr bi l’ma’ruf the ordained mission of bidding the Fair, also stood totally forsaken.
As far as this Ummah of his is concerned, the Messenger of Allah (S) made
In this Ummah, there shall be right through the day of Doom,
a group of people which will remain firm and stick to (the task
of) bidding the Fair and forbidding the Unfair.
The second distinguishing feature of this community is that they
‘believe in Allah’. At this point one may ask why should this
be a distinguishing feature of the Muslim community as belief in Allah
has been the common factor between all past prophets and their
communities. The answer is clear. No doubt, belief as such is common
to all, but the degrees of perfection in belief differ. The degree of preference given to the community of Muhammad (S) has a class of its own as compared to past communities.
Towards the end of the verse, it has been said about the people of
the Book that there are some Muslims among them. This refers to
those who had confirmed the prophethood of our Holy Prophet (S) such
as, Sayyidna ‘Abdullah ibn Salam and others.
Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .2 surah 3 pg. 158-160). English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-2.pdf (islamicweblibrary.com)