“The Best Nation ever Raised up: A Tafsir of Qur’an 3:110”

A Tafsir of Qur’an 3:110:

“The Best Nation Raised up…”


Allah states in the Qur’an al-Karim: {you are best nation raised up for humankind. You command right and forbid wrong and you believe in Allah. If only the People of the Book believed, then that would have been something good for them. Some of them are believers amongst them but most are defiantly disobedient}. The Qur’an commentators have interpreted the verse as follows:

[A] The word “kuntum” although here in the past tense, has been explained to mean:

[1] it is a complete verb (tamma) – and so does not need a predicate (khabr) – to give the meaning of something being present, existent or found at some point in time, e.g. ‘you were created as the best nation’, ‘you were found to be the best nation’ or ‘you were known in the knowledge of Allah as the best nation’, etc.[1]

[2] it refers to the present tense ‘you are’ (antum);[2]

[3] it is synonymous with the verb ‘you became’ (sara).[3]

[4] it is superfluous (za’ida, i.e. extra) as in Q. 7:86 and 8:26.[4]

[5] it may refer to the future tense, i.e. ‘you will be the best nation’ as in Q.16:1.[5]

[B] The word “umma” in the verse has been interpreted to mean:

[1] those who migrated from Mecca to Medina;[6]

[2] those who migrated with the Prophet.[7]

[3] the companions of the Prophet;[8]

[4] Ibn Mas`ud, Salim the freed slave of Abu Hudhayfa, Ubayy Ibn Ka`b and Mu`adh Ibn Jabal because the verse came down when they were in discussions with certain Jews who claimed they were the best people with the best religion.

[5] way, path and method (tariqa) and[9]

[6] “it is addressed to the Prophet’s companions but refers generally to the entire umma.”[10]

[7] the participants of Badr.

The Muslim exegetes explain the immediate audience as being the Companions (sahaba) but the reference extends to all generations of the Prophet’s nation who can partake in and share the description of they emulate the Companions.

[C] By “you command right and forbid wrong”[11] is meant:

[1] to call to belief (iman) and forbidding disbelief (e.g. shirk);[12]

[2] to call to all that the sharia has commanded and to forbid all that the sharia has forbidden;[13]

[3] to call to obedience to Allah and forbid disobedience to Him;[14]

The prevalence of non-Islamic systems in the Muslim world with dictators at the helm backed by interested Western powers with designs on the region make establishing the ma`rufat (whatever the Shariah commands) all the more vital and necessary. Engaging in establishing the ma`ruf is thus necessary to receive the rank of being the best nation.


  • The umma is the best of people for the people. They have been distinguished with many favours such as:[15]

أَنْتُمْ تُوَفُّون سَبْعِينَ أُمَّةً، أَنْتُمْ خَيْرُهَا، وَأَنْتُمْ أَكْرَمُ عَلَى اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَل

نَحْنُ الْآخِرُونَ الْأَوَّلُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ، نَحْنُ أَوَّلُ النَّاسِ دُخُولًا الْجَنَّــةَ، بَيْدَ أَنَّهُمْ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِنَا وَأُوتِينَاهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِمْ، فَهَدَانَا اللهُ لِمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الْحَقِّ، فَهَذَا الْيَوْمُ الَّذِي اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ، النَّاسُ لَنَا فِيهِ تَبَعٌ، غَدًا لِلْيَهُودِ، وَلِلنَّصَارَى بَعْدَ غَد

«إِنِّي لَأَرْجُو أَنْ يَكُونَ مَنْ يَتَّبِعُنِي مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ رُبُعَ الْجَنَّــة»قال: فكبرنا، ثم قال:«أَرْجُو أَنْ يَكُونُوا ثُلُثَ النَّاس»قال: فكبرنا، ثم قال: «أَرْجُو أَنْ تَكُونُوا الشَّطْر»

(i) the foremost on the day of Judgment,

(ii) the first to enter Paradise;

(iii) given the Truth that previous nations have been arguing and disputing over;

(iv) over half of Paradise will be full of this umma.

(v) made the best nation.

  • The goodness, greatness, and blessing in the umma from the first generation has not ceased but will continue in all the successive generations by Allah’s permission, grace and favour so long as the conditions are fulfilled (see point below).[16]
  • The only way to be deserving of the lofty description “best nation” (khayra umma) is if the three actions mentioned in the verse are upheld otherwise abandoning these actions is a means to ruin and Allah’s chastisement – hence the verse is conditional.[17] The three actions are: (i) commanding right; (ii) forbidding wrong and (iii) having true belief in Allah. Emulating the generation of the Companions is what will earn the later generations their dignity, honour, blessing and acceptance to Allah. This is the point Sayyiduna `Umar Ibn al-Khattab (ra) stressed when addressing the Muslims during one of his Hajj: “[…] whoever acts following your footsteps, then they will be like you…”[18]

 وقال عمر بن الخطاب في تأويل قوله: { كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ } قال: من فعل مثل فعلِكم كان مثلكم

  • Following any other example or generation is not what will grant honour, dignity and blessings to the present generations. Following any other system, model of action, way of life or value system is a sure path to failure.
  • The immediate referents of “umma” in the verse are the blessed Companions of the Prophet. They were mentioned because of their unparalleled sacrifice, struggle and determination in holding fast on to Islam among their own disbelieving people. In this, they suffered the harshest estrangement and alienation (ghuraba’).[19] The later generations also suffered estrangement and alienation in their establishing Islam in life, holding on to it by implementing it, being patient in their obedience to Allah even amidst the corruption, sedition, difficulty and extreme pressures they faced.[20] Likewise, the umma today will also suffer this feeling of difference, alienation and estrangement as she attempts to re-establish sharia in life once again since the official absence of the Khilafah in 1924. In her attempt, she will be fully opposed, thwarted, attacked, maligned and ridiculed without end. This is the ultimate struggle.
  • The Umma should be thankful to Allah for being part of the best nation, the one that is blessed and promised the loftiest rank among all nations. Her khayriyya (goodness) is secured by Allah (swt).


[1] al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf, 1:352.

[2] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 8:189.

[3] Ibid., 8:189-190.

[4] Ibid., 8:190.

[5] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 2:16.

[6] al-Tabari, al-Jami` al-Bayan, 7:100-101.

[7] Ibid., 7:101.

[8] Ibid., 7:101-102.

[9] Ibid., 7:106:

وقال آخرون معنى ذلك: كنتـم خير أهل طريقة، وقال: الأمة: الطريقة.

[10] al-Tabarsi, Majma` al-Bayan, 2:363:

وقيل هو خطاب للصحابة ولكنّه يعمّ سائرالامة

al-Baghawi, Ma`alim al-Tanzil, 1:341:

وقيل: هم أمّة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم

[11] For more on the concept of commanding right and forbidding wrong, refer to the following posts:

[12] al-Tabari, al-Jami` al-Bayan, 7:105.

[13] Ibid., 7:105. “Belief” (iman) must be complete and comprehensive and not aspects of it otherwise that would not amount to sound iman. See al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf, 1:352.

[14] al-Tabarsi, Majma` al-Bayan, 2:363.

[15] Taken form Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an, 2:94-104.

[16] The umma of the Prophet is the best umma ever to emerge or appear on this earth. This is established linguistically where the noun in the indefinite form when annexed to a superlative denotes generality. See Ibn `Ashur, al-Tahrir wa’l-Tanwir, 4:50:

والمراد بأمة عموم الأمم كلها على ما هو المعروف في إضافة أفعل التفضيل إلى النكرة أن تكون للجنس فتفيد الاستغراق

[17] al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 4:164:

الثالثة: قوله تعالىٰ: { تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنْكَرِ } مدح هذه الأمّة ما أقاموا ذلك وٱتصفوا به. فإذا تركوا التغيير وتَواطَئوا على المنكر زال عنهم اسم المدح ولحقهم ٱسم الذَّمِّ، وكان ذلك سبباً لهلاكهم. وقد تقدّم الكلام في الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر في أوّل السورة

[18] Ibid., 4:163.

[19] For an analysis of the various hadiths on the ghuraba’, their description and qualities, see the post https://daralnicosia.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/blessed-are-the-strangers_kitab-al-nafsiyya/

[20] al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 1:164:

وقد قيل في توجيه أحاديث هذا الباب: إن قرنه إنما فُضِّل لأنهم كانوا غُرَبَاء في إيمانهم لكثرة الكفار وصبرِهم على أذاهم وتمسكهم بدينهم، وإن أواخر هذه الأمّة إذا أقاموا الدِّين وتمسّكوا به وصبروا على طاعة ربهم في حين ظهور الشر والفسق والهَرَج والمعاصي والكبائر كانوا عند ذلك أيضاً غُرَبَاء، وزكت أعمالهم في ذلك الوقت كما زَكَتْ أعمال أوائلهم


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