The Best Ummah
"You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; ..."
Muslims for centuries rightly claimed this distinction. When the rest of the world rejected God's latest Messenger, the Muslims obeyed God and accepted Him. When the rest of the world was in the dark ages, Muslims ruled from the shores of Spain to the boarders of China, during which time, the arts and sciences flourished. and the people enjoyed an atmosphere of relative peace and justice.
Followers of other religions have claimed this same honor as well. The Jews have always called themselves "God's Chosen People". The Qur'an itself speaks of a time when this was the case:
"O Children of Israel! Remember My favour wherewith I favoured you and how I preferred you to (all) creatures."
Yet when Jesus (PBUH) came and they refused to accept him, God conferred the honor on the Christians instead:
"Behold! Allah said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute."
When Muhammad (PBUH) came in fulfillment of the promises of previous religions, to bring new life and new teachings and bring people together in unity, He was rejected by most of the followers of the earlier religions. Those who followed Him became blessed with the new distinction.
As we read the rest of verse 3:110 however, we may understand that this honor and distinction of being the best of nations, rather than being an absolute, is conditional on, or associated with a certain code of conduct:
... you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah; and if the followers of the Book had believed, it would have been better for them; of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors.
The relative nature of this statement, may be further understood in the light of other verses in the Qur'an such as:
"Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you. And We appointed the qiblah which ye formerly observed only that We might know him who followeth the messenger, from him who turneth on his heels. In truth it was a hard (test) save for those whom Allah guided. But it was not Allah's purpose that your faith should be in vain, for Allah is Full of Pity, Merciful toward mankind."
The Muslim Ummah can only continue to claim to be the best of nations if it continues to live by the teachings of God.