Surah Rome – The Byzantines

Introduction

The first section of the surah after a reference to Roman defeat, immediately declares a prophecy of Rome’s triumph over their foe and adds a prophecy of a great Muslim victory over their oppressors at the same time and this happened in the battle of Badr. These prophecies and victories are discussed in detail in the commentary of this section.

According to Malik Ghulam Farid in the introduction to the surah:

The dominant theme of the Surah is the defeat and discomfiture of the forces of disbelief and darkness and the rise and triumph of Islam. It states with an emphasis and certainty which dispel all doubt that the old order is about to die and a new and better one will emerge from its ruins. The Surah opens with the declaration of a prophecy about the ultimate success of the Romans over the Persians. The prophecy was made at a time when the tide of the Persian conquest was sweeping away everything before its irresistible onrush and the degradation and humiliation of the Romans had sunk to its lowest depths. It was then beyond human knowledge and ingenuity to predict that within a period ranging from three to nine years, tables would be completely turned upon the Persians, and the vanquished would become the victors. The prophecy was literally fulfilled in most extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. Its fulfilment implied another and a greater prophecy that the forces of disbelief which were then too powerful for the poor and the weak Muslims to withstand would also be put to complete rout. and Islam would march triumphantly from strength to strength.

The second section of the surah speaks of the two parties of believers and disbelievers, stating that their respective conditions will soon be reversed, the Muslims getting the upper hand.

There are five verses in section  III of this surah that begin with the expression, وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ

‘one of His signs is’:

One of His signs is that He created you from dust and—lo and behold! —you became human and scattered far and wide.

Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you that you may find peace of mind through them: He ordained love and kindness between you. There indeed are signs in this for those who reflect.

Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There surely are signs in this for those who know.

Among His signs are your sleep, by night and by day, and your seeking His bounty. There surely are signs in this for those who can hear.

Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope; that He sends water down from the sky to restore the earth to life after death. There surely are signs in this for those who use their reason.

Among His signs also is the fact that the heavens and the earth stand firm by His command. In the end, you will all emerge when He calls you from the earth.  (30:20-25)

In these verses, God has made a powerful case for being the Creator of the universe and every thing that it has to offer. In the first few verses Allah made the case for being Personal God, who is active in human history today as He was active in the creative process of this universe billions of years ago. The first creation or God’s ability to bring every thing in the heaven and the earth into existence is used here and numerous times else where in the book, as an argument for Afterlife and His power to recreate humans. In this surah first creation is also used as an argument for God’s complete power to influence our present day history, how He caused the Byzantines to prevail over the Persians and a handful and weak Muslim party overcome a powerful Makkan army at Badr. In this also lies the confidence of the Muslims that eventually the everlasting principles of Islam will prevail over other religions in as much as those are deficient. (9:32, 48:28 and 61:9) No one knows the details of future, how these prophecies will manifest exactly in decades and centuries to come. A sizeable doze of humility is necessary to understand these to some degrees, but, unfortunately, most Muslim religious and political leaders choose to indulge in rhetoric and dogmatism, depending on their agenda and needs. Here is some suggested reading for some food for thought on this theme: Rising of the Sun from the West in the Latter Days.

The surah builds to one of the most important verses of this surah, “So [Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind—there is no altering God’s creation—and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. Turn to Him alone, all of you. Be mindful of Him; keep up the prayer; do not join those who ascribe partners to God.” (30:30-31) Those who do not follow this clear message for them Allah says:

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste the fruit of some of their doings, so that they may turn back from evil. (30:41)

And:

They only know the outer surface of this present life and are heedless of the life to come.  (30:7)

Section I

30:1. Alif Lam Mim. I am Allah, the All-Knowing.

الم

30:2. The Byzantines have been defeated.

 غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ 

30:3. In the land nearby. But, they will reverse their defeat with a victory.

 فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ 

30:4. In three to nine years time: God is in command, first and last. On that day, the believers will rejoice.

 فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ ۗ لِلَّـهِ الْأَمْرُ مِن قَبْلُ وَمِن بَعْدُ ۚ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ 

30:5. At God’s help. He helps whoever He pleases: He is the Mighty, the Merciful.

 بِنَصْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ يَنصُرُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الرَّحِيمُ

30:6. This is God’s promise: God never breaks His promise, but most people do not know.

 وَعْدَ اللَّـهِ ۖ لَا يُخْلِفُ اللَّـهُ وَعْدَهُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ 

30:7. They only know the outer surface of this present life and are heedless of the life to come.

 يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ 

30:8. Have they not reflected about their own selves? God did not create the heavens and earth and everything between them without a serious purpose and an appointed time, yet many people deny that they will meet their Lord.

 أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِم ۗ مَّا خَلَقَ اللَّـهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ وَأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ۗ وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ النَّاسِ بِلِقَاءِ رَبِّهِمْ لَكَافِرُونَ 

30:9. Have they not travelled through the land and seen how their predecessors met their end? They were mightier than them: they cultivated the earth more and built more upon it. Their own messengers also came to them with manifest signs: Allah would not wrong them; they wronged themselves.

 أَوَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَيَنظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ ۚ كَانُوا أَشَدَّ مِنْهُمْ قُوَّةً وَأَثَارُوا الْأَرْضَ وَعَمَرُوهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا عَمَرُوهَا وَجَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ۖ فَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيَظْلِمَهُمْ وَلَـٰكِن كَانُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ 

30:11. Later the evildoers met a terrible end for rejecting and repeatedly mocking God’s revelations.

 ثُمَّ كَانَ عَاقِبَةَ الَّذِينَ أَسَاءُوا السُّوأَىٰ أَن كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ وَكَانُوا بِهَا يَسْتَهْزِئُونَ 

30:2-3

According to Muhammad Asad:

The defeats and victories spoken of above relate to the last phases of the centuries-long struggle between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. During the early years of the seventh century the Persians conquered parts of Syria and Anatolia, ‘the lands close-by,’ i.e., near the heartland of the Byzantine Empire; in 613 they took Damascus, and in 614, Jerusalem; Egypt fell to them in 615-16, and at the same time they laid siege to Constantinople itself. At the time of the revelation of this surah — about the seventh year before the hijrah, corresponding to 615 or 616 of the Christian era — the total destruction of the Byzantine Empire seemed imminent. The few Muslims around the Prophet were despondent on hearing the news of the utter discomfiture of the Byzantines, who were Christians and, as such, believed in the One God. The pagan Quraysh, on the other hand, sympathized with Persians who, they thought, would vindicate their own opposition to the One- God idea. When Muhammad enunciated the above Qur’an-verses predicting a Byzantine victory ‘within a few years,’ this prophecy was received with derision by the Quraysh. Now the term bid (commonly rendered as ‘a few’) denotes any number between three and ten; and, as it happened, in 622 — i.e., six or seven years after the Qur’anic prediction — the tide turned in favour of the Byzantines. In that year, Emperor Heraclius succeeded in defeating the Persians at Issus, south of the Taurus Mountains, and subsequently drove them out of Asia Minor. By 624, he carried the war into Persian territory and thus put the enemy on the defensive; and in the beginning of December, 626, the Persian armies were completely routed by the Byzantines.

According to Malik Ghulam Farid:

It is necessary to cast a cursory glance over the political conditions that obtained in the two great Empires that lay on the borders of Arabia—-the Persian and the Roman Empires—shortly before the advent of the Holy Prophet of Islam. They were at war with each other. The first round had gone in favour of the Persians whose tide of conquest began in 602 AD., when in order to avenge the death of Maurice, his patron and benefactor, at the hands of Phocas, Chosroes II, started the war with Rome. For twenty years the Roman Empire was overrun by Persian armies as it had never been before. The Persians plundered Syria and Asia Minor and in 608 A.D. advanced to Chalcedon. Damascus was taken in 613. The surrounding country on which no Persian had ever set foot since the founding of the Empire was utterly and completely laid waste. In June 614 Jerusalem was also captured. The whole of Christendom was horrified by the news that together with the Patriarch the Persians had carried off the Cross of Christ. Christianity had been humbled in the dust. The flood of Persian conquest did not stop with the capture of Jerusalem. Egypt was next conquered, Asia Minor again overrun, and the Persian armies were knocking at the very gates of Constantinople. The Romans could offer but little resistance as they were torn by internal dissensions. The humiliation of Heraclius was so complete that ‘Chosroes wanted to see him brought in chains to the foot of his throne and was not prepared to give him peace till he had abjured his crucified god and embraced the worship of the sun’ (Historians’ History of the World, vol. 7, p. 159; vol. 8, pp. 94-95 & Enc. Brit. under ‘Chosroes’ II & ‘Heraclius’). This state of affairs very much grieved the Muslims as they had much in common with the Romans who were the ‘People of the Book.’ But the Quraish of Mecca who, like the Persians, were idolaters, were glad to see in this discomfiture of Christian armies a happy augury for the overthrow and destruction of Islam. It was shortly after this complete debacle of Roman forces that in 616 A.D. came the revelation to the Holy Prophet which forms the subject-matter of the verse under comment and the two preceding verses. These verses possessed a twofold significance. They foretold, in circumstances then quite inconceivable, that the whole position would be completely reversed within the short space of eight or nine years (Bid’ meaning from three to nine years—Lane) and the erstwhile victorious Persian armies would suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the utterly defeated, prostrated and humbled Romans. The significance of the prophecy lay in the fact that, within this short period. the foundations of the ultimate triumph of Islam and that of the defeat and discomfiture of the forces of disbelief and darkness would also be firmly laid. The prophecy was fulfilled in circumstances beyond human calculation and comprehension. ‘In the midst of the Persian triumphs he (the Holy Prophet) ventured to foretell that before many years should elapse. victory would return to the banners of the Romans… At the time when this prediction is said to have been delivered, no prophecy could be more distant from its accomplishment. since the first twelve years of Heraclius announced the approaching dissolution of the Empire’ (Rise, Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, vol. 5. p. 74).

After licking his wounds for several years, Heraclius was at last able to take the field against the Persians in 622, the year of the Holy Prophet’s Hijrah to Medina. In 624 he advanced into northern Media, where he destroyed the great fire-temple of Goudzak (Gazaca) and thus avenged the destruction of Jerusalem. This happened exactly within nine years, the period foretold in the verse; and to add to its importance and significance it happened in the year when the power of the Quraish also suffered a very serious reverse in the Battle of Badr, which recalled a biblical prophecy foretelling the fading of the glory of Kedar (Isa. 21:16-17). In 627 Heraclius defeated the Persian army at Nineveh and advanced towards Ctesiphon. Chosroes fled from his favourite residence Dastgerd (near Baghdad) and, after dragging on an inglorious existence, was murdered by his own son, Siroes, on 19th February, 628, A.D.; and thus the Persian Empire, from the apparent greatness which it had reached a few years earlier sank into hopeless anarchy (Enc. Brit.).

To put these years in the perspective of the Islamic calendar, let us remind ourselves that the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, migrated to Makkah in the year 622 and the battle of Badr was fought a year later. This surah was revealed in 616 according to Malik Ghulam Farid and Muhammad Asad, as noted above.

To document the histonry between the Romans and the Persians, here is a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica online:

In 614 the Persians conquered Syria and Palestine, taking Jerusalem and what was believed to be Christ’s Cross, and in 619 occupied Egypt and Libya. In an effort to placate the Avars, Heraclius met them at Thracian Heraclea (617 or 619). They sought to capture him, and he rode madly back to Constantinople, hotly pursued. Overlooking their perfidy, he finally made peace with them and was free to take the offensive against the Persians.

In 622, clad as a penitent and bearing a sacred image of the Virgin, he left Constantinople, as prayers rose from its many sanctuaries for victory over the Persian Zoroastrians, the recovery of the Cross, and the reconquest of Jerusalem. He was, in effect, leading the first crusade. Indeed, in the ensuing hostilities, a pious poet contrasted the dancing girls in the Persian general’s tent with the psalm singers in the Emperor’s. In a brilliant campaign, he manoeuvred the Persians out of Anatolia and suggested a truce to the Persian monarch. This offer Khosrow II contemptuously rejected, referring to himself as beloved by the gods and master of the world, to Heraclius as his abject and imbecilic slave, and to Christ as incapable of saving the empire. Mindful of the propagandistic value of Khosrow’s response, Heraclius made it public.

The next two years he devoted to campaigns in Armenia, the manpower of which was vital to the empire, and to a devastating invasion of Persia. In 625 Heraclius retired to Anatolia. He had encamped on the west bank of the Sarus River when the Persian forces appeared on the opposite bank. Many of his men rushed impetuously across the bridge and were ambushed and annihilated by the enemy.

Emerging from his tent, Heraclius saw the triumphant Persians crossing the bridge. The fate of the empire hung in the balance. Seizing his sword, he ran to the bridge and struck down the Persian leader. His soldiers closed rank behind him and beat back the foe.

In 626 the Persians advanced to the Bosporus, hoping to join the Avars in an assault on the land walls of Constantinople. But the Romans sank the primitive Avar fleet that was to transport Persian units across the Bosporus and repelled the unsupported Avar assault. Heraclius again invaded Persia and in December 627, after a march across the Armenian highlands into the Tigris plain, met the Persians near the ruins of Nineveh. There, astride his renowned war-horse, he killed three Persian generals in single combat, charged into enemy ranks at the head of his troops, killed the Persian commander, and scattered the Persian host.

A month later, Heraclius entered Dastagird with its stupendous treasure. Khosrow was overthrown by his son, with whom Heraclius made peace, demanding only the return of the Cross, the captives, and conquered Roman territory. Returning to Constantinople in triumph, he was hailed as a Moses, an Alexander, a Scipio. In 630 he personally restored the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Through the fulfillment of this prophecy one begins to realize that God is All-Knowing and All-Powerful, but has also given us free will. So both human free will and God’s Providence are at play in every individual’s life and human history. Once we begin to realize this we get the right balance between an atheist, who denies the role of Providence in human history, and a complete ascetic who denies the role of free will.

30:3-5

According to Muhammad Asad:

This is a prediction of the battle of Badr, which was to take place eight or nine years later, in the month of Ramadan, 2 H. (corresponding to January, 624, of the Chris- tian era), when the Muslims decisively defeated a very much superior force of pagan Quraysh (see introductory note to surah 8). The expression ‘on that day’ has in this con- text the meaning of “at the same time,” for although the battle of Badr began and ended on one day, the victories of Heraclius over the Persians took some years to materialize.

So this surah did not contain one but two prophecies against very heavy odds. For the details of the battle of Badr, please read Surah Anfaal.

We will be only covering the first and the third section of this surah only, at least for now, so we will now proceed with the third section.

Section III

30:20. One of His signs is that He created you from dust and—lo and behold! —you became human and scattered far and wide.

 وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ إِذَا أَنتُم بَشَرٌ تَنتَشِرُونَ

30:21. Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you that you may find peace of mind through them: He ordained love and kindness between you. There indeed are signs in this for those who reflect.

 وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

30:22. Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There surely are signs in this for those who know.

 وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْعَالِمِينَ

30:23. Among His signs are your sleep, by night and by day, and your seeking His bounty. There surely are signs in this for those who can hear.

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ مَنَامُكُم بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَابْتِغَاؤُكُم مِّن فَضْلِهِ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَسْمَعُونَ 

30:24. Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope; that He sends water down from the sky to restore the earth to life after death. There surely are signs in this for those who use their reason.

 وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَيُحْيِي بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ 

30:5. Among His signs also is the fact that the heavens and the earth stand firm by His command. In the end, you will all emerge when He calls you from the earth.

 وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَن تَقُومَ السَّمَاءُ وَالْأَرْضُ بِأَمْرِهِ ۚ ثُمَّ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ دَعْوَةً مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ إِذَا أَنتُمْ تَخْرُجُونَ 

30:26. Everyone in the heavens and earth belongs to Him, and all are obedient to Him.

 وَلَهُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ كُلٌّ لَّهُ قَانِتُونَ

30:27. He is the One who originates creation and will do it again- this is even easier for Him. He is above all comparison in the heavens and earth; He is the Almighty, the One who Governs.

 وَهُوَ الَّذِي يَبْدَأُ الْخَلْقَ ثُمَّ يُعِيدُهُ وَهُوَ أَهْوَنُ عَلَيْهِ ۚ وَلَهُ الْمَثَلُ الْأَعْلَىٰ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ 

30:20-25

There are five verses in this section of the surah that begin with the expression وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ

and among His signs:

One of His signs is that He created you from dust and—lo and behold! —you became human and scattered far and wide.

Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you that you may find peace of mind through them: He ordained love and kindness between you. There indeed are signs in this for those who reflect.

Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There surely are signs in this for those who know.

Among His signs are your sleep, by night and by day, and your seeking His bounty. There surely are signs in this for those who can hear.

Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope; that He sends water down from the sky to restore the earth to life after death. There surely are signs in this for those who use their reason.

Among His signs also is the fact that the heavens and the earth stand firm by His command. In the end, you will all emerge when He calls you from the earth.  (30:20-25)

Such verses not only inspire the believers to study nature and develop science, but the Quran also uses tangible and visible to lead to intangible, and draws moral and spiritual conclusions from the study of nature. (88:18-26; 2:164-165; 3:190-194; 6:76-79)

Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times has made a collection: Cataloging 750 verses of the Holy Quran inspiring believers to study nature.

One of the best books on the theme of religion and science is by Dr. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, the Quran, and Science.

Maurice Bucaille (19 July 1920 in Pont-l’Évêque, Calvados – 17 February 1998[1]), son of Maurice and Marie (James) Bucaille,[2] was a French medical doctor, member of the French Society of Egyptology, and an author. Bucaille practiced medicine from 1945–82 and was a specialist in gastroenterology.[2] In 1973, Bucaille was appointed family physician to king Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Another of his patients at the time included members of the family of then President of EgyptAnwar Sadat.[3]

Bucaille writes that the Old Testament has been distorted (tahrif) because of numerous translations and corrections as it was transmitted orally. He highlights, in his words, “numerous disagreements and repetitions”, in the Old Testament and the Gospels. In his analysis, he states that he makes use of many propositions of biblical criticism, such as the documentary hypothesis.

Bucaille asserted in his book that since the Bible is not consistent with the modern scientific knowledge, it is not a divine scripture at all. He also claimed that every verse in the Koran is entirely consistent with modern scientific understanding, while being of divine origin. His book is available here in the PDF format: The Bible the Quran and Science.

Talking about signs of God in nature, let us also suggest some additional reading: Albert Einstein: ‘Everything is A Miracle!’

There are three more sections of this surah and we will complete the commentary of those over time.

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