A Quranic Prophecy against High Odds: The Roman victory against the Persians

Source: The Muslim Times, An International Blog Fostering Universal Brotherhood

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The 30th Sura of the Holy Quran, named Rome, 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. In today’s terms it would be like a Prophet making a clear prophecy, against high stakes that Russia has been humbled in the Cold War, but, would within nine years put USA to shame and come back with the fullest glory, as the sole super-power! How likely is such a prophecy to succeed?

Let me, now, quote from the commentary of the Holy Quran edited by Malik Ghulam Farid, as it comments on verse 30:5, of the Holy Quran:

In order fully to appreciate the significance of this and the preceding two verses it is necessary to cast a cursory glance over the political conditions that obtained 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 A.D., 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 this discomfiture of Christian armies a happy augury for the overthrow and destruction 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 (lsa. 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.). The fulfilment of the prophecy was so remarkable and unforeseen that prejudiced Christian writers have been hard put to it to explain it away. Rodwell says that the vowel points of the Arabic expression used in the verse were left undecided so that it would read either way, i.e.; Sayaghlibun meaning, “they will be victorious,” or Sayughlabun meaning, “they will be defeated.” He even adds that the ambiguity was intentional. The Rev. gentleman pretends not to understand this simple fact that the vowels of an expression which had been recited hundreds of times in daily Prayers and otherwise could hardly be left undecided. Mr. Wherry goes a step further. He says: ‘Our daily newspapers constantly forecast political events of this kind.’ To this futile attempt of Mr. Wherry to explain away and belittle the importance of the prophecy Gibbon’s quotation given above provides a crushing reply.

To clearly document that Christendom had indeed been revived from the claws of death and oblivion, let me quote Tom Holland,  the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, as he knowingly or unknowingly becomes a witness for one of the prophecies of the Holy Quran. He writes in his recent    book about Islam, In the shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World:

The restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem was the profoundest demonstration imaginable of the great victory that had been won in the cause of Christ. It also served as a ringing statement of Heraclius’ intent: never again would he permit the Christian empire to be pushed by its enemies to the edge of oblivion. On his approach to Jerusalem, he had made a point of stopping off in Tiberias, where he had been hosted by a wealthy Jew notorious, under the Persian occu­pation, for his persecution of the city’s churches. Asked by Heraclius why he had so mistreated the local Christians, the Jew had answered disingenuously, ‘Why, because they are the enemies of my faith.” Heraclius, grim-faced, had advised his host to accept baptism on the spot – which the Jew had prudently done. Two years later, this order was repeated on a far more universal scale. From Africa to distant Gaul, leaders across the Christian world received news of a startling imperial decision: all Jews and Samaritans were to be brought com­pulsorily to baptism. Heraclius, conscious of how close he had come to defeat, and of the debt he owed to Christ, was not prepared to take any second chances. From now on, the Roman Empire would be undilutedly, and therefore impregnably, Christian.[1]

Online version of Encyclopedia Britannica has the following to say about the reversal of fate of Heraclius, within a span of a few years:

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.[2]

Reference:

1. Tom Holland.  In the shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World.  Little Brown, 2012.  Page 295-296.

2. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/262495/Heraclius

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