Prophecies of the Holy Quran: Roman defeat followed by victory

Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam
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Surah ar-Rum, the chapter undoubtedly revealed in Mecca, unveils a magnificent prophecy that clearly  shows how the Holy Quran was revealed from the Divine. The most reliable sources place Surah ar-Rum to be revealed in the 6th or 7th year of the Prophet Muhammad’ssa mission. (Five Volume Commentary, Volume 4, p. 2494) This coincided with the peak of the Persian conquest.

In the aforementioned Surah, we read:

“The Romans have been defeated, In the land nearby, and they, after their defeat, will be victorious. In a few years — Allah’s is the command before and after [that] — and on that day the believers will rejoice, With the help of Allah. He helps whom He pleases; and He is the Mighty, the Merciful. Allah has made this promise. Allah breaks not His promise, but most men know not.” (Surah ar-Rum, Ch.30: V.3-7)

These verses of the Holy Quran begin by alluding to a historic occurrence that took place in the time of the Holy Prophetsa. “The Romans have been defeated, In the land nearby,” is interpreted, widely, as the Persians’ victory over the Byzantine (Roman) Empire during the early 7th century.

The words “the land nearby” refer to the countries in close proximity to Arabia, that is Palestine, Jordan and Syria. (Haqaiq-ul-Furqan, Vol.3, p. 348) It is well-established that the Persian and Roman Empires bordered the Arabian Peninsula.

The defeat of the Romans carried immense significance during that era, stirring unease among the Muslims. This feeling of unease stemmed from the fact that the Romans were regarded as “People of the Book,” meaning they were Christians, and their defeat was seen as a potential “loss” to the monotheistic religions. The disbelievers of Mecca were content – or jubilant as some sources indicate – that the Persians defeated the Romans because they themselves practised idolatry. In contrast, the Muslims desired for the Romans to overcome the Persians because the Romans were considered “People of the Book.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab tafsiri l-Qquran ‘an rasulillahsa, Hadith 3193) The Romans, being followers of the Book, suffered defeat at the hands of the fire-worshipping Persians. (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, Ch.30: V.2)

The Meccan disbelievers rejoiced at the Byzantine defeat and taunted the Muslims, saying that they would defeat the Muslims, just as the Persians defeated the Byzantines. (Ibid.Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Ch.30: V.2) In fact, it is said that they expressed that since Muslims held a revealed scripture and the People of the Book also adhere to a book, they – the disbelievers of Mecca – in contrast, do not submit to a revealed scripture. Moreover, they pointed to the Persians’ victory over the Byzantines as evidence and argued that if they, the disbelievers of Mecca, were ever to engage in conflict with the Muslims, they too would emerge victorious. (Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi, Ch.30: V.2)

The Holy Quran then goes on to say that after their defeat, they, that is the Romans, will be victorious. It further states that their victory shall come “In a few years” and also states that “on that day the believers will rejoice.”

For context, let us consider the circumstances of that time. This prophecy was made prior to the Prophet’ssa migration to Medina;  6th-7th year following his being commissioned. Persecution against Muslims had reached its peak. Despite the Holy Prophetsa demonstrating various miracles such as the miracle of Shaqq-ul-Qamar, the disbelievers of Mecca, bent in their ways, not wanting to put his message behind them and move on, continued their persecution and even resorted to a boycott. The deaths of Hazrat Khadijahra and Hazrat Abu Talib had occurred. Abu Talib was the uncle of Prophet Muhammadsa who held a high station amongst the chiefs of Mecca. One can only imagine the reaction of the Meccan leaders who believed, with the demise of Abu Talib, there were no restraints left, and they could now intensify their persecution, even targeting the Holy Prophetsa himself.

We must remember that the disbelievers of Mecca would openly declare that the Holy Quran was – God forbid – authored by Muhammadsa and not revealed by God. With such an objection, it goes against logic for a person to make a statement or prophecy of an incident which seemed very unlikely to materialise. For if the prophecy did not come true, the mission of such a one would be questioned. However, as the Holy Quran was revealed by Allah, and the Holy Prophetsa was a true prophet, such a claim was made with no fear.

The prophecy, wager, and divine timing

Hazrat Abu Bakrra mentioned the prophecy of Surah ar-Rum to the disbelievers of Mecca, who then challenged him to set a timeframe for its fulfilment. They laughed and mocked the revelation and said, “Make a wager between us and you; if we win, we shall get this and that, and if you win, you shall get this or that.” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Kitab tafsiri l-quran ‘an rasulillahsa, Hadith 3193) In other words, they made a wager and established a timeframe.

The terms were negotiated between Hazrat Abu Bakrra and the Quraish leaders, involving a few camels and a specified period of six years. We also read that Abu Bakr al-Siddiqra placed a wager of ten camels against Ubayy Ibn Khalaf al-Jumahi. (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, Ch.30: V.2) When the Holy Prophetsa learned of this arrangement, he said, “Setting a six-year period is not appropriate. Allah the Exalted has employed the phrase ‘three to nine years’ when referring to a designated time, in accordance with the customary Arabic idiom. (Seal of the Prophets – Volume I, p. 292)

It must be remembered – keeping in mind Arabic grammar and lexicon – that the word or the term بضع alludes to numbers between 3 and 9. Thus, when we say بضع رجال, though it means a few men, it literally means from three to nine men.

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, in light of this incident, writes:

“The Meccans took the victory of the Persians as a good omen indicating their own ultimate triumph over Muslims. On this occasion the Holy Prophetsa received the revelation that the Romans had been vanquished in a neighbouring land but within nine years of their defeat they would again be victorious (30:3-5); the word occurring in the verse, viz. بضع expresses a number from three to nine. When this revelation was announced among the Meccans they laughed and jeered at the Muslims.” (Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran, p. 274; Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 1, p. ccxcix)

Background and the Prophetic fulfilment: Heraclius, Chosroes II, and the reversal of empires

Prior to the advent of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula was bordered by two major empires, namely: the Persian Empire and the Roman Empire. Both these empires were engaged in a long-standing war, with the Persians gaining the upper hand initially.

The Persian conquest began in 602 AD by Chosroes II as a response to the death of his ally, Maurice. Over two decades, Persian armies invaded and plundered Roman territories such as Syria and Asia Minor. Then, in 614 AD, the Persians captured Jerusalem, an event that shook the Christian world as they took, it is said, the cross of Christ. Subsequently, the Persian conquest continued into Egypt and Asia Minor, threatening Constantinople. The Roman Empire struggled due to internal conflicts. Heraclius, the Roman Emperor, was humiliated, and the Persian King Chosroes II, who initiated the war against Rome, demanded that they convert to sun worship, further diminishing the standing of Christianity. (Five Volume Commentary, Vol.4, p. 2498)

Naturally, Muslims were troubled by this situation because they had religious ties with the Romans, who were people of the book, believing in monotheism. Then, around 616 AD, Prophet Muhammadsa received a revelation that predicted a reversal of fortunes within a relatively short period (بضع), where the defeated Romans would achieve victory over the victorious Persians. Through the divine revelation and word of God, within nine years, exactly as foretold, the Roman Emperor Heraclius managed to defeat the Persians, leading to the collapse of the once-mighty Persian Empire, avenging the loss of Jerusalem and restoring the Roman Empire’s strength.

“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’ssa Migration to Medina. In 624, he advanced into northern Media, where he destroyed the great fire temple of Gandzak (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.” (Ibid.)

Chosroes fled Dastgerd, his beloved home near Baghdad, and eventually met an inglorious end, murdered by his own son, Siroes, on February 19, 628 AD. This marked the Persian Empire’s decline from its previous greatness to utter chaos. (Ibid.)

Muslims found great joy when news reached them about the fulfilment of the prophecy, which they learned on the same day as the Battle of Badr when Gabrielas revealed this information. This joy was in addition to their celebration of victory over the idolaters on that very day. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Ch.30: V.5) Thus, the words “and on that day the believers will rejoice,” contain a hint to the fact that the Muslims will also find victory.

Thus, no man, unless divinely inspired, can make such a claim. How is it that a man in Arabia foretold the victory of an empire that, at the time, their chance of surviving seemed impossible? This can only mean that the Holy Prophetsa was a true prophet of God who received revelations from the divine.

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