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Surat Ar-Rūm (The Romans)

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    Period of Revelation:

    This Surah was revealed in 615 CE, the year when the Romans were complete by overpowered by the Persians, during the time of the Prophet's residence at Makkah. This was the same year in which the Prophet gave permission to the oppressed Muslims to migrate to Habsha.

    Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • The Roman's (Christian's) defeat at the hands of Persians (pagans) was considered by Makkan's a sign of the Muslim's defeat at the hands of Arab unbelievers.

    • Prophecy of the Roman's victory against Persians and the Muslims victory against the disbelievers.

    • Allah has originated the creation and He will resurrect the dead for final judgement.

    • Creation of Man, his Consort, Heaven, Earth, Language, Colors, Sleep, Quest for work, Lightning, Rain and Growth of vegetation - all are signs from Allah.

    • Wrongdoers are those who are led by their own desires without real knowledge.

    • True Faith vs. Sects and shirk.

    • Commandment to give relatives their due and take care of the poor and travellers in need.

    • Mischief in the land is due to Man's own misdeeds.

    • Allah tells the Prophet: "O Prophet! You can not make the dead hear you."?

    Condition of Human Society at that time:

                 The prediction made in the initial verses of this Surah is one of the most outstanding evidences of the Qur'an being the Word of Allah. Research scholar Abul A'la Maududi narrated the historical background relevant to this Surah as follows:

    "Eight years before the Prophet's advent as a Prophet, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice was overthrown by Phocus, who captured the throne and became king. Phocus first had the Emperor's five sons executed in front of him, and then had the Emperor killed and hung their heads in a thoroughfare in Constantinople. A few days after this, he had the empress and her three daughters also put to death. This event provided Khusrau Parvez, the Sassani king of Persia; a good moral excuse to attack Byzantine. Emperor Maurice had been his benefactor; with his help he had got the throne of Persia. Therefore, he declared that he would avenge his godfather's and his children's murder upon Phocus. So, he started a war against the Byzantine in 603 CE and within a few years, putting the Phocus armies to rout in succession, he reached Edessa (presently known as Urfa) in Asia Minor, on the one front, and Aleppo and Antioch in Syria, on the other. When the Byzantine ministers saw that Phocus could not save the country, they sought the African governor's help, who sent his son, Hercules, to Constantinople with a strong fleet. Phocus was immediately deposed and Hercules was made emperor. He treated Phocus as he had treated Maurice. This happened in 610 CE, the year the Prophet was appointed to the Prophethood.

    The moral excuse for which Khusrau Parvez had started the war was no more valid after the deposition and death of Phocus. Had the object of his war really been to avenge the murder of his ally on Phocus for his cruelty, he would have come to terms with the new Emperor after the death of Phocus. But he continued the war, and gave it the color of a crusade between Zoroastrianism and Christianity. The sympathies of the Christian sects (i. e. Nestorians and Jacobians, etc.) which had been excommunicated by the Roman ecclesiastical authority and tyrannized for years also went with the Magian (Zoroastrian) invaders, and the Jews also joined hands with them; so much so that the number of Jews who enlisted in Khusrau's army rose to 26,000.

    Hercules could not stop this storm. The very first news that he received from the East after ascending the throne was that of the Persian's occupation of Antioch. After this, Damascus fell in 613 CE. Then in 614, the Persians occupying Jerusalem, played havoc with the Christian world. Ninety thousand Christians were massacred and the Holy Sepulchre was desecrated. The Original Cross on which, according to Christian beliefs, Jesus had died, was seized and carried to Mada'in. The chief priest Zacharia was taken prisoner and all the important churches of the city were destroyed. How puffed up was Khusrau Parvez at this victory can be judged from the letter that he wrote to Hercules from Jerusalem. He wrote: "From Khusrau, the greatest of all gods, the master of the whole world: To Hercules, his most wretched and most stupid servant: You say that you have trust in your Lord. Why didn't then your Lord save Jerusalem from me?"

    Within a year after this victory, the Persian armies overran Jordan, Palestine and the whole of the Sinai Peninsula and reached the frontiers of Egypt. In those very days, another conflict of a far greater historical consequence was going on in Makkah. The believers in One God, under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him), were fighting for their existence against the followers of shirk under the command of the chiefs of the Quraish, and the conflict had reached such a stage that in 615 CE, a substantial number of the Muslims had to leave their homes and take refuge with the Christian kingdom of Habsha, which was an ally of the Byzantine Empire. In those days the Sassani victories against Byzantine were the talk of the town, and the pagans of Makkah were delighted and were taunting the Muslims to the effect: "Look the fire worshippers of Persia are winning victories and the Christian believers in Revelation and Prophethood are being routed everywhere. Likewise, we, the idol worshippers of Arabia, will exterminate you and your religion."

    These were the conditions when this Surah of the Qur'an was sent down, and in it, a prediction was made, saying: "The Romans have been vanquished in the neighboring land and within a few years after their defeat, they shall be victorious. And it will be the day when the believers will rejoice in the victory granted by Allah." It contained not one but two predictions: First, the Romans shall be Victorious; and second, the Muslims also shall win a victory at the same time. Apparently, there was not a remote chance of the fulfillment of either prediction in the next few years. On the one hand, there were a handful of the Muslims, who were being beaten and tortured in Makkah, and even till eight years after this prediction there appeared no chance of their victory and domination. On the contrary, the Romans were losing more and more ground every day. By 619 CE the whole of Egypt had passed into Sassani hands and the Magian armies had reached as far as Tripoli. In Asia Minor they beat and pushed back the Romans to Bosporus, and in 617 CE they captured Chalcedony (modern, Kadikoy) just opposite Constantinople. The Emperor sent an envoy to Khusrau, praying that he was ready to have peace on any terms, but he replied, "I shall not give protection to the emperor until he is brought in chains before me and gives up obedience to his crucified god and adopts submission to the fire god." At last, the Emperor became so depressed by defeat that he decided to leave Constantinople and shift to Carthage (modern, Tunis). In short, as the British historian Gibbon says, even seven to eight years after this prediction of the Qur'an, the conditions were such that no one could even imagine that the Byzantine Empire would ever gain an upper hand over Persia, not to speak of gaining domination. No one could hope that the Empire, under the circumstances, would even survive.

    When these verses of the Qur'an were sent down, the disbelievers of Makkah made great fun of them, and Ubayy bin Khalaf bet Sayyiduna Abu Bakr ten camels that the Romans would not be victorious within three years. When the Prophet came to know of the bet, he said, "The Qur'an has used the words bid-i-sineen, and the word bid in Arabic applies to a number up to ten. Therefore, make the bet for ten years and increase the number of camels to one hundred." So, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr spoke to Ubayy again and bet a hundred camels for ten years.

    In 622 CE, when the Prophet migrated to Madinah, the Emperor Hercules set off quietly for Trabzon from Constantinople via the Black Sea and started preparations to attack Persia from the rear. For this he asked the Church for money, and Pope Sergius lent him the Church collections on interest, in a bid to save Christianity from Zoroastrianism. Hercules started his counter attack in 623 CE from Armenia. Next year, in 624 CE, he entered Azerbaijan and destroyed Clorumia, the birthplace of Zoroaster, and ravaged the principal fire temple of Persia. Great are the powers of Allah, this was the very year when the Muslims achieved a decisive victory at Badr for the first time against the mushrikeen (Quraish). Thus, both the predictions made in Surah Rum were fulfilled simultaneously within the stipulated period of ten years.

    The Byzantine forces continued to press the Persians hard and in the decisive battle at Nineveh, (627 CE) they dealt them the hardest blow. They captured the royal residence of Dast-Gerd, and then pressing forward, reached right opposite to Ctesiphon, which was the capital of Persia in those days. In 628 CE, in an internal revolt, Khusrau Parvez was imprisoned and 18 of his sons were executed in front of him and a few days later, he himself died in prison. This was the year when the peace treaty of Hudaibiyah was concluded, which the Qur'an has termed as "the supreme victory," and in this very year Khusrau's son, Qubad II, gave up all the occupied Roman territories, restored the True Cross and made peace with Byzantine. In 628 CE, the Emperor himself went to Jerusalem to instal the "Cross" in its place, and in the same year the Prophet entered Makkah for the first time after the Hijrah to perform the Umrah-tul-Q'adah.

    After this, no one could have any doubt about the truth of the prophecy of the Qur'an, with the result that most of the Arab polytheists accepted Islam. The heirs of Ubayy bin Khalaf lost their bet and had to give one hundred camels to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr Siddeeq. He took them before the Prophet, who ordered that they be given away in charity, because the bet had been made at a time when gambling had not yet been forbidden by the Qur'an; but now it had been forbidden. Therefore, the bet was allowed to be accepted from the belligerent disbelievers, but instructed to be given away in charity and should not be brought in personal use."

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    In defining the relationship between Islam and Chris- tianity, one notices that the Qur’an never obfuscates or compromises on the principle of taw^Ïd, absolute monotheism. God is but one, with no offspring or ancestry; He is unique and undivided, nor is He made up of several elements. To refer to God as the Father and the Son, all rolled into one, is totally unacceptable. The Qur’an asserts: “God is but one God” (al-Nis¥’: 171).

    This statement essentially means that the second and third ele- ments of “God,” were they to exist, would not be divine, but created mortals. The Qur’an states:

    Say, “Are you asking me to worship someone else other than God, you ignorant people?” It has been revealed to you and those before you that if you were to associate others with God your actions shall come to nothing and you will be a loser. Rather you should wor- ship God and remain grateful to Him. (al-Zumar: 64‒66)

    These are all Makkan verses, indicating that Islam was very clear on the Trinity issue right from the outset. Nevertheless, politically and historically, Islam proceeded to maintain amicable relations with Christendom. When persecuted and harassed by the Arabs of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad advised his followers to emigrate to Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, which was then a Christian land. They went there professing that Jesus and his mother were ordinary pious human beings.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    The defeat of the Byzantine Christians at the hands of the Persians, in Syria in 615 ac, heartened the idolatrous Arabs, but was met with sadness and grief by the Muslims. It was quite an extensive defeat in which the Byzantine Christians had lost Egypt, the Yemen and the whole of Mesopotamia, and paid a heavy and humiliating price. The world was convinced that it was the end of the Romans who no longer had a future as a world power.

    The only exception to this viewpoint was to be found in the Qur’an. At Makkah, it boldly declared that the defeat would be short-lived. It said:

    The Byzantines have been defeated in the near lands, but after their defeat, they shall prevail within a few years. God has control over things before and after. On that day believers will enjoy victory from God, who supports whom He will. He is Powerful and Merciful. This is a firm promise from God who never breaks His promises, even though most people are not aware of it. (2‒6)

    The Qur’an directly challenges the conventional wisdom of the time and, in no uncertain terms, affirms that within a few years things would change completely. This prophecy was fulfilled and vindica- ted by events on the ground. The irony is that some Christians, instead of applauding Islam’s stance, had claimed that Muhammad had only made that declaration because of his hatred of the Persians. They refused to accept the prophecy as proof of Muhammad’s cre- dentials as a genuine prophet commissioned by God.

    Christians are seen as being closer to adopting monotheism, as advocated by Islam, than other religious groups. This has been borne out in history, as large communities of Christians converted to Islam during the Muslim conquests of the early centuries. Com- mon sense had prevailed as people abandoned the self-contradictory teachings of some Christian doctrines and opened their hearts and minds to the pristine teachings of Islam.

    surah 30 • Al-R‰m

    The basic qualities of the sound human nature (Arabic: al-fi~rah) are expounded in al-A¢r¥f, but they receive a more extensive treat- ment in this one. It declares that Islam is the religion of sound common sense and wholesome human nature. It moves in harmony with free thinking, in pursuit of the truth, without prejudice or pre- disposition. The surah urges Prophet Muhammad, saying:

    Therefore stand firm in your devotion to the true Faith, the natural and upright Faith which God created humankind to embrace ins- tinctively. God’s design should not be altered. This is the right religion, although most people do not realize it. (30)

    God, as the object of veneration and worship, is above all abuse. He is glorious and praiseworthy, and humans, jinns and angels should submit and surrender to Him alone. He has no equal or matching rival anywhere in the whole universe. The surah says: “Glory be to God in the evening and the morning. Praise be to Him in the heavens and the earth, at twilight and at noon” (17‒18).

    Taw^Ïd is also a purifying belief. It purges the faith of the influen- ces of polytheism and idolatry. It identifies God as the supreme power to whom all else submit and against whom no one dares to rebel.

    The surah says: “He brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living, and He puts life back into the earth after it had been lifeless. Likewise you shall be raised to life” (19).

    God has willed that life in this world shall be an occasion to test human beings. They shall then die, and after a certain pre-deter- mined time they shall be brought back to life to account for their actions during the period spent in this world. To help people lead a righteous life and find their way to Him, God has set up numerous signs all over the universe as witness to His existence and power. The surah draws our attention to seven of them:

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    1. One of His signs is that He has created you from dust, and made you into human beings, dispersed everywhere. (20)
    • One of His signs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, so that you may seek peace and comfort with them. He has planted affection and mercy between you and them. In this there are signs for people who think. (21)
    • One of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors. In this are signs for all intelligent men. (22)
    • One of His signs is that you sleep by night, and by day also seek His bounty. In this there are signs for those who listen. (23)
    • One of His signs is that He sends lightning flashing before your eyes, inspiring you with fear and hope; He sends down water from the sky to revive the soil after it had been lifeless. In this there are signs for those who understand. (24)
    • One of His signs is that the heavens and the earth exist by His will and command, and that whenever He summons you, you shall immediately come out of the ground. (25)
    • One of His signs is that He sends the winds as bearers of good tidings, to let you have a taste of His mercy, and so that ships may sail by His command and you may gratefully seek His bounty. (46)

    The Qur’an urges the pursuit of knowledge in order to enhance faith and eradicate the poison of skepticism and agnostic tendencies. Nevertheless, there will always be people who would “appreciate only the outer facade of worldly life, but of the life to come they are heedless” (7).

    surah 30 • Al-R‰m

    This type of person is widely familiar in today’s society, the main reason being the marginalization of God’s revelation due to the incompetence of its inheritors and their inability to promote and deliver its message to the rest of the world. Materialistic philosophies and ideologies dominate man’s thinking today but they have failed to satisfy his intellectual curiosity or fulfill the demands of human nature.

    A healthy human person would recognize God and be ever drawn towards Him. Even when distracted he would endeavor to return to the proper track. However, human beings are liable to be overcome by selfishness, dissension, and negligence and thrown off course, but the Qur’an would not leave them to their own devices.

    On the contrary, the Qur’an repeatedly calls on human beings to return to their pristine human nature. It says:

    Turn to God and fear Him. Observe the prayer [salah] and do not be of those who take partners with God; those who broke up their religion and were split into sects, each being self-satisfied and com- placent in their own beliefs. (31–32)

    Dissension is a human characteristic induced by the desire for self-expression and dominance, and is often associated with pride and complacency. It occurs among religious as well as secular communities and groups. It is a phenomenon known throughout human history, past and present. However, this should not be confused with differences and disagreements arising from the exercise of ijtihad by scholars, experts, and practitioners of Islamic law, or among the various schools of fiqh which have emerged within Islam.

    Differences of interpretation should not necessarily lead to rancor and division. Those who adopt differing approaches and formulate divergent views on matters which are open to debate should be cred- ited for their efforts, whether their conclusions are right or wrong.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Taking such legitimate differences further by fuelling schism, fac- tionalism, and dissension can only lead to weakness and destruction.

    In an extended passage, the surah dwells on the crucial effects of good and bad fortune on individuals and communities. At times of crisis, people may become closer to God, but as soon as the ordeal is over, many forget and deny God’s grace.

    When misfortune befalls human beings, they turn in prayer to their Lord, meek and repentant. But when He then gives them a taste of His mercy some of them take up other gods besides their Lord. They show no gratitude for what We have bestowed upon them. Enjoy yourselves awhile; you will come to know the truth. (33–34)

    This could only be repugnant neglect or shameful treachery. When blessed with good fortune, some people take it for granted and neglect to use it for a good purpose, but as soon as they are dis- advantaged, through ill-health or decline of wealth, they fall into despair and lose hope completely. They feel they have lost some- thing which is theirs by right, forgetting that the apportionment of fortune is up to God Almighty. The surah says:

    When We give people a taste of mercy, they rejoice in it; but when misfortune befalls them through their own fault, they grow despon- dent. Do they not know that God grants abundant sustenance to whom He wills and can also withhold it? Surely there are signs in this for true believers! (36–37)

    Human beings are required to show gratitude for the good they receive and perseverance during times of hardship. They should accept God’s judgment willingly and behave towards others accord- ingly. God says:

    Therefore give the near of kin, the destitute and the traveler in need

    surah 30 • Al-R‰m

    what is due to them, respectively. That is best for those striving to please God; such people will surely prosper. (38)

    Poverty and wealth have been the scourge of humankind since life began. The drive for capital accumulation in a world of finite resources together with the political realities of today’s modern soci- eties is causing extraordinary pressures to be placed upon them such that humanity is being pulled apart in extreme directions not only by an inevitable class struggle but by volatile forces beyond its control. The surah continues:

    Corruption occurs on land and sea in consequence of people’s mis- deeds. God has ordained it so that they may have a taste of the fruit of their own works and perchance desist. (41)

    Fraternity, cooperation, and mutual kindness, induced by faith in God, are the best safeguards against the arrogance of wealth and the degradation of poverty. The surah urges Prophet Muhammad and all humankind with him:

    Therefore turn firmly towards the true faith before the day, prede- termined by God, arrives and no one will be able to delay it. On that Day, mankind shall be split into two camps. The unbelievers will bear the consequences of their unbelief, while the righteous would have made goodly provision for themselves. (43–44)

    Within this context, the surah goes on to talk about the peren- nial struggle between right and wrong, belief and unbelief. As Muhammad had embarked on delivering God’s message, and was facing up to the obstacles created by his enemies, the surah told him: “We sent before you apostles to their people, and they showed them veritable signs, but We took vengeance on the offenders, while it was our duty to support the true believers” (47).

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    With this clear assurance, how can the Muslims, who account for over one fifth of the world population, sustain all these military, cul- tural, and moral setbacks and humiliations? Why have they come to this low point?

    The fact is that Muslims have been acting in contravention of the basic laws of human nature and society. They have all but lost their unity, civilized comportment, and self-confidence. In contrast to many other societies, Muslims appear the more lethargic and back- ward. The solidarity brought about by Islam has been fading away and remains mostly superficial. Such a community would hardly merit promotion and support. In ancient history God scattered the Israelites and made them subservient to idolatrous communities. False and hollow faith does not earn God’s succor, but things could change; the more the Muslims improve their lot the sooner they would meet with that elusive victory.

    Muslim societies today are the archetype of political, economic, and social chaos and confusion. Success would not come to such a disorganized and fragmented nation. But Islam shall endure.

    This surah contains a most profound statement asserting that Islam will endure until the end of time, and that it would do so through a community of human beings who would uphold and defend it. It says: “Those who have been given knowledge and faith will say, ‘You [humankind] have lived, as God ordained, till the Day of Resurrection. Today is the Day of Resurrection, but you had no knowledge of it’” (56).

    The Muslim nation will, therefore, endure for as long as mankind exists in this world. Its setbacks will be temporary. We ought to be certain that, as the nation upholding God’s final message, ours shall ultimately prevail, and this thought should spur us on to consolidate our resources, resume our prominent position in the world and restore our nation’s former glory.

    That would be a most appropriate ending for humankind’s existence on earth, as the surah’s closing statement to Prophet

    surah 30 • Al-R‰m

    Muhammad seems to suggest: “Therefore have patience. God’s promise is true. Let not those who disbelieve drive you to despair” (60). Perseverance is required to sustain victory, and cultivate and nurture its dividends.

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    الم

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    غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ

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    فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ

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

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    بِنَصْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ يَنصُرُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الرَّحِيمُ

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    وَعْدَ اللَّهِ ۖ لَا يُخْلِفُ اللَّهُ وَعْدَهُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

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    يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ

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

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    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 اللَّهُ لِيَظْلِمَهُمْ وَلَٰكِن كَانُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ

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