Monday, April 13, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 30: The Byzantines

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn. 

The title of the 30th surah of my English translation of the Qur'an is "The Byzantines."  The actual Arabic title is "Ar-Rum" or "The Romans."  That's right--both the Bible and the Qur'an have books called "Romans."  As it turns out, the connections between Christianity and Islam run deep in this surah.

The context of "The Byzantines" is a defeat of the Eastern Roman Empire (also called Byzantium) by the Persians in 613 at the Battle of Antioch (in Syria).  The Qur'an laments this defeat because the Byzantines were Christians and fellow monotheists.  That's right--at this time, Christians and Muslims were friends and allies.  Their common "enemies" were polytheists like the Persians and Meccans.

This surah offers comfort and hope to both the defeated Byzantine Christians and the emerging Muslim community.  The prophet predicts an ultimate victory for their fellow monotheists.  The surah begins: "The Byzantines have been defeated in their nearest land.  They will reverse their defeat with a victory in a few years' time: God is in command, first and last.  On that day, the believers will rejoice at God's help."

The tone of this surah is one of encouragement and hope amidst difficult times.  The prophet reminds his audience of all the wonderful signs of God in the world: in the creation of human beings, in the "love and kindness" between spouses, in "the diversity of your languages and colors" (That's right--ethnic and cultural diversity is a sign of God's grace), in sleep, in lightning, in water, in the heavens and the earth.  In light of God's generosity and goodness, the prophet encourages generosity to "the needy, and the wayfarer." 

Like the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel, Muhammad says that God has the power to bring life out of death: "Look, then, at the imprints of God's mercy, how he restores the earth to life after death: this same God is the one who will return people to life after death; he has power over all be patient, for God's promise is true."

As it turned out, the prophet was correct.  In 622, the Byzantines rallied their forces and defeated the Persians during Heraclius' campaign of 622.  This was also the same year that Muhammad and his forces scored an unlikely victory against the Meccans at the Battle of Badr.  622 was a good year for monotheism.

Battle Between Byzantines (under Emperor Heraclius) and Persians (under Emperor Khosrau II) by Piero della Francesca.

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