The Surah takes its name Ar-Rum from the second verse in which
the words ghulibat-ir-Rum have occurred.
Period of Revelation
The period of the revelation of this Surah is determined absolutely
by the historical event that has been mentioned at the outset.
It says: "The Romans have been vanquished in the neighboring
land."In those days the Byzantine occupied territories adjacent
to Arabia were Jordan, Syria and Palestine, and in these territories
the Romans were completely overpowered by the Iranians in 615
A. D. Therefore, it can be said with absolute certainty that
this Surah was sent down in the same year, and this was the
year in which the migration to Habash took place.
The prediction made in the initial verses of this Surah is
one of the most outstanding evidences of the Quran's being
the Word of Allah and the Holy Prophet Muhammad's being a true
Messenger of Allah. Let us have a look at the historical background
relevant to the verses.
Eight years before the Holy Prophet's advent as a Prophet the
Byzantine Emperor Maurice was overthrown by Phocus, who captured
the throne and became king. Phocus first got the Emperor's
five sons executed in front of him, and then got the Emperor
also 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. The event provided Khusrau Parvez, the Sassanid
king of Iran; a good moral excuse to attack Byzantium. For
Emperor Maurice had been his benefactor; with his help he had
got the throne of Iran. Therefore, he declared that he would
avenge his godfather's and his children's murder upon Phocus,
So, he started war against Byzantium in 603 A. D. and within
a few years, putting the Phocus armies to rout in succession,
he reached Edessa (modern, Urfa) in Asia Minor, on the one
hand, 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,
Heraclius, to Constantinople with a strong fleet. Phocus was
immediately deposed and Heraclius made emperor. He treated
Phocus as he had treated Maurice. This happened in 610 A. D.,
the year the Holy Prophet was appointed to 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 the Jews who enlisted in Khusrau's army rose up to
Heraclius could not stop this storm. The very first news that
he received from the East after ascending the throne was that
of the Iranian occupation of Antioch. After this Damascus fell
in 613 A. D. Then in 614 A.D. the Iranians occupying Jerusalem
played havoc with the Christian world. Ninety thousand Christians
were massacred and the Holy Sepulcher was desecrated.
The Original Cross on which, according to the Christian belief,
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 Heraclius from Jerusalem. He wrote: "From Khusrau, the greatest
of all gods, the master of the whole world : To Heraclius,
his most wretched and most stupid servant: 'You say that you
have trust in your Lord. why didn't then your Lord save Jerusalem
Within a year after this victory the Iranian armies over-ran
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 A. D., a substantial number of the
Muslims had to leave their homes and take refuge with the Christian
kingdom of Habash, which was an ally of the Byzantine Empire.
In those days the Sassanid victories against Byzantium were
the talk of the town, and the pagans of Makkah were delighted
and were taunting the Muslims to the effect: "Look the fire
worshipers of Iran are winning victories and the Christian
believers in Revelation and Prophethood are being routed everywhere.
Likewise, we, the idol worshipers of Arabia, will exterminate
you and your religion."
These were the conditions when this Surah of the Quran 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 the 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 other, the Romans were losing more and more ground every
next day. By 619 A. D. the whole of Egypt had passed into Sassanid
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 A. D. they captured Chalcedon (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 Quran, the conditions
were such that no one could even imagine that the Byzantine
Empire would ever gain an upper hand over Iran. Not to speak
of gaining domination, no one could hope that the Empire, under
the circumstances, would even survive.
In 622 A. D. as the Holy Prophet migrated to Madinah, the Emperor
Heraclius set off quietly for Trabzon from Constantinople via
the Black Sea and started preparations to attack Iran from
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. Heraclius started his counter
attack in 623 A. D. from Armenia. Next year, in 624 A. D.,
he entered Azerbaijan and destroyed Clorumia, the birthplace
of Zoroaster, and ravaged the principal fire temple of Iran.
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 mushriks. 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 Iranians hard and
in the decisive battle at Nineveh (627 A.D.) they dealt them
the hardest blow. They captured the royal residence of Dastagerd,
and then pressing forward reached right opposite to Ctesiphon,
capital of Iran in those days. In 628 A. D. 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 the prison. This was the year when the peace treaty of Hudaibiya
was concluded, which the Quran 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 Byzantium. In 628 A. D., the Emperor himself
went to Jerusalem to install the "Holy Cross" in its place,
and in the same year the Holy Prophet entered Makkah for the
first time after the Hijrah to perform the `Umra-tul-Qada'.
After this no one could have any doubt about the truth of the
prophecy of the Quran, with the result that most of the Arab
polytheists accepted Islam. The heirs of Ubayy bin Khalaf lost
their bet and had to give a hundred camels to Hadrat Abu Bakr
Siddiq. He took them before the Holy 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 Shari`ah;
now it was forbidden. Therefore, the bet was allowed to be
accepted from the belligerent disbelievers, but instruction
given that it should be given away in charity and should not
be brought in personal use.
Theme and Subject matter
The discourse begins with the theme that the Romans have been
overcome and the people the world over think that the empire
is about to collapse, but the fact is that within a few years
the tables will be turned and the vanquished will again become
This introductory theme contains the great truth that man is
accustomed to seeing only what is apparent and superficial.
That which is behind the apparent and superficial he does not
know. When in the petty matters of life, this habit to see
only the apparent and superficial can lead man to misunderstandings
and miscalculations, and when he is liable to make wrong estimates
only due to lack of knowledge about "what will happen tomorrow",
how stupendous will be his error if he risks his whole life-activity
by placing reliance only upon what is visible and apparent
with respect to his worldly life as a whole.
In this connection, the Signs of the universe which have been
presented as evidence to prove the doctrine of the Hereafter
arc precisely the same which support the doctrine of Tauhid.
Therefore from verse 28 onward, the discourse turns to the
affirmation of Tauhid and the refutation of shirk, and it is
stressed that the natural way of life for man is none else
but to serve One God exclusively. Shirk is opposed to the nature
of the universe as to the nature of man. Therefore, whenever
man has adopted this deviation, chaos has resulted. Again here,
an allusion has been made to the great chaos that had gripped
the world on account of the war between the two major powers
of the time, and it has been indicated that this chaos too,
is the result of shirk, and all the nations who were ever involved
in mischief and chaos in the history of mankind were also mushriks.
In conclusion, a parable has been presented to make the people
understand that just as dead earth comes to life, all of a
sudden, by a shower of rain sent by God and swells with vegetation
and plant life, so is the case with the dead humanity. When
God sends a shower of His mercy in the form of Revelation and
Prophethood, it also gives a new life to mankind and causes
it to grow and develop and flourish. Therefore: "If you take
full advantage of this opportunity, the barren land of Arabia
will bloom by Allah's mercy and the whole advantage will be
your. But if you do not take advantage of it, you will harm
only your selves. Then no regret will avail and no opportunity
will be provided to make amends."