Saturday, January 24, 2015

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man? - Part III

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?
Part III – Prophecies in the Holy Quran

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“Such are the Signs of Allah, which We rehearse to thee in Truth; then in what exposition will they believe after (rejecting) Allah and His Signs?”

-         The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Jathiyah, 45:6

This article is a continuation of our series “Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?”  In Parts I and II, we examined prophecies in the Tanakh and the New Testament, respectively.[1]  Using the same methodology outlined in those articles, we will now examine prophecies in the Holy Quran, the scripture of Islam.[2]
 
Prophecies in the Quran

            As anyone who has read the Quran will readily notice, it is not a book of prophecy per se.  In other words, unlike the Bible, the Quran does not contain many prophecies.[3]  However, that does not mean that there are no prophecies at all.  Rather, a careful reading will reveal some statements regarding the future which we can analyze using the methodology outlined in Parts I and II.

1.       Surah Al-Hijr, 15:9 –

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”

Discussion:  This prophetic statement promised that the Quran was sent down by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and that He would “guard it”.  In other words, unlike the previous scriptures (which had been allowed to be corrupted by those to whom it was entrusted), Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has stated that the Quran would not meet the same fate.  And indeed, the history of the preservation of the Quran shows that it has remained the same up to the present-day, as it was when it was first revealed.[4]  In fact, since the Quran has been memorized by millions of Muslim men and women for over 1400 years, with no differences in the words, it serves as the best and undeniable proof that it has never been changed!  And now in the modern age, with the proliferation of the internet and mass publication, there is no chance of the Quran ever being lost or corrupted.  Consequently, it is futile for unbelievers to argue that this prophecy has not been fulfilled.  There is no other option but to admit that it has come true. 

Status: Fulfilled   

2.      Surah Al-Rum, 30: 2-5 –

“The Roman Empire has been defeated- In a land close by; but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious- Within a few years. With Allah is the Decision, in the past and in the Future: on that Day shall the Believers rejoice-With the help of Allah. He helps whom He will, and He is exalted in might, most merciful.”[5]

Discussion: This is perhaps the most famous and impressive prophecy made in the Holy Quran.  At the time of its revelation, the Byzantine Empire was locked in a destructive war with the Sassanid (Persian) Empire, which lasted from 602–628 CE.  By the 12th year of the war, the Sassanians had smashed through the Byzantine armies, capturing Damascus in 613 and Jerusalem in 614.[6]  By 619, the Persians had even reached as far as Egypt.[7] 

It was in the backdrop of this epic struggle between the two empires that the Quranic verses were revealed.  This can be ascertained by the internal evidence.  The verses refer specifically to “Al-Rum” (the Romans/Byzantines) and their defeat at the hands of an unnamed enemy.   It then mentions that the defeat had occurred in “adna l-ardi”, which most translations render as “a land close by”[8] or “the nearest land”[9] or some other variation.  Given the previous reference to the Byzantines, the “defeat” in “a land close by” must therefore be referring to the disastrous loss of Syria (including the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem), which indeed was the closest land to Arabia where major battles were fought between forces of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius and the Persian emperor Khosrau.  As the Islamic scholar Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi explained:

“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.”[10]

  Up to this point, the verses are only mentioning the news of current events, but the next verse makes a prophetic statement which foretells that the Byzantines, despite their losses, would be victorious “within a few years”.  According to Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, the Arabic word بِضْعِ (bid’i) can mean “a number under ten”, a number “from three to nine” or a number “not less than three nor more than ten”.[11]  In other words, it can mean any time period between 3-10 years.  So, we can see that the Quran prophesied that the Byzantines would be victorious within 3-10 years after their losses in Syria.   And as it turned out, in 622, roughly eight years after the fall of Jerusalem and the revelation of the verse, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius led his army in major victories against the Persians.  This is how the historian Walter E. Kaegi described the celebrations after Heraclius’ stunning victory over the Sassanids between the summer and autumn of the year 622:

“Heraclius returned as victor, to the greetings of a joyous citizenry at Constantinople, and was able to enjoy the fame of having triumphed over the Persians.  That was an unusual experience for the populace, given so many Byzantine defeats.”[12]

We can see how this description by a non-Muslim historian so uncannily resembles what the Quran stated would happen!  No reasonable person could deny that the prophecy was fulfilled.

            On a side note, some Islamic scholars have also noted that the Arabic word “adna” (from “adna l-ardi”) can also mean “lowest”.[13]  Thus, it would imply that the Persian victory occurred in a land that could be interpreted as the “nearest land” or the “lowest land”.  This is significant since the Persian victories in Palestine did indeed occur in the “lowest land”.  The Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth,[14] is only 45 kilometers from Jerusalem (equivalent to 28 miles).[15]  Hence, the word “adna” is appropriate, no matter which meaning we use.

            The final part of the prophecy stated that “the believers” (i.e. the Muslims) would rejoice once the prophecy of the Byzantines’ victory had come to pass.  Some Muslim scholars, such as Dr. Shauqi Abu Khalil, have interpreted this portion of the verse as referring to the Battle of Badr, which was the first major military engagement between the Muslims and the pagans of Mecca and occurred in the year 624.[16]  Though outnumbered, the small Muslim army defeated the larger pagan army in this important engagement.  Other scholars however, such as Ibn Kathir, did not link the verse with the Battle of Badr but instead to the fact that after the prophecy was fulfilled, the Muslims rejoiced and many Meccans converted to Islam, since it was a clear sign of the Quran’s divine origin.[17]  But if the former interpretation is correct, it only adds to the Quran’s credibility, as we will now see. 

            In order for the verse to be an accurate prediction, the Battle of Badr had to coincide with Byzantine victories against Persia in that year.  We have already seen that Heraclius had turned the tide with his stunning victories two years earlier.  But as it turns out, in 624, Heraclius now set out with his army from Constantinople in order to invade Armenia.  Shortly after leaving Constantinople, Heraclius destroyed the cities of Dvin and Takht-i-Suleiman, and near the end of the year, he defeated the Persian general Shahrbaraz near the city of Arcesh, before encamping near Lake Van (in modern Turkey).[18]  Also, as Maududi notes:

“624 A.D. is the year in which the Battle of Badr was fought and the same is the year in which the Byzantine Emperor destroyed the birth-place of Zoroaster and ravaged the principal fire-temple of Iran.”[19]

Therefore, Heraclius’ victories roughly coincided with the Muslim victory at Badr in early 624 and thus, the interpretation that the verse (revealed sometime between 614 and 615, as per Maududi) was referring to the eventual Battle of Badr is found to be plausible, and shows that the verse actually contains two prophecies (that the Byzantines would be victorious around the same time that the Muslims would enjoy their first military victory over their pagan enemies).  And of course, all of this fell within the 10-year period outlined by the prophecy.

            The conclusion, based on the above analysis, is that the prophecies in Surah Al-Rum regarding the Byzantine victory over Persia were certainly fulfilled.  There can be no denying this very clear fact.  It is a stunning example of the Quran’s amazing accuracy and serves as undoubtable evidence of its divine origin.

Status: Fulfilled

3.      Surah As-Saff, 61:13 -      

“And another (favour will He bestow,) which ye do love,- help from Allah and a speedy victory. So give the Glad Tidings to the Believers.”

Discussion: In this verse, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) promised the Muslims of a “speedy victory”.  According to Maududi, Surah As-Saff was revealed shortly after the Battle of Uhud, as he stated:

“…a study of its subject-matter shows that this Surah probably was sent down in the period closely following the Battle of Uhud, for by reading between the lines perceives a clear description of the conditions that prevailed in that period.”[20]

This is confirmed by the Tafsir of Ibn Abbas, which states in the commentary on verse 2 of the same surah:

“But when they were tried in the Battle of Uhud and ran away from the battlefield, leaving the Prophet (pbuh) behind, Allah reproached them saying: why do you promise that which you cannot fulfil and why talk about that which you cannot perform?”[21]

So we can establish that the context of the surah was the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud, when the Muslim army suffered its first military defeat (a year after the victory at Badr), with at least 70 Muslims killed against between 22-37 pagan casualties.[22]  Thus, it foretold that the Muslims would soon be victorious,[23] so long as they remained faithful to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).  Indeed, the Tafsir of Ibn Abbas states that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) was promising that the Muslims would soon conquer Mecca itself.[24]

            As is well known, the Muslims did indeed conquer Mecca in 630 CE, two years after the signing of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and five years after the Battle of Uhud.  As Islamic author Dr. Ali Shehata states:

“…the Prophet was able to peacefully conquer Makkah with an army of ten thousand Muslim men as the two years of peace allowed the Message to spread far and wide in the Arabian Peninsula.”[25]

This is a fact of history, which no serious historian or scholar doubts, even the skeptical ones.  For example, the Orientalist W. Montgomery Watt wrote:

“Against considerable odds, often with narrow margins, but nearly always with sureness of touch, [Muhammad] had moved towards his goal.  If we were not convinced of the historicity of these things, few would credit that the despised Meccan prophet could re-enter his city as a triumphant conqueror.”[26]

In conclusion, the conquest of Mecca was prophesied in the Quran a few years before it actually happened, and at a time when the Muslims had suffered a defeat and were in no position to make such a claim.  To the pagans of Mecca, it would have seemed like a preposterous claim at the time (similar to the Quran’s promise that the Byzantines would defeat the Persians).   

Status: Fulfilled

Conclusion

In this article, we have examined three prophetic statements in the Holy Quran.  Unlike with our examination of the Tanakh and New Testament, which exposed false prophecies in both, the examination of the Quranic prophecies has revealed only fulfilled prophecies.  Unbelievers must seriously reconsider their a priori views about the Quran, in light of the evidence we have presented.  How could the author of the Quran have known that even after 1400 years, the text of the Quran would remain preserved (especially given the common precedent of ancient texts being edited or lost)?  How could the author have known that the Byzantines, after having suffered such humiliating losses against the Persians, would turn the tide and be victorious in the end?  How could the author have known that the Muslims, despite facing immeasurable odds, would rise to defeat their enemies and conquer Mecca?  Perhaps the author may have gotten lucky once or perhaps even twice or thrice, but as the odds are very low indeed, it seems quite clear that luck had nothing to do with the fulfillment of the three prophecies.[27]  Rather, as the Quranic verse mentioned at the beginning of the article states:

“Such are the Signs of Allah, which We rehearse to thee in Truth…”

Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) invites to the truth by providing undeniable signs and unbelievers are urged to respond to His call.  And Allah knows best!


[2] All translations are from the Yusuf Ali translation, unless noted otherwise.

[3] As we will see in Part IV, prophecies concerning future events are found in abundance in the Ahadith, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  The Quran, on the other hand, is more concerned with teaching mankind the message of Islam.  The element of prophecy was largely left to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to tell his followers in his day-to-day dealings with them, who then preserved these sayings by passing them from generation to generation, both as oral and written traditions.

[4] This issue has already been discussed in a previous article: http://quranandbible.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-history-of-bible-and-quran.html.

[5] The Arabic word “Al-Rum” (الرُّومُ) refers to the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire), and has been variously translated as “the Romans” or the “Roman Empire”.

[6] Ali Shehata, Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century (Sanford: Elysium River Press, 2007), p. 115.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

[9] Saheeh International.


However, a hadith in Sahih Tirmidhi reports that the verses had been revealed on the day of the Battle of Badr, which would have been after the battles involving the Byzantine and Persian armies had already occurred.  But this hadith is not reliable as Islamic writer Deena El Shamy explains (emphasis in the original):

“One of the narrators of this hadith is Attia Al-Oufy, who is considered weak and undependable by all Islamic scholars. Hence, this hadith should not be used to support any argument. Moreover, this hadith contradicts the undisputable classification of Suart [sic] Ar-Rum as Makkan, meaning that it was revealed prior to Prophet Muhammad's migration to Madinah in 622 A.D.” (http://www.onislam.net/english/health-and-science/faith-and-the-sciences/464520-the-fulfilled-prophecy-of-surat-ar-rum.html?the_Sciences=).

See here for the hadith in question: http://sunnah.com/urn/642220.

Besides the fact that this hadith is unreliable, there is another hadith in Sahih Tirmidhi which states that the verses had been revealed much earlier than the Battle of Badr.  In fact, the hadith describes how Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) had made a bet with the pagans of Mecca to see whether the prophecy would come true!  See here for this hadith: http://sunnah.com/urn/642240.

Finally, the best indication that the verses were revealed in Mecca, and not after the migration to Medina is in the fact that had it been the latter, then there would have been no reason for the verses to say that the Byzantines would be victorious in “bid’i” years (see the explanation of the meaning of this word in the main discussion).  Instead, we would expect that the verses would have simply stated the exact number of years that had gone by since the initial defeat of the Byzantines.

[12] Walter E. Kaegi, Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium (Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2003), p. 118.

[13] Shauqi Abu Khalil, Atlas of the Qur’an: Places.  Nations.  Landmarks, First Edition (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2003), p. 200.
[16] Abu Khalil, op. cit., p. 200.

Classical scholars like Ibn Abbas, Abu Said al-Khudri, and others also shared this view as explained by Maududi:


Indeed, in the previously-mentioned hadith from Sahih Tirmidhi which describes how Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) had made a bet with the pagan Meccans, it is specifically stated that many people had converted to Islam after the fulfillment of the prophecy!

[18] Kaegi, op. cit., p. 325.

[22] Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2002), p. 339.

[23] One can see a similarity between this prophecy and the one made about the Byzantines.  In both cases, the party concerned had suffered a defeat, yet the Quran promised that both would be victorious in the near future.    


In fact, in a later surah (revealed shortly after the Treaty of Hudabiyah in the year 628), the promise was made again, but this time, it was specifically mentioned that the Muslims would conquer Mecca:

“Truly did Allah fulfil the vision for His Messenger: ye shall enter the Sacred Mosque, if Allah wills, with minds secure, heads shaved, hair cut short, and without fear. For He knew what ye knew not, and He granted, besides this, a speedy victory.” (Surah Al-Fath, 48:27)

[25] Shehata, op. cit., p. 116.

[26] W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 207.

[27] Furthermore, as we will see in Part IV, the “luck” hypothesis is even further degraded in the fact of the fulfillment of even more prophecies found in the authentic ahadith.  The fulfillment of so many prophecies simply cannot be explained by appealing to chance. 

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