The following verses of the Qur’an are challenged by some ignorant people:
الم – غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ – فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ- فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ لِلَّهِ الْأَمْرُ مِن قَبْلُ وَمِن بَعْدُ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ – بِنَصْرِ اللَّهِ يَنصُرُ مَن يَشَاءُ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الرَّحِيمُ- وَعْدَ اللَّهِ لَا يُخْلِفُ اللَّهُ وَعْدَهُ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
Alif, Lam, Meem. The Romans have been defeated. In the nearest/lowest land. But they, after their defeat, will overcome. Within three to nine years. To Allah belongs the command before and after. And that day the believers will rejoice. In the victory of Allah. He gives victory to whom He wills, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful. [It is] the promise of Allah. Allah does not fail in His promise, but most of the people do not know. [Surah Ar-Rum 1-6]
The Arabic word (بِضْعِ) Bid’ sometimes translated as few refers to a time period of three to nine years.
The verses state a historical event; a battle between the Romans and Persians in a nearby land which is also the lowest land i.e. near the Dead Sea. The battle that the Qur’an mentions about the Roman defeat took place in 614 CE. The idolators of Makkah supported the Persians while the Muslims supported the people of the Book. After the verses were revealed, the companion of the Prophet (ﷺ), Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) mentioned this to the idolators, and they said, “Set a time limit for that, and if we prevail, we will get such and such; and if you prevail, you will get such and such.” So he set a limit of five years, and they (the Romans) did not prevail. Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) mentioned that to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he said:
أَلَا جَعَلْتَهَا إِلَى دُونَ أُرَاهُ قَالَ: الْعَشْرِ
Why do you not make it less than ten?
Sa`id bin Jubayr said: “Bid` means less than ten.”
The criticisms against these verses are two:
- Why did the Prophet (ﷺ) mention to increase the time period from five to 10 years after Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) lost the bet instead of before?
- The Qur’an still got it wrong as the Romans defeated the Persians in 627 CE which is 13 years after 614 CE.
Both of these arguments are flawed as we shall see below:
1. Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) did not discuss about the bet with the Prophet (ﷺ) until after five years which is when the Prophet (ﷺ) instructed him to make it less than 10 years. Moreover, Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) was an Arab along with the people whom he made a bet with and if he simply changed the number of years from five to 10 without any basis, they would have mocked him but instead they knew the meaning of Bid` (بِضْعِ) and hence they did not have any basis to make fun of Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه).
2. When the Qur’an says The Romans have been defeated, it does not speak of the overall war but rather a battle out of the many battles. The Persians had taken the offensive and appeared unbeatable. 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. This is when the Qur’an stated that after their defeat, they will overcome within three to nine years. This is again not stating that the Persians would be completely eliminated but states that the Romans would stage a comeback and defeat the Persians within 10 years. The decisive battle which unquestionably brought the Romans back in the dominant position took place in 627 CE but this is not what the Qur’an speaks of; the Qur’an speaks of the Romans overcoming and defeating the Persians in a battle before 624 CE which appeared impossible to everyone including the Romans as they had sought out unconditional peace treaties with the Persians which the latter rejected.
In 622 CE as the Prophet (ﷺ) migrated to Madinah, the Emperor Heraclius set off for Trabzon. Heraclius 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.
As Khosru had desecrated Jerusalem, Heraclius now destroyed Clorumia, the birthplace of Zoroaster and put out its sacred light. Heraclius defeated Khosru’s army in Armenia, while his brother Theodorus defeated a second army to the west. In the meantime, the Persians and their Avar allies laid siege to Constantinople in 626 CE, which failed. The last battle between the Byzantines and Persians was the battle of Nineveh, in 627 CE, which ended in a Persian defeat. Parvez fled to Ctesiphon, where he was later killed by one of his sons, Kavadh II, who later made peace with Heraclius by returning all the lands that Persia had taken from Byzantium along with the cross.
We learn that there is no error in the Qur’an and this prophecy attests to the truthfulness of the Qur’an.
Indeed, Allah knows the best.
References and Footnotes:
 This is the problem faced by many critics; they fail to understand the Qur’anic statements and compare the dates when the decisive battle took place; however, the victory started to come Rome’s way much before 627 CE and within the 10 years indicated by the Prophet (ﷺ).
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The victory was the Battle of Badr. 9 years later.