The Quran is a message for all people of all time, but there are certain aspects of the Quran that the full appreciation of it will be more relatable to certain generations. For instance, the linguistic excellence of the Arabic Quran, while it can be appreciated today I don’t believe the level of appreciation even by the most studied scholar of the Arabic language can match the level of astonishment it must have had the original recipients of the Quran during the time of the prophet. This is because over 1400 years the Arabic language has evolved and the Arabic of the Quran is no longer used in common speech, so the word selection and placement will not have the same impact on someone today as it would have when it is in their own native tongue like the people of Quraish who lived 1400 years ago when it was first revealed.
Or another example of an aspects of the Quran that is probably more appreciated today than it could have been in the past is many of the scientific claims like that of describing the mountains as stabilizers. The reason is because today we are blessed with the scientific understanding of plate-tectonics and the formation and effects of mountains that was not available when the Quran was first revealed. So to hear a book describe the mountains in such a manner written 1400 years ago is truly awe inspiring. And because of this there is no doubt that there are certain aspects of the Quran that will be more appreciated years from now because of the knowledge they will have that is not available to us today.
The reason for bringing this up, is because there is a prophecy in the Quran that I think demonstrates this point. Where part of the miracle was reserved for the people who received the Quran and another part was reserved for later generations. Now 1400 years later at best what we can do is try to piece together the historical events and accounts together to try to understand the portion that was for the people of the past while marveling at the portion that was meant for the future generations.
Sura 30 of the Quran is entitled Romans (Al-Room). It is believed to be revealed in Mecca as the 84th revelation of the Quran. This will place this revelation just shortly before the Hijrah in 622 when Muhammad and the believers emigrated from Mecca to Medina marking the start of the Islamic calendar. This is because the first Sura that was revealed in Medina is believed to be Sura 2 which is considered the 87th revelation, so just two revelations after Sura 30.
Working to understand these dates is important because it will help us associate the historical events of the time when this revelation was revealed. The start of the prophecy beings in verse 2.
Notice that this verse is written in the past tense using the Arabic ghulibati / غُلِبَتِ as opposed to tagliba / تغلب. And since it has the ḍammah above the غ this informs the reader that the defeating was happening to the Romans and not that the Romans were the ones doing the defeating. So from this verse we can concur that the Roman defeat has already occurred at the time of this revelation.
This defeat is believed to be part of the Byzantine–Sassanian War of 602–628 which was the final and most devastating of the series of wars fought between the Byzantine Empire (Romans) and the Sassanian Empire of Iran. This specific defeat is believed to be discussing the Sassanian Empire conquering of Jerusalem which occurred around 614.
The historical records regarding this defeat are sparse, but obviously this was a major crushing blow to the Christian religious authority at that time. Historically, it is understood that the Jews of Jerusalem joined forces with the Persians to overtake Jerusalem. Several previous defeats by the Persians against the Romans caused weakness to the Byzantine Empire which enabled the Persians and their Jewish allies to capture Jerusalem following a three weeks siege. Ancient sources claim some 57,000 or 66,500 people were slain there, while another 35,000 were deported to Persia and presumably sold into slavery.
Upon taking over Jerusalem, it was documented that the city was burnt down. However, neither wide spread burning nor destruction of churches have been found in the archaeological record. But one thing that the Persians did do upon entry was confiscate ancient relics of the Christian faith; most notably the True Cross, which is believed to be the physical remnants from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Upon their victory the Sassanians took the True Cross to the their capital of Ctesiphon.
Verse 3 indicates that the defeat will occur in أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ. The word أَدْنَى adnā comes from the root د ن و and has the derivative meanings of near, low, or few. By adding the أَ at the beginning of the word this would make the translation as the nearest, lowest, or fewest.
Al-arḍi الْأَرْضِ throughout the Quran is translated for the most part as “the earth” as in the ground or land we live on as well as the planet Earth. Based on the context this expression could be understood as either “the nearest land” or “the lowest land.”
Since Muhammad at the time of the revelation was in Mecca it doesn’t make sense that this expression would be “the nearest land” as the defeat would have been some ~1,500km away. So a more suitable understanding is that the proper way to understand this expression is that the defeat was to occur in “the lowest land.”
When the Sassanians took over Jerusalem they didn’t just take over the city, they took over the whole region. This includes the neighboring areas as well.
One historical account of this siege states the many of the troops were stationed in the nearby city of Jericho:
“According to Antiochus Strategos, the abbot Modestos, a Catholic Patriarch at the time, set out to Jericho where he mustered a force from the Byzantine troops which were garrisoned there. However, once the Byzantine troops caught sight of the overwhelming Persian army encamped outside the city walls, they fled, fearing a suicidal battle.”
Another point of interest in the area is the Dead Sea basin. The importance of these two areas is that the Dead Sea basin is the lowest land on earth at ~414m below sea level, and Jericho as well as being the oldest city in existence it is also the lowest city on Earth at ~258m below sea level.
30:2-3 informs us that within a few years from the revelation of this prophecy in the Quran that the Romans will overcome from their defeat. When the Arabic word for “few” بِضْعِ biḍ’ʿi is used it is understood to be 3 – 9 years (inclusive). Since the prophecy happened shortly before the year 622 for this prophecy to be true the victory should have happened before the year 631.
By 622, the Roman Emperor Heraclius had assembled an army to retake the territory lost to the Sassanian Empire. The tides began to shift in favor of the Byzantine Empire after the failed siege of the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 626, led by the Persian king Khosrow II. Heraclius then allied his empire with the Turks, and started a successful counterattack deep into Persiaian heartland.
At that time, there was also internal strife within the leadership of Persian Empire. On February 25 628, the son of Khosrow II, Sheroe, captured Ctesiphon and imprisoned Khosrow II. He then proclaimed himself as shah of the Sassanian Empire and assumed the dynastic name of Kavad II. He proceeded to have all his brothers and half-brothers executed, including the heir Mardanshah, who was Khosrow’s favorite son. The murder of all his brothers, stripped the Sassanian dynasty of a future competent ruler. Three days later he ordered to have his imprisoned father executed. His sisters Boran and Azarmidokht reportedly criticized and scolded him for his barbaric actions, which made him filled with remorse. Due to Kavad’s actions, his reign is seen as a turning point in Sassanian history, and has been argued by some scholars as playing a key role in the fall of the Sassanian Empire. This led to a civil war and interregnum, a period when normal government is suspended in the empire, and caused the reversal of all Sassanian gains in the war against the Byzantines.
In 628, following the deposition of Khosrow II of Persia, Kavadh II made peace with Heraclius, but Kavadh II would only have a brief reign, as just months after declaring himself shah he died from the plague on the 6th of September, 628. The conquered city and the True Cross would remain in Sassanian hands until they were returned by the next king Shahrbaraz. Pending on the source it is believed that on either the 21st of March 630 or 629, Heraclius marched in triumph into Jerusalem with the True Cross within the window of the prophecy set in the Quran.
The Believers Rejoice
But the verse states one other thing, that the believers on the day the Romans overcome will rejoice. From a surface level reading it seems like this passage is very pro-Roman and anti-Persian, but is that how this verse should be understood? Notice that the verse does not state the the believers are rejoicing over the victory of the Romans, but just that on that day they will rejoice.
The conquest of Mecca (Arabic: فتح مكة fatḥ makkah) was the conquering of the town of Mecca by Muslims led by the prophet Muhammad some time around December 629 or January 630 CE, 10–20 Ramadan, 8 AH. The conquest marked the end of the wars between the followers of Muhammad and the Quraysh tribe.
On that date Muhammad returned to Mecca with a large number of his followers. He entered the city peacefully, and eventually all its citizens accepted Islam. The prophet cleared the idols and images out of the Kaaba and rededicated it to the worship of God alone.
While these dates cannot be validated with absolute certainty, it does appear that the victory of the believers over Mecca corresponds almost perfectly with the regaining of Jerusalem for the Romans. Because we cannot verify this with certainty I believe that this was a miracle for the people who initially received the Quran, while the understanding of the lowest land was reserved for later generations.
Expansion in the Middle East
But there was one other benefit to the believers from this conflict between the Persians and the Romans. After all these years of fighting both parties were much weaker and as the rise of Islam grew from what was considered the backwaters of Arabia it made the spreading of Islamic rule that much more achievable.
After the death of Muhammad in 632, Abu Bakr was nominated as the first khalifa of the Muslims. While Abu Bakr spent most his energy working to keep the Muslim community in Arabia from turning into feuding factions he died two years later in 634 and was succeeded by Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph, who ruled until 644. Umar found himself the ruler of a large unified state, with an organized army, and he used this as a tool to spread Islam further in the Middle East.
Umar’s early campaigns were against the Byzantine Empire. Following the decisive Battle of Yarmouk in 636, the former Byzantine states of Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon were conquered by the Muslim armies. Shortly afterwards the Muslim army attacked the Sassanid Empire in Iraq, gaining a massive victory in 637 at the Battle of Qadasiya, and gradually conquering more and more of Iraq over the next dozen years.
This conquest was made much easier by the weakness of the Sassanid Empire, which was wounded by internal conflicts and a lengthy war with the Byzantine Empire. Within a few years the Muslims had also conquered parts of Egypt to the South and Anatolia and Armenia to the North. So if it wasn’t for this long drawn out war waging back and forth between these two empires there would have been a very good chance that the Muslim expansion throughout the Middle East would have never been able to take root.