A Message to the Enlightened
"Surah al Rum - The Romans"
by: Dr. Ali Shariati
In the name of Allah, the God of Muhammad, the last messenger of awareness, ability and liberty;
God of Imam Ali, the example of a true Muslim, the victim of oppression, the leader of mankind;
In the name of Allah, the creator of the house of Fatimah in whom one's hopes for freedom are placed, that small house which is as large as the universe ...
In the Name of Allah, the God of Abudhar, the example of the mustadafin, the oppressed people of the past and the present; the God of those who throughout history have suffered and experienced torture and of those who today continue to endure pain until the reappearance of the twelfth Imam Allah of those who have been deprived of worldly possessions throughout history. Although poor, they always followed the path of Ibrahim and inherited the quality of fighting to achieve freedom from the time of Adam to that of Husayn, and from the latter to eternity they will continue to struggle to save humanity;
In the Name of Allah, the God of the martyrs (shuhada) who gave their lives for the cause of truth and justice.
While waiting for the program to commence, I listened to the splendid presentation by the young man It prompted me to think about Ali's character and how enlightening it is to love him. Therein may lie the answer! If only a spark-emitting understanding of Ali's character can be ignited in this corrupt environment which has caused the deterioration of our generation, and if that spark can be caught by the hearts of our youth, the darkness of the lagoon will be overcome by love. Such an approach may yield freedom and under- standing.
Throughout the world, plots have been devised to preoccupy and destroy the young generation. Instead of being presented with the genuine justice and freedom that they need and expect, our youth are given "the freedom of sex." All areas of communication (radio, television, the press, art, etc.) are attempting to satisfy "sexual needs." On the other hand, if we would expose our youth to "Ali's school" and endow them with a flame of the everlasting fire from the quiet and abandoned house of Fatimah, we could ignite fire in them. Furthermore, our stagnating, silent and divided society would be confronted with a new ray of hope, energy, movement and aim. A bright and conscious generation could then be raised according to those principles practiced by Ali and left behind for mankind through his patience, silence, pains, and struggles.
I hope soon to see the day when the present state of affairs, which is colored by pessimism, cursing and evil-teaching perpetuated among Muslims by the enemies of Islam in order to instigate trouble between them so that they can forget the real enemy, will be transformed. Instead of wasting their energy on differences as well as accusing, cursing, humiliating, rejecting and condemning one another, all Muslims should follow the true Islamic teachings and enjoy friend- ship and understanding. I hope this day is not too far away! It will be a day when our modern university students along with those of the religious schools, hawzat, our professors along with the 'ulama, our illiterate believers along with the intellectuals, our youth along with the elderly, our modernized along with the traditionalists, our daugh- ters along with their mothers, our sons along with their fathers will all be able to sit together and defend each other in a united struggle against the plots facing Muslims. It will also be the day when Muslims enhance their knowledge of true Islam. Let us pray to witness such a day soon.
In this presentation, I will attempt to delineate a common goal and strategy which should be adopted by Muslims throughout the world. It is based on the only scripture available to Muslims, the Glorious Qur'an, whose teachings are capable of transcending all sects, divisions, and scattered factions of Muslims and simultaneously is capable of producing the re-union of Muslims and a revival of Islamic brotherhood.
To date, the Qur'an is the only document that has been safe from (major or minor) changes or distortions by the enemies of Islam. Although the internal and external enemies, which included the ruthless superpowers, the caliphs, the kings and the evil 'ulama did everything in their power to counteract or destroy the Qur'an, their attempts failed. Their fear of the Qur'an persisted until they resorted to distorting the interpretation of the Qur'an for the Muslims. Furthermore, the enemies of Islam have tried to remove the Qur'an as a frame of reference from the Muslim's way of life and pattern of thinking (even for the theology students). For those who were steadfast in their interest in the Qur'an, the enemies wholeheartedly sought to attract attention to the beauty of the cover, print or proper recitation of the Qur'an, but not to its contents.
Regardless of past plots to undermine the Qur'an or the endurance of the differences among Muslims, all Muslims of the worldyold or young, illiterate or literate, Shi'i or Sunni, Eastern or Western and from every cultural backgroundyall firmly agree that the Qur'an is the foundation of Islam. And, in spite of centuries of efforts to prevent the Qur'an from being exposed and considered, the holy book has survived and remained uncorrupted. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the conscientious Muslims to focus on reintroducing the Qur'an to the Muslim society. Where should they begin? It is highly recom- mended that concerned Muslims, wherever they may be, meet in a nearby mosque, a Husayniyah, any religious, scientific or cultural center, a city or village, an office, or even a factory, in order to establish a center for Qur'anic studies. In initiating such a project, any level of classes may be established. The ultimate goal will be to have the mosques, Husayniyah and religious gatherings concentrate on the contents of the Qur'an. However, for a better understanding of the Qur'an, attention to the traditions and history of the Prophet and his righteous followers must accompany Qur'anic study.
The holy Qur'an should always remain with Muslims to the degree that its light may pulsate and enlighten the heart. Under such circumstances, sects and differences will disappear, and unity will emerge under the shade of the Qur'an. In the final analysis, the language and arbitration of the Qur'an will cause pessimism and misunderstanding to be replaced by optimism and understanding.
Because of the occasion (the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Ali), it would be most appropriate to talk about the morals and characteristics of Imam Ali. However, as a substitute, I have decided to select a part of the Qur'anic text for discussion. My intention is not to claim that I am a qualified exegete of the Qur'an nor that I am very knowledgeable of its contents, but rather to present an example and evidence supporting the contention of those who believe that the Qur'an is alive . Such an assertion is not due to prejudice on the part of the believers but results from what is clear and observable to every Muslim or non-Muslim who is fair, conscientious and open-minded.
A study of Surah XXX of the Qur'an, al-Rum, will be made. This surah could have been revealed just today to the Muslims, so precisely does it reflect their present conditions. Furthermore, it is an unusual motivating and living message to all contemporary, responsible individuals, especially those enlightened Muslims who energetically and persistently struggle to bring knowledge and awareness to the afflicted members of their society; and regardless of frustrations and oppositions, responsible Muslims remain firm in their efforts to overcome oppression.
As already mentioned, this surah is an example used to confirm the fact that the Qur'an is always living while other things are changing. For example, some beings die while some others are born. Moreover even man's pains, needs, thoughts and fate in societies are constantly transformed. Nevertheless, the Qur'an, the word of Allah, remains constant throughout all reforms and evolutions. It is applicable to all times and places; irrespective of political, cultural, and social class the Qur'an will lead to the freedom of every conscious individual. Lastly, before pursuing the commentary on the Surah al-Rum, I wish to take this opportunity to apologize for introducing a surah of the Qur'an in the form of a lesson instead of the detailed and interpretive fashion which is the traditional practice in religious gatherings. because of time constraints, the complete text of the surah will not be discussed. Emphasis will be placed mainly on those ayat that relate to the central message of the surah. The audience is urged to study, at its convenience and with the assistance of available interpretations, the whole surah. Through undivided attention and concentration, the great meaning of the surah will be discovered. Only then will the call "to return to the Glorious Qur'an" be understood. If responsible enlightened souls in Muslim societies who are searching for a method, an ideology and a solution to the problems of their nation would return to the greatest book, they would learn the best lessons from it. They would actually feel the uniqueness and wondrous nature of the Qur'an and its teachings:
In the name of Allah, the merciful, the beneficent. Alif, Lam, Mim. The Byzantines (Romans) have been defeated in the nearer land, and they, after their defeat, will be victorious within ten years, Allah's is the command in the former case and in the latter and on that day believers will rejoice. (XXX :1-4).
These ayat are the core and the essence of the surah. The Qur'an makes a prediction of which no one is aware. It gives an accurate description of when "something" will happen. What, when and where will it be? As revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, the ayat state that the Byzantines will be victorious ten years after their defeat in the nearer land. Remember, such a prediction was not the Prophet's personal opinion; if he doubted the genuineness of the prediction, he would never have mentioned it. Consider the fact that the Prophet Muhammad did not say that the event would occur in the "near future" so that it could be interpreted as the next thirty or even hundred years (even though this is also less than a wink in comparison to the length of history). Without ambiguity, he defined the period after defeat and before victory within the range of ten years.
History attests to the validity of the prediction made in the surah. Like others throughout the Qur'an, the statement causes one to believe in pure miracles which are beyond human comprehension. Certain concepts may appear illogical, but when a phenomenon is revealed throughout the Qur'an and repeated by the Prophet, people begin to believe and admit that the Qur'an and prophet Muhammad are unique sources of knowledge.
To achieve recognition by the ordinary people, the prophets had to perform miracles, especially physical ones like those rendered by Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and all other prophets. The ability to perform miracles persuaded the illiterate people that the knowledge and power of these prophets originated from a source beyond physical reality (i.e., the unseen). An illiterate person was one who expected the Prophet to change a pebble into gold before he could believe in his prophethood. In contrast, the conscious person who commanded awareness accepted the prophets not as a result of their miracles, but rather because of the essence of their message.
An insightful believer knows the value of the Qur'an by its meaning, rhythm, phonetics and harmony of words, which are rare and very different from words used by mankind. Even without predictions or miracles, a literate and conscious individual realizes the uniqueness of the Qur'an. Consequently, the Qur'an is the greatest miracle of the Prophet Muhammad. It was sent for the time of the Prophet as well as future times when man would reach a much higher level of awareness, comprehension and logic, when he would readily acknowledge the Qur'an as the word of Allah and recognize it as the best proof of the Prophethood of Muhammad.
The early Muslims (Ali, Abudhar, 'Ammar, Salman, etc.) never demanded any miracle from the Prophet. As soon as the Prophet spoke, they recognized the merit of his message. For instance, upon returning from the desert and meeting the Prophet, Abudhar asked him about his prophethood and message. The simple reply of the Prophet convinced Abudhar that he was "the one that the living souls were awaiting." Motivated by faith and sincerity, Abudhar spent his wealth and life to support and disseminate the Prophet's message. Likewise, when at the age of eight Imam Ali (who was living with the Prophet because of his family's misfortune) saw the Prophet and his wife Khadijah praying and prostrating, he inquired about their behavior. Once again, the Prophet provided a simple response by stating that he had been chosen by Allah to address the people and make them aware of two essential principles. They were, firstly, that Allah is one and the only truth while all other gods were false, and secondly, that Muhammad was his messenger. Ali reacted strangely; he told the Prophet that he wished to consult his father. The Prophet agreed that Ali should do so. Following the dialogue, Ali immediately went to his room. He was awake all night pondering over the invitation and the message the Prophet referred to. The next morn- ing, before leaving the Prophet's home or any consultation with his father, Ali met with the Prophet and requested to be introduced to Islam. Ali explained how he had carefully thought about their discussion and concluded that since Allah did not consult Abu Talib, Ali's father, before creating him, so it was not necessary to seek his father's permission to worship Allah. Ali repeated his request that the Prophet introduce him to Islam. The Prophet fulfilled Ali's wish. Shaking the Prophet's hand, Ali pledged allegiance. The famous historian Thomas Carlyle comments: "When this small hand was placed in the strong hand of the Prophet, the path of history changed." This was how the conscious people believed: they did not expect to witness physical miracles.
And now, back to Surah al-Rum. Those who were cognizant of the surah were fascinated by its prediction, which later materialized. The defeat of the Byzantine Empire and its victory ten years later was a miracle which attested to the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad and the fact that the Qur'an was in fact Allah's word. However, does the Surah mean only to predict the future? Does it talk only about something which occurred once as a miracle and is no longer significant? Is there no other underlying message in the ayat for those who are confronted with today's corrupt conditions and who, out of a sense of responsibility toward the future, try to identify their prob- ems? Is there no other message for those enlightened souls who feel bligated to find an ideology, a communication or a way to fulfill their promises and duties toward mankind?
Can it be that the Qur'an is only a Holy Book whose predictions have been proven valid with time? Certainly not. Behind the great miracle lies a great message. It may be compared to the sunrise. When watched daily, the sunrise appears the same but, in reality, it crosses over the changes of civilizations, systems and generations. Emitting life, warmth and knowledge, the sunrise appears as if it lasts forever. Mankind needs the Qur'an as it needs sunshine, irrespective of the era in history, genealogical considerations or cultural, agricul- tural, economic and political conditions. Furthermore, the Qur'an should not be compared with the words of an author, a poet, a philosopher or a sociologist. The following discussion of Byzantium will show how the Qur'an is still very much alive. Hypothetically speaking, if today there were a prophet delegated to receive a new revelation for the Muslims, without any doubt it would be again the Surah al-Ram.
For clarifying the meaning of the Surah and the occasion when it was revealed a review of the relevant geography and history is warranted. Although the geography of the region has been altered, a look at any contemporary map of the Fertile Crescent will be of help. The regions to note are the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the cities of Mecca and Medina, and the regions of the. ancient Persian and Byzantine empires. In terms of the position of the Prophet in the scenario, he was born during 57>571 CE and became a prophet at the age of forty; the peak of his prophethood occurred around 622 CE What was the world's situation as well as the Prophet's position in 622 CE? The surah was revealed in Mecca before the Prophet migrated to Medina. At that time, the number of the Prophet's companions and followers and Muslims was minimal. Except for a few, they were all very poor and suffered torture at the hands of the non-believers. Most of the early Muslims were homeless foreigners and were alienated from the rich families and rulers of Mecca. Deprived of tribal relations, capital and the pride of wealth, they were a group of weak, unarmed and impoverished people whose faces reflected pain and suffering. Moreover, the early Muslims such as 'Ammar, Yasir and Sumayyah were exploited by the existing mas- ters, criminals, and landowners of Ta'if as well as the Quraysh caravan owners.
A black Abyssinian female slave from Mecca, Sumayyah was married to Yasir, a poor Arab who immigrated to Mecca from the desert of Yemen. Prior to his marriage, Yasir had been a poverty- stricken, homeless, and lonely man. Upon finding a job as a servant in Mecca, Yasir had asked Sumayyah to marry him and she had accepted. 'Ammar was the first product of their marriage. The family's racial ties and social class were quite obvious. Nevertheless, the three of them were among those who demonstrated interest in Islam during the first year of its proclamation. As a result, they were surely the best candidates to be tortured by their masters (the Quraysh) in order to serve as a warning to other people, lest they do the same. Everyday, Abu-Jahl, a prominent member of the ruling Meccans, took the couple and their son to the hot desert on the outskirts of Mecca where he would torture them under the burning sun until the day ended. During each torture session, Abu Jahl introduced a new torture device. His goal was to make them curse the Prophet, but Yasir, Sumayyah and 'Ammar resisted in spite of the severe torment. Abu Jahl declared he would cease the torture only if the family rejected the Prophet and his message. To show their sincerity towards the Prophet and their ardent belief in Islam, the victims patiently tolerated the torture. Poor and helpless, the Prophet was unable to protect his followers from the wrath of Abu Jahl. Although the Prophet was a member of a powerful family, he was all alone and without any means of defense. To alleviate the misery of Yasir, Sumayyah and 'Ammar, the Prophet could only go to the torture site, watch the family being tortured, and offer moral support and sympathy.