Sunday, February 18, 2018

God’s Promises: The Miraculous Fulfillment of Prophecy in the Quran (Part II)

In this post we will look at two more examples of prophecies in the Quran that are implicit in its stories.  I put these examples together since they highlight similar themes.

2. The Defeat of Idolatry in Mecca

Sura 21, The Prophets (al- Anbiyā’), is another sura revealed towards the later years of the Meccan period, when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were a small minority persecuted for their faith and preaching against idolatry and other vices in the society of Mecca.  This sura foreshadows the demise of idolatry in Mecca:

بَلْ نَقْذِفُ بِالْحَقِّ عَلَى الْبَاطِلِ فَيَدْمَغُهُ 
فَإِذَا هُوَ زَاهِقٌ ۚ 
وَلَكُمُ الْوَيْلُ مِمَّا تَصِفُونَ

Nay, We dash the truth against falsehood and it shatters it—
and behold, it perishes!
Yours is blame for what you ascribe (to God). 

The context of this passage is the setting up of idols as partners in the worship of God.  The language of "dashing" the truth against falsehood and "smashing" it anticipates Abraham's destruction of his people's idols later in the sura.

A later passage in the sura states:

أَمْ لَهُمْ آلِهَةٌ تَمْنَعُهُم مِّن دُونِنَا ۚ 
لَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ نَصْرَ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَا هُم مِّنَّا يُصْحَبُونَ
بَلْ مَتَّعْنَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ وَآبَاءَهُمْ حَتَّىٰ طَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْعُمُرُ ۗ 
أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا ۚ أَفَهُمُ الْغَالِبُونَ
أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا ۚ 
أَفَهُمُ الْغَالِبُونَ

Do they have gods who can defend them against Us? 
They have no power to help themselves, nor can they be protected from Us.
We have allowed these sinners and their forefathers to enjoy life for a long time. But do they not see how We are shrinking their borders? 
Is it they who will prevail?[1]

This was a remarkable claim during the Meccan period, when the Quraysh were still fully in power in Mecca, and the Muslims were only a small and powerless minority group within their dominion.  Further still, the concluding section of the sura states:

وَلَقَدْ كَتَبْنَا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِن بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ 
أَنَّ الْأَرْضَ يَرِثُهَا عِبَادِيَ الصَّالِحُونَ
إِنَّ فِي هَٰذَا لَبَلَاغًا لِّقَوْمٍ عَابِدِينَ

We wrote in the Psalms, as We did in earlier Scripture: 
"My righteous servants will inherit the earth."
Truly in this there is a message for people of worship.

The middle of the sura (vv. 51-67) narrates a famous story from Jewish tradition in which a young Abraham demolishes the idols of his city temple.  He exclaims:

وَتَاللَّهِ لَأَكِيدَنَّ أَصْنَامَكُم 
بَعْدَ أَن تُوَلُّوا مُدْبِرِينَ
فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَاذًا

"By God, I shall certainly plot against your idols 
as soon as you have turned your backs!"
So he broke them all into pieces.

This sura states that God is soon going to cause the land in control of the idolatrous Quraysh of Mecca to shrink, cause God's righteous servants to inherit the land, and abolish idolatry in the Abrahamic sanctuary of Mecca. In this context, the story of the young Abraham smashing his people's idols is not merely a polemical refutation of the idolatry of the Quraysh. It is foreshadowing the destruction of the idols of the Ka'ba—an event that happened many years later, in the Conquest of Mecca.[2]

3. The Liberation of the Ka'ba Under Muhammad's Leadership

A comparable prophecy occurs a little later, within the first two years after the Prophet Muhammad and his followers emigrated to Medina.  It occurs in the final section of Sura 2, "The Cow" (al-Baqara), which prepared the Muslims for their upcoming first battle against the Quraysh, which would be the Battle of Badr.  This would be a battle in which the Muslims of Medina would be outnumbered two or threefold (see 3:13), and be severely disadvantaged in terms of manpower, arms, and resources.  This passage retells the Biblical story of Saul, albeit in a very new way that served as a parable for the new situation in Medina, in which the Prophet had been appointed the political and judicial head of the city.

وَقَالَ لَهُمْ نَبِيُّهُمْ 
إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ بَعَثَ لَكُمْ طَالُوتَ مَلِكًا ۚ 
قَالُوا أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لَهُ الْمُلْكُ عَلَيْنَا 
وَنَحْنُ أَحَقُّ بِالْمُلْكِ مِنْهُ 
وَلَمْ يُؤْتَ سَعَةً مِّنَ الْمَالِ ۚ 
قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاهُ عَلَيْكُمْ 
وَزَادَهُ بَسْطَةً فِي الْعِلْمِ وَالْجِسْمِ ۖ 
وَاللَّهُ يُؤْتِي مُلْكَهُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ 
وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

Their prophet (Samuel) said to them:  
"God has appointed Saul as a king for you."
They said,  "How can he be the king over us, 
while we are more entitled to sovereignty
and he does not have an abundance of wealth?"
He replied, "God has chosen him over you, 
and increased him in stature, knowledge, and bodily strength.
God gives sovereignty to whomever He pleases.
God is expansive and knowing."

This story reflects the fact that there were elements in the Prophet's community who had long held political ambitions in Medina, and thus harbored feelings of resentment that the Prophet—an outsider distinguished neither by wealth, prestige, or political reputation—was instead made a leader over them.  Through the story of Saul's divine selection as king, this passage implicitly responds by saying that the Prophet was chosen by God to lead and given more worthy qualities of leadership. The prophet in the story, named in the Bible as Samuel, then provides a prophecy whose fulfillment will confirm this:

وَقَالَ لَهُمْ نَبِيُّهُمْ 
إِنَّ آيَةَ مُلْكِهِ أَن يَأْتِيَكُمُ التَّابُوتُ 
فِيهِ سَكِينَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُم 
وَبَقِيَّةٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ آلُ مُوسَىٰ وَآلُ هَارُونَ
 تَحْمِلُهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ ۚ
إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

Their prophet said to them:
"A sign of his sovereignty is that that the Ark will return to you
containing tranquility from your Lord 
and relics from what was left by the families of Moses and Aaron, 
carried by angels.
Truly in that will be a sign for you if you are to have faith."

The Ark of the Covenant was for the Israelites the portable equivalent of the Ka'ba for the Muslims, before the Ark was later installed by David in Jerusalem and eventually replaced by the Temple of Solomon.  This story implies that just as a sign that God appointed Saul as king will be the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites under his military leadership, a sign that God truly chose Muhammad is that under his leadership, the Ka'ba will be liberated and restored as a symbol of Abrahamic monotheism.  The parallel is reinforced by further details of the story:

فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ 
قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ 

When [Saul] crossed [the river] with those who had kept faith,
[Those who had little faith] said, "We have no strength today against Goliath and his warriors."

This again reflects a very real situation. Those in Medina who had little faith, but only claimed to be believers in order to save face, believed that the Quraysh were far too great in manpower and resources for God to enable the Muslims to defeat them.  On the other hand:

قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّهِ 
كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ 
وَاللَّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ 
قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا 
وَانصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

Those who knew that they were going to meet their Lord said, 
"How often a small force has defeated a large army with God’s permission! 
God is with those who are steadfast."
And when they met Goliath and his warriors, 
they said, "Our Lord, pour patience on us, make us stand firm, 
and help us against the disbelievers."

The outcome was as God had promised them through his prophet:  

فَهَزَمُوهُم بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ

And so with God’s permission they defeated them.

Just as this story implied, the Muslims ended up winning the Battle of Badr.  This was a turning point, and despite certain setbacks, the Prophet and his followers would enter Mecca as peaceful conquerors in less than six years.

The Quran concludes the above narration of the story of Saul as follows:

تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ 
وَإِنَّكَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

These are signs of God, which We recite to you with truth.
No doubt you (Muhammad) are among the messengers.

[1] I have adapted some of these translations from the Quran translation of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem.
[2] I owe these observations to Mustansir Mir, “The Qur’an as Literature,” Religion & Literature 20 no. 1 (1988): 49-64, pp. 59-60.
[3] For a fuller discussion of the story of Saul in the context of Sura 2, see Nouman Ali Khan and Sharif Randhawa, Divine Speech: Exploring the Quran as Literature (Euless, TX: Bayyinah Institute, 2016), Chapter 13, “The Coherence and Structure of Sura 2, The Cow.”


  1. I wrote an article on the two promises Allah made to the Israelites...

  2. Asalamulaikum,

    While, this is impressive, one also has to keep in mind that various other books have foreshadowing along these lines as well.

    For instance, the book of isiah is commonly though to symbolically be a summary of the entire bible.

    There are 66 chapters of Isiah and 66 books in the bible.

    The first 39 books are old testament, and the first 39 chapters of the book of Isiah are a summary of the old testament, while chapters 40-66 are a summary and foreshadowing of the new testament.