By Syed Akbar Hassan
The Qur’ān (30:2-7) says: “Defeated have been the Byzantines in the lands close-by; yet despite this their defeat, they will gain victory within a few years. All power of decision belongs to Allah before and after. And on that day the believers will rejoice in Allah’s support. He grants support to whomever He wills. He alone is Almighty, Merciful. This is Allah’s promise. Never does Allah fail to fulfil His promise; but most people do not know it. They only know the outer surface of this world’s life, whereas of the hereafter they remain unaware.”
Al-Tabari reports on Abdullah ibn Masud’s authority: “The Persians won victory against the Byzantines (Constantinople: The capital of the Byzantine Emperor as established by its first emperor, Constantine the Great. Today the city is known as Istanbul) The Arab idolaters liked that the Persians should win, while the Muslims preferred that the Byzantines should be victorious because they were followers of a monotheistic faith, which was closer to their own beliefs.
When the opening of this surah was revealed, some idolaters said to Abu Bakr: ‘Your friend says that the Byzantines will score a victory against the Persian Empire within a few years.’ He replied: ‘He speaks the truth.’ They said: ‘Will you be prepared to bet on that?’ He made a bet with them, wagering four young camels that this victory would take place within seven years. (The prohibition of betting as part of gambling was decreed much later, after the Muslim state was established in Madinah.) But seven years passed and nothing took place. The idolaters were delighted and the Muslims felt this hard. They mentioned it to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and he asked them: “How do you define the phrase ‘within a few years’ in your language?” They said: “Less than ten.” He said to Abu Bakr: “Go and increase the bet and extend the duration by two years.” The two years were not out before travellers brought the news that the Byzantines had scored a great victory against the Persians.
“All power of decision belongs to Allah before and after” refers all matters, in all situations, to Allah, the Exalted. It is a maxim that applies to all events: victory and defeat, and rise and fall of states and empires. Indeed, all that takes place anywhere in the universe is determined by Allah, Who fulfils His purpose in accordance with His wisdom. Events and changing situations are only aspects of the operation of Allah’s unrestricted will which is not subject to influence by anything or anyone. It is Allah alone who knows what lies beyond it and how it operates. Hence, the best that we can do is unhesitatingly submit to Allah’s will.
Allah’s promise was certainly fulfilled as stated, and the believers rejoiced at the victory granted by Allah. “He grants support to whomever He wills. He alone is Almighty, Merciful.” (Ayah 5) Thus the decision is His while His support is granted to whom He chooses. Both victory and defeat are the results of certain factors that work in accordance with the laws set in operation.
The Islamic faith is very logical. While it makes clear that all power of decision rests with Allah, it does not exempt us from taking the measures that are normally necessary to bring about practical results. Whether these results take effect is not part of people’s responsibility, because it ultimately belongs to Allah’s overall design. A Bedouin left his she-camel untied and went into the mosque to pray. As he entered, he said: ‘I fully rely on Allah.’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said to him: “Tie your she-camel and then rely on Allah.” (Tirmidhi) Thus, Islam makes true reliance on Allah conditional on taking all the necessary measures in any given situation, knowing that ultimately all decisions are left to Him.
The fulfilment of Allah’s promise is part of the overall universal law that is subject to no alteration. Yet, “most people do not know it,” even though they may appear to be great scientists who have a firm grasp and wide scope of knowledge. The fact is that their knowledge is superficial, related to what is apparent in life. It does not extend to basic laws and rules, and cannot comprehend their interrelations: “They only know the outer surface of this world’s life.” They cannot penetrate any deeper than this outer surface or fathom what lies beyond it. Still, this world’s life is only a small part of the great universe which is run in accordance with laws and rules operating throughout it all.
A person who cannot relate to the depths of the universe and its operative laws will inevitably fail to see even though he looks. He will only see the outer shape and movement, but will fail to recognise the wisdom behind it or interact with it. Most people fall into this category, because it is only true faith that links what appears on life’s surface with universal secrets. It is only that which gives knowledge its spirit that can look into these secrets.
People who do not understand the wisdom of creation or the law governing the universe remain unaware of the life to come. To be unaware of the hereafter makes all measures such people use inaccurate, and their values suspect. They cannot correctly appreciate life’s events and values. Their knowledge of life remains superficial. When we take the hereafter and its life into account, our perspective and the way we look at all events in this life changes. We realise that our lives on earth is but a short stage in our journey through the universe, and our lot in this present life is but a small portion of our share in the universe. We feel that all events that take place on earth are no more than a brief act in a long play on the universal stage. To base our judgement on a short stage, a small portion or a brief act is unwise and can only lead to error.
The person who believes in the life to come and takes it into account will not be able to see eye to eye on anything with someone whose cares and interests are only for this present life. So much so that they will not be able to agree in judging a single event or question. They have two different viewpoints and perspectives. One of them sees only the outer surface of this present life and the other looks at the bonds, laws and rules that are behind things, taking into account not only what we see in our world, but what lies beyond our perception, life and death, the present life and the life to come, and the universe stretching into the limitless. It is to such a great horizon that Islam wants humanity to look up. It is this broad perspective that befits man, the creature Allah has honoured when He placed him in charge of the earth.