BY ABU YUSUF
الٓمٓ غُلِبَتِ ٱلرُّومُ
“Alif Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated” (Ar-Rum, 30:1-2)
Most commentators of the Qur’an when explaining this verse mention that the Muslims were hoping for the Romans to be victorious over the Persians, because the Romans were people of the Book whereas the Persians were mushrikeen like Quraish.
Ibn Attiyah however, has an alternative explanation of this verse. In his Tafseer, Muharar al-Wajiz (المحرر الوجيز) he asserts that the main reason why the Muslims rejoiced on hearing of the Roman’s victory was not because the Romans were people of the book, or that their victory would prove the truthfulness of the Qur’an. It was rather from a strategic viewpoint that a victory for the Romans would be in the best interests of the Muslims. Ibn Attiyah writes, “what is closer to the truth in the matter is that Muslims wanted the weaker enemy to win, for if the greater and stronger enemy won, they would become a more formidable foe (for the Muslims in the future). Reflect on this point while you keep in mind that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ wanted his religion to reign supreme over all other nations.”
The point Ibn Attiyah is alluding to is if the Romans, who were the lesser power, came out as victors, the Muslims would benefit in two ways. Firstly, the Persian empire would become weaker, and secondly, even though the Romans would come out as victors they would have used up a lot of their resources in battling the Persians, and they too would become weaker. This would pave the way for the Muslims to defeat them in the near future, which actually occurred in a short period of time with the fall of the Byzantine empire.
In short, when the Romans came out victorious over the Persians, the way was opened for the Muslims to become a new global power, while the existing global powers were suffering a sharp decline.
This is very instructive about the mindset of the early Muslims, who had the vision to become a global power in order to carry the message of Islam to the world, and not be satisfied to live as apolitical minorities or live under the shadows of disbelieving powers.