The thirtieth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Romans,” is about the people of Rome. The Roman people are shown in three ways. As the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, which was engaged in an epic war against Persia at the time of the writing of this chapter. As Rome (Babylon), the archetypical counterpart to Jerusalem in holiness. Andas the Church that is in Rome, written to by Paul in his epistle, and (at the time of this writing) nearing completion in its attack against the Arian heretics that are the QUr’anic author’s spiritual fathers.
A reading, from the First Book of Maccabees:
May all go well with the Romans and with the nation of the Jews at sea and on land forever, and may sword and enemy be far from them. If war comes first to Rome or to any of their allies in all their dominion, the nation of the Jews shall act as their allies wholeheartedly, as the occasion may indicate to them.
To the enemy that makes war they shall not give or supply grain, arms, money, or ships, just as Rome has decided; and they shall keep their obligations without receiving any return.
In the same way, if war comes first to the nation of the Jews, the Romans shall willingly act as their allies, as the occasion may indicate to them. And to their enemies there shall not be given grain, arms, money, or ships, just as Rome has decided; and they shall keep these obligations and do so without deceit.
Thus on these terms the Romans make a treaty with the Jewish people. If after these terms are in effect both parties shall determine to add or delete anything, they shall do so at their discretion, and any addition or deletion that they may make shall be valid.
1 Macabees 8:23-30
A song, from the Psalms:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
A reading, from the Letter ot the Romans:
To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish — hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
A reading, from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
A Qur’anic Homily
The Trials of the Romans
The City of Man and the City of God. Zion and Babylon. Jerusalem and Rome,. This earth and God’s Heaven. One practicing usury and serving Mammon, the other giving alms and serving the Lord:
What you give in usury in order that it may increase people’s wealth does not increase with God. But what you pay as alms seeking God’s pleasure — it is they who Will be given a manifold increase.
But the Qur’anic author rejects dualism. The City of Man, Babylon, Rome, may be fallen, but she will be redeemed.
The Romans have been vanquished in a nearby territory, but after their defeat they will be victorious in a few years. All command belongs to God, before this and hereafter, and on that day the faithful will rejoice on that day Qur’an 30:2-4
There are at least three levels of meaning in the thirtieth chapter of the Qur’an, The Romans (Al-Rum). The Romans (called by this time in English, “The Byzantines”) were a geostrategic superpower in the process of an apocalyptic war against the Persian Empire. There’s the allegorical meaning of Rome as the prototypical City of Man. And a later meaning, still used by Christians to this day: the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
The day the Hour sets in, they will be divided on that day: As for those who have faith and do righteous deeds, they shall be in a garden, rejoicing. But as for those who were faithful and denied Our signs and the encounter of the Hereafter, they will be brought to the punishment.
Signs on the Road from Rome to Jerusalem
When this chapter was written the (Roman) Catholic Church approaching total victory in its destruction of the Arian heresy (the belief that the Son of God was the perfect created being). Yet the Qur’anic author, whose sympathies are clearly with the Arians whose apostolic succession is now broken, still sees the signs from God pointing the faithful home.
Some of these signs are intimate. Consider the Qur’ans take on marriage. While the Qur’an rejects mediation as actually effective, here the author portrays marriage as a calling and as a sign pointing to God:
And of His signs is that He created for you mates from your own selves that you may take comfort in them, and He ordained affection and mercy between you. There are indeed signs in that for a people who reflect.
Likewise, God creates sins visible in public:
Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your languages and colors. There are indeed signs in that for those who know.
The Qur’anic author would reject that either spouse is an image of God, but rather the comfort, affection, and mercy of a spouse is an image of the comfort, affect, and mercy of God.
And of His signs is that the Heavens and the earth stand by His command, and then, when He calls you forth from the earth, behold, you will come forth.
To Him belongs whoever is in the heavens and the earth. All are obedient to Him.
The success of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the writing of the Qur’an was a crisis. The Pope stood at the apex of a universal communion, whose only earthly challenger (the Church of the East)(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_East) based in Persia, stood hand-in-hand with the Pope in condemning Arianism. But the rise and fall of all things, even the Papacy, is the work of God, in its time.
It is He who originates the creation, and then He will bring it back — and that is more simple for Him. His is the loftiest description in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise.
This is an important point of difference between Qur’anic and Catholic thought. Catholics look for images of God in things — when we are as Christ to one another, or “sub-creators” in the literary sense. But the Qur’anic message is to look for signs pointing towards God, signs on the road from Rome to Jerusalem. Stars are not images of God, but in their submission to astronomical rules represent the order provided by God. Spouses are not images of God, but in their submission, to marital love, they image the mercy and care of God. In conclusion, writes the Qur’anic author,
He draws for you an example from yourselves: Do you have among your slaves any partners in what We have provided you, so that you are equal in its respect, and you reverse them as yo reverse one another? Thus do We elaborate the signs for people who exercise their reason.
Catholics tend to believe in chains, networks, or “communions” or intercession. The Qur’anic author denies this and stresses the functional nature of relationships. Starshine might be images of the light, but stars are not images of God, and marital relations may be images of comfort, but wives are not images of God. To say otherwise, according to the Qur’anic author, is like stating that a slave or a tool is an image of the master of a house.
The rise of the Papacy at the time was a season, the Qur’anic author seems to write. It will not always have such jurisdiction in the Near East. In that, at least, the author was right.
How a Roman can Live in Jerusalem
It is by grace all rise. The Pope is not an image of Christ on earth, not “another Christ” to the Qur’anic author. Rather, the action of the papacy — the winds and storm that blew away the Arian bishops — are the working of God.
The Qur’anic author rejects a communion of mediation, but instead portrays God’s will as cascading through creation:
It is God who sends the winds. Then the generate a cloud, then he spreads it as He wishes in the sky, and forms it into fragments, whereat you see the rain issuing from its midst. Then, when He strikes with it whomever of His servants that He wishes, behold, they rejoice; and they had been indeed despondent earlier, before it was sent down upon them.
While the author sees this cascade, the true cause of all action is ultimately God’s will:
And of His signs is that He sends the winds as bearers of good news and to let you taste of His mercy, and that the ships may sail by His command, and that you may seek of His bounty, and so that you may give thanks.
The Qur’anic author agrees with modern Catholics — and against the Donatist heretics — that those priests and bishops who act in the place of Christ have no power of their own.
It is God who created you and then He provided for you, then He makes you die, then He will bring you to life. Is there anyone among your ‘partners’ who does anything of that kind? Immaculate is He and far above any partners that they ascribe!
Corruption has appeared in land and sea because of the doings of the people’s hands, that He may make them taste something of what they have done, so that they may come back.
Yet the Qur’anic author embraces a deeper strand of “all is grace” than most contemporary Catholics. All works that we might ascribe to human hands are actually done by God. Even when we respond to the universal call to prophethood, it is God, and not our, actions that may lead to conversion. This is true also of the priests who in their homilies prophecy, but who are understood and believed not by their own means, but the means of God:
Indeed, you cannot make the dead hear, nor can you make the deaf hear the call when they turn their backs, nor can you lead the blind out of their error. You can make only those hear who have faith in Our signs and have submitted.
Catholics have been mocked for believing the Lord is truly present in the Eucharist: the Catholic response is only a God so great can divinize such a humble piece of bread. The same pattern occurs for human beings, who in various forms of weakness are born, procreate, and die, pointing to the overwhelming role of God in all of life.
It is God who created you from weakness, then He gave you power after weakness. Then, after power, He ordained weakness and old age: He creates whatever He wishes and He is the All-knowing, the All-powerful.
This sign of weakness is instructive. Those without faith simply may not understand the power of the Lord in the sacraments. Likewise, those without the correct faith (Such as the Donatists) may believe that local priests and bishops by their own holiness allows them to perform the sacraments, and not believe they are gifts from God. The logic extension of this argument is that all is grace, and none is by man’s own actions. God is all-powerful, in that all power resides in him. We are free to accept or reject, but not be the cause of works.
Certainly we have drawn for mankind in this Lectionary every parable. Indeed, if you bring them a sign, the faithless will surely say, ‘You are nothing but fabricators.’
Thus does God seal the hearts of those who do not know.
The Qur’anic author repeatedly stresses his anti-Nicene theology. But for the reader, it is the everyday attitudes of heart and mind, the everyday pattern of behavior, which are the focus.
So be patient! God’s promise is indeed true. And do not let yourself be upset by those who have no conviction.
God does everything He wants when He wants. Many who will face judgment currently enjoy the benefits of this life. Likewise, many who will be in paradise currently suffer. Yet the way this is twisted is the result of the twisting of man’s heart, not a fault in God’s plan
When We let people taste mercy, they boast about it, but should an ill visit them because of what their hands have sent ahead, behold, they become despondent! Do they not see that God expands the provision for whomever He wishes, and tightens it? There are indeed signs in that for people who have faith.
Things will not be this way forever
On the day when the Hour sets in, the guilty will swear they had remained only for an hour. That is how they were used to lying. But those who were given knowledge and faith will say, ‘Certainly you remained in God’s Book until the Day of Resurrection. This is the Day of Resurrection, but you did not know.