Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Muhammad and His Prophethood

Reexamining Some of the Reasons
Why He cannot be a true Prophet of God - Part 3

Sam Shamoun

We continue our examination of Sami Zaatari’s attempt of refuting my six propositions showing that Muhammad was a false prophet.

In this article we are going to address Zaatari’s response to my claim that the Quran falsely predicted that the Romans would be victorious against their enemies in a few years, specifically within 3-9 years. Here is that prophecy in question:

The Roman Empire has been defeated (Ghulabiti al-roomu) – In a land close by; but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious (sayaghliboona) – Within a few years (Bida’i). With God is the Decision, in the past and in the Future: on that Day shall the Believers rejoice - S. 30:2-4

However, even though this was part of my fourth reason why Muhammad was a false prophet Zaatari chose not to address it in his direct reply to it. Instead, Zaatari directs his readers to the following article where the supposed response to my points can be found: Rebuttal to Sam Shamoun's article Muhammad's False Prophecies [Part One].

Zaatari’s response is supposed to be a refutation to an article I wrote years ago titled, Muhammad's False Prophecies.

Zaatari’s rebuttal initially appeared on Osama Abdallah’s website on December 4, 2005.

What makes this so-called reply rather ironic is that Zaatari quotes from a source that actually confirms my point!

614: the Persians (Sassanids) capture Jerusalem
614: the Visigoths reconquer all of Spain from the Roman empire
619: the Persians capture Egypt

620: the Visigoths conquer the last Roman possession in Spain
626: the Sassanids besiege Constantinople
627: the Sassanid king Khusrau II is defeated by Roman emperor Heraclius at Niniveh
628: the Romans retake Syria from the Sassanids
(Piero Scaruffi, A time-line of the Roman empire)

Notice how this reference confirms that it took the Romans approximately 14 years to decisively defeat the Persians, as opposed to the 3-9 years stipulated by the Quran. Amazingly, Zaatari even underlines the specific dates without realizing how this actually proves my point that the Quran is grossly mistaken!

Thus, instead of refuting my argument that this is indeed a false prophecy Zaatari actually provides evidence confirming it!

Zaatari is not done embarrassing himself. He calls my appeal to the comments of noted Muslim translator, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, to show that the Arabic word for a “few years” means a period between 3-9 years, pathetic. He then says:

So Shamoun is attacking the prophecy because of the interpretation of a man! He is not attacking the Quranic prophecy because it is wrong, he is attacking the interpretation! Note he says ACCORDING TO YUSUF ALI, so basically Shamoun's entire argument is this, the Quran says the Romans will be victorious again within a few years, Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali said a few years is 3-9 years, the Romans didn't win until 627-628 which is around 14 years, so hence the interpretation is wrong not the Quran! Shamoun is attacking the interpretation. The Quran simply says a few years, a few years could range from anything from 1-20 years or even more! So the Quran is not wrong, the interpretation is wrong, not the Quran so what a pathetic argument, Shamoun attacks a prophecy not because it is wrong, but because it is interpreted wrongly! (Bold emphasis ours)

He further writes:

Well it is obvious Shamoun has no argument, he is attacking the prophecy because some people interpreted it wrongly, some people wrongly thought a few years meant 3-9, they were wrong the Quran wasn't. Very simple. All Shamoun has managed to do is show that the interpretations are wrong, not the Quran. So there is no false prophecy!

In the first place, the comments of Yusuf Ali are not simply his interpretation. They are based on the reported explanation of Muhammad himself:

Foretelling the Victory of the Romans

These Ayat were revealed about the victory of Sabur, the king of Persia, over Ash-Sham (Greater Syria), the adjoining partisan states of the Arabian Peninsula, and the outlying regions of the land of the Romans. Heraclius, the emperor of the Romans, was forced to flee to Constantinople where he was besieged for a lengthy period. Then Heraclius regained the upper hand. Imam Ahmad recorded that Ibn `Abbas commented on this Ayah

(Alif Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated. In the nearest land,) He said, “They were defeated and then they were victorious.” He said, “The idolators wanted the Persians to prevail over the Romans, because they were idol worshippers, and the Muslims wanted the Romans to prevail over the Persians, because they were People of the Book. This was mentioned to Abu Bakr, who mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah. The Messenger of Allah said…

<<They will certainly prevail.>> Abu Bakr mentioned this to the idolators, and they said, ‘Set a time limit for that, and if we prevail, we will get such and such; and if you prevail, you will get such and such.’ So he set a limit of five years, and they (the Romans) did not prevail. Abu Bakr mentioned that to the Messenger of Allah and he said…

<<Why do you not make it less than>>” [I (the narrator) think he meant less than ten]. Sa`id bin Jubayr said: “Bid` means less than ten.”… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; underline emphasis ours)


“… When Allah revealed these Ayat, Abu Bakr went out proclaiming throughout Makkah…

(Alif Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated. In the nearest land, and they, after their defeat, will be victorious. In Bid` years.) Some of the Quraysh said to Abu Bakr: ‘This is (a bet) between us and you. YOUR COMPANION claims that the Romans will defeat the Persians within three to nine years, so why not have a bet on that between us and you?’ Abu Bakr said, ‘Yes.’ This was before betting had been forbidden. So, Abu Bakr and the idolators made a bet, and they said to Abu Bakr: ‘What do you think, Bid` means something between three and nine years, so let us agree on the middle.’ So they agreed on six years. Then six years passed without the Romans being victorious, so the idolators took what they had bet with Abu Bakr. When the seventh year came and the Romans were finally victorious over the Persians, the Muslims rebuked Abu Bakr for agreeing on six years. He said: ‘Because Allah said: “In Bid` years.”’ At that time, many people became Muslim. This is how it was narrated by At-Tirmidhi, then he said, “This is a Hasan Hadith.’” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The following hadith is even more explicit:

Chapter 30. Regarding Surat Ar-Rum

(1). 3191. Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that regarding “Alif Lam Mim. The Romans have been defeated (In the nearest land, and they after their defeat, will be victorious, Within Bid‘ years…)” The Messenger of Allah said to Abu Bakr about the wager: “Why were you not more cautious Abu Bakr? For indeed Al-Bid‘ refers to WHAT IS FROM THREE TO NINE.” (SAHIH)

[Abu ‘Eisa said:] This Hadith is Gharib Hasan from this route; as a narration of Az-Zuhri, from ‘Ubaidullah from Ibn ‘Abbas…


Abu Bakr set a short time limit, as follows, therefore the Prophet told him to be careful and to increase the period TO NINE YEARS. (English Translation of Jami‘ At-Tirmidhi, Compiled by Imam Hafiz Abu ‘Eisa Mohammad Ibn ‘Eisa At-Tirmidhi, translated by Abu Khaliyl (USA), ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Tahir Zubair ‘Ali Za’i [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition: November 2007], Volume 5, From Hadith No. 2606 to 3290, 44. The Chapters On The Tafsir Of The Qur’an From The Messenger of Allah, pp. 502-503; capital emphasis ours)

Not only must Zaatari contend with the fact that his own prophet stated that the expression meant 3-9 years, he also has to deal with the major embarrassment that the imprecise time frame created for the Muslims.

Ibn Kathir’s comments demonstrate that the phrase, “a few years,” led to Abu Bakr being humiliated in front of the pagans. The imprecise nature of the time period caused Abu Bakr to bet that the prophecy would be fulfilled within five-six years. Yet, as Ibn Kathir shows, Abu Bakr lost the bet.(1)

What makes this rather interesting is that Muhammad and the other Muslims didn’t step in and correct Abu Bakr until AFTER he lost the bet and humiliated himself. Now isn’t it obvious that the reason why Muhammad and his followers corrected Abu Bakr only after his loss was in order to save face before the disbelievers? After all, Muhammad could have easily stepped in to correct Abu Bakr long BEFORE the five-six years were up, informing him that he shouldn’t be placing a precise time seeing that the Arabic word which the Quran uses implies that the victory could take place anywhere between 3-9 years.

So why didn’t he correct him before the time for the bet had expired? Why did Muhammad only do so after Abu Bakr humiliated himself by losing the bet? The answer is rather obvious to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Moreover, Allah could have easily prevented this major embarrassment by giving the exact number of years it would take the Romans to become victorious after their defeat. Allah chose to instead give a vague timeframe, one that is still causing embarrassment for Muslim polemicists till this day!

Secondly, Zaatari repeatedly creates problems for himself because he is incapable of keeping his lies and distortions consistent, and also because he tends to forget what he says or writes. As a result, Zaatari not only contradicts himself, he also manages to constantly embarrass himself in the process.

For instance, he recently published an article where he cites Q. 30:1-4 as an accurate prophecy which establishes the Quran’s alleged divine origin. Notice what he now says concerning the period of time denoted by the Arabic word Bid’:

So the Quran mentions the fact of the Romans being defeated, and indeed they were defeated by none other than the Persians, In Jerusalem, with the crushing siege of Jerusalem that took place in 614.

Now after mentioning this fact, the Quran goes on to make a statement that even after this defeat; the Romans would be victorious again within a few years. NOW THE ARABIC TERM USED FOR A FEW YEARS WAS UNDERSTOOD TO MEAN BETWEEN 3-9 YEARS. So therefore the Quran states that after the Roman defeat, they would be revictorious WITHIN 3-9 YEARS.

Now indeed this is a very bold statement to make, BECAUSE 3-9 YEARS CAN PASS AWAY, and the Romans may never win, therefore this would prove the Quran to be completely wrong, and that it obviously cannot be from the Divine creator. Yet miraculously this prophecy came to pass in 7 years! 7 years after this crushing defeat by the Persians the Romans were finally victorious in the battle of Issus which took place in 622. (The Quranic Prophecy of the Roman Victory, Thursday, 20 January 2011 00:52; bold and capital emphasis ours)

So Zaatari now agrees with Yusuf Ali that the Arabic Bid’ does mean 3-9 years!

In fact, Zaatari must have forgotten that according to the very source which he quoted in his “rebuttal”, one which he even highlighted, the Romans defeated the Persians in the years 627-628:

627: the Sassanid king Khusrau II is defeated by Roman emperor Heraclius at Niniveh
628: the Romans retake Syria from the Sassanids

This is why in this same “reply”, Zaatari not only accepted the fact that it took the Romans approximately 14 years to defeat the Persians, he even went on to explain how this length of time fits in with the Quran’s statement that the Romans would become victorious within a “few years”:

Now a few people will say how can a few years be 14 years? That is pretty long. To start off not really, back then when empires fought each other and gained victories, it would usually take decades and long amount of time until the defeated empire would regain victory. So for the Romans to re-gain victory in just 14 years against a strong empire such as the Persian one is short and quite fast.

Also to God, 14 years is nothing, 14 years to him is indeed very short, Allah has been around for billions and billions of years, you think 14 years is anything long to God? I don't think so.

Therefore, since Zaatari initially admitted that the Roman victory didn’t occur until 14 years after the so-called prophecy was given this means that he has actually established my point that Muhammad was wrong. Zaatari has helped me to prove that the Quran contains a false prophecy since the victory did not take place in the 3-9 years stipulated by Muhammad and his deity. In light of this, Zaatari must now accept the fact that I am right that Muhammad is a false prophet and that Allah is a false god. Way to go, Zaatari!

However, the problems are far from over for Zaatari. This alleged prophecy refutes the Quran’s own assertion that it is a clear book which provides complete details for all of its verses:

“… Shall I seek a judge other than Allah while it is He Who has sent down unto you the Book (The Qur'an), explained in detail…” S. 6:114 Hilali-Khan

"Certainly, We have brought to them a Book (the Qur'an) which We have explained in detail with knowledge, - a guidance and a mercy to a people who believe." S. 7:52 Hilali-Khan

“… And We have sent down on thee the Book making clear everything, and as a guidance and a mercy, and as good tidings to those who surrender.” S. 16:89 Arberry

“A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail; A Qur'an in Arabic for people who know.” S. 41:3 Hilali-Khan

Yet this particular passage fails to explain who defeated the Romans, the place where they were defeated, and when exactly they were defeated. These are details which are vitally important since they help us to determine whether the victory came to pass exactly as stated within the Quran.

The Quran fails to provide such crucial information, leaving Muslims like Zaatari to consult documents that were written centuries after Muhammad’s death in order to try to make sense out of this so-called prediction.

Hence, this passage not only establishes that Muhammad was a false prophet it also demonstrates that the Quran is grossly mistaken for claiming to be a fully detailed scripture.

The other problem Zaatari faces is that he does not know for certain whether this citation originally predicted that the Romans were defeated and would soon be victorious. The reason why he cannot be sure that this is the original meaning is because the Muslim scripture was initially written without vowel markings. As such, the Arabic word sayaghlibuna, “they [Romans] shall be victorious,” is what some of the later scribes took the consonantal text to mean. However, the text without vowel markings could just as easily have meant the Romans were going to be defeated. The difference is in the addition of two vowels so that instead of having Sayaghlibuna, the verse could have legitimately been read as, sayughlabuna, “they (i.e. Romans) shall be defeated.”

The same is the case with the word Ghulibati, “have been defeated.” This could have easily been Ghalabat, “have defeated.”

In fact, this is precisely how some of the older Quranic versions interpreted the consonantal text! The late, great Christian missionary C. G. Pfander explains:

“But Al Baizawi shatters the whole argument of the Muslims by informing us of certain varied readings in these verses of Suratu'r Rum. He tells us that some read غَلَبَتِ instead of the usual غُلِبَتِ, and سَيُغْلَبُونَ instead of سَيَغْلُبُونَ. The rendering will then be: ‘The Byzantine have conquered in the nearest part of the land, and they shall be defeated in a small number of years,’ &c. If this be the correct reading, the whole story about Abu Bakr's bet with Ubai must be a fable,2 since Ubai was dead long before the Muslims began to defeat the Byzantines, and even long before the victories which Heraclius won over the Persians. This shows how unreliable such Traditions are. The explanation which Al Baizawi gives is, that the Byzantines became the conquerors of "the well-watered land of Syria" (على ريف آلْشام), and that the passage predicted that the Muslims would soon overcome them. If this is the meaning, the Tradition which records the 'descent' of the verses about six years before the Hijrah must be wrong, and the passage must belong to A.H. 6 at earliest. It is clear that, as the vowel points were not used when the Qur-an was first written down in Cufic letters, no one can be certain which of the two readings is right. We have seen that there is so much uncertainty about (1) the date at which the verses were 'sent down', (2) the correct reading, and (3) the meaning, that it is quite impossible to show that the passage contains a prophecy which was fulfilled. Hence, it cannot be considered to be a proof of Muhammad's prophetic office.

“Therefore the whole argument founded upon the supposed prophetic element in the Qur'an breaks down when examined…” (Pfander, Mizan-ul-Haqq - The Balance of Truth, revised and enlarged by W. St. Clair Tisdall [Light of Life P.O. Box 18, A-9503, Villach Austria], PART III. A Candid Inquiry Into The Claim Of Islam To Be God's Final Revelation, IV. An Examination of the Contents of the Qur'an, in order to decide whether these prove its inspiration, pp. 279-280; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Moreover, this is exactly how the following modern versions of the Quran translate the passage!

The Romans HAVE WON. At the lowest part on the earth. But after THEIR VICTORY, THEY WILL BE DEFEATED. In a few more years. The decision before and after is for God, and on that day the believers will rejoice. The Message: A Translation of the Glorious Qur’an

The Romans HAVE WON, At the lowest point on the earth. But after THEIR VICTORY, THEY WILL BE DEFEATED. In a few more years. The decision before and after is for God, and on that day those who acknowledge will rejoice. Quran Reformist Translation, translated and annotated by Edip Yuksel, Layth Saleh al-Shaiban, & Martha Schulte-Nafeh, Brainbow Press 2007

And here also are the comments of the translators to the Reformist Quran explaining why they rendered the verses the way they did:

030:002-05 You might have noticed that we translated the reference of the verb “GHaLaBa” differently than the traditional translations. Instead of reading the verb in 30:2 as “ghulibat” (were defeated) we read as “ghalabat” which means just the opposite, “defeated.” Similarly, we also read its continuous/future tense in the following verse differently. The prophecy of this verse was realized in 636 four years after the death of Muhammad, when Muslims confronted the army of Byzantine Empire around Yarmuk river, in one of the most significant battles in history. Under the command of Khalid bin Walid, the Muslim army beat the Christian imperial army of four or more times their numbers. The six-day war, Yarmuk, occurred in area near the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea, which are located in the lowest land depression on earth, 200-400 meters below the sea level. (Ibid., p. 268)

Thus, since vowel points were not added until sometime after the death of Muhammad, Muslims such as Zaatari have therefore no way of knowing with absolute certainty that the version which the masses have come to accept as the original is actually the correct reading and understanding of the consonantal text. Neither Zaatari nor his fellow Muslims can definitely prove that the reading preferred by these modern Quranic translators is mistaken.

Now instead of personally addressing this specific point, Zaatari chose to quote from Hesham Azmy’s reply to my article, thinking that this somehow sufficiently addresses my criticism. However, Zaatari doesn’t bother informing his readers that we have already refuted Azmy’s rather desperate and failed attempt of a rebuttal in the following articles:

Muhammad's False Prophecies – Response to Hesham Azmy (Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 )

Concluding Remarks

As it stands, Q. 30:2-4 is one of the clearest examples of Muhammad’s false predictions. The passage fails to provide sufficient details which would guide the reader to know who defeated the Romans, when they were defeated, and where. This not only shows that the Quran is incomplete, despite claiming to being a scripture that fully explains all its verses, but it also means that Muslims have to consult sources outside of their own scripture to figure out the precise details of this prophecy.

However, the problem with this approach is that the materials that Muslims appeal to in order to properly understand Q. 30:2-4 are not eyewitness accounts, but sources written centuries after the death of Muhammad. In light of such late dating, these reports have no historical credibility since they were not composed during the time of the events which they narrate, and there were no witnesses that could prevent embellishments and fabrications from taking place.

More importantly, even if we were to take such accounts at face value they still do not help the Muslim position. The reports actually provide evidence which confirms that Q. 30:2-4 is a false prophecy that did not take place within the time stipulated by the author(s).

Finally, Zaatari’s own rebuttal ended up confirming my argument that the victory of the Romans did not occur within the 3-9 years signified by the Quran. Rather, the Roman victory took place approximately 14 years later, five years more than what the Quran stipulated!

What makes Zaatari’s “rebuttal” so ironic is that he chided me for supposedly basing my case on Yusuf Ali’s interpretation that the Arabic word Bid’ refers to a period of 3-9 years, a timeframe which Zaatari rejected. Yet in one of his recent articles on this very same prophecy, Zaatari argues for Bid’ meaning anywhere from 3-9 years, thereby agreeing with Yusuf Ali!

It is rather unfortunate that Zaatari doesn’t see how he is constantly exposing and refuting himself. He actually imagines that he is providing a coherent response to the objections of his critics.

This concludes our rebuttal. Lord willing, there will be more responses to Zaatari’s so-called responses in the future.

Related Articles

Responses to Understanding-Islam – Muhammad's False Prophecies
Osama Abdallah's reaction to Muhammad's False Prophecies [Part 3]


(1) There is a contradiction in Ibn Kathir concerning the number of years it took the Romans to defeat the Persians. In the above quotes he says the victory took place in the seventh year, or seven years after the alleged prophecy was given. However, he quotes another tradition which says that the victory didn’t come to pass until nine years later!

That was a great day for the Christians. Chosroes and his army remained in a state of confusion, not knowing what they were doing. They had not been able to conquer the land of Caesar, and their own land was devastated by the Romans, who seized their wealth, and captured their women and children. This was how the Romans defeated the Persians, and this happened NINE YEARS after the Persians defeated the Romans. This conflict between the Persians and the Romans continued until the Romans prevailed between Adhru’at (Ash-Sham) and Busra, according to what was stated by Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Ikrimah and others. This is a place on the edge of Ash-Sham, along the border with Al-Hijaz. Mujahid said, “That was a place in the Arabian Peninsula which is closer to the land of the Romans than to Persia.” And Allah knows best. (*; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Such contradictions demonstrate the unreliability of the Islamic traditions in general. In fact, the hadith and sirah literature are notorious for these kinds of historical errors and embellishments, just as the following articles show:

An examination of Muslim tradition on Heraclius’ response to Muhammad’s invitation
Did Ibn Abbas Believe that the Holy Bible was Corrupt?

In light of these errors and mistakes, any serious student of history who is an honest seeker of truth must approach the ahadith and Islamic sources with a very high degree of skepticism, especially when such documents were only compiled centuries after Muhammad’s death. As such, these are not eyewitness accounts that were composed during the time these events supposedly took place. They are nothing more than fabricated hearsays for the most part, which Muslims have been duped into believing actually provide credible information on the life of Muhammad and the compilation of the Quran.