One of TikTok’s latest trends in September 2023 is for women to ask the men in their lives (e.g. husbands, brothers etc.) the following random question: “How often do you think of the Roman Empire?”. It turns out that a surprisingly large number of men think about the Roman Empire quite frequently on a daily or weekly basis.
It’s reached the point where the #romanempire page on TikTok has reached 1.5 Billion views as of the end of September.
To me as an Ahmadi Muslim, what’s really interesting is that in the exact same month, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) by coincidence delivered a Friday Sermon on 22nd September about the Roman Empire. Or at least the eastern half of it.
What Huzoor (His Holiness) referred to in his sermon is what historians now call the Byzantine Empire, even though the Byzantines referred to themselves as “Romans” and this is how the Holy Qur’an also refers to them.
So why is it that they’re called “Byzantines” now?
It’s because the Roman Empire became so big that governing it became difficult, so it was divided into two halves: East and West.
The Western Roman Empire was governed from Rome, whereas the Eastern Roman Empire came to be governed from the city of Constantinople (which eventually became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and is now the Turkish city of “Istanbul”).
The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 CE whereas the Eastern half carried on for about another thousand years before eventually being conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 CE.
See, the thing is, the Eastern Roman Empire carried on for a thousand years without the City of Rome actually being in its borders, so historians decided to refer to it as “Byzantine” rather than “Roman” even though the Eastern Romans referred to themselves as “Romans”
Allah the Almighty Himself disagrees with the historians; in the Holy Qur’an, Allah has referred to the Eastern Empire as “Roman”, using the Arabic term “الرُّوْم” (“Ar-Rum” pronounced “arroom”) which clearly means “Rome”. No other term has been used.
Islam came into existence as a religion in the early 600s CE. By that time, the Western Roman Empire had already collapsed but its eastern offshoot still carried on. It’s with the Eastern Roman Empire that early Muslims interacted and referred to as “Rome”.
These Eastern Romans were a great source of inspiration to early Muslims because they were Christians and therefore “people of the book” who followed an Abrahamic religion like they did, as opposed to the idol-worshippers who attacked and oppressed the Muslims.
So the first Muslims identified with the Eastern Romans and were sad when the Eastern Romans lost to the idol-worshipping Sasanian Empire of the Persians but were greatly heartened when they later won as prophesied by the Holy Qur’an:
“The Romans have been defeated,
In the land nearby, and they, after their defeat, will be victorious.” (30:3-4)
These verses are from the start of chapter 30 of the Holy Qur’an. The title of the whole chapter is “Ar-Rum” (“Rome”).
So to answer the question “How often do Muslims think of the Roman Empire?”, I would say reasonably often, considering that a whole chapter of our holiest book is named “Rome” and that the first Muslims prayed for the Eastern Romans’ victory in battle.
If you’re interested in learning more about Islam and the Eastern Romans, here’s Huzoor’s Friday Sermon about the topic:
About the Author: Mansoor Dahri is an online editor for The Review of Religions. He graduated from UCL in BA Ancient Languages.