The Prophet Musa
(Peace be upon him)
The Prophet Musa
From Canaan to Egypt
Ya'qub and his sons moved to Egypt because Yusuf the son of Ya'qub was the ruler of Egypt. Back in Canaan, they had herded their flocks, milked their sheep and sold their wool, while in Egypt even Yusuf's slaves and servants ate well and enjoyed themselves.
Yusuf sent for Ya'qub and his family, asking them to come from Canaan. He could not relish his food or drink when his father and brothers were not with him. How could he enjoy life when he alone was in Egypt? How could he live in a palace when his father and brothers lived in a tiny house in Canaan?
So Ya'qub and his sons came to Egypt. Yusuf welcomed them and was delighted to see them. The people of Egypt also welcomed the family of their lord, the family of their noble king. They loved this noble family because they loved Yusuf for his generosity and goodness to them, and because they saw he was a compassionate man who gave true counsel. They saw that Ya'qub too was a noble and generous father.
Ya'qub enjoyed great respect in Egypt. Its people were to him like his own sons. They were pleased that Ya'qub and his sons remained in Egypt, and Egypt became their homeland.
After some time, Ya'qub died and was buried in Egypt. Yusuf grieved over him and so did the people of Egypt. It was as if they had lost their own father.
After a time, Yusuf also died. That was a terrible day for the people of Egypt. They were very sad and wept over him for a long time. They forgot their own sorrows in this greater sorrow. It was as if they had never been visited by any affliction before that day.
They buried Yusuf as well and consoled each other. They were all equal in their love for Yusuf. It was as if every child had lost a father and every adult had lost a brother. They went to Yusuf's sons and brothers to comfort them. They told them: 'Masters! Your loss today is no greater than our loss. We have lost a compassionate brother, a merciful and just master, in this man we buried today.
'He is the one who gave relief to the slaves and removed injustice from our country. He is the one who kept the great from harming the lowly and the strong from overpowering the weak. He is the one who helped those who had been wronged and gave refuge to those who were afraid, and fed those who were hungry.
'He is the one who guided us to the truth and called us to Allah. Before he came, we were like dumb animals who knew nothing about Allah or the Next World.
'He is the one who helped us during the famine. We were able to eat our fill while people in other countries were starving. We will never forget our noble king and we will never forget, lords, that you are his brothers and the people of his house.
'How happy our master was on the day when you came to Egypt! How happy we were to share our master's joy! The land is yours, and we will behave towards you just as we did when our master was alive.'
The Israelites in Egypt
And so it remained for a long time. The Egyptians remembered what they had said and acknowledged the virtue of the people of Canaan, also called the Israelites, people of nobility and wealth.
But later on things changed. The morals of the Israelites became corrupted and they stopped worshipping Allah and calling other people to worship Him. They slipped into the wicked ways of this world.
The Egyptian people also changed in their behaviour towards the Israelites. They began to look at them in a different way. The Israelites had become just like all other people. People began to envy the wealthy among them and to insult the poor.
The Egyptians believed that they were the people of the land and that Egypt belonged to them. Some of them considered Yusuf a foreigner who had come from Canaan when he was purchased by the Aziz of Egypt. They thought it was not right for a Canaanite to have ruled Egypt. Many of the people forgot the virtue, generosity and charity of Yusuf.
The pharaoh of Egypt
The Pharaohs came to the throne of Egypt, and they bore a deep hatred towards the Israelites. Then a particularly tyrannical man became the king. He did not know that the Israelites were the descendants of Prophets, nor that they were from the house of Yusuf, the noblest king of Egypt. He did not even consider them human beings entitled to mercy and justice.
He thought that his people, the Copts, were one race and the Israelites another. The Copts were a kingly race, created to rule; the Israelites were a race of slaves, created to serve.
Pharaoh treated the Israelites like work-animals who were there to serve and needed only to be fed and watered daily.
He was an arrogant tyrant who believed that no-one was higher than him. He did not believe in Allah. He used to say: 'I am your Lord Most High.' (Quran 79: 24)
He was dazzled by his kingdom, his palaces, and his abundant provision. He used to say: 'Do I not possess the kingdom of Egypt and these rivers flowing beneath me? What do you not see?' (Quran 43: 51)
He behaved as if he was the successor to Nimrod, the King of Babylon. He became angry if he learned that anyone was thought of as being higher than him. He called on people to worship him and prostrate themselves before him, and they obeyed. But the Israelites refused because they believed in Allah and in His Messengers. Pharaoh therefore became very angry indeed with the Israelites.
Killing the children
A Coptic priest went to Pharaoh and told him: 'A child will be born among the Israelites at whose hands your kingdom will wither away.'
Pharaoh became mad with rage. He ordered his guards to kill every new-born boy of the Israelites. Pharaoh thought that he was the people's lord and master. He could kill whoever he pleased and let live whoever he pleased, like a sheep-owner who thinks he can kill or let live whichever of 'his' sheep he likes.
The guards searched throughout Egypt. Whenever they learned that a male child had been born among the Israelites, they took him and killed him.
Wolves living in the woods, and snakes and scorpions living in the desert, were ignored and safe. But no new-born boy of the Israelites was allowed to live in Pharaoh's kingdom.
Thousands of children were killed in front of their mothers and fathers. The day on which a male child was born to the Israelites was a day of sorrow and weeping. It was like a funeral day, a day for grief. Sometimes hundreds of children were killed on the same day.
Pharaoh had exalted himself in the land and had divided its inhabitants into sects, abasing a group of them, slaughtering their sons and letting their women live. He was one of those who work corruption. (Quran 28: 4)
The birth of Musa
But Allah wanted what Pharaoh feared and had been warned about, to take place. The child that Allah had destined to destroy Pharaoh's kingdom, and to bring people out of darkness into light, out of idol-worship into the worship of Allah, was born.
In spite of Pharaoh and his armies, Musa ibn 'Imran was born and survived.
In the Nile
Musa's mother was afraid for her beautiful son. How could she help it when the children's enemies were searching for him? How could she help being afraid when the guards had dragged dozens of children from their mothers' laps?
What could she do? Where could she hide her beautiful child when the guards had the sharp sight of crows and the keen smell of ants?
Then Allah helped Musa's mother and inspired her with the idea of putting him in a box and floating it down the Nile.
Glory be to Allah! How could a tender-hearted mother put her child into a box and then put it into the Nile? Who would suckle the child in the box? How would it breathe?
Musa's mother thought of all that, but she still put her trust in Allah and relied on Allah's protection. Her home was not able to protect the child any more than the box; there were guards everywhere, seeking out the new-born children.
So Musa's mother did what Allah had commanded her to do and put her beautiful child in a box and pushed it out into the water of the Nile. She was anxious, but then she became calm because of her trust in Allah.
So We inspired the mother of Musa: 'Suckle him. And, when you fear for him, put him into the river. Do not fear or sorrow. We will return him to you and make him one of the Messengers.' (Quran 28: 7)
In Pharaoh's palace
Pharaoh had many palaces on the banks of the Nile. He used to visit these palaces and would sometimes stroll along the banks of the river.
One day, Pharaoh and the Queen of Egypt were walking along the river bank when they noticed a box being carried along by the current 'My lord, do you see that box?'
'How can there be a box in the Nile? It is a piece of wood which has fallen into the river?'
'No, my lord, it is a box.'
The box came nearer and the people said: 'Yes, it is a box!'
The King commanded one of his servants: 'Go and get this box!'
The servant brought the box to the King. They opened it and inside they found a beautiful, smiling boy.
Everyone was amazed. They wanted to hold him and look at him. Even Pharaoh was amazed and stared at him.
One of the servants said: 'It is an Israelite child. The King must kill it.'
When the Queen saw the child love filled her heart and she clasped him to her breast and kissed him. She pleaded with the King for him: 'He will be a comfort to me and you! Do not kill him. Perhaps he will benefit us or we can take him for a son.' (Quran 28: 9)
So Musa ibn 'Imran entered the palace of Pharaoh. He survived in spite of Pharaoh and his guards. The guards had not been guided to this Israelite child.
Allah wanted Pharaoh, 'the children's enemy,' to bring up the very child at whose hands his kingdom would be lost. Ah Pharaoh! How wrong he was about Musa! His minister, Haman, and his armies were wrong as well! So the family of Pharaoh picked him out to be an enemy and a sorrow for them. Pharaoh, Haman and their armies were sinners. (Quran 28: 8)
Who will suckle the child?
The child became the new plaything of the palace. Everyone came to look at him and kissed him. Everyone loved and praised him because the Queen loved and praised him.
How could the ladies of the palace not love him? How could the servants of the palace not love him? Everyone held him and kissed him because he was so beautiful.
The Queen looked for a wet-nurse to nurse the child. The nurse came and took the child, but he refused to take her milk and cried. The Queen got another nurse who came and took the child. Again, the child refused and cried. There was a third, fourth and fifth, but the child cried and refused their milk.
How puzzling! Why did the child refuse to feed? The nurses tried hard to give the child their milk. They wanted to make the Queen happy and to win a reward from her. But Allah had made those nurses unlawful for him.
The child became the talk of the palace, the centre of everybody's attention:
'Sister, have you seen the new child?'
'Yes, I've seen him. A very beautiful child!'
'But an odd child! Not like other children. He will not take milk.'
'Whenever a nurse takes him, he cries and refuses to feed. Poor boy! How will he live? He will die!' 'Yes, it has been some days since he has fed.'
In his mother's arms
Musa's loving mother said to her daughter: 'Go and see if your brother is alive. Allah promised me that the child would be returned to me and that He would protect him.'
Musa's sister went to look for her brother. She heard the talk about a beautiful child in the King's palace. She went to the palace and listened to the women.
'Has the wet-nurse the Queen sent for come from Aswan?'
'Yes, my lady, but the child refused her and would not take her milk.'
'Goodness! What is wrong with this child? This is the sixth person the Queen has tried.'
'Yes, and they say that she is a very clean nurse and all children take milk from her.'
Musa's sister heard what was said. Then she said in a polite and friendly way: 'I know a woman in the town. The child will definitely accept milk from her.'
One woman said: 'I don't believe it. We have tried six wet-nurses, but the child has refused.'
Another woman said: 'Why don't we try a seventh? Why not?'
The news reached the Queen. She summoned the girl and said: 'Go and bring this woman.'
'Musa's mother came. A serving girl gave Musa to her. The child clung to her and began to accept milk from her as if he had been with her since birth. How could he not have, seeing as she was his own loving mother? How could he not want his own mother's milk when he had gone hungry for three days?
The Queen and the people of the palace were amazed. Pharaoh was uneasy. He said: 'Why did the child accept this woman? Is she his real mother?'
Musa's mother said: 'My lord, I am a woman with a good smell, the smell of milk which every child accepts.' Pharaoh was satisfied with her reply and paid her a wage.
Musa's mother then returned home with Musa in her arms: So We returned him to his mother so that she might be comforted and not sorrow and so that she might know that the promise of Allah is true, but most people do not know. (Quran 28: 13)
Return to Pharaoh's palace
After Musa was weaned, when he no longer needed his mother's milk, she returned him to the palace.
Musa grew up in the King's palace as a prince. That is how awe of kings and the wealthy was removed from his heart. He saw with his own eyes the luxury that Pharaoh and his family enjoyed and how the Israelites were oppressed for the sake of that luxury. He saw too how the Israelites went hungry so that Pharaoh's animals could eat. He saw how the Israelites were made to work like donkeys; how they were abused and humiliated with the worst possible treatment.
Musa saw these things every day and remained silent. But they angered Musa. How could he not feel anger at the abasement of his people and his family when they were the sons of Prophets and the sons of nobility? What wrong had the Israelites done, except that they were not Copts? Except that they were from Canaan? There was nothing wrong with that!
The fatal blow
Musa became a strong young man, and Allah gave him wisdom and knowledge.
Musa hated injustice. He favoured and sided with the weak and those who had been wronged. Every Prophet is like that.
One day Musa entered Pharaoh's city where people were busy either working or enjoying themselves. He found there two men fighting, one from the Israelites and the other from the Copts, the enemies of the Israelites.
The Israelite shouted to Musa to help him. Musa, trying to stop the two men fighting, hit the Copt. The Copt died.
Musa was filled with regret, knowing that it had all been Satan's doing. He turned to Allah in repentance. That is the way of all the Prophets. He said: 'This is from Satan's doing. He is a clear, misguiding enemy.' (Quran 28: 15)
Allah turned to Musa because he had not meant to kill the Copt. Musa praised Allah and said: 'Allah has blessed me and forgiven me. I will never help wrongdoers.' (Quran 28: 17)
The dead Copt was one of Pharaoh's servants, and the guards were searching for his slayer. Musa was fearful and watchful, not knowing when Pharaoh's guards would come for him. He feared being caught and taken before the tyrant.
The dead man became the talk of the town. Everyone was talking about it, but no-one knew who had slain him. Only Musa and the Israelite knew who had done it. Pharaoh was furious about the death of his servant and told his guards that they must find the man responsible.
The secret disclosed
The next day, Musa again saw the same Israelite in a fight with another Copt. The Israelite again cried out to Musa to help him.
Musa said: 'You are an impudent man. Here you are, still fighting and quarrelling with people. Shall I help you again? You are clearly a quarrelsome person.' (Quran 28: 18)
All the same, Musa wanted to stop the two men fighting and started towards them. However, the Israelite, seeing Musa's anger and hearing himself blamed, was afraid that Musa was about to strike him such as he had struck the Copt the previous day, and so he blurted out: 'Musa, do you want to kill me as you killed a man yesterday? You only mean to be a tyrant in the land. You do not want to be one of those who put things right.' (Quran 28: 19)
Then the Copt ran away to tell the guards. When the news reached Pharaoh, he was angry. He said: 'Is this the boy who was our foster-child in the palace! the infant who was brought up by the Queen!'
Musa had not meant to kill the Copt. However Pharaoh and his guards would not take that into account, nor would they accept any excuse from Musa. Allah wanted to rescue Musa from Pharaoh's evil and his guards: Allah had decreed that Pharaoh would lose his kingdom, and the Israelites would be rescued, through Musa. Allah had decreed that Musa would bring people out of the worship of slaves (of Allah) into the worship of Allah the Exalted. How could that happen if the tyrant's guards were to lay their hands on him?
Pharaoh's ministers held a council and decided to have Musa put to death. A man, hearing of this went to Musa and told him the news: 'Depart! I am a sincere adviser to you.' (Quran 28: 20)
Musa accepted this advice and hurried from the city. He left there in fear and watchfulness, saying, 'My Lord, deliver me from the unjust people!' (Quran 28: 21)
From Egypt to Midian
Where could Musa go when all of Egypt was Pharaoh's kingdom and Pharaoh's guards were everywhere?
Allah revealed to Musa to go to Midian, an Arab land, where Pharaoh's power did not reach. Midian was mostly desert and villages. It did not have the civilization, the castles and markets, of Egypt. But it was a happy land because it was far from Pharaoh and free of his tyrannical power.
How wonderful desert life is when it offers freedom and justice! How miserable civilization is when it offers slavery and abasement! No-one in Midian woke up in fear of the force and power of Pharaoh. No-one went to bed in Midian in fear of Pharaoh's guards or his evil.
Musa left Egypt in fear, watchful in case anyone pursued him. But the guards did not know he had left Egypt. He left in the name of Allah, calling on Allah for help. As he headed towards Midian, he said: 'It may be that my Lord will guide me on the right way.' (Quran 28: 22)
Musa reached Midian, not knowing anyone or being known by anyone. Where could he find shelter? Where could he spend the night? Musa was anxious, but he was certain that Allah would not let him die.
Musa came to a well where people got water for their animals. He found two girls there, holding back their sheep and waiting for the others to finish getting water so that they could have their turn.
Musa saw that and his heart was filled with the compassion and tenderness of a merciful father. He asked: 'Why aren't you getting water?'
They replied: 'We cannot take water for our sheep until the other people have got water because they are strong and we are weak, and because they are men and we are women.' Then, as if they knew that Musa was thinking, Why doesn't one of the men of your house get the water?, they added: 'Our father is an old man.'(Quran 28: 23)
Compassion touched Musa and he drew water for them. Then they left.
Where would Musa go now? Where would he find shelter for the night? Then he turned away to the shade and said: 'My lord, I am certainly in need of whatever good You will send down on me.' (Quran 28: 24)
The two girls arrived home sooner than expected. Their father, a priest, was surprised and asked them: 'Why are you home so early, my daughters?'
The girls said: 'Allah sent a noble man to us who got us water.'
Their father realized that it must have been a stranger because no-one there had ever been kind to his daughters.
He said: 'Where did you leave this man?'
The girls replied: 'We left him at the well. He is a stranger and has no home here in Midian.'
The old man said: 'You did not do well, my daughters. A stranger has been good to you but he has no shelter in the land. Where will he find shelter for the night? We owe him the right of hospitality. One of you should go and bring him.'
Then one of the girls came to him, walking modestly. She said: My father invites you that he might repay you for the wage of your drawing water for us.' (Quran 28: 25)
Musa realized that Allah had answered his prayer and had turned towards him, so he should not refuse the offer. He walked ahead of the girl so that he would not be looking at her. This was a noble courtesy.
When they arrived, Musa was asked his name and from what country he had come.
The old man listened patiently. When Musa had finished, he said: 'Do not fear. You have escaped from unjust people.' (Quran 28: 25)
Musa stayed with the old man as an honoured guest, indeed like a beloved son. One of his daughters suggested to her father: 'Father, hire him. The best man you can hire is surely the one who is strong and trustworthy.' (Quran 28: 26)
The old man asked: 'What do you know of his strength and trustworthiness, my daughter?'
She said: 'As for his strength, he lifted the lid from the well by himself and it normally takes several people to lift it. As for his trustworthiness, my father, he walked in front of me and did not look at me for the entire journey. Whoever you hire must be strong and trustworthy. If he is not strong, he will be too weak to work. If he is not trustworthy, his strength will not be of any use because he will be treacherous.'
The girl's words were what the old man wanted to hear, but he thought about the matter as a wise and caring father should. He thought to himself: Who could be a better son-in-law than this young man? Where will I find anyone better than this man? I have not found anyone else worthy of this in all Midian! Perhaps Allah has sent this youth to me to be my son-in-law and as a helper for me.
He addressed his thoughts to Musa in a kindly and courteous manner. He said: 'I would like you to marry one of my two daughters, provided you work for me for eight years. If you complete ten years, that will be on your own account. I do not desire to press you hard. You will find me one of the righteous, Allah willing.' (Quran 28: 27)
Eight years to be spent with him was the bride-price the old man had asked. Perhaps he feared that Musa might take his daughter and leave straightaway. In this way he thought he could test Musa until he was sure of him and then he could bid him and his daughter farewell with peace of mind.
Musa agreed to these terms, trusting that it was from Allah and that Allah would bless him in it. Allah had led him to Midian and brought him to the old man and had put tenderness and love into his heart. But as Musa was wise and intelligent, he wanted to choose later on the number of years he stayed with the old man. He said: That is between me and you. Whichever of the two terms I fulfil, it shall be no injustice on my part. Allah is the guardian of what we say.' (Quran 28: 28)
When Musa had finished the term and departed with his household (Quran 28: 29), he and the priest said good-bye to one another. The priest said a prayer for him: 'Go with my blessing, my son. Go in Allah's protection, my daughter.'
Musa travelled with his family. The night was cold and dark. But where was fire to be found in the desert? What would they do if they could not find a fire to warm them or light to guide them? While they were travelling and Musa was searching, he observed a fire. He said to his household, 'Stay here. I have observed a fire. Perhaps I will bring you a brand from it or / shall find guidance at the fire.' (Quran 20: 10)
Musa went towards the fire, drawn to it by a powerful longing. When he came to it, a voice cried: 'Musa, I am your Lord, so remove your shoes. You are in the Sacred Valley of Tuwa.' (Quran 20: 12)
It was here that Allah spoke to Musa and revealed to him: 'l have chosen you, so listen to this revelation. I am Allah. There is no god but Me, so worship Me and perform the prayer for My remembrance. The Hour is coming.' (Quran 20: 14-15)
Musa carried a staff which he used for various purposes. Allah the Exalted said: 'What is in your right hand, Musa?' (Quran 20: 17)
Musa answered simply: 'This is my staff.'
Then Musa began to list the uses of this staff because he wanted to speak to Allah for a long time. He said: 'I lean upon it and I use it to beat down the leaves to feed my sheep and I also have other uses in it.' (Quran 20: 18)
He said: 'Throw it down, Musa!' (20: 19)
He threw it down and it became a slithering snake. (Quran 20: 20)
Allah said: 'Take it and do not fear. We will return it to its former state.' (Quran 20: 21)
Allah then gave Musa a second sign: 'Clasp your hand to your arm-pit. It will come out white without any evil. This is another sign.' (Quran 20: 22)
'Go to Pharaoh, he has become insolent' (Quran 20: 24)
After that, Allah commanded Musa to begin the work for which he had been created. Pharaoh had become insolent and was encouraging corruption in the land. Pharaoh's people had rejected Allah, and they too had a corruptive influence in the land. Allah does not like His slaves to refuse to believe in Him. He does not like corruption in the land. He wanted Musa to go to Pharaoh and Pharaoh's subjects: They were an ungodly people. (Quran 28: 32)
But how could Musa go back there and confront the tyrant? He had killed a Copt, and had been forced to leave Egypt in fear of his life. Moreover, he was well-known to the guards and the people of the palace.
He said: 'My Lord, I killed one of them and I fear that they will kill me.' (Quran 28: 33)
Allah knew all of this but wanted Musa to go in spite of it: 'Go to the people of the evildoers, the people of the Pharaoh. Will they not be godfearing?'
He said: 'My Lord, I fear that they will deny me and my breast will be constricted and my tongue will not be loosened, so send for Harun (to help me). They also hold against me a wrong action, and I fear that they will kill me.'
He said: 'No, indeed. Go, both of you, with Our signs. We will be with you, listening. Go to Pharaoh and say, "I am the Messenger of the Lord of all the worlds. Send the Children of Israel with us."' (Quran 26: 10--17)
Allah advised Musa and Harun to be gentle and kind with Pharaoh. Allah likes to be kind to His enemies for a time, so that they may reform themselves: 'Speak gently to him. He may heed or fear.' (Quran 20: 44)
Musa and Harun went to Pharaoh and stood in his Council, calling him to Allah. The tyrant became angry at Musa's boldness and said with disdain and arrogance: 'Who are you, young man, to stand up in my Council and admonish me? Aren't you the boy whom we pulled out of the water? Did we not bring you up among us as a child? Did you not stay with us for many years of your life? Then you did the deed you did, being one of the ungrateful!' (Quran 26: 18 -19)
Musa did not get angry or deny this. He did not argue or make excuses. He spoke plainly and with great dignity. He said: (Indeed I did it then for I was one of those who are astray. So I fled from you fearing you. But my Lord gave me judgement and made me one of the Messengers. (Quran 26: 20-1)
Musa went on: 'Pharaoh, you were gracious to me in that you brought me up. But you do not see why I came into your hands or why you were able to bring me up. If you had not given the command for the children to be killed, my mother would not have put me into the Nile and I would not have come into your hands. Is that then a blessing to be remembered and weighed against your injustice and cruelty? You treated all my people as if they were donkeys and beasts. You treated them like dogs. You inflicted terrible punishment on them.
'Certainly you brought me up, but that is a blessing which you reproach me with, having enslaved the Children of Israel. (Quran 26: 22) Then what virtue can you claim for yourself for looking after one of their children? That also only came about through ignorance and error!'
Calling to Allah
Pharaoh was speechless. He tried to bluster his way out of it by asking: 'What is the Lord of all the worlds that I hear you mentioning?'
He said: The Lord of the heavens and the earth and what is between them if you have certainty.' (Quran 26: 23-4)
Pharaoh was angered by Musa's reply and wanted to provoke the people of the Council against him. So he said to those about him: 'Do you not heart' (Quran 26: 25)
Musa continued: 'Your Lord and the Lord of your fathers; the ancients.' (Quran 26: 26)
Pharaoh could not contain his anger. He said: 'Your messenger who has been sent to you is possessed!' (Quran 26: 27)
Musa still did not stop speaking. He said: 'The Lord of the East and the West and what is between them if you have understanding.' (Quran 26: 28)
Pharaoh wanted to distract Musa from this argument that was so hard for him, and to provoke his Council to anger. He asked Musa: 'What about the former generations? (Quran 20: 51) His thinking was: If Musa says that the forefathers knew the truth, then I will say, 'They worshipped idols.' If Musa says that they were misguided and foolish, the people of the Council will become angry and say, 'Musa has cursed our forefathers!'
But Musa was more intelligent than Pharaoh. He possessed a light from his Lord. He said: 'The knowledge of them is with my Lord in a Book. My Lord does not err nor does He forget.' (Quran 20: 52)
Then Musa went on to say what Pharaoh had been trying to avoid hearing himself, and prevent others from hearing. He said: 'My Lord does not err nor does He forget! the One who appointed the earth to be a couch for you and threaded roads in it for you and sent down water from heaven.' (Quran 20: 52-3)
Pharaoh was confused. He did not know what to say. Then he tried to frighten Musa. He said: 'If you take a god other than me! I will make you one of the imprisoned' (Quran 26: 29)
When Pharaoh had shot that bolt, Musa wanted to hit him with Allah's bolt. He said, 'What, even if I bring you something clear?' (Quran 26: 30)
Pharaoh said: Bring it then if you are one of the truthful.' (Quran 26: 31)
So Musa threw down his staff and it was a manifest snake. He drew forth his hand and it was white to the viewers. (Quran 26: 32-3)
Pharaoh found something to say only to his companions. He said to the Council around him: 'This man is a cunning sorcerer.' (Quran 26: 34)
The people of the Council agreed. They said: 'This is a manifest sorcerer.
Musa said: 'What, do you say this to the truth when it has come to you, "ls this sorcery?" Sorcerers do not prosper.' (Quran 10: 77)
Then Pharaoh's people shot another bolt at Musa. They said: 'Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our fathers doing? Does domination in the land belong to you two? We do not believe you.' (Quran 10: 78)
Then, Pharaoh tried to alarm the Council about Musa. He said: 'He wants to drive you out of your land by sorcery. What do you command?' (Quran 26: 25)
The Council then suggested to the King that he should assemble the best sorcerers in his kingdom and that they should use their magic against Musa. The King agreed. A proclamation was made throughout the kingdom: 'Whoever knows magic should come to the King.'
Sorcerers gathered from every corner of the kingdom. Feast Day was set as the date for the contest.
The people were asked: 'Will you gather?'
Perhaps we will follow the sorcerers if they are the winners.' (Quran 26: 40)
To the square
The people left their houses in the morning and walked to the square in throngs. Children, young and old people, men and women, all were going to the square. Only the sick and the very old were left at home.
All the talk was of sorcery and the names of sorcerers.
'Has the Great Wizard of Aswan* come as well?'
'Yes, and the Wizard of Luxor" and the famous sorcerer of Giza*.'
*Names of towns in ancient Egypt.
'Brother, who do you think will win?'
'Egypt is putting forward her very best! Do you think anyone can beat them?'
'How can Musa and his brother beat them? Where did they learn magic?'
'He grew up in the King's palace and he left Egypt in fear for his life and then he spent some years in Midian.'
'So where did he learn magic?'
'In Egypt? Never!'
'In Midian? We have not heard that they possess that science there.'
The Israelites came, torn between hope and despair, perhaps more in a state of despair, saying, 'May Allah show mercy to 'Imran's son! May Allah help the Israelites!'
The sorcerers came forward in all their pride and arrogance, clothed in colourful garments, carrying their staffs and ropes. They were laughing and joking for this was the day of their science: today the King would see their art! Today the people would see their excellence!
When the sorcerers came, they said to Pharaoh: 'Shall we have a wage if we are the victors?'
He said: 'Yes, and you shall be among those near-stationed. (Quran 26: 41-2)
Such are the rewards and gifts offered by kings! That is how good men are deceived and trapped. But the sorcerers were happy with Pharaoh's promises.
Between truth and falsehood
When the sorcerers were ready, Musa told them: 'Throw down what you will throw.'
They threw their ropes and staffs and said: 'By the might of Pharaoh we will win.' (Quran 43: 44)
Then the people saw a marvellous sight: there were snakes slithering in the square. Startled, they drew back with shouts of 'Snakes! Snakes!' Some women and children screamed in alarm. The cry of 'Snakes! Snakes!' filled the square.
Musa saw the same thing that the people saw and was amazed. It seemed to him through their sorcery that their ropes and staffs were sliding. (Quran 20: 66)
Fear crept into Musa's heart. This was the day of the contest. In a contest a man is either honoured or dishonoured! If the sorcerers were to win, may Allah not decree that! If Musa were to be defeated, may Allah not allow that! What would he do then? We seek refuge with Allah!
The defeat of Musa would not only mean the defeat of one man, but the defeat of a Religion at the hands of a king, the defeat of the truth by falsehood.
Allah would never decree that! Allah would never permit that! Allah gave Musa courage and said: 'Do not be afraid. You certainly have the upper hand. Throw down what is in your right hand. It will swallow up what they have fashioned. They have only fashioned the guile of a sorcerer. The sorcerer does not prosper wherever he goes.' (Quran 20: 68-9)
Musa said: 'What you have brought is sorcery. Allah will bring it to nothing. Allah does not uphold the deeds of those who do corruption. Allah verifies the truth by His words, even though the wrong-doers are averse.' (Quran 10: 81-2)
Musa threw down his staff and it swallowed up their lying invention. (Quran 26: 45) The truth came to pass and what they were doing was proved false. (Quran 7: 118)
The sorcerers could hardly believe what they saw: 'What is this? We know sorcery and what it is based on. We know magic in all its forms. We are the masters, the leaders, of the art! But this does not come from sorcery! 'If it had been sorcery, we would have beaten it with sorcery, confronting science with science. But our sorcery fades way in the face of this. It melts away as dew melts before the sun. Where is this from? This must be from Allah!'
The sorcerers were satisfied that Musa was a Prophet and that Allah had given him a miracle. They cried out aloud: 'We believe in the Lord of Harun and Musa.' The sorcerers fell down in prostration. They said: 'We believe in the Lord of all the worlds, the Lord of Musa and Heron.' (Quran 26: 48)
Pharaoh became wild with rage. He leapt to his feet and sat down again, helpless with anger. The very thing he feared had happened! He had brought the best sorcerers to defeat Musa but the sorcerers had become Musa's followers! Also the people were now the first to believe in Musa! His arrows were turned back against him.
Pharaoh had believed that he controlled minds just as he controlled bodies, that he had power over hearts just as he had power over tongues. No-one in Egypt was allowed to believe or accept anything without his permission.
He spoke with pride and arrogance: 'You have believed in Him before I gave you leave?' (Quran 26: 49)
Pharaoh then shot another arrow, saying, 'He is your chief, the same one who taught you sorcery!' (Quran 26: 49)
Then he struck at them again, accusing them of a plot: 'This is a trick you have devised in the city in order to expel its people from it. Now you shall know!' (Quran 7: 123)
Then he struck at them with a third poisoned arrow, the final arrow in the quiver of an earthly ruler. He said: 'I shall cut off your hands and feet alternately and I will crucify all of you.' (Quran 26: 50--1)
These believers met all the arrows with the shield of belief and patience. They said: 'No matter! Indeed we are turning to our Lord. We ardently hope for our Lord to forgive us our sins and we are the first of the believers.' (Quran 26: 50-1)
They spoke with firm belief: 'We believe in our Lord that He might forgive us our sins and the sorcery you forced us to practise. Allah is better and endures forever. Whoever comes to his Lord as a sinner will have Jahannam (Hell). There he will neither die nor live. Whoever comes to Him as a believer, having performed righteous actions, those will have the highest degrees, the gardens of Eden with rivers flowing underneath them. That is the reward of those who purify themselves. '(Quran 20: 74-6)
Pharaoh was deeply worried by Musa. He spent sleepless nights, unable even to enjoy his food or drink. Other people also provoked him and he became even angrier. They said: 'Will you leave Musa and his people to work corruption in the land and leave your gods?'
He said: 'We shall slaughter their sons and let their women live. We are in power over them!' (Quran 7: 127)
Anxious to stop the Israelites and the Egyptians believing in Musa, Pharaoh proclaimed among his people: 'O people! Do I not possess the kingdom of Egypt and these rivers flowing under me? What, do you not see? Am I better or this man, who is contemptible and scarcely makes things clear?' (Quran 43: 51-2)
Pharaoh then said, with a great show of composure: 'O Council! I do not know that you have any other god than me!' (Quran 28: 38)
It was as if he had reflected deeply on the matter and was offering good advice to his people. He said: 'Haman, kindle me a fire upon the clay and build me a tower that I may climb up to Muse's God, for I think that he is one of the liars.' (28: 38)
Haman kindled a fire on the clay. He built a tower, but up to where? Haman grew weary and the workers grew weary. Pharaoh could not build high enough to reach the clouds, let alone the moon, not the moon let alone the sun, not the sun let alone the stars, not the stars let alone the sky.
Pharaoh was disappointed and ashamed. He was powerless to do his will. He did not know that Allah created the earth and the highest heavens. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and whatever is between them and what is under the earth. (Quran 20: 4-6)
He is the One who is Cod in the heavens and Cod in the earth. (Quran 43: 84)
Pharaoh decided that the only way to beat Musa was to kill him. Pharaoh said: 'Let me kill Musa and let him call to his Lord. J fear that he may change your religion or he may cause corruption to appear in the land.' (Quran 40: 26)
A believer from Pharaoh's people
While Pharaoh was plotting how to kill Musa, a certain man, a believer from among Pharaoh's people, who had kept his belief hidden, said: 'Are you going to kill a man just because he says, "My Lord is Allah", when he has brought you the clear proofs from your Lord?' (Quran 40: 28)
This man then said: 'Why do you oppose Musa and seek to harm him? If you do not believe him, then leave him alone and let him go his way: If he is a liar, then his lie is on his own head ... (Quran 40: 28) If you harm him and attack him and he turns out truly to be a Prophet, then woe will befall you. If he is telling the truth, some of what he warns (you of) will befall you.' (Quran 40: 28)
'My brothers, do not be dazzled by your kingdom. Do not be dazzled by your strength and armies!'
'O my people, you have the kingdom today, being masters in the land. But who will help us against Allah's punishment if it comes upon us?' (Quran 40: 29)
Pharaoh's answer was: 'I only let you see what I myself see and I only guide you on the path of guidance.' (Quran 40: 29)
The believer wanted to warn his people about a terrible punishment and the fate of those who are unjust. He said: 'O my people, I fear for you the like of the day of the Parties, the like of what happened to the people of Nuh, 'Ad and Thamud and those after them. Allah does not desire injustice for His servants. '(Quran 40: 31)
This sensible man tried to make them fear the Day of Judgement. And how awesome is that Day!
A day when a man shall flee from his brother, his mother and his father, and his wife and his sons. Every man on that day will have concern enough for himself to make him heedless (of others). (Quran 80: 34-7)
Friends on that day will be enemies to one another, except for the God-fearing (Quran 43: 67)
There will be no kinship between them and they will not question one another. (Quran 23: 101)
On the day when the All-Powerful King calls out: 'Whose is the Kingdom today?' 'Allah's, the One, the All-Mighty.' (Quran 40: 16)
The day when people are alarmed and shout and call to one another, the day when they turn around in retreat, they will have no protector against Allah.
The sensible man then said: 'O my people, I fear for you the Day of Invocation, the day when you turn about in retreat having no protector against Allah. Whoever Allah misguides has no guide (or him.' (Quran 40: 33)
He continued: 'Allah gave you a blessing, but you did not recognize its excellence, nor did you value it as it should have been valued, until it had gone. Then you regretted it. That was the Prophet Yusuf, may Allah's peace and blessing be upon him, whom you did not recognize and whose worth you did not esteem.
'But when he died, you said, "Glory be to Allah! There will never be a Prophet like Yusuf! There will never be a king like Yusuf There will never be a man like Yusuf!
Who will we have for a Prophet after him? Who will we ever have like him? No-one! There will never be anyone like him!"
'Yusuf brought you the clear signs before/ but you continued in doubt concerning what he had brought you until you said, "Allah will never send a messenger after him." (Quran 40: 34)
'That is how you will behave after this Prophet as well, and again you will regret it!'
The man's good advice
The man warned his people and gave them of his love and best counsel.
The man who believed said: 'O my people, follow me. I will guide you in the path of guidance.' (Quran 40: 38)
He knew that the people were intoxicated with the life of this world and that Pharaoh was dazzled by his kingdom and power. But the life of this world is nothing but a dream, a fading shadow.
This man knew what kept people from following Musa. It was because they were drunk with the pleasures of this life. The drunkard, when he is drunk, is not afraid, and he is not aware. That is why these people could not hear Musa's voice. But the man still wanted to call their attention to this heedlessness. He said: 'O my people, the life of this world is only a brief enjoyment. The Next World is the Lasting Abode.' (Quran 40: 39)
Those of his people who were ignorant began to call him back to unbelief and idol-worship, back to the religion of their ancestors. When he said to them, 'Come to Allah,' they said, 'Return to the religion of your ancestors.'
They insisted so much that he said to them: 'O my people, how is it that I call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire? You call me to reject Allah and associate with Him that of which I have no knowledge, while I call you to the Mighty, the Forgiving.'(Quran 40: 41-2) He asked them: 'What Prophet has come from your gods? What book has been sent down? Who has called you to what you believe? These are names you have named, you and your fathers. Allah has not sent down any authority for them. (Quran 53: 23)
'It is the Messengers of Allah who call to Allah. Among them were Ibrahim, peace be upon him, and Yusuf. And Musa is the Prophet of Allah.
'There is a sign of Allah in every thing, a call to Him in every place. While there can be 'no doubt that what you call me to does not have any claim, either in this world or in the Next World. (Quran 40: 43)
When the man despaired of guiding them and was exasperated with their stupidity, he left them, saying, 'You will remember what I told you. I entrust my affair to Allah. Allah sees His slaves.' (Quran 40: 44)
The people of Pharaoh became angry and wanted to kill him, but Allah protected him and destroyed his enemies.
Allah guarded him against the evils they devised and an evil punishment encompassed the people of Pharaoh. (Quran 40: 45)
Pharaoh believed that he was the master of people's minds in the same way that he was of their bodies, that he had power over people's hearts as he had power over their tongues. No-one in Egypt was allowed to believe anything or accept anything without his permission.
When anyone believed in Musa, even in the furthest part of his kingdom, Pharaoh became furious. He leapt to his feet and sat down again, he thundered and raged. He would say: 'How can he believe in Musa before [ have given him permission! He lives in comfort in my kingdom and now he rebels against me! He consumes my provision and now he is ungrateful to me! I have a better right to every single man in Egypt than the man himself has!'
Pharaoh forgot that he was living in comfort in Allah's kingdom and yet he was rebelling against Him. He was consuming Allah's provision and yet was ungrateful to Him.
Allah showed him a sign in his own house, within his own family. Allah showed him that He alone is the King of people's minds in the same way that He is the King of their bodies, that He alone has power over people's hearts as He has power over their tongues. Allah can come between a man and his family, between a man and his heart.
Belief entered Pharaoh's house without him being aware of it, showing that he was not in control of anything. Pharaoh's wife believed in Allah and rejected Pharaoh. She believed in Musa in spite of her husband, the King of Egypt. She knew Pharaoh better than anyone else, and Pharaoh loved her better than anyone else, but she believed in Musa and in the message he brought from Allah.
Pharaoh's guards could not do anything; they were unaware of this event. Indeed, Pharaoh, who was closest to the Queen, was himself unaware of it. Even if Pharaoh had known, what could he have done? He owned people's bodies, but not their minds. He had power over people's tongues, but no power over their hearts.
A woman should obey her husband, but no-one should obey a creature who is in rebellion against his Creator. Children should obey their parents and be dutiful to them, but they do not have to obey them in the associating of things with Allah: If they try to make you associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them. Keep their company in this world kindly and follow the path of the one who turns to Me. Then you will return to Me and I will tell you what you were doing. (Quran 31: 15)
Pharaoh's wife was correct in her belief. She worshipped Allah in the house of Allah's enemy. She declared to Allah that she was innocent of what Pharaoh was doing. Allah was pleased with Pharaoh's wife and saved her from Pharaoh and his actions. Allah made her an example for the believers through her faith and courage.
Allah made an example of Pharaoh's wife for those who believe when she said, 'My Lord, build me a house with You in the Carden and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the unjust people.' (Quran 66: 11)
The testing of the Israelites
As people knew that Pharaoh was hostile to the Israelites, they sided with him and displayed their hostility towards them also. Their children were rude to the Israelites and their dogs chased them. Every day brought a new trial. Every night brought a new disaster.
Musa consoled his people and advised them to be patient. He told them: 'Pray for Allah's help and be patient. The land belongs to Allah. He will bequeath it to whomever of His slaves He wills. The final outcome belongs to those who fear Allah.'(Quran 7: 128)
The Israelites disliked this trial and persecution and told Musa: 'You haven't helped us at all! You haven't spared us anything! We were harmed before you came to us and after you came to us.' (Quran 7: 129)
But Musa was not alarmed. He did not despair. He said, 'Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and will appoint you successors in the land, so that He can see how you act.'
Musa said: 'Oh my people, if you believe in Allah, you must trust in Him, if you have surrendered yourselves to Him.'
They said: 'We have put our trust in Allah, our Lord. Do not make us a temptation for the wrong-doing people. Save us by Your mercy from the people of the unbelievers.' (Quran 10: 84-6)
Pharaoh had forbidden the Israelites from worshipping Allah. He was angry when he saw them worshipping Him or praying to Him. He had forbidden them from making mosques for Allah in his land. It enraged him to see Allah being worshipped in his land.
How ignorant of Allah he was! The land belongs to Allah, not to any Pharaoh. Who could be more unjust than someone who forbids Allah's slaves from worshipping Allah in Allah's land. Who could be more unjust than someone who calls on people to worship himself in Allah's land?
But Pharaoh could not keep people from doing whatever they liked in their own homes! Allah commanded the Israelites on the tongue of Musa: 'Make your houses a direction for men to pray, and perform the prayer.' (Quran10: 87)
Pharaoh and his guards were powerless to prevent the Israelites worshipping Allah. Who can come between a slave and his Lord? Who can come between a Muslim and the worship of Allah?
As Pharaoh became more tyrannical and heedless, Allah wanted to warn him. Allah does not like His slaves to disbelieve. He does not like corruption in the land.
Pharaoh was very silly. Wise words and warnings were wasted on him. Certain donkeys do not take any notice until they are beaten. Allah wanted to make Pharaoh take notice.
Egypt was a green, fertile land, a land of blessings and fruits, a land where grain grew in abundance. You remember how Egypt helped distant lands in the years of famine during the time of Yusuf and how Egypt helped the people of Syria and Canaan. The Nile gives water to Egypt and irrigates its crops. It is a source of joy and blessing to the people of that land.
Pharaoh and the Egyptian people thought that the Nile was the key to their provision and the Nile made Egypt so rich that it did not need rain or anything else. They did not know that the keys of provision are with Allah and that Allah gives provision to whoever He wills, and withholds it from whoever He wills. They did not know that the Nile flows and floods at Allah's command.
Allah commanded the Nile, and its waters receded and disappeared into the ground. Without those waters how could the crops of the Egyptian people be irrigated? The fruits of the land disappeared and its grain dwindled. There was famine after famine.
Pharaoh was seen to be powerless. Haman was seen to be powerless. Pharaoh's guards were seen to be unable to devise any plot. Then the people of Egypt knew that Pharaoh was not their Lord and that provision was in the hands of Allah. But that did not benefit Pharaoh or his people, it did not wake them up. Satan was able to come between them and the warning lesson they had been given. They decided: 'These famines and bad years are bad luck which come from Musa and his people.'
How strange an excuse! Had Musa not been there before? Had not the Israelites been there for a long time? It was bad luck brought about by their own actions, their own unbelief. But Pharaoh and his people were stubborn and said: 'We will not submit to this magic. Whatever sign you bring to us to bewitch us, we will not believe you.' (Quran 7: 132)
Allah then sent them another sign. He sent rains and the Nile overflowed. It rained and rained until the fields were so flooded that the crops were washed away. The rain became a curse. The people complained about the lack of it and now they were complaining about too much.
Then Allah sent locusts which devoured the crops and fields and stripped the trees. They left nothing behind. The armies of Pharaoh could not fight the army of Allah. How could they fight them when neither swords nor spears were of any use against them?
The people of Egypt saw that Pharaoh was weak and that Haman was powerless and that the plots of the guards were of no use. But they did not reflect! They did not take note!
Allah then sent another army, an army of lice. He gave the lice power over them. We seek refuge with Allah! Lice in their beds, in their clothes, on their heads, in their hair! They spent sleepless nights looking for lice and cursing them until morning. How could they fight them, when neither swords nor spears affected them. Their armies and guards could not save them.
Then Allah sent frogs. There were frogs in their storage vessels for food and drink. They found frogs even in their clothes. The frogs made their lives a misery. The frogs multiplied and were found all over their houses. They croaked all night. One jumped here and another hopped there. Whenever they killed one, ten more appeared. The guards were powerless against the frogs.
Allah then sent a fifth sign against them: blood. Their noses bled and this enfeebled and exhausted them. Their doctors were unable to treat them. No medicine helped. Whenever they saw a sign, they said to Musa: 'Ask your Lord to remove this affliction from us. We repent and believe, and we will send the Israelites away with you.' But when Allah removed the affliction from them, they broke their promise.
So we let loose on them the flood and the locusts and lice, the frogs and the blood distinct signs. But they became proud and were a sinful people. (Quran 7: 133)
The Israelites realized that they could not live any longer in Egypt. Though it was a vast land, what use could they make of its fertility and blessings while they were in prison suffering all sorts of torment and humiliation? How long could they be patient? Were they not human beings suffering injury and pain?
Allah revealed to Musa that he should lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharaoh's guards heard of this and informed Pharaoh.
One night Musa led the twelve tribes of Israelites, each with its own leader, out of Egypt towards the Holy Land. The road to Syria was direct and well-known. It went between the two lands. Musa had already travelled it when he went to Midian, and again when he returned to Egypt.
But Musa meant to go one way while Allah intended him to go another. What Allah wanted was what happened. In the darkness Musa took the wrong road and, when Musa made this mistake, what Allah willed to happen happened. Musa intended to take the Israelites to the north. However, they found themselves heading towards the east. They found themselves on the shores of the Red Sea.
'O Protector! O Veiler! Where are we?'
The answer was: 'We are on the seashore.'
As the dawn broke, they looked back and saw a huge cloud of dust. Coming after them was a great army which filled the horizon. Voices were raised, saying, 'Son of 'Imran! What did you have against us to make you plot to kill us? You have brought us to the edge of the sea so that Pharaoh can kill us here like rats, when there is no way of escape.
'We know of no wrong that we have done to you, so why are you taking revenge like this? Wasn't the hardship and affliction we have already endured enough for you without you bringing us here? We have the sea in front of us and the enemy behind us. There is no outcome for us but death.'
Then the Israelites were seized by despair and their voices were stilled. Everyone was afraid. Even firm mountains would have had the right to tremble.
But Musa's faith in his Lord was not shaken. The people heard a voice filled with the majesty of prophethood: 'No, but my Lord is with me. He will guide me.' (Quran 26: 62)
Then Allah commanded Musa to strike the sea with his staff. He struck it and the sea divided. The waters rose up like mountains one on either side. There were twelve paths, one for each tribe. The people crossed unharmed and reached the land of safety and peace.
Pharaoh saw how the Israelites had crossed the sea in safety. He said to his armies, 'Look how the sea divides freely at my command so that I can catch these fugitives.'
Pharaoh advanced with his armies and the Israelites were in fear once again. 'Here is the enemy, the tyrant, intending to cross over to us! Nothing will keep him from us! He will catch us and take us back to Egypt in captivity or slaughter us as exiles in the desert!'
Musa thought to strike the land with his staff so that it would once more become sea as it had been before. But Allah revealed to him: 'Leave the sea alone. They are a drowned army.' (Quran 44: 24)
When Pharaoh and his armies reached the middle of the path through the sea, the sea flooded back over them. Only now, with the waves crashing around him, did Pharaoh face up to the truth. Until, when drowning overtook him, he said 't believe that there is no god except the One in whom the Israelites believe, and I am one of the believers. ' (Quran 10: 90)
How deep he was in error! Allah will not turn towards those who do wrong actions until, when one of them is near death, he says, 'I repent now.' (Quran 4: 18) The day that certain of the signs of your Lord do come, no good will it do to a soul to believe in them then, if it believed not before, nor earned righteousness through its faith. (Quran 6: 158)
Pharaoh was told: 'Now? When you rebelled before and were one of the corrupters!' (Quran 10: 91)
Pharaoh drowned in the sea.
The tyrant who had ordered the deaths of thousands of children was dead. The tyrant who had had thousands of people killed, cruelly and without mercy, was dead. The King of Egypt died far away from his throne, far away from his power, without anyone to console him or anyone to weep for him.
Some of the Israelites, aware of Pharaoh's great power began to doubt if he had really died: 'Perhaps Pharaoh is not dead. Did we not use to see him go for days without eating or drinking.' Then the sea cast up Pharaoh's body on the shore and they were sure that he was dead.
Allah the Exalted said to Pharaoh: 'Today We will deliver you with your body so that you will be a sign for those after you.' (Quran 10: 92) The body of Pharaoh was a sign for those who are able to see, a lesson for those who are capable of learning a lesson.
Pharaoh's army drowned to the last man. They had left Egypt behind them and did not find a cubit for burial in all its vast land.
How many gardens and fountains they left behind, sown fields, and how noble a station, and what blessings they delighted in! lust like that, and We bequeathed them to another people. Neither the heaven nor the earth wept for them and they were not given a reprieve. (Quran 44: 25-9)
In the desert
The Israelites reached the land of security and peace and breathed its air as noble and free men. There were neither Pharaoh nor Haman nor their guards to fear. They walked in safety, fearing none but Allah.
But they were city people and the sun in the desert was too hot for them. They did not have tents which could shelter them from the sun. Yet they were the guests of Allah, and His generosity is greater than any other's generosity. Allah commanded the clouds to give them shade. The clouds went with them wherever they went and stopped whenever they stopped.
The Israelites were thirsty and there was no water in the desert, no river or well. They went to Musa and complained to him as a child complains to its mother and asks for her help. They complained of their thirst.
Musa called on his Lord. To whom else could he turn? Allah said: 'Strike the rock with your staff.' Twelve springs gushed forth from it. All the people knew their drinking-place. (Quran 2: 60)
The Israelites were hungry and complained to Musa as a child complains to its mother and asks for her help. They said: 'You brought us out of Egypt, the land of fruits and produce, the land of blessings and good things. Who will give us food in this desert?'
Musa called on his Lord. Who else did he have besides Him? Allah sent down food on them. He sent down sweet things for them onto the leaves of the trees and He sent birds to them which could easily be taken from the trees. These things were manna and salwa, Allah's hospitality to the Israelites in the desert.
The ingratitude of the Israelites
But the tastes and morals of the Israelites had become corrupted by their long enslavement. They could not make up their minds about anything, and were constantly discontented. They were like spoilt children. They showed little gratitude and had many complaints. They were quick to become bored, wanting what they were forbidden and hating what they were given. It was not long before they told Musa: 'We don't like only having one kind of food. We do not like this meat and this sweet stuff. We want vegetables and green herbs. Musa, we will not endure one sort of food. Ask your Lord to bring forth for us of what the earth produces of its green herbs, cucumbers, corn, lentils and onions. (Quran 2: 61)
Musa was amazed at this strange request and said in a voice filled with disapproval: 'Would you take what is inferior in exchange for what is better?' (Quran 2: 61)
Are herbs and vegetables better than birds and sweets that no human hand has touched? Is the food of peasants better than the food of kings?
But the Israelites continued to ask for vegetables and green herbs. Then Musa said: 'What you ask for exists in every village and city. Get down to a township. There you will have what you ask for. ' (Quran 2: 61)
The stubbornness of the Israelites
The Israelites were like spoilt, stubborn children who, when they are told to do something, make fun of it and do the opposite. It is as if they think it is clever to change whatever they are told. So when they are told, 'Stand up,' they sit down; when they are told, 'Sit down,' they stand up. When they are told, 'Be quiet,' they speak; when they are told, 'Speak,' they are silent.
They had wanted to be settled in a village and eat tasty food made of vegetables and green herbs. But when they were told: 'Enter this township and eat freely from it wherever you like and enter the gate in prostration and say, "Repentance." We will forgive you your errors and increase the good-doers.' (Quran 2: 58), they were angry at this command from Allah. They entered the village reluctantly.
'Those who did wrong substituted words other than those which had been said to them. ' (Quran 2: 59) So Allah sent down affliction on them and spread a plague among them so that they died like rats.
When they were given a command, they asked many questions and disputed it, so avoiding doing what they were asked to do.
A murder took place among the Israelites and they were worried about it. They could not find the killer. They went to Musa and said: 'Prophet of Allah, help us in this case and ask Allah to make it clear to us who the killer is.'
Musa called on his Lord who revealed to him that he should command them to make a sacrifice of a cow. For the Israelites, this was as if some misfortune had befallen them, so they began to question and mock.
When Musa said to his people: 'Allah commands you to sacrifice a cow, ' they said, 'Are you mocking us? 'He said, 'I seek refuge in Allah lest I be one of the ignorant.' (Quran 2: 67)
Now they asked Musa many questions. They said: 'Ask your Lord for us to make clear to us what she may be.'
He said: 'He says that she is a cow neither old nor virgin, but between the two. Do as you are commanded.' (Quran 2: 68)
But they did not stop with that question. They began to ask about the cow's colour. They said: 'Ask your Lord for us to make clear to us what her colour is.'
He said: 'He says that she is a golden cow, bright in colour, delighting those who see.' (Quran 2: 69)
Then, when they could not think of a definite question, they came up with a vague, general question. They said: 'Ask your Lord for us to make clear to us what she may be. All cows are much the same to us. If Allah wills, we will be guided.'
He said: 'He says that she is a cow not trained to plough the earth nor irrigate the crops, sound, no flaw in her.' (Quran 2: 70)
They accepted this time because they said, 'If Allah wills, we will be guided,' so they were guided.
But their questions had made things difficult for them. If they had sacrificed any cow, that would have been enough. But they looked for difficulties for themselves, so Allah provided for them. They searched for a medium-sized golden cow, radiant in colour, which had not tilled the earth nor irrigated a field, sound, without flaw. This sort of cow was very rare. The cows were either old or virgin. Or they were medium-sized, but not golden. Or they were medium-sized and golden, but their colour was not radiant. Or they were medium-sized, golden cows of radiant colour, but trained to till the earth. Or they were medium-sized and golden, of radiant colour and did not till the earth, but they irrigated the fields.
They searched and searched and realized the evil of their bickering. 'What should she be like? What should her colour be? Where is she?' They grew weary.
Allah desired good for an orphan child and so they found this cow which Allah had described, and they had to pay him a very high price for it. 'They sacrificed it but they almost did not do it.' (Quran 2: 71)
Allah then commanded that the murdered man be struck with a piece of the cow. Then he came back to life and told them the name of his killer. That is indeed how it was.
The Israelites left a life of beasts of burden for a life of men. They went to live in the desert as free and noble men. They needed a divine law to provide judgement between them and to illuminate a path for them. Mankind cannot live as human beings unless they have a divine law and a light from their Lord.
The entire world is darkness upon darkness except when someone has a shining light from his Lord; and that light is the light of the Prophets which gives people the guidance they need. Whoever is not guided by this light is astray and acts haphazardly. Without this light, beliefs are only fancies and superstitions for children to laugh at.
They only follow supposition and supposition does not help at all against the truth. (Quran 53: 28) Have you not heard about the beliefs of polytheists, and other non-Muslims?
Their knowledge is in fact ignorance, conjecture, superstition and hearsay. They follow but a guess and lo! a guess can never take the place of the Truth. (Quran 53: 28)
Their 'Morality' consists of nothing but excess and negligence, laxity and prodigality. Do you not see how those who do not follow the Prophets violate people's rights, exceed the proper limits and follow their whims? Their government and politics are nothing but injustice, despotism and attacks on people's property, rights and lives.
Do you not see how the people in power who have no fear of Allah and do not follow the Shari'a break their trusts, abuse the property of Allah, and violate people's rights and lives? Do you not see how they enslave people and split them up into sects by slaughtering their men and letting their women live?
All the world is darkness within darkness within darkness except for the one who has a shining light from his Lord: Shadows of darkness piled one upon another. When he puts forth his hand he almost cannot see it. Whoever does not have a light assigned to him by Allah has no light. (Quran 24: 40)
The Prophet teaches people how to worship Allah. He also teaches them how to behave with each other. The Prophet teaches people what is correct in life and what is correct in religion. He teaches them how to eat, how to drink, how to sleep, how to sit, how to behave in every situation.
The Prophet teaches people how to live as a kind father teaches his beloved children. People need the teaching of the Prophets as much, or even more than they needed the teaching of their parents when they were children.
Those who do not receive this prophetic teaching and do not learn manners from the Prophets are like wild trees. They grow up untended, so in them you see crookedness, thorniness and rottenness.
Allah did not want the Israelites to perish as other nations, who had neither book nor guidance from Allah, had perished. He did not want them to act haphazardly as other nations had acted.
Allah commanded Musa to purify himself and to fast for thirty days. Then he was to go to Mount Sinai so that his Lord could speak to him and give him a book which would guide the Israelites. Musa picked out seventy men from his people to be witnesses to that because the Israelites were a contentious people.
Because the community must have a leader, he said to his brother Harun: 'Be my successor among my people. Put things right. Do not follow the way of those who work corruption' (Quran 7: 142)
Musa went to keep the appointment with his Lord, but his yearning drew him towards his Lord and he rushed ahead and arrived first at the Mount. Allah said, 'What has sped you ahead of your people, Muse?
He said, 'They are on my tracks. I have hastened to You, my Lord, only to please You. (Quran 20: 83-4)
Allah commanded him to fulfil the appointment with his Lord by remaining forty days in all.
Musa went to Mount Sinai and his Lord spoke to him intimately and brought him near. This increased his yearning and he said: 'O my Lord, let me look at You!' (Quran 7: 143)
Allah knew that this was not possible for Musa because 'the eyes do not perceive Him, but He does perceive the eyes. He is the Subtle, the Aware.' (Quran 6: 103)
Even the mountains are unable to bear His words, let alone see Him: 'If We had sent down this Our'an on a mountain, you would have seen it humbled, split asunder out of fear of Allah.' (Quran 59: 21)
He said: 'You will not see Me, but look at the mountain. If it stays fast in its place, then you will see Me. I When his Lord revealed Himself to the mountain, He made it crumble to dust and Musa fell down in a swoon.
When he woke, he said: 'Glory be to Allah! I turn to You in repentance and I am the first of the believers. '
He said: 'Musa, I have chosen you over all the people for My message and My words. Take what I have given you and be one of the thankful.' (Quran 7: 144)
Musa took the Tablets which contained all the admonition that the Israelites needed and the details of everything. Allah commanded him to take hold of it forcefully and command his people to do their best according to it.
When Musa came to the seventy men of his people and told them what Allah had given him, they said insolently: 'We will not believe until we see Allah openly.' (Quran 2: 55) Allah was angry at this impudence, so a thunderbolt struck them while they were looking. They realized that they could not even endure this thunderbolt which Allah had created. So how would they possibly be able to endure the light of Allah!
Musa called on his Lord and said: 'My Lord, if You had wished, You could have destroyed them before as well as me. Will You destroy us for what the foolish among us did?' (Quran 7: 155)
Allah answered Musa's prayer and restored them to life so that they might show their gratitude.
The Israelites had lived with the idol-worshippers in Egypt for many generations. The Copts used to worship many things in Egypt. The Israelites had seen that with their own eyes. Dislike of idol-worship had slipped away from them and love of it had seeped into them, as water seeps into an old, unused house. Whenever they had the chance, they began to worship idols. Their hearts swerved and their tastes became corrupted. Whenever they saw the path of right guidance, they did not take it. Whenever they saw the path of error, they took it.
They crossed the sea and came upon a people holding to idols they had. They said: 'Musa, make a god for us as they have gods.'
Musa became angry and said, 'You are an ignorant people! (Quran 7: 138-9)
'What unbelievable wickedness! Allah has blessed you and preferred you and given you what He has not given anyone else in the entire world! Should I seek a god for you other than Allah who has preferred you over all beings?' (Quran 7: 140)
When Musa went to the Mount and was absent from them for some days, they became playthings for Satan and fell prey to associating things with Allah. One of their men called 'the Samiri' got up and produced a calf for them, a mere body that lowed. They said: 'This is your god and the god of Musa whom he has forgotten. ' (Quran 20: 88)
The Israelites were seduced by this calf and bowed to it, their hearts were so deaf and blind to truth. What? Did they not see that that thing did not return any word to them nor possess power to harm or benefit them? (Quran 20: 89) Did they not see that it did not speak to them nor guide them upon a path? (Quran 7: 148)
Harun forbade them to do this and tried hard to dissuade them, saying: 'O my people, you have been tempted by the thing. Your Lord is the Ali-Merciful. Follow me and obey what I command.' (Quran 20: 90)
But the Israelites were seduced by the magic of the Samiri and love of the calf was made to sink into their hearts. They said: 'We will not cease to be its votaries until Musa returns to us.' (Quran 20: 91)
When Allah told Musa that the Samiri had misled the Israelites, he went back to his people in sorrow and anger. He was angry with his people and angry for Allah's sake with his brother Harun. He said: 'Harun, what kept you back, when you saw them going astray, that you did not follow me? Did you disobey my command?'
Harun apologized and said: 'I was afraid that you would say, "You have divided the Children of Israel and have not observed my word." (Quran 20: 92-4) The people have abased me and nearly killed me. ' (Quran 7: 150)
He said: 'Oh my Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us to Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the Merciful.' (Quran 7: 151 )
Then Musa turned to the Samiri and said: 'What was your business, O Samiri?'
The Samiri admitted his crime and said: 'That is how my self prompted me.' (Quran 20: 96)
He said: 'Go! In this life it is for you to say, "Touch me not!"' (Quran 20: 97)
Musa punished him by isolating him. He had to walk alone and live alone like a wild creature without any friends. What punishment could be worse? The one who pollutes thousands of people with idol-worship should be considered unclean and shunned. The one who comes between Allah and His slaves should be separated from mankind. The one who calls people to idol-worship in the land of Allah is a great sinner, the entire earth should be his prison.
Then Musa commanded that the cursed calf should be burned. When that was done, he threw it into the sea. The Israelites saw the fate of the calf they had worshipped and saw that it was weak and powerless.
Musa turned to the Israelites and said: 'My people! You have wronged yourselves by taking the Calf. So turn to the Creator and kill yourselves. That would be better for you in your Creator's sight.' (Quran 2: 54)
That is what they did. Those who had not worshipped the calf killed those who had worshipped it. So Allah turned to them.
Allah the Exalted said: 'Those who took the Calf will be overtaken by wrath from their Lord and abasement in the life of this world. That is how We repay forgers.' (Quran 7: 152)
That is how calf-worshippers will be treated until the Day of Judgement! That is how all idol-worshippers and those who associate others with Allah will be treated until the Day of Judgement!
The cowardice of the Israelites
The Israelites had grown up in Egypt in slavery, humiliation and abasement. The children and the young men had only known this way of life. The blood had frozen in their veins. This was shown in their lack of courage, self-respect and enthusiasm. They were not used to leading themselves, to struggling and fighting; they had never even talked about such matters.
Guided by revelation from Allah, Musa wanted them to enter the Holy Land. There they could live free and secure. But Musa recognized the cowardice and weakness in the character of the Israelites. He wanted to inspire them and to make things easy for them, for the Holy Land was controlled by a strong, arrogant people.
The Israelites refused to enter the Holy Land until those arrogant people had been driven from it. Musa mentioned Allah's blessing to them, how Allah had preferred them over all people, so that they would be eager to strive in the way of Allah and would despise the humiliating and undignified life they were leading.
When Musa said to his people, 'O my people, remember Allah's blessing to you, how He placed among you Prophets and made you kings and gave you what He did not give any of the people.' (Quran 5: 20)
Then he said to them: 'The Holy Land is before you. All you have to do is get up and take it from your enemies. When Allah wants and decrees something for someone, He makes it easy for him to have it. There is no averting the decree of Allah. O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you. 'He was afraid that their cowardice would get the better of them and added: 'Do not turn back on your backs for you will turn back as losers.' (Quran 5: 21)
What Musa had been afraid of happened. Their answer, in spite of all that he had said, was: 'Musa, there are arrogant people in it. We will not enter it until they leave it. If they leave it, then we will enter.' (Quran 5: 22)
Two men from among those who feared Allah, whom Allah had blessed, said: 'Enter the gate against them. When you enter it you will be the victors. Put your trust in Allah If you are believers.' (Quran 5: 23)
But that had no effect on them. They said: 'If it must be entered, then you enter it by means of a miracle. If we hear that you have entered it, then we will also come and enter in safety.'
They said: 'Musa, we will never enter it as long as they are in it. Go, you and your Lord and fight. We will remain sitting here.' (Quran 5: 24)
Then Musa became angry and despaired of those men. He said: 'O my Lord, I have control of none but myself and my brother, so distinguish between us and the ungodly people.'
Allah said: 'It will be forbidden to them for forty years while they wander in the land bewildered. Do not grieve for the ungodly people.' (Quran 5: 25)
During this period, the generation who had grown up in Egypt in servitude and abasement died. Another generation grew up who had been raised in this wandering, in hardship. That was the nation of the future. This has been the fate of the Jews in all times that they are a wandering nation leading a life of humiliation and slavery.
The path of knowledge
The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said: 'Musa stood up to speak among the Israelites and was asked, "Who has the most knowledge?" He replied, "I have."'
Allah rebuked him for not having attributed all knowledge to Allah.
Allah revealed to him: 'One of My slaves who can be found at the place where the two seas meet knows more than you.
He asked: 'O Lord, how can I find him?' He was told: 'Carry a fish in a basket. When you lose it, he will be there.'
He set off with his servant, Yusha' ibn Nun. They carried a fish in a basket. They reached a rock, where they lay down and slept. The fish slipped out of the basket and made its way to the sea by burrowing. Musa and his servant witnessed this extraordinary happening.
They went on for the rest of the day and the following night. The next morning, Musa said to his servant: 'Bring us our breakfast. We have encountered weariness in this journey of ours.' Musa had not felt weary until he passed the place he had been commanded to reach. His servant said: 'What do you think? When we took refuge in the rock, I forgot the fish.'
Musa said: 'That is what we were seeking.' So they turned back and retraced their steps.
When they reached the rock, they found a man wrapped in a cloak. Musa greeted him. The man, whose name was AI-Khadir, said, surprised: 'Is there such a greeting in your land?'
He said: 'I am Musa.'
He asked: 'Musa of the Israelites?'
Musa replied: 'Yes.' Then he asked: Shall I follow you so that you can teach me right guidance from what you have been taught?'
He said, 'You will not be able to bear with me patiently. (Quran 18: 66--7) Musa, I have some knowledge which Allah has taught me which He has not taught you. You have knowledge which Allah has taught you which I do not know.'
Musa said: 'If Allah wills, you will find me patient and I will not disobey you in anything.' (Quran 18: 69)
They walked together beside the sea. They did not have a boat. Then a boat passed by and the people in it offered to carry them. Then the people recognized Af- Khadir and they carried them without charge.
A sparrow landed on the edge of the boat and pecked once or twice at the sea. AI-Khadir said: 'Musa, all that is lacking from my knowledge and your knowledge from Allah is like the pecking of this sparrow in the sea.'
AI-Khadir then stove in one of the panels of the boat. Musa said. 'These people have carried us for free and then you go and deliberately make a hole in their boat so that its people will drown!'
Al-Khadir said: 'Did I not say that you would not be able to bear with me patiently.'
Musa said: 'Do not take me to task for forgetting and be not hard on me for my fault.' (Quran 18: 73)
The first excuse given by Musa was that he had forgotten.
They went on until they came upon a boy playing with some other boys. AI-Khadir took hold of the top of the boy's head and jerked his head back with his hand. Musa said: 'What, have you killed an innocent soul who has slain no man?'
He said: 'Did I not say to you that you would not be able to bear with me patiently?' (Quran 18: 74-5)
They went on again until they came to a city. They asked the people there for food, but they refused to give them any. They found a wall in the city which was about to fall down. Al-Khadir set it upright with his own hand.
Musa said: 'If you had wished, you could have taken a wage for it.'
He said: 'This is the parting between you and me.' (Quran 18: 77--8)
The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said: 'May Allah have mercy on Musa. We wish that he had been more patient so that we could have heard more about the two of them.' (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Then al-Khadir informed Musa: 'As for the boat, it belonged to some poor people who worked upon the sea. I wanted to damage it since there was a king behind them who was seizing every [sound] boat by force. (Quran 18: 79)
As for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared that he would grieve them with insolence and disbelief on them. We wanted for their Lord to give them a better one in purity and closer in affection. (Quran 18: 80--1)
As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city. There was a treasure under it which belonged to them. Their father was a righteous man so your Lord wanted for them to come of age and then bring forth their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. (Quran 18: 81)
I did not do it of my own bidding. That is the interpretation of what you could not bear patiently.' (Quran 18: 82)
Then Musa realized that no-one could encompass all of Allah's knowledge and that some people have some of His knowledge while other people have another part of it. Over everyone endowed with knowledge there is one more knowing. (Quran 12: 76)
The Israelites after Musa
Musa died while the Israelites were still wandering in the land as a punishment from Allah and as a repayment for what they had done.
Allah afflicted them with abasement and poverty and they deserved His anger. They had angered Allah, the One who had appointed Prophets from among them and made them kings and had given them what He had not given any other people in their time.
Allah, the One Who had rescued them from the people of Pharaoh who were subjecting them to an evil punishment, slaughtering their sons and letting their daughters live.
Allah, the One Who had divided the sea for them and had rescued them and drowned the people of Pharaoh before their eyes.
Allah, the One Who had made the clouds shade them and had sent down manna and salwa for them.
Allah, the One Who had made the earth gush forth springs for them and had given them ample food and drink.
They repaid all that by rejecting the signs of Allah, rebelling and transgressing.
They angered their Prophet Musa, the kindest of Allah's creatures to them, the one who was kinder to them than their own fathers and mothers. He was as tender to them as a wet-nurse is to the baby she feeds, as a tender mother is towards her child.
The one they cursed, prayed for them. Whenever they laughed at him, he wept. Whenever they were harsh to him, he had pity on them.
He was the one who had rescued them from the tyrant Pharaoh and brought them out of Egypt to a land of freedom and honour, from a life of wretched slavery to a life of noble freedom.
They angered him, injured him, doggedly opposed him, mocked him, and considered him to be the humblest man among them while he was the most noble in the eyes of Allah.
Did they not deserve their punishment, wretchedness and constant wandering, and that they will never prosper? Yes, they indeed deserve all this and even worse because of their evil deeds: 'Allah did not wrong them. But they wronged themselves.' (Quran 16: 33)