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What the Qur'an teaches: Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh

Published: 01/07/2011 01:31:00 AM GMT
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In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful Pharaoh proclaimed to his people, saying: ‘My people, is the kingdom of Egypt not mine, with all these rivers flowing at my feet? Do you not see? Am I not better than this contemptible wretch who can hardly make his meaning clear? Why have no bracelets of gold been given to him? Why have no angels come to accompany him?' Thus did he make fools of his people, and they obeyed him. They were people lost in evil. When they incurred Our anger, We inflicted Our retribution on them and drowned them all; and so We made them a thing of the past and an example for later generations. (Gold; Al-Zukhruf: 43: 51-56)



We continue with this account of a brief episode of the story of Moses (peace be upon him) and his encounter with Pharaoh. Now Pharaoh is calling on his people to compare Moses to him. Pharaoh knew how to manipulate his people's hearts and delude them with his riches: “Am I not better than this contemptible wretch who can hardly make his meaning clear?” What he meant by referring to ‘this contemptible wretch' was that Moses was not a king, a prince, or a man of power or wealth. Or perhaps he meant that Moses belonged to the Israelites, a wretched and enslaved community in Egypt. His other description of Moses as one ‘who can hardly make his meaning clear' refers to his speech impediment. By the time of this encounter with Pharaoh, however, Moses was cured of this by God in answer to his prayer: “My Lord, open up my heart (to Your light), and make my mission easy for me, and free my tongue from its impediment, so that people may understand what I say.” (20: 25-28) Nothing now prevented him from making his meaning clear. In the eyes of the masses, Pharaoh, with his terrestrial kingdom, was better than Moses, even though he had the word of truth, was a prophet, and advocated the faith that ensured safety from hell.

“Why have no bracelets of gold been given to him?” Is such a petty thing as a gold bracelet needed to confirm a divine message? Is a mere trifling to be valued as greater than the miracles God gave to His messenger? Or, perhaps, Pharaoh meant that Moses should have been crowned as king to give him power as well as the message. “Why have no angels come to accompany him?” This is yet another deceptive objection, one that is often leveled at God's messengers.

“Thus did he make fools of his people, and they obeyed him. They were people lost in evil.” That tyrants make fools of their people is a familiar story. First of all, they isolate their people from all sources of knowledge, withholding the facts until they are forgotten and no longer sought after. They use all types of influences until their minds are fully convinced of them. Thereafter, it is easy to make fools of them and lead them wherever they want them to go. Yet no tyrant can do this to his people unless they are transgressors, turning away from God's straight path after having abandoned the standards of His faith. Conversely, it is extremely difficult to try to delude believers or make fools of them. Hence, the Qur'an gives the reason for the response Pharaoh received from his people: “Thus did he make fools of his people, and they obeyed him. They were people lost in evil.”

The time of tests, warnings and education was over. God was fully aware that these people would not believe. The masses willingly obeyed Pharaoh, an arrogant tyrant, turning a blind eye to God's light and His clear signs. Therefore, the warning had to be fulfilled and God's word was issued: “When they incurred Our anger, We inflicted Our retribution on them and drowned them all; and so We made them a thing of the past and an example for later generations.”

Here, God is speaking about Himself in the context of retribution inflicted on people whom He destroyed. This is meant to highlight His limitless power. What the surah describes is a situation where these people were guilty of a great crime incurring God's anger. Therefore, “We inflicted Our retribution on them and drowned them all”, meaning Pharaoh, the notables among his people and his army. In this way did they meet their end when they tried to chase Moses and his people. God made of them the ancestors of every erring generation. He also set them as “an example for later generations.” Hence, later communities should learn their story and benefit from the lessons it delivers.

Thus, this episode of Moses' story reflects similar attitudes to those of the pagan Arabs as they confronted God's last Messenger. It is mentioned here so as to comfort and support the Prophet and those who believed with him. It warns the unbelievers against a fate similar to that of earlier people. This is one example of how the Qur'an uses a historical account as an edifying narrative. The surah then gives us an episode from Jesus' story against the backdrop of the Arabs argument in defense of their worship of angels and the comparison they cite, as some Christians worship Jesus. This is given in the last passage of the surah.

Reproduced from Arab News




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