What is the story of prophet moses? What is the story of prophet aaron? Who is the prophet moses? Who is the prophet aaron?
MOSES -peace be upon him- and Moses’ righteous brother and aide AARON -peace be upon him-
Moses (as) is the third of six prophets of the highest rank (ulu’l azm). He is a descendent of Jacob (as) and a prophet to the Israelites. The Qur’an mentions him at a total of 136 times more than it mentions any other prophet.
Moses (as) and Aaron (as) were brothers.
Pharaoh Rayyan, who had made Joseph (as) the treasurer of Egypt, was a believer. He was succeeded to the throne by Kabus. Kabus did not believe in the religion of Joseph (as); yet he did not remove him from office either. However, the pharaohs to come after him did not value the Israelites at all.
The Israelites had settled in Egypt after Joseph (as) and stuck to the religion of Joseph (as), Jacob (as) and Abraham (as). However, the Copts, who were the old inhabitants of Egypt, were pagans. They worshipped stars and idols, and looked down on the Israelites. Their pharaohs were cruel. They gradually became worried that the Israelites, who they called the Sipt, would increase further in number and end up seizing power.
In time, the Copts felt they had enough. Led by their pharaoh, they started tormenting and abusing the Israelites. For the oppressed minority, life in Egypt quickly became unbearable. They had now entirely lost their social and political rights. They wished to return to Jacob’s (as) homeland, Canaan. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh would not let them go. That is because he made the Israelites work in hard labor, such as in the building of the pyramids, and depended on them for labor.
The Israelites were twelve tribes, each a descendant of one of Jacob’s (as) sons. The Pharaoh kept them under close surveillance and made them work in tough conditions. Even those unable to work were forced to pay high taxes on a daily basis. Those unable to pay their taxes by sunset were tied up. The Qur’an recounts the tyranny of the Pharaoh:
“The Pharaoh certainly boasted in the land and divided its people into factions, oppressing a group among them, slaughtering their newborn sons, while keeping their females alive. He was truly a corrupter.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 4)
“And the Pharaoh’s family picked Moses up out of the river, knowing little that he would become an enemy and a cause of grief. The Pharaoh, Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 8)
It was at such a time of crisis that the Almighty sent Moses (as) as prophet:
“And We wanted to do a favor to those who were oppressed in the land; make them leaders and inheritors. And establish them in the land; and through them, realize the fears of the Pharaoh, Haman and their soldiers.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 5-6)
The Pharaoh’s Disturbing Dream
One night, the Pharaoh saw a dream where a fire that rose from al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, burned down the houses of the Copts but left those of the Israelites untouched. He had the dream interpreted. He was told:
“A child will hail from the Israelites and destroy your kingdom!”
The Pharaoh then ordered every male newborn from the Israelites killed.
The soldiers would poke the bellies of pregnant women with weapons made from reed to speed up the birth. If the baby happened to be a boy, they would slaughter him on the spot.
It is reported there was also another reason that prompted the Pharaoh to take such a cruel measure:
The Israelites would talk about how a prophet would come from the descendants of Abraham (as) and put an end to the Pharaoh and his reign. This had its origin in the incident that had taken place between Abraham (as), his wife Sarah, and Egypt’s pharaoh at the time. The pharaoh had evil intentions towards Sarah but the Almighty protected her. The Israelites interpreted that event as a sign that a time would come when one of Abraham’s (as) great grandsons would save them from tyranny. The story became famous among the Israelites. They told it to lift each other’s spirits and insist that better days were just around the corner. But the Copts outside the palace, as well as inside, also got word of it; and the Pharaoh retaliated by ordering every newborn Israelite male dead. He hoped that he would be able to kill the boy before he ever got the chance to destroy him. However, this was never going to change Allah’s fate.
It was around this time that Imran’s son Moses (as) was born. One of the midwives, who was also a relative of Moses (as), was startled upon noticing a bright light on the baby’s forehead.
Shortly after the birth, the midwives stepped outside of the house to look out, only to see that the Pharaoh’s soldiers were already on their way. They ran back inside the house; and out of panic, Moses’ (as) mother hid the baby inside a burning oven. When the soldiers left, she came to herself and anxiously rushed to the oven, only to see that once she had opened the lid. Her baby was looking back at her unharmed by the fire, just like his forefather Abraham (as). She quickly picked him up, hugged him and thanked Allah for what had happened. She then received an inspiration telling her to breastfeed her baby and, when the danger reappeared, to leave him on the Nile. She was told that despite appearances, she would reunite with her son, who would grow up to be a prophet. The Qur’an recounts:
“And We inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Feed him, but when you fear for him, cast him into the river. Do not fear or grieve! We will return him to you and will make him a messenger.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 7)
Immediately after, she rushed to a carpenter and asked him to quickly make a trunk. She then placed Moses (as) in the trunk and cast him in the Nile.
The carpenter got a feeling of what was going on. He rushed to inform the palace. However, when he got there, he became tongue-tied and could not speak. So, the officials showed him the door.
In the meantime, the trunk had drifted on the Nile all the way to the palace. The female servants picked it up and took it to Asiya.
At the Pharaoh’s Palace
Asiya was the Pharaoh’s wife and a descendant of Rayyan, the ruler at the time of Joseph (as). The moment she saw Moses (as), she felt a spark in her heart. The baby was beautiful. She held him tight and hugged him, before taking him to her husband. She said:
“Let’s adopt this child as our own! When he grows up, he will help and protect us. Please, spare this baby. He is a gift on our doorstep!” She eventually convinced the Pharaoh.
“And the Pharaoh’s wife said, ‘He will be the apple of our eyes. Do not kill him! He may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.’
But they had no idea.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 9)
Soon, they set out to find a wet nurse to breastfeed the baby. They found a few women but the baby would not drink any of their milk. As they thought about what to do, they received some advice from Moses’ (as) sister, Maryam. She happened to be at the palace because:
“And Moses’ mother told his sister to, ‘Follow him’.
So she watched him from a distance, without the people in the place becoming aware. And after We blocked him off from all the wet nurses, she said:
‘Should I direct you to a household that will take care of feeding him, while you take care of his upbringing?’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 11-12)
They had no other choice but to give Maryam’s solution a try:
“So We returned him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve…and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most people do not know.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 13)
However, not wanting to raise any suspicion, Moses’ (as) mother did not immediately accept the offer. Besides, she knew that she would get to breastfeed her son, as Allah had already willed it to happen.
“I have a baby, Aaron”, she said. “And I need to bring him along. If you accept me as I am then I can breastfeed the baby. Otherwise, I cannot!”
That way, they did not realize the woman was Moses’ (as) mother. They quickly hired her.
In adopting Moses (as), the Pharaoh and his wife must have thought that by raising him as their own, he would be loyal to them. However, two factors play a major role in a person’s upbringing: inherited traits (warasah) and education. Man comes under the influence of one or the other; or sometimes both. This is what the Qur’an subtly points to where it says, the Pharaoh and his wife ‘had no idea how things would turn out’.
Reports suggest that in trying find the child who would grow up to destroy his dominion, the Pharaoh ended up slaying 980,000 babies. However, the Almighty would have the Pharaoh raise his archenemy in his own palace, and take away his judgment and power to murder the child who would end up smashing his throne with the force of the truth. That is because prophets are under Allah’s special training and protection.
The Prophet (saw) has in fact said:
“My Lord has trained me, and how beautifully has He trained me.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, I, 12)
So, the mother began breastfeeding Moses (as) in the Pharaoh’s palace. However, the vizier, Haman became suspicious, and interrogated her.
“Are you this child’s mother?” he asked. “He does not feed from anyone else but you!”
She became a little nervous but calmly replied, “For some reason, babies love me. I love them, too.”
For tending to her own child, Moses’ (as) mother was not only paid, but she also received lavish gifts in the process, including gold. This was a grace from Allah, who states:
“And the heart of Moses’ mother became empty. She came very close to reveal the secret, had We not have bound her heart to stay firm.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 10)
When Asiya missed Moses (as) and felt like seeing him, she would have his mother bring him to her room, where she would greet them with various gifts. One day, Moses (was) was taken to the Pharaoh’s room. The Pharaoh took him in his arms. However, Moses (as) forcefully pulled his beard, tore out a strand of hair and gave him a slap. It is also said that he struck the Pharaoh with the whip he took off his hand.
The Pharaoh was furious.
“This is the enemy I have been searching for!” he said. He ordered Moses (as) killed.
“Please, no”, Asiya pleaded. “He is still a baby. He cannot tell right from wrong.”
However, the Pharaoh was adamant. Asiya then said, “At least test him. Put in front of him a plate filled with rubies and diamonds, and another plate with ember. If he reaches for the jewels, it will show that he is clever and can tell right from wrong!”
The Pharaoh accepted. They brought the two plates to Moses (as). Just as he was about to reach for the jewels, Jibril (as) intervened and pushed his hand away towards the ember. So, he grabbed a piece of ember and took it to his mouth. He burnt his tongue and subsequently developed a lisp, which would remain with him until the prayer he made on Mount Sinai.
“Fair enough”, said the Pharaoh. “He is still a child”. He forgave Moses (as) and kept him at the palace.
In his Fusus al-Hikam, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi writes:
“Just to kill Moses (as), the Pharaoh ended up murdering 980.000 innocent souls. In reality, these babies were murdered to reinforce Moses (as) in his life and strengthen his spirituality. Even if the Pharaoh and his family were not aware of Moses (as), the Almighty was. Surely, the lives that had been taken away from each would belong to Moses (as). For he was the purpose.”
Allah endeared Moses (as) to everyone around him:
“And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.” (Ta Ha, 20: 39)
As a result of this divine grace, anyone who saw Moses (as) would instantly be drawn to him. Eventually, he was also made a prophet:
“And when he attained full strength and maturity, We bestowed upon him judgement and knowledge. And that is how do We reward those who do good.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 14)
The word َاشُدَّهُ implies that Moses (as) reached both physical and spiritual maturity. Moreover, most scholars suggest this may have been at the age of forty. At that age, the Almighty gave him wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom, which may also refer to hikmah, or spiritual wisdom, has also been explained as prophethood.
From that point on, Moses (as) began telling people that the Pharaoh’s religion was corrupt and false.
The Death of the Copt
The Pharaoh had a baker, who was a Copt man by the name of Fatun. One night, he had a dispute with an Israelite named Samiri and started beating him up. Samiri called out to Moses (as) for help. So, he stepped in to separate them. However, things escalated. Moses (as) first pushed away the Copt and then punched him. Before he knew it, the Copt was lying on the ground, dead.
Moses (as) was deeply saddened. He had no intention of killing Fatun. He just wanted to help Samiri. With great distress, he turned to Allah to ask forgiveness:
The Qur’an recounts the incident:
“And he entered the city at a time of quiet and saw two men fighting: one from his faction and one from among his enemies. And the one from his faction called out to him for help. So, Moses struck the enemy and killed him.
Moses said, ‘This is from the work of Satan. He is a clear and misleading enemy.’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 15)
Moses (as) had already drawn the anger of Copts close to the Pharaoh for communicating tawhid and calling others to the truth everywhere he went. That is why he entered the city at a time of night when people had left the streets and gone home. When Moses (as) says ‘this is the work of Satan’, it has been suggested he may have been referring to the deceased Copt, who really deserved to die because of the crimes he had previously committed. With that said, it was not for Moses (as) to execute him; thus, in making that remark, he may have been referring to his own action. Yet, he did not, in any way, punch the man with an intent to kill. However, now, he was facing a situation he could not have anticipated. So, he prayed:
“He said, ‘My Lord, I have wronged myself, so forgive me!’ And He forgave him, for He is truly the Forgiving, the Merciful. He said, ‘My Lord, for the favor You bestowed upon me, I will never assist criminals again.’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 16-17)
In the meantime, the Copts had filed a complaint to the palace and a manhunt had begun. The Pharaoh called for witnesses. However, nobody came forward. The Pharaoh then ordered a search outside of the city, in case the killer may have fled.
The next day, Moses (as) saw the same Israelite he had helped the night before; this time fighting another Copt. The man, again, asked for his help. Nevertheless, Moses (as) said:
“It is because of you that I got myself into this!”
After hearing those words, the Copt scooted to the palace and told the Pharaoh:
“The man who killed your baker is Moses!”
There and then, the Pharaoh sentenced Moses (as) to death. Among those who had accepted Moses’ (as) call to the truth was the Pharaoh’s cousin. He immediately scuttled out of the hall to tell him the news.
The Qur’an sheds light on Moses’ (as) mindset and what unfolded following the death of the Copt:
“And he spent the night fearful and wary of being exposed, when suddenly the one who sought his help the previous day cried out to him once again.
Moses said to him, ‘You sure are a trouble maker!’
And when he wanted to strike the one who was an enemy to both of them, the man said, ‘Do you want to kill me, Moses, like the person you killed yesterday? It seems you only want to be a bully and not a peacemaker!’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 18-19)
In the meantime:
“A man came running from the far end of the city.
He said, ‘Moses! The leaders are talking to have you killed. Leave now! I only want the best for you!’
So he left the city, fearful and wary. He said, ‘My Lord, save me from the wrongdoers!’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 20-21)
In doing so, Moses (as) also showed what true tawakkul, or reliance, is. It is to discuss a matter, decide on it, take the necessary precautions and then leave the rest to Allah. That is what reliance is all about.
Bound for Madyan
Without wasting a minute, Moses (as) took off. However, he had never stepped outside of the city before and really did not know where to go. He had not even taken any food with him. He got a sense of direction, only when the Almighty sent Jibril (as) to show him the way. He was heading to Madyan, which would take eight days.
“And when he directed himself toward Madyan, he said, ‘Perhaps my Lord will guide me to the sound way.’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 22)
It is narrated Moses (as) was related to the people in Madyan, as they both had descended from Abraham (as). Madyan was, in fact, the name of one of Abraham’s (as) sons. The area was outside the borders of the Pharaoh’s dominion.
Moses (as) finally reached Madyan, just as the locals were taking their flocks of sheep out of the city’s walls to a well. Not long after, the well was surrounded by shepherds and their sheep. But what struck Moses’ (as) attention were two young ladies, waiting with their sheep in the distance and not mixing with the others.
He walked up to them and asked, “Why are you not watering your sheep?”
“We cannot until the shepherds leave”, they said.
“Don’t you have anyone to do it for you?” asked Moses (as).
“We have an old and frail father”, they replied. “So, he relies on us to graze and water the sheep. However, we do not want to mix with men. So, we wait until they all leave. But by the time we get to the well, there is often no water left!”
The Qur’an recounts:
“When he came to the well of Madyan, he saw a crowd of people watering their flocks. And aside from them were two women driving their flocks back.
He said, ‘What is the matter?’
They said, ‘We do not water the sheep until the shepherds scatter. And our father is an old man.’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 23)
They were Safurah and Sufayra, the daughters of Jethro (as).
Despite not having eaten for eight days, Moses (as) gathered all his strength to pull water out of the well for their sheep. After the job was done, the women thanked him and left.
“So he watered their flocks for them. He then retired to the shade and said, ‘My Lord, I am truly in need of whatever good You would send down to me.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 24)
Moses (as) had not eaten anything for days. He was starving. With those words, he prayed Allah to give him something to quell his hunger.
Some scholars have also interpreted those words as, “I am in need because of what You have given me!” Here, Moses (as) was pointing to the fact that he had fallen poor and needy because of the great mission Allah had entrusted him with. Previously, he was living in wealth and abundance at the Pharaoh’s palace. Yet, these were not words of complaint. Moses (as) was simply thanking the Lord for the blessing but, at the same time, asking Him to alleviate his hunger.
Jethro (as) was surprised to see his daughters return earlier than usual. They explained that a good man, who they had not seen in the region before, had helped them.
An Invitation from Jethro (as)
Without further ado, Jethro (as) summoned the stranger and asked him who he was.
“I am Moses, the son of Imran, from the line of Jacob”, he said before going on to tell all that he had gone through.
“Do not fear!”, Jethro (as) comforted him. “The Pharaoh has no say in this land!”.
In the words of the Qur’an:
“Then one of the two girls shyly approached Moses. She said, ‘My father has invited you so he can reward you for watering our sheep.’
So, Moses went to him. And when he told him the story, the man said, ‘Do no fear! You are now safe from the wrongdoers!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 25)
Jethro (as) quickly had a meal prepared. However, despite his enormous hunger, Moses (as) was apprehensive about eating. Jethro (as) asked him why.
“I was taught not to trade even the smallest reward of the afterlife for even the biggest award here. I helped you only for the sake of Allah, not for this food.”
Jethro (as) was delighted with the answer.
“We offer you dinner not in return for helping us, but for being a guest at our home. So, come on…do not let it get cold!” he said.
Moses (as) had his meal. Exhausted, he retreated for some rest.
It was then that Safurah made a proposal:
“One of the girls said, ‘Hire him, father. You will not find a worker abler and more trustworthy!’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 26)
She added, “This man has all those attributes. He did not look at our faces even for once. He followed us from a fair distance away. We can depend on him!”
This also beautifully illustrates the essential qualities a person must have in order to be given a task:
- Competence (liyakah): To have the skills and strength needed to perform the job.
- Trustworthiness (amanah): To be dependable and counted upon.
The book Arais-i Majalis writes that:
“The most prudent women are two. Both of them showed foresight in correctly detecting the traits of Moses (as).
One is the Pharaoh’s wife, Asiya. When the Nile carried Moses (as) downstream to the palace, she picked him up from the trunk and pleaded to her husband to spare him, saying “…he will be light of our eyes!”
The other is Jethro’s (as) daughter, who advised him to hire Moses (as), remarking “…we will not find a better, more reliable person for the job!”
Foresight or firasah is an accurate intuition and insight that righteous believers have. It points towards intelligence, wit and perception, and is a spiritual type of comprehension that takes place in the heart.
Uthman (ra) once told a man to, “Veil your eyes from looking at obscenities!”
The startled man asked, “How did you know I have?”
“Have you not heard the words of the Messenger (saw)?” said Uthman (ra), before adding:
“Beware the foresight of the believer…for he looks with the light of Allah.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 15)
Again, Abu Hanifah once advised a young man taking ablution to “…stop making so and so mistakes!”
The man was taken aback and asked him how he could possibly know, to which Abu Hanifah responded:
“From the water dripping off your face, arms and feet!”
Khadijah (rha), Aisha (rha) and Fatimah (rha) were also women with piercing foresight.
Khadijah (rha) was not only the first person to believe in the Prophet (saw), she also spent her entire wealth and health in the way of the call, at a time when things were not looking so optimistic. Aisha (rha) was gifted with an intellectual ability to perfectly understand the Prophet (saw), as well as a deep passion with which she was able to embody his morals for others to follow. Fatimah (rha) was a reflection of her father’s mercy, compassion and piety. And while all three women shared similar qualities, they also had unique ones that made them stand out.
Foresight requires eating only what is permissible and clean, and making an effort to develop the heart.
Wasiti (ra) says:
“Foresight is the ray of light that glimmers in the heart. It is the wisdom that takes hold in there. And this wisdom (marifah) unlocks all the secrets of the unseen.”
In the Mathnawi, Rumi expands on the secret to acquiring marifah:
“While reason is equipped for success in matters related to the world, it is by nature not good enough to unravel the truth and divine mysteries, and reach the knowledge of Allah. This is a higher form of travel that requires a vehicle. That vehicle is the love and ecstasy in the heart. And it begins to take shape once reason is sacrificed for Muhammed!”
A young man from out of town had come to listen to Abdulkhaliq Ghujdawani. And at the end, he asked:
“What is the meaning of, ‘Beware the foresight of the believer…for he looks with the light of Allah’?”
The saint replied, “I will tell you only if you remove the clergy belt from your waist, which you have hidden beneath your clothes!”
The young man renounced his Christian faith on the spot and became Muslim.
Abdulkhaliq Ghujdawani then turned to his disciples and remarked:
“And let us remove the clergy belts from our hearts”, referring to damaging traits such as vanity, pride, miserliness and jealousy.
Marriage to Safurah
Jethro (as) loved the way in which Moses (as) conducted himself. He wanted him to stay a lot longer. After some thinking, he came up with a way. He offered Moses (as) the hand of his daughter in marriage. When Moses (as) asked how, Jethro (as) said it would be in return for tending to his sheep for eight years; and added that ten years would be preferable. His intention was to make Moses (as) stay for as long as possible. The Qur’an recounts their exchange:
“He said, ‘I wish to wed you one of my two daughters, on the condition that you serve me for eight years. But if will be a favor from you, if you complete it to ten. And I do not wish to put you in difficulty. If Allah wills, you will find that I am an honest man.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 27)
“Moses said, ‘That is a deal between me and you. I am free to complete whichever of the two terms. And Allah is witness to what we say.’” (Al-Qasas, 28: 28)
Here, the Qur’an draws attention to something we frequently come across in our social lives. Even two prophets, the most trustable among all humans, speak candidly about every detail of the verbal contract before committing to it. When they reach an agreement, they placed their trust in Allah, who they hold as witness to the deal.
As they had agreed on, Moses (as) began working for Jethro (as) as a shepherd.
It is said that Moses (as) fed the sheep well and treated them so kindly that he would not even poke them with his stick. In a sense, he would continue shepherding after Allah declared him a prophet. The skills he gained in the pastures of Madyan would allow him to keep an eye over the Israelites and protect them from harm.
A person who does not treat Allah’s creatures like a friend cannot become a friend to Allah. Whosoever respects the dignity of the created and shows them mercy, will be able to match it with those of the highest rank.
Every prophet has more or less spent time working as a shepherd. It was a way for the Almighty to give them a sense of duty, responsibility and a deeper compassion, which are vital in managing people and shouldering the burden of prophethood.
The Almighty inspired Moses (as) to strike his staff on the ground whenever he felt the need to water the sheep. A spring would burst forth and Moses (as) would not need to wander around the meadows looking for water.
Years had gone by, and Moses (as) had now served his eight-year term. Jethro (as) gave all the sheep to his daughter and son-in-law.
However, Moses (as) completed the term to ten years. Until then, only a handful of sheep had given birth to spotted lambs, which were sought after and fetched a higher price. But, on the tenth year, all the ewes gave birth to twins, and every single one of them were spotted.
Jethro (as) remarked:
“This is Allah’s gift to the family of Moses!”
The Staff of Moses (as)
Moses (as) carried a staff to protect his sheep from predators. The staff had a handle on one end, while the other end was pointed and sharp.
There are a number of reports about where the staff had come from. One suggests that it originally belonged to Adam (as) and had been passed on to Jethro (as), who gave it Moses (as) to help him graze the sheep.
They were in an area with grasslands to the right and mountains to the left. Wild animals could have struck from anywhere, especially from the mountain side. For that reason, Moses (as) always carried the staff around. Through it, he witnessed many actions of Allah. It was as if they were signs of the greater miracles to appear through the staff.
Return to Egypt through the Valley of Tuwa
Ten years had now passed; and with the permission of Jethro (as), Moses (as) decided to return with his wife Safurah to Egypt. They left Madyan with their sheep. It was winter. Moses (as) wanted to go back to Egypt, so that with the help of his brother Aaron (as), he could take the Israelites of out of the land of oppression.
On the way, they were caught under heavy rain. It was a very dark night. They took refuge in a cave in Mount Tur. Safurah was pregnant and about to give birth. On this cold and dark night, they desperately needed to light a fire to keep warm. However, the ground was wet; and try as he may, Moses (as) could not get a fire going. Then, all of a sudden, he saw a bright light in the distance. He told his wife to remain where she was, until he returned with some ember from that burning fire. However, it was not what Moses (as) thought it was.
The Qur’an says:
“And when Moses had completed the term and was traveling with his family, he sensed a fire burning from the direction of the mount.
He said to his family, ‘Stay here. I see a fire. I can perhaps come back with some information or burning wood so you may warm yourselves.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 29)
“And has the story of Moses reached you? When he saw a fire and said to his family, ‘Stay here! I see a fire! Perhaps I can bring you a torch or find out about a way out.” (Ta Ha, 20: 9-10)
Moses (as) walked towards the burning fire. However, as he got closer, he noticed pillar of light glimmering on a green tree.
“But when he got to it, he was called out to from the tree on a blessed spot to the right of the valley:
‘Listen up Moses. I am Allah, the Lord of the worlds!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 30)
“And when he came to it, he was called out:
‘Moses! I am indeed your Lord, so remove your two sandals! You are now in the sacred valley of Tuwa. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed. Certainly, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me. So worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. The hour is coming. And I have almost concealed the time, so that every soul may be recompensed for what it strives for. So, do not let anyone turn you away from he who does not believe in it and follows his desire. If you do so, you will perish!” (Ta Ha, 20: 11-16)
Scholars of the Qur’an have explained the command, ‘…remove your two sandals!’ a number of ways, including some ishari or esoteric interpretations. These are detailed in Qushayri’s Lataifu’l Qur’an and Bursevi’s Ruhu’l Beyan; and they may be summarized as:
“The two sandals represent the here and the hereafter. So, empty your heart of engagement in both this world and the world to come. Isolate yourself from everything apart from Allah (jj), and try to annihilate yourself in His knowledge (marifah), so you can gaze at and witness the divine truths (mushahadah)!”
The human mind has its boundaries. Its limitations make it impossible for the mind to properly grasp the divine glory and its mysteries. Therefore, what the mind must ultimately do, is surrender.
Rumi offers a metaphor to illustrate the limits of reason:
“The mind of a person who is ill, can only do so much as to work out the need to see a doctor. But at the clinic, the mind must surrender to the doctor’s advices. And reaching divine wisdom is possible only to the degree that the mind submits.”
In other words, ‘…remove your two sandals’ can mean,
“Slip away from your nature and ego! Stop thinking about yourself and things that have to do with yourself. Just come!
Quit reflecting on the proofs…for they lose all meaning, once your heart sees the truth!”
It was for this reason that after spiritually reuniting with the Lord, Sheikh Shibli was set free from the innuendos of the words written in books. As by now, he was swimming deep in the ocean of divine wisdom, where he was able to see the mysteries unravel right before his eyes.
At the Valley of Tuwa, the Almighty ordered Moses (as) to remove his sandals. He had now stepped foot in the presence of Allah and it was improper to do so with his shoes on. It was also more modest and proper to walk there barefoot.
“I asked my mind, ‘What is faith?’. It leaned over and whispered to my heart, ‘Faith is all but propriety (adab).”
It was for that reason that exceptional figures like Bishr-i Khafi always walked barefoot. It was also a custom of the righteous to remove their shoes when circumambulating the Kaaba.
Moses (as) was ordered to remove his sandals, also for his feet to be charged by the spiritual energy that sacred place generated.
However, it is noteworthy that during the night of Miraj, the Almighty told the Prophet (saw) to:
“Keep your shoes on as you walk on the canopy of the Throne (arsh). That way, it will be honored with the dust of your shoes and its light will reunite with yours.” (Bursevi, Ruhu’l Beyan, V, 370)
The Prophethood that Came with Two Miracles
After Moses (as) was ordered to remove his shoes, he was also told to throw his staff to the ground. When he did, it turned into a snake. Moses (as) was frightened. However, he was told not to fear as he was in a safe area.
The Qur’an says:
“And he was told, ‘Throw down your staff!’
But when he saw it writhing like a snake, he turned in flight and did not return.
Allah said, ‘Approach it, Moses, and do not fear! You are safe!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 31)
Moses’ (as) staff was first a wisdom (hikmah). Then, it became a force (qudrah) to carry his food when he could not, and to lean on, or even ride, when he was tired. He kept it close at hand to ward off the threats that may come, when sitting or asleep. He used it to shake the branches of trees with the most exquisite fruits. When he sat in the sun, it provided him the coolest shade. The Almighty had shown Moses (as) His force in the staff. It was through the staff, that the Almighty reinforced Moses. (Abdulqadir Jilani, al-Fath al-Rabbani, p. 192)
Once the Almighty declared Moses (as) a prophet and entrusted him with certain duties, He asked:
“And what is that in your right hand, Moses?” (Ta Ha, 20: 17)
Moses (as) replied:
“It is my staff. I lean on it, and bring down leaves for my sheep. I also have other uses for it.” (Ta Ha, 20: 18)
The Almighty then ordered:
“Throw it down, Moses!” (Ta Ha, 20: 19)
Moses (as) immediately chucked the staff out of his hand.
“So he threw it down, and it became a swift moving snake.” (Ta Ha, 20: 20)
He ran off in fear, until he was told to:
“Seize it and do not fear! We will return it to its former state.” (Ta Ha, 20: 21)
Abdulqadir Jilani sheds light on this passage:
“One purpose of the events detailed in these verses, was to familiarize Moses (as) with the might of Allah, so that the Pharaoh’s kingdom would appear small and weak in his eyes.
Another purpose was to teach Moses (as) how to wage war on the Pharaoh and his cohorts. Allah the Almighty prepared him for war by making him witness an extraordinary sequence of events. Prior to that, Moses was shy and reclusive. The Almighty had now expanded his heart, made him a prophet and gave him knowledge and wisdom.”
Some interpreters of the Qur’an say the command for Moses (as) to throw his staff, had more to do with a spiritual message. When Moses (as) was asked about the staff, he cited the uses it had in dealing with worldly tasks. He said it was good simply for making his life easier. But these were all things related to preserving the self. By turning the staff into a snake, Allah showed Moses (as) the true nature of the self. Moses (as) felt terrified, and tried to get away from it as quick as he could. So, in a sense, Moses (as) was told:
“This snake, Moses, is the very nature of being attached to things other than Allah. And when it shows its true face, the person feels frightened and runs away from it.”
Another esoteric meaning behind the command to ‘throw your staff’ is:
“You have now embodied the attribute of tawhid. From now on, it just cannot be right for you to rely on and seek help from a mortal being. How could you say that you do such and such things with the staff and reap other benefits from it? The first step on the path of tawhid is to abandon causes. In other words, it is to rely on and submit to Allah alone. So, quit all kinds of wishes and requests!”
Abraham (as) was able to slip away from worldly relations by denying help from all mortals, even angels. Instead, he dived into the ocean of submission and reliance on Allah. That ocean’s water put out the fire that was meant to consume him.
In Tawilat-i Najmiyya, it is in fact stated:
“A person who has heard Allah’s call and seen the light of His Beauty, abandons everything he had previously leaned on. He now depends on nothing but Allah’s grace and generosity. He slips away from the desires of the ego.”
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“The scholars of my nation are the like the prophets of the Israelites.” (Ajluni, Kashfu’l Khafa, II, 64/1744)
This comparison is to praise the value of true Muslim scholars.
Sheikh Abu’l Hasan Shazali recounts a lucid dream he saw:
“The Prophet (saw) was on a throne, with the rest of the prophets seated on the ground around him. Standing around them, were righteous scholars. I stood and watched them, and listened in as they began to talk.
At one stage, Moses (as) asked our Prophet (saw):
‘Messenger of Allah! You once said that the scholars of your people are like the prophets of Israel. Can you now show me one of them?’
‘One of them is over there’, said the Prophet (saw), pointing to Ghazzali.
Moses (as) then posed Ghazzali a question to which he was given ten answers. Moses (as) complained that it was unwarranted, as he had only asked one question but received ten answers.
‘With all due respect’, said Ghazzali, ‘the same complaint could also be made about you. The Almighty had asked you ‘What are you holding in your right hand?’ You went on to list a number of attributes of the staff, when all you should have said was, ‘This, my Lord, is my staff.’”
“As I was thinking about how majestic the Prophet (saw) looked on a throne with the rest of the messengers sitting on the floor around him, someone gave me real powerful kick. I looked, and it was the custodian of the al-Aqsa Mosque; the man who lights up the mosque’s candles each night. He said:
‘Why are you so shocked, when everything has been created from Muhammed’s (saw) Light?’ When I heard that, I fainted. I regained consciousness only after they had all prayed in congregation. I immediately went about searching for the custodian. But to this day, I have not been able to find him.” (Raghib al-Isfahani, al-Muhadarat)
As a second miracle, Moses (as) was told to put his hand inside his garment. When he did, his hand came out pure white, like a bright sun, free of all defects and disease. It was virtually like a projector. He was startled. He was then told:
“If you or others should become fearful of the sight of your hand, place it back inside your garment and it will return to its former appearance!”
This miracle known as yad-i bayda, or white hand, is recounted in the Qur’an as follows:
“And draw in your hand to your side. It will come out white without disease. That is another sign, so that We may show you Our greater signs to come.” (Ta Ha, 20: 22-23)
“Insert your hand into the opening of your garment. It will come out white, without disease. And redraw your arm close to you to quell any fear. Those are two proofs from your Lord to the Pharaoh and his establishment. For, they have been a defiantly disobedient lot.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 32)
With two major miracles, the Almighty designated Moses (as) a prophet and ordered him to convey the religion. The first person he was to deliver the message to, was the Pharaoh:
“Go to the Pharaoh. He has surely transgressed!” (Ta Ha, 20: 24)
However, Moses (as) lamented:
“He said, ‘My Lord, I killed someone from among them. And I fear they will kill me!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 33)
He asked Allah to appoint his brother Aaron (as) as an aide:
“And my brother Aaron is more eloquent than me. So send him with me as support and reinforcement. I really fear that they will deny me.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 34)
“Allah said, ‘We will strengthen your arm through your brother and grant you both supremacy, so they will not be able to touch you. And through Our signs, you and those who follow you will prevail!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 35)
It has been narrated that when the Almighty commanded Moses (as) to go and talk sense into the Pharaoh, Moses (as) thought about his wife and sheep and how he had no one to leave them with. So he asked the Lord:
“Who will take care of my family and livestock?”
The Almighty then reminded him that He is the Best Protector, declaring:
“Moses! Now that you have found Me, what more could you ask for? Just worry about executing my command! If I wish, I can make wolves herd your sheep and angels keep guard over your family. Why are you concerned, Moses? Who saved you when your mother cast you in the river? And who reunited you with her soon after? Remember when you accidentally killed someone and the Pharaoh had his men search for you in every hideout, to catch and kill you! Who protected you then?”
Moses (as) was quietly listening, while responding to each question with the words, “You, my Lord, You!” (Ahmad al-Rufai, Halatu Ahl al-Haqiqati Maa’ Allah, p. 337)
Moses (as) was now back in Egypt. He was wary and nervous about the Pharaoh’s soldiers. The Almighty revealed, “You and your brother are a two-man army. You cannot appear weak or feel inferior!”
Moses (as) felt that a world of responsibility was now resting on his shoulders. So, he prayed:
“‘My Lord! Expand my chest. Ease for me my task. And untie the knot from my tongue, that they may understand my speech. And appoint for me a minister from my family. Aaron, my brother. Increase my strength through him. And let him share my task, that we may praise and remember You much. You indeed watch over us, always.’
Allah said, ‘Your wishes, Moses, have been granted!” (Ta Ha, 20: 25-36)
Allah offered solace by assuring Moses (as) he would be protected, just as he had been protected before:
“And We had already done you a favor another time. When We inspired your mother to ‘Place him in the trunk and cast it into the river. The river will throw it onto the bank. There, he will be taken by an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’
And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.” (Ta Ha, 20: 37-39)
“And We favored you when your sister went and said, ‘Should I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?’ So We returned you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve. And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a severe trial. And you remained among the people of Madyan for years. Then you came, Moses, at a time predestined!” (Ta Ha, 20: 40)
“And I produced you for Myself. Go, you and your brother, with My signs and do not slacken in My remembrance. Go, both of you, to the Pharaoh. He has indeed transgressed.” (Ta Ha, 20: 41-43)
Even though they were now prophets, the Almighty still commands both Moses (as) and Aaron (as) ‘…not to slacken in His remembrance.’ This indicates just how important dhikr is. For each believer, it is necessary to undergo a training of the heart. Just as the heart is the center of faith, it is also the center of dhikr. A person finds inner peace only when the remembrance of Allah (jj) settles in the heart.
The Qur’an states:
“…those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, only through the remembrance of Allah are hearts assured.” (Al-Rad, 13: 28)
As the Qur’an indicates in the 28th verse of chapter al-Nisa, man has been created weak. But when religious sentiments rise in the heart, selfish desires, which are the source of all weakness, slowly vanish. Although man is essentially a noble being, he has to live up to this nobility. It is impossible to become an elegant and sensitive Muslim with spiritual finesse, without embarking on a journey of the heart. Allah does not want deeds of worship to simply be formal repetitions of certain physical movements. Much rather, He wants the heart to be involved.
The Qur’an states:
“The believers have certainly succeeded. They who, during their prayer, are humbly focused.” (Al-Mu’minun, 23: 1-2)
Otherwise, Allah does not want a prayer that lacks focus, without heart:
“So woe to those who pray but are heedless of their prayer.” (Al-Ma’un, 107: 4-5)
Allah the Almighty says the following about those who have not finessed their spirit through His remembrance:
“Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah. They are in clear error.” (Al-Zumar, 39: 22)
A heart burdened by the weight of sin and worldly desires is too heavy and not finessed enough to reach Allah, who among other attributes, is also the Finest (al-Latif). And it can only shed this weight through dhikr.
At long last, Moses (as) and Aaron (as) reunited on the shores of the Nile. They hugged each other, and shortly after Moses (as) said, “We must go to the Pharaoh. Allah (jj) has appointed us both for that duty!”
Then both of them prayed:
“Our Lord, we are afraid that he will quickly punish us or that he will transgress.’
Allah said, ‘Fear not. I am with you both. I hear and I see.’” (Ta Ha, 20: 45-46)
“Go to Pharaoh and say, ‘We are the messengers of the Lord of the worlds. Send with us the children of Israel.’” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 16-17)
However, the Lord also informed them of the approach they should take in delivering the message:
“And speak to him gently so that it perhaps will make him remember or become afraid.” (Ta Ha, 20: 44)
This verse has inspired Yazid al-Rakkashi to remark:
“My Lord, who commands gentleness even for those who are hostile to You! Who knows how You will treat those who glorify You and call others to Your path!”
Despite knowing in His eternal knowledge that the Pharaoh would not accept the call to tawhid, the Almighty still ordered Moses (as) to speak softly. In essence, this command applies to all believers who tell others to do good and stay away from evil.
The Qur’an also praises the gentle tone and conduct the Prophet (as) embodied in inviting others to the truth:
“Through Allah’s mercy, you were lenient with them. They would have disbanded, had you been rude and hardhearted. So pardon them, ask for their forgiveness and consult them. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely on Him.” (Al Imran, 3: 159)
Pharaoh the Fool
The two brothers finally entered the Pharaoh’s court.
“And who are you?” the Pharaoh rashly asked.
“I am the messenger of the Lord of the worlds”, said Moses (as).
The Pharaoh was stunned at first. However, after a brief pause, he became livid and retorted, “I raised you in my palace. For all I have done for you, you thanked me by murdering my baker. With what nerve do you now come here and tell me all this?”
The Qur’an recounts the exchange:
“The Pharaoh said, ‘Did we not raise you as a child? You remained among us for years. And then you ended up doing what you did, and proved to be ungrateful!” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 18-19)
Moses (as) calmly replied:
“I did what I did without knowing the consequences. And when I feared you, I fled. Then my Lord granted me wisdom and prophethood, and appointed me a messenger.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 20-22)
He added, “None of that would have happened if you had not embarked on a campaign of terror, killing babies and separating me from my mother. And now, it just so happens that Allah has endowed me with wisdom and knowledge, and made me a prophet.”
The Pharaoh quickly changed the subject.
“The Pharaoh said, ‘So, who is the Lord of you two, Moses?’” (Ta Ha, 20: 49)
“The Pharaoh asked, ‘And what is the Lord of the worlds?’” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 23)
“Moses said, ‘Our Lord is He who has formed and guided everything.’” (Ta Ha, 20: 50)
“He is the Lord of the heavens and earth and that between them, if you are willing to admit.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 24)
“The Pharaoh said, ‘Then what is going to happen to those generations before us?’
Moses said, “Their knowledge is recorded with my Lord. My Lord neither errs nor forgets. It is He who has made the earth as a bed for you, inserted roadways, sent down rain from the sky and produced thereby all sorts of various plants.” (Ta Ha, 20: 51-53)
“The Pharaoh said to those around him, ‘Do you hear what he is saying!’
Moses said, ‘He is your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers.’
Pharaoh said, ‘Your so-called ‘messenger’ must be mad!’.
Moses said, ‘He is the Lord of east and west, and that between them. If only you were to reason.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 25-28)
The Pharaoh then threatened Moses (as) and Aaron (as) that they would be imprisoned and tortured to death.
“The Pharaoh said, ‘If you take a god other than me, I will place you with those in prison!’
Moses said, ‘Even if I had a clear proof?’
The Pharaoh said, ‘Then bring it, if you are a man of truth!’
So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent for all to see.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 29-32)
The man who claimed to be god was terrified by what he was seeing.
“Please contain it”, he begged Moses (as). “I will set all the children of Israel free. Just stop the snake!”
So, Moses picked the snake up, and it, once again, became a staff.
The Pharaoh took a deep breath and asked, “Do you have any more?”
“He drew out his hand, and it turned white for all to see.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 33)
The Pharaoh was, again, petrified. The two miracles had brought him to the verge of accepting Moses’ (as) call. However, his vizier, Haman took notice; and had a few choice words to incite the Pharaoh.
“For goodness sake, you are god!”, he said. “You cannot yield to him. Everybody knows you as god. It would cause anarchy if you were to take a step down and become one of the ordinary folk. Just keep composed. We will come up with a solution!”
A council of 500 advisers immediately convened to discuss what to do.
“The Pharaoh said to his ministers, ‘He must be a learned magician. And he wants to use his magic to drive you out of your land. So, now, what do you suggest?” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 34-35)
The Battle between Miracle and Magic
The miracles shown by Moses (as) had really unsettled the Pharaoh. He was forced to swallow his pride, cast his claim of being god aside, and turn to people around for advice. They suggested:
“Postpone the matter about him and his brother and send gatherers to the cities, to recruit every learned and skilled magician.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 36-37)
The Copts of the time were highly skilled in magic and sorcery. Thus, the Pharaoh immediately accepted the offer.
Allah the Almighty declares:
“And We certainly showed the Pharaoh Our signs, all of them, but he denied and refused. He said, ‘Have you come here, Moses, to drive us out of our land with your magic? If so, we will bring you magic like it. So, set a time for us. We will be there and so will you, at a place agreed on.” (Ta Ha, 20: 56-58)
Moses (as) said:
“Moses said, ‘We will meet on the day of the festival when people assemble at mid-morning.’
So the Pharaoh went away, put together his plan, and then came to confront Moses.” (Ta Ha, 20: 59-60)
“So, the magicians were assembled for the appointment on a renowned day. And the people were urged, ‘You surely have to be there!’” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 38-39)
The next day, every one, young and old had gathered, anxious to see who would win.
“They said, ‘We might follow the magicians if they win!’
And when the magicians arrived, they said to the Pharaoh, ‘Is there a reward for us if we win?’
He said, ‘Yes, indeed. You will then be among those close to me.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 40-42)
The Pharaoh was nervous and wanted to be assured of the outcome.
“Will you be able to beat Moses?” he asked the magicians.
“We are at the peak of the art of magic”, the chief sorcerer said. “No one on earth is a better practitioner of it, than us! You cannot find anyone better. We are at the top of the game. It would take the skies to crack open and an invincible force to descend, for us to be defeated!”
However, before the contest began, Moses (as) warned the magicians.
“Moses said to the magicians summoned by the Pharaoh, ‘Shame on you! Do not invent a lie against Allah or He will annihilate you! And He has always failed those who invent falsehood.” (Ta Ha, 20: 61)
This forced the magicians to think.
“So, they disputed over their affair among themselves and held a private conversation.
They said, ‘These are nothing but two magicians who want to drive you out of your land with their magic, and do away with your honorable profession.” (Ta Ha, 20: 62-63)
Moses (as) then issued a challenge.
“So, decide on your plan and come forward in line. Whoever overcomes the other, will today be the winner!” (Ta Ha, 20: 64)
However, despite everything, out of courtesy and their deep-felt respect for Moses (as):
“They said, ‘Moses, should we throw first or you?’
He said, ‘Rather, you throw!’
And suddenly, through their magic, their ropes and staffs seemed to him as if they were moving like snakes.” (Ta Ha, 20: 65-66)
“Moses said to them, ‘Throw what you have got!’
So, they threw their ropes and their staffs and said, ‘By the might of Pharaoh, we will be the winners!” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 43-44)
“And suddenly, because of their magic, their ropes and staffs seemed to him as though they were moving like snakes. And Moses felt a little apprehension. Allah said, ‘Fear not! You are superior. And throw what is in your right hand. It will swallow up what they have crafted. And they have crafted nothing but a trick of magic; and the magician will not succeed, no matter where he is!” (Ta Ha, 20: 66-69)
Moses (as) then became composed and expelled his fears.
“And when they had thrown down what they had, Moses said, ‘What you have brought is nothing but magic! And Allah will certainly expose how worthless it is. Allah does not fulfil the work of corrupters.” (Yunus, 10: 81)
It is thus understood from that verse that magic and sorcery are nothing other than to deceive the eyes and the mind for the purposes of evil and corruption.
“Then Moses threw his staff, and at once, it devoured all their trickeries.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 45)
“And We inspired to Moses, ‘Throw your staff!’
And, at once, it devoured all their false tricks.” (Al-Araf, 7: 117)
The Magicians Accept Defeat
Under the watchful eyes of the Pharaoh and the public, the magicians had thrown a few sticks and ropes, which curled up and appeared as though they were snakes. Nevertheless, when Moses (as) threw his staff, it turned into a dragon that gobbled up every tool of magic in the arena. The magicians knew this was no human feat. It had to be a miracle. Otherwise, once the show was over and the magic ended, the ropes and sticks would have remained in the arena. However, not only was their magic destroyed, the sticks and ropes had also disappeared. Thus:
“The truth was established, and what they were doing, was abolished.” (Al-Araf, 7: 118)
But while the staff had swallowed every object in its path, when it was all over, its appearance remained unchanged. This was one way the Almighty willed to show the magicians that unlike their performances, based on skill and talent and which could be taught to others, this was not a show. The extraordinary event they had just observed in the staff was nothing but Allah’s power come to life. This was why their elaborate magic never stood a chance. Hence, all along, the chief sorcerer was in two minds whether Moses (as) was a fraud or in fact a man supported by divine powers. So, before the spectacle began, he told one of his colleagues to:
“As all this takes place, you keep your eyes on Moses…and tell me what you see!”
During the event, the man closely observed Moses (as), and reported what he saw to the chief:
“As the staff was doing what it did, Moses (as) turned pale and looked frightened!”
“Then it must be the work of Allah”, the chief sorcerer said. “No magician is afraid of his own magic, just as an artist is never frightened by his art! Quite the opposite…he performs his work with ease.”
The chief sorcerer then professed his belief in Moses (as). So did the other magicians. (Abdulqadir Jilani, al-Fath al-Rabbani, p. 38)
The Qur’an says:
“So the magicians fell down in prostration to Allah.
They said, ‘We have believed in the Lord of the worlds. The Lord of Moses and Aaron.’
The Pharaoh said, ‘You have believed in Moses before I gave you permission? He must be your leader who has taught you magic! But soon, you are going to find out. I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and crucify you all!” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 46-49)
It is stated elsewhere:
“The Pharaoh said, ‘You believed him before I gave you permission? Indeed, he is your leader who has taught you magic. So, I will surely cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and crucify you on the trunks of palm trees. You will then know which of us is more severe in giving punishment and more enduring!” (Ta Ha, 20: 71)
Relationships based on self-interest last only until those interests come to an end. Had the magicians continued to support the Pharaoh, they would have been held in high regard and perhaps drowned in luxuries other Copts could have only dreamt of. Nevertheless, their hearts had now opened to faith. They could now see, without any shadow of doubt, that the joy of eternity was infinitely more valuable than passing luxuries. So, they responded to the Pharaoh’s threats with unshakable resolution:
“They said, ‘Never will we prefer you over what has come to us with clear proofs and over He who created us! So give whatever verdict you want! But know that your ruling is only valid in this life!” (Ta Ha, 20: 72)
Another verse reads as:
“So, no harm. To our Lord we will return.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 50)
The point is they could have well lived without a hand and foot. These were part of their bodies, which, in any case, were destined to perish in soil after death. The body is mortal, yet the spirit is immortal. One could not possibly prefer the mortal to the immortal. Once the magicians perceived the clear miracle, they responded to the Pharaoh in a way he never saw coming.
“Your tyranny will not harm us”, they said. “All your harm belongs to the world while the hereafter is eternal!”
They continued to speak out:
“We have certainly believed in our Lord that He may forgive our sins and the magic you compelled us to do! And Allah is better and more enduring.” (Ta Ha, 20: 73)
“We are quite hopeful that our Lord will forgive our sins, as we were the first to believe!” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 51)
They finally prayed:
“Our Lord, pour patience on us and let us die as Muslims!” (Al-Araf, 7: 126)
The Pharaoh had them all killed. The people who had entered the contest that morning as magicians had died the same day, and reunited with the Lord, as martyrs.
The Qur’an mentions the encounter between Moses (as) and the magicians four times, each with slightly different wording and details on different aspects of the incident. The fact that a single event has been recounted four times goes to show how important it is, and alludes to many mysteries, as well as wisdoms, we should try to pick out from between the lines.
Remarkably, despite facing death in just a few moments, the magicians did not pray to Allah to save them but instead pleaded to have the opportunity to die as Muslims. All they were worried about was taking their final breaths with a conviction of faith, without giving into any weaknesses.
About the final breath, the Qur’an urges:
“O you who have believed! Fear Allah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims!” (Al Imran, 3: 102)
The only way to heed to this command is to live by the way of Allah (jj) and His Messenger (saw), and seek refuge in divine grace about the shape our final breaths will take. The way to stick to this path, all the way until it takes us back to the Lord, is again pointed out in the Qur’an:
“O you who have believed! If you support Allah, He, too, will support you and plant your feet firmly on the ground.” (Muhammad, 47: 7)
Rumi offers a spiritual insight into the encounter between Moses (as) and the magicians:
“The magicians were brought to the path of tawhid because of the courtesy and politeness they showed to a great prophet right before the contest began. And they were punished for trying to compete with him.”
Without a doubt, the respect the magicians had shown Moses (as) opened a window in their hearts to belief. It is one of the greatest virtues in life to direct love and hate to where they belong.
Rumi continues to shed light on a deeper aspect of the encounter:
“The wretched and tyrant Pharaoh threatened the magicians with cutting their hands and feet and crucifying them to death. He hoped it would send shivers up their spine and force them to yield. But little did the Pharaoh know that by gaining insight into divine truths and mysteries, the magicians had conquered all forms of fear. Even if they were to be crushed like wheat in a press, they now had the prudence to tell themselves apart from their shadows.”
In other words, they were now wise enough to know that the body is merely the spirit’s shadow. Before even hearing the threats, they had already shed that shadow by losing themselves in the Lord (fana fillah).
“So, this life is nothing but a sleep, a dream. Do not be fooled by its extravagance and dazzle! Would you be afraid if you saw a dream where you were killed by a thousand cuts? This life, my friend, is nothing but that dream!”
Mashita was a maid to the Pharaoh’s daughter. One day, before reaching for a hairbrush to comb the daughter’s hair, she said ‘in the name of Allah’. The daughter overheard this and rushed to inform her father.
The Pharaoh summoned Mashita and asked for an explanation. With the energy of faith bursting from her heart, she bravely responded, “You are mortal like us. How can you be god?”
“So, you believe in Moses?” the Pharaoh angrily retorted.
He then had Mashita undergo a slow and brutal torture. However, she stood her ground. So, they decided to bring in her five-year-old daughter.
“If you do not accept Pharaoh as god”, they said, “we will slit her throat!”
Mashita still remained firm. So, they slit her daughter’s throat in front of her eyes and even smeared the blood on her face. However, she just tenderly kept on repeating the words:
“Allah is One! Allah is One! And Moses is His Messenger!”
The Pharaoh and his men were now quivering with rage. This time, they brought her three-month-old baby and held him out to her. The baby was hungry, and instinctively reached out to Mashita for some milk. Nevertheless, the men pulled him away, and yelled, “Unless you turn back from your way, we will throw your baby in the oven!”
Mashita remained patient. She watched, as they hurled her baby into the fire. It is narrated that the baby spoke from among the flames and urged her mother to:
“Keep patient! There is only a step between you and paradise!”
Many people who were present to see that, professed their faith in Moses (as).
Not long after, Mashita was martyred. She reunited with her kids in paradise.
Ubayy ibn Kab (ra) narrates that on the night of Miraj, the Prophet (as) smelt a beautiful scent and asked Jibril (as) what it was. He said:
“It is the fragrance coming from the graves of Mashita, her husband and two children.” (Ibn Majah, Fitan, 23/4030)
Lady Asiya Martyred
Asiya was saddened and deeply angry with her husband for torturing Mashita to death. She even went so far as to insult him. It did not take much for the Pharaoh to realize that his own wife was also a follower of Moses (as). Asiya did not hide it.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I, too, believe in the Lord of Moses!”
It is reported that the Pharaoh forced Asiya to lay on her back, with her arms and feet tied to four poles, and had a millstone placed on her belly. The soldiers then began torturing her. Her body eventually succumbed. She was martyred.
As Asiya was being tortured, Moses (as) happened to pass by. She looked at him from a distance and made a slight gesture to point to the pain she was going through. Moses (as) prayed. From that point on, Asiya (as) no longer felt any pain.
According to another report, Asiya was abandoned in the middle of a scorching desert. The angels provided her shade, until she gave her final breath.
The Qur’an mentions her with praise:
“And Allah presents for the believers an example in the Pharaoh’s wife, when she said:
‘My Lord! Build me a house near You in paradise. Save me from the Pharaoh and his deeds. And save me from the wrongdoers.” (Al-Tahrim, 66: 11)
It is reported that Asiya made the above prayer while being tortured. A voice then told her to, “Look up!” When she looked up into the skies, she saw that all the veils had been lifted, and her pearl mansion in paradise was glimmering back at her. She kept watching it and smiling. And the pain was no more.
Asiya’s virtue is commemorated by Suleyman Celebi who, in his famous ode Mevlid, depicts her as being present alongside angels and houris to congratulate lady Aminah, after she gave birth to the Prophet (saw):
And Asiya was one of those faces aglow
They said never has a mother been graced
With a child so pretty, a child so great
Meanwhile, the Pharaoh’s tyranny was becoming worse by the day, as more and more people began to accept Moses’ (as) call. Now, he ordered the construction of a sky-scraping tower. It took seven years to build, and one could only get to the top on horseback.
The Pharaoh’s idea was to climb to the top and supposedly, speak to Moses’ God! He lacked the slightest clue as to what tawhid really meant. His image of God rested on shapes and forms encountered in the natural world. It was anthropomorphic. This notion falsely held that God had to come in a certain shape. The religion of the Copts was similar to that of the ancient Greeks. It had multiple gods; one assigned to the earth, another to the sky, another for love, and so forth.
The Pharaoh thought he could ascend the tower, observe the skies and announce to the people that, try as he may, he could not come across Moses’ God! With a shallow mindset, he assumed he could cast doubt in people’s minds by declaring, “Even we could not bring you news from beyond despite the greatness of our civilization and all the technological means we have at our disposal! So, how can Moses claim he can?”
The Qur’an states:
“And the Pharaoh said, ‘Haman! Build me a tower into the paths of the skies, the paths into the heavens, so that I may see the God of Moses, even though I think he is a liar!’
And thus was made his evils look good to the Pharaoh, and he was averted from the right way. And the Pharaoh’s plan led to nothing except ruin.” (Al-Ghafir, 40: 36-37)
It has been narrated that the Almighty ordered Jibril (as) to knock the tower down. So, he struck it with his wing and the tower fell in three pieces. Thousands of soldiers, as well as workers preparing bricks and mortar, died.
This failure only made the Pharaoh angrier. The Copts intensified their abuse of the Israelites.
“And the prominent among the Pharaoh’s people said:
‘Are you just going to let Moses and his people cause corruption in the land, and abandon you and your gods?’
The Pharaoh said, ‘We will kill their sons and spare their women, to show them just who has the power!’” (Al-Araf, 7: 127)
The Israelites complained to Moses (as), who advised them to hang on:
“Moses said to his people:
‘Seek help through Allah and be patient. The earth belongs to Allah. He makes whom He wills, inherit it. And the best outcome is for the righteous.’” (Al-Araf, 7: 128)
However, slowly, the Israelites had begun giving Moses (as) attitude. They were restless, agitated and were bothering their prophet. It was because they had a materialist outlook:
“They said, ‘We were harassed both before you and after!’
He said, ‘Perhaps, your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land, to see how you will act.” (Al-Araf, 7: 129)
The Almighty thus indicated that the future would belong to the believers.
But as the reign of terror continued, Moses (as) prayed for it come to an end. Shortly after that, one trouble after another began to rain on the Copts.
“And We certainly seized the Pharaoh’s clan with years of famine and loss of produce, that they perhaps would be reminded. But when good came to them, they said, ‘This is ours by right!’ And if a bad condition struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know.” (Al-Araf, 7: 130-131)
One Miracle after Another
“And they said, ‘No matter what sign you bewitch us with, we will not believe in you!’
So, We sent upon them a flood, locusts, lice, frogs and blood as distinct signs. But they were an arrogant and criminal lot!” (Al-Araf, 7: 132-133)
During each plague, the Copts would acclaim Moses (as) for how great a man he was. However, as soon as they were over, they would turn to Moses (as) and sarcastically remark that it was bound to end, anyway.
Troubles come when tyranny reaches its peak. As indicated in the above verse, that was also the case with the Copts.
The Almighty sent down heavy rains that flooded the Copts’ homes. They were sunk up to their necks and had to keep standing, as anyone who sat down would drown. They were at the point of total destruction. However, remarkably, the flood did not affect the Israelites.
So, without much choice, the Copts rushed to Moses (as) and begged him to, “Pray to Your Lord to lift this trouble from us! If He does, we will accept your call and release your people from Egypt!”
So, Moses (as) prayed. Soon, the waters abated, and it was followed by a fertile year for crops and fruits. That led the Copts to remark, “We were fools to think the flood was a catastrophe. It turns out it was a blessing in disguise and had nothing to do with Moses!”
This time, the Almighty sent a swarm of locusts into Egypt. They ate away every crop and fruit that had bloomed following the flood. They destroyed everything in their path. Nevertheless, again, they left the Israelites untouched.
The Copts appealed to Moses (as). “Pray”, they said, “and we will do whatever you wish!”
Moses (as) prayed once more. The locusts scattered. The Copts turned back on their word.
- Fleas and Lice
Now, the Copts found themselves trying to fend off a sudden plague of fleas and lice. The pests would even fill their plates during meals. They felt helpless. So, like they did before, they rushed to Moses (as). The plague was over. However, the Copts’ rebellion was not.
This time, Moses (as) went to the Nile. He struck the river with his staff and all the frogs emerged from its banks to raid the city. Soon, they were everywhere. The Copts could hardly move.
“This time, we are really remorseful”, they told Moses (as). “Send these frogs away and, we promise, we will send you to the Promised Land!”
The frogs were released but the Israelites, not so.
The Copts were not coming to their senses. So, the Almighty turned the Nile into a river of blood. They could not find any water to drink. However, this was only for the Copts. For the Israelites, the Nile remained pure. Following Moses’ (as) prayer, the Nile let out its blood and returned to the way it was.
However, so did the Copts.
Rumi takes a Sufi look at this incident:
“A Copt, almost dying of thirst, rushed to the home of an Israelite.
‘I am your friend and relative’, he said. ‘And today, I need you. Fill a bowl of water from the Nile with your very own hands for your old friend to drink from. If you get the water for yourself, it will not turn into blood. It will be pure, and clear of all magic!’
The Israelite got a bowl of water from the Nile, just so that the Copt would see the miracle behind it. He drank half of it, and held out the rest to the Copt.
‘Go on, drink’, he said. The elated Copt brought his mouth forward. However, the water turned into blood. The Israelite then took the bowl towards him and the water became pure.
The Copt became angry. He sat down until he regained his composure.
‘Tell me’, he then said. ‘How does one untie this knot? What is the secret?’
“The Nile is clear and pure only to those who follow the way of Moses’, he answered. ‘You may drink to your heart’s content, only if you get off the Pharaoh’s track and let Moses (as) lead you.”
“If you want to see the moonlit night”, he added, “make peace with the moon”. (Here, the ‘moonlit night’ refers to the miracle, while the ‘moon’ is Moses (as)).
The Israelite continued.
“Your grudge against the true servants of Allah has made you blind and deaf, and cast thousands of curtains on your vision! You walk blindly in the valley of deviance, with your eyes closed to the truth! Melt your piles of sin in the fire of repentance! Then you will drink your share from the glass of those who have found wisdom. How silly are to you think there would be a loophole in Allah’s command, when He has banned the Nile to those who disbelieve! How dare the Nile disregard the order of God and give a pagan a drink!
In the face of all these miracles:
“And the Pharaoh said, ‘Let me go, so I can kill Moses; and let’s see then, if he can call upon his Lord! I fear that he will change your religion or cause corruption in the land.” (Al-Ghafir, 40: 26)
The tone of the Pharaoh’s voice suggests he did want to kill Moses (as), if only he was not prevented by those around him. They urged the Pharaoh, “You should not be intimidated by Moses. You are god! If you were to go ahead and kill him, you would cast doubt into people’s hearts. They would think you were helpless!”
However, the Pharaoh’s words also reveal just how scared he was of Moses (as). Deep down, he knew Moses (as) was a prophet. He was just too arrogant, conceited and stubborn to accept it.
Moses (as) simply responded:
“I have sought refuge in my Lord and yours, from every arrogant soul who does not believe in the day of account.” (Al-Ghafir, 40: 27)
Scholars of the Qur’an have therefore suggested that in his prayer, Moses (as) at the same time pinpoints the two main reasons why the Pharaoh just would not believe:
He denied the afterlife,
And he was arrogant.
An arrogant person likes to see everybody else below him. Arrogance is therefore something the Prophet (saw) has strictly banned:
“Whoever carries a grain of faith in his heart will not enter hellfire. And whoever carries a grain of arrogance in his heart will not enter heaven.” (Muslim, Iman, 147)
Faith is so precious that thanks to it, a person is sooner or later granted divine amnesty and taken to the bounties of paradise. Arrogance, on the other hand, is an attribute of Satan; and it is too vile to be allowed through the gates of heaven.
The Prophet (as) has also said:
“It suffices as a sin to look down on a fellow Muslim!” (Muslim, Birr, 32; Abu Dawud, Adab, 35; Al-Tirmidhi, Birr, 18)
Luqman (as) advises his son to avoid it:
“And do not turn your cheek in contempt toward people and do not walk with a swagger. Allah does not like one who is deluded and boastful.” (Luqman, 31: 18)
Elsewhere, the Qur’an says:
“And do not walk on the earth with a swagger. You can never tear the earth apart or be as high as the mountains.” (Al-Isra, 17: 37)
Allah the Almighty explains the wisdom as to why He destroyed the Pharaoh and his cohorts, who had fallen headfirst in the swamp of conceit and arrogance:
“Each sign We showed was greater than the previous. And We seized them with affliction that perhaps they might return to faith.” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 48)
During the plagues sent by Allah, the Copts would become as gentle as lambs. However, as soon as they were over, they would turn into beasts. They were dishonest and hypocritical.
“And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, ‘Moses, pray for us to your Lord by what He has promised you. If you can remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and send with you the Children of Israel.” (Al-Araf, 7: 134)
“And they said, ‘Magician! Pray for us to your Lord by what He has promised you. We will come round!’ But as soon as We removed the affliction, they broke their word.” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 49-50)
“But when We removed the punishment from them until another destined time, they, at once, broke their word.” (Al-Araf, 7: 135)
The Pharaoh’s Propaganda
The Pharaoh felt helpless and was becoming more afraid, by the hour, that the people would accept the religion of tawhid altogether. So, he set up a giant tent by the Nile, from which he personally addressed the public for two years.
“Do not let Moses fool you”, he would proclaim. “Along with the idols you worship, I, too, am your god!”
“And the Pharaoh called out to his people, saying: ‘My people! Can’t you see that the kingdom of Egypt and these rivers flowing beneath me, belong to me? Or am I not better than this trivial man who can hardly make himself understood?” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 51-52)
The Pharaoh wished to portray himself as a rich and powerful man in charge of a splendid empire, while Moses (as) as an insignificant other who could barely express himself. He would try to discredit Moses (as) with arguments like:
“Then why has not come with bracelets of gold or in the company of angels?” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 53)
In the end, the Copts were duped:
“So he bluffed his people, and they obeyed him. They were certainly a defiantly disobedient lot.” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 53)
The Pharaoh and his cohorts used their earthly supremacy to terrorize the believers. The miracles they had seen and the minor punishments they had suffered had not reformed them in the slightest. Their tyranny reached a point, where even Moses (as) felt the need to curse them:
“And Moses said:
‘Our Lord! You have certainly given the Pharaoh and his establishment splendor and wealth in the worldly life. Our Lord, is it so that they may lead people astray from Your way? Our Lord! Obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful punishment’.
Allah said, ‘Your prayer has been answered. So remain on the right track and do not follow the way of those who do not know.” (Yunus, 10: 88-89)
Soon, the Copts contracted a skin disease. This was followed by three days of drought. Each family had its own trouble to deal with. Finally, the Pharaoh felt he had no other choice than to let the Israelites go. However, it was clear that once the danger had subsided, he would turn back on his promise.
Therefore, Moses (as) had no time to waste. So, in line with the divine command, he led the Israelites out of the city towards Suez in the dark of night. The next morning, every girl in the Pharaoh’s family died from plague. The Pharaoh was already angry; and the death of his daughters had enraged him all the more.
“This is the work of Moses!” he screamed.
The burial of the daughters had won Moses (as) some precious time. By the time the Pharaoh realized that the Israelites were gone, it was too late.
The Almighty reveals:
“And We inspired to Moses, ‘Travel by night with My servants, for you will be pursued.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 52)
“And We had inspired to Moses, ‘Travel by night with My servants and strike for them a dry path through the sea. Do not fear being overtaken by the Pharaoh nor be afraid of drowning.” (Ta Ha, 20: 77)
When he got hold of the news, the Pharaoh panicked:
“The Pharaoh then sent gatherers among the cities, and said, ‘They are just a small band. And they have stepped on our nerves, when we are certainly a vigilant nation.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 53-56)
The Pharaoh quickly mobilized the army and charged out of the city to track Moses (as) down
“So they pursued them at sunrise. And when the two groups saw one another, the companions of Moses said, ‘We are surely caught!
Moses said, “No! My Lord is with me and He will guide me.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 60-62)
Moses (as) was now cornered between the Red Sea and the Pharaoh’s army.
The Sea of Redemption and Retribution
“Then We inspired to Moses, ‘Strike the sea with your staff!’ And it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 63)
The children of Israel continued walking on those the paths, through massive walls of waves. At one point, they even asked Moses (as) to, “Open up windows through the waves so we can all see each other!” Moses (as) prayed and their wish was granted.
By now, the Pharaoh had reached the shore. When he saw that the sea had split, he turned around and said, “Look! The sea has cracked open from my grandeur…to make it easier for me to catch my slaves!” As always, the Pharaoh was too foolish and lost to acknowledge that this was in fact a miracle of Moses (as).
He then commanded his soldiers to, “Advance! We will kill them all!”
However, as soon as he said that, he felt hesitant and afraid. It is reported that at that point, Jibril (as) appeared in front of him on a white horse and said, “Come on…what are you waiting for?” Mikail (as) went to the back end of the army and urged the soldiers, “Get a move on…do not remain behind!”
Soon, the entire army was on the march towards the point of no return.
The Almighty says:
“And We advanced the pursuers towards them.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 64)
The Pharaoh and his army entered the roads that the Red Sea had cleft open. However, not long after, they met God’s wrath, and as the waves came tumbling down.
“And We saved Moses and those with him, all together. Then We drowned the others.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 65-66)
“So We took retribution from them. We drowned them in the sea because they denied and were heedless of Our signs.” (Al-Araf, 7: 136)
“And when they angered Us, We took revenge from them and drowned them all. And We made them a precedent and an example for people to come.” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 55-56)
“Indeed, in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 67)
With God’s grace, the Israelites were saved. That day was the 10th of Muharram. As a show of thanks, they the spent the day fasting. In the Qur’an, the Lord reminds the Jews of His favor:
“And recall when We saved your forefathers from the people of the Pharaoh, who afflicted you with the worst torment, slaughtering your newborn sons and sparing your females. And in that was a great trial from your Lord. And recall when We parted the sea for you and saved you, while drowning the Pharaoh’s army, as you looked on.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 49-50)
A Last Gasp for Faith
“And We took the Children of Israel across the sea. The Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity, only until he began to drown. He then said, ‘I believe there is no god except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.” (Yunus, 10: 90)
The Pharaoh was now just a couple of breaths away from death in the whirls of the Red Sea, and made a last ditch attempt to clutch on to the lifeline of faith. However, the Almighty said:
“Now? And you had disobeyed before and were of the corrupters. So, today We will save your body that you may be a sign for those to come. But many people are heedless of Our signs.” (Yunus, 10: 91-92)
About this verse, scholar Zamakhshari has said:
“Your corpse will wash ashore, naked and intact; and your dead body will be preserved for later generations to see and take a lesson.”
In recent years, the Pharaoh’s corpse was in fact discovered washed up on the shores of Red Sea, lying face down in a fetal position, as if to fall prostrate. The corpse is now on display at the British Museum, as a living lesson in history for all to see. This is another miracle the Almighty has revealed in the Qur’an, which will be on show until the arrival of the final hour.
The Pharaoh’s body did not decay, despite remaining in the Red Sea for millennia. It was preserved by Allah the Almighty who, in the Qur’an, tells us how He assured the Pharaoh that He would. The body was found roughly 3.000 years later and taken to a museum in England to be kept as a lesson for humanity.
On the Other Side of the Red Sea
Moses (as) now led the Israelites towards Canaan. On the way, the passed by a tribe that worshipped the statue of a cow.
“Moses!” said the Israelites. “Make an idol like that for us, too, so we can worship it!”
Moses (as) counseled them. “Allah (jj) has saved you from tyranny. The Copts were killing your sons and taking your daughters as slaves. Will you now forget all that and rebel?”
The Almighty states:
“And We took the Children of Israel across the sea. Then they came upon a people devoted to some idols. They said, ‘Moses! Make us a god like theirs!”
He said, ‘You are indeed an ignorant bunch!” (Al-Araf, 7: 138)
“What those worshippers are engaged in is bound to perish, and what they are doing will come to nothing!
He said, ‘Should I find you a god other than Allah when He has preferred you over the worlds?’
And recall when We saved you from the people of the Pharaoh, who was subjecting to the most brutal torment, killing your sons and keeping your women alive! And in that was a great trial from your Lord.” (Al-Araf, 7: 139-141)
Now, Moses (as) mobilized an army of 12,000 soldiers each at the command of Joshua and Caleb, and sent them on a campaign back to Egypt. No one was left in the country except for the ill, the old and children. The army returned with great spoils. They sold what they could not carry. The Copts were now obliterated. The Qur’an alludes to this in the following:
“So We removed them from the gardens and springs. And treasures and a place of comfort.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 57-58)
“And We made the oppressed inherit the east of the land and the west, which We had blessed. And the good word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, for what they had patiently endured. And We destroyed all that the Pharaoh and his people had produced and what they had built.” (Al-Araf, 7: 137)
“And so. We made the Children of Israel inherit it.” (Al-Shu’ara, 26: 59)
“And how much they left behind of gardens and springs. Of crops and noble sites. And of comfort wherein they were amused. Thus! And We made another people inherit it. The heaven and earth did not weep for them, nor were they reprieved.” (Al-Dukhan, 44: 25-29)
Allah evocatively illustrates societies that have been caught by His wrath meet a pitiful end and end up in the dustbin of history:
“And how many generations have We destroyed before them? Do you see any of them or hear from them a sound?” (Maryam, 19: 98)
The Tih Valley and the Trial of War in Jericho
“And mention when Moses said to his people, ‘Remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed prophets among you, gave you possessions and that which He had not given anyone in the world.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 20)
This verse is strictly about the Israelites at the time of Moses (as). God’s pledge to give the Israelites the Promised Land, as well as the reminder that He had blessed them like no one else before, is therefore valid only for the people of that period of time in history. There are otherwise hundreds of passages in the Qur’an and in the prophetic tradition that identify the Prophet (saw) as God’s exceptional gift to humanity, both past and present, as well as future. As for who will inherit the Promised Land, the Qur’an lays it bare:
“And We have already written in the Psalms after the previous Reminder [Torah] that the land will be inherited by My righteous servants.” (Al-Anbiya, 21: 105)
Here, Allah assures us that the tyrants and their tyranny cannot rule forever; the good is essential, while evil is just its offshoot and bound to perish, and that power will sooner or later fall into the hands of the righteous. This is Islam’s universal worldview.
Moses (as) was now leading the Israelites to Canaan, the Promised Land. He appointed a representative from each Israelite tribe, before sending Joshua and Caleb to spy on the inhabitants of Canaan, who at the time were the Amalekites. The two men found that the Amalekites were a powerful nation. However, in order not to demoralize and frighten the Israelites, the pair decided not to tell them. It also was what Moses (as) had ordered them to do. However, a few Israelites managed to find out and the word got around. As a result, they refused to fight.
“Moses said, ‘My people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah has designated for you; and do not turn back and become losers!’
They said, ‘Moses! The people there are immensely powerful! And we will never enter unless they leave. But if they do leave, we will then enter!’” (Al-Maidah, 5: 21-22)
“Two blessed men from those who feared Allah said, ‘Enter upon them through the gate. For if you do so, you will prevail! And rely on Allah, if you are believers.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 23)
“They said, ‘Moses, we will certainly never enter, as long as they are there! So go and fight with your Lord! We are staying right here!” (Al-Maidah, 5: 24)
The Israelites had quickly forgotten the time they were crushed under the Pharaoh’s thumb. They had now been saved, and were enjoying a bit of luxury which they did not want to lose. They had an insatiable desire to live in this world for as long as they could. They did not wish to work. So, they requested Moses (as) to be fed from heaven, after which they were given manna and quail. Furthermore, Moses (as) had struck twelve springs out of a rock, so they would not have to make an extra effort to find drinking water.
The Almighty declares:
“And We shaded you with clouds, and sent you manna and quails, saying ‘Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.’ But they could never wrong Us. They only wronged themselves.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 57)
“And recall when Moses prayed for water for his people, so We said, ‘Strike the rock with your staff!’ And there gushed forth from it twelve springs, and every tribe knew where to get its water from. We said, ‘Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 60)
“And We divided them into twelve distinct tribes. And when his people implored Moses for water, We inspired to him, ‘Strike the rock with your staff!’
And there gushed forth from it twelve springs. Every people knew its watering place. And We shaded them with clouds and sent down upon them manna and quails, saying, ‘Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.’ But they could never wrong us. They only wronged themselves.” (Al-Araf, 7: 160)
“O Children of Israel! We delivered you from your enemy. We made an appointment with you at the right side of the mount. And We sent down manna and quails, saying:
‘Eat from the good things with which We have provided you and do not transgress, or My anger will descend upon you! And he upon whom My anger descends, certainly perishes. But I am indeed the Perpetual Forgiver of who repents, believes, does good and then follows guidance.” (Ta Ha, 20: 80-82)
The Israelites were an unthankful and impatient people, who continued to be a burden on Moses (as). The Qur’an gives a clear picture of their level of ingratitude:
“And when you said, ‘Moses, We will not put up with one kind of food. So pray for us that your Lord may bring forth for us things that the earth grows: its greens, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, and onions!’ He said, ‘Do you seek to trade in what is superior with that which is inferior? Go down to any town and you will get what you ask for!’
So they were struck with abasement and poverty; and they earned Allah’s wrath. That is because they would defy the signs of Allah and kill the prophets unjustly. That is because they would disobey and transgress.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 61)
“Moses said, ‘My Lord! I have no control over anyone except myself and my brother. So separate us from the defiantly disobedient people!
Allah said, ‘The land is now forbidden to them for forty years! They will wander throughout. So, do not grieve over those who are defiantly disobedient.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 25-26)
“And Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders. And Allah said:
‘I am with you. If you establish prayer, give alms, believe in My messengers, support them and loan Allah a goodly loan, then I will remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever of you disbelieves after this, has certainly strayed from the sound way.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 12)
However, the Israelites would not relent. They were brazenly ungrateful to the blessings Allah had given them and were constantly giving attitude to a prophet of the caliber of Moses (as). They were impudent enough to say, “Go with your Lord, Moses, and fight! We will follow you once you gain victory!”
For that reason, Allah banished them to the wilderness of the Tih Valley, where they would roam without direction for the next forty years. That was until they were all dead, and were succeeded by another entirely new generation.
It was this energetic and faithful young generation that would defeat the Amalekites and enter the Promised Land. After long years, it had now been captured along with the areas to the east of River Jordan. Moses’ (as) promise had now been fulfilled.
The Revelation of the Torah
Moses (as) informed the Israelites that now they had settled in the Promised Land, it was only a matter of time until the Almighty sent down a book.
He left behind his brother, Aaron (as) as deputy, and told him to, “Mind the people and make sure they do not fall into error! Allah has summoned me to Mount Sinai. I will fast there for thirty days and return with a revelation.”
However, the brazen Israelites were mistrustful about their own prophet. So, they said to him, “Take a few witnesses from us!” As a result, seventy people were chosen to go with Moses (as) to the mountain.
It was when Moses (as) prayed to the Almighty to reveal the promised book that he was commanded to fast for thirty days. This is the month of Dhilqadah. Later, the first ten days of Dhilhijjah were also included to complete the fast to forty days. Moses (as) was then given a book and tasked to guide his people with it.
The Almighty declares:
“And we made an appointment with Moses for thirty days and perfected them with another ten. So, the term of his Lord was completed to forty nights.” (Al-Araf, 7: 142)
Moses (as) had been invited to Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Tur, for forty days, to reach an even higher state of spiritual maturity through fasting, prayers and meditation, which he needed, to accomplish the tasks that were to follow. Those forty nights were going to prepare Moses (as) to speak with God. To get away from the clamor of the crowd around him, Moses (as) isolated himself from the rest; and he soaked up the night’s silence by delving into the ocean of meaning behind the appearances that would take him to the Lord. This was needed to purify the spirit and lighten it up to shine up the road that awaited him.
It is understood that the first thirty days were of abstinence and purification, in which Moses (as) fasted and committed himself to deeds of worship. In addition, the revelation of the Torah, as well as Moses’ (as) conversation with the Almighty, took place in the final ten days. In that forty-day period, Moses (as) had acquired the high spiritual state that was required to speak with God.
The Qur’an refers to this period not as forty days, but forty nights. This is based on the lunar calendar, where each day begins with nightfall. However, there is more to it. Nights possess a distinct quality. Many divine manifestations have occurred at night, including the first revelation of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (saw) night journey, the Miraj.
Moses’ (as) forty-day seclusion on Mount Sinai carries further signs:
To reach the morning of spiritual enlightenment, saints need to do some hard time in the troublesome hours of night. Inspiration often comes at night; and each triumphant dawn is preceded by a night of trouble.
So, in a way, Moses’ (as) first thirty days coincide with the night, whereas the last ten days correspond to dawn. It was during final moments of this dawn that he was given the privilege to speak to God and observe other divine signs.
Moses (as) fasted on Mount Sinai for thirty days and night straight, without eating or drinking for once (sawm-i wisal), But despite that, he neither felt hungry nor thirsty. Yet, while traveling to meet Khidr, he felt hungry only after half a day; and told his friend to take out what food they had brought. This was because Moses’ (as) meeting with Khidr was part of a trial. As is the case with all trials, this one also came with hardship. It only took him a few hours to get hungry. Nevertheless, his journey to Mount Sinai was not a trial. This time, he was on a journey to meet the Lord. It was a reunion with Him. The splendor of where he was, made him forget about all physical urges, like eating and drinking. It held him back from everything apart from the Lord.
Due to Allah (jj) having spoken with him, Moses (as) is called Kalimullah, literally ‘the one whom God has spoken to.’ However, this talk did not take place through a physical medium such as the tongue. Rather, Moses (as) spoke to the Almighty beyond space and time, through God’s pre-eternal attribute of Speech (Kalam). None of God’s qualities is like those of the created. For instance, He is All-Knowing (Alim); yet His way of knowing is unlike ours. Allah is Powerful, but His power is distinct from ours. Similarly, Allah speaks but not like us. We use our tongues and letters to speak. Allah needs neither. Letters are created, whereas Allah’s speech is not. It is beyond letters and all other mediums. In fact, when Allah spoke to Moses (as), neither Jibril (as) nor the seventy others on Mount Sinai took notice of it.
Moses (as) was also shown many scenes from the spiritual realm. This was not an event of his own choosing. It is said that he was directly presented –without any medium- 4,200 words, on top of 14 others, of a nature unknown to us. With the delivery of each word, Moses (as) shook; and his body and nature underwent major changes.
In reference to this event, the Qur’an makes it clear that:
“And Allah spoke to Moses with direct speech.” (Al-Nisa, 4: 164)
To comfort his heart, the Almighty (as) instilled Moses (as) with thousands of words. It was so that he could find some consolation. Moses (as) was a prophet who had gone through turbulent times his entire life. Now, he was tasked with bringing law and order to a rampant and materialistic people like the Israelites. It was going to be tough.
The Wisdom of the Number Forty
Forty is an exceptionally important number in spiritual training.
It took forty days for Adam’s (as) mud to ferment. It is narrated that:
“Allah kneaded the soil from which Adam was created, for forty days, with His Hand of Might.” (Tabari, Tafsir, III, 306)
Each day represents a time frame, whose nature is unknown.
A baby stays in the womb as a drop of sperm for forty days, a clot for the next forty days and a lump of flesh for another forty. It is after these stages that the sprit is breathed into the baby. A hadith narrated by Ibn Masud (ra), and which is mentioned both in Bukhari and Muslim, says:
“The creation of each of you in the womb is completed in forty days. You then remain in there as a drop for the same period. For the same period, you remain as a clot, and a lump of flesh for the same period after that. Allah the Almighty then sends and angel with four words to inscribe: the baby’s livelihood, his deeds, his time of death, and whether he will be righteous or sinful. After that, the spirit is breathed in.” (Al-Bukhari, Qadar, 1; Badu’l Khalq, 6; Muslim, Qadar, 1/2643)
Forty days is important not only to prepare prophets to receive divine revelation but also to mold the hearts of saints to receive spiritual inspiration.
The Prophet (saw) says:
“Springs of wisdom will flow off the tongue of a person who sincerely turns to his Lord for forty mornings.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, II, 137/8361)
The Sufi practice of cile or erbain, the forty-day period of intense meditation which is considered essential to spiritual progress, is based on the above words of the Prophet (saw), and the time Moses (as) spent on Mount Sinai as told by the Qur’an.
It takes forty days for the spirit to rein in the ego. Likewise, it takes forty days for the ego to escape it. So, are the laws of God. They take forty days to fully appear.
People of wisdom have also drawn attention to the number four and its multiples. For example, the universe rests on four elements: earth, water, air and fire. The Throne of God has four corners and is carried by eight angels. Moses (as) was ordered to spend forty days fasting and worshipping; and only after that, was he privileged with being spoken to by the Almighty.
The Request to See Allah
As Moses (as) spoke with God, all the veils before his eyes had lifted. He was given a clear vision of the Throne (arsh) that transcended space and time. He was hearing the squeak of the pen scribing on the Protected Tablet (lawh-i mahfuz). However, neither Jibril (as) nor the seventy Israelites saw or heard any of it, as Moses (as) had now reached an exceptionally high station.
Moses (as) took so much pleasure out this experience that he wanted even more. He was overcome by entirely different and such strong emotions that he now wished to see the Almighty.
However, Allah the Almighty pronounced:
“You cannot see Me!”
When Moses (as) insisted, the Almighty said, “Take a look at this mountain! If it is able to remain in one piece, then, you too, will be able to see Me!” (This is Mount Zubayr in the region of Madyan).
One report suggests that the Almighty showed Moses (as) just a grain of light behind seventy curtains. That light reflected on the mountain, which instantly exploded. Moses (as) could not endure the glory of Allah’s power and splendor. He fainted from fear.
The Qur’an recounts:
“And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord! Show me Yourself that I may look at You.’
Allah said, ‘You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me!”
But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He made it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, ‘Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers!’” (Al-Araf, 7: 143)
Sufis have pointed to an inner meaning in the above event:
Moses (as) wished to gaze at the truth that underpinned the infinite realm of spirit with his human perception. However, the response he got was not what he wished. He thought that his perception was one with the eye of his heart. He assumed his heart was unique. Based on that, he craved to see his Lord.
However, as the light reflected on the mountain, Moses (as) became terrified and passed out. As he lay on the ground, a voice said to him:
“That privilege, Moses, is not for you but for an orphan to come after you!”
Moses (as) gave in and said, “My Lord! I exalt and glorify You. Only Muhammed Mustafa, who You have personally declared Your beloved and graced with the highest of all ranks, has a way to You. I repent for having coveted something that is not mine! And I am the first to believe that the most sublime gaze of certainty (mushahadah) is reserved for and exclusive to Muhammed Mustafa!
Even after Moses (as) returned from Mount Sinai, Allah’s light continued to reflect on his face. Hence, he had to cover his face for three days.
The Prophet (saw) has in fact said:
“After Moses (as) returned from that profound state of peace, anyone who looked at this face would die. So, he covered his face and, for some time, spoke to people from behind a cloth.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Mansur fi al-Tafsir abi al-Mazur, v. III, p. 116)
Urwah ibn Ruwaym tells the following:
“For a while after he returned from Mount Sinai, Moses (as) was unable to approach his wife, from the sheer light reflecting off his face. So, he kept his face covered. But his wife complained, ‘I have been your wife for forty years. It should not be hard for you to look at me so I could take in some of that light!’ So, he lifted the cloth. Instantly, the light surrounded her, like the sun, and she was unable to open her eyes. She put her hands on her face and fell prostrate to the Lord.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Mansur fi al-Tafsir abi al-Mazur, v. III. p. 116)
Wahb ibn Munabbih narrates:
“Moses (as) was aglow with an incredible light for three days after he spoke with the Lord.” (al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manzur fi al-Tafsir bi al-Ma’sur, v. III. p. 116)
Just a ray of divine manifestation on Mount Sinai was enough to knock Moses (as) out. The reflection on his face was so intense that he had to cover it for three days. During his Night Journey, the Prophet was taken past the Lote Tree, the Sidratu’l Munteha, which marks the apex of the highest heaven, and spoke to the Almighty at a small distance the Qur’an describes as “two bow lengths or nearer” (قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنىَ»). Yet, unlike Moses (as), he did not return with any reflection of light on his face. Saints have explained why that was the case:
Moses (as) underwent that experience while still in spiritual motion, moving from one state to another higher (talwin). The Prophet (saw), on the other hand, had already settled in the highest state of peace (tamkin) and spiritual observation (mushahadah). The Night Journey simply marked a change in mode from one kind of spiritual observation to another. It is for that reason that the Prophet (saw) has said:
“I am not like any of you. I spend the night with my Lord, who feeds and nourishes me.” (Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-Ummal, 3/32, 42)
“I have moments with my Lord that neither an angel nor a prophet can access.” (Al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, IV, 8)
On the Almighty’s words, “You, Moses, can never see me!”, saints have further explained:
“As long as you exist, Moses, that is to say, unless you die in Me, I shall remain hidden to you. Only if you lose yourself in Me, will you be able to see Me!”
Just as the stars in the sky are invisible when the sun is out, a river is lost in the sea after flowing into it, a kohl bears nothing of its stoniness when applied around the eye and a grain of wheat sheds itself after entering the body as bread, the body of a person who spiritually loses himself in the Lord, dies; and becomes estranged from the person.
Rumi was among many others who eagerly awaited death, so it could liberate him from the ego’s captivity. He famously called death shab-i arus, the wedding night.
In the moment of spiritual ecstasy, Hallaj-i Mansur exclaimed, “Kill me, my friends…for death is the only thing that can save me!”
In Sufism, this is called wahdat-i wujud, oneness of existence, or wahdat-i shuhud, 11: oneness of perception. This is a temporary state. Its nature is known only to those who experience it.
An indescribably sweet feeling had come over Moses (as), after having spoken to God through His pre-eternal attribute of Speech. In a moment of rapture, he insisted he wanted to see God. However, when the mountain exploded, he fainted. When he came round to himself, he repented. Hearing God’s words had made Moses (as) forget he was still in the world. He felt as though he had died and woken up in paradise, in God’s court.
It is narrated that the mountain that received a small ray from God’s light smashed into pieces. Every single piece flew to a different direction. It virtually turned to flour, and each particle flew as far as the seas. The waters in which its particle fell became sweet and cured the ill.
“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and ripped apart from fear of Allah. And We present people these examples to people that perhaps they will give thought.” (Al-Hashr, 59: 21)
“We did offer the trust to the heavens, earth and mountains but they declined from fear. But man accepted it. He is indeed unjust and ignorant.” (Al-Ahzab, 33: 22)
After the event on Mount Sinai, Moses (as) began receiving the Torah. It was inscribed on seven or ten tablets, and comprised of forty sections. Each letter of the Torah was brought down by a different angel, including Jibril (as). They presented Moses (as) the revelation on top of Mount Sinai.
A Conversation on Mount Sinai
The Prophet (saw) informs us of an exchange that took place on the mountain between Allah and Moses (as):
“Moses (as) asked the Almighty about six qualities he believed he had and a seventh, which he disliked:
‘My Lord! Which servant of Yours is the most righteous?’
‘One who constantly remembers Me and never forgets!’
‘And which servant is the most guided?’
‘One who keeps on the path of guidance I have shown!’
‘And who is the most just?’
‘One who judges himself in the way he judges others!’
‘Who is the most knowledgeable?’
‘One who can never get enough of it!’
‘Who is the most honorable?’
‘One who forgives when he has the power to punish!’
‘And which servant is the richest?’
‘One who is content with he is given!’
‘And who is the poorest?’
‘One who thinks little of what he is given and craves for more!’” (Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-Ummal, XV, 899/43549)
The Golden Calf
Shortly after their safe passage across the Red Sea, the Israelites saw a tribe worshipping an idol bearing an ox’s head. They had asked Moses (as) for something similar to worship; and he responded by advising them they were in error in making that request, and how evil and senseless it was to ascribe partners to Allah. Afterwards, they felt bad and repented.
However, after Moses (as) left Aaron (as) as deputy and headed to Mount Sinai, a hypocrite named Samiri made the most of the opportunity, and sculpted an idol made from the gold he had gathered from the Israelites.
“This”, he then exclaimed, “…is the god of Moses, but too bad Moses has forgotten about it!”
Samiri was an artisan. He had sculpted the calf with such prowess that when the wind blew into it, it would bellow as if it was alive. He managed this with the holes he had opened up inside the idol which, like a flute, would echo different sounds depending on the strength of the wind. When the calf sounded, Samiri would turn and say, “Look! Your god is speaking to you!”
Samiri managed to convince many Israelites into believing that the golden calf was their god. Aaron (as) pleaded to them. However, they just would not listen.
The Qur’an recounts:
“And Aaron had already told them before the return of Moses: ‘My people! This is a tribulation, do not fall for it! Your Lord is the Most Merciful, so follow me and obey my order.” (Ta Ha, 20: 90)
“They said, ‘We will never stop being devoted to the calf until Moses returns!” (Ta Ha, 20: 91)
“Allah said to Moses, ‘We have tried your people after you departed, and Samiri has led them astray!” (Ta Ha, 20: 85)
“And after Moses left, the people made from their ornaments a calf, a body that made a lowing sound. Did they not see that it could neither speak to them nor guide them to a way? They took it up, and they were wrongdoers.” (Al-Araf, 7: 148)
“And when Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said:
‘Evil has been your conduct in my absence! Would you hasten on the edict of your Lord?’ He threw down the tablets and seized his brother by the head, pulling him towards himself.
His brother said, ‘Son of my mother! These people thought I was weak and they were about to kill me. So do not let the enemies gloat over me, and do not take me with the wrongdoing lot.” (Al-Araf, 7: 150)
“Moses said, ‘Aaron! What prevented you from stopping them, when you saw them going astray? Have you disobeyed my order?’
Aaron said, ‘Son of my mother, do not seize me by my beard and head. I only feared that you would say, ‘You caused division among the Children of Israel, and you did not await my word!” (Ta Ha, 20: 92-94)
Moses (as) and Aaron (as) were brothers from the same parents. However, Aaron (as) pleads to Moses (as) as ‘son of my mother’ to appeal to his compassion. For a mother always carries greater compassion than both a father and siblings. In addition, their mother was a righteous believer, much loved and respected by both.
“Moses said, ‘My Lord! Forgive me and my brother, and admit us into Your mercy. For You are the most Merciful of the merciful.” (Al-Araf, 7: 151)
“So Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved. He said: ‘My people! Did your Lord not make you a good promise? Was that too long for you to wait or did you wish your Lord’s wrath upon yourselves, when you broke your promise to me?” (Ta Ha, 20: 86)
“They said, ‘We did not break our promise to you by will! But we were burdened with the weight of people’s ornaments, so we threw them into the fire, and so did Samiri. And he extracted a calf which had a lowing sound, and said, ‘This is your god and the god of Moses, but he forgot!’” (Ta Ha, 20: 87-88)
For their evil deed, Moses (as) asked the Israelites to repent; and informed them that the condition of their repentance was a deep remorse and death. However, after hearing that, they said, “Better we keep patient and wait for the divine verdict!”
“And recall when Moses said to his people, ‘My people! You have indeed wronged yourselves by adopting the calf to worship! So, repent to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is best for you in the sight of your Creator.’
He then accepted your repentance. He is truly the Forgiver and the Merciful.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 54)
For each person who had worshipped the golden calf, another was assigned with a sword at hand, waiting for the signal to execute. Some were even relatives of one another.
“And when regret overcame them and they saw that they had gone astray, they said, ‘If our Lord does not have mercy upon us and forgive us, we will surely be among the losers.” (Al-Araf, 7: 149)
Both Moses (as) and Aaron (as) were thereupon overcome with compassion, as they tearfully begged the Lord to forgive them. Their prayers were accepted.
“But as for those who committed misdeeds and then repented and believed, indeed your Lord, thereafter, is Forgiving and Merciful” (Al-Araf, 7: 153)
Allah the Almighty declared:
“Then We forgave you after that so perhaps you would be grateful” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 52)
Now, Moses (as) called Samiri to account.
“Moses said, ‘And what is your case, Samiri?’
He said, ‘I saw what they did not see, so I took a handful of dust from the track of the messenger and threw it. And that is what my soul enticed me to do.” (Ta Ha, 20: 95-96)
Scholars of the Qur’an note that the messenger Samiri says that he saw was Jibril (as) who was on the way to see Moses (as). Samiri noticed that the ground Jibril (as) walked on came to life and turned green. So, he picked up a handful of dust from the path and threw it in the fire, in which he melted the gold.
“Moses said, ‘Now, go away! It has been decreed that from now on you will say, ‘No contact.’ And you have an appointment in the hereafter you will not fail to keep. And look at your ‘god’ to which you remained devoted. We will surely burn it and blow it into the sea with a blast.” (Ta Ha, 20: 97)
So it goes that, after receiving Moses’ (as) curse, Samiri contracted a heavy and contagious illness that forced him to keep away from people for the rest of his life.
“Indeed, those who took the calf for worship will obtain anger from their Lord and humiliation in the life of this world. That is how We recompense the slanderers.” (Al-Araf, 7: 152)
“And when the anger subsided in Moses, he picked up the tablets. And in their inscription was guidance and mercy for those who are fearful of their Lord.” (Al-Araf, 7: 154)
The Almighty had called on Moses (as) to bring to His presence seventy people on behalf of those who regretted having worshipped the calf, and asked them all to collectively repent. Moses (as) heeded the order by taking seventy Israelites with him to Mount Sinai. However, the ingrate group, this time, sarcastically asked to see God. They were then caught by a severe earthquake, which brought them to their knees and made them faint. Again, Moses (as) prayed to Allah, and the wrath was lifted.
The Qur’an recounts:
“And recall when you said, ‘Moses! We will never believe you until we see Allah outright!’ So, the thunderbolt took you while you were looking on. Then We revived you after your death that perhaps you would be grateful.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 55-56)
“And Moses chose seventy men for Our appointment. And when the earthquake seized them, he said:
‘My Lord, if You had willed, You could have destroyed them before. Would You destroy us for what the foolish among us have done? This is not but Your trial, by which You send astray whom You will and guide whom You will. You are our Protector, so forgive us and have mercy upon us. And You are the best of forgivers” (Al-Araf, 7: 155)
Moses (as) carried on praying:
“And decree good for us in this world and in the Hereafter. We have indeed turned to You” (Al-Araf, 7: 156)
‘I send My punishment on whomever I wish, but My mercy embraces all things. And I have written it for those who fear Allah, give alms, believe in Our signs and follow the messenger, the unlettered prophet, who they will find mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel, who bids them to do what is right and forbids them from what is wrong, makes lawful to them all the good things and forbids them from all things vicious, and relieves them of their burdens and the shackles that were upon them. Those who believe in him, honor him, and help him and follow the light that has been sent down with him, they are the ones who will be saved.’” (Al-Araf, 7: 156-157)
Qatadah ibn Numan (ra) narrates the following from the Prophet (saw):
“Moses (as) asked Allah (jj), ‘My Lord. I see that the tablets of the Torah speak about the best nation to be raised from among humankind, who enjoin good and forbid evil. My Lord, let that nation be mine!”
The Almighty replied, ‘That is the nation of Ahmad (Muhammad)!’
‘My Lord’, said Moses (as). ‘The tablets speak of a nation who will come last on earth but will enter paradise first! Please, let them be my nation!’
‘That is the nation of Ahmad’, said Allah (jj).
‘My Lord’, pleaded Moses (as). ‘The tablets mention a nation who keep their book in their hearts and recite it off by heart, when nations before them could only read their books from in front of them, and once the books went missing, were unable to remember any of it! It is clear that you have gifted this nation with an exceptional skill to memorize and protect! I beg You My Lord, let them be my nation!”
‘That is the nation of Ahmad’, Allah (jj) told him.
‘My Lord! The tablets cite a nation. They believe in the previous books, as well as the last, and wage war on all kinds of deviances. Let them be mine!’ prayed Moses (as).
‘They’, said Allah (jj), ‘are the nation of Ahmad’.
‘My Lord! The tablets speak of a nation who are rewarded between 10 and 700 times just for intending on doing something good, even if they never get around to doing it! Let that be my nation!’
However, Allah the Almighty again said, ‘They are the nation of Ahmad’.
After hearing all this, Moses (as) put the tablets aside and prayed:
‘In that case, my Lord, make me a member of his nation, too!’” (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, II, 259)
As for us, we were born into this world as members of the nation of Muhammad (saw) for free, without having to work for it. We cannot possibly thank Allah enough for that. However, like everything else, this also comes at a price. We need to be fully aware of the responsibility that comes with being a member of the Muhammedan nation and lead lives that are worthy of the privilege. Only through this, can we be given a chance to be near him in the hereafter and, in turn, give him a chance intercede for our sins and open for us the gates of heaven.
The Israelites behaved but not for long. They complained that the Torah’s laws were too strict and they could not cope. They had forgotten about the promise they made, when they repented. So, as a further warning, the Almighty raised Mount Sinai above their heads. They became terrified. They fell prostrate in fear, waiting for the mountain to come crashing down on them at any second:
“And recall when We took your covenant, and We raised the mount over you saying, ‘Take what We have given you with resolution and remember what is in it that perhaps you may become righteous’. Then you turned away after that. And if it was not for the favor of Allah upon you and His mercy, you would have been among the losers.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 63-64)
Yet, the Israelites continued their ways. Those who went one step too far, were punished.
“And you already knew about those who transgressed on the Sabbath. And We said to them, ‘Be despised apes!’ And We made it a deterrent punishment for those who were present and those to come after them. And a lesson for those who fear Allah.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 65-66)
The Israelites who persisted in evil were turned into apes and subsequently destroyed. However, this incident offers nothing to support the claim that man comes from apes. Besides, these people perished and they were destroyed there and then, without bearing forth any offspring.
Allah the Almighty states:
“So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them and hardened their hearts. They distort words from their proper usages and have forgotten a portion of what they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few. But pardon them and overlook their misdeeds. Indeed, Allah loves those who do good.” (Al-Maidah, 5: 13)
There was only one copy of the Torah. Nobody knew it off by heart. This copy was lost during the Babylonian captivity. Once the Israelites were released from Babylonia and returned to Canaan, they rewrote what they could remember of it. The Torah today is therefore incomplete and distorted, with sections devoted to the life and times of Moses (as).
The Sacrifice of the Cow
A wealthy Israelite by the name of Amil had died in suspicious circumstances. It would turn out that he was murdered by his cousin. A couple of possible motives have been suggested. Either he was a poor and stingy man, who coveted Amil’s wealth; or that Amil had married a woman he wanted to marry himself.
However, after secretly killing Amil, the man left his body on the border of two villages, so the villagers could blame one another for the murder.
The body was soon discovered and people came to Moses (as) to ask him to find the killer and have him executed in retribution. Moses (as) was left in two minds as to who may have done it. He prayed for an answer; and Allah commanded him to sacrifice a cow. When the Israelites were told of the command, they retorted:
“What does a murder have to do with a cow? Are you kidding us?”
By making that complaint, the Israelites had, without knowing, brought a test upon themselves that would show their lack of submission to the Almighty.
“I am only conveying what my Lord has commanded”, said Moses (as).
The Qur’an recounts:
“And recall when Moses said to his people, ‘Allah commands you to slaughter a cow!’
They said, ‘Do you take us in ridicule?’
He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant.’
They said, ‘Call upon your Lord to make it clear to us what it is.’
Moses said, ‘He says, ‘It is a cow which is neither old nor virgin, but in between.’ So, do what you are commanded!’
They said, ‘Call upon your Lord to show us its color.’
He said, ‘He says, ‘It is a yellow cow, bright in color, pleasing to observers.’” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 67-69)
The Jews eventually found a cow that matched the description. However, it belonged to a widow, who was reluctant to sell it, as she had a small child, and the cow was their only source of income. She therefore asked for 1,000 coins.
It was a high price to pay. However, Moses (as) told them to give the lady the money she was asking for and buy the cow. Yet, by the time they returned, the lady had raised the price to 2,000.
The people thought that was too steep a price for a cow. So, they returned to Moses (as) and asked:
“‘Call upon your Lord to make it clear to us what it is. All cows look alike to us. And Allah willing, we will then know which one to get.’
He said, ‘He says, ‘It is a cow neither trained to plow the earth nor to irrigate the field, one free from fault with no spot upon her.’
They said, ‘Now you have come with the truth.’ So they slaughtered her, but they could hardly come around to it.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 70-71)
They could hardly get around to doing it because this description was once again pointing at the widow’s cow. In addition, the lady had now raised the price to 10,000. She then, once again, changed her mind and said:
“If you are going to slaughter the cow, then you need to fill its pelt with gold and return it to me! I will only sell it, if you promise me you will!”
The Israelites again turned up next to Moses (as). However, he told them to:
“Buy the cow, whatever it takes!”
So, the men thought the sooner they bought the cow, the better, as there might be no end to the lady’s demands.
“And recall when you slew a man and disputed over it. But Allah was to expose what you were concealing.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 72)
Yet, the Israelites withheld the gold and did not pay.
“The slain man will not come back to life”, Moses (as) assured them, “unless you pay the lady!”
They were left with no other choice than to fill the cow’s pelt with gold and return it to the widow.
“So, We said, ‘Strike the slain man with part of it.’ Thus does Allah bring the dead to life, and shows you His signs that you might reason.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 73)
The Almighty had ordered the Israelites to strike the corpse with part of the slaughtered cow, to simply draw all their attention to the miracle that was about to unfold. The event, in fact, turned into a ceremony, with all Israelites, young and old, looking on. Otherwise, the Almighty certainly does not need a tool bring the dead back to life.
Eventually, they touched the corpse with the cow’s tongue. The bloodied and bruised body then stood up, and explained how he was murdered. He ended the statement with the words:
“It was my cousin so-and-so, who killed me, and so-and-so was his accomplice!” He then laid down and died once more.
The two young men were instantly executed.
The Lessons of This Story
– Each objection the Israelites raised only made their task more difficult. When the divine command first came, they could have gotten away with slaughtering any cow. Instead, they just kept on asking questions, as if to suggest they did not wish to comply with the order. However, they only made it harder for themselves. The constant objections they made without knowing their limits, came with heavy consequences.
– It is impermissible to ask unnecessary questions, as is the case in trying to get to the bottom of issues like fate and destiny, which man is simply unequipped to deal with. There comes a point when one can do no more than to submit to what Allah has said about the matter. Unwarranted questions and objections come with added tasks and restraints, which end up increasing the weight of responsibility.
The Prophet (saw) has in fact stated:
“Leave me to myself, as long as I leave you to yourselves. People before you were destroyed for no other reason than asking their prophets unnecessary questions and disputing the answers they got. For that reason, do what I command you to do, to the best of your abilities. And if I ban you from something, then avoid it at all costs.” (Muslim, Hajj, 412)
– The Israelites were asked to slaughter a cow, as they had previously worshipped a calf. It was for them to completely understand that the species had no divine powers. Man’s inner instincts for servanthood can at times mislead him to search for god inside the universe he inhabits and the limited scope of his understanding.
– The Israelites kept dragging their feet to find the killer, which only added to the tension, with certain groups blaming each other for the crime. With the sacrifice of the cow, calm was restored.
– The event also dispelled the doubts many Israelites had about life after death.
The Prophet’s (saw) Encounter with Moses (as) on the Night Journey
During the Miraj, the Prophet (saw) came across Moses (as) a number of times. And on one of those occasions, the Prophet (saw) was stopped by Moses (as), after he returned from the Almighty’s presence with fifty daily prayers. He said:
“My experience with the Israelites tells me that your nation will not be able to deal with that!” He suggested the Prophet (saw) return to the Lord and ask for some leniency.
This encounter repeated itself five times. Each time the Prophet (saw) returned to the presence of the Almighty, the daily prayers were reduced, up until he was left with five.
The most important lesson here is the need to draw lessons from history and the experiences of past people.
Korah, or Qarun, was either Moses’ (as) uncle or cousin. After Moses (as), no person recited the Torah better. He was a poor man, who depended on the help of others to get by. Through the prayers of Moses (as), he became a master in alchemy, which is the skill to turn base metal into gold.
Prior to becoming a believer, Korah was the representative of the Israelites in the Pharaoh’s court. He was not a particularly just man. He oppressed those under him. However, after accepting Moses’ (as) call, he devoted himself to worshipping, and sought knowledge and wisdom.
However, one day, Satan appeared to Korah in human form. In time, they became friends. When their friendship matured, Satan found a ripe opportunity to make an offer.
“Listen, Korah”, he said. “Instead of living off charity, let us go and work for a day. We can still reserve six days a week to worship the Lord and seek knowledge!”
Korah liked the idea. So, together, they headed downtown to work for a day. With the pay they got, they managed for the next six days, which they spent doing what they had done before.
But Satan had already got a compromise; and was quick to make another offer:
“Look, Korah”, he said. “We were able to make to do without relying on anyone else. I suggest we now work for half a week and worship the Lord in the other half! That way, we can even help the poor with the extra money we make!”
Korah had already made one compromise; and this sounded like an even better idea. So, they got to working. However, now, Satan had free reign to drive home another idea.
“Let us work more and earn more!” he said. “We will make more poor souls happy. Plus, we will still have time to devote to the Lord!”
The love of the world that had slowly sipped into Korah’s heart had then completely submerged it. Before long, he became an extremely rich man, thanks to the art of alchemy he had learned from Moses (as). He was now gripped with greed and ambition, and lost every good quality he had. He was adrift in arrogance and conceit. Yet, to begin with, he had only become wealthy through a skill that Moses (as) had taught him.
The Qur’an says:
“Korah was from the people of Moses, but he tyrannized them. And We gave him treasures whose keys would burden a band of strong men. His people said to him, ‘Do not boast! Allah does not like boasters!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 76)
Korah’s heart was enamored with the world and he had become sick of Moses’ (as) advices. He did not want to hear any of it. When Aaron (as) and his tribe, the Levites, were given the responsibility of performing sacrificial rites, Korah could no longer hide his anger.
“Moses!”, he protested. “You have chosen your brother, Aaron to perform the sacrificial rites. You have given me nothing, even though no one can recite the Torah as well as I can! I am clearly superior to Aaron! How do you expect me to put up with this kind of injustice?”
“It was not me who chose Aaron”, Moses (as) said calmly. “It was Allah!”
However, Korah was adamant. “I will not acknowledge Aaron, unless you show me a proof!”
So, Moses (as) gathered leaders of each tribe of Israel.
“Lay down your walking sticks”, he told them. “Leave them inside the temple. And whoever’s walking stick turns green, deserves the duty of performing the sacrificial rites!”
The only walking stick that started branching out leaves was Aaron’s (as). Moses (as) then turned to Korah and asked, “So, do you still think it was me who chose Aaron?”
As much as he knew the truth of the matter, Korah still fell weak to his ego. As he walked out in anger, he remarked, “This is pure magic!”
The Almighty had ordered the Israelites to wear a blue stripe on their clothes. Korah remonstrated, saying:
“That can only be worn to separate slaves from their masters!”
By now, Korah’s hatred for Moses (as) had reached fever pitch. The fire of jealousy deep within his ego was melting him alive. To draw people towards him, he began holding lavish feasts, where he would talk about how superior he was to the rest.
One day, Moses (as) asked Korah to calculate his alms and pay up, as had been commanded by Allah.
“Are you now coveting my wealth?” Korah exclaimed. “This is all my hard earned money!”
The Almighty then addressed him with the words:
“Seek the home of the hereafter through what Allah has given you, and do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And do not desire corruption in the land. Allah certainly does not like corrupters.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 77)
“He said, ‘I was only given it because of my knowledge!’
Did he not know that Allah had destroyed generations greater than him in power and wealth? But the criminals will not even be asked about their sins!
So, he came out before his people in his adornment. Those who desired the worldly life said, ‘Oh, if only we had what Korah had! He is a man of great fortune!’
But those who had been given knowledge said, ‘Shame on you! The reward of Allah is better for he who believes and does good. And no one is granted it, except the patient!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 78-80)
One day, Korah gathered the Israelites. He also called Moses (as) to attend. Once he came, Korah said:
“Now, Moses! Do tell us about Allah’s commands! What becomes of a convicted thief or an adulterer?”
“A thief’s hand is cut, while an adulterer is stoned to death!” Moses (as) said.
“And if you were found guilty of the crime?” Korah asked.
“The same goes for me”, replied Moses (as).
Korah now went on to execute a sinister plan. He called out to a woman in the crowd and said, “Come! Come and explain the evil deed you committed with Moses!”
The slander had made Moses (as) furious. By this time, the woman had moved through the crowd and was standing right next to them. She wanted to speak but could not. She became tongue-tied.
Moses (as) angrily asked, “Speak, woman! For the sake of Allah who split the sea and revealed the Torah, speak the truth! Do I know you? And do I have any relation to you?”
The woman regretfully said, “The truth, Moses, is that Korah gave me a lot of money and bribed me to defame you!” With deep remorse, she then repented.
Moses (as) fell prostrate.
“My Lord”, he prayed. “Punish them!”
With that prayer, the ground cracked open to swallow up Korah and his followers, as well as his entire wealth. They all sunk to the bottom of the earth.
Allah the Almighty declares:
“And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And he had no company to help him other than Allah. Neither could he help himself!” (Al-Qasas, 28: 81)
What destroyed Korah was his love for the world and jealousy of others. The Qur’an, in fact, teaches us, in the form of a prayer, the need to seek refuge in the Almighty from those who foster feelings of jealousy:
“Say, ‘I seek refuge in the Lord of daybreak. From the evil of that which He created. And from the evil of darkness when it settles. And from the evil of the blowers in knots. And from the evil of an envier when he envies.” (Al-Falaq, 1-5)
All that awaits the jealous is defeat. In fact, when the people saw the miserable end of Korah and his men, they immediately regretted what they had hoped for earlier.
“And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, ‘Oh, how Allah gives to and withholds from He wills! If Allah had favored us, He would have caused the earth to swallow us, too! Oh, how the disbelievers do not succeed!’
We assign that home of the hereafter to those who do not boast upon the earth and desire corruption. And the best outcome is for the righteous.” (Al-Qasas, 28: 82-83)
The story of Korah lays bare the terrible outcome that awaits the jealous and the arrogant, and those who lose themselves in the world and forget about the hereafter.
Also, in regards to the slander incident, Sufis have commented:
Moses’ (as) heart was anguished by his accidental killing of the baker back in Egypt. Even the Almighty had said to his face that “…you killed someone!” (Ta Ha, 20: 40). In a way, the Almighty had admonished him for killing the Copt without being told or allowed to do so.
It was a thorn in Moses’ (as) side; and there came a time, when it began to pierce his heart. It was never his intention to play the oppressor. But the act he committed of his own doing, ended up bringing upon him allegations of things he had never done.
The elders have therefore said:
“Unless you curb your passion to do things that do not rest on divine commands, they will clean you up with your own sword, and you will become the victim of your own device!”
The Meeting with Khidr (as)
In the years that followed the Pharaoh’s drowning in the Red Sea, Moses (as) captivated listeners with his eloquent and impassioned speeches. His people were left in awe of the depth of his knowledge and wisdom. One day, one of them asked:
“Prophet of Allah! Is there anyone on the face of this earth more knowledgeable than you?”
“Not that I know of”, Moses (as) replied.
However, the moment he said those words, it was revealed to him that:
“I have a servant where the two seas meet, whom I have given a special kind of knowledge (ladunni). Take one of your select followers and go to him!”
The person referred to was Khidr (as).
“How can I find that person, my Lord?” Moses (as) asked.
The Almighty told him to put a salted, dead fish in his saddlebag; and said that the spot where the fish would come to life and jump back in the sea, is where Khidr (as) would be waiting.
Moses (as) immediately set out on the road, taking his nephew Joshua with him.
The Qur’an recounts:
“And how about the time when Moses said to his servant, ‘I will not stop walking until I reach the junction where the two seas meet!’” (Al-Kahf, 18: 60)
A depiction by Rumi brings to light the wisdoms that underlie this incident:
“Listen up, generous one! Take a look at just who is showing so much spiritual enthusiasm: a person spoken to by Allah! But lend an ear to what he is saying:
‘Even though I have so many ranks, I feel as though I do not exist. So, I am looking for Khidr to shine a light on my spirit, for places beyond!’
When Moses (as) decided to go and find Khidr, his people exclaimed:
‘What? You are leaving your people behind to track down a man much lower than you? You are a prophet, who has been set free from both fear and hope. You have nothing to worry about. Why do you want to waste your time and effort in searching him? What you search for is within you. You well know that. You are a prophet as high as the skies. How long must you walk on the ground?’
However, Moses (as) said to them:
‘Please, do not stand between the sun and the moon! I am the crescent of prophethood while he is the sun of sainthood. There are prophets greater than I but no saint is greater than Khidr.’
He continued speaking:
‘So, I will now go to where the two seas meet, to find a saint who is the king of the times.
I will use Khidr as a means to reach the truth and wisdom. I will cover long distances, if that is what it takes to see him.
With the wind of divine help behind me, I will fly to him with wings of resolution. I will find him, even if it takes me thousands of years. Is not this trip worth finding that gem?’”
So, when Moses (as) and Joshua:
“…reached the junction where the seas meet, they forgot their fish. It slipped away and found its way into the sea.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 61)
According to one report, the pair had taken a break and Moses (as) was having a nap, when Joshua saw the fish suddenly come back to life and make a splash into the sea. But he forgot to tell Moses (as). After a while, Moses (as) woke up, and urged Joshua:
“Let’s get a move on. We probably still have a fair distance to cover!”
So, they walked a few more hours, until they sat underneath a tree.
“So, when they had passed beyond it, Moses said to the young man:
‘Bring us our meal. This journey has certainly taken a lot out of us!” (Al-Kahf, 18: 62)
It was only then that Joshua remembered.
“The young man said, ‘You know, what? I forgot the fish at the rock we took a break on! And it was no one but Satan, who made me forget to tell you! Amazingly, it just found a way back into the sea!
Moses said, ‘That is what we have been waiting for!’
So they followed their footprints and returned. And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom We had given mercy from us and taught knowledge from Our presence.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 63-65)
The Qur’an refers to this ‘knowledge from Allah’s presence’ with the word ladunn. This is from which the special kind of wisdom, known in Sufism as ‘ladunn’, gets its name. Sufi knowledge is reserved to certain able people. Its essence is piety, while its aim is spiritual perfection (ihsan). In other words, this type of knowledge has to do with the heart. Every person has a responsibility to seek this knowledge, as much as his aptitude and capacity allow. One has to develop his capabilities for the sake of his own salvation. This is possible only through purifying and refining the soul. The wisdom referred to as ladunn is a knowledge given by Allah at the end of this spiritual training. It cannot be learnt from books. This is indicated by the way in which Allah describes Khidr (as) as possessing a knowledge:
“…taught to him from Our presence.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 65)
Allah also declares:
“Fear Allah, and Allah will teach you.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 282)
Ali (ra) is also reported to have said:
“Inner knowledge is certain secrets and wisdoms from the mysteries of Allah (jj), which He instills in whoever’s heart He wills.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, II, 52)
Moses (as) at last found the man he was told to seek, wrapped in his mantle on top a rock. He greeted him and said:
“I am Moses!”
“So you are the prophet of the sons and daughters of Israel!”, said Khidr (as).
“Are you the man about whom Allah says is the most knowledgeable among all men and women?” Moses (as) asked him.
“You see, Moses”, he said, “I have been given a knowledge you do not have. And you have been given a knowledge I do not have!”
Moses (as) asked Khidr (as) to teach him what he knew. This meant learning the inner wisdoms of events that appeared strange to the naked eye, and impossible to make sense of through reason.
“Moses said to him, ‘May I accompany you, so that you can teach me the wisdom you have been taught?’” (Al-Kahf, 18: 66)
Nevertheless, Khidr (as) responded:
“You will not be able keep patient with me. And how are you supposed to keep patient about what your knowledge does not encompass?” (Al-Kahf, 18: 67-68)
With that, Khidr (as) had offered his first glimpse of insight. He informed Moses (as) about his psychological frame of mind, as well as his own manner of conduct. In the end, his diagnosis would prove to be true. Moses’ (as) share in this journey was to acknowledge his place and learn a lesson in patience. In a way, Khidr (as) was implying:
“It is not within your means to put up with me. But you are excused, as the highest level of this special kind of knowledge has not been given to you.”
Nevertheless, Moses (as) assured him:
“You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in any order.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 69)
In response, Khidr (as) laid down a condition:
“If you are to follow me, then do not ask me questions about anything, unless I reveal its secret! That is to say, do not even make an inquiry, let alone get into to an argument with me!”
“He said, ‘Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I tell you about it!” (Al-Kahf, 18: 70)
So their famous journey began. The Qur’an explains their incredible voyage as follows:
“So they set out, until they embarked on a ship, and Khidr put a hole in it.
Moses said, ‘Did you put a hole in the ship to drown the people on it? You have certainly done a grave thing!’
Khidr said, ‘Did I not tell you that you would be unable to keep patient with me?’
Moses said, ‘Do not blame me for something I forgot. And do not make things difficult for me.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 71-73)
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“And that was the first time during the journey that Moses (as) was forgetful. Just as that happened, a sparrow came and landed on the side of the deck, and stuck its beak in the water. Khidr (as) then said to Moses (as):
‘Compared to Allah’s knowledge, the combined knowledge of you, I and entire creation, is no greater than the drop that bird has snatched out of the sea!’” (Al-Bukhari, Tafsir, 18/2-4)
“So they set out once again, until when they met a boy and Khidr killed him.
Moses said, ‘How could you kill an innocent soul, when it has not killed anyone? You have certainly done something deplorable!’
Khidr said, ‘Did I not tell you that you would be unable to keep patient with me?’
Moses said, ‘If I ask you about anything else after this, then do not keep me as a companion. I have surely run out of excuses!’” (Al-Kahf, 18: 74-76)
In other words, Moses (as) was telling Khidr (as) that he had exhausted all possibilities of making another apology.
“So, again, they set out, until when they came to a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to take them in as guests. And there, they found a wall that was about to collapse, and Khidr fixed it.
Moses said, ‘You surely could have at least asked for a payment!’
Khidr said, ‘This the end of the road for us. Let me now give you an insight into the things about which you could not keep patient.’” (Al-Kahf, 18: 77-78)
“As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. I wanted to damage it, as behind them was a king who seized every undamaged ship by force. As for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should give them a child, purer and more merciful, in exchange.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 79-81)
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city. Beneath the wall, there was a treasure for them, and their father was a righteous man. So as a mercy, your Lord willed that that they reach maturity and take out their treasure. I did not do any of that out of my own choosing. And that is the insight into all that you could not keep patient about.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 82)
Regarding the treasure hidden in the wall, Abu Dharr (ra) narrates the following from the Prophet (saw):
“The treasure mentioned by Allah (jj) was a golden tablet, straight and smooth, inscribed with the words:
‘I am amazed at a person who becomes distraught and depressed, even though he believes in fate. I am amazed at a person who is able to laugh, even though he remembers hell. And I am amazed at a person who is unmindful, even though he remembers death. There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is His messenger.’” (Ibn Kathir, Qisasu’l Anbiya, p. 424)
So, it appears that while questions are considered half of knowledge in general, they are prohibited when it seeking the knowledge of ladunn. Here, the ego is trained not so much to become proactive but rather to become spiritually capable.
To give an example to explain the above encounter, Sinan the Architect’s knowledge and expertise were greater than all the artisans who worked in the construction of Suleymaniye Mosque. But it is still no fault on part of Sinan that he may not have known the art of processing a marble as well as a marble cutter. At the end of the day, the artisans are all under Sinan’s command.
So, while it may be remarkable that a prophet of the caliber of Moses (as) was told to seek knowledge from Khidr (as), it is not unreasonable. It is not a deficiency on part of Moses (as) that he was advised to seek the knowledge of ladunn from its master. It was also to show Moses (as) that he knew only as much as had been taught by Allah and there were many other sciences he had not mastered. And the fact that Moses (as) was made to acquire this knowledge from someone below him, also shows that even prophets are helpless in the face of what they do not know. Only the Prophet (saw), who is aptly described as Dhuljanahayn, ‘the two-winged’, would combine the outer knowledge of Moses (as) and inner knowledge of Khidr (as). Thus, this was also to give both of them an idea of the greatness and perfection of the rank of the final prophet to come. And this is the subtler wisdom behind the encounter.
The story of Khidr (as) also shows that the human mind can only make sense of a thing or an event, if it knows its cause and reason. Without these, the mind is left in the dark about the wisdom underlying the event and is unable to put it into perspective.
On the other hand, Moses (as) was a prophet who had a law (sharia) to uphold and apply, while Khidr (as) acted in line with the special kind of knowledge he had been given. Thus, Moses (as) kept on remonstrating to Khidr (as), only because he was sensitive to protect the boundaries of divine law. He was responsible only with the external state of affairs, and his knowledge was bound to the present, the here-and-now. And he judged matters in that perspective.
But through his knowledge of ladunn, Khidr (as) had insight into the future and knew how things would pan out in the long run. And, in a sense, he made Moses (as) watch the screen of fate and see it for himself. So, there is really no contradiction between their seemingly conflicting approaches. Khidr (as) was simply acting according to a knowledge that defied reason and judgement.
So, it is clear that there are truths within the universe that are impossible to grasp through reason. It is therefore incorrect to just rely on reason to find the truth. Just as eyes can only see up to a certain distance and ears can only hear sounds at a certain range, the human mind also has its limits in making sense of events, as well as understanding the truth. Once reason oversteps that boundary, the understanding totally breaks down, at which point the heart must surrender to the Truth.
Ghazzali, for one, came to realize that it was impossible to unlock divine mysteries through reason, as there came a point where it could go no further. Therefore, it was necessary to make the rest of the journey with the heart.
In his major work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Ghazzali exposes the weakness of reason by refuting the philosophers’ arguments. And there, he explains his own frame of mind:
“I stretched my reason to the point it almost tore open, and realized, that after a certain point, it simply fails to move beyond. And I then understood that there is no other way to grasp and unravel divine mysteries than through seeking spiritual inspiration from the Prophet (saw).
So I prayed and begged the Almighty. And after years of contemplation, abstinence and dhikr, I made it to the spirituality of the Prophet (saw) and was saved.”
In fact, this is how the events featured in the story of Khidr (as) appear to the naked reason:
On the surface, putting a hole in the ship was tyranny to its poor owners. But in reality, it was to prevent their only means of livelihood from falling in the hands of tyrants.
Again, at first glance, the killing of the boy was murder. But in essence, it was to save both the boy, as well as his parents, from eternal dismay.
It also appears illogical for the pair to repair a wall in a town, from which they were basically told to get out. But it was only to hide and protect what rightfully belonged to two innocent orphans.
The answers to these riddles are solved only through a knowledge of ladunn, which is a science of the heart. For the same reason, the secret of fate cannot be exposed through reason alone. Understanding the mystery of fate is far beyond the capabilities of reason.
Regarding this story, the Prophet (saw) has said:
“May Allah have mercy on Imran’s son Moses! Who knows of the many more bizarre and extraordinary things Khidr could have taught him, if only he kept patient!” (Al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 27; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, V, 118)
Rumi offers a wonderful example to show how this special kind of wisdom is a matter of providence and given only to those with able hearts:
“It was only Jacob (as) who saw the extraordinariness in the face of Joseph (as). The brothers were unable to see that light. Their hearts were far removed from what was required to see Joseph in the way he really was.
The food for spirit is love, while the soul only craves for food.
And when Jacob (as) saw his own qualities in Joseph (as), his heart inclined towards him.
For Jacob (as), Joseph (as) had a certain pull. That is why he was able to smell his shirt from a long distance. But the brother, who brought the shirt all the way from Egypt, was unable to smell it.
Many a scholar has no share of wisdom. He has committed every knowledge to memory but has been unable to commit himself to the Lord.”
Three Good Men
The Israelites also had righteous people. Three of them feature in the below story relayed by the Prophet (saw):
“There lived three men before you, who set out on a journey together. The dark fell and they entered a cave to spend the night in. Then, a rock rolled down from the mountain and blocked their exit.
After discussing what to do, they decided that nothing could save them except praying to the Lord with a mention of the good deeds they had done in the past.
So, the first one prayed:
‘My Lord! I had an elderly mother and father. I would never feed either my kids or livestock, before feeding them. One day, I had drifted afar to collect some wood. And by the time I returned, it was night, and my parents were fast asleep. I still prepared dinner for them. But I was in two minds about whether to wake them up. In the end, I decided it was best not to. But, at the same time, I did not feel comfortable feeding my kids before them. So, with a bowl of milk in my hand, I waited all night for them to wake up. My kids were tugging at my legs, crying from hunger. Then morning broke. My parents woke up and had their milk.
My Lord! If I did that only for Your sake, then please remove this rock out of our way!’
The rock then slightly made way but the gap was still too small to pass through.
The second man then prayed:
‘My Lord! My uncle had a daughter. I loved her as much as a man could possibly love a woman. I wanted to be with her but she refused. A few years later, a drought hit and she came to me for help. I told her I would give her 100 coins, if she surrendered to me. She was helpless, and had no other choice than to agree. So, the time came, we were alone; and just as I was about to reach for her, she said:
‘Fear Allah and do not force me without right!’
Your fear then came upon me, and I pulled back from the woman I dearly loved, even though she had been cornered. And I gifted her the money I had given.
My Lord! If I did that solely for Your sake, then let this rock make way!’
The rock moved but the gap was still too small to pass through.
And then, the third man prayed:
‘My Lord! I hired a few workers to do a job, and paid them all. But one of them left without collecting his pay. So, I invested his money and increased it on his behalf. After some time, the man returned to ask for his payment. I said to him:
‘These camels, cows and sheep that you see are the profits of your pay. Take them all. They are yours!’
‘Are you having me on?’ asked the man.
‘I am only telling you the truth’, I assured him.
So, the man went away and drove all the livestock with him. He did not leave a single one behind.
My Lord! If I did that only for Your sake, then take this rock away from the mouth of the cave!’
Finally, the rock slipped away, and the men continued their journey.” (Al-Bukhari, Buyu, 98; Ijarah, 12, Muslim, Dhikr, 100)
This serves as proof for the Sufi practice of seeking help (tawassul) through good deeds. From another vantage, it also shows that grace comes to those who put the pleasure of Allah above all things else.
For that reason, a person must avoid following his own desires, and instead, follow the orders of his Creator. He must contentedly submit to Allah’s will; for contentedness and submission are the ultimate fruits of love.
The greatest rank a person could ever reach is for Allah to be pleased with him. And in essence, this is simply a reward for being pleased with Allah to begin with.
The Qur’an describes this as:
“Allah is pleased with them and they with Him” (Al-Bayyinah, 98: 8)
And this is a state of mind only the righteous have.
Moses’ (as) Neighbor in Paradise
It is narrated that Moses (as) one day prayed to Allah and asked, “My Lord, who will be my neighbor in heaven?”
He was told:
“A butcher living in such-and-such place, who is close to me. But aside from being a butcher, he has another, more important job, which would prevent him from coming if you were to invite him. That man, Moses, will be your eternal neighbor!”
Once more, Moses (as) set out to meet him. He arrived at the man’s shop; and without revealing his identity, said:
“I have come to you as a guest!”
The butcher saw that the guest had a comforting expression that was different than the rest. He welcomed him with a warm smile and took him to his home. He lodged Moses (as) at the most comfortable part of his house, and offered him meat he cooked with his own hands. He then urged Moses (as) to start eating without waiting for him, as he had a very important job to take care of. In the meantime, he cut some of the cooked meat into very fine pieces. He then stood up, and carefully lowered a woven basket hanging on the wall. Inside, was a frail woman, who had become almost as tiny as a bird from old age. He then began to feed her the small pieces of meat he had prepared. After the meal, he softly wiped her mouth and cleaned her. He then hugged and caressed her, like a baby, and delicately put her back in the basket. All along, the old lady was murmuring a few words, almost inaudible and certainly impossible to make out.
Moses (as) had noticed the same basket inside the man’s butcher shop. He curiously looked on.
When the butcher returned, he noticed Moses (as) had not yet begun eating.
“Why have you not started, my dear friend?” he jovially asked.
“I will not start”, Moses (as) said, “until you explain to me the secret of that woven basket.”
“That woman inside the basket”, the butcher said, “is my mother. She is old and weak; and I have no one to take care of her. There are times when I have to leave her on her own. But I worry that a creepy-crawly or some other pest will bother her. So, I place her in that basket and hang it up on the wall. Sometimes, I take her with me to the shop. My entire peace of mind comes from looking after her. I prepare her two meals a day and attend to all her needs, with my entire heart and soul!”
“She kept on murmuring something. What was she saying?” Moses (as) asked.
The butcher replied, “Every time I attend to her, she prays, ‘May you become a neighbor to Moses in paradise!’ I smile every time I hear that, to think how farfetched it would be for an ordinary man like me to be a neighbor to such a great prophet.”
It was then that Moses (as) revealed his identity.
“Well, my good friend, I am Moses! The Lord sent me to you, so I could meet my neighbor in paradise. And I now see the deed that has taken you there!”
The butcher shed tears of joy and kissed the hands of Moses (as) out of respect and excitement. Together, they proceeded to have their meal in peace and comfort.
The Virtues and Appearance of Moses (as)
About him, the Almighty has declared:
“O you who have believed! Be not like those who abused Moses, then Allah cleared him of what they said. He was distinguished in the sight of Allah.” (Al-Ahzab, 33: 69)
Moses (as) is a prophet of high honor and value in the sight of Allah.
One indication of that is that he interceded on behalf of his brother, Aaron (as) and prayed to Allah to make him his aide. Allah instantly accepted his prayer and made Aaron (as) a prophet alongside him.
The Qur’an says:
“And out of Our mercy, We gave him his brother Aaron as a prophet.” (Maryam, 19: 53)
Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) narrates that the Prophet (saw) once divided some stuff among the people, when a man, unhappy with what he got, retorted, “This is an unfair division that has not taken Allah’s pleasure into account!”
When news of this was delivered to the Prophet (saw), he became visibly angry, and said:
“May Allah have mercy on Moses! He kept patient, despite having to put up with a lot more than this.” (Al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 28)
Moses (as) features prominently in the Qur’an, and on many occasions, his name is mentioned alongside the Prophet (as). And similarly, the Torah is often cited alongside the Qur’an itself.
Regarding Moses’ (as) appearance, Ibn Abbas (ra) relays the following from the Prophet (saw):
“‘I saw Mary’s son Jesus, Moses and Abraham. Jesus had a red complexion, with curly hair and a broad chest. Moses was bulky man with straight hair.’
The companions then asked about Abraham (as). The Prophet (saw) then said:
‘Just take a look at his friend’.
He was referring to himself.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, I, 296)
There are number of reports regarding his death. The most accepted one is that he passed away at the age of 120 and was buried near Jerusalem.
Peace be upon him…
. Because the Pharaoh used the Israelites as slaves and depended on them for heavy labor, he would kill the newborn males one year and spare them in the next. It was during a year of amnesty that Aaron (as) was born.
. Fakhruddin Razi says that Moses (as) should not have been sentenced to death, as he killed the Copt unintentionally.
. This is to interpret the Qur’an in light of the meanings hidden under its surface. But to be considered valid, an ishari interpretation needs to comply with three conditions:
It must not clash with the external meaning,
The words must provide basis for the meaning extracted, and,
It must be supported by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
. Marifah is to know the Lord with love through the heart.
. As mentioned before, Moses (as) struck the Copt not to kill him but only to fend him off. Iit just so happened that as a result of God’s will, the Copt lost his life.
. See al-Araf, 7: 109-126; Yunus, 10: 76-82; Ta Ha, 20: 56-73 and Al-Shu’ara, 42: 34-51.
. See, al-Najm, 53: 9
. Talwin refers to the spiritual progression from one stage to another. This continues until reaching tamkin, which is for the heart to settle and delve deeper in the station of reunion with the Lord.
. See, al-Maqdisi, Sırların Çözümü ve Hazînelerin Anahtarları, p. 58-59.
. See, Bukhari, Salat, 1; Muslim, Iman, 263.
. See, al-Bukhari, Tafsir, 18/2, 3, 4; Anbiya, 27; Muslim, Fadail, 170/2380.
. In explaining the wisdom underlying the three incidents, Khidr (as) speaks of three agents or executers of each action. In the first, he says ‘I wanted to’, in the second, ‘We intended’ and in the third, ‘your Lord willed it’. Sufis say that these point to the three different types of disposal saints are given.
The first is where God gives the saint freedom to do something and creates the desired result. As evidence, they cite these words from the Prophet (saw):
“God has many servants, ragged and scruffy, looked down on by people and banished from every corner. But if they were to swear that something was going to happen, God makes that thing happen.” (Muslim, Birr, 138/2622)
The second is where the person does something that falls in line with God’s will.
And the third are actions that are direct results of God’s command.
. For more detail on this, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmandan İhsana Tasavvuf, p. 341-368.