THE PROPHET MUSA (AS)

 

Conveying The Message To Pharaoh
And The Proper Manner In Which It Was To Be Done

God warned Musa and Harun prior to their visit to Pharaoh, and reminded them to always remember Him, and to never slacken in remembering him:

"Go, you and your brother, with My Signs and do not slacken in remembering Me." (Qur'an, 20: 42)

God commanded Musa and Harun to go to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. God explained to them that Pharaoh was arrogant and contentious, but nevertheless, He commanded them to adopt a gentle manner in communicating His message to him:

"Go to Pharaoh; he has overstepped the bounds. But speak to him with gentle words so that hopefully he will pay heed or show some fear." (Qur'an, 20: 43-44 )

As stressed in the verses above, using gracious language is a highly effective approach that should always be adopted while communicating the religion. In many verses of the Qur'an, the importance of choosing kind words is stressed as a general rule. In fact, God commands man to speak gently even when the one he is conversing with is arrogant, making evident the clear importance of using such a manner in communicating the message of God.

Upon this command of God, Musa once more candidly expressed the fear he felt in his heart. He told God about his concern, that is, being killed by Pharaoh:

They said, "Our Lord, we are afraid that he might persecute us or overstep the bounds." (Qur'an, 20: 45)

He (Musa) said, "My Lord, I killed one of them and I am afraid they will kill me." (Qur'an, 28: 33)

Here, God once again reminded Musa that He was with him, seeing and hearing everything he did. Furthermore, God commanded Musa and Harun to go to Pharaoh and ask him to let children of Israel go:

Go to him and say, "We are your Lord's Messengers so send the tribe of Israel away with us and do not punish them. We have brought you a Sign from your Lord. Peace be upon those who follow the guidance." (Qur'an, 20: 47)

It is worth noting that it is not only Pharaoh who was being tested here. It was a trial for Prophet Musa as well. Musa feared the possibility of being killed by Pharaoh. However, what God demanded from Musa was more than a mere visit to Pharaoh; Musa would go and ask Pharaoh to let all the children of Israel leave away with him. Going before the indisputable ruler of the land, to whom the whole nation submitted like a deity, was certainly a very hazardous task. Even more dangerous was telling Pharaoh explicitly that he was on the wrong path, and then to ask him to give freedom to an enslaved nation, that is, to the children of Israel. Nevertheless, aware that they were under the total protection of God, Musa and Harun pursued their task with the assurance and ease their Lord bestowed upon them. God reminded them of this truth, commanding them not to fear:

He (God) said, "Have no fear. I will be with you, All-Hearing and All-Seeing." (Qur'an, 20: 46)

Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided.(Qur'an, 16:125)

The Corrupted Reasoning Of Pharaoh

On Mount Sinai, together with the revelation, Musa was bestowed with great wisdom from his Lord. There, God enlightened Musa on two subjects especially: destiny and putting one's trust in God. Musa had grasped that his entire life had been within the confines of a certain destiny, and had pursued his journey in line with that destiny. Also, he had comprehended that he should not fear Pharaoh, but put his trust in God because God is with him, sees him, and helps him. With this mindset, Musa and Harun had gone to Pharaoh and his inner circle, referred to in the Qur'an as "a people of evildoers":

Then after them We sent Musa and Harun with Our Signs to Pharaoh and his ruling circle, but they were arrogant and were a people of evildoers. (Qur'an, 10: 75)

The dialogue between Musa and Pharaoh is related in the Qur'an. A close examination of the answers Pharaoh gave to Musa discloses his highly unreasonable and irrational way of thinking. From what he said, we understand that, rather than considering the words of Musa, he sought to defeat him and denounce him. To this purpose, Pharaoh tried to win over the people around him or impose his crooked rationale on others. The dialogue between Musa and Pharaoh was as follows:

Pharaoh said, "Who then is your Lord, Musa?"

He said, "Our Lord is He who gives each thing its created form and then guides it."

He (Pharaoh) said, "What about the previous generations?"

He said, "Knowledge of them is with my Lord in a Book. My Lord does not misplace nor does He forget."

It is He who made the earth a cradle for you and threaded pathways for you through it and sent down water from the sky by which We have brought forth various different types of plants. Eat and pasture your cattle. Certainly there are Signs in that for men of understanding. From it We created you, to it We will return you, and from it We will bring you forth a second time. (Qur'an, 20: 49-55)

Rather than evaluating this message with a sound mind and clear conscience, Pharaoh and his inner circle assessed it based on their accustomed way of thinking, founded on the religion of their ancestors. According to their superstitious beliefs, Pharaoh was a deity, far from admitting the idea of the existence of God:

But when Musa brought them Our Clear Signs they said, "This is nothing but trumped-up magic. We never heard anything like this among our earlier forefathers." (Qur'an, 28: 36)

As the above verse makes clear, Pharaoh's people thought Musa's intention in proclaiming the existence and unity of God, was to seize power in the land, by abolishing the system inherited from their ancestors. The ancient religion entitled Pharaoh and his inner circle to obvious advantages, and the change of this religion implied a loss of power for Pharaoh and the shift of authority to Musa. Therefore, they believed that Musa had simply come to oppress the people, just as Pharaoh had. This narrow understanding of theirs is best expressed in the answer of Pharaoh and his inner circle offered to Musa and Harun:

They said, "Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our fathers doing, and to gain greatness in the land? We do not believe you." (Qur'an, 10: 78)

However, the accusation expressed in the words "Have you come to us to gain greatness in the land" by Pharaoh and his followers was merely an insincerely motivated attempt at slander. Musa's intention was far from desiring to rule Egypt; he had only asked Pharaoh to send the tribe of Israel away with him. Musa's request was the release of the children of Israel, an enslaved nation who had been living under grief-ridden conditions:

Musa said, "Pharaoh! I am truly a Messenger from the Lord of all the worlds, duty bound to say nothing about God except the truth. I have come to you with a Clear Sign from your Lord. So send the tribe of Israel away with me." (Qur'an, 7: 104-105)

Nonetheless, Pharaoh, denying his request, tried various other methods against Musa. One such ruse was emotional abuse. By reminding Musa of how he had been brought up in the palace, he was attempting to remind him of the loyalty he owed to him and his inner circle. Furthermore, he tried to coerce him by mention of the Egyptian man he unintentionally killed. Musa's response to all such mistreatment was one particular to a true believer, who unconditionally submits to his destiny, and has a full grasp of its implications:

He (Pharaoh) said, "Did we not bring you up among us as a child and did you not spend many years of your life among us? Yet you committed the deed you did and were ungrateful."

He (Musa) said, "At the time I did it I was one of the misguided and so I fled from you when I was in fear of you but my Lord gave me right judgement and made me one of the Messengers." (Qur'an, 26: 18-21)

Musa explained to Pharaoh that his growing up in the palace was not a favour but a result of his cruel oppression:

And anyway you can only reproach me with this favour because you made the tribe of Israel into slaves! (Qur'an, 26: 22)


Despite any hesitation he may have previously felt, Musa delivered the message fearlessly and forthrightly to Pharaoh and his circle of rulers, mindful that God had reminded him of His companionship. Pharaoh first asked Musa about his Lord:

Pharaoh said, "What is the Lord of all the worlds?'

He (Musa) said, 'The Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything between them if you knew for sure."

He (Pharaoh) said to those around him, "Are you listening?"

He (Musa) said, "Your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers, the previous peoples." (Qur'an, 26: 23-26)

In his response, Musa was explaining that the religion of Pharaoh's ancestors was invalid since they were also transgressors. God was the Lord of those ancestors as well. Having nothing to say in reply, Pharaoh resorted to slandering and threatening Musa:

He (Pharaoh) said, "This Messenger, who has been sent to you, is mad."

He (Musa) said, "The Lord of the East and the West and everything between them if you used your intellect."

He (Pharaoh) said, "If you take any god other than me, I will certainly throw you into prison." (Qur'an, 26: 27-29)

As is evident, Musa's concise explanations and clear evidence put Pharaoh in a difficult position, which led him to accuse Musa of insanity. Here, Pharaoh's primary concern was to counteract the powerful influence Musa was having on the people. The forthright and convincing manner of Musa's speech infuriated Pharaoh. Ultimately, he threatened Musa with imprisonment if he continued denying his divinity. This action was merely another manifestation of Pharaoh's cruel character.

At this point, Musa declared that he had come with signs proving his prophecy, and performed the two miracles granted to him by God:

He (Musa) said, "Even if I were to bring you something undeniable?"

He (Pharaoh) said, "Produce it then if you are someone telling the truth."

So he threw down his staff and there it was, unmistakably a serpent. And he drew out his hand and there it was, pure white to those who looked. (Qur'an, 26: 30-33)

Pharaoh, and his inner circle, witnessing the two great miracles of God performed by the hand of Musa, thought they could have been possible only through sorcery. In order to refuse being impressed by these miracles, they inspired each other to think in the following way:

He (Pharaoh) said to the High Council round about him, "This certainly is a skilled magician who desires by his magic to expel you from your land, so what do you recommend?" (Qur'an, 26: 34-35)

The mentality exemplified here is typical of those who deny the truth. In many stories related in the Qur'an, there are numerous examples of similar people and their responses evidencing a flawed rationale. This condition of mind, blindly committed to following the faith of their ancestors, and rejecting the truth despite clear signs, was not particular only to Pharaoh and his inner circle. Throughout history, deniers always sought a similar way out. The mindset of the arrogant is conveyed in the Qur'an as follows:

I will divert from My Signs all those who are arrogant in the earth without any right. If they see every Sign, they will not believe in it. If they see the way of right guidance, they will not take it as a way. But if they see the way of error, they will take that as a way. (Qur'an, 7: 146)

Pharaoh and his inner circle clearly preferred taking the route of denial and evil rather than choosing to be rightly guided. Despite these miracles, they decided to defy Musa. To this purpose, they sought out would-be opponents to Musa, who they believed to be a "magician":

They said, "Detain him and his brother and send out marshals to the cities, to bring you all the skilled magicians." (Qur'an, 7: 111-112)

Pharaoh claimed the miracles of Musa were a magician's tricks, and believed that they could be undone by his own magicians. Therefore, he planned to defeat Musa to regain his leverage. He could have killed Musa and Harun. However, in hopes of a greater and longer lasting victory, he took the advise of those around him. It seemed to make sense to him. In reality, however, they were doomed to an all-out defeat by God. Moreover, their defeat came from the least expected source.

Certain of their ultimate victory, they allowed Musa to appoint the time and place for the confrontation:

He said, "Have you come to us to expel us from our land by means of your magic, Musa? We will bring you magic to match it. So fix a time between us and you which neither we nor you will fail to keep at a place where we can meet halfway."

He (Musa) said, "Your time is the day of the festival. The people should gather in the morning." (Qur'an, 20: 57-59)

Musa chose "the day of the festival" so that all the people could witness the encounter. This was a truly wise choice indeed; in this way, all the people would hear the message of Musa and witness the defeat of Pharaoh and his magicians. Pharaoh accepted the appointed time:

So Pharaoh went away and concocted his scheme and then he arrived.

Musa said to them, "Woe to you! Do not fabricate lies against God or He will annihilate you with His punishment. Fabricators of lies are bound to fail."

They argued among themselves about the matter and had a secret conference.

They said, "These two magicians desire by their magic to expel you from your land and abolish your most excellent way of life, so decide on your scheme and then arrive together in force. He who gains the upper hand today will definitely prosper." (Qur'an, 20: 60-64)

Titles Of Egyptian Rulers In The Qur'an

Musa was not the only prophet to have lived in ancient Egypt. The Prophet Yusuf had also lived in Egypt long before the time of Musa.

In the stories of Musa and Yusuf in the Qur'an, we come across a detail which is worth mentioning. To refer to the Egyptian ruler at the time of Yusuf, the word "malik" (the King) is used in the Qur'an:

The King (Malik) said, "Bring him (Yusuf) to me straight away! So I may draw him very close to me." When he had spoken with him, he declared, "Today you are trusted, established in our sight." (Qur'an, 12: 54)

In the time of Musa, however, the Egyptian ruler is referred to as the "Pharaoh":

We gave Musa nine Clear Signs. Ask the tribe of Israel about when he came to them and Pharaoh said to him, "Musa, I think you are bewitched." (Qur'an, 17: 101)

Historical records now available provide the reasons for the different names used to refer to these two rulers of Egypt. In ancient Egypt, the term "pharaoh" originally referred to the royal palace. During the reign of the ancient kingdoms, the rulers did not hold such a title. The word "pharaoh" came to be used as a synonym for the Egyptian king under the New Kingdom (starting in the 18th dynasty, 1539-1292 B.C.), and by the 22nd dynasty (c. 945-c. 730 B.C.) it had been adopted as an epithet of respect.1

Here again, the miraculous qualities of the Qur'an are evidenced once again: because the Prophet Yusuf lived much before the New Kingdom, the Qur'an refers to the Egyptian king who was comtemporary of Yusuf with the word "malik" and not "pharaoh." Musa, on the other hand, lived during the time of the New Kingdom, and, therefore, the Egyptian ruler who was contemporary of Musa was referred to in the Qur'an as "pharaoh."

Clearly, such a distinction implies a certain knowledge of the history of the ancient Egypt. However, as mentioned earlier, the history of Ancient Egypt was completely forgotten by the 4th century, since hieroglyphic writing was not deciphered until the 19th century. Therefore, during the period the Qur'an was revealed, no in-depth knowledge of Egyptian history was available. This fact is yet another piece of evidence, among countless of others, proving the fact that Qur'an is the word of God.

The Struggle Of Musa (As) Against The Magicians

Magicians came to Pharaoh from all parts of the land of Egypt to perform their magic against Musa. Pharaoh was certain of his ultimate victory. Following a successful confrontation, the authority of Pharaoh and his inner circle would have been assured. The magicians, on the other hand, were curious as to the reward they would receive in return for defeating Musa:

(They said) "To bring you all the skilled magicians."

The magicians came to Pharaoh and they asked, "Will we receive a reward if we are the winners?"

He (Pharaoh) said, "Yes, and you will be among those brought near." (Qur'an, 7: 112-114)


The magicians of Pharaoh used to officiate at the religious ceremonies of Egyptians. Above is an illustration of the magicians during a mummification ritual.
Pharaoh was taking advantage of the situation to consolidate his authority, while the magicians thought that by being honoured with being "close" to Pharaoh, they would gain certain benefits. The most able magicians of Egypt were brought against Musa and Harun. Musa was asked to decide who should start:

They said, "Musa, will you throw or shall we be the first to throw?"

He said, "No, you throw!"

And suddenly their ropes and staffs appeared to him, by their magic, to be slithering about. (Qur'an, 20: 65-66)

When the magicians performed their magic, their ropes and staffs appeared to slither. As the verse informs us, all were deceived into seeing ropes and staffs as moving by themselves.

A certain point deserves attention here: in the above verse, we encounter the expression "appear to be slithering about." This wording indicates that there was not an actual movement, but only one perceived by the spectators. In another verse, the illusory nature of this incident is explained as follows:

He (Musa) said, "You throw." And when they threw, they cast a spell on the people's eyes and caused them to feel great fear of them. They produced an extremely powerful magic. (Qur'an, 7: 116)

With their illusions, the magicians of Pharaoh won the public over. They exalted his regime by the spells they performed, which they did "by the might of Pharaoh." Pharaoh, in return, provided them financial benefits. In brief, their relationship was mutually beneficial.

In their confrontation with Musa, the magicians were completely aware that Pharaoh was not in possession of any kind of divine power. However, purely out of a desire to be brought "close" to enjoy the resulting benefits, they threw their staffs. They did so, quite sure of their superiority over Musa, which they expressed thus:

They threw down their ropes and staffs and said, "By the might of Pharaoh we are the winners." (Qur'an, 26: 44)


The magicians of Pharaoh were authorities on subjects ranging from astronomy to medicine. They exploited their prestige to influence the public and only to reinforce the oppressive rule of Pharaoh. Above is an ancient Egyptian relief showing the magicians holding the world.
Although deceitful, the magicians' show impressed the crowd. As we read in the Qur'an, the people were terrified. Musa too was impressed; his heart was filled with fear since the magicians' ropes and staffs appeared to him also as slithering about. Nonetheless, God reminded Musa not to be frightened:

Musa experienced in himself a feeling of alarm. We said, "Have no fear. You will have the upper hand. Throw down what is in your right hand. It will swallow up their handiwork. Their handiwork is just a magician's trick. Magicians do not prosper wherever they go." (Qur'an, 20: 67-69)

Bolstered by this reminder from God, Musa immediately turned to the magicians, telling them that their performance was mere sorcery which would be rendered void by the will of God:

When they had thrown, Musa said, "What you have brought is magic. God will certainly prove it false. God does not uphold the actions of corrupters." (Qur'an, 10: 81)

Then Musa threw down his staff. The result was terrifying for the magicians. Musa's staff swallowed the sorcery of Pharaoh's magicians:

We revealed to Musa, "Throw down your staff." And it immediately swallowed up what they had forged. So the Truth took place and what they did was shown to be false. They were defeated then and there, transformed into humbled men. (Qur'an, 7: 117-119)

Unlike the illusory tricks of magicians, Musa worked a real miracle by his staff. The magicians had plotted against Musa. However, God, the best of plotters, aided Musa with a plan which rendered their tricks utterly worthless. Thus, the plots of the magicians only worked against them. Provided with supernatural properties by God, the staff effected a true miracle.

Consequently, contrary to expected, Musa defeated the magicians. So, everybody witnessed that God's promise was true. God did not leave Musa alone and, through this miracle, made him victorious over one of the most powerful systems of his time.

-------------------------

1- "Pharaoh," Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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