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CHAPTER FIVE

MOSES (MUSA)
INTRODUCTION
Moshe Hebrew prophet, teacher and leader who delivered his people from Egyptian slavery. The story of the suffering of the
Israelites during their bondage in Egypt, their deliverance through Moses, their crossing of the Red Sea (or, more probably, of
what today is known as the Gulf of Suez) and the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts is narrated in considerable detail in the
Bible (Exodus i-xiv).
The Quran does not give us a consecutive narrative: for historical narrative as such is never its purpose. Whenever the Quran
refers to past events - whether recorded in the Bible or alive in Arabian tradition - it does so exclusively with a view to bringing
out elements that are relevant to the ethical teachings, which it propounds and not to narrate a story as such and this explains the
fragmentary character of these references and allusions. It is noteworthy that some of the story of Moses depicts the purely human
aspects of his life - that is to say, the impulses, perplexities and errors which are part of the human condition as such, aspects
which the Quran stresses in order to counteract any possible tendency on the part of the pious to attribute superhuman or, in the
last resort semi-divine qualities to God’s apostles. Some Egyptologists assume that the “evil Pharaoh” of the Quran and the Bible
was Ramses II (about 1324-1258 B.C.), while others identify him with his unlucky predecessor, Tut-ankh-amen, or even with
Thotmes (or Thutmosis) III, who lived in the 15th century B.C. However, all these “identifications” are purely speculative and
have no definitive historical value. In this connection it should be remembered that the designation “Pharaoh” is not a proper
name but a title borne by all the kings of ancient Egypt. Throughout this work, the noun at-tur (“the mountain”) is being rendered
as “Mount Sinai”, for it is to this and to no other mountain that the Quran invariably refers in the above term. (The translation of
the Quran is presented in bold letters and the explanation in parentheses.)
EVILS OF PHARAOH
(28:2-6) These are messages of a divine writ clear in itself and clearly showing the truth. We [now] convey unto you some
of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, setting forth the truth for [the benefit of] people who will believe. Behold, Pharaoh
exalted himself in the land and divided its people into castes. [This refers to the division of people into high and low-born: a
division which the Quran utterly condemns. The group which as mentioned in the next sentence, Pharaoh “deemed utterly low”
were the Israelites, who had been placed on the lowest rung of the Egyptian social scale and were deprived of almost all human
rights.] One group of them he deemed utterly low; he would slaughter their sons and spare [only] their women: for, behold,
he was one of those who spread corruption [on earth]. But it was Our will to bestow Our favor upon those [very people]
who were deemed [so] utterly low in the land, and to make them forerunners in faith, and to make them heirs [to
Pharaoh’s glory], [An allusion to the historical fact that the Hebrews were the first to accept a monotheistic creed in a clear,
unequivocal formulation, and thus became the forerunners of both Christianity and Islam.] and to establish them securely on
earth, and to let Pharaoh and Haman [This Haman, who is mentioned several times in the Quran as Pharaoh’s chief adviser, is
not to be confused with the Persian Haman of the Old Testament (The Book of Esther iii). The word “Haman” as used in the
Quran is not a proper name at all but the Arabicized echo of the compound designation Ha-Amen given to every high priest of the
Egyptian god Amon. Since at the time in question the cult of Amon was paramount in Egypt, his high priest held a rank second
only to that of the reigning Pharaoh. The assumption that the person spoken of in the Quran as Haman was indeed the high priest
of the cult of Amon is strengthened by Pharaoh’s demand (mentioned in verse 38 of this surah as well as in 40:36-37) that Haman
erect for him “a lofty tower” from which he could “have a look at or ascend to the god of Moses”: which may be, among other
things, an allusion to the hieratic purpose of the great pyramids of Egypt and to the function of the high priest as their chief
architect.] and their hosts experience through those [children of Israel] the very thing against which they sought to protect
themselves. [The descendants of Joseph were fruitful and increased greatly in Egypt. Now there arose a new king in Egypt and he
said to his people that the people of Israel were too many and if war befalls us, they would join our enemies and fight against us.
The Egyptians - obviously remembering the earlier, alien Hyksos dynasty that had invaded Egypt and subsequently allied itself
with the Hebrews (see 12:43) - feared that the latter might in the future, too, make common cause with foreign invaders (Exodus i,
10): and to protect themselves against this danger, they decided - as mentioned in several places in the Quran as well as in the
Bible - to have every male Hebrew child killed.]
(2:49) And [remember the time] when We saved you from Pharaoh's people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering,
slaughtering your sons and sparing (only) your women [see exodus I, 15-16, 22] - which was an awesome trial from your
Sustainer.
FORMATIVE YEARS OF MOSES
RESCUE OF INFANT MOSES AND ADOPTION BY THE PHARAOH
According to the Biblical tradition, Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed (whose other children were Aaron and Miriam), hid him
for three months and then set him afloat on the Nile in a reed basket. The sister of Moses stood at a distance to see what would
happen. Soon the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river and she saw the basket among the reeds, sent her maid to
fetch it, opened it and saw the child. She knew that this was one of the Hebrews’ children. From the very beginning infant Moses
refused the breast of Egyptian nurses. When sister of Moses came to know this, she approached daughter of Pharaoh asking if she
could call a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child. The Pharaoh’s daughter agreed and so the girl called the child’s
mother. Pharaoh’s daughter paid wages to the child’s mother for nursing the baby. The mother of Moses took the child, nursed
him and he grew; and then she brought him back. Thus the child became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and she named him Moses
and was reared in the Egyptian court.
(20:37-40) “And, indeed, We bestowed Our favor upon you (Moses) at a time long since past, [I.e., the time of Moses’
childhood and youth.] when We inspired your mother with this inspiration: ‘Place him in a chest and throw it into the river,
and thereupon the river will cast him ashore, [and] one who is an enemy unto Me and an enemy unto him will adopt him.’
[Pharaoh is described as an enemy of God because of his overweening arrogance and cruelty as well as his claim to the status of
divinity and he was, unknowingly, an enemy of the infant Moses as he hated and feared the people to whom the latter belonged.]
“And [thus early] I spread Mine Own love over you - and [this] in order that you might be formed under Mine eye. [I.e.,
‘‘under My protection and in accordance with the destiny which I have decreed for you”: possibly a reference to Moses’
upbringing within the cultural environment of the royal palace and his subsequent acquisition of the ancient wisdom of Egypt -
circumstances which were to qualify him for his future leadership and the special mission that God had in view for him.] “[And
you were under Mine eye] when your sister went forth and said [to Pharaoh’s people], ‘Shall I guide you unto [a woman]
who might take charge of him?’ And so We returned you unto your mother, so that her eye be gladdened, and that she
might not sorrow [any longer].
(28:7-13) And so, [when he (Moses) was born,] We inspired [thus] the mother of Moses: Suckle him [for a time], and then,
when you have cause to fear for him, cast him into the river, and have no fear and do not grieve – for We shall restore him
to you, and shall make him one of Our message-bearers!” And [some of] Pharaoh’s household found [and spared] him: for
[We had willed] that he becomes an enemy unto them and [a source of] grief, seeing that Pharaoh and Haman and their
hosts were sinners indeed! Now the wife of Pharaoh said: “A joy to the eye [could this child be] for me and you! Slay him
not: he may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son!” And they had no presentiment [of what he was to
become]. On the morrow, however, an aching void grew up in the heart of the mother of Moses, and she would indeed have
disclosed all about him [I.e., disclose his true identity in the hope that he would be returned to her.] had We not endowed her
heart with enough strength to keep alive her faith [in Our promise]. And so she said to his sister, [sister of Moses.] “Follow
him” – and [the girl] watched him from afar, while they [who had taken him in] were not aware of it. Now from the very
beginning We caused him to refuse the breast of [Egyptian] nurses; and [when his sister came to know this,] she said:
“Shall I guide you to a family that might rear him for you, and look after him with good will?” And thus We restored him
to his mother, so that her eye might be gladdened, and that she might grieve no longer, and that she might know that
God’s promise always comes true – even though most of them know it not!
WIFE OF PHARAOH TRULY DEVOUT
(66:11) And for those who have attained to faith God has propounded a parable in [the story of] Pharaoh’s wife [See 28:8-
9] as she prayed, “O my Sustainer! Build Thou for me a mansion in the paradise [that is] with Thee, and save me from
Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from all evildoing folk!”
MURDER AND TRIBAL PARTISANSHIP
(20:41) “And [when you came of age,] you did slay a man: but We did save you from all grief, although We tried you with
various trials. And then you did sojourn for years among the people of Madyan; and now you have come [here] as
ordained [by Me], O Moses: for I have chosen you for Mine Own service.
(28:14-19) Now when [Moses] reached full manhood and had become mature [of mind]. We bestowed upon him the ability
to judge [between right and wrong] as well as [innate] knowledge: for thus do We reward the doers of good. [This
statement, almost entirely identical with 12:22 (where it refers to Joseph), stresses the supreme divine blessing of spiritual
consciousness in its deepest significance, combined with rational thought, as expressed in the concept of “ability to judge between
right and wrong”. Moses reached this spiritual maturity after the events described in verses 15.] And [one day] he entered the
city at a time when [most of] its people were [resting in their houses,] unaware of what was going on [in the streets]; and
there he encountered two men fighting with one another – one of his own people, [Hebrews] and the other of his enemies
[Egyptian]. And the one who belonged to his own people cried out to him for help against him who was of his enemies –
whereupon Moses struck him down with his fist, and [thus] brought about his end. [But then] he said [to himself]: “This is
of Satan’s doing! Verily, he is an open foe, leading [man] astray!” [And] he prayed: O my Sustainer! Verily, I have sinned
against myself! Grant me, then, Thy forgiveness!” And He forgave him – for, verily, He alone is truly forgiving, a dispenser
of grace. Said he: “O my Sustainer! [I vow] by all the blessings which Thou hast bestowed on me: Nevermore shall I aid
such as are lost in sin!” [This is an indication that the Israelite whom Moses had helped was a denier of the truth – i.e., in the
moral sense of this definition. Above paragraph seem to indicate that it was the Israelite, and not the Egyptian, who had been in
the wrong. Apparently, Moses had come to the assistance of the Israelite out of an instinctive sense of racial kinship without
regard to the rights and wrongs of the case; but immediately afterwards he realized that he had committed a grave sin not only by
killing, however inadvertently, an innocent person, but also by basing his action on a mere tribal – or, as would describe it today,
racial or national – prejudice. Evidently, this is the purport of the above Quranic segment of the story of Moses. Its moral has been
stressed and explained by the Prophet on many occasions: his famous saying, “He is not of us who proclaims the cause of tribal
partisanship; and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship; and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal
partisanship”. When he was asked to explain the meaning of “tribal partisanship”, the Prophet answered, it means helping your
own people in an unjust cause.]] And next morning he found himself in the city, looking fearfully about him, when lo! The
one who had sought his help the day before [once again] cried out to him [for help [Against another Egyptian] whereupon]
Moses said unto him: “Behold, you are indeed, most clearly, deeply in the wrong! [Lost in grievous error or deviating from
what is right] But then as soon as he was about to lay violent hands on the man who was their [common] enemy, [Swayed
once again by his feeling of kinship with the Israelite, as indicated in the reference to the Egyptian as their common enemy.] the
latter exclaimed: “O Moses, do you intend to slay me as you did slay another man yesterday? Your sole aim is to become a
tyrant in this land, for you do not care to be of those who would set things to rights!”
MOSES IN MADYAN (Midian)
(28:20-29) And [then and there] a man came running from the farthermost end of the city, and said: “O Moses! Behold,
the great ones [of the kingdom] are deliberating upon your case with a view to killing you! Be gone, then: verily, I am of
those who wish you well!” So he went forth from thence, looking fearfully about him, and prayed: “O my Sustainer! Save
me from all evildoing folk!” And as he turned his face towards Madyan, he said [to himself]: “It may well be that my
Sustainer will [thus] guide me onto the right path” [The inhabitants of Madyan (called Midian in the Bible) were Arabs of the
Amorite group. Since they were racially and linguistically closely related to the Hebrews, they could he counted upon to help
Moses in his plight. While Moses was resting at a well, the daughters of the Madyanite priest Jethro came to water their father’s
flocks.] Now when he arrived at the wells of Madyan, he found there a large group of men who were watering [their herds
and flocks]; and at some distance from them he came upon two women who were keeping back their flock. He asked
[them]: “What is the matter with you?” They answered: “We cannot water [our animals] until the herdsmen drive [theirs]
home – for [we are weak and] our father is a very old man.” So he watered [their flock] for them: and when he withdrew
into the shade and prayed: “O my Sustainer! Verily, in dire need am I of any good which Thou may bestow upon me!”
[Shortly] afterwards, one of the two [maidens] approached him, walking shyly, and said: “Behold, my father invites you,
so that he might duly reward you for your having watered [our flock] for us.” And as soon as [Moses] came unto him and
told him the story [of his life], he said: “Have no fear! You are now safe from those evildoing folk!” Said one of the two
[daughters]: “O my father! Hire him: for, behold, the best [man] that you could hire is one who is [as] strong and worthy
of trust [as he]!” [After some time, the father] said: “Behold, I am willing to let you wed one of these two daughters of
mine on the understanding that you will remain eight years in my service; and if you should complete ten [years], that
would be [an act of grace] from you, for I do not want to impose any hardship on you: [on the contrary,] you will find me,
if God so wills, righteous in all my dealings.” Answered [Moses]: “Thus shall it be between me and you! Whichever of the
two terms I fulfill let there be no ill will against me. And God be witness to all that we say!” And when Moses had fulfilled
his term and was wandering with his family [in the desert], he perceived a fire on the slope of Mount Sinai.
THE FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH GOD ON MOUNT SINAI
THE BURNING BUSH
The incidence of Moses wanderings in the desert and his encounter with God is mentioned in the many chapters of the Quran.
(19:51-52) And call to mind, through this divine writ, Moses. Behold, he was a chosen one, and was an apostle [of God], a
prophet. And [remember how] We called upon him from the right-hand slope of Mount Sinai and drew him near [unto Us]
in mystic communion.
(20:9-16) And has the story of Moses ever come within thy ken? Lo! He saw a fire [in the desert]; [Moses had lost his way in
the desert: probably a symbolic allusion to his dawning awareness that he was in need of spiritual guidance.] and so he said to
his family: ‘‘Wait here! Behold, I perceive a fire [far away]: perhaps I can bring you a brand there from, or find at the fire
some guidance.” But when he came close to it, a voice called out: “O Moses! Verily, I am thy Sustainer! Take off, then, thy
sandals! Behold, thou art in the twice-hallowed valley, [I.e., “twice-hallowed” - apparently because God’s voice was heard in it
and because Moses was raised there to prophethood.] and I have chosen you [to be My apostle]: listen, then, to what is being
revealed [unto you]. “Verily, I - I alone - am God; there is no deity save Me. Hence, worship Me alone, and be constant in
prayer, so as to remember Me!” [Thus, conscious remembrance of God and of His oneness and uniqueness is declared to be the
innermost purpose, as well as the intellectual justification, of all true prayer.] “Behold, [although] I have willed to keep it [I.e.,
the time of its coming.] hidden, the Last Hour is bound to come, so that every human being may be recompensed in ac-
cordance with what he strove for [in life]. [The expression “what he strove for’’ implies consciousness of endeavor, and thus
excludes involuntary actions (in the widest sense of the latter term, comprising everything that is manifested in word or actual
deed), as: well as involuntary omissions irrespective of whether the relevant action or omission is morally good or bad. By
enunciating the above principle within the context of the story of Moses, the Quran stresses the essential identity of the ethical
concepts underlying all true religions.] Hence, let not anyone who does not believe in its comings and follows [but] his own
desires divert you from [belief in] it, lest you perish!
(27:7-9) [While lost in the desert,] Moses said to his family: [It appears that Moses had lost his way in the desert: probably a
symbolic allusion to his dawning awareness that he was in need of spiritual guidance.] “Behold, I perceive a fire [far away]; I
may bring you from there some tiding [as to which way we are to pursue], or bring you [at least] a burning brand so that
you might warm yourselves.” “Blessed are all who are within [reach of] this fire, and all who are near it! And limitless in
His glory is God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!” [And God spoke thus:] “O Moses! Verily I alone am God, the Almighty,
the Wise!” [The “fire” is in this context synonymous with light, namely, the illumination which God bestows on His prophets,
who - one may presume - are a priori near it by virtue of their inborn spiritual sensitivity. Alternatively, this may be understood as
referring to God’s Own light, which encompasses and is the core of all spiritual illumination.]
(28:30) But when he came close to it, a call was sounded from the right-side bank of the valley, out of the tree [burning] on
blessed ground: “O Moses! Verily, I am God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!” [I.e., to the right side from the standpoint of
Moses, as he was facing Mount Sinai or the term “right side” has the abstract connotation of ‘‘blessedness”. As regards the
“blessed ground”, see the expression “twice-hallowed valley” in 20:12. The “tree” referred to in the above verse is identical with
the “burning bush” of the Bible (Exodus iii. 2).]
TRANSFORMATION OF STAFF INTO SERPENT AND SHINING HAND
(20:17-23) “Now, what is this in thy right hand, O Moses?’’ He answered: “It is my staff; I lean on it; and with it I beat
down leaves for my sheep; and [many] other uses have I for it.” Said He: “Throw it down, O Moses!” So he threw it - and
lo! it was a snake, moving rapidly. Said He: “Take hold of it, and fear not: We shall restore it to its former state. [The
miraculous transformation of the staff into a serpent has a mystic significance that there is the intrinsic difference between
appearance and reality, and, consequently, to the spiritual insight into this difference bestowed by God on His chosen.] “Now
place thy hand within thy armpit: it will come forth [shining] white, without blemish, [I.e., strangely luminescent by virtue
of the prophethood to which he had been raised.] as another sign [of Our grace], so that We might make thee aware of some
of Our greatest wonders.
(27:10-11) [And then He said:] “Now throw down thy staff!” But when he saw it move rapidly, as if it were a serpent, he
drew back [in terror], and did not [dare to] return. [And God spoke to him again:] O Moses! Fear not - for, behold, no fear
need the message-bearers have in My Presence, and neither need anyone who has done wrong and then has replaced the
wrong with good: for, verily, I am much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace! [I.e., by sincere repentance. Apart from its general
significance, this may also be an allusion to the crime, which Moses had committed in his youth by slaying the Egyptian.]
(28:32) And [henceforth] hold your arm close to yourself, free of all fear. [The above idiomatic sentence is a metonym
recalling a well-known gesture of terror - the involuntary stretching-forth of one’s hands or arms when suddenly faced with
something terrifying; conversely, the holding of one’s arm close to oneself is expressive of freedom from fear.] “These, then,
shall be the two signs [of your bearing a message] from thy Sustainer unto Pharaoh and his great ones - for, behold, they
are people depraved!” [The “two signs” may be understood as Moses’ ability to remain, by virtue of his certainty of God’s
omnipresence, forever free of all physical or moral fear, as well as his ability to show that appearance and reality are not always
identical.]
MOSES RELUCTANCE TO ACCEPT THE MISSION AND AARON AS A HELPER
Now he was commissioned to deliver his people, Moses expressed doubt concerning his qualifications.
(20:24-35) “[And now] you go unto Pharaoh: for, verily, he has transgressed all bounds of equity.” [This seems to be a
reference to Pharaoh’s greatest sin, namely, his claim to divine status (28:38 and 79:24).] “O my Sustainer! Open up my heart
[to Thy light], and make my task easy for me, and loosen the knot from my tongue so that they might fully understand my
speech, [I.e., remove all impediment from my speech (see Exodus iv, 10, “I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue”), which
would imply that he was not gifted with natural eloquence.] and appoint for me, out of my kinsfolk, one who will help me to
bear my burden: Aaron, my brother. [This is the primary meaning of the term wazir (burden-carrier, derived from wizr, “a
burden”); hence its later - post-classical - application to government ministers.] Add Thou through him to my strength, and let
him share my task, so that [together] we might abundantly extol Thy limitless glory and remember Thee without cease!
Verily, Thou see all that is within us!”
(21:48-50) And, indeed, We vouchsafed unto Moses and Aaron [Our revelation as] the standard by which to discern the
true from the false, and as a [guiding] light and a reminder for the God-conscious who stand in awe of their Sustainer
although He is beyond the reach of human perception, and who tremble at the thought of the Last Hour. And [like those
earlier revelations,] this one, too, is a blessed reminder, which We have bestowed from on high: will you, then, disavow it?
[The reference to the revelation bestowed on the earlier prophets as “the standard by which to discern the true from the false” (al-
furqan) has here a twofold implication: firstly, it alludes to the Quranic doctrine of the historical continuity in all divine
revelation, and, secondly, it stresses the fact that revelation alone provides an absolute criterion of all moral valuation. Since the
Mosaic dispensation as such was binding on the children of Israel alone and remained valid only within a particular historical and
cultural context, the term al-furqan relates here not to the Mosaic Law as such, but to the fundamental ethical truths contained in
the Torah and common to all divine revelations.]
(25:35-36) And, indeed, [long before Muhammad] We vouchsafed revelation unto Moses, and appointed his brother Aaron
to help him to bear his burden; [The mention, at this place, of Moses and Aaron is intended to remind us that “against every
prophet We have set up enemies from among those who are lost in sin”.] and We said, “Go you both unto the people who have
given the lie to Our messages!” - and thereupon We broke those [sinners] to smithereens.
(26:10-17) Hence, [remember how it was] when thy Sustainer summoned Moses: “Go unto those evil doing people. the
people of Pharaoh, who refuse to be conscious of Me!” He answered: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I fear that they will give
me the lie, and then my breast will be straitened and my tongue will not be free: send, then, [this Thy command] to Aaron.
[Stress is laid on the deep humility of Moses, who considered himself incapable of fulfilling the task for which he had been
chosen, and asked God to entrust it to Aaron instead.] Moreover, they keep a grave charge [pending] against me, and I fear
that they will slay me.” [And thus frustrate my mission. This is a reference to Moses killing of the Egyptian, which was the cause
of his subsequent flight from his native land.] Said He: “Not so, indeed! Go forth, then, both of you, with Our messages:
verily, We shall be with you, listening [to your call]! And go, both of you, unto Pharaoh and say, ‘Behold, we bear a
message from the Sustainer of all the worlds: Let the children of Israel go with us!’”
(28:34-35) And my brother Aaron - he is far better in speech than I am. Send him, therefore, as a helper, so that he might
[more eloquently] bear witness to my speaking the truth: for I fear indeed that they will give me the lie.” Said He: “We
shall strengthen your arm through your brother, and endow both of you with power, so that they will not be able to touch
you: by virtue of Our messages shall you two, and all who follow you, prevail!”
CALL PHARAOH TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
(20:42-48) “Go forth, [then,] you and your brother, with My messages, and never tire of remembering Me: go forth, both
of you, unto Pharaoh: for, verily, he has transgressed all bounds of equity! But speak unto him in a mild manner, so that
he might bethink himself or [at least] be filled with apprehension.” [Or that he might fear - i.e., that there is some truth in the
words of Moses. Since God knows the future, the tentative form in the above phrase - “so that he might bethink himself”, etc., -
obviously does not imply any “doubt” on God’s part as to Pharaoh’s future reaction: it implies no more than His command to the
hearer of His message to address the sinner with a view to the latter’s bethinking himself: in other words, it relates to the intention
or hope with which the message-bearer should approach his task. And since every Quranic narrative aims at bringing out an
eternal truth or truths or at elucidating a universal principle of human behavior, it is evident that God’s command to Moses to
speak to one particular sinner “in a mild manner, so that he might have a chance to bethink himself” retains its validity for all
times and all such attempts at conversion.] The two [brothers] said: “O our Sustainer! Verily, we fear lest he act hastily with
regard to us, [I.e., lest he prevent us, by banishing or killing us outright, from delivering Thy message fully] or lest he [continue
to] transgress all bounds of equity.” Answered He: “Fear not! Verily, I shall be with you two, hearing and seeing [all]. Go,
then, you two unto him and say, ‘Behold, we are apostles sent by thy Sustainer: let, then, the children of Israel go with us,
and cause them not to suffer [any longer]. We have now come unto you with a message from thy Sustainer; and [know
that His] peace shall be [only] on those who follow [His] guidance: for, behold, it has been revealed to us that [in the life to
come] suffering shall befall all who give the lie to the truth and turn away [from it]!’ ”
(27:12) “[And you shall go] with nine [of My] messages unto Pharaoh and his people- for, verily, they are people
depraved!” [See 17:101 - “We gave unto Moses nine clear messages”.]
(79:17-19) “Go unto Pharaoh - for, verily, he has transgressed all bounds of what is right - and say [unto him], ‘Are you
desirous of attaining to purity? [If so,] then I shall guide you towards [a cognition of] thy Sustainer, so that [henceforth]
you will stand in awe [of Him].’ ” [Implying that so long as man is not fully aware of the existence of God, he cannot really
discern between what is morally right or wrong; and since God is just, He does not punish anyone who has not yet attained to
such a discernment: see 6:131 - “thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still
unaware of the meaning of right and wrong”.]
MOSES AND AARON ENCOUNTERS WITH PHARAOH
PHARAOH’S RESPONSE TO GOD’S MESSAGE
Moses returned to Jethro and requested permission to visit his people in Egypt, but he did not disclose that he has been
commissioned by God. Moses took his wife and his sons and went back to the land of Egypt. Meanwhile, God told Aaron to go
into the wilderness to meet Moses. Afterward Moses and Aaron went to meet the Pharaoh. Pharaoh claimed to be divine and as a
god in human form he was not accustomed to taking orders from lesser gods, let alone an unknown like Yahweh, the God of
Israel. Thus the stage was set for a long struggle between Pharaoh with an outsize ego and a prophet with a new understanding of
God and his power.
PHARAOH REMINDED HIS PAST FAVORS TO MOSES
(26:18-22) [But when Moses had delivered his message, Pharaoh] said: “Did we not bring you up among us when you were
a child? And did you not spend among us years of your [later] life? And yet you did commit that [heinous] deed of yours,
and [have thus shown that] you are one of the ingrate!” [The construction of above sentence meant to express the speaker’s
utter condemnation of the deed referred to: hence, the interpolation of the word “heinous”. As regards the above allusions to
Moses’ childhood and youth at Pharaoh’s court, the manslaughter committed by him, and his flight from Egypt, see 28:4-22.]
Replied [Moses]: “I committed it while I was still going astray; and I fled from you because I feared you. But [since] then
my Sustainer has endowed me with the ability to judge [between right and wrong], and has made me one of [His]
message-bearers. And [as for] that favor of which you so tauntingly remind me - [was it not] due to your having enslaved
the children of Israel?”
WHO IS THAT SUSTAINER OF ALL THE WORLDS?
(26:23-30) Said Pharaoh: “And what [and who] is that ‘Sustainer of all the worlds’?” [A reference to the terms in which
Moses announced his mission] [Moses] answered: “[He is] the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is between
them: if you would but [allow yourselves to] be convinced!” [By the evidence of His creative will in all that exists] Said
[Pharaoh] unto those around him: “Did you hear [what he said]?” [A rhetorical question meant to convey astonishment,
indignation or derision, which may be idiomatically rendered in translation as above.] [And Moses] continued: “[He is] your
Sustainer, [too,] as well as the Sustainer of your forefathers of old!” [Pharaoh] exclaimed: “Behold, [this] your ‘apostle’
who [claims that he] has been sent unto you is mad indeed! [But Moses] went on: “[He of whom I speak is] the Sustainer of
the east and the west and of all that is between the two”- [as you would know] if you would but use your reason!” Said
[Pharaoh]: “Indeed, if you choose to worship any deity other than me, I shall most certainly throw you into prison! Said
he: “Even if I should bring about before you something that clearly shows the truth?” [In the religion of ancient Egypt, the
king (or “Pharaoh”, as each of the rulers was styled) represented an incarnation of the divine principle, and was considered to be a
god in his own right. Hence, a challenge to his divinity implied a challenge to the prevalent religious system as a whole.]
WHAT ABOUT THE PAST GENERATIONS?
(20:49-55) [But when God’s message was conveyed unto Pharaoh,] he said: “Who, now, is this Sustainer of you two, O
Moses?” He replied: “Our Sustainer is He who gives unto every thing [that exists] its true nature and form, and thereupon
guides it [towards its fulfillment].” [In the original, this sentence appears in the past tense (has given and has guided); but since
it relates to the continuous process of God’s creation, it is independent of the concept of time and an unceasing present. The term
khalq signifies not merely the inner nature of a created thing or being but also the outward form in which this nature manifests
itself; hence the composite rendering as “its true nature and form”.] Said [Pharaoh]: “And what of all the past generations?”
[Who used to worship a plurality of deities: are they, in your view, irretrievably doomed?] [Moses] answered: “Knowledge
thereof rests with my Sustainer [alone, and is laid down] in His decree; [I.e., He alone decrees their destiny in the life to
come, for He alone knows their motives and understands the cause of their errors, and He alone can appreciate their spiritual
merits and demerits.] my Sustainer does not err, and neither does He forget.” [The dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh ends
here for the time being, with verses 53-55 representing a direct Quranic discourse addressed to man in general.] He made the
earth a cradle for you, and has traced out for you ways [of livelihood] thereon, [I.e., “has provided you with ways and means
- both material and intellectual - to gain your livelihood on earth and from it”.] and [who] sends down waters from the sky: and
by this means We bring forth various kinds of plants. Eat, [then of this produce of the soil,] and pasture your cattle
[thereon]. In all this, behold, there are messages indeed for those who are endowed with reason: out of this [earth] have
We created you, and into it shall We return you, and out of it shall We bring you forth once again. [Regarding the creation
of man’s body “out of the earth”, see 3:59 and 15:26; its “return into it” signifies the dissolution of this body, after death, into the
elementary organic and inorganic substances of which it was composed; and all these facts - creation, subsistence and dissolution
- contain the message of God’s almightiness, of the ephemeral nature of man’s life on earth, and of his future resurrection.]
LET CHILDREN OF ISRAEL GO
(7:103-108) And after those [early people] We sent Moses with Our messages unto Pharaoh and his great ones, and they
willfully rejected them: and behold what happened in the end to those spreaders of corruption! And Moses said: “O
Pharaoh! Verily, I am an apostle from the Sustainer of all the worlds, so constituted that I cannot say anything about God
but the truth. I have now come unto you with clear evidence from your Sustainer: let, then, the children of Israel go with
me!” Said [Pharaoh]: “If you have come with a sign, produce it - if you are a man of truth!” Thereupon [Moses] threw
down his staff, and 1o! it was a serpent, plainly visible; and he drew forth his hand, and 1o! it appeared [shining] white to
the beholders. [The hand of Moses was shining white, without blemish, i.e., endowed with transcendent luminosity in token of
his prophethood - and not, as stated in the Bible (Exodus iv, 6), “leprous as snow”.]
(44:17-21) And, indeed, [long] before their time did We try Pharaoh’s people [in the same way]: for there came unto them
a noble apostle, [who said:] “Give in unto me, O God’s bondmen! Verily, I am an apostle [sent] unto you, worthy of trust!
[This phrase can be understood in either of two senses, namely: “Give in unto me, O God’s bondmen, implying a call to the
Egyptians (since all human beings are “God’s bondmen”) to accept the divine message which Moses was about to convey to
them; or, alternatively, “Give up to me God’s servants”, i.e., the children of Israel, who were kept in bondage in Egypt. Either of
these two interpretations is legitimate.] “And exalt not yourselves against God: for, verily, I come unto you with a manifest
authority [from Him]; and, behold, it is with my Sustainer - and your Sustainer - that I seek refuge against all your
endeavors to revile me. [Lit., “lest you throw stones at me”. This expression is used in the physical sense of “throwing stones” as
well as, metaphorically, in the sense of “throwing aspersions” or “reviling”.] And if you do not believe me, [at least] stand
away from me!”
NINE CLEAR MESSAGES AND MIRACULOUS SIGNS
(17:101-102) And, indeed, We gave unto Moses nine clear messages. [This may be is an allusion to the miracles performed by
Moses or a reference to nine specific commandments or ethical principles, the foremost of them being a stress on God’s oneness
and uniqueness. However, the number “nine” may be no more than a metonym for “several”, just as the numbers “seven” and
“seventy” are often used in classical Arabic to denote “several” or “many”.] Ask, then, the children of Israel [I.e., of the present
time. The whole phrase has this meaning: “Ask them about what the Quran tells us in this respect, and they will be bound to
confirm it on the basis of their own scriptures.”] [to tell you what happened] when he came unto them, [and appealed to
Pharaoh] [Let the children of Israel go with me!] and Pharaoh said unto him, “Verily, O Moses, I think that you are full of
sorcery!” [Or: that you are bewitched. However, the above rendering is preferable in view of the subsequent reference to the
miraculous signs granted by God to Moses.] Answered [Moses]: “You know well that none but the Sustainer of the heavens
and the earth has bestowed these [miraculous signs] from on high, as a means of insight [for you]; and, verily, O Pharaoh
[since you have chosen to reject them,] 1 think that you are utterly lost!”
TWO MORTALS LIKE OURSELVES
(23:45-49, 51) And then We sent forth Moses and his brother Aaron with Our messages and a manifest authority [from Us]
unto Pharaoh and his great ones; but these behaved with arrogance, for they were people wont to glorify [only]
themselves. And so they said: “Shall we believe [them] two mortals like ourselves - although their people are our slaves?”
Thus, they gave the lie to those two, and earned [thereby] their place among the doomed: for, indeed, We had vouchsafed
revelation unto Moses in order that they might find the right way. O you apostles! Partake of the good things of life, and
do righteous deeds: verily, I have full knowledge of all that you do. [This rhetorical apostrophe to all of God’s apostles is
meant to stress their humanness and mortality, and thus to refute the argument of the unbelievers that God could not have chosen
“a mortal like ourselves” to be His message-bearer: an argument which overlooks the fact that only human beings who themselves
“partake of the good things of life” are able to understand the needs and motives of their fellow-men and, thus, to guide them in
their spiritual and social concerns.]
PHARAOH’S CLAIM OF DIVINE STATUS
(28:38) “O you nobles! I did not know that you could have any deity other than me. [In view of the fact that the ancient
Egyptians worshipped many gods, this observation is not to be taken literally; but since each of the Pharaohs was regarded as an
incarnation of the divine principle as such, he claimed and received his people’s adoration as their Lord All-Highest, combining
within himself all the qualities attributable to gods.]
(43:51-56) And Pharaoh issued a call to his people, saying: “O my people! Does not the dominion over Egypt belong to me,
since all these running waters flow at my feet? [At my command: a reference to the imposing irrigation system originating in
the Nile and controlled by royal power.] Can you not, then, see [that I am your lord supreme]? Am I not better than this
contemptible man who can hardly make his meaning clear? [An allusion to the impediment in speech from which Moses
suffered, or perhaps to the contents of his message, which to Pharaoh appeared unconvincing.] “And then - why have no golden
armlets been bestowed on him? [In ancient Egypt, golden armlets and necklaces were regarded as princely insignia (Genesis xli,
42), or at least as evidence of high social dignity.] - or why have no angels come together with him?” Thus he incited his
people to levity, and they obeyed him: for, behold, they were people depraved! But when they continued to challenge Us,
We inflicted Our retribution on them, and drowned them all: and so We made them a thing of the past, and an example to
those who would come after them.
(79:20-24) And thereupon he (Moses) [went to Pharaoh and] made him aware of the great wonder [of God’s grace]. [Lit.,
“showed him the great wonder”, i.e., of the guidance which God, in His measureless grace, offers even to the most recalcitrant
sinner.] But [Pharaoh] gave him the lie and rebelliously rejected [all guidance], and brusquely turned his back [on Moses];
and then he gathered [his great ones], and called [unto his people], and said, “I am your Lord All-Highest!” [Pharaoh’s
claim to divine status is the cardinal sin whereby “he has transgressed all bounds of what is right”.]
BUILD ME A LOFTY TOWER
(28:38-39) Well, then, O Haman, kindle me a fire for [baking bricks of] clay, and then build me a lofty tower, that haply I
may have a look at the god of Moses - although, behold, I am convinced that he is of those who [always] tell lies!” [Or:
“ascend to the god of Moses”. Whichever of the two meanings is given, Pharaoh’s demand for a lofty tower is not only an allusion
to the building of one of the great pyramids, but also a derisory, contemptuous reference to Moses’ concept of God as an all-
embracing Power, inconceivably high above all that exists.] Thus arrogantly, without the least good sense, did he and his
hosts behave on earth - just as if they thought that they would never have to appear before Us [for judgment]! [They
thought that they would not be brought back to Us. There is no doubt that the ancient Egyptians did believe in a life after death,
and that this belief included the concept of a divine judgment as well. Since, however, the particular Pharaoh whom Moses
confronted is said to have behaved with an arrogance opposed to all good sense, the Quran - by implication - likens his attitude to
that of a person who does not believe in resurrection and in man’s ultimate responsibility before God.]
SLAY MOSES AND THEIR SONS (increased persecution of Jews)
After the first encounter with Moses, Pharaoh increased the oppression of the Hebrews by the fiendish plan of requiring them to
gather the straw binder for the bricks and still produce the same quota each day. Some of the Hebrews rebuffed Moses and Moses
doubts were allayed by God’s promise to take action against Pharaoh.
(7:127-129) And the great ones among Pharaoh’s people said: “Will you allow Moses and his people to spread corruption
on earth, and to [cause your people to] forsake you and your gods?” [Pharaoh] replied: “We shall slay their sons in great
numbers and shall spare [only] their women: for, verily, we hold sway over them!” [And] Moses said unto his people:
“Turn unto God for aid, and have patience in adversity. Verily, all the earth belongs to God: He gives it as a heritage to
such as He wills of His servants; and the future belongs to the God-conscious!” [But the children of Israel] said: “We have
suffered hurt before you came to us and since you have come to us! [This is the first hint of the inconstancy and weakness of
faith for which the Quran so often blames the children of Israel.] [Moses] replied: “It may well be that your Sustainer will
destroy your foe and make you inherit the earth: and thereupon he will behold how you act.” [I.e., “He will judge you by
your actions”. The patience in adversity which the children of Israel subsequently displayed, it would seem that the hope held out
to them by Moses helped them, once again, to overcome their moral weakness; but, at the same time, his words “God will behold
how you act” imply a distinct warning.]
(40:23-27) Thus, indeed, did We send Moses with Our messages and a manifest authority [from Us] unto Pharaoh, and
Haman, and Qarun; but they [only] said, “A spellbinder is he, a liar!” [As regards Qarun, who is said to have been a follower
- and subsequently an opponent - of Moses.] Now [as for Pharaoh and his followers,] when Moses came to them, setting forth
the truth from Us, they said, “Slay the sons of those who share his beliefs, and spare [only] their women!” - but the guile of
those deniers of the truth could not lead to aught but failure. And Pharaoh said: “Leave it to me to slay Moses - and let
him invoke his [alleged] sustainer! [The word “alleged” is necessitated by the obvious sarcasm of Pharaoh’s remark.] Behold, I
fear lest he cause you to change your religion, or lest he cause corruption to prevail in the land!” But Moses said: “With
[Him who is] my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer have I indeed found refuge from everyone who, immersed in false
pride, will not believe in [the coming of] the Day of Reckoning!”
DIALOGUE BETWEEN PHARAOH AND AN ANONYMOUS BELIEVER (40:28-46)
WOULD YOU SLAY A MAN JUST BECAUSE HE BELIEVES IN GOD?
At that, a believing man of Pharaoh’s family, who [until then] had concealed his faith, exclaimed: “Would you slay a man
because he says, ‘God is my Sustainer’ - seeing, withal, that he has brought you all evidence of this truth from your
Sustainer? Now if he be a liar, his lie will fall back on him; but if he is a man of truth, something [of the punishment]
whereof he warns you is bound to befall you: for, verily, God would not grace with His guidance one who has wasted his
own self by lying [about Him]. [Thus, the anonymous believer spoken of here argues that the message brought by Moses is so
convincing that, by itself, it is a proof of his not being “one who wastes his own self” - i.e., destroys himself spiritually - by a
spurious claim to divine inspiration.] “O my people! Yours is the dominion today, [and] most eminent are you on earth: but
who will rescue us from God’s punishment, once it befalls us?” Said Pharaoh: “I but want to make you see what I see
myself; [Thus alluding to the reasons underlying his intention to kill Moses, expressed in verse 26.] and I would never make
you follow any path but that of rectitude!”
PUNISHMENT FOR EVILDOERS HERE AND IN HEREAFTER
Thereupon exclaimed he who had attained to faith: “O my people! Verily, I fear for you the like of what one day befell
those others who were leagued together [against God’s truth] - the like of what happened to Noah’s people, and to [the
tribes of] Ad and Thamud and those who came after them! And, withal, God does not will any wrong for His creatures.
[I.e., those sinners were not wronged by what befell them in this world: they had deserved it. The next two verses refer to the Day
of Judgment.] “And, O my people, I fear for you [the coming of] that Day of [Judgment - the Day when you will be] calling
unto one another [in distress] - the Day when you will [wish to] turn your backs and flee, having none to defend you
against God: for he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide.
REFUSING TO ACKNOWLEDGE JOSEPH’S PROPHETHOOD
“And [remember:] it was to you that Joseph came aforetime with all evidence of the truth; but you never ceased to throw
doubt on all [the messages] that he brought you - so much so that when he died, you said, ‘Never will God send any apostle
[even] after him!’ [Thus not only refusing to acknowledge Joseph’s prophethood, but also denying the possibility of any prophet
being sent by God. It would seem that Joseph had been accepted in Egypt as a prophet only by the ruling class, the Hyksos, who
were of Arab origin, spoke a language closely related to Hebrew, and were, therefore, emotionally and culturally predisposed
towards the spirit of Joseph’s mission, while the rest of the population was and remained hostile to the faith preached by him.] “In
this way God lets go astray such as waste their own selves by throwing suspicion [on His revelations] - such as would call
God’s messages in question without having any evidence there for: [I.e., without having any cogent evidence that would
support their denial of the fact of revelation.] [a sin] exceedingly loathsome in the sight of God and of those who have
attained to faith. It is in this way that God sets a seal on every arrogant, self-exalting heart.” [For an explanation of God’s
“sealing” an inveterate sinner’s heart, see 2:7.]
CALL FOR SALVATION
Still, the man who had attained to faith went on: “O my people! Follow me: I shall guide you onto the path of rectitude!
“O my people! This worldly life is but a brief enjoyment, whereas, behold, the life to come is the home abiding. [There,]
anyone who has done a bad deed will be requited with no more than the like thereof, whereas anyone, be it man or woman,
who has done righteous deeds and is a believer withal - all such will enter paradise, wherein they shall be blest with good
beyond all reckoning! [I.e., beyond any earthly imagination. The concept of rizq has here its full significance of all that is good
and of benefit to a living being, comprising things material as well as intellectual and spiritual.] “And, O my people, how is it
that I summon you to salvation, the while you summon me to the fire? [Lit., “what is the matter with me”: an expression of
astonishment at the incongruity of the two attitudes referred to in the sequence.] - [for] you call upon me to deny [the oneness
of] God and to ascribe a share in His divinity to aught of which I cannot [possibly] have any knowledge the while I
summon you to [a cognition of] the Almighty, the All-Forgiving! [I.e., because there is no reality whatsoever in those
supposedly divine beings or forces.] “There is no doubt that what you summon me to is something that has no claim to being
invoked either in this world or in the life to come - as [there is no doubt] that unto God is our return, and that they who
have wasted their own selves shall find themselves in the fire: and at that time you will [have cause to] remember what I
am telling you [now]. “But [as for me,] I commit myself unto God: for, verily, God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His
servants.” And God preserved him from the evil of their scheming, whereas suffering vile was to encompass Pharaoh’s
folk: the fire [of the hereafter - that fire] which they had been made to contemplate [in vain], morning and evening: [I.e., of
which they had been warned, day-in and day-out, by prophets and believers like the one spoken of in this passage.] for on the
Day when the Last Hour dawns [God will say], “Make Pharaoh’s folk enter upon suffering most severe!”
CONTEST BETWEEN MOSES AND SORCERERS OF EGYPT
SPELLBINDING ELOQUENCE AND SORCERY
(10:75-78) We sent Moses and Aaron with Our messages unto Pharaoh and his great ones: but they gloried in their
arrogance, for they were people lost in sin. And so, when the truth came to them from Us, they said, “Behold, this is clearly
nothing but sorcery!” [An accusation which apparently refers to the spellbinding force of the messages conveyed to them by
Moses, similar to the objections raised against the Last Prophet, Muhammad.]. Said Moses: “Do you speak thus of the truth
after it has been brought to you? Can this be sorcery? But sorcerers can never come to a happy end!” [The implication is
that what is termed as sorcery cannot achieve more than ephemeral phenomena lacking any spiritual content, and can never
prevail against the laws of nature which, in their totality, are described in the Quran as “the way of God”.] [The great ones]
replied: “Have you come to turn us away from what we found our forefathers believing in and doing, so that the two of
you might become supreme in this land? However, we do not believe in you two!” [The dual address “you two” relates to
Moses and his brother Aaron.]
(27:14) In their wickedness and self-exaltation they rejected them, although their minds were convinced of their truth.
(28:36-37) But as soon as Moses came unto them with Our clear messages [Pharaoh and his great ones] said: “All this is
nothing but spellbinding eloquence devised [by man]: and never did we hear [the like of] this, [nor has it ever been heard
of] in the time of our forebears of old!” And Moses replied: “My Sustainer knows best as to who comes with guidance from
Him, and to whom the future belongs! Verily, never will evildoers attain to a happy state!”
GATHERING OF SORCERERS OF EGYPT
(7:109-114) The great ones among Pharaoh’s people said: “Verily, this is indeed a sorcerer of great knowledge, who wants
to drive you out of your land!'' [I.e., deprive you of your rule. The plural “you” relates to Pharaoh and the ruling class.] [Said
Pharaoh:] “What, then, do you advice?” They answered: “Let him and his brother wait awhile, [I.e., Aaron, who - as is
mentioned in several other places in the Quran - accompanied Moses on his mission.] and send unto all cities heralds who shall
bring before you every sorcerer of great knowledge.” And the sorcerers came unto Pharaoh [and] said: “Verily, we ought
to have a great reward if it is we who prevail.” Answered [Pharaoh]: “Yes; and, verily, you shall be among those who are
near unto me.”
MEETING OF SORCERERS WITH MOSES
(20:56-64) And, indeed, We made Pharaoh aware of all Our messages - but he gave them the lie and refused to heed
[them]. He said: “Have you come to drive us out of our land by your sorcery, O Moses? [I.e., deprive us of our rule] In that
case, we shall most certainly produce before you the like thereof! Appoint, then, a tryst between us and you - which we
shall not fail to keep, nor [may] you - at a suitable place!” Answered [Moses]: “Your tryst shall be the day of the Festival;
[Or, the day of adornment - possibly the Egyptian New Year’s Day.] and let the people assemble when the sun is risen high.”
Thereupon Pharaoh withdrew [with his counselors] and decided upon the scheme which he would pursue; and then he
came [to the tryst]. Said Moses to them: “Woe unto you! Do not invent lies against God, [I.e., by deliberately denying the
truth of His messages.] lest He afflict you with most grievous suffering: for He who contrives [such] a lie is already
undone!” So they debated among themselves as to what to do; but they kept their counsel secret, saying [to one another]:
“These two are surely sorcerers intent on driving you from your land by their sorcery, and on doing away with your time-
honored way of life. [Or, your exemplary or ideal way of life] Hence, [O sorcerers of Egypt,] decide upon the scheme which
you will pursue, and then come forward in one single body: for, indeed, he who prevails today shall prosper indeed!”
MOSES CHALLENGE TO SORCERER: THROW YOUR STAFF FIRST
(26:38-40, 43-44 ) And so the sorcerers were assembled at a set time on a certain day, and the people were asked: Are you
all present, so that we might follow [in the footsteps of] the sorcerers if it is they who prevail?” [These sorcerers were
probably priests of the official Amon cult, in which magic played an important role. Thus, their victory over Moses would
constitute a public vindication of the state religion.] [And] Moses said unto them: “Throw whatever you are going to throw!”
Thereupon they threw their [magic ropes and their staffs, and said: “By Pharaoh’s might, behold, it is we indeed who have
prevailed!” [The reason for their premature sense of triumph is given in 7:116: “they cast a spell upon the people’s eyes, and
struck them with awe” and 20:66-67: “by virtue of their sorcery, their magic ropes and staffs seemed to him to be moving rapidly
and in his heart, Moses became apprehensive”.]
MOSES STAFF SWALLOWED THEIR DECEPTIONS
(7:115-119) They (sorcerers) said: "O Moses! Either you shall throw [your staff first], or we shall [be the first to] throw."
He answered: "You throw [first]."And when they threw down [their staffs], they cast a spell upon the people's eyes, and
struck them with awe, and produced mighty sorcery. And [then] We inspired Moses, "Throw down thy staff!"-and 1o? it
swallowed up all their deceptions: [Implying that the act of Moses was a genuine miracle, whereas that of the sorcerers was a
feat of make-believe (20: 66).] whereupon the truth was established, and vain was proved all that they had been doing. And
thus were they vanquished there and then, and became utterly humiliated.
(10:79-82) And Pharaoh commanded: "Bring before me every sorcerer of great knowledge!" And when the sorcerers
came, Moses said unto them: "Throw whatever you may [wish to] throw!" And when they threw down [their staffs and
cast a spell upon the people's eyes, Moses said unto them: "What you have contrived is [but] sorcery which, verily, God
will bring to nought! Verily, God does not further the works of spreaders of corruption - whereas by His words God
proves the truth to be true, however hateful this may be to those who are lost in sin!" [By "God's words" is meant here His
creative will, manifested in the laws of nature instituted by Him as well as in the revelations granted by Him to His prophets.]
(20:65-69) Said [the sorcerers]: “O Moses! Either you throw [your staff first], or we shall be the first to throw.” He
answered: “Nay, you throw [first].” And lo! by virtue of their sorcery, their [magic] ropes and staffs seemed to him to be
moving rapidly: and in his heart Moses became apprehensive. [The implication is that the feat of the sorcerers was based on
mass-hallucination, a hallucination to which even Moses succumbed for a while.] [But] We said: “Fear not! Verily, it is you
who shall prevail! And [now] throw that [staff] which is in your right hand - it shall swallow up all that they have wrought:
[for] they have wrought only a sorcerer’s artifice, and the sorcerer can never come to any good, whatever he may aim at!”
[I.e., irrespective of whether he aims at a good or at an evil end. The above statement implies a categorical condemnation of all
endeavors which fall under the heading of “magic” whatever the intention of the person who devotes himself to it.]
SORCERERS’ CHANGE OF HEART AND PHARAOH’S THREAT OF RETALIATION
(7:120-126) And down fell the sorcerers, prostrating themselves [I.e., they fell to the ground as if thrown by a superior force.]
[and] exclaiming: “We have come to believe in the Sustainer of all the worlds, the Sustainer of Moses and Aaron!” Said
Pharaoh: “Have you come to believe in him before I have given you permission? [This personal pronoun may refer either to
God or to Moses; but a similar expression in 20:71 and 26:49 makes it obvious that it refers here to Moses.] Behold, this is
indeed a plot, which you have cunningly devised in this [my] city in order to drive out its people hence! But in time you
shall come to know [my revenge]: most certainly shall I cut off your hands and your feet in great numbers, because of
[your] perverseness, and then I shall most certainly crucify you in great numbers, all together!” [The phrase “most certainly
shall I cut off your hands and feet in great numbers” and “crucify you in great numbers” indicates that either the repentant
sorcerers thus addressed were many or, alternatively, that they had a large following among the people of Egypt. The latter
assumption seems to be corroborated by the Biblical reference to the fact that many Egyptians joined the Israelites in their exodus
from Egypt: “And a mixed multitude went up also with them” (Exodus xii, 38).] They answered: "Verily, unto our Sustainer
do we turn - For you take vengeance on us only because we have come to believe in our Sustainer’s messages as soon as
they came to us. O our Sustainer! Shower us with patience in adversity, and make us die as men who have surrendered
themselves unto Thee!”

PHARAOH’S PERSECUTION OF JEWS


(7:127-129) And the great ones among Pharaoh's people said: "Wilt thou allow Moses and his people to spread corruption
on earth, and to [cause your people to] forsake you and your gods?" [Pharaoh] replied: "We shall slay their sons in great
numbers and shall spare [only] their women: for, verily, we hold sway over them!" [And] Moses said unto his people:
"Turn unto God for aid, and have patience in adversity. Verily, all the earth belongs to God: He gives it as a heritage to
such as He wills of His servants; and the future belongs to the God-conscious!" [But the children of Israel] said: "We have
suffered hurt before you came to us and since you have come to us! [This is, in the above context, the first hint of the
inconstancy and weakness of faith for which the Quran so often blames the children of Israel.] (Moses) replied: "It may well be
that your Sustainer will destroy your foe and make you inherit the earth: and thereupon he will behold how you act.'' [I.e.,
"He will judge you by your actions". The "patience in adversity" which the children of Israel subsequently displayed, it would
seem that the hope held out to them by Moses helped them, once again, to overcome their moral weakness; but, at the same time,
his words "God will behold how you act" imply a distinct warning.]
REPLY OF EX-SORCERERS TO PHARAOH
(20:70-76) [And so it happened] - and down fell the sorcerers, prostrating themselves in adoration, [and] exclaimed: “We
have come to believe in the Sustainer of Moses and Aaron!” Said [Pharaoh]: “Have you come to believe in him [I.e., Moses]
before I have given you permission? Verily, he must be your master who has taught you magic! But I shall most certainly
cut off your hands and feet in great numbers, because of [your] perverseness, and I shall most certainly crucify you in
great numbers on trunks of palm-trees: [Regarding the meaning of the stress on “great numbers”, forthcoming from the
grammatical form of the verbs employed by Pharaoh, see surah 7: 124.] [I shall do this] so that you might come to know for
certain as to which of us [two] [I or the God in whom you now believe] can inflict a more severe chastisement, and [which] is
the more abiding!” They answered: “Never shall we prefer you to all the evidence of the truth that has come unto us, nor
to Him who has brought us into being! Decree, then, whatever you are going to decree, you can decree only [something
that pertains to] this worldly life!” [Or: You can end for us only this worldly life.] As for us, behold, we have come to believe
in our Sustainer, [hoping] that He may forgive us our faults and all that magic onto which you have forced us: [Pharaoh (a
title borne by every indigenous ruler of Egypt) was considered to be aged-king” and, thus, the embodiment of the Egyptian
religion, in which occult practices and magic played a very important role; hence, every one of his subjects was duty-bound to
accept magic as an integral part of the scheme of life.] for God is the best [to look forward to], and the One who is truly
abiding.” [I.e., eternal] Verily, as for him who shall appear before his Sustainer [on Judgment Day] lost in sin - his [por-
tion], behold, shall be hell: he will neither die therein nor live; [I.e., he will neither be reborn spiritually nor find peace through
extinction. As is apparent from the juxtaposition, in the next verse, of the term mujrim (one who is lost in sin) with that of mumin
(believer), the former term is here applied to one who, in his lifetime, has consciously and persistently denied God.] whereas he
who shall appear before Him as a believer who has done righteous deeds- it is such that shall have lofty stations [in the life
to come]: gardens of perpetual bliss, through which running waters flow, therein to abide: for that shall be the recompense
of all who attain to purity. [Thus the Quran implies that the spiritual value of a person’s faith depends on his doing righteous
deeds as well.]
(26:50-51) They answered: “No harm [can you do to us]: verily, unto our Sustainer do we turn! Behold, we [but] ardently
desire that our Sustainer forgive us our faults in return for our having been foremost among the believers!”
LACK OF FAITH AMONG EGYPTIANS AND STRONG FAITH AMONG ISRAELITES
(10:83-87) But none save a few of his people declared their faith in Moses, [while others held back] for fear of Pharaoh and
their great ones, lest they persecute them: for, verily, Pharaoh was mighty on earth and was, verily, of those who are given
to excesses. [Since the Quran mentions that some Egyptians, too, came to believe in Moses’ message and openly proclaimed their
belief, it is reasonable to assume that by “his people” are meant not merely the Israelites but, more generally, the people among
whom Moses was living: that is, both Israelites and Egyptians. This assumption is strengthened by the reference, in the next
clause of this sentence, to “their great ones” - an expression obviously relating to the Egyptian “great ones”. As the sequence
shows that not belief as such but its open profession is referred to here because of their fear, the majority did not declare their faith
openly.] And Moses said: “O my people! If you believe in God, place your trust in Him - if you have [truly] surrendered
yourselves unto Him!” Whereupon they answered: “In God have we placed our trust! O our Sustainer, make us not a
plaything [Lit., “temptation to evil” (fitnah).] for evildoing folk, and save us, by Thy grace, from people who deny the
truth!” And [thus] did We inspire Moses and his brother: “Set aside for your people some houses in the city, and [tell
them], “Turn your houses into places of worship, and be constant in prayer!” And give you [O Moses] the glad tiding [of
God’s succor] to all believers." [Lit., “a direction of prayer” (qiblah) - a metaphor meant to impress upon the children of Israel
that their only salvation lay in God-consciousness and unceasing devotion to Him. The primary meaning of misr - usually
rendered as “Egypt” - is “city” or “metropolis”.]
PRAYER OF MOSES FOR DESTRUCTION OF PHARAOH’S POWER
(10:88-89) And Moses prayed: “O our Sustainer! Verily, splendor and riches has Thou vouchsafed, in the life of this world,
unto Pharaoh and his great ones - with the result, O our Sustainer, that they are leading [others] astray from Thy path! [It
is meant to bring out Moses’ moral indignation at the perversity of Pharaoh and his great ones who, instead of being grateful to
God for His bounty, are using their power to corrupt their own people.] O our Sustainer! Wipe out their riches, and harden
their hearts, so that they may not attain to faith before they see the grievous suffering [that awaits them]!” [God]
answered: “Accepted is this your prayer! Continue, then, both of you, steadfastly on the right way, and follow not the path
of those who have no knowledge [of right and wrong].”
AFFLICTIONS OF NATURAL DISASTERS UPON EGYPTIANS
According to the Biblical account, God send Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh again and again with the same message: “Thus says the
Lord, the God of Israel ‘let my people go.’ ” Each time Pharaoh refused, God punished Egypt with escalating natural disasters
such as blood in Nile, frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts and darkness. After nine rounds with Pharaoh, finally he
was shaken when death took his son and he ordered the Hebrews to leave.
(7:130-136) And most certainly did We overwhelm Pharaoh’s people with drought and scarcity of fruits, so that they might
take it to heart. But whenever good fortune alighted upon them, they would say, “This is [but] our due”; and whenever
affliction befell them, they would blame their evil fortune on Moses and those who followed him. [The phrase “he attributed
an evil omen to him” or “he augured evil from him” is based on the pre-Islamic Arab custom of divining the future or establishing
an omen from the flight of birds. Thus, the noun tair is often used in classical Arabic to denote “destiny” or “fortune”, both good
and evil, as in the next sentence of the above verse (“their evil fortune had been decreed by God").] Oh, verily, their [evil]
fortune had been decreed by God-but most of them knew it not. And they said [unto Moses]: “Whatever sign you may
produce before us in order to cast a spell upon us thereby, we shall not believe you!” Thereupon We let loose upon them
floods, and [plagues of] locusts, and lice, and frogs, and [water turning into] blood [For a description of these plagues, see
Exodus vii-x.] - distinct signs [all]: but they gloried in their arrogance, for they were people lost in sin. And whenever a
plague struck them, they would cry: “O Moses, pray for us to thy Sustainer on the strength of the covenant [of
prophethood] which He has made with you! If you remove this plague from us, we will truly believe in you, and will let the
children of Israel go with you?” But whenever We removed the plague from them, giving them time to make good their
promise, lo, they would break their word. And so We inflicted Our retribution on them, and caused them to drown in the
sea, because they had given the lie to Our messages and had been heedless of them;
(43:48-50) Although each sign that We showed them was weightier than the preceding one: and [each time] We took them
to task through suffering, so that they might return [to Us]. [The concept of “returning” to God implies that the instinctive
ability to perceive His existence is inherent in human nature as such and that man’s “turning away” from God is only a
consequence of spiritual degeneration, and not an original tendency or predisposition. The “suffering” mentioned above relates to
the plagues with which the recalcitrant Egyptians were struck.] And [every time] they exclaimed: “O you sorcerer! [Mockingly
addressing Moses as a magician] Pray for us to thy Sustainer on the strength of the covenant [of prophethood] which He has
made with you: for, verily, we shall now follow the right way!” But whenever We removed the suffering from them, lo!
they would break their word.
(89:10-14) And with Pharaoh of the [many] tent-poles? [It was they] who transgressed all bounds of equity all over their
lands, and brought about great corruption therein: and therefore thy Sustainer let loose upon them a scourge of suffering:
for, verily, thy Sustainer is ever on the watch! [In classical Arabic, the ancient bedouin term of “he of many tent poles” is used
idiomatically as a metonym for mighty dominion or firmness of power. The number of poles supporting a bedouin tent is
determined by its size, and the latter has always depended on the status and power of its owner: thus, a mighty chieftain is often
alluded to as “he of many tent-poles”]
FREEDOM FOR THE HEBREWS
Pharaoh was shaken when death took his son and he ordered the Hebrews to leave. But later Pharaoh changed his mind and had
his forces pursue the Hebrews. The Egyptian army cornered them at the sea, which barred their exit to the east. A strong east wind
blew at night, creating a dry corridor through the sea permitting the Hebrews to cross. The pursuing Egyptians were drowned
when the water returned.
PHARAOH’S DEFENSE FOR ENSLAVING JEWS
(26:52-58) And [there came a time when] [I.e., after the period of plagues with which the Egyptians were visited (see 7:130.)]
We inspired Moses thus: “Go forth with My servants by night: for, behold, you will be pursued!” And Pharaoh sent
heralds unto all cities, [bidding them to call out his troops and to proclaim:] “Behold, these [children of Israel] are but a
contemptible band; but they are indeed filled with hatred of us seeing that we are, verily, a nation united, fully prepared
against danger – [Thus the Quran illustrates the psychological truth that, as a rule, a dominant nation is unable really to
understand the desire for liberty on the part of the group or groups which it oppresses and therefore attributes their rebelliousness
to no more than unreasonable hatred and blind envy of the strong.] and so we have [rightly] driven them out of [their] gardens
and springs, and [deprived them of their erstwhile] station of honor!” [This is apparently an allusion to the honorable state
and the prosperity which the children of Israel had enjoyed in Egypt for a few generations after the time of Joseph - i.e., before a
new Egyptian dynasty dispossessed them of their wealth and reduced them to the bondage from which Moses was to free them. In
the above passage, Pharaoh seeks to justify his persecution of the Israelites by emphasizing their dislike (real or alleged) of the
Egyptians.]
PARTING OF THE SEA
(20:77-78) And, indeed, [a time came when] We thus inspired Moses: [I.e., after all the trials which the Israelites had to
undergo in Egypt and after the plagues with which Pharaoh and his followers were afflicted]. “Go forth with My servants by
night, and strike out for them a dry path through the sea; [and] fear not of being overtaken, and dread not [the sea].” And
Pharaoh pursued them with his hosts.
(26:60-68) And so [the Egyptians] caught up with them at sunrise; and as soon as the two hosts came in sight of one
another, the followers of Moses exclaimed: “Behold, we shall certainly be overtaken [and defeated]!” He replied: Nay
indeed! My Sustainer is with me, [and] He will guide me!” Thereupon We inspired Moses thus: Strike the sea with your
staff!”- whereupon it parted, and each part appeared like a mountain vast. [See the Biblical account (Exodus xiv, 21),
according to which “the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the
waters were divided”.] And We caused the pursuers to draw near unto that place: and We saved Moses and all who were
with him, and then We caused the others to drown. In this [story] behold, there is a message [unto all men], even though
most of them will not believe [in it]. And yet, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace! [From
various indications in the Bible (in particular Exodus xiv, 2 and 9), it appears that the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea took
place at the northwestern extremity of what is known today as the Gulf of Suez. In those ancient times it was not as deep as it is
now, and in some respects may have resembled the shallow part of the North Sea between the mainland and the Frisian Islands,
with its total ebbs which lay bare the sandbanks and make them temporarily passable, followed by sudden, violent tides which
submerge them entirely.]
REPENTANCE OF PHARAOH AT HIS LAST HOUR IN VAIN
(10:90-93) And We brought the children of Israel across the sea; and thereupon Pharaoh and his hosts pursued them with
vehement insolence and tyranny, until [they were overwhelmed by the waters of the sea. And] when he was about to
drown, [Pharaoh] exclaimed: “I have come to believe that there is no deity save Him in whom the children of Israel
believe, and I am of those who surrender themselves unto Him!" [But God said:] “Now when ever before this you have
been rebelling [against Us], and have been among those who spread corruption? [I.e., Do you repent now, when it is too late?
See 4:18 – “repentance shall not be accepted from those who do evil deeds until their dying hour, and then say, ‘Behold, I now
repent’.”] - [Nay,] but today We shall save only your body, so that you may be a [warning] sign unto those who will come
after you: for, behold, a good many people are heedless of Our messages!” [Lit., “We shall save you in your body”: probably
an allusion to the ancient Egyptian custom of embalming the bodies of their kings and nobles and thus preserving them for
posterity.] And [thereafter], indeed, We assigned unto the children of Israel a most goodly abode, [Lit., "We settled the
children of Israel in an abode of excellence" - which latter term, according to almost all commentators, conveys the meaning of
sidq in this context.] and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life.
(20:78-79) They were overwhelmed by the sea which was destined to overwhelm them [Expressing the inevitability of the
doom which encompassed them.] because Pharaoh had led his people astray and had not guided [them] aright. When he
was about to drown, [Pharaoh] exclaimed: “I have come to believe that there is no deity save Him in whom the children of
Israel believe, and I am of those who surrender themselves unto Him!”
DROWNING OF PHARAOH AND HIS ARMY (archetypes of evil)
(2:50) And when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh's people to drown before your very
eyes.
(28:40-42) And so We seized him (Pharaoh) and his hosts and cast them into the sea: and behold what happened in the end
to those evildoers: [We destroyed them,] and We set them up as archetypes [of evil] that show the way to the fire [of hell];
[This is the pivotal sentence and is meant to draw our attention to the sin of tribal or racial prejudice. The present reference to
Pharaoh as “archetype of evil” points to the fact that false pride and arrogance are truly “satanic” attitudes of mind, repeatedly
exemplified in the Quran by Satan’s symbolic “revolt” against God (see 2:34 and 15:41). These are intrinsically evil, and satanic
impulses lead to evil actions and, consequently, to a weakening or even a total destruction of man’s spiritual potential: which, in
its turn, is bound to cause suffering in the hereafter.] and [whereas] no succor will come to them on Resurrection Day, We
have caused a curse to follow them in this world as well; [I.e., in the pejorative connotation universally given to the adjective
“Pharaonic”. It is to be noted that the term “curse”, primarily denotes estrangement, i.e., from all that is good and, hence, really
desirable.] and on Resurrection Day they will find themselves among those who are bereft of all good. [I.e., among those
who by their own actions will have removed themselves from God’s grace]
(44:25-29) [And so they perished: and] how many gardens did they leave behind, and water-runnels, and fields of grain,
and noble dwellings, and [all that] life of ease in which they used to delight! Thus it was. And [then] We made another
people heirs [to what they had left], and neither sky nor earth shed tears over them, nor were they allowed a respite.
(54:41-42) Now surely, unto Pharaoh’s folk [too] came such warnings; they, too, gave the lie to all Our messages: and
thereupon We took them to task as only the Almighty, who determines all things, can take to task. [The special mention of
Pharaoh’s folk is due to the fact that the Egyptians were the most highly developed and powerful nation in the antiquity.]
(69:9-10) And there was Pharaoh, too, and [many of] those who lived before him, and the cities that were overthrown - [all
of them] indulged in sin upon sin [I.e., Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of Lot’s people.] and rebelled against their
Sustainer’s apostles: and so He took them to task with a punishing grasp exceedingly severe!
(79:25-26) And thereupon God took him (Pharaoh) to task, [and made him] a warning example in the life to come as well as
in this world. In this, behold, there is a lesson indeed for all who stand in awe [of God].
WRONGS COMMITTED IN OBEDIENCE TO IMMORAL LEADERSHIP
(11:96-99) And, indeed, We sent Moses with Our messages and a manifest authority [from Us] unto Pharaoh and his great
ones: but these followed [only] Pharaoh’s bidding - and Pharaoh’s bidding led by no means to what is right. [Thus, the
main point of this passage is the problem of immoral leadership and, arising from it, the problem of man’s individual, moral
responsibility for wrongs committed in obedience to a “higher authority”. The Quran answers this question emphatically in the
affirmative: the leader and the led are equally guilty, and none can be absolved of responsibility on the plea that he was but
blindly following orders given by those above him.] [And so] he shall go before his people on the Day of Resurrection, having
led them [in this world] towards the fire [of the life to come]; and vile was the destination towards which they were led -
seeing that they were pursued by [God’s] rejection in this [world], and [shall be finally overtaken by it] on the Day of
Resurrection; [and] vile was the gift which they were given!
FROM EGYPT TO MOUNT SINAI
The route of the Hebrews is contested by scholars, but the most likely possibility is the southern route to Jabal Musa (Arabic for
Moses), the traditional location of Mount Sinai, in the granite range at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The journey there
traversed in some very desolate country and Moses had to contend with bitter complaints about the lack of water and food. It was
during this difficult journey that God provided Israelites with water, heavenly bread (manna), and quail. During the journey
towards Mount Sinai, the Israelites came across Amalekites and Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the sword.
Finally, however, Moses brought his people to “the mountain of God,” where Yahweh had first appeared to him in the burning
bush.
LEADING ISRAELITES TO FREEDOM
(14:5-8) And [thus], indeed, have We sent forth Moses with Our messages [and this Our command]: Lead your people out
of the depths of darkness into the light, and remind them of the Days of God!” [In ancient Arabian tradition, the term “days”
were often used to describe momentous historical events. However, in view of the frequent Quranic application of the word “day”
to eschatological concepts - e.g., the “Last Day” the “Day of Resurrection”, the “Day of Reckoning”, and so forth - and,
particularly, in view of 45:14, where the expression the Days of God unmistakably points to His judgment at the end of time - it is
only logical to assume that in the present context this expression bears the same significance: namely, God’s final judgment of
man on the Day of Resurrection. The use of the plural form (the Days of God) is perhaps meant to bring out the idea that the
“Day” of which the Quran so often speaks has nothing to do with human time-definitions but, rather, alludes to an ultimate reality
in which the concept of time has neither place nor meaning.]Verily, in this [reminder] there are messages indeed for all who
are wholly patient in adversity and deeply grateful [to God]. And, lo Moses spoke [thus] unto his people: Remember the
blessings which God bestowed upon you when He saved you from Pharaoh’s people who afflicted you with cruel suffering,
and slaughtered your sons, and spared [only] your women which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer. And
[remember the time] when your Sustainer made [this promise] known: if you are grateful [to Me], I shall most certainly
give you more and more; but if you are ungrateful, verily, My chastisement will be severe indeed!’ ” And Moses added: “If
you should [ever] deny the truth - you and whoever else lives on earth, all of you - [know that,] verily, God is indeed self-
sufficient, ever to be praised!”
(17:104) And after that We said unto the children of Israel: “Dwell now securely on earth - but [remember that] when the
promise of the Last Day shall come to pass, We will bring you forth as [parts of] a motley crowd!” [The expression lafif
denotes a human crowd composed of innumerable heterogeneous elements, good and bad, strong and weak, fortunate and
unfortunate: in short, it characterizes mankind in all its aspects. It is obviously used here to refute, once again, the idea that the
children of Israel are a “chosen people” by virtue of their Abrahamic descent and, therefore, a priori and invariably destined for
God’s grace. The Quran rejects this claim by stating that on Resurrection Day all mankind will be judged and none will have a
privileged position.]
TEMPTATION TO WORSHIP IDOLS
(7:138-141) And we brought the children of Israel across the sea; and thereupon they came upon people who were devoted
to the worship of some idols of theirs. [The Quran does not say who those people were. It is, however, probable that they
belonged to the group of Arabian tribes described in the Bible as Amalekites, who inhabited southernmost Palestine, the adjoining
regions of the Hijaz, and parts of the Sinai Peninsula.] Said [the children of Israel]: “O Moses, set up for us a god even as they
have gods!” He replied: “Verily, you are people without any awareness [of right and wrong]! As for these here - verily,
their way of life is bound to lead to destruction; and worthless is all that they have ever done!” [And] he said: “Am I to
seek for you a deity other than God, although it is He who has favored you above all other people?” [I.e., by having raised
so many prophets out of their midst] And [he reminded them of this word of God]: “Lo, We saved you from Pharaoh’s
people who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaying your sons in great numbers and sparing [only] your women - which
was an awesome trial from your Sustainer.” [It appears that this passage is part of Moses’ reminder to his people.]
MANNA AND SALWA
(2:57) And We caused the clouds to comfort you with their shade, and sent down unto you manna and quails, [saying,]
“Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance.” And [by all their sinning] they did no harm
unto Us - but [only] against their own selves did they sin.
(20:80-82) O children of Israel! [Thus] We saved you from your enemy, and [then] We made a covenant with you on the
right-hand slope of Mount Sinai, and repeatedly sent down manna and quails unto you, [saying,] “Partake of the good
things which We have provided for you as sustenance, [The reference to Gods bestowal of “manna (mann) and quails (salwa)”
upon the Israelites during their wanderings in the Sinai Desert after their exodus from Egypt is found in the Quran in two other
places as well (2:57 and 7:160). According to Arab philologists, the term mann denotes not only the sweet, resinous substance
exuded by certain plants of the desert, but also everything that is “bestowed as a favor”, i.e., without any effort on the part of the
recipient. Similarly, the term salwa signifies not merely “quails”, but also “all that makes man content and happy after privation”.
Hence the combination of these two terms denotes, metonymically, the gift of sustenance freely bestowed by God upon the
followers of Moses.] but do not transgress therein the bounds of equity [Or: do not behave in an overweening manner and
attribute these favors to your own supposed excellence on account of your descent from Abraham.] lest My condemnation fall
upon you: for, he upon whom My condemnation falls has indeed thrown himself into utter ruin!” [God’s condemnation or
wrath is a metonym for the inescapable retribution which man brings upon himself if he deliberately rejects God’s guidance and
transgresses the bounds of equity.] Yet withal, behold, I forgive all sins unto any who repents and attains to faith and does
righteous deeds, and thereafter keeps to the right path.
TWELVE SPRINGS
(2:60) And (remember) when Moses prayed for water for his people and We replied, “Strike the rock with thy staff!”-
where upon twelve springs gushed forth from it, so that all the people knew whence to drink (i.e., according to their tribal
divisions) [and Moses said:] “Eat and drink the sustenance provided by God, and do not act wickedly on earth by
spreading corruption.”
(7:159-160) And among the folk of Moses there have been people who would guide [others] in the way of the truth and act
justly in its light. [The stress on the fact that there have always been righteous people among them is meant to contrast this
righteousness with the rebellious sinfulness which most of them displayed throughout their Biblical history. It provides, at the
same time, an indication that, although the wrongdoing of some of its members may sometimes plunge whole communities into
suffering, God judges men individually, and not in groups.] And We divided them into twelve tribes, [or] communities. And
when his people asked Moses for water, We inspired him, “Strike the rock with your staff!”- where upon twelve springs
gushed forth from it, so that all the people knew whence to drink. And We caused the clouds to comfort them with their
shade, and We sent down unto them manna and quails, [saying:] “Partake of the good things which We have provided for
you as sustenance.”
DEMAND FOR FOOD THAT GROWS FROM EARTH
(2:60-61) [Moses said:] “Eat and drink the sustenance provided by God, and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading
corruption.” And [remember] when you said: “O Moses, indeed we cannot endure but one kind of food; pray, then, to thy
Sustainer that He bring forth for us aught of what grows from the earth - of its herbs, its cucumbers, its garlic, its lentils,
its onions.” Said [Moses]: “Would you take a lesser thing in exchange for what is [so much] better? Go back in shame to
Egypt, and then you can have what you are asking for!” [Or would you exchange your freedom for the paltry comforts which
you enjoyed in your Egyptian captivity? In the course of their wanderings in the desert of Sinai, many Jews looked back with
longing to the comparative security of their life in Egypt, as has been explicitly stated in the Bible (Numbers xi).]
THE COVENANT AT SINAI
God had a claim upon Hebrews because He had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. The only proper response to His love
and care would be a pledge of obedience to His will. Moses brought his people out of the camp at the foot of Mount Sinai. The
whole mountain was wrapped in smoke and quaked greatly because God descended upon it in fire. As Moses spoke, God
answered him in thunder and summoned Moses to the top of the Mount Sinai. Ten Commandants were the stipulations in the
covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai. The following is the short summary of the Ten Commandants: (1) I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other God before me. (2) You shall not
make for yourself a graven image. (3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. (4) Remember the Sabbath day,
to keep it holy. (5) Honor your father and mother. (6) You shall not kill. (7) You shall not commit adultery. (8) You shall not steal.
(9) You shall not bear false witness. (10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
DIVINE REVELATIONS ON MOUNT SINAI
(52:1-4) Consider Mount Sinai! [The expression at-tur or the mountain is used in the Quran exclusively to denote Mount Sinai,
on which Moses received his decisive revelation.] Consider [God’s] revelation, inscribed on wide-open scrolls. [I.e., always
open to man’s understanding.] Consider the long-enduring house [of worship]! [This is a metonym for the fact that ever since
the dawn of human consciousness men have persistently - although often but dimly - realized the existence of God and have tried,
spurred on by the continuous, direct revelation granted to His prophets, to come closer to Him through worship. Hence, Baydawi
regards the expression al-bayt al-mamur as a metaphor for the heart of the believer.]
MOSES REQUEST TO SEE GOD
Moses made many trips to the Mount Sinai to receive God’s revelations. In one of his encounter with God, Moses asked if he
could see God with his own eyes.
(7:142-147) And [then] We appointed for Moses thirty nights [on Mount Sinai]; and We added to them ten, whereby the
term of forty nights set by his Sustainer was fulfilled. [The first thirty nights were to be spent by Moses in spiritual preparation,
including fasting, whereupon the Law would be revealed to him in the remaining ten. In Arabic usage, a period of time designated
as “nights” comprises the days as well.] And Moses said unto his brother Aaron: “You take my place among my people; and
act righteously, and follow not the path of the spreaders of corruption.” And when Moses came [to Mount Sinai] at the
time set by Us, and his Sustainer spoke unto him, he said: “O my Sustainer! Show [Thyself] unto me, so that I might
behold Thee!” Said [God]: “Never can you see Me. However, behold this mountain: if it remains firm in its place, then -
only then - will you see Me.” [Lit., “then, in time will you see Me”. As these words express the impossibility of man’s seeing
God - which is clearly implied in the Arabic construction - a literal rendering would not do justice to it.] And as soon as his
Sustainer revealed His glory to the mountain, He caused it to crumble to dust; and Moses fell down in a swoon. And when
he came to himself, he said: “Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Unto Thee do I turn in repentance; and I shall [always] be
the first to believe in Thee!” [Since Moses was already a believer, his words do not merely allude to belief in God’s existence
but, rather, belief in the impossibility of man’s seeing God.] Said [God]: “O Moses! Behold, I have raised you above all people
by virtue of the messages which I have entrusted to you, and by virtue of My speaking [unto you]: hold fast, therefore,
unto what I have vouchsafed you, and be among the grateful!” And We ordained for him in the tablets [of the Law] all
manner of admonition, clearly spelling out everything. And [We said:] “Hold fast unto them with [all your] strength, and
bid your people to hold fast to their most goodly rules.” I will show you the way the iniquitous shall go. [Lit., “I will show
you the abode of the iniquitous”. The plural form of admonition in “I will show you” makes it more probable that it is the
beginning of a parenthetic passage connected, no doubt, with the preceding one, but having a general import not confined to
Moses.] From My messages shall I cause to turn away all those who, without any right, behave haughtily on earth: for,
though they may see every sign [of the truth], they do not believe in it, and though they may see the path of rectitude, they
do not choose to follow it - whereas, if they see a path of error, they take it for their own: this, because they have given the
lie to Our messages, and have remained heedless of them. [As so often in the Quran, God’s “causing” the sinners to sin is
shown to be a consequence of their own behavior and the result of their free choice. By “those who, without any right, behave
haughtily on earth” are obviously meant people who think that their own judgment as to what constitutes right and wrong is the
only valid one, and who therefore refuse to submit their personal concerns to the criterion of absolute (i.e., revealed) moral
standards; see 96:6-7 – “man becomes grossly overweening whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient”.] Hence, all who
give the lie to Our messages, and [thus] to the truth of the life to come [Lit., “to the meeting” - in the sense of its being a pre-
ordained fact.] - in vain shall be all their doings: [for] are they to be rewarded for aught but what they were wont to do?
[This is the end of the parenthetic passage beginning with the words, “I will show you the way the iniquitous shall go”.]
WORSHIP OF GOLDEN CALF
During the absence of Moses, when he was on Mount Sinai, Israelites decided to make a golden calf and start worshipping it. The
golden calf of the Israelites was obviously a result of centuries-old Egyptian influences. The Egyptians worshipped at Memphis
the sacred bull, Apis, which they believed to be an incarnation of the god Ptah. A new Apis was supposed always to be born at the
moment when the old one died, while the soul of the latter was believed to pass into Osiris in the Realm of the Dead, to be
henceforth worshipped as Osiris-Apis (the “Serapis” of the Greco-Egyptian period). The “lowing sound” which the golden calf
emitted was probably produced by wind effects, as was the case with some of the hollow Egyptian temple effigies.]
(7:148-149) And in his absence the people of Moses took to worshipping the effigy of a calf [made] of their ornaments,
which gave forth a lowing sound. Did they not see that it could neither speak unto them nor guide them in any way? [And
yet] they took to worshipping it, for they were evildoers: although [later,] when they would smite their hands in remorse,
[An idiomatic phrase denoting intense remorse, probably derived from the striking (“falling”) of hand upon hand as an expression
of grief or regret.] having perceived that they had gone astray, they would say, “Indeed, unless our Sustainer have mercy on
us and grant us forgiveness, we shall most certainly be among the lost!” [This refers to a later time for the repentance of the
Israelites came after Moses’ return from Mount Sinai.]
SAMARITAN LED THEM ASTRAY IN ABSENCE OF MOSES
(20:83-85) [And God said]: [This passage relates to the time of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai, mentioned in 2:51 and 7:142.]
“Now what has caused you, O Moses, to leave your people behind in so great a haste?” [Implying that he should not have left
them alone, without his personal guidance, at so early a stage in their freedom. In this inimitable elliptic manner the Quran alludes
to the psychological fact that a community which attains to political and social freedom after centuries of bondage remains for a
long time subject to the demoralizing influences of its past, and cannot all at once develop a spiritual and social discipline of its
own.] He answered: “They are treading in my footsteps [Expressing his assumption that the children of Israel would follow his
guidance even in his absence: an assumption which proved erroneous, as shown in the sequence.] while I have hastened unto
Thee, O my Sustainer, so that Thou might be well-pleased [with me].” Said He: “Then [know that], verily, in your absence
We have put your people to a test, and the Samaritan has led them astray.” [The person in question was one of the many
Egyptians who had been converted to the faith of Moses and joined the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt (see 7:124). The
designation samiri might be connected with the ancient Egyptian shemer, “a foreigner” or “stranger”. This surmise is strengthened
by his introduction of the worship of the golden calf, undoubtedly an echo of the Egyptian cult of Apis (see 7:148).]
EFFIGY OF CALF MADE FROM STOLEN ORNAMENTS
(20:86-89) Thereupon Moses returned to his people full of wrath and sorrow, [and] exclaimed: “O my people! Did not your
Sustainer hold out [many] a goodly promise to you? Did, then, [the fulfillment of] this promise seem to you too long in
coming? [Or, Did, then, the time of my absence seem too long to you? The term ahd signifies a time or period as well as a
covenant or promise.] Or are you, perchance, determined to see your Sustainer’s condemnation fall upon you, and so you
broke your promise to me?” [I.e., are you determined to disregard the consequences of your doings?] They answered: “We did
not break our promise to you of our own free will, but [this is what happened:] we were loaded with the [sinful] burdens of
the [Egyptian] people’s ornaments and so we threw them [into the fire], [It is mentioned in Exodus xii, 35 that, immediately
before their departure from Egypt, the Israelites borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold. This borrowing
was obviously done under false pretences, without any intention on the part of the Israelites to return the jewelry to its rightful
owners: for, according to the Biblical statement (verse 36), “they spoiled [i.e., robbed] the Egyptians” by doing so. While it is
noteworthy that the Old Testament, in its present, corrupted form, does not condemn this behavior, its iniquity seems to have
gradually dawned upon the Israelites, and so they decided to get rid of those sinfully acquired ornaments.] and likewise did this
Samaritan cast [his into it].” But then, [so they told Moses, the Samaritan] [This interpolation is necessary because of the
change from the direct speech in the preceding verse to the indirect in this one and in the sequence.] had produced for them [out
of the molten gold] the effigy of a calf, which made a lowing sound; and thereupon they said [to one another], “This is your
deity, and the deity of Moses - but he has forgotten [his past]! [An allusion to the fact that Moses had been brought up
obviously as an Egyptian at Pharaoh’s court] Why - did they not see that [the thing] could not give them any response, and
had no power to harm or to benefit them?
(2:92-93) And indeed, there came unto you Moses with all evidence of the truth - and thereupon, in his absence, you took
to worshipping the [golden] calf, and acted wickedly. And, Lo, We accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high
above you, [saying,] “Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and hearken unto it!” [But]
they say, “We have heard, but we disobey” [It is obvious that they did not actually utter these words; their subsequent behavior,
however, justifies the above metonymical expression] - for their hearts are filled to overflowing with love of the [golden] calf
because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth. Say: “Vile is what this [false] belief of yours enjoins upon you - if indeed
you are believers!” [I.e., as soon as they turned away from the genuine message propounded by Moses, they fell into
worshipping material goods, symbolized by the golden calf.]
AARON WARNING TO ISRAELITES
(7:150) And when Moses returned to his people, full of wrath and sorrow, he exclaimed: “Vile is the course which you have
followed in my absence! Have you forsaken your Sustainer's commandment?” And he threw down the tablets [of the
Law], and seized his brother’s head, dragging him towards himself. Cried Aaron: “O my mother’s son! Behold, the people
brought me low and almost slew me: so let not mine enemies rejoice at my affliction, and count me not among the
evildoing folk!” [Contrary to the Biblical account (Exodus xxxii, 1-5), the Quran does not accuse Aaron of having actually
participated in making or worshipping the golden calf; his guilt consisted in having remained passive in the face of his people’s
idolatry for fear of causing a split among them.]
(20:90-94) And, indeed, even before [the return of Moses] had Aaron said unto them: “O my people! You are but being
tempted to evil by this [idol] - for, behold, your [only] Sustainer is the Most Gracious! Follow me, then, and obey my
bidding!” [And do not follow the Samaritan. This is in sharp contrast to the Bible (Exodus xxxii, 1-5), which declares Aaron
guilty of making and worshipping the golden calf.] [But] they answered: “By no means shall we cease to worship it until
Moses comes back to us!” [And Moses] said: “O Aaron! What has prevented you, when you did see that they had gone
astray, from abandoning them and] following me? Have you, then, [deliberately] disobeyed my commandment?” [See
7:142, where Moses, before leaving for Mount Sinai, exhorts Aaron to “act righteously”.] Answered [Aaron]: “O my mother’s
son! Seize me not by my beard, nor by my head! Behold, I was afraid lest [on your return] you say, ‘You have caused a
split among the children of Israel, and have paid no heed to my bidding!’ ”
SAMARITAN’S REJECTION OF MOSES’ TEACHINGS
(20:95-98) Said [Moses]: “What, then, did you have in view, O Samaritan?” He answered: “I have gained insight into
something which they were unable to see: [The verb basura has the significance of “he perceived something mentally”, or “he
gained insight” or “he understood”. Hence, the above phrase has the meaning, “I realized what they the rest of the people did not
realize - namely, that some of your beliefs, O Moses, were wrong”. It would seem that the Samaritan objected to the idea of a
transcendental, unperceivable God, and thought that the people ought to have something more tangible to believe in.] and so I
took hold of a handful of the Apostle’s teachings and cast it away: for thus has my mind prompted me [to act].” [The
Samaritan’s rejection of a part of Moses’ teachings is meant to explain the subconscious tendency underlying all forms of idolatry
and of the attribution of divine qualities to things or beings other than God a futile, self-deceiving hope of bringing the
Unperceivable closer to one’s limited perception by creating a tangible image of the Divine Being or, at least, of something that
could be conceived as His “emanation”. All such endeavors obscure rather than illuminate man’s understanding of God; they
defeat their own purpose and destroy the misguided devotee’s spiritual potential: and this is undoubtedly the purport of the story
of the golden calf as given in the Quran.] Said [Moses]; “Begone, then! And, behold, it shall be your lot to say throughout
[your] life, ‘Touch me not!’ [A metaphorical description of the loneliness and the social ostracism in which he would henceforth
find himself] But, verily, [in the life to come] you shall be faced with a destiny from which there will be no escape! And
[now] look at this deity of your to whose worship you have become so devoted: we shall most certainly burn it, and then
scatter [whatever remains of] it far and wide over the sea! Your only deity is God - He save whom there is no deity, [and
who] embraces all things within His knowledge!”
MOSES ASKING GOD FOR FORGIVENESS
(7:151-156) Said [Moses]: “O my Sustainer! Grant Thou forgiveness unto me [For my anger and my harshness] and my
brother, and admit us unto Thy grace: for Thou art the most merciful of the merciful!” [And to Aaron he said:] “Verily, as
for those who have taken to worshipping the [golden] calf -their Sustainer's condemnation will overtake them, and
ignominy [will be their lot] in the life of this world!” For thus do We requite all who invent [such] falsehood, [This refers to
any false imagery, which deflects man from the worship of the One God. Throughout the Quran, this expression is used to
describe (a) the attribution of divine qualities to any concrete or imaginary object or person, and (b) the making of false
statements about God, His attributes, or the contents of His messages..] But as for those who do bad deeds and afterwards
repent and [truly] believe - verily, after such repentance thy Sustainer is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace! And
when Moses’ wrath was stilled, he took up the tablets, in the writing whereof there was guidance and grace for all who
stood in awe of their Sustainer. [According to the Bible (Exodus xxxii, 19), Moses broke the tablets when he threw them down
in anger; the Quranic narrative, however, shows them as having remained intact.] And Moses chose out of his people seventy
men to come [and pray for forgiveness] at a time set by Us. Then, when violent trembling seized them, he prayed: [Most of
the commentators take rajfah to mean here “earthquake”. However, this noun denotes any violent commotion or trembling, from
whatever cause; and since there is no reason to suppose that in this context an earthquake is meant, we may assume that the
violent trembling which seized the seventy elders was caused by their intense regret and fear of God’s punishment.] “O my
Sustainer! Had Thou so willed, Thou would have destroyed them before this and me [with them]. Will Thou destroy us for
what the weak-minded among us have done? [All] this is but a trial from Thee, whereby Thou allow to go astray whom
Thou will, and guide aright whom Thou will. Thou are near unto us: grant us, then, forgiveness and have mercy on us - for
Thou art the best of all forgivers! And ordain Thou for us what is good in this world as well as in the life to come: behold,
unto Thee have we turned in repentance!” [God] answered: “With My chastisement do I afflict whom I will - but My
grace overspreads everything.” (7:171) And [did We not say,] when We caused Mount Sinai to quake above the children of
Israel [When We shook the mountain over them: possibly a reference to an earthquake which took place at the time of the
revelation of the Law (the tablets) to Moses.] as though it were a [mere] shadow, and they thought that it would fall upon
them, “Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and bear in mind all that is therein, so that
you might remain conscious of God"? [In accordance with the method of the Quran, their story is made an object-lesson for all
believers in God, of whatever community or time.]
SIN OF IDOL-WORSHIP AND DEMAND TO SEE GOD BY ISRAELITES
(2:51-56) And when We appointed for Moses forty nights [on Mount Sinai], and in his absence you took to worshipping the
[golden] calf, and thus became evildoers: Yet, even after that, We blotted out this your sin, so that you might have cause to
be grateful. And [remember the time] when We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ -and [thus] a standard by which to
discern the true from the false - so that you might be guided aright; [Muhammad Abduh, one of the great Islamic theologian,
amplifies the above interpretation of al-furqan by maintaining that it applies also to “human reason, which enables us to
distinguish the true from the false”, apparently basing this wider interpretation on 8:41, where the battle of Badr is described as
yawm al-furqan “the day on which the true was distinguished from the false”. While the term furqan is often used in the Quran to
describe one or another of the revealed scriptures, and particularly the Quran itself, it has undoubtedly also the connotation
pointed out by Abduh: for instance, in 8:29, where it clearly refers to the faculty of moral valuation which distinguishes every
human being who is truly conscious of God.] and when Moses said unto his people: “O my people! Verily, you have sinned
against yourselves by worshipping the calf; turn, then, in repentance to your Maker and mortify yourselves; [The
expression “kill yourselves” is used here in a metaphorical sense, i.e., “mortify yourselves”.] this will be the best for you in your
Maker’s sight.” And thereupon He accepted your repentance: for, behold, He alone is the Acceptor of Repentance, the
Dispenser of grace. And [remember] when you said, “O Moses, indeed we shall not believe you unless we see God face to
face!”- Whereupon the thunderbolt of punishment overtook you before your very eyes. [The Quran does not state what form
this “thunderbolt of punishment” took. The lexicographers give various interpretations to this word, but all agree on the element
of vehemence and suddenness inherent in it.] But We raised you again after you had been as dead, so that you might have
cause to be grateful. [The expression mawt does not always denote physical death. Arab philologists - e.g., Raghib - explain the
verb mata (lit., "he died") as having, in certain contexts, the meaning of "he became deprived of sensation, dead as to the senses";
and occasionally as "deprived of the intellectual faculty, intellectually dead"; and sometimes even as "he slept".]
REJECTION OF MOSES’ TEACHING BY SOME ISRAELITES
(11:110) And, indeed, [similar was the case when] We vouchsafed the divine writ unto Moses, and some of his people set
their own views against it; [Or discordant views came to be held about it: meaning that, like Muhammad’s early
contemporaries, some of Moses’ people accepted the divine writ, whereas others refused to submit to its guidance.] and had it
not been for a decree that had already gone forth from thy Sustainer, judgment would indeed have been passed on them
[then and there]: [They would have been punished, like those communities of old, by utter destruction, had it not been for God’s
decree that their punishment should be deferred until the Day of Resurrection.] for, behold, they were in grave doubt,
amounting to suspicion, about him [who called them unto God]. [2:55 - “O Moses, indeed we shall not believe you until we
see God face to face!”]
FROM SINAI TO TRANSJORDAN
After leaving Mount Sinai, Moses faced increasing resistance and frustrations from Israelites. The pessimistic report of the spies
who had been sent out to reconnoiter thwarted Moses’ desire to march north and conquer the land of Canaan. When he urged the
people to reconsider their action they almost stoned him. In Transjordan, Moses was refused safe passage and various battles
occurred between Israelites and local Kings (see chapter “concept of war and peace.”) Upon reaching the Jordan valley, Moses
climbed to a vantage point on Mount Pisgah and viewed the Promise Land. He died shortly thereafter and the circumstances of his
death and burial remain shrouded in mystery. Moses himself never set foot in the Promise Land. Prior to their arrival at the border
of the Promised Land, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
SPIES TO CANAAN
(5:12-13) And, indeed, God accepted a [similar] solemn pledge from the children of Israel when We caused twelve of their
leaders to be sent [to Canaan as spies]. [The pledge was related to obedience to God’s commandments. This is a reference to the
Biblical story (in Numbers xiii), according to which God commanded Moses to send out one leading personality from each of the
twelve tribes to spy out the land of Canaan before the children of Israel invaded it. The subsequent near-revolt of the children of
Israel caused by their fear of the powerful tribes, which inhabited Canaan (Numbers xiv).] And God said: “Behold, I shall be
with you! If you are constant in prayer, and spend in charity, and believe in My apostles and aid them, and offer up unto
God a goodly loan, [I.e., by doing righteous deeds.] I will surely efface your bad deeds and bring you into gardens through
which running waters flow. But he from among you who, after this, denies the truth, will indeed have strayed from the
right path!” Then, for having broken their solemn pledge, [An allusion to their lack of trust in God and their persistent
sinning] We rejected them and caused their hearts to harden [so that now] they distort the meaning of the [revealed]
words, taking them out of their context; [See 4:46, where the same accusation is leveled against the children of Israel.] and
they have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind; and from all but a few of them you will always
experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good.
REFUSAL TO FIGHT CANAANITES AND WANDERING FOR FORTY YEARS
(5:20-26) And, lo, Moses said unto his people: “O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when
he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you [favors] such as He had not
granted to anyone else in the world. [Lit., “made you kings”. The “kingship” of the Israelites is a metaphorical allusion to their
freedom and independence after their Egyptian bondage, the term king being equivalent here to a free man who is master of his
own affairs and can, therefore, adopt any way of life he chooses. Moses appeals here to the children of Israel as a bearer of glad
tidings and a warner.] O my people! Enter the holy land which God has promised you; but do not turn back [on your faith],
for then you will be lost!” They answered: “O Moses! Behold, ferocious people dwell in that land, and we will surely not
enter it unless they depart there from; but if they depart there from, then, behold, we will enter it.” [This is an illustration of
their having “broken their solemn pledge” and gone back on their faith in God. See Numbers xiii, 32-33, and xiv, which speaks of
the terror that overwhelmed the Israelites on hearing the report of the twelve scouts and of the punishment of their cowardice and
lack of faith.] [Whereupon] two men from among those who feared [God, and] whom God had blessed, said: “Enter upon
them through the gate - for as soon as you enter it, behold, you shall be victorious! And in God you must place your trust if
you are [truly] believers!” [I.e., enter by frontal attack. According to the Bible (Numbers xiv, 6-9, 24, 30, 38), the two God-
fearing men were Joshua and Caleb, who had been among the twelve spies sent out to explore Canaan, and who now tried to
persuade the terror-stricken children of Israel to place their trust in God. As so often in the Quran, this story of the Israelites serves
to illustrate the difference between real, selfless faith and worldly self-love.] [But] they said: “O Moses! Behold, never shall we
enter that [land] so long as those others are in it. Go forth, then, you and your Sustainer, and fight, both of you! We,
behold, shall remain here!” Prayed [Moses]: “O my Sustainer! Of none am I master but of myself and my brother
[Aaron]: draw Thou, then, a dividing-line between us and these iniquitous folk!” Answered He: “Then, verily, this [land]
shall be forbidden to them for forty years, while they wander on earth, bewildered, to and fro; and you should not sorrow
over these iniquitous folks.”
PROMISED LAND FOR JEWS
With the passing of Moses, Joshua assumed leadership of the Israelites and under him the land of Canaan was conquered
including the city of Jericho. According to the Bible, the Israelites not only massacred all the inhabitants including women and
children; they even killed all the animals.
(2:58-59) And [remember the time] when We said: “Enter this land, [The word qaryah primarily denotes a "village" or
"town", but is also used in the sense of "land". Here it apparently refers to Palestine.] and eat of its food as you may desire,
abundantly; but enter the gate humbly and say, Remove Thou from us the burden of our sins, [Thus, the children of Israel
were admonished to take possession of the promised land ("enter the gate") in a spirit of humility (lit., "prostrating yourselves"),
and not to regard it as something that was "due" to them.] (whereupon) We shall forgive you your sins, and shall amply
reward the doers of good.” But those who were bent on evildoing substituted another saying for that which had been given
them: [According to several Traditions, they played, with a derisive intent, substituting for it something irrelevant or meaningless.
Muhammad Abduh, however, is of the opinion that the "saying" referred to in above verse is merely a metaphor for an attitude of
mind demanded of them, and that, correspondingly, the "substitution" signifies here a willful display of arrogance in disregard of
God's command.] and so We sent down upon those evildoers a plague from heaven in requital for all their iniquity.
(7:137) Whereas unto the people who [in the past] had been deemed utterly low, We gave as their heritage the eastern and
western parts of the land that We had blessed. And [thus] thy Sustainer’s good promise unto the children of Israel was
fulfilled in result of their patience in adversity; [Palestine is spoken of as blessed because it was the land in which Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob had lived, and because so many other prophets were to appear there. The promise of God referred to here is the
one given to the children of Israel through Moses.] whereas We utterly destroyed all that Pharaoh and his people had
wrought, and all that they had built. (7:160-162) And [by all their sinning] they did no harm unto Us - but [only] against
their own selves did they sin. And [remember] when you were told: “Dwell in this land [Palestine] and eat of its food as you
may desire; but say, ‘Remove Thou from us the burden of our sins,’ and enter the gate humbly - [whereupon] We shall
forgive you your sins [and] shall amply reward the doers of good.” But those among them who were bent on wrongdoing
substituted another saying for that which they had been given: and so We let loose against them a plague from heaven in
requital of all their evil doings. [Thus, the children of Israel were admonished to take possession of the Promised Land (enter the
gate) in a spirit of humility, and not to regard it as something that was due to them. The “saying” referred to in the above verse is
merely a metaphor for an attitude of mind demanded of them, and that, correspondingly, the substitution signifies here a willful
display of arrogance in disregard of God’s command]
(26:59) Thus it was: but [in the course of time] We were to bestow all these [things] as a heritage on the children of Israel.
[This echoes the allusion in 7:137, to the period of prosperity and honor, which the children of Israel were to enjoy in Palestine
after their sufferings in Egypt. The reference to “heritage” is, in this and in similar contexts, a metonym for God’s bestowal on the
oppressed of a life of well being and dignity.]
ASPERSIONS CAST UPON MOSES
(33:69) O you who have attained to faith! Be not like those [children of Israel] who gave offence to Moses, and [remember
that] God showed him to be innocent of whatever they alleged [against him or demanded of him]: for of great honor was
he in the sight of God. [This is an allusion to the aspersions occasionally cast upon Moses by some of his followers and
mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g., Numbers xii, 1-13), as well as to the blasphemous demands of which the Quran speaks -
e.g., “O Moses, indeed we shall not believe thee until we see God face to face” (2:55) or, “Go forth, you and your Sustainer, and
fight, both of you!” (5:24). These instances are paralleled here with the frequently cited accusations that Muhammad had
“invented” the Quran and then falsely attributed it to God, that he was a madman, and so forth, as well as with frivolous demands
to prove his prophethood by bringing about miracles or by predicting the date of the Last Hour.]
BESTOWING GUIDANCE ON MOSES AND HIS FOLLOWERS
(40:51-55) Behold, We shall indeed succor Our apostles and those who have attained to faith, [both] in this world’s life and
on the Day when all the witnesses shall stand up - the Day when their excuses will be of no avail to the evildoers, seeing
that their lot will be rejection from all that is good, and a woeful hereafter. [The term lanah, its primary significance is
estrangement or rejection; in Quranic terminology it denotes rejection from all that is good and, specifically, estrangement from
God’s grace.] And, indeed, We bestowed aforetime [Our] guidance on Moses, and [thus] made the children of Israel heirs
to the divine writ [revealed to him] as a [means of] guidance and a reminder for those who were endowed with insight:
hence, you remain patient in adversity - for, verily, God’s promise always comes true - and ask forgiveness for your sins,
and extol thy Sustainer’s glory and praise by night and by day. [And thus, too, have We bestowed Our revelation upon
Muhammad. The reference to “those of the children of Israel who were endowed with insight” and therefore could benefit from
the message of Moses, is undoubtedly meant to remind the followers of the Quran that this divine writ, too, is for those who are
endowed with insight, for people who think and people who use their reason.]
PEACE BE UPON MOSES AND AARON
(37:114-122) Thus, indeed, did We bestow Our favor upon Moses and Aaron; [I.e., in consideration of their own merit, and
not because of their descent from Abraham and Isaac.] and We saved them and their people from the awesome calamity [of
bondage], and succored them, so that [in the end] it was they who achieved victory. And We gave them the divine writ that
made [right and wrong] distinct, [I.e., the Torah, wherein there was guidance and light unto those who followed the Jewish
faith” (5:44).] and guided them the straight way, and left them thus to be remembered among later generations: “Peace be
upon Moses and Aaron!” Thus do We reward the doers of good - for those two were truly among Our believing servants.
STORY OF SACRIFICE OF COW AND LEGAL HAIR SPLITTING
The story related here refers to the Mosaic law which ordains that in certain cases of unresolved murder a cow should be
sacrificed, and the elders of the town or village nearest to the place of the murder should wash their hands over it and declare,
“Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it” - whereupon the community would be absolved of collective
responsibility. For the details of this Old Testament ordinance, see Deuteronomy xxi, 1-9. (2:67-73) And Lo! Moses said unto
his people: “Behold, God bids you to sacrifice a cow.” They said: “Do you mock at us?” He answered: “I seek refuge with
God against being so ignorant!” [The imputation of mockery was obviously due to the fact that Moses promulgated the above
ordinance in very general terms, without specifying any details.] Said they: “Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He
make clear to us what she is to be like.” [Moses] replied: “Behold, He says it is to be a cow neither old nor immature, but
of an age in-between. Do, then, what you have been bidden!” Said they: “Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He
make clear to us what her color should be.” [Moses] answered: “Behold, He says it is to be a yellow cow, bright of hue,
pleasing to the beholder.” Said they: “Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what she is to be
like, for to us all cows resemble one another; and then, if God so wills, we shall truly be guided aright!” [Moses] answered:
“Behold, He says it is to be a cow not broken-in to plough the earth or to water the crops, free of fault, without markings
of any other color.” Said they: “at last you have brought out the truth!”- and thereupon they sacrificed her, although they
had almost left it undone. [I.e., their obstinate desire to obtain closer and closer definitions of the simple commandment revealed
to them through Moses had made it almost impossible for them to fulfill it. If in the first instance, they had sacrificed any cow
chosen by them, they would have fulfilled their duty; but they made it complicated for themselves, and so God made it
complicated for them. It would appear that the moral of this story points to an important problem of all (and, therefore, also of
Islamic) religious jurisprudence: namely, the inadvisability of trying to elicit additional details in respect of any religious law that
had originally been given in general terms - for, the more numerous and multiform such details become, the more complicated
and rigid becomes the law. The lesson is that one should not pursue one’s legal inquiries in such a way as to make laws more
complicated. This was how the early generations of Muslims visualized the problem. They did not make things complicated for
themselves - and so, for them, the religious law (din) was natural, simple and liberal in its straightforwardness. But those who
came later added to it certain other injunctions which they had deduced by means of their own reasoning (ijtihad); and they
multiplied those additional injunctions to such an extent that the religious law became a heavy burden on the community. For the
sociological reason why the genuine ordinances of Islamic Law - that is, those which have been prima facie laid down as such in
the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet - are almost always devoid of details. The importance of this problem, illustrated in the
above story of the cow - and correctly grasped by the Prophet’s Companions - explains why this surah has been entitled “The
Cow”.] For, O children of Israel, because you had slain a human being and then cast the blame for this [crime] upon one
another - although God will bring to light what you would conceal [The use of the plural “you” implies the principle of
collective, communal responsibility stipulated by Mosaic Law in cases of murder by a person or persons unknown. God’s
bringing the guilt to light refers to the Day of Judgment.] We said: “Apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of
unresolved murder]: [The above phrase may be suitably rendered as “apply this principle to some of those cases of unresolved
murder”: for that the principle of communal responsibility for murder by a person or persons unknown can be applied only to
some and not to all such cases.] In this way God saves lives from death and shows you His will, so that you might [learn to]
use your reason.” [I.e., He shows His will by means of such messages or ordinances. The figurative expression “He gives life to
the dead” denotes the saving of lives. In this context it refers to the prevention of bloodshed and the killing of innocent persons,
be it through individual acts of revenge, or in result of an erroneous judicial process based on no more than vague suspicion and
possibly misleading circumstantial evidence.]
PARABLE OF MOSES AND HIS QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE
In the story of Moses and the unnamed sage the theme of spiritual awakening undergoes a significant variation: it is shifted to the
plane of man’s intellectual life and his search after ultimate truths. Appearance and reality are shown to be intrinsically different -
so different that only mystic insight can reveal to us what is apparent and what is real. This allegory also meant to illustrate the
fact that knowledge, and particularly spiritual knowledge, is inexhaustible, so that no human being - not even a prophet - can ever
claim to possess answers to all the questions that perplex man throughout his life.
The parable of Moses and his quest for knowledge has become, in the course of time, the nucleus of innumerable legends with
which we are not concerned here. We have, however, a Tradition according to which Moses was rebuked by God for having once
asserted that he was the wisest of all men, and was subsequently told through revelation that a “servant of God” who lived at the
“junction of the two seas” was far superior to him in wisdom. When Moses expressed his eagerness to find that man, God
commanded him to “take a fish in a basket” and to go on and on until the fish would disappear and its disappearance was to be a
sign that the goal had been reached. There is no doubt that this Tradition is a kind of allegorical introduction to our Quranic
parable. The “fish” mentioned in the latter as well as in the above-mentioned hadith is an ancient religious symbol, possibly
signifying divine knowledge or life eternal. As for the “junction of the two seas”, Baydawi offers, in his commentary on verse 60,
a purely allegorical explanation: the “two seas” represent the two sources or streams of knowledge - the one obtainable through
the observation and intellectual coordination of outward phenomena (ilm az-zahir), and the other through intuitive, mystic insight
(ilm al-batin) - the meeting of which is the real goal of Moses’ quest.
(18:60-82) And lo! [In the course of his wanderings,] Moses said to his servant: [According to tradition, it was Joshua, who
was to become the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses.] “1 shall not give up until I reach the junction of the two
seas, even if I [have to] spend untold years [in my quest]!” But when they reached the junction between the two [seas],
they forgot all about their fish, and it took its way into the sea and disappeared from sight. [Their forgetting the symbolic
“fish” is perhaps an allusion to man’s frequently forgetting that God is the ultimate source of all knowledge and life.] And after
the two had walked some distance, [Moses] said to his servant: “Bring us our mid-day meal; we have indeed suffered
hardship on this [day of] our journey!” Said [the servant]: “Would you believe it? [This idiomatic phrase often expresses - as
does its modern equivalent, “Would you believe it?” - no more than a sudden remembrance of, or surprise at, an unusual or absurd
happening] When we betook ourselves to that rock for a rest, behold, I forgot about the fish - and none but Satan made me
thus forget it! - and it took its way into the sea! How strange!” [Moses] exclaimed: “That [was the place] which we were
seeking!” [I.e., the disappearance of the fish indicated the point at which their quest was to end.] And the two turned back,
retracing their footsteps, and found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed grace from Ourselves and unto whom
We had imparted knowledge [issuing] from Ourselves. [In the Tradition this mysterious sage is spoken of as Al-Khadir or A1-
Khidr, meaning “the Green One”. Apparently this is an epithet rather than a name, implying that his wisdom was ever-fresh
(green) and imperishable: a notion which bears out the assumption that we have here an allegoric figure symbolizing the utmost
depth of mystic insight accessible to man.] Moses said unto him: “May I follow you on the understanding that you will
impart to me something of that consciousness of what is right which has been imparted to you?” [The other] answered:
“Behold, you will never be able to have patience with me - for how could you be patient about something that you cannot
comprehend within the compass of [your] experience?” [An allusion to the fact that even a prophet like Moses did not fully
comprehend the inner reality of things; and, more generally, to man’s lack of equanimity whenever he is faced with something
that he has never yet experienced or cannot immediately comprehend. In the last analysis, the above verse implies - as is brought
out fully in Moses’ subsequent experiences - that appearance and reality do not always coincide; beyond that, it touches in a subtle
manner upon the profound truth that man cannot really comprehend or even visualize anything that has no counterpart - at least in
its component elements - in his own intellectual experience: and this is the reason for the Quranic use of metaphor and allegory
with regard to “all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception” (al-ghayb).] Replied [Moses]: “You will find me
patient, if God so wills; and I shall not disobey you in anything!” Said [the sage]: “Well, then, if you are to follow me, do
not question me about aught [that I may do] until I myself give you an account thereof.” And so the two went on their way,
till [they reached the seashore; and] when they disembarked from the boat [that had ferried them across], the sage made a
hole in it - [whereupon Moses] exclaimed: “Have you made a hole in it in order to drown the people who may be
[traveling] in it? Indeed, you have done a grievous thing!” He replied: “Did I not tell you that you will never be able to
have patience with me?” Said [Moses]: “Take me not to task for my having forgotten [myself], and be not hard on me on
account of what I have done!” And so the two went on, till, when they met a young man, [the sage] slew him - [whereupon
Moses] exclaimed: Have you slain an innocent human being without [his having taken] another mans life? Indeed, you
have done a terrible thing!” He replied: “Did I not tell you that you will never be able to have patience with me?” Said
[Moses]: “If, after this, I should ever question you, keep me not in your company: [for by] now you have heard enough
excuses from me.” And so the two went on, till, when they came upon some village people, they asked them for food; but
those [people] refused them all hospitality. And they saw in that [village] a wall which was on the point of tumbling down,
and [the sage] rebuilt it - [whereupon Moses] said: “Had you so wished, surely you could [at least] have obtained some
payment for it?” [The sage] replied: “This is the parting of ways between me and you. [And now] I shall let you know the
real meaning of all [those events] that you were unable to bear with patience: “As for that boat, it belonged to some needy
people who toiled upon the sea - and I desired to damage it because [I knew that] behind them was a king who is wont to
seize every boat by brute force. “And as for that young man, his parents were [true] believers - whereas we had every
reason to fear that he would bring bitter grief upon them by [his] overweening wickedness and denial of all truth: [The
sage’s expression of “fear” was synonymous with positive knowledge gained through outward evidence or through mystic insight
(the latter being more probable, as indicated by his statement in the second paragraph of the next verse, “I did not do [any of] this
of my own accord”).] and so we desired that their Sustainer grant them in his stead [a child] of greater purity than him and
closer [to them] in loving tenderness. “And as for that wall, it belonged to two orphan boys [living] in the town, and
beneath it was [buried] a treasure belonging to them [by right]. [I.e., left to them as an inheritance. Presumably that treasure
would have been exposed to view if the wall had been allowed to tumble down, and would have been stolen by the avaricious
village folk, who had shown their true character by refusing all hospitality to weary travelers.] Now their father had been a
righteous man, and so thy Sustainer willed it that when they come of age they should bring forth their treasure by thy
Sustainer’s grace. “And I did not do [any of] this of my own accord: this is the real meaning of all [those events] that you
were unable to bear with patience.” [Implying that whatever he had done was done under the impulsion of a higher truth - the
mystic insight which revealed to him the reality behind the outward appearance of things and made him a conscious particle in
God’s unfathomable plan: and this explains the use of the plural “we” in verses 80-81, as well as the direct attribution, in the first
paragraph of verse 82, of a concrete human action to God’s will.]
LEGEND OF QARUN (false pride and self-exaltation)
The conventional identification of Qarun with the Korah of the Old Testament (Numbers xvi) is neither relevant nor warranted by
the Quranic text, the more so as the purport of this legend is a moral lesson and not a historical narrative. This, by the way,
explains also the juxtaposition, elsewhere in the Quran (29:39 and 40:24), of Qarun with Pharaoh, the arch-sinner.
(28:76-84) [Now,] behold, Qarun was one of the people of Moses; but he arrogantly exalted himself above them [The
structure of the above sentence is meant to show that even a person who had been a follower of one of the greatest of Gods
apostles was not above the possibility of sinning under the influence of false pride and self-exaltation.] - simply because We had
granted him such riches that his treasure-chests alone would surely have been too heavy a burden for a troop of ten men
or even more. [The term usbah denotes a company of ten or more (up to forty) persons; since it is used here metonymically,
pointing to the great weight involved, it is best rendered as above. The expression “that which is under lock and key”, i.e., a
“hoard of wealth” or “treasure chest”, which latter meaning is obviously the one intended in the present context.] When [they
perceived his arrogance,] his people said unto him: “Exult not [in your wealth], for, verily, God does not love those who
exult [in things vain]! Seek instead, by means of what God has granted you, [the good of] the life to come, [I.e., by spending
in charity and on good causes.] without forgetting, withal, your own [rightful] share in this world; [A call to generosity and, at
the same time, to moderation (2:143: “We have willed you to be a community of the middle way”).] and do good [unto others]
as God has done good unto you; and seek not to spread corruption on earth: for, verily, God does not love the spreaders of
corruption!” Answered he: “This [wealth] has been given to me only by virtue of the knowledge that is in me!” [I.e., as a
result of my own experience, shrewdness and ability] Did he not know that God had destroyed [the arrogant of] many a
generation that preceded him - people who were greater than he in power, and richer in what they had amassed? But such
as are lost in sin may not be asked about, their sins. [Implying that “such as are lost in sin” are, as a rule, blind to their own
failings and, therefore, not responsive to admonition.] And so he went forth before his people in all his pomp; [and] those who
cared only for the life of this world would say, “Oh, if we but had the like of what Qarun has been given! Verily, with
tremendous good fortune is he endowed!” But those who had been granted true knowledge said: “Woe unto you! Merit in
the sight of God [Or, spiritual merit] is by far the best for any who attains to faith and does what is right: but none save the
patient in adversity can ever achieve this [blessing].” And thereupon We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling;
and he had none and nothing to succor him against God, nor was he of those who could succor themselves. [Qarun being
swallowed by the earth may possibly be metaphor of a catastrophic, unforeseen loss - from whatever cause - of all his worldly
goods and, thus, of his erstwhile grandeur.] And on the morrow, those who but yesterday had longed to be in his place
exclaimed: “Alas [for our not having been aware] that it is indeed God [alone] who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it
in scant measure, unto whichever He wills of His creatures! Had not God been gracious to us, He might have caused [the
earth] to swallow us, too! Alas [for our having forgotten] that those who deny the truth can never attain to a happy state!”
As for that [happy] life in the hereafter, We grant it [only] to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to
spread corruption: for the future belongs to the God-conscious. Whosoever shall come [before God] with a good deed will
gain [further] good there from; but as for any who shall come with an evil deed - [know that] they who do evil deeds will
not be requited with more than [the like of] what they have done. [The above paragraph makes it clear that, in order to have
spiritual value, man’s not seeking worldly grandeur or self-indulgence in things depraved must be an outcome, not of indifference
or of a lack of opportunity, but solely of a conscious moral choice.] (29:39) And [thus, too, did We deal with] Qarun and
Pharaoh, and Haman: to them had come Moses with all evidence of the truth, but they behaved arrogantly on earth [and
rejected him]; and withal, they could not escape [Us]. [The common denominator between Qarun, Pharaoh and Haman is their
false pride (takabbur) and arrogance (istikbar), which cause them to become archetypes of evil (28:41).]
STORY OF MOSES AND THE QURAN
CONTINUATION OF DIVINE REVELATION (Jews, Christians and then Muslims)
(6:154-157) And once again: We vouchsafed the divine writ unto Moses in fulfillment [of Our favor] upon those who
persevered in doing good, clearly spelling out everything, and [thus providing] guidance and grace, so that they might
have faith in the [final] meeting with their Sustainer. [Everything that they needed by way of laws and injunctions appropriate
to their time and the stage of their development. See in this connection the phrase, “Unto every one of you have We appointed a
different law and way of life”, occurring in 5:48.] And this, too, is a divine writ which We have bestowed from on high, a
blessed one: follow it, then, and be conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy. [It has been given to
you] lest you say, “Only unto two groups of people, [both of them] before our time, has a divine writ been bestowed from
on high [I.e., to the Jews and the Christians, who were the only two communities known to the Arabs as possessing revealed
scriptures.] - and we were indeed unaware of their teachings”; or lest you say, “If a divine writ had been bestowed from on
high upon us, we would surely have followed its guidance better than they did.” [Although this passage refers, in the first
instance, to the Arabian contemporaries of the Prophet, its message is not restricted to them but relates to all people, at all times,
who refuse to believe in revelation unless they themselves are its direct recipients.] And so, a clear evidence of the truth has
now come unto you from your Sustainer, and guidance, and grace. Who, then, could be more wicked than he who gives the
lie to God’s messages, and turns away from them in disdain? We shall requite those who turn away from Our messages in
disdain with evil suffering for having thus turned away!
(28:44-50) Now [as for you, O Muhammad,] you were not present on the sunset slope [of Mount Sinai] when We imposed
the Law upon Moses, nor you were among those who witnessed [his times]: [Implying that the story of Moses as narrated in
the Quran could not have come to Muhammad’s knowledge otherwise than through revelation: consequently, the Quran as such
must obviously be a result of divine revelation. The term al-amr, rendered above as “the Law”, is the Arabic equivalent of the
Hebrew word torah (“law” or “precept”), the commonly accepted title of the revelation granted to Moses.] nay, but [between
them and you] We brought into being [many] generations, and long was their span of life. We have [always] been sending
[Our message-bearers unto man]. And neither were you present on the slope of Mount Sinai when We called out [to
Moses]: [This second reference to “the slope of Mount Sinai” contains an allusion to the divine assurance mentioned in 7:156:
“My grace overspreads everything.” This interpretation is most plausible in view of the subsequent reference to Muhammad’s
mission as “an act of thy Sustainer’s grace (rahmah)”.] but [you, too, are sent] as an act of thy Sustainer’s grace, to warn
people to whom no warner has come before you, so that they might bethink themselves [of Us]; and [We have sent you]
lest they say [on Judgment Day], when disaster befalls them as an outcome of what their own hands have wrought, “O our
Sustainer, if only Thou had sent an apostle unto us, we would have followed Thy messages, and would have been among
those who believe!” And yet, now that the truth has come unto them from Us, they say, “Why has he not been vouchsafed
the like of what Moses was vouchsafed?” [As the Quran frequently points out, the basic ethical truths enunciated in it are the
same as those of earlier revelations. It is this very statement which induced the opponents of Muhammad - in his own time as well
as in later times - to question the authenticity of the Quran: “If it had really been revealed by God,” they argue, “would so many
of its propositions, especially its social laws, differ so radically from the laws promulgated in that earlier divine writ, the Torah?”
By advancing this argument (and quite apart from the question of whether the text of the Bible as we know it today has or has not
been corrupted in the course of time), the opponents of Muhammad’s message deliberately overlook the fact, repeatedly stressed
in the Quran, that the earlier systems of law were conditioned by the spiritual level of a particular people and the exigencies of a
particular chapter of human history, and therefore had to be superseded by new laws at a higher stage of human development (see
5:48). However, as is evident from the immediate sequence - and especially from the last sentence of this verse - the above
specious argument is not meant to uphold the authenticity of the Bible as against that of the Quran, but, rather, aims at discrediting
both - and, through them, the basic religious principle against which the irreligious mind always revolts: namely, the idea of
divine revelation and of man’s absolute dependence on and responsibility to God, the Ultimate Cause of all that exists.] But did
they not also, before this, deny the truth of what Moses was vouchsafed? [For] they do say, “Two examples of delusion,
[seemingly] supporting each other!” [A contemptuous allusion, on the one hand, to Old-Testament predictions of the coming of
the Prophet Muhammad (2:42). While on the other, to the oft-repeated Quranic statement that this divine writ had been revealed
to confirm the truth of earlier revelations] And they add, “Behold, we refuse to accept either of them as true!” Say: “Produce,
then, [another] revelation from God which would offer better guidance than either of these two- [and] I shall follow it, if
you speak the truth!” [I.e., the Torah and the Quran. The Gospel is not mentioned in this context because, as Jesus himself had
stressed, his message was based on the Law of Moses, and was not meant to displace the latter.] And since they cannot respond
to this your challenge, [Implying that they are unable to accept the above challenge.] know that they are following only their
own likes and dislikes: and who could be more astray than he who follows [but] his own likes and dislikes without any
guidance from God? Verily, God does not grace with His guidance people who are given to evildoing!
(41:43, 45) [And as for you, O Prophet,] nothing is being said to you but what was said to all [of God’s] apostles before
your time. [This is an allusion to the allegation of the Prophet’s opponents that he himself was the author of what he claimed to
be a divine revelation, as well as to their demand that he should prove the truth of his prophetic mission by producing a miracle: a
scornful attitude with which all the earlier prophets had been confronted at one time or another.] Behold, thy Sustainer is indeed
full of forgiveness - but He has also the power to requite most grievously! Thus, too, have We vouchsafed revelation unto
Moses aforetime, and thereupon disputes arose about it. [As was and is the case with the Quran, some people accepted the
divine message revealed to Moses, and some rejected it, while others disagreed about the import and application of its tenets.]
And [then, as now,] had it not been for a decree that had already gone forth from thy Sustainer, all would indeed have
been decided between them [from the outset]. [For an explanation of this passage, as well as of the above parallel between
men’s attitudes towards the earlier scriptures and the Quran, see 10:19.] As it is, behold, they [who will not believe in this
divine writ] are in grave doubt, amounting to suspicion, about what it portends. [I.e., doubts as to whether the Quranic
approach to problems of man’s spirit and body - and, in particular, its stress on the essential unity of these twin aspects of human
life (See 2:143) - is justified or not. In a wider sense, these doubts of the deniers of the truth relate to the question of whether
religion as such is beneficial or injurious to human society - a question which is posed and answered by them with a strong bias
against all religious faith.]
(46:12-14) And yet, before this there was the revelation of Moses, a guide and a [sign of God’s] grace; and this [Quran] is a
divine writ confirming the truth [of the Torah] [In its original, uncorrupted form.] in the Arabic tongue, to warn those who
are bent on evildoing, and [to bring] a glad tiding to the doers of good: for, behold, all who say, “Our Sustainer is God”,
and thereafter stand firm [in their faith] - no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve: it is they who are destined
for paradise, therein to abide as a reward for all that they have done.