1. People of Noah (AS)
How Idolatry Began
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) informed us that there were ten generations between Prophets Adam and Noah. We know that this was a very large period of time, as Noah himself lived over a century, and people before lived even longer.
In those years, between Adam and Noah there were generations of people that remembered the laws taught by Adam and worshipped God correctly. The years passed and the people forgot; at times, the righteous men amongst them reminded the people of their obligations to God. As time continued to move on, the righteous men began to die, and Satan came whispering to the people who had looked up to them, putting thoughts into their minds in his sly, cunning way.
Satan inspired the good people to make statues of the righteous men. In this way, Satan said, they would remember the righteous people and thus remember to worship God. The good people built statues in their meeting places and their homes, and Satan left them alone until everyone had forgotten the reason the statues existed. Many years later, the devious Satan appeared amongst the people again, this time suggesting that they worship the idols directly.
An authentic narration of Prophet Muhammad sums up the beginning of idolatry in the following way. Ibn Abbass, a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad said:
“The names (of the idols) formerly belonged to some pious men of the people of Noah, and when they died Satan inspired their people to prepare and place idols at the places where they used to sit, and to call those idols by their names. The people did so, but the idols were not worshipped till those people (who initiated them) had died and the origin of the idols had become obscure, whereupon people began worshipping them.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
The word Prophet (Nabi in Arabic) is derived from the word Naba,meaning news. Revelation is given by God and, in turn, the Prophet spreads the news amongst his people. A Messenger, on the other hand, is sent with a specific mission, usually to convey a new ordainment from God. Every Messenger is a Prophet, but every Prophet is not a Messenger. Since this was mankind’s first deviation from the correct worship of God as taught by Prophet Adam, God, in his infinite Kindness and Mercy, fulfilled His promise to Adam to send messengers as guidance for mankind. God sent Noah, the first of His Messengers. Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said:
“On the day of Judgement, the people will come to Noah and say ‘Oh Noah, you are the first of the Messengers sent to earth, and God called you a thankful slave.’”(Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Worshipping anything other than God has grave consequences, the least of which is a lack of freedom; for Satan enslaves man, destroys his mind and renders him unable to distinguish between right and wrong. When Noah warned his people of the torment that awaited them if they did not give up their idolatry, his warning fell mostly on deaf ears. Noah explained Satan’s deceit, but his people turned away and refused to listen. Noah warned them day and night; he announced his message in public and he spoke quietly to people privately; yet all, but a few, denied his words. Noah cried out to God.
“He said: ‘O my Lord! Verily, I have called my people night and day (secretly and openly to accept the doctrine of Islamic Monotheism), but all my calling added nothing but to their flight from the truth. Verily! Every time I called unto them that You might forgive them, they thrust their fingers into their ears, covered themselves up with their garments, and persisted (in their refusal), and magnified themselves in pride.” (Quran 71:5-7)
Those who responded to Noah’s call were the weakest and poorest of his people; the leaders and those with power responded arrogantly and rejected the call. They said:
“Verily we see you in plain error” (Quran 7:60)
Noah continued to appeal to his people, day after day and year after year. For 950 years he endured their taunts and mockery but only about 80 people believed in him. His people denied and mocked him as mad man for building a ship on land. Then, God brought a great flood, and drowned all the disbelievers, including Noah’s son and wife.
“And it was revealed to Noah that, “No one will believe from your people except those who have already believed, so do not be distressed by what they have been doing.” Quran (13:36)
“And construct the ship under Our observation and Our inspiration and do not address Me concerning those who have wronged; indeed, they are [to be] drowned.” Quran (13:37)
“And he constructed the ship, and whenever an assembly of the eminent of his people passed by him, they ridiculed him. He said, “If you ridicule us, then we will ridicule you just as you ridicule.” Quran (13:38)
“And you are going to know who will get a punishment that will disgrace him [on earth] and upon whom will descend an enduring punishment [in the Hereafter].” Quran (13:38)
“[So it was], until when Our command came and the oven overflowed, We said, “Load upon the ship of each [creature] two mates and your family, except those about whom the word has preceded, and [include] whoever has believed.” But none had believed with him, except a few.” Quran (13:40)
“And it sailed with them through waves like mountains, and Noah called to his son who was apart [from them], “O my son, come aboard with us and be not with the disbelievers.” Quran (13:42)
“[But] he said, “I will take refuge on a mountain to protect me from the water.” [Noah] said, “There is no protector today from the decree of Allah , except for whom He gives mercy.” And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned.” Quran (13:43)
“And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, “Away with the wrongdoing people.” Quran (13:44)
“It was said, “O Noah, disembark in security from Us and blessings upon you and upon nations [descending] from those with you. But other nations [of them] We will grant enjoyment; then there will touch them from Us a painful punishment.” Quran (13:48)
2. The People of Aad
In the Old Testament reference is made to a descendant of Noah named Eber. In some traditions, he is called Heber, and known as the father of the Hebrew language. In Islam however he is known as Hud. It is said that Hud was a descendent of Noah.
The people of Aad did not God and made statues called “Shamud” and “Alhattar” and worshiped the idols as god which according to their belief, will give them happiness, goodness and profit and be able to repel evil, loss and all the disasters.
Sent by God to his brethren, Hud spread the message that God is One and to worship Him alone. It was the same message spread by all the Prophets of God.
Hud said to his people,
“O my people, worship God, you have no other God but Him”. (Quran 11:50).
Hud belonged to the ancient civilization known as Aad, and its capital city is believed to have been the fabled city of Ubar, known in Quran as Iram. (89:6-7)
Aad is believed to have been situated in the wind swept hills between Oman and Yemen. The people were known to build lofty towers, and thus the area became known as the land of a thousand pillars. It was a civilization unlike any other. God blessed Aad and its people. He provided them with fertile land and abundant agriculture, many children, an ample supply of livestock and easy access to water resources. The people themselves were described as tall, strong, and well built.
In many ways, Aad could be described as a society much like many of the opulent societies that exist today. There was an excess of wealth and the proud, arrogant people were not satisfied with fulfilling their basic needs. They began to build towers and dwellings merely to display their wealth and they accumulated worldly possessions as if they were a people destined to live forever.
The rulers and leaders of Aad were powerful tyrants, their wealth did not make them soft, as sometimes happens, but rather they grew strong and dominated the lands around them. Satan was among them and made their deeds seem fair seeming to them. Their arrogance and pride grew and the worship of idols became prevalent.
Prophet Hud was also a strong man but he used his strength to confront the problems that abounded in his society, however, the people were too proud to listen. They did not want Hud to point out their mistakes but he persisted in calling them to righteousness. He said,
“O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him, He will send you (from the sky) abundant rain, and add strength to your strength, so do not turn away as criminals, or disbelievers in the Oneness of God.”
Hud tried to explain to his people that seeking God’s forgiveness for their rebelliousness and arrogance would only cause an increase in their strength and wealth. God, he said, would reward their repentance with abundant rain and an increase in strength. In the manner of arrogant people throughout time the people of Aad looked at Hud with disdain, they then looked around and found that they were the most powerful nation in existence.
“So the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said, “We do not see you but as a man like ourselves, and we do not see you followed except by those who are the lowest of us [and] at first suggestion. And we do not see in you over us any merit; rather, we think you are liars.” Quran (11:27)
“And I do not tell you that I have the depositories [containing the provision] of Allah or that I know the unseen, nor do I tell you that I am an angel, nor do I say of those upon whom your eyes look down that Allah will never grant them any good. Allah is most knowing of what is within their souls. Indeed, I would then be among the wrongdoers.” Quran (11:31)
The wealthy arrogant people of Aad argued with Hud about the nature of the Day of Judgment. They believed that after death the body turned to dust and was swept away by the wind. The people of Aad, much like many people today, believed that the purpose of life was to accumulate wealth, prestige, and possessions.
They said, “O Noah, you have disputed us and been frequent in dispute of us. So bring us what you threaten us, if you should be of the truthful.” Quran (11:32)
He said, “Allah will only bring it to you if He wills, and you will not cause [Him] failure. Quran (11:33)
And my advice will not benefit you – although I wished to advise you – If Allah should intend to put you in error. He is your Lord, and to Him you will be returned.” Quran (11:34)
When Hud made them confront the reality of their lives and pointed out that they were far away from the One God, their arrogant chests swelled with pride and they accused him of being crazy. They wondered why a man who ate and drank, just like them could have such a different view of life. With their eyes firmly fixed on wealth and luxury the people of Aad convinced themselves that following Hud would mean that they to were crazy.
“There is nothing but our life of this world! We die and we live! We are not going to be resurrected! He is only a man who has invented a lie against God, but we are not going to believe in him.” (Quran 23:33-3)
Eventually the people of Aad looked at Hud and said,
“We understand why you are crazy, our god’s (idols) have harmed you because you insulted them”. (Quran 11:53)
Hud turned to God and renounced his people. He knew that God’s punishment would be swift and severe. A drought spread throughout the once fertile and abundant land. The people looked to the sky hoping to see signs of rain. The punishment was obvious but still the people of Aad mocked and ridiculed Hud.
One fateful day the weather changed. The burning heat changed to biting cold and the wind began to howl. The savage wind increased with each new day and the people began to seek shelter. The windstorm raged for more than a week. It ripped apart tents and dwellings, it whipped away clothing and tore the skin from the body.
They were destroyed by a furious violent wind which God imposed on them for seven nights and eight days in succession, so that you could see men lying overthrown (destroyed) as if they were hollow trunks of date palms! (Quran 69:6-7)
Ibn Kathir tells us that the violent gale did not stop until the entire region, once lush and green was reduced to ruins and swallowed by the sands of the desert. Only Hud and his small band of followers were saved and are believed to have migrated to the Hadramaut area of what is today known as Yemen.
3. Prophet Salleh (AS)
The majority of Prophets mentioned in the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are recognisable, and considered prophets in both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Prophet Saleh however, is one of only four Arab prophets and his story is not universally known other than in the Quran.
“And, indeed We have sent Messengers before you (O Muhammad); of some of them We have related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story, and it was not given to any Messenger that he should bring a sign except by the Leave of God.” (Quran 40:78)
Saleh was a pious, righteous man who held a position of leadership in the community, but his call to worship God alone infuriated many people. Some understood the wisdom of his words, but the majority of the people disbelieved and harmed Saleh with both words and actions.
“O Saleh! You have been among us as a figure of good hope and we wished for you to be our chief, till this, new thing, which you have brought that we leave our gods, and worship your God alone! Do you now forbid us the worship of what our fathers have worshipped? But we are really in grave doubt as to that which you invite us to monotheism.” (Quran 11:62)
The people of Thamud gathered at their meeting place, in the shadows of a great mountain. They demanded that Saleh prove that the One God he spoke of was truly mighty and strong. They asked him to perform a miracle – to cause a unique and incomparable she camel to emerge from the nearby mountains. Saleh addressed his people asking, if the camel appeared would they then believe in his message. They answered a resounding yes, and together the people prayed with Saleh for the miracle to occur.
By the grace of God, an enormous, ten month pregnant she camel emerged from the rocks at the bottom of the mountain. Some of the people understood the magnitude of this miracle but the majority continued to disbelieve. They saw a great and dazzling sight yet remained arrogant and stubborn.
“We sent the she camel to Thamud as a clear sign, but they did her wrong.” (Quran 17:59)
Quran commentator and Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir informs us that there are a number of accounts of the she camel and her miraculous nature. It is said that the camel appeared from a rock that split open, and some people pointed out that the camel was so huge it was able to drink all the water in the town’s wells in one day. Other people said the camel was able to produce enough milk every day to feed the entire population. The camel lived among the people of Thamud and sadly, the disbelievers who had harassed Saleh turned their anger and resentment towards the camel.
Although many people believed in God, listened to Prophet Saleh, and understood the miracle of the she camel, many others stubbornly refused to listen. People began to complain that the camel drank too much water, or that she frightened the other livestock. Prophet Saleh began to fear for the camel. He warned his people of a great torment that would befall them if they harmed the she camel.
A group of men encouraged their womenfolk, plotted to kill the she camel and took the first opportunity to shoot her with an arrow and pierce her with a sword. The she camel fell to the ground and died. The murderers cheered and congratulated each other and the disbelievers laughed and mocked Saleh. Prophet Saleh warned the people that a great torment would be upon them within three days, but he continued to hope that they would see the error of their ways and seek God’s forgiveness. Prophet Saleh said.
“O my people! I have indeed conveyed to you the Message of my Lord, and have given you good advice but you like not good advisers.” (Quran 7:79)
However, the people of Thamud jeered at Saleh’s words and planned to destroy him and his family as callously as they had killed the she camel.
“And there were in the city nine men (from the sons of their chiefs), who made mischief in the land, and would not reform. They said: ‘Swear to another by God that we shall make a secret night attack on him and his household, and afterwards we will surely say to his near relatives, “We witnessed not the destruction of his household, and verily! We are telling the truth.’” (Quran 27: 48 & 49)
God saved Prophet Saleh and all his followers; they packed some meagre belongings, and with heavy hearts, moved to another place. After three days, Prophet Saleh’s warning came to pass. The sky was filled with lightening and thunder and the earth shook violently. God destroyed the city of Thamud and her people died in a torment of fear and disbelief.
Ibn Kathir said that Saleh’s people fell down dead, one and all, all at the same time. Their arrogance and disbelief could not save them, nor could their idols. Their large and extravagant buildings afforded them no protection at all. God continues to send clear guidance to humankind but the disbelievers persist in their arrogance and denial. God is the most Merciful and the most Forgiving: He loves to forgive. However, God’s warnings should not to be ignored. God’s punishment, as the people of Thamud experienced, can be swift and severe.
4. Prophet Luut (AS) Lot
Prophet Luu t(AS), may God exalt his mention, left Egypt, accompanied by his uncle Ibraaheem, and headed to the city of Sodom in Palestine, which was on the western shore of the Dead Sea.
This city was filled with evil. Its residents waylaid, robbed and killed travellers. Another common evil among them was that their men used to have sex with men instead of women. This unnatural act later became known as sodomy, after the city of Sodom. It was practiced openly and unashamedly.
It was at the height of these crimes and sins that God revealed to Prophet Luut (AS) that he should summon the people to give up their indecent behaviour, but their immoral habits were so deeply ingrained that they were deaf to Luut’s (AS) preaching. Addicted to their unnatural desires, they refused to accept the call to repentance, even when Luut (AS) warned them of God’s punishment. Instead, they threatened to drive him out of the city if he continued preaching against their evil habits.
God Almighty revealed;
“The people of Luut denied the messengers. When their brother Luut said to them: ‘Will you not fear Allah? Indeed, I am to you a trustworthy messenger. So fear Allah and obey me. And I do not ask you for it any payment. My payment is only from the Lord of the worlds. Do you approach males among the worlds. And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing.’ They said: ‘If you do not desist, O Luut, you will surely be of those evicted.’ He said: ‘Indeed, I am, toward your deed, of those who detest [it]. My Lord! Save me and my family from [the consequence of] what they do.’ So We saved him and his family, all. Except an old woman [i.e., the wife of Luut] among those who remained behind.” [Quran: 26:160-171]
The sinful actions of Prophet Luut’s (AS) people saddened his heart. Their abominable reputation spread throughout the land, while he continued to struggle against them. As the years passed, he persisted in his mission, but to no avail. No one responded to his call and believed except for the members of his family; even in his household, not all the members believed: Luut’s (AS) wife was a disbeliever.
If home is the place of comfort and rest, then Luut (AS) found none, for he was tormented both within and outside his home. His life was continuous agony as he suffered greatly, but he remained patient and steadfast as a Messenger to his people. Instead of heeding to him, they belittled his message, and mockingly challenged him, saying:
“…’Bring us the punishment of Allah, if you should be of the truthful!” [Quran: 29:29]
Overwhelmed with despair, Luut (AS) prayed to God to grant him victory and to destroy the corrupt. God Almighty, therefore, sent three angels in the guise of young handsome men in answer to his prayer. They reached the walls of the town in the afternoon. The first person who caught sight of them was Luut’s (AS) daughter while she was filling her jug with water from the river. When she saw them, she was stunned that there could be men of such magnificent beauty on earth.
One of the three men (angels) asked her: “O maiden! Is there a place to rest?”
Remembering the evil character of her people, she replied: “Stay here and do not enter the town until I inform my father and return.” Leaving her jug by the river, she swiftly ran home.
“O father!” she cried. “You are wanted by young men at the town gate and I have never before seen the like of their faces!”
Luut (AS) felt distressed as he quickly ran to his guests.
They visited him at home as guests. After ushering them in hospitably, he asked them where they came from and where they were going.
They did not reply to his questions. Instead they asked if he could host them. He began talking with them and impressed upon them the repulsive nature of his people. Luut (AS) was filled with turmoil; he wanted to convince his guests without offending them, not to spend the night there, yet at the same time he wanted to extend to them the expected hospitality normally accorded to guests. In vain, he tried to make them understand the perilous situation. At last, therefore, he requested them to wait until nightfall, for then no one would see them.
When darkness shrouded the town, Luut (AS) escorted his guests to his home. No one was aware of their presence. However, as soon as Luut’s (AS) wife saw them, she slipped out of the house quietly so that no one noticed her. Quickly, she ran to her people with the news and spread it to all the inhabitants like wildfire. The people rushed towards Luut (AS) quickly and excitedly.
When Luut (AS) saw the mob approaching his house, he shut the door, but they kept on banging on it. He pleaded with them to leave the visitors alone and fear God’s punishment. He urged them to seek sexual fulfilment with their wives, for that is what Allah had made lawful.
Luut’s (AS) people waited until he had finished his short sermon, and then they roared with laughter. Blinded by lust, they broke down the door. Luut (AS) became very angry, but he stood powerless before these violent people. He felt powerless to prevent the abuse of his guests, but he firmly continued to plead with the mob.
At that terrible moment, he wished he had the power to push them away from his guests. Seeing him in a state of helplessness and grief, the guests said to him: “Do not be anxious or frightened, for we are angels, and these people will not harm you.”
On hearing this, the mob was terrified and fled from Luut’s (AS) house, hurling threats at him as they left. The angels warned Prophet Luut (AS) to leave his house before sunrise, taking with him all his family, except his wife.
God had decreed that the city of Sodom should perish. An earthquake rocked the town. It was as if a mighty power had lifted the entire city and flung it down in one jolt. A storm of stones then rained on the city. Everyone and everything was destroyed, including Luut’s (AS) wife.
The Holy Quran recorded this event;
“So We saved him and his family, all. Except an old woman [his wife] among those who remained behind. Then We destroyed the others. And We rained upon them a rain [of stones], and evil was the rain of those who were warned. Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers. And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.” [Quran: 26:170-175]
Thus, the people of Luut (AS) were destroyed and their towns and names have been erased from the face of the earth.
Source: Sheikh Muhammad Gemeiah’s translation of ‘Stories of the Prophets’, by Imaam Ibn Katheer
5. Prophet Shu’ayb (AS) (Syuaib)
Prophet Shuaib (AS), known in Biblical literature as Jethro, is one of only four Arab prophets mentioned by name in the Quran. Many scholars believe that Shuaib (AS) was the elderly man who offered Moses safety, security and the hand of one of his daughters in marriage, when he fled Egypt. There are no authentic sources either confirming or denying this, however the Quran tells us that Prophet Shuaib (AS) was from the people of Midian, and it was there that Moses found refuge.
Combing the stories of both Prophets Moses and Shuaib (AS) we find that Prophet Shuaib was one of the few truly good and upright men of Midian. The people as a whole were bandits and robbers, deceiving one another and those who had the misfortune to pass through their townships and nomadic camps. For the most part they led a happy and prosperous life due to the bounties from God. However instead of being grateful they wanted to accumulate more and would lie and cheat in order to do so. They moved far away from the religion of God, many were atheists, whilst others worshipped woodland or nature gods.
As was the case with all the prophets of God, Prophet Shuaib’s(AS) mission was to call his people to worship God alone and to follow His commandments. He tried to do so by reminding them of the graces and favours bestowed on them by God, but they were heedless. Those who had not completely abandoned belief worshipped in the incorrect manner of their forefathers and said to Shuaib (AS), “Would you have us abandon the religion of our forefathers? Can we not do what we like with our own property”, they sneered.
“And to the people of Midian We sent their brother Shuaib. He said: ‘O my people! Worship God! You have no other God but Him’…” (Quran 7:85)
Islamic historian Ibn Kathir tells us that the people of Midian were the first people to impose fees and tolls on the people that passed through their territory. They insisted on a life of robbery and injustice even though Prophet Shuaib (AS) did his best to convince them that the punishment of God would befall them if they did not desist. They never exacted true measure and weight in their business dealings and Shuaib (AS) pleaded with them explaining that God would see them poor and destitute by taking away the bounties they had come to expect.
“‘…so give full measure and full weight and wrong not men in their things, and do not do mischief on the earth after it has been set in order, that will be better for you, if you are believers. And sit not on every road, threatening, and hindering from the Path of God those who believe in Him and seeking to make it crooked…’” (Quran 7:85-86)
Prophet Shuaib (AS) continued to remonstrate with his people; he insisted that he was not trying to better himself but he wanted what was best for them. He like all the others prophets that had come before him practiced exactly what he preached and asked no more from those whom he sought to guide than what he asked from himself. As is the way with disbelievers they did not practice what they preached and they mocked and belittled Prophet Shuaib (AS).
“He said, ‘O my people! Tell me if I have a clear evidence from my Lord and He has given me a good sustenance from Himself (shall I corrupt it by mixing it with the unlawfully earned money). I wish not, in contradiction to you, to do that which I forbid you. I only desire reform to the best of my power. And my guidance cannot come except from God, in Him I trust and unto Him I repent.’” (Quran 11:88)
Prophet Shuaib (AS) then went on to warn his people that were likely to suffer a similar fate to the people of Prophets Noah (AS), Hud (AS) and Saleh (AS). Destruction was the end product of their disobedience.
“…The people of Luut are not far from you” (Quran 11: 89), he admonished. Ibn Kathir said that this phrase means that the people of Midian committed vicious sins such as highway robbery, as did the people of Luut (AS). Any other possible meanings for that phrase were also applicable because, he said, the people of Shuaib (AS) were close to the people of Luut (AS) in time, place and behaviour.
Shuaib’s (AS) people were growing tired of his constant reproaches and said they would stone him if it were not for his family. This did not stop Shuaib (AS) from delivering his message calling for repentance. The leaders amongst the disbelievers asked Shuaib’s (AS) followers to return to the religion of their forefathers but Shuaib (AS) supplicated to God calling on Him to protect the righteous amongst them. Shuaib (AS) and his followers were driven out of the town. The disbelievers went on with their ignoble lifestyles and thought no more of the warnings from Shuaib (AS).
God however was well aware of Shuaib (AS) and his followers’ righteous behaviour and all the efforts made to dissuade the disbelievers from their dishonesty and ungrateful behaviour. Shuaib (AS) warned of a terrible punishment and in no less than three different chapters, Quran mentions this punishment of the unrepentant people.
“…We saved Shuaib and those who believed with him, by mercy from Us. And an awful cry seized the wrong-doers, and they lay (dead), prostrate in their homes.” (Quran 11: 94)
“So the earthquake seized them and they lay (dead), prostrate in their homes.” (Quran 7:91)
“But they belied him, so the torment of the day of shadow (a gloomy cloud) seized them. Indeed that was the torment of a Great Day.” (Quran 26:189)
Ibn Kathir elaborates and tells us that they were exposed to unbearable hot scorching sun for no less than seven days. They tried to cool down by using water but to no avail. They escaped into a desert and found what they believed to be relief under a dark and gloomy cloud but the cloud rained drops of fire and the earth quaked under their feet. God said,
“Those who belied Shuaib became as if they had never dwelt there (in their homes). Those who belied Shuaib, (they) were the losers.”(Quran 7:92)
Prophet Shuaib (AS) refused to lament over a people to whom he gave good and honest counsel.
6. The Prophet Moosa (AS) Moses
In both Judaism and Christianity Moses is a central figure. He is the man from the Old Testament most mentioned in the New Testament, he led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, communicated with God and received the Ten Commandments. Moses (AS) is known as both a religious leader and a lawgiver.
In Islam, Moses (AS) is loved and respected; he is both a Prophet and a Messenger. God mentions him more than 120 times, and his story ranges across several chapters. It is the longest and most detailed story of a prophet in the Quran and is discussed in elaborate detail.
The word Prophet (Nabi in Arabic) is derived from the word Naba,meaning news. God’s message is revealed and the Prophet spreads the news amongst his people. A Messenger, on the other hand, comes with a specific mission, usually to convey a new ordainment from God. Every Messenger is a Prophet, but not every Prophet, is a Messenger.
Islam teaches that all prophets came to their people with the same proclamation,
“O my people, worship God, you have no other God but Him”. (Quran 11:50).
Moses (AS) called the children of Israel to worship God alone and he laid down the laws prescribed in the Torah.
“Verily, We did send down the Torah to Moses, therein was guidance and light, by which the Prophets, who submitted themselves to God’s Will, judged the Jews. And the rabbis and the priests too judged the Jews by the Torah for to them was entrusted the protection of God’s Book, and they were witnesses thereto.” (Quran 5:44)
Quran is a book of guidance for all of humankind. It is not a history book; however, it does contain historical information. God asks us to reflect and contemplate on the stories of the Prophets in order that we may learn from their trials, tribulations, and triumphs. Moses’ story contains many lessons for humankind. God says that the account of Moses and Pharaoh in Quran is the truth. It is a story of political intrigue and of oppression that knew no bounds.
“We recite to you some of the news of Moses (AS) and Pharaoh in truth, for a people who believe. Verily, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (i.e. Children of Israel) among them; killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of those who commit great sins and crimes, oppressors, tyrant.” (Quran 28:3&4)
Trust in God
Moses was born into one of the most politically charged times in history. The Pharaoh of Egypt was the dominant power figure in the land. He was so incredibly powerful that he referred to himself as a god and nobody was inclined or able to dispute this. He said, “I am your lord, most high”, (Quran 79:24)
Pharaoh effortlessly exerted his authority and influence over all the people in Egypt. He used the strategy of divide and conquer. He set up class distinctions, divided the people into groups and tribes, and set them against one another. The Jews, the children of Israel, were put at the lowest level of Egyptian society. They were the slaves and servants. Moses’ (AS) family was from amongst the children of Israel.
Egypt at the time was the known world’s superpower. The ultimate power rested in the hands of very few. Pharaoh and his trusted ministers directed matters as if lives of the population were of little or no consequence. The political situation was in some ways similar to the political world of the 21st century. In a time when the young people of the world are used as cannon fodder for the political and military games of the most powerful, the story of Moses (AS) is particularly pertinent.
According to Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir the children of Israel talked vaguely about one of their nation’s sons arsing to wrest the throne of Egypt from Pharaoh. Perhaps it was just a persistent daydream from an oppressed people, or even an ancient prophecy but the story of Moses (AS) begins here. A yearning for freedom coupled with a tyrannical king’s dream.
The people of Egypt were influenced by dreams and the interpretation of dreams. Dreams featured prominently in the story of prophet Joseph (AS) and once again, in the story of Moses (AS) the fate of the children of Israel is affected by a dream. Pharaoh dreams that a child from the children of Israel grows to manhood and seizes his throne.
True to character, Pharaoh reacts arrogantly and gives the order that all male children born to the children of Israel be killed. His ministers however perceive that this would lead to the complete annihilation of the children of Israel and economic ruin for Egypt. How, they ask, would the empire function without slaves and servants? The order is changed; the male children are killed in one year but spared in the next.
Pharaoh becomes so fanatical he sends spies or security agents to seek out pregnant women. If any woman gives birth to a male child, he is immediately put to death. When Moses’ (AS) mother becomes pregnant with the child destined to lead the children of Israel out of bondage, she conceals her pregnancy. However, God wished to do a favour to those who were weak and oppressed, and pharaoh’s plans are thwarted.
“And We wished to do a favour to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land, and to make them rulers and to make them the inheritors, And to establish them in the land, and We let Pharaoh and Haman (Egypt’s Chief Minister) and their hosts receive from them that which they feared.” (Quran 28:5&6)
The scene is set, and the child is born. The winds of change begin to blow and God demonstrates that humans may plan and scheme but He Alone is the best of planners.
Chapter 28 of the Quran is named, ‘The Narration’, the first 45 verses focus solely on the story of Moses (AS). It is from here that we learn about the strength and piety of his mother, and how God rewarded her righteousness and trust in Him by returning her son. Some scholars believe that Moses and his mother returned to their home among the Children of Israel, others, including Ibn Kathir believe that Moses (AS) and his mother lived in the palace while she was breast feeding him and that as he grew up she was allowed the privilege of visiting him.
The Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PHUH), may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, are silent about this period of Moses (AS) life, although it would be fair to say that by the time Moses was a man, he probably knew about his origin and identified with the children of Israel. The traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) describe Moses (AS) as a tall, well-built, dark skinned man with curly hair. Both his character and physique are described as strong.
Moses flees Egypt
“And when he attained his full strength, and was perfect (in manhood), We bestowed on him Hukman (Prophethood, right judgment of the affairs) and religious knowledge (of the religion of his forefathers, Islamic Monotheism). And thus do We reward the Muhsineen (good-doers).” (Quran 28:14)
We will discover in the story of Moses (AS) that he was a forthright man. He believed in speaking his mind and standing up for the weaker members of society. Whenever he witnessed oppression or cruelty, he found it impossible to stop himself from intervening.
Ibn Kathir narrates that one day while walking in the city; Moses (AS) came upon two men fighting. One was an Israelite and the other an Egyptian. The Israelite recognised Moses and cried out to him for help. Moses stepped into the fight and struck the Egyptian one ferocious blow. He immediately fell to the ground and died. Moses was overcome with grief. He was aware of his own strength but did not imagine that he had the power to kill someone with one blow.
“And he entered the city at a time of unawareness of its people, and he found there two men fighting, one of his party and the other of his foes. The man of his own party asked him for help against his foe, so Moses struck him with his fist and killed him. He said, “This is of Satan’s doing, verily, he is a plain misleading enemy.”
He said, “My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” Then He forgave him. Verily, He is the Oft-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.
He said, “My Lord! For that with which You have favoured me, I will never more be a helper for the criminals, disobedient to God, polytheists, sinners, etc.!” (Quran 28:15-17)
Either because the streets were relatively deserted or because the people had no wish to be involved in a serious assault, the authorities had no idea that Moses (AS) was involved in the melee. However, the next day Moses (AS) saw the same Israelite man involved in yet another fight. He suspected that the man was a troublemaker and approached him to warn him about such behaviour.
The Israelite saw Moses (AS) striding towards him and became afraid, he called out, “Would you kill me as you killed the wretch yesterday?” The man’s opponent, an Egyptian heard this remark and rushed away to report Moses (AS) to the authorities. Later on that day, Moses (AS) was approached by a person unknown who informed him that the authorities were planning to arrest him and possibly put him to death for the crime of killing an Egyptian.
So he became afraid, looking about in the city (waiting as to what will be the result of his crime of killing), when behold, the man who had sought his help the day before, called for his help again. Moses (AS) said to him, “Verily, you are a plain misleader!” Then when he decided to seize the man who was an enemy to both of them, the man said, “O Moses! Is it your intention to kill me as you killed a man yesterday? Your aim is nothing but to become a tyrant in the land, and not to be one of those who do right.”
And there came a man running, from the farthest end of the city. He said,
“O Moses! Verily, the chiefs are taking counsel together about you, to kill you, so escape. Truly, I am to you of those who give sincere advice.”
So he escaped from there, looking about in a state of fear. He said, “My Lord! Save me from the people who are polytheists, and wrong-doers!” (Quran 28:15-21)
Moses (AS) immediately left the confines of the city. He did not take the time to return to his home to change his clothes or prepare provisions. Moses strode into the desert towards Midian, the country that lay between Syria and Egypt. His heart was filled with fear and he was afraid that he would turn around and see the authorities pursuing him. He walked, and walked, and when his feet and legs felt like lead, he continued walking. His shoes wore away on the rough desert ground and the hot sand burned the soles of his feet. Moses was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and bleeding but he forced himself to continue, some say for more than a week, until he came to a watering hole. Moses (AS) threw himself under the shade of a tree.
Death in the dry dusty heat of the Egyptian desert should have been the likely outcome of Moses (AS) journey. Tracking across the inhospitable landscape with no provisions and inappropriate clothing would have been an expedition doomed to failure. Yet once again, the story of Moses (AS) reveals a fundamental truth. If a believer submits fully to the will of God, God will provide for him from sources unimaginable. God will replace weakness with strength, and will replace failure with victory.
Moses (AS) arrived safely at the desert oasis, the smell of water and the shade of the trees must have seemed like paradise on earth. Moses however was not alone in his newfound paradise; the waterhole was surrounded by shepherds watering their flocks.
A Stranger in a Strange Land
After walking for more than a week across the burning desert, Moses (AS) arrived at an oasis where groups of men were watering their animals.They were pushing, fighting, joking, and laughing, behaving in a rough, and tumble manner. Moses (AS) flung himself onto the ground grateful for the shade of a tree. As he caught his breath, he noticed two women and their flock of sheep. They were standing well back, hesitant to approach the waterhole.
Moses (AS) was a man of honour. Even though he was exhausted and dehydrated Moses could not bear to see the women standing back afraid to move toward the waterhole. He approached them, and asked why the men in their family did not look after the sheep. The two young women explained that their father was an old man and the task of caring for the sheep was now their responsibility.
Moses (AS) took the women’s sheep to the waterhole, where he easily pushed in amongst the men already there. After completing this task, Moses’ (AS) energy was totally spent. He sat under the shade of the tree and began to supplicate God. He said,
“O Lord, whatever good you can bestow on me, I am surely in need of it”.
“And when he arrived at the water of Midian he found there a group of men watering their flocks, and besides them he found two women who were keeping back their flocks. He said, “What is the matter with you?” They said, “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take their flocks. And our father is a very old man.” Therefore, he watered their flocks for them, and then he turned back to shade, and said, “My Lord! Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!” (Quran 28:22-24)
Quran relates to us the stories of the prophets of God in order that we might learn from them. The Prophets are worthy role models and their lives are not so different from our own. How many times has each one of us sunk to the ground or into a chair in despair? How many times have we felt so physically or mentally exhausted that it seems we will be unable to go on for even one more second?
Moses once again turned to the only real source of help for humankind – God, and before his supplication was finished help was on its way. Moses was probably hoping for a slice of bread or a handful of dates but instead God gave him safety, provisions and a family.
One of the two women returned to Moses (AS). She conducted herself with modesty and shyness and said to Moses (AS),
“My father wants to reward you for your kindness and invites you to our home’. Consequently, Moses roused himself and went to see the elderly man. They sat together and Moses related his story. The elderly man allayed his fears and told Moses that he had safely crossed the Egyptian border; he was now in Midian and was safe from any authorities that may have been pursuing him.
“Then there came to him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said, “Verily, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered our flocks for us.” So when he came to him and narrated the story, he said, “Fear you not. You have escaped from the people who are polytheists, disbelievers, and wrong-doers.” (Quran 28:25)
After Moses (AS) had been invited to stay with the family, one of the women approached her father privately and advised him to hire Moses (AS). When her father asked why, she answered because he is strong and trustworthy. Two qualities that Islam tells us are signs of leadership. In the years immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the leaders of the Muslim nation were chosen for these two qualities. They learned their politics from Quran, from the stories of their righteous predecessors.
The elderly man, who some scholars believe was Prophet Shuaib (AS), although there are no authentic sources either confirming or denying this, offered Moses (AS) the safety and security of his own family. He gave one of his daughters in marriage to Moses (AS) on the condition that he work for eight years, or ten if Moses (AS) agreed to stay on for the further two years. Moses (AS) was a stranger in a strange land. Exhausted and alone, but God heard his supplication and provided for him from sources that Moses (AS) could never have imagined.
And said one of them (the two women):
“O my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.” He said, “I intend to wed one of these two daughters of mine to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years, but if you complete ten years, it will be a favour from you. But I intend not to place you under a difficulty. If Allah wills, you will find me one of the righteous.” He (Moses) said, “That is settled between me and you whichever of the two terms I fulfil, there will be no injustice to me, and Allah is Surety over what we say.” (Quran 28:26-28)
As believers we must never forget that God hears our prayers and supplications, and answers. Sometimes the wisdom behind the answers is beyond our comprehension but God desires only good for us. Putting our trust in God and submitting to His will allow the believer to weather any storm, and to stand tall in the face of adversity. We are never alone, just as Moses (AS) was not alone as he trudged across the desert fleeing the only life and land he had ever known.
Moses Hears the Voice of God
Moses, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, married one of the women he had initially helped at waterhole and spent the next ten years working with her father and raising his own family. His new life was quiet and contemplative, he did not have to endure the intrigue of the Egyptian court or the humiliation of his people, the Children of Israel. Moses was able to ponder the wonders of God and the universe.
Any account of Moses’ life is filled with lessons and guidance, for Moses (AS) and for humankind. God put Moses (AS) through experiences that would hold him in good stead in his coming mission. Moses (AS) had been brought up in the house of the Pharaoh of Egypt; therefore, he was well aware of the politics and intrigue of the Egyptian government. Moses (AS) also had first-hand experience of the corruption of Pharaoh himself – the man who had declared himself God.
It was through God’s grace and mercy that Moses (AS) was able to escape from Egypt and travel about in the lands. He was able to experience other cultures and people. Travel then and now broadens horizons and opens hearts and minds to the differences and the similarities between people of diverse backgrounds. God says:
“O humankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” (Quran 49:13)
During his time in Midian, Moses (AS) was a shepherd. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) informed us that all the prophets of God had spent time tending flocks of sheep. It may seem a strange profession but on careful examination, we can see that shepherds learn some valuable lessons while tending to their flocks. A shepherd has a lonely quiet life; there is time for personal reflection and contemplation of the wonders of life.
However, at the same time a shepherd must be constantly on alert for danger. Sheep in particular are weak animals requiring constant care and attention. If even one sheep wanders away from the protection of the flock, it becomes easy prey. A prophet usually has the job of protecting a whole nation, he must be alert and aware of any danger threatening his followers, especially the weak, poor and oppressed among them.
After Moses (AS) had completed his term of service that he had pledged to his father in law, he was overcome by homesickness. He began to miss his family and the land of Egypt. Even though he was afraid of what would happen if he returned, he experienced a strange longing to return to the land of his birth. Moses gathered his family together and made the long journey back to Egypt.
“Then, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and was travelling with his family, he saw a fire in the direction of Mount Tur. He said to his family, “Wait, I have seen a fire; perhaps I may bring to you from there some news, or a burning fire-brand that you may warm yourselves”. (Quran 28:29)
While Moses (AS) was trekking back across the desert, he became lost. It was a cold dark night. Moses (AS) saw what appeared to be a fire burning in the distance. He told his family to stay where they were. He had hopes of either getting directions or being able to carry some fire back to warm his family. Unbeknownst to Moses (AS), he was about to participate in one of history’s most amazing conversations. He walked towards the fire, and as he did, he heard a voice.
“…Blessed is whosoever is in the fire, and whosoever is round about it! And far removed is God from every imperfection, the Lord of all that exists. “O Moses! Verily! It is I, God, the All-Mighty, and the All-Wise.” (Quran 27:8&9)
God spoke to Moses (AS). He asked Moses (AS) to remove his shoes for he would be standing on sacred ground. God revealed to Moses that he had been chosen for a special mission and bid him listen to what was about to be said.
“Verily! I am God, none has the right to be worshipped but I, so worship Me, and perform prayer for My Remembrance. Verily, the Hour is coming and I am almost hiding it that every person may be rewarded for that which he strives. Therefore, let not the one who believes not therein (i.e. in the Day of Resurrection, Reckoning, Paradise and Hell, etc.), but follows his own lusts, divert you, lest you perish.” (Quran 20:14-16)
In a direct conversation between God and Moses (AS), prayer was prescribed upon Moses (AS) and his followers. Prayer was also prescribed upon Prophet Muhammad and his followers in much the same way on the night of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) journey to Jerusalem and ascent into the heavens.
At this time, Moses (AS) must have been mesmerised. He set out for Egypt, following a strange yearning to return to his homeland. He had become lost in the dark and cold and was searching for light and guidance. He walked towards what he thought was a burning fire and found the light and guidance of God.
Moses (AS) was holding a stick or staff in his hand. God spoke to him and said
what is this stick Moses, tell me about it. Moses answered;
“This is my stick, whereon I lean, and wherewith I beat down branches for my sheep, and wherein I find other uses.” (Quran 20:18)
Moses (AS) knew his stick very well; he knew it had no miraculous qualities. God asked Moses to throw the stick to the ground and when he did, it began to slither and shake. The stick had been transformed into a snake.
Moses (AS) was afraid; he turned on his heels and began to run away. It is a natural human inclination to be afraid of strange and unknown things, but God wanted to remove this fear from Moses’ heart. He was about to embark on a difficult mission and it was important that he began with complete trust that God would protect him, knowing that there was absolutely no reason for him to be fearful.
“And throw your stick!” But when he saw it moving as if it were a snake, he turned in flight, and looked not back. (It was said): “O Moses! Draw near, and fear not. Verily, you are of those who are secure”. (Quran 28:31)
God then instructed Moses (AS) to put his hand inside his cloak, He revealed to him another sign of his magnificence and omnipotence. Signs, which Moses (AS) would need in his coming mission, proof for those who are disobedient and rebellious.
“Insert your hand into the opening of your garment, it will come out white without disease, and draw your hand close to your side to be free from fear (that which you suffered from the snake, and also by that your hand will return to its original state). These are two signs, (miracles, evidences, proofs) from your Lord to Pharaoh and his chiefs. Verily, they are the people who are rebellious, and disobedient towards God.” (Quran 28:32)
God intended to send Moses (AS) to Pharaoh. The man he feared most, the man Moses thought would surely put him to death. His heart constricted on fear but God reassured him.
An Amazing Conversation
On a dark night, in the shadow of Mount Tur, God conferred Prophethood on Moses (AS). His first command to him was go to Pharaoh.
“Go To Pharaoh! Verily! He has transgressed (all bounds in disbelief and disobedience, and has behaved as an arrogant tyrant).” (Quran 20:24)
Moses fled Egypt in fear for his life; he had spent 10 years in a country outside the jurisdiction of Pharaoh. Now God was telling him that he must face his biggest fear. He must face the corrupt Pharaoh; the man Moses was sure would want to see him executed. Moses once again felt the fear that had sustained him during his long journey across the desert. He responded to God’s words.
“My Lord! I have killed a man among them, and I fear that they will kill me” (Quran 28:33)
Moses (AS) was afraid but understood that God was completely able to provide him with all the support he needed for a mission that appeared to be virtually impossible. Moses (AS) made supplication; he begged for strength and ease in this most difficult mission. He asked God to open his chest, and grant him eloquence, self-confidence, and contentment. He also called upon God to strengthen him with a trusted and capable companion in prophethood, his brother Aaron (AS).
The dialogue between God and Moses (AS) is one of the most amazing conversations contained in the pages of Quran. The words of God are delivered with eloquence and clarity. They paint a portrait of a strong yet humble man, enthralled by his encounter with God. They deliver the ethereal sense that God is all-powerful, omnipotent, yet filled with mercy and love towards His slaves.
“Moses said, “O my Lord! Open for me my chest (grant me self-confidence, contentment, and boldness). And ease my task for me; and make loose the knot (the defect) from my tongue, (remove the incorrectness of my speech) that they understand my speech, and appoint for me a helper from my family, Aaron, my brother; increase my strength with him, and let him share my task (of conveying God’s Message and Prophethood), and we may glorify You much, and remember You much, Verily! You are of us ever a Well-Seer.”
God said, “You are granted your request, O Moses! And indeed, We conferred a favor on you another time before. When We inspired your mother with that which We inspired, saying, “Put him (the child) into a box or a case or a chest and put him into the river (Nile), and then the river shall cast it up on the bank, and there, an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his shall take him.’ And I endured you with love from Me, in order that you may be brought up under My Eye, when your sister went and said; “Shall I show you one who will nurse him?’ So We restored you to your mother that she might cool her eyes and she should not grieve. Then you did kill a man, but We saved you from a great distress and tried you with a heavy trial. Then you stayed a number of years with the people of Midian. Then you came here according to the term which I ordained (for you), O Moses!
“And I have chosen you for My Inspiration and My Message for Myself. Go you and your brother with My proofs, lessons, verses, evidences, signs, revelations, and do not, you both, slacken and become weak in My Remembrance.
“Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, verily, he has transgressed all bounds in disbelief and disobedience and behaved as an arrogant tyrant. And speak to him kinldy, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear God.”
They said, “Our Lord! Verily! We fear lest he should hasten to punish us or lest he should transgress all bounds against us.”
He (God) said: “Fear not, Verily! I am with you both, Hearing and Seeing. So go you both to him, and say, “Verily, we are Messengers of your Lord, so let the children of Israel go with us, and torment them not; indeed, we have come with a sign from your Lord! And peace will be upon him who follows the guidance! Truly, it has been revealed to us that the torment will be for him who denies (believes not in the Oneness of God, and in His Messengers, etc) and turns away’ (from the truth and obedience of God)” (Quran 20:25-48).
This short astonishing conversation changed Moses’ (AS) life. It taught him lessons about himself, about his world, about the nature of humankind and most importantly of all, about the nature of God. To this day it continues to teach important lessons to humankind. On a daily basis, the words of Quran change lives. The lessons learned in the story of Moses are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.
By reading the story of Moses (AS) so far, we have learned the importance of trusting God; we have learned that human beings plan and scheme, but God’s plan can overcome any triumph, test, or trial. The story of Moses (AS) has taught us that there is no relief from the torments of this world accept with remembrance and closeness to God.
The story of Moses (AS) teaches us that God can replace weakness with strength and failure with victory; and that God supports the righteous from sources unimaginable. Now as God confers prophethood on Moses and his brother Aaron we learn the true meaning of brotherhood and the true meaning of why choosing righteous companions can be the key to Paradise.
Moses (AS) wanted his brother to be his companion in prophethood and on this dangerous mission to confront Pharaoh because Aaron (AS) was strong and trustworthy, he was also an articulate, persuasive speaker. Whenever a person stands with his brother united in a common sense of purpose, united in their worship of God, united in righteousness they are unbeatable against even the most formidable enemy.
Ibn Kathir narrates that Moses (AS) and Aaron (AS) went together to Pharaoh and delivered their message. Moses (AS) spoke to Pharaoh about God, His mercy and His Paradise and about the obligation of humankind to worship God Alone.
Magic and Illusion
Quran narrates several conversations between Moses (AS) and Pharaoh. One of the most detailed accounts is in chapter 26 which is entitled ‘The Poets’. Moses (AS) speaks kindly to Pharaoh about God, His Mercy, and His Paradise, but Pharaoh reacts disdainfully and arrogantly. He reminds Moses (AS) of his past crime and asks Moses (AS) to be grateful that he was raised in the palace amongst luxuries and wealth. Moses (AS) excuses himself by saying he committed the crime of killing an innocent man when he was ignorant and points out that he was raised in the palace only because he was unable to live with his own family due to Pharaoh’s indiscriminate killing of baby boys.
“Moses said, “I did it then, when I was an ignorant (as regards my Lord and His Message). So I fled from you when I feared you. But my Lord has granted me religious knowledge, and Prophethood, and appointed me as one of the Messengers. And this is the past favour with which you reproach me, and that you have enslaved the children of Israel.”
Pharaoh said, “And what is the Lord of the mankind, jinn, and all that exists?”
Moses replied, “The Lord of the heavens, and the earth, and all that is between them, if you seek to be convinced with certainty.”
Pharaoh said to those around, “Do you not hear what he says?”
Moses said, “Your Lord and the Lord of your ancient fathers!”
Pharaoh said, “Indeed, your ‘messenger’ who has been sent to you is mad.”
Moses said, “Lord of the east, and the west, and all that is between them, if you did but understand!”
Pharaoh said, “If you choose a god other than me, I will certainly put you among the prisoners.”
Moses said, “Even if I bring you something manifest (and convincing).”
Pharaoh said, “Bring it forth then, if you are of the truthful!” (Quran 26:20-31)
Pharaoh began by mocking Moses (AS), then accusing him of being ungrateful and finally he threatened him. During this historical period, many people in Egypt practiced magic. There were even schools teaching classes in magic and illusion. Pharaoh jumped to the wrong conclusion, he thought that the manifest signs Moses (AS) was able to show by the permission of God were magic tricks and illusions.
When Moses (AS) threw his stick and it became a serpent, slithering and sliding along the ground, and when he withdrew his hand from his cloak and it strongly shone bright and white, Pharaoh presumed that Moses (AS) has learned the art of illusion. Ibn Kathir narrates the Pharaoh detained Moses (AS) and Aaron (AS) while he despatched couriers throughout Egypt to summon all the magicians to the palace. Pharaoh promised the magicians prestige and money in return for their tricks. A contest was set up between Moses (AS) and the Egyptian magicians.
Pharaoh was confident that his magicians were unbeatable. He had long been using them to influence the hearts and minds of the people. Pharaoh used their conjuring tricks and illusions to dominate and control his subjects. Moses (AS) was able to set the day for the contest and he chose a customary festival day. The streets would be crowded with people and the power and strength of God would be visible to all. There would be maximum exposure to the truth of the words that, there is none worthy of worship except God alone.
“O Moses! Have you come to drive us out from our land with your magic? We can also show you magic to match it, so set an appointment between us and you, which neither we nor you shall forget to keep, in a fair (open) place.’
Moses said, ‘Let the encounter be on the day (of the Festival) of Adornment, and let the people assemble at forenoon.’” (Quran 20:56-59)
Moses (AS) asked the magicians to perform first. It is narrated that there were up to 70 magicians lined up in a row. The magicians threw their sticks and ropes in the name of the Pharaoh and the ground became a seething sea of serpents, writhing and slithering. The crowd looked on in amazement. Moses (AS) was afraid, but he was steadfast, secure in the knowledge that God would protect him and make his task easy. God covered him with tranquility and directed Moses (AS) to throw his stick.
Moses (AS) stick transformed into a huge serpent and quickly devoured all the illusionary serpents that covered the ground. The crowd rose up like a great wave, cheering and shouting for Moses (AS). The magicians were astounded. They were well skilled in the art of magic and illusion, for they were the best magicians in the world at the time, but their conjuring was nothing but a trick. The magicians knew that Moses’ (AS) serpent was real. They collectively fell in prostration declaring their belief in the Lord of Moses and Aaron (AS).
“And the magicians fell down prostrating. Saying: “We believe in the Lord of mankind, jinn, and all that exists. “The Lord of Moses and Aaron.” Pharaoh said, “You have believed in him before I give you leave. Surely, he indeed is your chief, who has taught you magic! So verily, you shall come to know. Verily, I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you all.” They said, “No harm! Surely, to our Lord we are to return. “Verily! We hope that our Lord will forgive us our sins, as we are the first of the believers in Moses and in the Monotheism which he has brought from God.”
The magicians began that day as disbelievers, corrupt and interested only in riches and fame; however, within a few hours they had recognised the truth. They saw with their own eyes the omnipotence of God and repented for their errant ways. God is the most merciful, and He will forgive those who turn to Him with sincere and humble repentance.
Moses and Aaron left the contest field. The magicians, as it is told, were put to death, their bodies hung in the squares and market places to teach the people a lesson. Pharaoh returned to his palace and his rage magnified. He quarrelled with his ministers and advisors. He sent them away and then summoned them into his presence. He turned to his chief minister and said, “Am I a liar Oh Haman?” The Pharaoh had built his kingdom on the fact that he was a god, what was he to do now that Moses had revealed that there is no god but the one and only God.
“O Haman! Build me a tower that I may arrive at the ways, – the ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the God of Moses but verily, I think him to be a liar.” Thus, it was made fair seeming, in Pharaoh’s eyes, the evil of his deeds, he was hindered from the Right Path, and the plot of Pharaoh led to nothing but loss and destruction for him.” (Quran 40:36-37)
Signs of God’s Magnificent Power
Pharaoh was angry. His kingdom of fear was built by oppressing the people and holding their hearts and minds captive. All the people of Egypt from the ministers and magicians to the lowly slaves and servants were afraid of Pharaoh’s power and anger but Moses (AS) had exposed a weak spot. Pharaoh worried that his kingdom was about to unravel, however he was surrounded by sycophants and parasites who urged him on to greater tyranny.
Pharaoh’s security and intelligence officers began to spread rumours. They said Moses (AS) and some magicians had secretly organised for Moses (AS) to win the competition. The lifeless bodies of the slain magicians were hung in public places to further terrorise the people. Due to their association with Moses (AS) the children of Israel, became the scapegoats. They complained to Moses (AS) that they were ill-treated when he was born and now he had caused them to be oppressed once again.
Pharaoh ordered more killing, pillaging and raping. He imprisoned anyone who spoke out against this oppression, and Moses was powerless. He could not interfere. He counselled patience and watched silently. The children of Israel complained to Moses (AS), and he was put into a very difficult situation. As he contended with Pharaoh’s plots and plans, his people were turning against him and one of his own was working with the Egyptian powerbrokers.
Korah was a man from the children of Israel blessed with wealth and status, while all around him were poor and often destitute. He did not acknowledge the blessings of God and treated the poor with contempt. When Moses (AS) reminded him that it was his duty, as one who worshipped the One God, to pay poor tax, he refused and began to spread a rumour that Moses (AS) had invented the tax to make him rich. God’s anger fell upon Korah and the earth opened up and swallowed him as if he had never existed.
“Verily, Korah was of Moses’ people, but he behaved arrogantly towards them. And We gave him of the treasures, that of which the keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men… He said, “This has been given to me only because of knowledge I possess.” Did he not know that God had destroyed before him generations, men who were stronger than he in might and greater in the amount of riches. So he went forth before his people arrogantly and We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling place. (Quran 28: 76-82)
Pharaoh summoned Moses (AS) to the palace. Ibn Kathir narrates that Pharaoh wanted Moses (AS) killed and that he was supported by all his ministers and government officials, except one. This man, believed to be a relative of Pharaoh’s, was a believer in the Oneness of God, although until this moment he had kept his belief secret.
And a believing man of Pharaoh’s family, who hid his faith said, “Would you kill a man because he says, My Lord is God, and he (Moses) has come to you with clear signs (proofs) from your Lord? And if he is a liar, upon him will be (the sin of) his lie; but if he is telling the truth, then some of that calamity wherewith he threatens you will befall on you. (Quran 40:28)
The believing man spoke eloquently; he warned his people that they would suffer a day of disaster like those days that had afflicted people in the past. He reminded them that God had sent clear signs with Moses (AS), but his words fell on deaf ears. Pharaoh and many of his ministers threatened to kill the believing man but God kept him safe, and under His protection.
So God saved him from the evils that they plotted (against him), while an evil torment encompassed Pharaoh’s people. (Quran 40: 45)
God commanded Moses (AS) to warn the Pharaoh that he and the Egyptians would suffer a severe punishment if the children of Israel were not set free. If the torture, oppression, and harassment did not stop, the signs of God’s wrath would descend upon them. Pharaoh’s response was to call all the people of Egypt including the children of Israel to a large gathering. He informed them that he was their Lord, he pointed out that Moses (AS) was no more then a lowly slave with no power, strength or might. Moses (AS) strength however came directly from God. The people however believed and obeyed Pharaoh: the signs of God’s power began to descend.
God afflicted Egypt with a severe drought. Even the lush, green, and fertile Nile valleys began to wither and die. The crops failed and the people began to suffer but Pharaoh remained arrogant therefore God sent a huge flood to devastate the land. The people, including the chief ministers appealed to Moses.
“O Moses! Invoke your Lord for us because of His Promise to you. If you will remove the punishment from us, we indeed shall believe in you, and we shall let the children of Israel go with you.” (Quran 7:134)
The land returned to normal and the crops once again began to grow, but still the children of Israel were enslaved. God sent a plague of locusts that swallowed up everything in their path. The people rushed to Moses (AS) begging for his help.The locusts departed but still the children of Israel remained enslaved. Next came a plague of lice, spreading disease amongst the people, followed by a plague of frogs that harassed and terrified the people in their homes and beds. Each time one of God’s punishments descended the people begged Moses (AS) to implore his Lord for relief; each time they promised to free the enslaved children of Israel and each time, they failed to fulfil that promise.
Then the final sign of God’s anger was revealed, the water of the Nile river turned to blood. For the children of Israel the water remained pure and clear but for all others it appeared as thick red blood. Even after this most devastating series of signs of God’s displeasure, the children of Israel remained enslaved.
But whenever good came to them, they said, “Ours is this.” And if evil afflicted them, they ascribed it to evil omens connected with Moses and those with him. Be informed! Verily, their evil omens are with God but most of them know not.
So We sent on them: the flood, the locusts, the lice, the frogs, and the blood, as a succession of signs, yet they remained arrogant, and they were of those people who were criminals, polytheists and sinners.
And when the punishment fell on them they said, “O Moses! Invoke your Lord for us because of His Promise to you. If you will remove the punishment from us, we indeed shall believe in you, and we shall let the Children of Israel go with you.”
So We took retribution from them. We drowned them in the sea, because they belied Our signs, and were heedless about them. (Quran 7: 130-136)
We Drowned Them in the Sea
Pharaoh and the majority of the people of Egypt refused to believe the signs. Repeatedly God sent his punishments and the people appealed to Moses, promising to worship God alone and free the Children of Israel but time and time again, they broke their promises. Finally, God withdrew His mercy and gave the order for Moses (AS) to lead his people out of Egypt.
But when We removed the punishment from them to a fixed term, which they had to reach, behold! They broke their word! So We took retribution from them. We drowned them in the sea, because they belied Our signs, and were heedless about them. (Quran 7: 130-136)
Pharaoh’s spies knew immediately that something momentous was happening and Pharaoh called a meeting of his most trusted advisors. They decided to gather the entire armed forces to pursue the fleeing slaves. Gathering the army took all night and Pharaoh’s army did not leave confines of the city until dawn.
Pharaoh’s army marched into the desert. It was not long before the children of Israel could look back into the distance and see the dust raised by the approaching army. It was also not long before those in the front ranks of the children of Israel had reached the edge of the Red Sea.
The Children of Israel were trapped. In front of them was the Red Sea; to their back was the avenging army. Fear and panic began to spread through their ranks. They appealed to Moses (AS). Moses (AS) had been walking at the back of his fleeing people; he could see the army getting closer and closer. He made his way through the ranks to the edge of the sea. He walked amongst his people allaying their fears and reminding them to keep the faith to continue trusting that God would not let them down.
Moses (AS) stood at the edge of the Red Sea and looked out toward the horizon. Ibn Kathir narrates that Joshua turned to Moses (AS) and said, “In front of us is this impassable barrier, the sea, and behind us the enemy; surely death cannot be avoided!” Moses (AS) did not panic; he stood silently and waited for God to keep His promise, to free the children of Israel.
At that moment, as panic swept over the children of Israel, God inspired Moses (AS) to strike the sea with his stick. He did as he was commanded. A fierce wind began to blow, the sea began to swirl and spin, and suddenly it parted to reveal a pathway; the bottom of the sea became dry enough for the people to walk across it.
Moses (AS) began to direct the people across the dry corridor in the middle of the sea. He waited until the last person had commenced walking across the sea before he turned back to look at the approaching army and then followed his people across the seabed. As they reached the other side, the panic and fear began to overwhelm the children of Israel. They once again began to beg and plead for Moses (AS) to close the corridor. Moses (AS) refused, God’s plan was already in motion, and he was confidant that the Children of Israel would be safe even though Pharaoh’s army had followed them into the dry seabed corridor.
And We took the children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh with his hosts followed them in oppression and enmity, till when drowning overtook him, he said, “None has the right to be worshipped but He, in whom the children of Israel believe, and I am one of the Muslims (those who submit to God’s Will).”
Now you believe while you refused to believe before and you were one of the evildoers! So this day We shall deliver your dead body out from the sea that you maybe a sign to those who come after you! And verily, many among humankind are heedless of our Signs. (Quran10:90-92)
Ibn Kathir describes the death of Pharaoh, “The curtain fell on Pharaoh’s tyranny, and the waves threw his corpse up to the western seashore. The Egyptians saw him and knew that the god whom they worshipped and obeyed was a mere man who could not keep death away from his own neck.” When Pharaoh had power, wealth, good health and strength he refused to acknowledge God but when he saw death approaching he cried out to God with fear and horror. If humankind remembers God in times of ease, God will remember the even the lowliest of human beings in times of distress.
Generations of oppression had left an indelible mark on the Children of Israel. Years of humiliation and constant fear had left them ignorant and obstinate. Most of them had been deprived of comforts and luxuries for all of their lives. They longed for anything that was a sign of wealth or materialism. The children of Israel believed in God, they had just witnessed the most amazing miracles and signs of God’s power but still they coveted an idol they saw on their journey out of Egypt.
And We brought the Children of Israel (with safety) across the sea, and they came upon a people devoted to some of their idols (in worship). They said, “Moses! Make for us a god as they have gods.” He said, “Verily, you are a people who know not the Majesty and Greatness of God and what is obligatory upon you.” Moses added, “Verily, these people will be destroyed for that which they are engaged in (idols-worship). And all that they are doing is in vain.”
He said, “Shall I seek for you a god other than God, while He has given you superiority over the mankind and jinn of your time.”
And (remember) when We rescued you from Pharaoh’s people, who were afflicting you with the worst torment, killing your sons and letting your women live. And in that was a great trial from your Lord.” (Quran 7: 138-141)
God had favoured the Children of Israel. They were led safely out of Egypt and they had witnessed the drowning of their cruel ruler Pharaoh. When they needed water
God commanded Moses (AS) to strike a rock, which sent forth twelve springs of water for the twelve different tribes so that there was no dispute. God also sent clouds to protect them from the scorching sun and to relieve their hunger He sent a special delicious food called manna, and quail. Sadly, in spite of God’s generosity many of the children of Israel complained and wanted the food they were used to eating in Egypt, onions, garlic, beans and lentils.
Moses (AS) admonished his people and reminded them that they had just left a life of degradation and humiliation. He asked why they whined for the worst bounties when God was providing them with the best. Moses (AS) said,
“Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!” (Quran2: 61).
God was providing bounties and making life easy for the children of Israel while they made their way to the Promised land, but they were a broken people, unable to stay away from sin and corruption.
The Ten Commandments
They left under the cover of darkness, carrying their meagre possessions headed across the desert towards the Red Sea. When they reached the sea, the Pharaoh’s army was pursuing them closely, the people of Moses (AS) could see the dust stirred up by the approaching army. They looked at the sea in front of them and felt trapped. By the will and permission of God, Moses (AS) struck the sea with his staff and the sea parted revealing a pathway. The Children of Israel walked across the seabed. When the last person had safely crossed, the sea fell back into place and drowned the army of Egypt including the tyrannical Pharaoh.
The Children of Israel were a people oppressed and humiliated over a long period. Several generations had lived under the yoke of the Pharaoh. They had become a belligerent people. Always expecting the worst. Always longing for a slice of the good things of this world. Their sense of honour and self-confidence had been eroded. During their journey out of Egypt to the Promised Land, there was ample opportunity for their character flaws to become obvious. The Children of Israel were ungrateful to God, despite His care and attention to them. They were incapable of behaving submissively and accepting the will of God.
When the Children of Israel came across a people worshipping idols, their eagerness to be like those people they perceived to be happy became manifest and they asked Moses (AS) to let them have an idol, completely forgetting the miracles of God they had just witnessed. When God provided them with delicious food which was till then unknown to them, they complained, wanting the inferior food they were used to. When Moses (AS) directed them to march into a town and overthrow the Canaanites they refused, mostly out of fear and thus disobeyed the command of God. Ibn Kathir narrates that Moses was able to find only two men willing to fight.
“He (Moses) said, “O my Lord! I have power only over myself and my brother, so separate us from the people who are rebellious and disobedient to God!” God said, “Therefore it (this holy land) is forbidden to them for forty years; in distraction they will wander through the land. So be not sorrowful over the people who are rebellious and disobedient to God.” (Quran 5:20-26)
The days of wandering’ began. Each day was like the one before it. The people travelled with no destination in mind. Eventually they entered the Sinai; Moses (AS) recognised it as the place where he had spoken to God before his great journey into Egypt had begun. God ordered Moses (AS) to fast, as purification, for thirty days, and then added ten more days. After the fast was completed, Moses (AS) was ready to once again communicate with God.
“And We appointed for Moses thirty nights and added to the period ten more, and he completed the term, appointed by his Lord, of forty nights. And Moses said to his brother Aaron, “Take my place among my people, act in the Right Way (by ordering the people to obey God and to worship Him Alone) and follow not the way of the mischief makers.” And when Moses came at the time and place appointed by Us, and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “O my Lord! Show me (yourself) that I may look upon You.” God said, “You cannot see Me, but look upon the mountain, if it stands still in its place then you shall see Me.” So when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He made it collapse into dust, and Moses fell down unconscious. Then when he recovered his senses he said, “Far removed are you from every imperfection, I turn to You in repentance and I am the first of the believers.” God said, “O Moses, I have chosen you above men by My Messages, and by My speaking to you. So hold that which I have given you and be among the grateful.” (Quran 7:142-144)
God gave Moses (AS) two stone tablets, written upon them were the Ten Commandments. These commandments form the basis of the Jewish law, the Torah, and they are standards of morality still set by the Christian churches. Ibn Kathir and the early scholars of Islam state that the Ten Commandments are reiterated in two verses from the Quran.
“Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited you from, Join not anything in worship with Him; be good and dutiful to your parents; kill not your children because of poverty- We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not near to shameful sins whether committed openly or secretly; and kill not anyone whom God has forbidden, except for a just cause. This He has commanded you that you may understand. And come not near to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he or she attains the age of full strength; and give full measure and full weight with justice. We burden not any person but that which he can bear. And whenever you give your word (i.e. judge between men or give evidences) say the truth even if a near relative is concerned, and fulfil the Covenant of God. This He commands you, that you may remember.” (Quran 6:151-152)
Moses (AS) had been absent for forty days. His people had become restless, they were like children, complaining and acting impulsively. Ibn Kathir describes their descent into the unforgiveable sin of idolatry. “As-Samiri, a man who was inclined towards evil, suggested that they find themselves another guide, as Moses had broken his promise.” He said to them, “In order to find true guidance, you need a god, and I shall provide one for you.” So he collected all their gold jewellery, and melted it down. During the casting, he threw in a handful of dust, acting like a magician to impress the ignorant. From the molten metal, he fashioned a golden calf. It was hollow, and when wind passed through it, it produced a sound.”
It was as if they had succeeded in making themselves a living God. Moses’ (AS) brother Aaron (AS) had been afraid to stand up to the people but when he saw the idol and realised what a grave sin was being committed he spoke up. He reminded the people to worship God Alone and he warned them of dire consequences for their actions both from Moses (AS) on his return and from God Himself. Those who remained true to their belief in One God separated themselves from the idol worshippers. When Moses (AS) returned to his people he saw them singing and dancing around the golden calf. He was furious.
The Death of Moses (AS)
Moses (AS) could not believe his eyes, even though God had just warned him that a severe punishment was about to befall his people for worshipping the golden calf. Moses (AS) heart was filled with shame and anger. His own people had witnessed the power and majesty of God yet they acted belligerently and without fear of God’s punishment.
“God said, “Verily! We have tried your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray.” Then Moses returned to his people in a state of anger and sorrow. He said, “O my people! Did not your Lord promise you a fair promise? Did then the promise seem to you long in coming? Or did you desire the Wrath should descend from your Lord on you, so you broke your promise to me (disbelieving in God and worshipping the calf)?” (Quran 20:83-86)
Moses turned to his brother Aaron (AS); he was angry and grabbed him by the beard, at the same time he pulled Aaron (AS) towards him by the head. He bellowed at his brother demanding that Aaron (AS) explain why he disobeyed the instructions he had given him, and why he allowed As Samiri to beguile the Children of Israel. Aaron (AS) explained that the people did not listen to him, and were about to kill him. He appealed to Moses (AS) not to let the idolaters separate them. Aaron (AS) was not as strong and as forceful as his brother and he feared that he would not be able to control the Children of Israel so he waited for his brother Moses (AS) to return.
God’s promise is true and His punishment was swift. Moses (AS) confronted As Samiri and sent him into exile.
“Moses said, go away! And verily, your punishment in this life will be that you will say, ‘Touch me not’ (you will live alone exiled away from humankind); and verily (for a future torment), you have a promise that will not fail. And look at your god, to which you have been devoted. We will certainly burn it, and scatter its particles in the sea.” (Quran 20:83-98)
The punishment imposed upon the idol worshippers was severe.
“Remember when Moses said to his people: “O my people! Verily, you have wronged yourselves by worshipping the calf. So turn in repentance to your Creator and kill yourselves (the innocent kill the wrong doers among you), that will be better for you in the Sight of your Creator.” Then He accepted your repentance. Truly, He is the One who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:54)
God is the Most Merciful and is forgiving. After the Children of Israel had purged themselves and killed the idol worshippers among them, God accepted their repentance. Even after their continuous belligerence and stubbornness, the Children of Israel once again felt God’s favor upon them.
Moses (AS) then chose 70 men from amongst the most pious elders of the Children of Israel. He returned with them to Mount Tur.They were a delegation intending to apologise to God for their behaviour. They stood back while Moses (AS) moved into a low-lying cloud to speak with God while the elders waited. When he came back to them, instead of feeling repentant and apologising the elders informed Moses (AS) that they would not truly follow him until they had seen God with their own eyes.
“O Moses! We shall never believe in you till we see God plainly.” (Quran 2:35)
The ground shook and the seventy men were struck by a lightening bolt. They fell to the ground dead. Moses (AS) was astounded. He immediately wondered what he would say to the Children of Israel. These seventy men were the best of people; Moses (AS) felt that now the Children of Israel had no hope. He turned to God.
“O my Lord, if it had been Your Will, You could have destroyed them and me before; would You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? It is only Your trial by which You lead astray whom You will, and keep guided whom You will. You are our Protector, so forgive us and have Mercy on us, for You are the best of those who forgive. And ordain for us good in this world, and in the Hereafter. Certainly we have turned unto You.” He said (as to) My Punishment I afflict therewith whom I will and My Mercy embraces all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who are the pious and give alms; and those who believe in our signs.” (Quran 7:155-157)
God is indeed the Most Merciful and His mercy embraces all things. When Moses (AS) beseeched God He raised up the seventy dead elders. For many years the Children of Israel wandered about in the desert and wastelands. Prophet Moses (AS) suffered greatly at their hands. He endured mutiny, belligerence, ignorance, and idolatry, they even inflicted personal harm upon him. He suffered purely for the sake of pleasing God. After many years Prophet Aaron (AS) died, so Moses (AS) was finally without his greatest supporter. Still he remained steadfast; still he remained in the wilderness never quite reaching the Promised land. Moses (AS) died, still surrounded by the belligerent Children of Israel. Still surrounded by people who refused to see the miracles before their eyes, yet God in His Mercy continued to give them chance after chance.
From the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, comes the account of Prophet Moses’ (AS) death. “The Angel of Death was sent to Moses. When he arrived Moses punched him in the eye. The Angel returned to his Lord and said, ‘You have sent me to a slave who does not want to die.’ God said, ‘Return to him and tell him to put his hand on the back of an ox and for every hair that will come under it, he will be granted one year of life.’ Moses said, ‘O Lord! What will happen after that?’ God replied, ‘then death.’ Moses said, ‘Let it come now!’ Moses then requested God to let him die close to the Holy Land so that he would be at a distance of a stone’s throw from it.”
From the above six stories we can see the disobedience of mankind that continued over generations. Iblis (Satan) has been instrumental in mankind’s disobedience in diverting them from the path of righteousness to the point that God has destroyed these arrogant nations and leaders like Pharaoh.
7. IBRAHIEM (AS) ABRAHAM
The lofty status of Abraham is one shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike. The Jews see him to be epitome of virtue as he fulfilled all the commandments although before they were revealed, and was the first to come to the realization of the One True God. He is seen as the father of the chosen race, the father of prophets due to which God started his series of revelations. In Christianity, he is seen as the father of all believers (Romans 4:11) and his trust in God and sacrifice is taken as a model for later saints (Hebrews 11).
As Abraham (AS) is given such importance, it is worthy that one study his life and investigate those aspects which raised him to the level which God gave him.
One of the prophets given the most attention in the Quran is the prophet Abraham (AS). The Quran tells of him and his unwavering belief in God, first calling him to reject his people and their idolatry, and later to prove true to various tests which God places before him.
In Islam, Abraham is seen as a strict monotheist who calls his people to the worship of God alone. For this belief, he bears great hardships, even disassociating himself with his family and people through migration to various lands. He is one who fulfills various commandments of God through which he is tested, proving true to each one.
Due to this strength of faith, the Quran attributes the one and only true religion to be the “Path of Abraham”, even though prophets before him, such as Noah (AS), called to the same faith. Because of his tireless act of obedience to God, He gave him the special title of “Khaleel”, or beloved servant, not given to any other Prophet before. Due to the excellence of Abraham (AS), God made prophets from his progeny, from them Ishmael (AS) Isaac (AS), Jacob (AS) (Israel) and Moses (AS), guiding people to the truth.
Although the Quran and the Sunnah do not given the details of the whole life of Abraham (AS), they do mention certain facts worthy of note. As with other Quranic and biblical figures, the Quran and Sunnah detail aspects of their lives as a clarification of some misguided beliefs of previous revealed religions, or those aspects which contain certain mottos and morals worthy of note and emphasis.
In the Quran, the only name given to Abraham (AS) is “Ibraheem” and “Ibrahaam”, all sharing the original root, b-r-h-m. Although in the Bible Abraham (AS) is known as Abram at first, and then God is said to change his name to Abraham (AS), the Quran has kept silent on this subject, neither affirming nor negating it. Modern Judeo-Christian scholars do doubt, however, in story of the changing of his names and their respective meanings, calling it “popular world play”. Assyriologists suggest that the Hebrew letter Hê (h) in the Minnean dialect is written in stead of a long ‘a’ (ā), and that the difference between Abraham (AS) and Abram is merely dialectical. The same can be said for the names Sarai and Sarah, as their meanings are also identical.
Abraham (AS) is estimated to have been born 2,166 years before Jesus (AS) in or around the Mesopotamian city of Ur, 200 miles southeast of present-day Baghdad. His father was ‘Aazar’, ‘Terah’ or ‘Terakh’ in the Bible, an idol worshipper, who was from the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah. Some scholars of exegesis suggest that he may have been called Azar after an idol he was devoted to. He is likely to have been Akkadian, a Semitic people from the Arabian Peninsula who settled in Mesopotamia sometime in the third millennium BCE.
It seems as if Azar migrated along with some of his relatives to the city of Haran in the early childhood of Abraham (AS) before the confrontation with his people, although some Judeo-Christian traditions tell it to be later in his life after he is rejected in his native city. In the Bible, Haran, one of the brothers of Abraham (AS) is said to have died in Ur, “in the land of his nativity” (Genesis 11:28), but he was much older than Abraham (AS), as his other brother Nahor takes Haran’s daughter as a wife (Genesis 11:29). The bible also makes no mention of the migration of Abraham (AS) to Haran, rather the first command to migrate is that out of Haran, as if they had settled there before (Genesis 12:1-5). If we take the first command to mean the emigration from Ur to Canaan, there seems to be no reason that Abraham (AS) would dwell with his family in Haran, leaving his father there and proceeding to Canaan thereafter, not to mention its geographical improbability.
The Quran does mention the migration of Abraham (AS), but it does so after Abraham (AS) disassociates himself from his father and tribesmen due to their disbelief. If he had been in Ur at that time, it seems unlikely that his father would go with him to Haran after disbelieving and torturing him along with his townspeople. As to why they chose to migrate, archaeological evidence suggests that Ur was a great city which saw its rise and fall within the lifetime of Abraham (AS), so they may have been forced to leave due to environmental hardships. They may have chosen Haran due to it sharing the same religion as Ur.
The Religion of Mesopotamia
Archeological discoveries from the time of Abraham (AS) paint a vivid picture of the religious life of Mesopotamia. Its inhabitants were polytheists who believed in a pantheon, in which each god had a sphere of influence. The large temple dedicated to the Akkadian moon god, Sin, was the main centre of Ur. Haran also had the moon as the central godhead. This temple was believed to be the physical home of God. The chief god of the temple was a wooden idol
Knowledge of God
Although Judeo-Christian scholars have differed as to when Abraham (AS) came to know God, at the age of three, ten, or forty-eight, the Quran is silent in mentioning the exact age at which Abraham (AS) received his first revelation. It seems it was, however, when he was young in age, as the Quran calls him a young man when his people try to execute him for rejecting their idols, and Abraham (AS) himself said to have knowledge not available to his father when he called him to worship God alone before his call spread to his people (19:43). The Quran is clear, however, in saying that he was one of the prophets to whom a scripture was revealed:
“Verily! This is in the former Scriptures. The Scriptures of Abraham and Moses.” (Quran 87:18-19)
Abraham and His Father
Like those around him, Abraham’s (AS) father Azar (Terah or Terakh in the Bible), was an idol worshipper. Biblical tradition tells of him actually being a sculptor of them, hence Abraham’s (AS) first call was directed to him. He addressed him with clear logic and sense, understood by a young man like himself as well as the wise.
“And mention in the Book (the Quran) Abraham, indeed he was a man of truth, a Prophet. When he said to his father: “O my father! Why do you worship that which hears not, sees not and cannot avail you in anything? O my father! Verily! There has come to me of knowledge that which came not unto you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Straight Path.” (Quran 19:41-43)
The reply from his father was rejection, an obvious reply by any person challenged by another much younger than them, a challenge made against years of tradition and norm.
“He (the father) said: ‘Do you reject my gods, O Abraham? If you do not stop, I will indeed stone you. So get away from me safely before I punish you.’” (Quran 19:46)
Abraham and His People
After incessant attempts in calling his father to leave the worship of false idols, Abraham (AS) turned to his people seeking to warn others, addressing them with the same simple logic.
“And recite to them the story of Abraham. When he said to his father and his people: “What do you worship?” They said: “We worship idols, and to them we are ever devoted.” He said: “Do they hear you, when you call (on them)? Or do they benefit you or do they harm (you)?”They said: “Nay, but we found our fathers doing so.” He said: “Do you observe that which you have been worshipping, you and your ancient fathers? Verily! They are enemies to me, save the Lord of all that exists; Who has created me, and it is He Who guides me; And it is He Who feeds me and gives me to drink. And when I am ill, it is He who cures me; And Who will cause me to die, and then will bring me to life (again).” (Quran 26:69-81)
In furthering his call that the only deity which deserved worship was God, Almighty, he struck another example for his people to ponder. The Judeo-Christian tradition tells a similar story, but portrays it in the context of Abraham (AS) himself coming to the realization if God through the worship of these beings, not of him using it as an example for his people. In the Quran, none of the Prophets are said to have associated others than God, even if they were uninformed of the correct way before they were commissioned as prophets. The Quran tells of Abraham (AS):
“When the night grew dark upon him, he beheld a star, and said, ‘This is my Lord!’ But when it set, he said: ‘I love not things that set.’” (Quran 6:76)
Abraham (AS) put forth to them the example of the stars, a creation truly incomprehensible to humans at time, seen as something greater than humanity, and many times having various powers attributed to them. But in the setting of the stars Abraham (AS) saw their inability to appear as they desired, but rather only at night.
He then struck the example of something even greater, a heavenly body more beautiful, larger, and that could appear at daytime as well!
“And when he saw the moon rising up, he exclaimed: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when it set, he said: ‘Unless my Lord guides me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray.’” (Quran 6:77)
Then as his culminating example, he struck an example of something even bigger, one of the most powerful of creation, one without which life itself was an impossibility.
“And when he saw the sun rising, he cried: ‘This is my Lord! This is greater!’ But when the sun set, he said, ‘O my people! Surely I am free from that which you associate with God. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth, away from idolatry, and I am not of those who associate others with God.’” (Quran 6:78)
Abraham (AS) proved to them that the Lord of the worlds was not to be found in the creations that their idols represented, but was, rather, the entity who created them and everything which they could see and perceive; that the Lord does not necessarily need to be seen in order to be worshipped. He is an All-Able Lord, not bound by limitations as the creations found in this world are. His message was simple:
“Worship God, and keep your duty to Him; that is better for you if you did but know. You worship instead of God only idols, and you only invent a lie. Lo! Those whom you worship instead of God own no provision for you. So seek your provision from God, and worship Him, and give thanks to Him, (for) to Him you will be brought back.” (Quran 29:16-19)
He openly questioned their adherence to mere traditions of their forefathers,
“He said: ‘Verily you and your fathers were in plain error.’”
Abraham’s (AS) path was to be filled with pain, hardship, trial, opposition, and heartache. His father and people rejected his message. His call fell on deaf ears; they would not reason. Instead, he was challenged and mocked,
“They said: ‘Bring you to us the truth, or are you some jester?’”
In this stage in his life, Abraham (AS), a young man with a prospective future, opposes his own family and nation in order to propagate a message of true monotheism, belief in the One True God, and rejection of all other false deities, whether they be stars and other celestial or earthly creations, or depictions of gods in the form of idols. He was rejected, outcaste and punished for this belief, but he stood firm against all evil, ready to face even more in the future.
“And (remember) when his (Abraham’s) Lord tried Abraham with (various) commandments, to which he proved true…” (Quran 2:124)
Abraham destroys the idols
Then the time came when preaching had to be accompanied with physical action. Abraham (AS) planned a bold and decisive blow at idolatry.The Quranic account is slightly different than what is mentioned in Judeo-Christian traditions, as they say for Abraham (AS) to have destroyed his father’s personal idols. The Quran tells that he destroyed the idols of his people, kept at a religious altar. Abraham (AS) had hinted at a plan involving the idols:
“And, by God, I shall circumvent your idols after you have gone away and turned your backs.” (Quran 21:57)
It was time for a religious festival, perhaps dedicated to Sin, for which they left the town. Abraham was invited to attend the festivities, but he excused himself,
“And he glanced a glance at the stars. Then said: ‘Lo! I feel sick!’”
So, when his peers left without him, it became his opportunity. As the temple was deserted, Abraham (AS) made his way there and approached the gold-plated wooden idols, which had had elaborate meals left in front of them by the priests. Abraham (AS) mocked them in disbelief:
“Then turned he to their gods and said: ‘Will you not eat? What ails you that you speak not?’”
After all, what could have deluded man to worship gods of his own carving?
“Then he attacked them, striking with his right hand.”
The Quran tells us:
“He reduced them to fragments, all except the chief of them.”
When the temple priests returned, they were shocked to see the sacrilege, the destruction of the temple. They were wondering who could have done this to their idols when someone mentioned the name of Abraham (AS), explaining that he used to speak ill of them. When they called him to their presence, it was for Abraham (AS) to show them their foolishness:
“He said: ‘Worship you that which you yourselves do carve when God has created you and what you make?’”
Their anger was mounting; in no mood for being preached to, they got straight to the point:
“Is it you who has done this to our gods, O Abraham?”
But Abraham (AS) had left the largest idol untouched for a reason:
“He said: ‘But this, their chief has done it. So question them, if they can speak!’”
When Abraham (AS) so challenged them, they were cast into confusion. They blamed each other for not guarding the idols and, refusing to meet his eyes, said:
“Indeed you know well these speak not!”
So Abraham pressed his case.
“He said: ‘Worship you then instead of God that which cannot profit you at all, nor harm you? Fie on you and all that you worship instead of God! Have you then no sense?’”
The accusers had become the accused. They were accused of logical inconsistency, and so had no answer for Abraham. Because Abraham’s (AS) reasoning was unanswerable, their response was rage and fury, and they condemned Abraham (AS) to be burned alive,
“Build for him a building and fling him in the red hot fire.”
The townspeople all helped in gathering wood for the fire, until it was the largest fire they had ever seen. The young Abraham (AS) submitted to the fate chosen for him by the Lord of the Worlds. He did not lose faith, rather the trial made him stronger. Abraham (AS) did not flinch in the face of a fiery death even at this tender age; rather his last words before entering it were,
“God is sufficient for me and He is the best disposer of affairs.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Here again is an example of Abraham (AS) proving true to the trials he faced. His belief in the True God was tested here, and he proved that he was even prepared to surrender his existence to the call of God. His belief was evidenced by his action.
God had not willed that this be the fate of Abraham (AS), for he had a great mission ahead of him. He was to be the father of some of the greatest prophets known to humanity. God saved Abraham (AS) as a sign for him and his people as well.
“We (God) said: ‘O fire, be coolness and peace for Abraham.’ And they wished to set a snare for him, but We made them the greater losers.”
Thus did Abraham escape the fire, unharmed. They tried to seek revenge for their gods, but they and their idols were in the end humiliated.
Abraham’s (AS) dispute with a king, and the command of God to migrate to Canaan
Modern archeological discoveries suggest the high priestess was the emperor’s daughter. Naturally, she would have made a point to make an example of the man who defiled her temple. Soon Abraham (AS), still a young man, found himself on trial, standing all alone in front of a king, most probably King Nimrod. Even his father was not on his side. But God was, as He always had been.
Dispute with a King
While Judeo-Christian traditionists clearly assert that Abraham (AS) was sentenced to the fire by the king, Nimrod, the Quran does not elucidate this matter. It does however mention the dispute which a king had with Abraham (AS), and some Muslim scholars suggest that it was this same Nimrod, but only after an attempt was made by the masses to kill Abraham (AS). After God had saved Abraham (AS) from the fire, his case was presented to the king, who out of him pompousness, vied with God himself due to his kingdom. He debated with the young man, as God tells us:
“Have you not considered him who had an argument with Abraham about his Lord, because God had given him the kingdom?” (Quran 2:258)
Abraham’s (AS) logic was undeniable,
“‘My Lord is He Who gives life and causes death.’ He answered: ‘I give life and cause death.’” (Quran 2:258)
The king brought forth two men sentenced to death. He freed one and condemned the other. This reply of the king was out of the context and utterly stupid, so Abraham (AS) put forth another, one which would surely silence him.
“Abraham said: ‘Lo! God causes the sun to rise in the east, so you cause it to come up from the west.’ Thus was the disbeliever absolutely defeated. And God guides not wrongdoing folk.” (Quran 2:258)
Abraham (AS) in Migration
After years of ceaseless calling, faced with the rejection of his people, God commanded Abraham (AS) to disassociate from his family and people.
Indeed there has been an excellent example for you in Abraham (AS) and those with him, when they said to their people:
“Verily, we are free from you and whatever you worship besides God, we have rejected you, and there has started between us and you, hostility and hatred forever, until you believe in God Alone.” (Quran 60:4)
At least two persons in his family did, however, accept his exhortation – Luut (AS), his nephew, and Sarah, his wife. Thus, Abraham (AS) migrated along with the other believers.
“So Lot believed in him (Abraham). He (Abraham) said: ‘I will emigrate for the sake of my Lord. Verily, He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.’” (Quran 29:26)
They migrated together to a blessed land, the land of Canaan, or Greater Syria where, according to Judeo-Christian traditions, Abraham (AS) and Lot divided their people west and east of the land they had migrated to.
“And We rescued him and Lot to the land which We have blessed for the worlds.” (Quran 21:71)
It was here, in this blessed land that God chose to bless Abraham (AS) with progeny.
“…We (God) bestowed upon him Isaac, and (a grandson) Jacob. Each one We made righteous.” (Quran 21:72)
“And that was Our Proof which We gave Abraham against his people. We raise whom We will in degrees. Certainly your Lord is All Wise, All Knowing. And We bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacob, each of them We guided, and before him, We guided Noah, and among his progeny David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron. Thus do We reward the good doers. And Zachariah, and John and Jesus and Elias, each one of them was of the righteous. And Ishmael and Elisha, and Jonah and Lot, and each one of them We preferred above the worlds (of men and jinn). And also some of their fathers and their progeny and their brethren, We chose them, and We guided them to a Straight Path. This is the Guidance of God with which He guides whomsoever He will of His slaves. But if they had joined in worship others with God, all that they used to do would have been of no benefit to them. They are those whom We gave the Book, the Understanding, and Prophethood…” (Quran 6:83-87)
Prophets, chosen for the guidance of his nation:
“And We made them leaders, guiding (humankind) by Our Command, and We inspired in them the doing of good deeds, performing prayers, and the giving of Zakat and of Us (Alone) they were worshippers.” (Quran 21:73)
Abraham (AS) in Canaan & Egypt
Abraham (AS) stayed in Canaan for several years going from city to city preaching and inviting people to God until a famine forced him and Sarah to migrate to Egypt. In Egypt was a despotic Pharaoh who had the passionate desire to take possession of married women. This Islamic account is strikingly different than Judeo-Christian traditions, which say that Abraham (AS) claimed that Sarah was his sister in order to save himself from the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem (House) and honored Abraham (AS) for it, but when his house was stricken with severe plagues, he came to know that she was the wife of Abraham (AS) and chastised him for not telling him so, thus banishing him from Egypt.
Abraham (AS) had known that Sarah would catch his attention, so he told her that if the Pharaoh asked her, that she should say that she is the sister of Abraham (AS). When they entered his kingdom, as expected, the Pharaoh asked about his relationship with Sarah, and Abraham (AS) replied that she was his sister. Although the answer did alleviate some of his passion, he still took her captive. But the protection of the Almighty saved her from his evil plot. When Pharaoh summoned Sarah to act on his demented passions, Sarah turned to God in prayer. The moment Pharaoh reached for Sarah, his upper body stiffened. He cried to Sarah in distress, promising to release her if she would pray for his cure! She prayed for his release. But only after a failed third attempt did he finally desist. Realizing their special nature, he let her go and returned her to her supposed brother.
Sarah returned while Abraham (AS) was praying, accompanied by gifts from the Pharaoh, as he had realized their special nature, along with his own daughter Hagar as well, according to Judeo-Christian traditions, as a handmaiden. She had delivered a powerful message to the Pharaoh and the pagan Egyptians.
After they had returned to Palestine, Sarah and Abraham (AS) continued to be childless, despite divine promises that he would be granted a child. As the gifting of a handmaid by a barren woman to her husband in order to produce offspring seems to be a common practice of that day, Sarah suggested to Abraham (AS) that he take Hagar as his concubine. Some Christian scholars say of this event that he actually took her as his wife. Whichever case it may be, in Jewish and Babylonian tradition, any offspring born to a concubine would be claimed by the concubine’s former mistress and be treated exactly the same as a child born to her, including matters of inheritance. While in Palestine, Hagar bore him a son, Ishmael (AS).
Abraham (AS) in Mecca
When Ishmael (AS) was still nursing, God yet again chose to test the faith of his beloved Abraham (AS) and commanded him to take Hagar and Ishmael (AS) to a barren valley of Bakka 700 miles southeast of Hebron. In later times it would be called Mecca. Indeed it was a great test, for he and his family had longed for such a time for offspring, and when their eyes were filled with the joy of an heir, the commandment was enacted to take him to a distant land, one known for its barrenness and hardship.
While the Quran affirms that this was yet another test for Abraham (AS) while Ishmael was still a babe, the Bible and Judeo-Christian traditions assert that it was a result of the rage of Sarah, who requested Abraham (AS) to banish Hagar and her son when she saw Ishmael (AS) “mocking” at Isaac (AS) after he was weaned. Since the typical age for weaning, at least in Jewish tradition, was 3 years, this suggests that Ishmael (AS) was approximately 17 years of age when this event occurred. It seems logically impossible, that Hagar would be able to carry a young man on her shoulders and take him hundreds of miles until she had reached Paran, only then laying him, as the Bible says, down under a bush. In these verses Ishmael (AS)is referred to by a different word than the one used describing his banishment. This word indicates that he was a very young boy, possibly a baby, rather than a youth.
So Abraham (AS), after having sojourned with Hagar and Ishmael (AS), left them there with a skin of water and leather bag full of dates. As Abraham (AS) began walking away leaving them behind, Hagar became anxious as to what was happening. Abraham did not look back. Hagar chased him, ‘O Abraham, where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we can enjoy, nor is there anything here?’
Abraham hurried his pace. Finally, Hagar asked, ‘Has God asked you to do so?’
Suddenly, Abraham (AS) stopped, turned back and said, ‘Yes!’
Feeling a degree of comfort in this answer, Hagar asked, ‘O Abraham, to whom are you leaving us?’
‘I am leaving you to God’s care,’ Abraham (AS) replied.
Hagar submitted to her Lord, ‘I am satisfied to be with God!’
While she traced her way back to little Ishmael (AS), Abraham (AS) proceeded until he reached a narrow pass in the mountain where they would not be able to see him. He stopped there and invoked God in prayer:
“Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring in a valley barren from any cultivation, by you Sacred House, our Lord, so they may establish the prayer. So make the hearts of people yearn towards them, and provide them with all types of fruits that they may be grateful.” (Quran 14:37)
Soon, the water and dates were gone and Hagar’s desperation increased. Unable to quench her thirst or to breastfeed her little baby, Hagar began searching for water. Leaving Ishmael under a tree, she began climbing the rocky incline of a nearby hill. ‘Maybe there is a caravan passing by,’ she thought to herself. She ran between the two hills of Safa and Marwa seven times looking for signs of water or help, later personified by all Muslims in Hajj. Fatigued and distraught, she heard a voice, but could not locate its source. Then, looking down in the valley, she saw an angel, who is identified as Gabriel (AS) in Islamic sources, standing next to Ishmael (AS). The angel dug into the ground with his heel next to the baby, and water came gushing out. It was a miracle! Hagar tried to make a basin around it to keep it from flowing out, and filled her skin.
‘Do not be afraid of being neglected,’ the angel said, ‘for this is the House of God which will be built by this boy and his father, and God never neglects his people.’
This well, called Zamzam (meaning stop-stop as Hagar said as she tried to contain the water), is flowing to this day in the city if Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula.
It was not long afterwards that the tribe of Jurham, moving from southern Arabia, stopped by the valley of Mecca after seeing the unusual sight of a bird flying in its direction, which could only mean the presence of water. They eventually settled in Mecca and Ishmael grew up among them.
A similar account of this well is given in the Bible in Genesis 21. In this account, the reason for moving away from the babe was to avoid seeing him die rather than a search for help. Then, after the baby had begun wailing with thirst, she asked God to relieve her of seeing him die. The appearance of the well was said to be in response to the crying of Ishmael (AS), rather than her supplication, and no effort from Hagar to find help is reported there. Also, the Bible tells that the well was in the wilderness of Paran, where they dwelt afterwards. Judeo-Christian scholars often mention that Paran is somewhere north of the Sinai Peninsula, due to the mention of Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 33:2. Modern biblical archaeologists, however, say that Mt. Sinai is actually in modern day Saudi Arabia, which necessitates that Paran be there as well.
The Greatest Sacrifice: Abrahams (AS) Greatest Test
Abraham (AS) Sacrifices His Son
It had been close to ten years since Abraham (AS) had left his wife and baby in Mecca in the care of God. After a two month journey, he was surprised to find Mecca a lot different than how he had left it. The joy of reunion was soon interrupted by a vision which was to be the ultimate test of his faith. God commanded Abraham (AS) through a dream to sacrifice his son, the son he had had after years of prayers and had just met after a decade of separation.
We know from the Quran that the child to be sacrificed was Ishmael (AS), as God, when giving the glad tidings of the birth of Isaac (AS) to Abraham (AS) and Sarah, also gave the glad tidings of a grandson, Jacob (AS) (Israel):
“…But we gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob.” (Quran 11:71)
Similarly, in the biblical verse Genesis 17:19, Abraham (AS) was promised:
“Your wife Sarah shall bear you a son whose name shall be Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant [and] with his seed after him.”
Because God promised to give Sarah a child from Abraham (AS) and grandchildren from that child, it is neither logically nor practically possible for God to command Abraham (AS) to sacrifice Isaac, since God neither breaks his promise, nor is He the “author of confusion.”
Although Isaac’s (AS) name is explicitly mention as the one who was to be sacrificed in Genesis 22:2, we learn from other Biblical contexts that it is clear interpolation, and the one to be slaughtered was Ishmael (AS).
“Thine Only Son”
In the verses of Genesis 22, God commands Abraham (AS) to sacrifice his only son. As all scholars of Islam, Judaism and Christianity agree, Ishmael (AS) was born before Isaac (AS). From this, it would not be fit to call Isaac (AS) the only son of Abraham (AS).
It is true that Judeo-Christian a scholars often argue that since Ishmael (AS) was born to a concubine, he is not a legitimate son. However, we have already mentioned earlier that according to Judaism itself, the gifting of concubines from barren wives to their husbands in order to produce offspring was a common, valid and acceptable occurrence, and the child produced by the concubine would be claimed by the wife of the father, enjoying all rights as her, the wife’s, own child, including inheritance. Furthermore, they would receive a double the share of other children, even if they were “hated”.
In addition to this, it is inferred in the Bible that Sarah herself would regard a child born to Hagar as a rightful heir. Knowing that Abraham (AS) had been promised that his seed would fill the land between the Nile and the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18) from his own body (Genesis 15:4), she offered Hagar to Abraham (AS) in order that she be the means to fulfill this prophecy. She said,
“Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” (Genesis 16:2)
This is also similar to Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob son of Isaac (AS), giving their maids to Jacob (AS) to produce offspring (Genesis 30:3, 6. 7, 9-13). Their children were Dan, Nepthali, Gad and Asher, who were from the twelve sons of Jacob (AS), the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israelites, and therefore valid heirs.
From this, we understand that Sarah believed that a child born to Hagar would be a fulfillment of the prophecy given to Abraham (AS), and be as if he was born to her own self. Thus, according to this fact alone, Ishmael (AS) is not illegitimate, but a rightful heir.
God Himself regards Ishmael as a valid heir, for, in numerous places, the Bible mentions that Ishmael is a “seed” of Abraham. For example, in Genesis 21:13:
“And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
There are many other reasons which prove that it was Ishmael and not Isaac who was to be sacrificed, and God willing, a separate article will be dedicated to this issue.
To continue with the account, Abraham (AS) consulted his son to see if he understood what he was commanded by God,
“So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. And when (his son) was old enough to help in his daily affairs, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what think you? He said: O my father! Do that which you are commanded. God willing, you shall find me of the patient.” (Quran 37:101-102)
Indeed if a person was told by their father that they were to be killed due to a dream, it would not be taken in the best of manners. One may doubt the dream as well as the sanity of the person, but Ishmael knew the station of his father. The pious son of a pious father was committed to submit to God. Abraham (AS) took his son to the place where he was to be sacrificed and laid him face down. For this reason, God has described them in the most beautiful of words, painting a picture of the essence of submission; one which brings tears to the eyes:
“And when they both submitted (to the command of God), and he (Abraham) laid him (Ishmael) face down upon his forehead (in order to be sacrificed).” (Quran 37:103)
Just as Abraham’s (AS) knife was poised to descend, a voice stopped him
“We called to him: O Abraham: You have indeed fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test.” (Quran 37:104-106)
Indeed, it was the greatest test of all, the sacrificing of his only child, one born to him after he had reached an old age and years of longing for progeny. Here, Abraham (AS) showed his willingness to sacrifice all his belongings for God, and for this reason, he was designated a leader of all humanity, one whom God blessed with a progeny of Prophets.
“And when his God tested Abraham with various commands, and he proved true to each one.” He (God) said, indeed I have made you a leader of humanity. He (Abraham) said (requesting of God), ‘and from my progeny.” (Quran 2:124)
Ishmael (AS) was ransomed with a ram,
‘…then We redeemed him with a momentous sacrifice.’ (Quran 37:107)
It is this epitome of submission and trust in God which hundreds of millions of Muslims reenact every year during the days of Hajj, a day called Yawm-un-Nahr – The Day of Sacrifice, or Eid-ul-Adhaa – or the Celebration of Sacrifice.
Abraham (AS) returned to Palestine, and upon doing so, he was visited by angels who give him and Sarah the good news of a son, Isaac,
“Lo! We bring you good tidings of a boy possessing wisdom.” (Quran 15:53)
It is at this time that he is also told about the destruction of the people of Lot.
Abraham (AS) and Ishmael (AS) Build the Kaaba
After a separation of several years, again the father and son met. It was on this journey that the two built the Kaaba on God’s command as a permanent sanctuary; a place laid for the worship of God. It was here, in this same barren desert where Abraham (AS) had left Hagar and Ishmael (AS) earlier, that he supplicated to God to make it a place where they would establish the prayer, free from idol worship.
“My Lord! Make safe this territory, and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols. My Lord! Lo! They have led many of people astray. But whoever follows me, he verily is of me. And whoever disobeys me, still You are Forgiving, Merciful. Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near to Your Holy House, our Lord! That they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide You them, with fruits in order that they may be thankful. Our Lord! Lo! You know that which we hide and that which we proclaim. Nothing in the earth or in the heaven is hidden from God. Praise be to God Who has given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac! Lo! My Lord is indeed the Hearer of prayer. My Lord! Make me establish regular prayer, and some of my posterity (also), our Lord! And accept my prayer. Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and believers on the Day when the account is cast.” (Quran 14:35-41)
Now, years later, Abraham (AS) again in reunion with his son Ishmael (AS), were to establish the honored House of God, the center of worship, to which direction people would their face when offering prayers, and make it a site of pilgrimage. There are many beautiful verses in the Quran describing the sanctity of the Kaaba and the purpose of its building.
“And when we assigned to Abraham the place of the House: ‘Do not associate with Me anything, and purify My House for those who circumambulate it, who stand in prayer, and who bow, and prostrate themselves (all in prayer).’ And proclaim the Pilgrimage (Hajj) among people, and they shall come to you on foot, and on every lean camel. They shall come to you from every deep and distant mountain highways.” (Quran 22:26)
“And when We made the House (the Kaaba) a resort for mankind and sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray). And We took a covenant with Abraham and Ishmael that they should purify My House (the Kaaba) for those who compass it round, devote themselves (to worship) in it, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).” (Quran 2:125)
The Kaaba is the first place of worship appointed for all of humanity for the purpose of guidance and blessing:
“Indeed the first House (of worship) appointed for humanity is that at Bakka: Full of blessing and of guidance for all the worlds. In it are Signs Manifest; (such as), the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security; Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God,- those who have the ability.” (Quran 22:26-27)
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) , may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said:
“Indeed this place has been made sacred by God the day He created the heavens and the earth, and it will remain so until the Day of Judgment.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim)
The Prayers of Abraham (AS)
Indeed, the building of a sanctuary to be held by all latter generations was one of the best forms of worship men of God could do. They invoked God during their feat:
“Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! You, only You, are the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! And make us Muslims (submissive to You) and of our seed a Muslim nation (submissive to You), and show us our ways of worship, and forgive toward us. Lo! You, only You, are the Forgiving, the Merciful. Our Lord!” (Quran 2:127-128)
“And (remember) when Abraham said, “My Lord, make this city (Mecca) a place of security and provide its people with fruits, such of them as believe in God and the Last Day…” (Quran 2:126)
Abraham (AS) also prayed that a prophet be raised from the progeny of Ishmael (AS), who would be the inhabitants this land, as the progeny of Isaac (AS) would inhabit the lands of Canaan.
“And raise up in their midst a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your revelations, and shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and shall purify them of their sins. Lo! You, only You, are the Mighty, the Wise.” (Quran 2:127-129
Abraham’s (AS) prayer for a Messenger was answered several thousand years later when God raised Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) among the Arabs, and as Mecca was chosen to be a sanctuary and House of Worship for all humanity, so too was the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) sent to all humanity.It was this pinnacle of the life of Abraham (AS) which was the completion of his purpose: the building of a place of worship for all of humanity, not for any chosen race or color, for the worship of the One True God. Through the establishment of this house was the guarantee that God, the God to Whom he called and for Whom he made endless sacrifices, would be worshipped forever, without the association of any other God with him. Indeed it was one of the greatest of favors bestowed upon any human.
Abraham (AS) & the Hajj Pilgrimage
Yearly, Muslims from around the world gather from all walks of life, the answer to the prayer of Abraham (AS) and the call to Pilgrimage. This rite is called Hajj, and it commemorates many events of God’s beloved servant Abraham (AS) and his family. After circling the Kaaba, a Muslim prays behind the Station of Abraham (AS), the stone on which Abraham (AS) stood to build the Kaaba. After the prayers, a Muslim drinks from the same well, called Zamzam, which flowed in answer to the Prayer of Abraham and Hagar, providing sustenance for Ishmael and Hagar, and was the cause for the inhabitation of the land. The rite of walking between Safaa and Marwah commemorates Hagar’s desperate search for water when she and her baby were alone in Mecca. The sacrifice of an animal in Mina during Hajj, and by Muslims around the world in their own lands, is after the example of Abraham’s (AS) willingness to sacrifice his son for God’s sake. Lastly, the stoning of the stone pillars at Mina exemplifies Abraham’s (AS) rejection of satanic temptations to prevent him from sacrificing Ishmael (AS).
The ‘Beloved servant of God’ about whom God said, “I will make you a leader to the nations,” returned to Palestine and died there.