Moses is an important prophet in the Muslim faith as well as in Judaism and Christianity. Muslims call him Musa.
Last updated 2009-09-04
Moses is an important prophet in the Muslim faith as well as in Judaism and Christianity. Muslims call him Musa.
A hundred years after the death of the Prophet Joseph, the rulers of Egypt passed a decree that a son born to an Israelite parent would be put to death; only daughters would be spared to serve the followers of Pharaoh. This was a 'dreadful torment' inflicted on Israelites.
During this dreaded era, Moses was born; his mother was, however, commanded by God not to cast the child into the river on birth, but to suckle him till such time as she felt that there was real danger to his life.
For about three months she reared him and then she put him in a box and lay it in the river. God promised her that her child would be safe, that he would soon be restored to her, and that he would be made 'one of our apostles'.
The box was carried by the River Nile to the banks close to the palace of Pharaoh. A servant of Pharaoh who was passing by picked up the box and took the child to the Queen. Pharaoh was informed, and he ordered that the child be put to death.
But the Queen, who was childless, was enchanted by the baby. She said, God had made him 'such a lovely child that the beholder could not but love him'. She beseeched Pharaoh to spare his life. 'Let us adopt him. He will be raised in our palace and would never know that he was an Israelite. He will be one of us and will, in fact, be useful in our fight against the Israelites.'
Pharaoh relented. The Queen took to Moses as a mother would to her own new-born son. But the baby was restless and cried incessantly; no nurse was able to feed him.
Moses' mother, who felt utterly bereft without her child, had asked ten-year-old daughter to follow the course of her brother's journey in the box, and to keep a watch on him. The little girl did as she was told. She entered the palace after the baby was taken there and managed to get close to the Queen, eventually gaining her confidence.
As the child became weak through lack of nourishment, she talked to the Queen of a 'particular' nurse who might be able to suckle the child, to feed him with great affection and to bring him up. 'Thus', says Allah in the Quran, 'We restored Moses to his mother, so that her eyes might be cooled and she would cease to grieve and would know that Allah's promise was fulfilled.'
Moses grew up in Pharaoh's household under the benevolent care of the Queen. When he reached manhood, Allah 'gave him the power of knowledge and judgement'. Once, while on a visit to the city, he saw two men fighting; one was an Israelite, the other an Egyptian. The Israelite asked Moses for help, so Moses came to the rescue and struck the Egyptian forcefully. The Egyptian collapsed and died instantly.
Moses was most perturbed and asked God for forgiveness, saying, 'I shall never come to the help of those committing wrong.' The next morning, the man he had helped again called out for assistance. Moses realized that he was a quarrelsome person and rushed to lay his hands on him. 'Do you intend to kill me as you had killed the man yesterday?' the man shouted. 'Do you wish to become a tyrant in the land?'
Moses prayed to the Lord. 'Oh, my Lord, saave me from such people who are given to wrongdoing.' Then a man came running and informed Moses that Pharaoh's chiefs were planning to hang Moses and advised him to run away.
So Moses left Egypt in the direction of Madyan, praying to the Lord to guide him to the right path. On reaching the waters of Madyan, he saw a number of men drawing water for their animals, while two women stood by quietly, holding back their animals. Moses asked them why they were waiting.
They replied, 'We cannot water our animals until the men have left; that is our misfortune. Our father could not come to draw water for our animals as he is too old.' Moses drew water for both of them, and the women were grateful for his help. One of them went home and informed her father of what Moses had done. The father asked her to fetch Moses so that he might pay him the wages for the work.
Moses told the old man the circumstances under which he had had to leave Egypt. 'Have no fear any more,' he assured Moses, 'It is good you have escaped from those wicked people.' He was impressed by Moses and offered one of his daughters in marriage, provided Moses promised to live with them for eight years, or even longer if he so wished. Moses agreed and started his life in Madyan.
After eight years, Moses left with his wife and family. On their journey he saw a fire in the direction of Mount Tur. He made his family halt there, while he ran towards the fire hoping to obtain some information about the neighborhood, or at least get a burning firebrand to keep his family warm.
When Moses reached the spot he heard a voice from above the trees on the right side of the sacred valley. 'What have you in your right hand?' the voice said. Bewildered, Moses replied: 'It is my staff, with which I bring down the leaves for my sheep and do many other things.'
The voice spoke again: O Moses, I am the Lord of the Universe. Cast down your staff and listen to me. [20:19]
Moses threw it down, and there before his eyes it became a writhing serpent. The Lord spoke again: Draw near it and fear not: now seize the serpent and do not be afraid. It will become a staff again. [20:21]
Moses did as he was told. God then asked him to place his right hand into his bosom and to bring it out again; it was shining white and without any stain. God then blessed him with supreme revelations and commanded him to go to Pharaoh and his people and to preach to them the Oneness of God and the glory of righteous conduct.
Moses prayed to God: Oh my Lord, enlarge my heart and strengthen me by curing my speech so that people may understand what I say. Also lighten my burden by assigning Aaron, my brother, to assist me. [20:25-32]
The Lord granted his prayer and asked him to proceed with His Signs: Go, you, O Moses and your brother, with Our Signs to Pharaoh. Speak gently to him but make him see the truth and fear Us. [20:43-44]
Moses and Aaron told the Lord that Pharaoh might subject them to violence, as Moses was wanted by his chiefs for killing one of their men.
The Lord assured them not to have any fear in their hearts: I am with you; I hear and see everything. Tell Pharaoh that you are My messengers. Ask him to let the Israelites be with you, and to torture them no more. [20:46-47]
Armed with the divine mission and the Book that was sent down to him which was to be the 'means of enlightenment to the people and a guidance and mercy to mankind', Moses left for Egypt with Aaron. They first went to the people and asked them to worship the true God. Moses showed them His Signs, but the people dismissed these as 'nothing but false magic' and laughed at him.
He asked them to sacrifice a cow as an offering to God. 'What sort of cow?' they asked him in jest. Moses told them that God wanted a cow which was neither young nor old but of middle age. 'What about its color?' they asked. Moses said it should be deep and bright yellow. There were several cows of this color, they told Moses.
He clarified that it should be a cow that was neither yoked nor had ploughed any field; further, it was to be of sound mind and wholesome body. The people then realized what Moses meant; he wanted them to kill the golden cow that they and their forefathers had been worshipping. They asked Moses first to approach Pharaoh, their King, and if he agreed, they too would follow him.
Moses approached Pharaoh and appealed to him to give up his arrogance and high and mighty ways and to bow before the Lord, who was indeed the ruler of the world. Purify yourself, O Pharaoh, so that I may guide you to the right path. [29:18]
Pharaoh was furious and asked Moses who was this God of his, whose messenger he claimed to be. Moses replied: Our Lord is the one who creates all things; He gives them form and then guides them. [20:50]
Pharaoh enquired about the generations that had passed away. Knowledge of them, Moses said, was with God alone. He then asked Pharaoh to look around and see the variety of God's creations -- the rain, the wind, the cattle and the plants, all were the signs of His supremacy. Pharaoh asked Moses whether he had any proof of his prophethood. Moses threw down his staff and it became a live serpent. He then drew his hand out of the pocket of his cloak, and it shone with dazzling brightness.
Pharaoh's chiefs said Moses was no more than a magician; they told Pharaoh: 'Call the best of magicians from our cities to counter his magic'. Moses agreed to face them, and the Festival Day was fixed for the event. Two of the best magicians confronted Moses. They threw their ropes and staves at Moses, which turned into serpents and coiled around him.
Moses prayed to his Lord for help. The Lord told him not to lose nerve, and commanded: Throw your staff down and it will swallow everything which they have faked here; theirs are only magic tricks, what you have is real. No magician ever thrives, whatever he may do or wherever he may go. [20:69]
Moses threw his staff on the ground and it turned into a bigger serpent which swallowed all the other serpents. The magicians were wonderstruck and at once prostrated themselves, declaring that they believed in the God of Moses and Aaron.
Pharaoh thundered with rage: 'How dare you do so without my leave?' He warned them that he would cut off their hands and feet on alternate sides and crucify them on the trunks of palm trees if they did not desist from following Moses.
The magicians showed no fear and told Pharaoh that he could do what he liked with them but they would not retract from the clear path shown by Moses. They believed that his God was superior to Pharaoh. They asked for the forgiveness of the Lord for the sins of sorcery that Pharaoh had compelled them to commit.
Pharaoh grew more furious, and decided to wipe out every trace of the teachings of Moses. He issued a proclamation: O my people, I am the sovereign of Egypt; even rivers flow beneath my feet. Are you to listen to a man who cannot even speak properly? If he is really the Almighty's messenger, why is he not loaded with gold or attended upon by angels? [43:51-53]
Moses warned him that, if he disobeyed his call, 'we have been told by Allah that a grievous punishment awaits you.' But Pharaoh and his men paid no heed to Moses' warning.
Thus they were struck by the plague and other diseases; they begged Moses to save them from the scourge. But no sooner were they cured than they went back to the worship of Pharaoh. Two of Pharaoh's chiefs, Qaran and Haman, behaved particularly abominably; greed for wealth and lust for power blinded their vision.
With the passage of time, the attitude of Pharaoh towards Moses worsened: he denounced him publicly and tortured his followers. He declared that there was no other god except he. He told Haman: 'Build me a high tower, so that I may go to the top and find out who this God of Moses is.'
He ordered his chiefs to show no mercy to Israelites; they should be driven out of Egypt. A reign of terror was unleashed. As a result, many of Moses' people left him, while only a few remained as his followers. But Moses was not dismayed; he remained steadfast in the pursuit of his faith.
Then God came to Moses' rescue. He was told to gather his followers and take them through the midst of the seas, on a path that would be specially carved for them by God. Pharaoh and his men, fully armed, attempted to pursue them along the same path. As soon as Pharaoh and his men set foot on the path, however, it vanished, and they were drowned in the raging seas.
Israelites then settled in a secure habitation provided with all amenities and comforts. After some time, Moses, accompanied by seventy of his followers, ascended to the heavens to see God, leaving his people in the charge of his brother, Aaron. He bade Aaron to have no dealings with evil-doers and to perform his task with 'an honest heart'. Moses had what the Quran describes as 'a communion with God for thirty nights'. Subsequently, ten more nights were added, to make forty nights in all, which was the appointed time of communication with the Lord.
When Moses came to the appointed place, the Lord blessed him. Moses prayed: 'O my Lord, let me look at You.' The Lord said, 'You cannot see Me when I manifest My glory. But look upon the mountain; if it stays firm in its place, then you shall see Me. Now turn towards it.' And in an instant the mountain crumbled and became dust. Seeing this, Moses fell down in a swoon. [7:143]
When Moses recovered, God enquired: 'Why have you come in such haste to Us?' 'My people have taken to the path shown by You, my Lord,' he replied. 'I have come to seek Your blessings.' 'In your absence your people have gone astray,' God told him. 'They have been misled by a person called al-Samiri.'
Moses was grief-stricken. He begged God to forgive his followers and not to destroy them for their betrayal. God granted his wish and gave him tablets of stone bearing precepts that his people were to follow in order to achieve the best, both on earth and in the hereafter.
Moses returned to earth with a heavy heart and found that, under the guidance of al-Samiri, his followers had begin to worship the image of a calf made out of their ornaments. More in sorrow than in anger, he chided them and asked why they had broken their pledge to him. They said that al-Samiri had asked them to throw their ornaments into a fire, out of which had come an effigy of a golden calf which made a lowing sound.
They were misled by this and began to worship the calf, believing that it was the God of Moses. Moses asked them if they were so naive to think that the calf had life? It could neither hear nor speak, nor do any good or harm to them. Aaron had warned them of the wrong they were doing, but they had insisted that until Moses returned they would continue to worship the calf.
Moses threw down the tablets, telling his people that they were not worthy of them. He dragged Aaron by the hair and asked him why he had flouted his command and not prevented his people from being misled. Aaron replied that the people had become so rebellious that they would have killed him had he tried to restrain them. Besides, he did not want to create a division in their ranks.
Moses asked God to forgive Aaron, and then turned to al-Samiri. 'Begone,' said Moses. 'You will remain an untouchable all your life, and hell shall be your destination.' Taking the effigy of the calf in his hands, Moses consigned it to the fire, which soon reduced it to ashes.
He told the Israelites that he had been chosen as the messenger; God had said to him: O Moses! I have chosen you in preference to others, and entrusted you with the mission to convey My words as contained in My revelations to all the people around, and to join the ranks of these who are grateful to Me. [7:144]
God imparted knowledge to Moses for the good of Israelites, and inscribed on the tablets 'detailed precepts' of faith in His oneness and the code of righteous conduct. In the tablets We have ordained laws concerning all matters, and We command you to hold to them firmly and be among those who are faithful to the best of the precepts they contain. [7:145]
Moses warned his people that those who repudiated God's Signs and the judgment to come were bound to meet their doom; no one would be able to save them then. He also asked them to remember the grace of God, because of which prophets were raised among them and were made rulers. No other people in the world had had such benevolence from the Lord. God had assigned Palestine to them, and so Moses called on his followers to enter this holy land.
They hesitated and told Moses: 'How can we? The land is inhabited by a mighty people. Until they leave, we cannot possibly enter it.' However, two among them, who were brave and God-fearing, volunteered. Moses asked God for his direction.
He answered: To those who have defied your command, O Moses! this land is proscribed for forty years. They will wander around the world but will have no home of their own. You need not sorrow over them, for that is the fate of rebellious people. [5:29]
The Israelites were divided into twelve tribes: The Lord commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff. No sooner was this done than twelve springs gushed forth. Each group then took its own spring to drink, and to each the Lord gave shades of cloud as cover and manna and quail to eat, and all other good things. But the unbelievers rebelled and did not follow the command; they only harmed themselves. The Lord is, indeed, above all harm. [7:160]