STORIES OF THE PROPHETS
God says he sent a prophet to every nation. He says: “For We assuredly sent amongst every People a Messenger, (with the command): ‘Serve God, and eschew Evil;’ of the people were some whom God guided, and some on whom Error became inevitably (established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the Truth)” (Quran 16:36)
From Adam to Muhammad, all total 124,000 Prophets (Nabi).
Out of 124,000 Prophets, only 313 are Messengers (Rasul).
Out of 313 Messengers, only 25 is a must known.
Note that every Messenger is Prophet, but not every Prophet is Messenger. The first Messenger is Adam. The last Messenger is Muhammad – and no more Prophet/Messenger after Muhammad, peace be upon to him.
THE FIRST MAN
Islam provides us with the astonishing details of the creation of Adam. Both Christian and Jewish traditions are remarkably similar yet importantly different to the Quran. The Book of Genesis describes Adam as being made from “the dust of the earth,” and in the Talmud, Adam is described as being kneaded from mud.
And God said to the angels:
“‘Verily, I am going to place mankind generations after generations on earth.’ They said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood, while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You.’ God said: ‘I know that which you do not know.’” (Quran 2:30)
So begins the story of Adam, the first man, the first human being. God created Adam from a handful of soil containing portions from all its varieties on Earth. Angels were sent to earth to collect the soil that was to become Adam. It was red, white, brown, and black; it was soft and malleable, hard and gritty; it came from the mountains and the valleys; from infertile deserts and lush fertile plains and all the natural varieties in between. The descendants of Adam were destined to be as diverse as the handful of soil from which their ancestor was created; all have different appearances, attributes and qualities.
Soil or Clay?
Throughout the Quran, the soil used to create Adam is referred to by many names, and from this we are able to understand some of the methodology of his creation. Each name for soil is used at a different stage of Adam’s creation. Soil, taken from the earth, is referred to as soil; God also refers to it as clay. When it is mixed with water it becomes mud, when it is left to stand the water content reduces and it becomes sticky clay (or mud). If it is again left for some time it begins to smell, and the colour becomes darker – black, smooth clay. It was from this substance that God moulded the form of Adam. His soulless body was left to dry, and it became what is known in the Quran as sounding clay. Adam was moulded from something akin to potter’s clay. When it is rapped it produces a ringing sound.
The First Man is Honoured
And God said, to the Angels:
“And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me, then you fall down prostrate to him.” (Quran 38:71-72)
God honoured the first humman, Adam, in countless ways. Allah blew his soul into him, He fashioned him with His own hands and He ordered the Angels to bow down before him. And God said to the Angels:
“....Prostrate to Adam and they prostrated except Iblees (Satan)....” (Quran 7:11)
While worship is reserved for God Alone this prostration by the Angels to Adam was a sign of respect and honour. It is said that, as Adam’s body trembled into life, he sneezed and immediately said ‘All praise and thanks is due to God;’ so God responded by bestowing His Mercy upon Adam. Although this account is not mentioned in either the Quran or the authentic narrations of the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, it is mentioned in some commentaries of the Quran. Thus, in his first seconds of life, the first man is recognized as an honoured creature, covered with the infinite Mercy of God.
It was also said by the Prophet Muhammad that God created Adam in His image. This does not mean that Adam was created to look similar to God, as God is unique in all His aspects, we are unable to comprehend or form an image of Him. It does mean, however, that Adam was given some qualities which also God has, although incomparable. He was given qualities of mercy, love, free will, and others.
The First Greeting
Adam was instructed to approach a group of Angels sitting near to him and greet them with the words Assalamu alaikum (May God’s peace be upon you), they answered ‘and also upon you be God’s peace, mercy and blessings’. From that day forward these words became the greeting of those submitted to God. From the moment of Adam’s creation, we his descendents were instructed to spread peace.
Adam, the Caretaker
God told mankind that He did not create them except that they should worship Him. Everything in this world was created for Adam and his descendants, in order to aid us in our ability to worship and know God. Due to God’s infinite Wisdom, Adam and his descendants were to be the caretakers on earth, so God taught Adam what he needed to know to perform this duty. God mentions:
“He taught Adam all the names of everything.” (Quran 2:31)
God gave Adam the ability to identify and designate names to everything; He taught him language, speech and the ability to communicate. God imbued Adam with an insatiable need for and love of knowledge. After Adam had learned the names and uses for all things God said to the Angels...
“‘tell me the names of these if you are truthful.’ They answered ‘Glory be to You, we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Verily it is You the All Knower, the All Wise.’” (Quran 2:31-32)
God turned to Adam and said:
“‘O Adam! Inform them of their names,’ and when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the unseen in the heavens and the earth, and I know what you reveal and what you have been hiding?” (Quran 2:33)
Adam tried to speak with the Angels, but they were occupied worshipping God. The Angels were given no specific knowledge or freedom of will, their sole purpose being to worship and praise God. Adam, on the other hand, was given the ability to reason, make choices and identify objects and their purpose. This helped to prepare Adam for his coming role on earth. So Adam knew the names of everything, but he was alone in Heaven. One morning Adam awoke to find a woman gazing at him.
Based on the work of Al Imam ibn Katheer, The Stories of the Prophets.
Al Imam ibn Katheer. The Stories of the Prophets.
THE CREATION OF EVE AND THE ROLE OF SATAN
Adam opened his eyes and looked into the beautiful face of a woman gazing down at him. Adam was surprised and asked the woman why she had been created. She revealed that she was to ease his loneliness and bring tranquillity to him. The Angels questioned Adam. They knew that Adam possessed knowledge of things they did not know about and the knowledge mankind would need to occupy the earth. They said ‘who is this?’ and Adam replied ‘this is Eve’.
Eve is Hawwa in Arabic; it comes from the root word hay, meaning living. Eve is also an English variant of the old Hebrew word Havva, also deriving from hay. Adam informed the Angels that Eve was so named because she was made from a part of him and he, Adam, was a living being.
Both Jewish and Christian traditions also maintain that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, although in a literal translation of the Jewish tradition, rib is sometimes referred to as side.
“And God said: ‘O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from Him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women.’” (Quran 4:1)
The traditions of Prophet Muhammad relate that Eve was created while Adam was sleeping from his shortest left rib and that, after sometime, she was clothed with flesh. He (Prophet Muhammad) used the story of Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib as a basis for imploring people to be gentle and kind to women. “O Muslims! I advise you to be gentle with women, for they are created from a rib, and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part. If you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked; so I urge you to take care of the women.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Dwelling in Paradise
Adam and Eve dwelt in tranquillity in Paradise. This, too, is agreed upon by Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. Islam tells us that all of Paradise was theirs to enjoy and God said to Adam, “eat both of you freely with pleasure and delight of things therein as wherever you will...” (Quran 2:35) The Quran does not reveal the exact location of where this Paradise was; however, commentators agree that it is not on the earth, and that the knowledge of the location is of no benefit to mankind. The benefit is in understanding the lesson from the events that took place there.
God continued his instructions to Adam and Eve by warning them “...come not near this tree or you both will be of the wrongdoers.” (Quran 2:35) The Quran does not reveal what type of tree it was; we have no details and seeking such knowledge also produces no benefit. What is understood is that Adam and Eve lived a tranquil existence and understood that they were forbidden to eat from the tree. However, Satan was waiting to exploit the weakness of mankind.
Who is Satan?
Satan is a creature from the world of the Jinn. The Jinn are a creation of God made from fire. They are separate and different from both the Angels and mankind; however, like mankind, they possess the power of reason and can choose between good and evil. The Jinn existed before the creation of Adam and Satan was the most righteous among them, so much so that he was elevated to a high position amongst the Angels.
“The Angels prostrated themselves all of them together. Except Satan, he refused to be among the prostrators. God said: ‘O Satan! What is your reason for not being among the prostrators? ‘Satan said: ‘I am not the one to prostrate myself to a human being, whom You created from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud.’ God said: ‘Then get out from Here for verily you are an outcast or cursed one. Verily the curse shall be upon you till the Day of Resurrection.’” (Quran 15:30-35)
The Role of Satan
Satan was there in the Paradise of Adam and Eve and his vow was to misguide and deceive them and their descendents. Satan said: “…surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left…” (Quran 7:16-17) Satan is arrogant, and considered himself better then Adam, and thus mankind. He is crafty and cunning, but ultimately understands the weakness of human beings; he recognises their loves and desires.
Satan did not say to Adam and Eve “go eat from that tree” nor did he out rightly tell them to disobey God. He whispered into their hearts and planted disquieting thoughts and desires. Satan said to Adam and Eve, “...Your Lord did not forbid you this tree save that you should become Angels or become of the immortals.” (Quran 7:20) Their minds became filled with thoughts of the tree, and one day they decided to eat from it. Adam and Eve behaved as all human beings do; they became preoccupied with their own thoughts and the whisperings of Satan and they forgot the warning from God.
It is at this point that the Jewish and Christian traditions differ greatly from Islam. At no point do the words of God – the Quran, or the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad - indicate that Satan came to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake or serpent.
Islam in no way indicates that Eve was the weaker of the two, or that she tempted Adam to disobey God. Eating the fruit of the tree was a mistake committed by both Adam and Eve. They bear equal responsibility. It was not the original sin spoken about in Christian traditions. The descendents of Adam are not being punished for the sins of their original parents. It was a mistake, and God, in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy, forgave them both.
Al Ashqar, U. (2003). The World of Jinn and Devils. Islamic Creed Series. International Islamic Publishing House: Riyadh.
Sheikh ibn Al Qayyim in Ighaathat al Lahfaan.
Islam rejects the Christian concept of original sin and the notion that all humans are born sinners due to the actions of Adam. God says in the Quran:
“And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden.” (Quran 35:18)
Every human being is responsible for his or her actions and is born pure and free from sin. Adam and Eve committed a mistake, they repented sincerely and God in His infinite wisdom forgave them.
“Then they both ate of that tree, and so their private parts appeared to them, and they began to stick on themselves the leaves from Paradise for their covering. Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and turned to him with forgiveness and gave him guidance.” (Quran 20:121-122)
Mankind has a long history of committing mistakes and forgetting. Even so, how was it possible for Adam to have committed such a mistake? The reality was that Adam did not have any experience with the whisperings and ploys of Satan. Adam had seen the arrogance of Satan when he refused to follow the commands of God; he knew that Satan was his enemy but had no familiarity with how to resist Satan’s tricks and schemes. The Prophet Muhammad told us:
“Knowing something is not the same as seeing it.” (Saheeh Muslim)
“So he (Satan) misled them with deception.” (Quran 7:22)
God tested Adam so that he could learn and gain experience. In this way God prepared Adam for his role on earth as a caretaker and a Prophet of God. From this experience, Adam learned the great lesson that Satan is cunning, ungrateful and the avowed enemy of mankind. Adam, Eve and their descendants learned that Satan caused their expulsion from heaven. Obedience to God and enmity towards Satan is the only path back to Heaven.
God said to Adam:
“Get you down (upon the earth), all of you together, from Paradise, some of you are an enemy to some others. Then, if there comes to you guidance from Me, whoever follows My Guidance shall neither go astray, nor fall into distress and misery.” (Quran 20:123)
The Quran tells us that Adam subsequently received from his Lord some words; a supplication to pray, which invoked God’s forgiveness. This supplication is very beautiful and can be used when asking for God’s pardon of your sins.
“Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If you forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (Quran 7:23)
Mankind continues to commit mistakes and wrong doing, and through them we only harm ourselves. Our sins and mistakes have not harmed, nor will it harm God. If God does not forgive us and have mercy on us, it is we who will surely be among the losers. We need God!
“‘On earth will be a dwelling place for you and an enjoyment, for a time.’ He said: ‘Therein you shall live and therein you shall die, and from it you shall be brought out (resurrected).’” (Quran 7:24–25)
Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified. In the English language we are familiar with things being either singular or plural; this is not the case for Arabic. In the Arabic language there is singular, then an extra grammatical number category denoting two. Plural is used for three and more.
When God said: “Get you down, all of you” He used the word for plural indicating that he was not speaking to Adam and Eve alone but that He was referring to Adam, his wife and his descendants – mankind. We, the descendants of Adam, do not belong to this earth; we are here for a temporary time, as is indicated by the words: “for a time.” We belong to the hereafter and are destined to take our place in either Heaven or Hell.
The Freedom to Choose
This experience was an essential lesson and demonstrated free will. If Adam and Eve were to live on earth, they needed to be aware of the tricks and schemes of Satan, they also needed to understand the dire consequences of sin, and the infinite Mercy and Forgiveness of God. God knew that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree. He knew that Satan would strip away their innocence.
It is important to understand that, although God knows the outcome of events before they happen and allows them, he does not force things to happen. Adam had free will and bore the consequences of his deeds. Mankind has free will and thus is free to disobey God; but there are consequences. God praises those who obey his commands and promises them great reward, and He condemns those who disobey him and warns them against doing so.
Where Adam and Eve descended
There are many reports on the subject of where on earth Adam and Eve descended, although none of them come from the Quran or Sunnah. We thus understand that the location of their descent is something that is of no importance, and there is no benefit in this knowledge were we to have it.
We do know however that Adam and Eve descended to earth on a Friday. In a tradition narrated to inform us of the importance of Fridays, the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said:
“The best of days on which the sun has risen is Friday. One this day Adam was created, and on this day he was descended to earth.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Muhammad ibn Al Husain al Ajjurri.
LIFE ON EARTH
Adam and Eve left Paradise and began their life on earth. God had prepared them in many ways. He gave them the experience of struggling against the whisperings and schemes of Satan. He taught Adam the names of everything and instructed him in its properties and usefulness. Adam took up his position as caretaker of the earth and Prophet of God.
Adam, the first Prophet of God was responsible for teaching his wife and offspring how to worship God and seek His forgiveness. Adam established the laws of God and set about trying to support his family and learning to subdue and care for the earth. His task was to perpetuate, cultivate, construct and populate; he was to raise children who would live according to God’s instructions and care for and improve the earth.
Adam’s First Four Children
Adam and Eve’s first children, Cain and his sister, were twins,; Abel and his sister, another set of twins, soon followed. Adam and his family lived in peace and harmony. Cain ploughed the earth while Abel raised livestock. Time passed and the occasion came for the sons of Adam to marry. A group of the companions of Prophet Muhammad including Ibn Abbas and Ibn Masud related that inter-marriage of the male of one pregnancy with the female of another had been the practice among Adam’s children. Therefore we know that God’s plan to fill the earth included each of Adam’s sons marrying the twin sister of the other.
It seems that beauty has played a part in the attraction of men and women since the beginning. Cain was not pleased with the partner chosen for him. Cain began to envy his brother and refused to obey the command of his father and, in doing so, he disobeyed God. God created man with both good and bad tendencies, and the struggle to over come our baser instincts is part of His test for us.
God commanded that each son was to offer a sacrifice. His judgement would favour the son whose offer was the most acceptable. Cain offered his worst grain, but Abel offered his best livestock. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, so Cain became enraged, threatening to kill his brother.
“And (O Muhammad) recite to them (the Jews) the story of the two sons of Adam (Abel and Cain) in truth; when each offered a sacrifice to God, it was accepted from the one but not from the other. The latter said to the former; ‘I will surely kill you.’” (Quran 5:27)
Abel advised his brother that God would accept good deeds from those that fear and serve Him, but reject the good deeds of those who are arrogant, selfish and disobedient towards God.
“The former said: ‘Verily God accepts only from those who are pious. If you do stretch your hand against me to kill me I shall never stretch my hand against you to kill you, for I fear God; the Lord of mankind, jinn, and all that exists.’” (Quran 5:27-28)
The First Murder
“So the self (base desires) of the other (latter one) encouraged him and made fair seeming to him the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers.” (Quran 5:30)
Prophet Muhammad informed us that Cain became angry and hit his brother over the head with a piece of iron. It was also said in another narration that Cain hit Abel over the head while he was sleeping.
“God sent a crow who scratched the ground to show him to hide the dead body of his brother. He (the murderer) said: ‘Woe to me!
Am I not even able to be as this crow and to hide the dead body of my brother?’ Then he became one of those who regretted.” (Quran 5:31)
Adam was devastated; he had lost both his first and second born sons. One had been murdered; the other was won over by mankind’s greatest enemy – Satan. Patiently, Adam prayed for his son, and continued to care for the earth. He taught his many children and grandchildren about God. He told them of his own encounter with Satan and advised them to beware of Satan’s tricks and schemes. Years and years passed, and Adam grew old and his children spread out across the earth.
All of mankind are the children of Adam. In one narration, the Prophet Muhammad informed us that God showed Adam his descendants. Adam saw a beautiful light in Prophet David’s eyes and loved him, so he turned to God and said: “Oh God. Give him forty years from my life.” God granted Adam his request, and it was written down and sealed.
Adam’s life span was supposed to be 1000 years but after 960 years the Angel of death came to Adam. Adam was surprised and said “but I still have 40 years to live”. The angel of death reminded him of his gift of 40 years to his beloved descendant Prophet David, but Adam denied it. Many, many years later, the last Prophet Muhammad said: “Adam denied so the children of Adam deny, Adam forgot and his children forget; Adam made mistakes and his children make mistakes.” (At-Tirmidhi)
In Arabic the word for mankind is insan and it comes from the root word nisyan to forget. This is part of human nature, mankind forgets, and when we forget we deny and reject. Adam forgot (he was not lying), and God forgave him. Adam then submitted to the will of God and died. The Angels descended and washed the body of Prophet Adam an odd number of times; they dug the grave and buried the body of the father of mankind, Adam.
Before his death Adam reminded his children that God would never leave them alone or without guidance. He told them God would send other Prophets with unique names, traits and miracles, but they would all call to the same thing – the worship of the One True God. Adam appointed as his successor his son Seth.
THE FIRST MAN AND MODERN SCIENCE
In Islam, there is no conflict between faith in God and modern scientific knowledge. Indeed, for many centuries during the Middle Ages, Muslims led the world in scientific inquiry and exploration. The Quran itself, revealed around 14 centuries ago, is filled with facts and imagery that are supported by modern scientific findings. Three of those will be mentioned here. Of them, the development of language and mitrochondrial Eve (genetics) are relatively new areas of scientific research.
The Quran instructs Muslims to “contemplate the wonders of creation” (Quran 3:191)
One of the items for contemplation is the statement:
“Truly, I am going to create man from clay...” (Quran 38:71)
Indeed, many elements present in the earth are also contained in the human body. The most critical component to land-based life is the top soil; that thin layer of dark, organically rich soil in which plants spread out their roots. It is in this thin, vital layer of soil that microorganisms convert raw resources, the minerals that constitute the basic clay of this topsoil, and make them available to the myriad forms of life around and above them.
Minerals are inorganic elements that originate in the earth which the body cannot make. They play important roles in various bodily functions and are necessary to sustain life and maintain optimal health, and thus are essential nutrients. These minerals cannot be man made; they cannot be produced in a laboratory nor can they be manufactured in a factory
With cells consisting of 65-90% water by weight, water, or H2O, makes up most of the human body. Therefore most of a human body’s mass is oxygen. Carbon, the basic unit for organic molecules, comes in second. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.
The human body contains trace amounts of almost every mineral on earth; including sulphur, potassium, zinc, copper, iron, aluminium, molybdenum, chromium, platinum, boron, silicon selenium, molybdenum, fluorine, chlorine, iodine, manganese, cobalt, lithium, strontium, aluminium, lead, vanadium, arsenic, bromine and more. Without these minerals, vitamins may have little or no effect. Minerals are catalysts, triggers for thousands of essential enzyme reactions in the body. Trace elements play a key role in the functioning of a healthy human being. It is known that insufficient iodine will induce a disease of the thyroid gland and a deficiency of cobalt will leave us without vitamin B12, and thus unable to manufacture red blood cells.
Another verse to contemplate is:
“He taught Adam all the names of everything.” (Quran 2:31)
Adam was taught the names of everything; the powers of reasoning and free will were given to him. He learned how to categorise things and understand their usefulness. Thus, God taught Adam language skills. He taught Adam how to think – to apply knowledge to solve problems, make plans and decisions and to achieve goals. We, the children of Adam, have inherited these skills in order that we can exist in the world and worship God in the best manner.
Linguists estimate that more than 3000 separate languages exist in the world today, all distinct, so that speakers of one cannot understand those of another, yet these languages are all so fundamentally similar that it is possible to speak of a “human language’ in the singular.
Language is a special form of communication that involves learning complex rules to make and combine symbols (words or gestures) into an endless number of meaningful sentences. Language exists because of two simple principles, - words and grammar.
A word is an arbitrary pairing between a sound or symbol and a meaning. For example, in English the word cat does not look or sound or feel like a cat, but it refers to a certain animal because all of us memorised this pairing as children. Grammar refers to a set of rules for combing words into phrases and sentences. It may seem surprising, but speakers of all 3000 separate languages learned the same four rules of language.
The first language rule is phonology – how we make meaningful sounds. Phonemes are basic sounds. We combine phonemes to form words by learning the second rule: morphology. Morphology is the system we use to group phonemes into meaningful combinations of sounds and words. A morpheme is the smallest, meaningful combination of sounds in a language. After learning to combine morphemes to produce words, we learn to combine words into meaningful sentences. The third language rule governs syntax or grammar. This set of rules specifies how we combine words to form meaningful phrases and sentences. The fourth language rule governs semantics – the specific meaning of words or phrases as they appear in various sentences or contexts.
All children, regardless of where in the world they are, go through the same four language stages because of innate language factors. These factors facilitate how we make speech sounds and acquire language skills. The renowned linguist Noam Chomsky says that all languages share a common universal grammar, and that children inherit a mental programme to learn this universal grammar.
A third verse to ponder is about progeniture:
“O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from Him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women.” (Quran 4:1)
The realisation that all mtDNA lineages (Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas) can be traced back to a single origin is popularly called the “mitochondrial Eve” theory. According to top scientists and cutting-edge research, everyone on the planet today can trace a specific part of his or her genetic heritage back to one woman through a unique part of our genetic makeup, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The mtDNA of “mitochondrial Eve” has been passed down through the centuries from mother to daughter (men are carriers, but don’t pass it on) and exists within all people living today. It is popularly known as the Eve theory because, as can be deduced from the above, it is passed down through the X chromosome. Scientists are also studying DNA from the Y chromosome (perhaps to be dubbed the “Adam theory”), which is passed only from father to son and is not recombined with the mother’s genes.
These are but three of the many wonders of creation God suggests we contemplate through his verses in the Quran. The entire universe, which was created by God, follows and obeys His laws. Therefore Muslims are encouraged to seek knowledge, explore the universe, and find the “Signs of God” in His creation.
Minerals and Human Health The Rationale for Optimal and Balanced Trace Element Levels by Alexander G. Schauss, Ph.D.
Pinker, S., & Bloom, P. (1992) Natural Language and natural selection. In Gray. P. (2002). Psychology. 4th ed. Worth Publishers: New York
Plotnick, R. (2005) Introduction to Psychology. 7th Ed .Wadsworth:USA
Gray. P. (2002). Psychology. 4th ed. Worth Publishers: New York
Douglas C Wallace Professor of Biological Sciences and Molecular Medicine. At the University of California.
Discovery channel documentary – The Real Eve.
WHO WAS NOAH?
The accounts of the flood in the Jewish and Christian traditions acknowledge Noah as being a righteous man in a world crushed under the weight of sin and disbelief. The Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, teach us that Prophet Noah was a beacon of hope among the descendants of Adam in an era where sin and lawlessness had overtaken the people.
Mankind had been one community believing in the Oneness of God, but confusion and deviation had crept in. Noah was a calm, patient man who called his people to return to the worship of the One True God. He was an exceptional speaker, enjoining those around him to leave the worship of idols, and to hear his warning of a terrible punishment for those who venerated idols and statues.
“And indeed We sent Noah to his people and he said O my people! Worship God! You have no other god but Him.” (Quran 23:23)
Noah narrated stories about the mysteries of life and the wonders of the universe. He described how the day, which gives sunlight and activity, followed the night that gives coolness and rest. He spoke of God, the Divine Creator Who owned heaven and earth, and he pointed out the wideness and beauty of the earth. Noah explained that the creation of the world was for the well being of mankind; but that man also had an obligation to understand this and direct his worship to God, not false deities. When Noah began to speak of the punishment that awaited idolaters, his people became resentful and angry.
How Idolatry Began
Prophet Muhammad 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.
Based on the work of Al Imam ibn Katheer, The Stories of the Prophets.
Al Ashqar, U. (2003). The Messengers and the Messages. Islamic Creed Series. International Islamic Publishing House: Riyadh.
Al Ashqar, U. (2003). Belief in Allah. Islamic Creed Series. International Islamic Publishing House: Riyadh.
NOAH BUILDS THE ARK
Noah continued to appeal to his people and they became divided into two groups. His words spoke to the heart of the weak, poor, and oppressed, but the wealthy influential people distrusted those words and could think only of the possible erosion of their power and status. A war of words began between Noah and the disbelievers. They accused Noah of being nothing but any other human, of being nothing special. Noah agreed with this observation and said that, indeed, he was only a human being, but one who brought a clear warning. And God, the Almighty told us:
“Indeed We sent Noah to his people (he said): ‘I have come to you as a plain Warner that you worship none but God, surely, I fear for you the torment of a painful Day.’ The chiefs of the disbelievers among his people said: ‘We see you but a man like ourselves, nor do we see any follow you but the meanest among us and they too followed you without thinking. And we do not see in you any merit above us in fact we think you are liars.’” (Quran 11:25-27)
Noah explained to his rebellious people that they would receive benefits by turning to God and begging His forgiveness. He (God) would bestow rain on them, as well as children and wealth, He would grant them bounteous gardens and flowing rivers. However, the disbelievers rebuffed his words; they felt secure in their arrogance and pride.
The Conflict Intensified
Those against Noah and his call began to bargain with him. They told him, that these two diverse groups, the meek and poor and the rich and powerful, could not exist together in the same faith. Although continuously taunted and bullied by the disbelievers, Noah reacted in a kind gentle manner. He explained that he would never turn away the humble and weak believers who had heeded his call. These people, he would inform them, were the guests of God. Noah appealed to his people. He tried to reason with them and make them see the reality of their situation. Without personal gain and with a humble but heavy heart Noah refuted their arguments.
“O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it; my reward is from none but God. I am not going to drive away those who have believed. Surely, they are going to meet their Lord, but I see that you are a people that are ignorant. O my people! Who will help me against God if I drove them away? Will you not then give a thought? And I do not say to you that the Treasures of God are (only) with me or that I know the unseen, nor do I say I am an angel; and I do not say that God will not bestow any good on those whom your eyes look down upon. God knows what is in their inner selves (in regard to Belief). In that case, I would indeed be among the unjust.” (Quran 11:29-31)
The disagreements continued until the disbelievers had run out of arguments. They mocked Noah and the believers, but Noah continued to deliver his message. Finally, he could bear no more and turned to God with heartfelt supplication. Noah did not run out of patience; he remained a patient, kind and gentle man. But he had come to realise that the disbelievers would do nothing but spread corruption and disbelief throughout the land. They would mislead and corrupt the believers and deliver a legacy of disbelief to their children. Noah prayed to God. He said:
“My Lord! Leave not one of the disbelievers on the earth. If you leave them, they will mislead Your slaves and they will beget none but wicked disbelievers.” (Quran 71:27)
So God accepted Noah’s prayer.
God instructed Noah to build the ark and passed judgement on the disbelievers in the form of a flood.
“And construct the ship under Our Eyes and with Our Inspiration and address Me not on behalf of those who did wrong; they are surely to be drowned.” (Quran11:37)
Noah chose a place outside the city and far away from the sea to build his ark. The disbelievers mocked and laughed, making comments about the ship’s location, far from any water source. The disbelievers had no comprehension of the power and magnificence of God, so they could not understand why Noah would build a ship, on the top of a hill, far away from the ocean. They called him crazy and laughed out loud. The ship began to take shape and when it was finished, Noah patiently waited for the command from God.
“Until when Our Command came and the lowlands gushed forth, overflowing, We said: ‘Load it with two of each kind of animal (male and female), and embark your family, except against whom the Word has already gone forth, and those who believe.’ And none believed him except a few.” (Quran 11:40)
When the water started to gush from the earth and fall from the sky, God instructed Noah to enter the ark with his family and the believers. God also commanded Noah to take a pair (male and female) of every animal, bird and insect with him. The disbelievers watched him incredulously, asking what he intended to do with all the animals.
Noah’s wife did not join him, for she had never believed in the message that Noah had been preaching; nor did his oldest son, who preferred to flee to a high mountain. The scholars of Islam hold different opinions about the number of people on the ark, but the highest estimate is 80. As the believers and animals entered the ark, the water gushed from every crack in the earth, and the rain fell from the sky in quantities never seen before. Hour after hour the water levels rose, and the seas and rivers invaded the land.
The believers entered the ark in the name of God, just as Muslims today begin everything they do, in the name of God.
“Embark therein; in the Name of God will be its course and its anchorage. Surely, my Lord is Oft Forgiving, most Merciful. So it sailed with them amidst waves like mountains...” (Quran 11:41)
Noah had built the ark according to God’s instructions, from planks and nails, and it kept the believers safe from the deluge of rain and from the water gushing out of the earth. Then the earth’s interior moved in unusual ways, and the bottom of the oceans rose in sudden bursts causing waves to flood the earth. These waves, as big as mountains, submerged everything; they lifted up the ark, making it appear as fragile as a matchbox tossed in the ocean. This construction, made of wood, became a ship of safety and security, for its passengers had true belief and trust in God.
From his secure place on the ark, Noah could see one of his sons overwhelmed by the water. Noah cried out to his son, imploring him to come aboard the ark and to leave the non-believers to their fate. The son, however, was thinking in terms of this world, and not with heartfelt trust in God. He replied that he would take himself to a mountain, never imagining that waves could swallow a mountain. Noah pleaded with his son saying “nothing can save you on this day except the mercy of God”. The son refused, and he drowned.
“And Noah called out to his son, who had separated himself (apart), ‘O my son! Embark with us and be not with the disbelievers.’ The son replied, ‘I will betake myself to a mountain; it will save me from the water.’ Noah said: ‘This day there is no saviour from the Decree of God except him on whom He has mercy.’ And a wave came in between them so he (the son) was among the drowned.” (Quran 11:42-43)
The Flood Ends
“‘O Earth! Swallow up your water, and O sky! Withhold (your rain).’ The water was diminished (made to subside) and the Decree (of God) was fulfilled (the destruction of the people of Noah). And it (the ship) rested on Mount Judi, and it was said: ‘Away with the people who are wrongdoing.’” (Quran 11:44)
Unlike Christian and Jewish traditions Islam, does not mention Noah sending a bird (neither a dove nor raven) to search for dry land. Rather, at God’s command, the rain stopped and the water ceased to gush from all the cracks in the earth. Calm returned and the sun began to shine. The flood had cleansed the earth of idolatry and disbelievers. Not a single person who had disbelieved in God remained on the earth. The earth swallowed up the water and the ark rested upon Mt. Judi (what is believed to be in present day Turkey).
Noah was a Prophet and leader of men, but he was also a father. He turned to God with sadness and cried,
“O my Lord! Verily my son is of my family! And certainly your promise is true and you are the Most Just of the judges.” (Quran 11:45)
Noah remembered that God had promised to save his family. Noah did not doubt the word or promises of God, but he wanted to understand. Thus God taught Noah a lesson.
As human beings we use words to mean certain things, but God can often give them new, more comprehensive meanings. For instance, the word prayer originally meant making supplication to God, but Islam came and gave it new meaning – it became the ritual prayer preformed five times a day. When we use the word family, we think of blood ties and relationships, and Noah was imploring God that his son was of his family. God told Noah that his son was definitely not part of his family because he was unrighteous. True family are the righteous believers in God.
“He said: ‘Oh Noah! Surely, he is not of your family; verily, his work is unrighteous, so ask not of Me that of which you have no knowledge! I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorants.’” (Quran 11:46)
Noah understood. He said;
“O my Lord! I seek refuge with You from asking from You that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have Mercy on me, I would indeed be one of the losers.” (Quran 11:47)
Noah released the animals, the birds and the insects and they scattered over the earth. Noah and his family (the believers) disembarked, whereupon Noah touched his head to the ground in prostration. At this point the Quran and the narrations of Prophet Muhammad leave the story of Noah. We do not know how his affairs with his people continued, nor do we know what happened to his family. All we can ascertain is that on his death bed Noah drew his sons close to him and called on them to worship One God: The Creator and Sustianer of the Universe.
Prophet Muhammad said:
“When the death of the Messenger of God, Noah, approached, he admonished his sons: ‘Indeed I would give you far reaching advice, commanding you to do two things, and warning you against doing two things as well. I charge you to believe that there is no god but God and that if the seven heavens and the seven earths were put on one side of a scale and the words “there is no god but God” were put on the other, the latter would outweigh the former. I warn you against associating partners with God and against pride.” (Sahih al Bukhari)
Most of Noah's people rejected his message, but the message survives in the hearts and minds of Muslims to this day. The comforting words, and the hopes of salvation Noah conveyed to his sons while on his death bed, remain part of a Muslim's belief and confirm his attitude towards God. For the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, also told us that God undertakes a covenant with the believers: If we do not worship other gods beside God, then He will not refuse us heaven.
One of the prophets given the most attention in the Quran is the prophet Abraham. 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, 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, God made prophets from his progeny, from them Ishmael Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and Moses, guiding people to the truth.
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 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.
Although the Quran and the Sunnah do not given the details of the whole life of Abraham, 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 is "Ibraheem" and "Ibrahaam", all sharing the original root, b-r-h-m. Although in the Bible Abraham is known as Abram at first, and then God is said to change his name to Abraham, 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 and Abram is merely dialectical. The same can be said for the names Sarai and Sarah, as their meanings are also identical.
Abraham is estimated to have been born 2,166 years before Jesus 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 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 is said to have died in Ur, "in the land of his nativity" (Genesis 11:28), but he was much older than Abraham, 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 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 would dwell with his family in Haran, leaving his father there and proceeding to Canaan thereafter, not to mention its geographical improbability [See map].
The Quran does mention the migration of Abraham, but it does so after Abraham 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, 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 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 with additional idols, or ‘gods’, to serve him.
The Great Ziggurat of Ur, the temple of moon god Nanna, also known as Sin. Shot in 2004, the photograph is courtesy of Lasse Jensen.
The Great Ziggurat of Ur, the temple of moon god Nanna,
also known as Sin. Shot in 2004, the photograph is
courtesy of Lasse Jensen
Although Judeo-Christian scholars have differed as to when Abraham 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 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 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. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01051a.htm)
Sarah. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.) (Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia.
Mesopotamia: "(Mes·o·po·ta·mi·a) An ancient region of southwest Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq. Probably settled before 5000 B.C., the area was the home of numerous early civilizations, including Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria." (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.)
The ancestor of the Hebrew people, Abram, was, we are told, born at "Ur of the Chaldees." "Chaldees" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew Kasdim, Kasdim is the Old Testament name of the Babylonians, while the Chaldees were a tribe who lived on the shores of the Persian Gulf, and did not become a part of the Babylonian population till the time of Hezekiah. Ur was one of the oldest and most famous of the Babylonian cities. Its site is now called Mugheir, or Mugayyar, on the western bank of the Euphrates, in Southern Babylonia. (Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary). Some Judeo-Christian scholars say that the "Ur-Kasdim" mentioned in the Bible is nor Ur, but actually the city of Ur-Kesh, located in northern Mesopotamia and closer to Haran (From Abraham to Joseph - The historical reality of the Patriarchal age. Claus Fentz Krogh. (http://www.genesispatriarchs.dk/patriarchs/abraham/abraham_eng.htm).
Ibn Asakir, a famous Muslim scholar and historian, also authenticated this opinion and said that he was born in Babylon. See "Qisas al-Anbiyaa" ibn Katheer.
Stories of the Prophets, ibn Katheer. Darussalam Publications.
Since there is little detail about the life of Abraham in the bible, much of what is commonly believed about Abraham is formed through various Judeo-Christian traditions, collected in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings. Much of what is mentioned in the bible as well as other traditions is regarded amongst Judeo-Christian scholars as legends, much of which cannot be substantiated. (Abraham. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.) (Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=360&letter=A#881)
Akkad: "(Ak·kad) An ancient region of Mesopotamia occupying the northern part of Babylonia." (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.)
Gen R. xxx. Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=360&letter=A#881).
A CALL TO HIS PEOPLE
Abraham and His Father
Like those around him, Abraham’s 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 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 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 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:
"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 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 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 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 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, 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)
Gen r. xxxviii, Tanna debe Eliyahu. Ii. 25.
Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=360&letter=A#881)
The Talmud: Selections, H. Polano. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/pol/index.htm).
Then the time came when preaching had to be accompanied with physical action. Abraham 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 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 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 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 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, explaining that he used to speak ill of them. When they called him to their presence, it was for Abraham 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 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 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 reasoning was unanswerable, their response was rage and fury, and they condemned Abraham 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 submitted to the fate chosen for him by the Lord of the Worlds. He did not loose faith, rather the trial made him stronger. Abraham 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 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, 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 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.
The Talmud: Selections, H. Polano. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/pol/index.htm).
HIS MIGRATION 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, 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 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, and some Muslim scholars suggest that it was this same Nimrod, but only after an attempt was made by the masses to kill Abraham. After God had saved Abraham 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 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 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 in Migration
After years of ceaseless calling, faced with the rejection of his people, God commanded Abraham to disassociate from his family and people.
Indeed there has been an excellent example for you in Abraham 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 - Lot, his nephew, and Sarah, his wife. Thus, Abraham 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 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 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)
Judeo-Christian traditions tell him to be of fifty years of age. The Talmud: Selections, H. Polano. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/pol/index.htm)
Stories of the Prophets. Ibn Katheer. Darussalam Publications.
Jewish Encyclopedia: Abraham
THE GIFTING OF HAGAR AND HER PLIGHT
Abraham in Canaan & Egypt
Abraham 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 claimed that Sarah was his sister in order to save himself from the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem and honored Abraham for it, but when his house was stricken with severe plagues, he came to know that she was the wife of Abraham and chastised him for not telling him so, thus banishing him from Egypt.
Abraham 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. When they entered his kingdom, as expected, the Pharaoh asked about his relationship with Sarah, and Abraham 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 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 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 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.
Abraham in Mecca
When Ishmael was still nursing, God yet again chose to test the faith of his beloved Abraham and commanded him to take Hagar and Ishmael 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 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 to banish Hagar and her son when she saw Ishmael "mocking" at Isaac after he was weaned. Since the typical age for weaning, at least in Jewish tradition, was 3 years, this suggests that Ishmael 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 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, after having sojourned with Hagar and Ishmael, left them there with a skin of water and leather bag full of dates. As Abraham 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 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 replied.
Hagar submitted to her Lord, ‘I am satisfied to be with God!’
While she traced her way back to little Ishmael, Abraham 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 in Islamic sources, standing next to Ishmael. 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, 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, 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.
Although Sarah was his half sister according to Genesis 20:12, making his marriage incestual, Islamic sources such as al-Bukhari, assert that this was one of the three times in which Abraham had made a deceptive statement, as Sarah was his sister in faith and humanity, in order to ward off a greater evil.
In addition to traditions, a less detailed story is also mentioned in the Bible, Genesis.12.11-20.
Sarah. Emil G. Hirsch, Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach, Joseph Jacobs and Mary W. Montgomery. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=245&letter=S). Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia. See also Genesis: 12:14-20.
Sarah. Emil G. Hirsch, Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach, Joseph Jacobs and Mary W. Montgomery. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=245&letter=S). Abraham. Charles J. Mendelsohn, Kaufmann Kohler, Richard Gottheil, Crawford Howell Toy. The Jewish Encyclopedia.
Pilegesh. Emil G. Hirsch and Schulim Ochser. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=313&letter=P&search=pilegesh).
Ishmael. Isidore Singer, M. Seligsohn, Richard Gottheil and Hartwig Hirschfeld. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=277&letter=I).
2Mac 7:27, 2 Chronicles 31:16.
Abraham is 86 at the birth of Ishmael (Genesis:16:16), and 100 at the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:5).
A similar account is mentioned in the Bible, although its details are quite different. See Genesis 21:16-19
Is Mount SINAI in the SINAI? B.A.S.E. Institute. (http://www.baseinstitute.org/Sinai_1.html).
THE GREATEST SACRIFICE
Abraham Sacrifices His Son
It had been close to ten years since Abraham 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 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 God, when giving the glad tidings of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, also gave the glad tidings of a grandson, Jacob (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 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 and grandchildren from that child, it is neither logically nor practically possible for God to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, since God neither breaks his promise, nor is He the "author of confusion."
Although Isaac’s 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.
"Thine Only Son"
In the verses of Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son. As all scholars of Islam, Judaism and Christianity agree, Ishmael was born before Isaac. From this, it would not be fit to call Isaac the only son of Abraham.
It is true that Judeo-Christian a scholars often argue that since Ishmael 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 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 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, giving their maids to Jacob 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, 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, and be as if he was born to her own self. Thus, according to this fact alone, Ishmael 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Pilegesh. Emil G. Hirsch and Schulim Ochser. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=313&letter=P).
Deuteronomy 21:15-17. See also: Primogeniture. Emil G. Hirsch and I. M. Casanowicz. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=527&letter=P).
Jacob. Emil G. Hirsch, M. Seligsohn, Solomon Schechter and Julius H. Greenstone. The Jewish Encyclopedia. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=19&letter=J).
THE BUILDING OF A SANCTUARY
Abraham and Ishmael 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 had left Hagar and Ishmael 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 again in reunion with his son Ishmael, 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 , 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
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 also prayed that a prophet be raised from the progeny of Ishmael, who would be the inhabitants this land, as the progeny of Isaac 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 prayer for a Messenger was answered several thousand years later when God raised Prophet Muhammad among the Arabs, and as Mecca was chosen to be a sanctuary and House of Worship for all humanity, so too was the Prophet of Mecca one sent to all humanity.
It was this pinnacle of the life of Abraham 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 & the Hajj Pilgrimage
Yearly, Muslims from around the world gather from all walks of life, the answer to the prayer of Abraham and the call to Pilgrimage. This rite is called Hajj, and it commemorates many events of God’s beloved servant Abraham and his family. After circling the Kaaba, a Muslim prays behind the Station of Abraham, the stone on which Abraham 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 willingness to sacrifice his son for God’s sake. Lastly, the stoning of the stone pillars at Mina exemplifies Abraham’s rejection of satanic temptations to prevent him from sacrificing Ishmael.
The ‘Beloved servant of God’ about whom God said, "I will make you a leader to the nations," returned to Palestine and died there.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SODOM
God sent all the Prophets to their people with one message, to worship God alone and not to associate anything or anyone with Him. However, God sent Prophet Muhammad to all of humankind. Although his message was the same, he came with a new law, one to cover all people, in all places, at all times, even into a distant future continuing to the Day of Judgement. The revelation of different chapters of Quran was often in response to a particular event or experiences of the Prophet and his followers. The stories in the Quran teach lessons, provide the historical background of humankind, and demonstrate the nature of God. The story of Prophet Lot is one that is particularly pertinent in the 21st century.
In many cities across the world, it is unsafe to walk down the streets, even in daylight. Murder is rife, identities stolen, and drugs abound. Nowadays most children in high school have already encountered drug users and sellers. Alcohol is freely available at corner stores, even though it is responsible for the break up of families, domestic violence and the corrosion of society. Paedophilia is rampant, as is child pornography and human trafficking. Degenerate lifestyles are accepted and even thought of as normal. This description paints a picture of a scary, out of control world, but is it really so different from the time of Prophet Lot?
The people of Lot lived in a society very similar to our own. It was corrupt, the people had no shame, criminals and criminal activity abounded, and those passing through the town of Sodom risked robbery and physical abuse. The overall atmosphere of the town was not one of a cohesive society. The people of Lot were without morals, without standards and without shame. The homosexuality that abounded did not exist in a vacuum, it was part of a lifestyle that not only allowed, but also encouraged vice and corruption. It was to this town that God sent Prophet Lot; his message was to worship God alone. However, embedded in worship are the desire and the willingness to obey God’s commandments? The people of Sodom were content with their corrupt ways and had no desire to curb them. Lot became an annoyance and his words were ignored.
Prophet Lot called the people to give up their criminal activities and indecent behaviour but they refused to listen. Lot confronted his people and admonished them. He pointed out their corruption, their criminal activities and their unnatural sexual behaviour.
“Will you not fear God and obey Him? Verily! I am a trustworthy Messenger to you. So fear God and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it (my Message) my reward is only from the Lord of all that exists.” (Quran 26:161-164)
In the last 20 or 30 years, it has become common to talk of homosexuality as a natural way of life, however according to God’s law and in all three heavenly religions, (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) this is not acceptable. The new idea that homosexuality is somehow genetically determined is also rejected by Islam. Quran clearly states that the people of Sodom were the first to practice this sexual aberration.
“Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds [i.e., peoples]? Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people."
The people of Sodom had reached such a level of degradation they no longer had any shame. They would commit their unnatural acts in public or in private. Satan was amongst them, and as is his way, he made their actions appear fair and wholesome. When Lot insisted they change their evil ways, they wanted to drive him out of town, as if by calling to purity, he was the one committing a great sin. The people of Sodom said to Lot, “If you cease not, O Lot! Verily, you will be one of those who are driven out!” (Quran 26:167) Lot openly expressed his anger and fury at the evil deeds and unnatural acts and called on God to save him and his family from the evil of the people of Sodom.
In another part of the world, Prophet Abraham, the uncle of Prophet Lot, received three guests. Known for his generosity, Prophet Abraham roasted a calf but to his dismay, the guests refused to eat. This was very unusual. Travellers are usually hungry and the fact that these guests refused his generosity made Prophet Abraham very uneasy. The guests saw his uneasiness and tried to put his fears to rest. They said, “Do not be afraid!” (Quran 15:53) His fears allayed, Prophet Abraham asked his guests what business had bought them to his town. They replied, “We have been sent to a people who are criminals, disbelievers, polytheists, sinners”. (Quran 15:58)
The people of Sodom had become corrupt, believing their evil ways were acceptable. Unfortunately, in the 21st century we have become so accustomed to evil and ignorance we are no longer able to respond in the correct manner. We make excuses and try to justify evil behaviour but the fact is, when people continuously, and openly disrespect and disobey God we should be outraged. The angels took their leave from Prophet Abraham and made their way to the city of Sodom, in search of Prophet Lot and his family.
THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM
Prophet Lot continued to suffer due to the wicked ways and unnatural behaviour of the people around him, yet he patiently continued to deliver his message. He called the people to give up their wicked ways and obey the One God, worshipping Him alone. However, the townspeople continued to mock and belittle Lot, and even taunted him by challenging him to bring God’s torment upon them.
“Bring God’s torment upon us if you are one of the truthful.” (Quran 29:29)
Lot was overwhelmed with despair and beseeched God to grant him victory over these people, who committed great crimes and behaved unnaturally.
At the time of Lot’s invocation, the messengers (angels) were with Prophet Abraham so they informed him of their mission to Lot and his people. They said,
“And when Our messengers [i.e., angels] came to Abraham with the good tidings, they said, “Indeed, we will destroy the people of that [i.e., Lot’s] city. Indeed, its people have been wrongdoers.” (Quran 29:31)
Abraham was afraid, his nephew Lot was in the town of Sodom and it was about to be destroyed. He said to the angels “but Lot is there!” They replied,
“We know better who is there, we will verily save him (Lot) and his family, except his wife, she will be of those who remain behind (i.e. she will be destroyed).” (Quran 29: 32)
Renowned Islamic scholar, Imam Ibn Katheer narrates that, as the messengers approached the towns of Sodom they met Lot’s daughter at the nearby river. She was astounded at their beauty and feared for them. She advised them to wait at the river for Prophet Lot, rather than enter the town without his protection. When Lot heard of the strangers, he felt distressed and wondered how he could convince them to bypass the towns of Sodom and continue on their travels. He tried to make them understand the nature of the townspeople but only succeeded in convincing the messengers to wait for nightfall before entering the town.
Prophet Lot managed to escort the messengers to the safety of his home; however, Lot’s wife slipped out the back door and quickly told the people that two beautiful men were guests in Lot’s home. The word quickly spread and soon people were outside Lot’s house, knocking on his door, demanding to see the guests. Lot became even more distressed when he realised his wife was responsible for the crowd at his door and he pleaded with the mob to disband and to fear the punishment of God. He repeatedly appealed to them to seek sexual gratification in a lawful way.
“O my people! Here are my daughters (i.e. the daughters of my nation); they are purer for you (if you marry them lawfully). So fear God and degrade me not as regards my guests! Is there not among you a single right-minded man?” (Quran 11:78)
The story of Lot, in both the Bible and the Quran hold remarkable similarities. However, Islam completely rejects the notion that Prophet Lot would offer his own daughters to the town’s people. The scholars of Islam explain that when Lot used the word “daughters” he meant the women of Sodom. He was demanding that the men of Sodom seek sexual fulfilment in lawful marriages.
In his book Stories of the Prophets, Ibn Katheer states that the town’s people broke down the door and rushed inside Lot’s house, surrounding the messengers. Lot was powerless before them yet he continued to plead and remind them of the evil of their ways. The town’s people jeered and mocked him saying, “Surely you know that we have neither any desire nor in need of your daughters, and indeed you know well what we want!” (Quran 11:79). The messengers reassured Lot by saying “surely we are messengers from your Lord.” (Quran 11:81) On hearing these words the towns people were afraid and started to disperse, leaving Lot and his family alone with the messengers (angels).
The messengers allayed the fears of Prophet Lot and instructed him to gather his family and leave the town of Sodom that night. Lot walked at the rear of his family to assure no one looked back on the towns of Sodom. Lot’s wife remained behind and was afflicted by the punishment along with the wrong doers and wicked townspeople. The Quran describes the punishment as an awful cry that turned the town upside down and rained stones of baked clay. (Quran 15:73-74)
The punishment came at sunrise, and God said,
“So We saved him and his family, all, except an old woman (his wife) among those who remained behind. Then afterward We destroyed the others. And We rained on them a rain (of torment). And how evil was the rain of those who had been warned. Verily, in this is indeed a sign, yet most of them are not believers.” (Quran 26:170-174)
Thus, the pages were closed on the people of Lot. Their names were erased from historical memory. The punishment that God promised, and Prophet Lot warned about, happened, for surely God keeps His promises. He promises severe punishment for the wrongdoers and Paradise is the reward of the righteous. Lot and his family walked into the sunrise and Quran mentions them no more.
THE TALE BEGINS
This is a tale of intrigue and deception, of jealousy, pride, and passion… and it is not The Bold and the Beautiful. It is a saga of patience, loyalty, bravery and compassion… and it is not Dr Phil or Oprah. It is the story of Prophet Joseph, may God shower him with His praises. The same Joseph known from the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the same Prophet Joseph known in Christian and Jewish traditions. God revealed this story to Prophet Muhammad when an Israelite asked him to tell him what he knew about Joseph. Stories in Quran are usually told in small bit and made known over several chapters; the story of Joseph however, is unique. It was revealed in one chapter, from the beginning to the end. It is the complete story and experience of Prophet Joseph. We learn about Joseph’s joys, troubles and sorrows, and move with him through the years of his life as he arms himself with piety and patience, and in the end emerges victorious. The story of Joseph begins with a dream, and ends with the dream’s interpretation.
“We relate unto you (Muhammad) the best of stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Quran. And before this (i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among those who knew nothing about it.” (Quran 12:3)
Joseph was young boy, handsome, happy and very much loved by his father. He awoke one morning excited about a dream and ran straight to his father happily explaining what he had seen in his dream. Joseph’s father listened attentively to his beloved son and his face shone with joy, for Joseph related a dream that spoke of the fulfilment of a prophecy. Joseph said,
“O my father! Verily, I saw (in a dream) eleven stars and the sun and the moon; I saw them prostrating themselves to me.” (Quran 12:4)
Joseph was one of 12 brothers whose father was Prophet Jacob and whose great grandfather was Prophet Abraham. This prophecy spoke of keeping Abraham’s message to worship One True God alive. Prophet Abraham’s grandson Jacob interpreted the dream to mean that Joseph would be the one to carry the ‘Light of God’s house” However as quickly as the joy had sprung into Jacob’s face, it vanished, and he implored his son not to relate his dream to his brothers. Jacob said,
“O my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers, lest they arrange a plot against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy! Thus will your Lord choose you, teach you the interpretation of dreams (and other things), and perfect His Favour on you and on the offspring of Jacob, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac aforetime! Verily! Your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Quran 12:5-6)
Jacob knew that his sons (Joseph’s brothers) would not accept the interpretation of this dream or the advancement of Joseph over themselves. Jacob was filled with fear. The ten older brothers were already jealous of their younger brother. They recognised their father’s particular affection for him. Jacob was a prophet, a man dedicated to submission to One True God and he treated his family and his community with fairness, respect and equitable love; however his heart was drawn to the gentle qualities evident in his son Joseph. Joseph also had a younger brother named Benjamin, who, at this stage of the story, was too young to be involved in any of the trickery and deception brewing.
While Prophets and righteous men are eager to spread the message of submission to God, Satan is waiting to entice and incite mankind. He loves trickery and deception and was now sewing the seeds of discord between Jacob and his elder sons. The jealousy the brothers felt toward Joseph blinded their hearts, disoriented their thinking and made small things seem insurmountable, large things seeming insignificant. Joseph heeded his father’s warning and did not speak of his dream to his brothers; but even so, they became obsessed and overwhelmed by their jealousy. Without knowing about Joseph’s dream, they hatched a plan to kill him.
Joseph and Benjamin were the sons of Jacob’s second wife. The older boys considered themselves men. They were older, they were stronger and saw in themselves many good qualities. Blinded by jealousy, they perceived Joseph and Benjamin as too young and without consequence in the life of the family. They refused to understand why their father doted on them. The older boy’s crooked thinking made them accuse their father of being misguided which, in reality, was far from the truth. Satan made their thoughts fair seeming to them and their utter misguidance was shown clearly, when they spoke of killing Joseph and immediately repenting to God for this despicable act.
“They said, "Truly, Joseph and his brother are loved more by our father than we, but we are a strong group. Really, our father is in a plain error. Kill Joseph or cast him out to some (other) land, so that the favour of your father may be given to you alone, and after that you will be righteous folk (by intending to repent).” (Quran 12:8-9)
One amongst them felt the error of their ways and suggested that rather than killing Joseph, they should drop him into a well. When found by some passing traveller he would be sold into slavery, thus rendering him as good as dead to the family. They believed, in their blindness, that the absence of Joseph would remove him from their father’s thoughts. The brothers continued to hatch their evil plan. Satan was toying with them, casting thoughts into their minds and whispering misguidance into their ears. The brothers finished their discussion pleased with themselves and believing they had drafted a clever plan. They approached Jacob with a plan to take Joseph into the desert with them, on the pretext of letting him play and enjoy himself. Fear leapt into Jacob’s heart.
Ibn Katheer. Stories of the Prophets.
TREACHERY AND DECEPTION
“And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not.” (Quran 12:21)
The story of Joseph confirms unconditionally that God has total control over all affairs. The treachery and deception of Joseph’s brothers succeeded only in preparing Joseph for the great position he would eventually attain. Joseph’s story describes God’s omnipotence and gives an accurate account of His power and supremacy. The story begins with deception but ends with comfort and joy. A fitting reward for the patience and total submission to God’s will, Joseph exhibits throughout his long journey confronting the schemes and treachery of those around him.
The patience Joseph learned from his ordeal made him amongst the most righteous of men. His lineage was impeccable, his great grandfather, grandfather and father were also Prophets. In Christian and Jewish tradition, these men are known as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Deception and Treachery
When Jacob’s older sons sought permission to take Joseph with them deep into the desert to play, fear leapt into Jacob’s heart. From their first words, he suspected treachery and expressed his fear that a wolf would take Joseph. Jacob said,
“Truly, it saddens me that you should take him away. I fear lest a wolf should devour him, whilst you are careless of him.” (Quran 12:13)
Satan works in subtle and deceitful ways, and with his words, Jacob unwittingly supplied his sons with the perfect reason for Joseph’s disappearance. The brothers immediately knew they would blame Joseph’s disappearance on a wolf, and this became part of their dastardly plan. Eventually Jacob agreed and Joseph left with his brothers on their journey into the desert.
They went directly to the well and without remorse, picked up Joseph and threw him down into the well. Joseph cried out in fear but their cruel hearts felt no pity for their young brother. The brothers felt secure in their plan that a traveller would find Joseph and sell him into slavery. While Joseph called out in terror, the brothers took a small goat or sheep from their flock, slaughtered it and wiped the blood over one of Joseph’s garments. Completely consumed by their jealousy, the brothers took an oath to keep their foul deed secret and walked away pleased with themselves. Terrified Joseph clung to a ledge in the well, and God made known to him that one day he would confront his brothers. He told Joseph the day would come when he would speak to his brothers about this dastardly event, but the brothers would not know they were talking to Joseph.
“Indeed, you shall (one day) inform them of this their affair, when they know (you) not.” (Quran 12:15)
Crying is not Evidence of Truth.
The brothers returned to their father weeping. By this time it was dark, and Jacob was sitting in his house anxiously awaiting the return of Joseph. The sound of ten men crying confirmed his deepest fear. The darkness of the night was matched only be the darkness in their hearts. The lies rolled easily from their tongues and Jacob’s heart constricted in fear.
“They said, ‘O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Joseph by our belongings and a wolf devoured him; but you will never believe us, even when we speak the truth.’ And they brought his shirt stained with false blood.” (Quran 12:17-18)
In a story from the righteous men that came after Prophet Muhammad comes a tale of a Muslim judge who was deciding the case of an old woman. The details of the case are not important; however, the old woman was crying and crying. Based on the evidence the judge ruled against her. A friend of the judge said, “She was crying and crying, she is old, why didn’t you believe her?” The judge said “Don’t you know from Quran that crying is not evidence of the truth, the brothers of Joseph went to their father crying.” They were crying but they committed the crime.
Both Jacob and Joseph were among the most noble of men. Prophet Muhammad described Joseph as the most dignified and generous of men. When asked who was the most God fearing man he replied, “The most honourable person is Joseph, God’s prophet, the son of God’s prophet, the son of the beloved servant of God (Abraham).” While Joseph sat in the well, terrified, yet secure in his submission to God, Jacob, many miles way, felt his heart constricted by fear and pain yet knew his sons were lying. As befitting a Prophet of God, with tears streaming down his face, Jacob said,
“Nay, but your own selves have made up a tale. So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is God (Alone) Whose help can be sought against that which you assert.” (Quran 12:18)
This was a dilemma for Jacob, what was he to do? He knew his sons were lying, but what were his options? To kill his sons? Due to his complete submission to God, Jacob knew that this affair was out of his hands. He had no option but to trust God and turn to Him with hope and patience.
Deep in the well, Joseph prayed. Father and son turned to God in the deep darkness of the night. A mixture of fear and hope filled their hearts, and the night gave way to the new day. For Jacob, the day dawned on the beginning of many years to be filled with trust in God and patience. For Joseph, the sunrays of dawn shone down on the edges of the well. If he could have scanned the horizon, he would have seen a caravan approaching. Minutes later a man lowered his bucket into its depths of the well expecting to find cool clear water.
SOLD INTO SLAVERY
Lead astray by the whisperings of Satan and filled with jealousy and pride, the brothers deceived their father Jacob and betrayed their young brother. Thrown deep into a well by his older brothers, Joseph the beloved son of Prophet Jacob, clung throughout the long night to a ledge and tried to put his trust in God. The time passed slowly and the heat of the morning sun beat down heavily on the scorched earth. Later that day a caravan travelling to Egypt approached the well.
When the caravan arrived. the travellers went about their business, some tethering camels, others tending to the horses, some unpacking, and others preparing food. The water drawer went to the well and lowered his bucket, happy in anticipation of cool, clear water. Joseph was startled as the bucket hurtled towards him. but before it hit the water, he reached out and clung to the rope. Surprised by the weight of the bucket, the man peered over the edge of the well. He was shocked and excited when he saw a child clinging to the rope. The man called his companions to help him draw the child from the well and all were amazed at the sight of this beautiful child, not quite a youth, who stood before them.
Looking at the boy, the water bearer could not hide his excitement and cried aloud, “What good news!” (Quran 12:19) The man was overjoyed; he immediately decided to sell Joseph, knowing that he stood to make a lot of money in the slave market. Just as the brothers had predicted, the men of the caravan took Joseph to Egypt expecting to sell him for a handsome price. The slave markets of Egypt were teeming with people, some buying, and some selling, others just watching the proceedings. The beautiful boy found in the well attracted many onlookers, and bidding for him was swift. The price continued to rise beyond their expectations, and Joseph was eventually purchased by Azeez, the Chief Minister of Egypt.
However, God tells us in the Quran that they sold him for a low price. (12:20) This does not seem to make sense since the men of the caravan were jubilant by the price they received. God described the price as low because Joseph was actually worth more then they could ever have imagined. The men did not realise just who this child would grow up to be. They believed that although beautiful, Joseph was insignificant. Nothing could have been further from the truth, if they had of sold him for his weight in gold, it would have been a cheap price for the man who would grow up to be Joseph, Prophet of God.
In the House of Azeez
The Chief Minister, Azeez, sensed immediately that this was no ordinary child. He took him to his home, one of the great mansions of Egypt, and said to his wife,
“‘Make his stay comfortable, may be he will profit us or we shall adopt him as a son.’ Thus did We establish Joseph in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events.” (Quran12:21)
God placed Joseph into the home of the second most important person in Egypt. Chief Minister Azeez was more then just a prime minister, he was also the treasurer of Egypt. God established Joseph in the land in order to teach him wisdom and understanding. The struggling and striving required by Joseph to overcome the separation from his father and family, the difficulty of being betrayed by your older presumably protective brothers, the ordeal in the well and the humiliation of being sold into slavery were all trials designed to mould Joseph’s character. They were the first steps on the ladder to greatness. God used the treachery of Joseph’s brothers to fulfil His plan for Joseph’s establishment as a Prophet of God.
The brothers of Joseph believed they had matters under control when they put their brother in the well, but in reality, the matter was out of their hands. God is the one in control of all affairs. God was decisive in His action, and His plan was carried out despite the treachery, jealousy and pride of others. Joseph found himself in the decision making centre of Egypt with a man who seemed kind and somehow aware of Joseph’s special qualities. While longing for his father and brother Benjamin, Joseph was well taken care, and lived in luxurious surroundings. Joseph grew to manhood in the house of Azeez and God bestowed on him good judgement and knowledge.
“And when he (Joseph) attained his full manhood, We gave him wisdom and knowledge (the Prophethood), thus We reward the doers of good.” (Quran12:22)
God granted Joseph both knowledge and wisdom. Not one just one, but both qualities. He was given the ability to understand and the ability to use good judgement when applying his knowledge. This is not always the case. There are many people throughout the history of the world, up to and including the present day, who have knowledge but do not have the ability or judgement to apply that knowledge in an effective way.
One of the great scholars of Islam, Imam Abu Haneefa, held regular learning circles in which presented a topic for debate. The topic would be discussed and opinions given, then Imam Abu Haneefa would give a final verdict. This way of teaching was unique at that time. There was amongst this circle of learning a scholar of the narrations of Prophet Muhammad; he recited one that Imam Hanifa had never heard before. Just at that time, a woman approached the circle and asked a question. The scholar replied that he did not know the answer, but Imam Abu Hanifa was able to answer her question. He then turned to the members of the learning circle and said. “I know the answer to this question from the hadeeth our brother had just mentioned”. Thus, it is possible to have the knowledge but not know how to apply it. Prophet Joseph, as with all the Prophets of God was given the knowledge and the wisdom to understand and apply it.
Although betrayed and sold into slavery, Joseph, the son of Prophet Jacob, settled into one of the great houses of Egypt. His master, Al Azeez, Chief Minister of Egypt vowed to treat Joseph kindly, and Joseph, who was grateful for the relative safety, replied that he would be loyal to his new master. He thanked God for rectifying his situation and placing him in a place devoid of maltreatment and abuse. Joseph went from the position of beloved son to the dark depths of the well, from iron shackles to a position of ease. Joseph’s life twisted and turned, but the house of Al Aziz was where he grew into manhood.
The scholars of Islam have estimated that Joseph was around 14 years old when betrayed by his brothers. Imam Ibn Katheer, one of the most respected Quran scholars, explained in his work, “Stories of the Prophets”, that Joseph was most probably the personal attendant of Al Aziz’s wife. Ibn Katheer described Joseph as obedient, polite and exceedingly handsome. Prophet Muhammad also described Joseph, and called him “The embodiment of half of all beauty”. As Joseph grew, God gave him wisdom and good judgement, and Chief Minister Al Aziz recognised these qualities in his loyal servant and therefore put him in charge of all household affairs. All who knew him, including the wife of Al Aziz, acknowledged Joseph’s beauty, honesty, and nobility. She watched Joseph grow into a handsome man and became more attracted to him as each day passed.
“And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him (to do an evil act), she closed the doors and said: ‘Come on, O you.’” (Quran 12:23)
The beautiful wife of Al Aziz closed the doors and tried to seduce the slave Joseph, but he resisted her advances and sought refuge with God. He sought help in God. Joseph told her he would not betray her husband. Joseph said, “He has been good to me and treated me with respect.” Joseph knew that those who commit evil acts will never be successful. The wife of al Aziz had an evil desire and tried to act upon it; Joseph however resisted the temptation and tried to escape. Prophet Muhammad tells us that if you make the intention to commit an evil act and actually carry out that act, God will have it written against you as one evil act. However if you think about committing an evil act and then do not do it, God will have it written as a good act.
Joseph drove any thoughts of sleeping with the wife of his master from his mind, sought refuge with God and attempted to remove himself from the complicated situation. Perhaps Joseph had been resisting her advances for many years. A rich beautiful woman from the highest echelons of Egyptian society would not stoop immediately to such behaviour. Her beauty, status and wealth meant that most men or boys would succumb to her desires easily. Joseph however was no ordinary man, and when he immediately turned to God for help, God rescued him.
“Indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire had he not seen the evidence of his Lord. Thus, it was that We might turn away from him evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves.” (Quran 12:24)
Joseph is one of the leaders of those who will be shaded by God on the Day of Judgement. Prophet Muhammad explained that the heat of the Day of Judgment would be fierce, and people will be mingling with fear as they wait to be judged by God. There will be however, certain categories of people shaded from this brutal heat. One of them is a man who resisted the temptations of a beautiful, desirable woman by seeking refuge with God.
Joseph’s refusal only increased her passion. He tried to flee and they raced with each other to the door. The wife of Al Aziz reached for Joseph’s shirt and tore it from his back. At that moment, the door opened and her husband walked in. Immediately, with out even one second’s hesitation, the wife of al Aziz attempted to turn the situation around. She cried out to her husband, “What is the punishment for one who had an evil design against your wife?” This was a clear lie, yet she pronounced it easily and suggested that Joseph be put in prison. Joseph tried to defend himself and said, “No, it was she that sought to seduce me”. (Quran 12:25 – 26) One of their relatives suddenly appeared and offered a way to solve this dilemma. He said,
“If it be that his shirt is torn from the front, then her tale is true, and he is a liar! But if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then she has told a lie and he is speaking the truth!” (Quran 12:27 – 28)
If his shirt was torn from the back, which it was, it meant that he was trying to escape and she was running after him, tearing the shirt from his back. The proof was unmistakeable. The Chief Minister, although clearly upset, was more concerned with covering up this affair. He did not want his good name and position to be sullied by a scandal. He asked Joseph to be silent about the situation and told his wife to ask forgiveness from God. This should have been an end to the matter, but as is common in more wealthy societies, people have a lot of time on their hands. Many hours are wasted having meals and gossiping about the affairs of their friends, neighbours and relatives.
The women of the city began to talk about the wife of Al Aziz and her infatuation with her slave Joseph. The news was spreading and the women asked themselves how she could desire a slave and put her reputation in jeopardy. The wife of Al Aziz thought she would teach these women a lesson and show them just how beautiful and desirable Joseph was. She invited them to have lunch with her, laid a beautiful table before them and handed them knives to cut the food. The room was probably full of tension and silent looks as the women hoped for a glimpse of this slave, while at the same time considering themselves better then the wife of Al Aziz. The women started eating, and at that moment, Joseph walked into the room. They looked up, saw his beauty and forgot that they had knives in their hands. The women were so entranced by his shape and form that they cut clear through their own flesh. They described Joseph as a noble angel. The wife of Al Aziz, confident and haughty said to her guests,
“This is he (the young man) about whom you did blame me (for his love) and I did seek to seduce him, but he refused. And now if he refuses to obey my order, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and will be one of those who are disgraced.” Quran 12:32)
What was to become of Joseph? Once again, with total humility, he turned to God saying that prison was preferable to succumbing the women’s desires. Therefore, his Lord answered his invocation.
BEAUTY AND A TEST
The story of Joseph is an example of patience in the face of adversity. Throughout his life so far, Joseph faced trials and tribulations with complete trust in God. Yet once again, he was in an extremely difficult situation. Once more, he was forced to fend off the advances of the wife of Al Aziz, this time in front of her associates. Joseph called out to God for help. He said,
“O my Lord! Prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do the deeds of the ignorant.” (Quran 12:33)
Joseph believed living in prison was preferable to living in the house of Al Aziz. The environment was filled with lust and greed, and with unlawful beauty and seduction, perhaps similar to many societies today. He believed prison would be preferable to succumbing to the fitnah around him. God answered Joseph’s supplication and rescued him.
“So his Lord answered his invocation and turned away from him their plot. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. Then it appeared to them, after they had seen the proofs (of his innocence) to imprison him for a time.” (Quran 12:34-35)
Although convinced of Joseph’s innocence, Al Aziz, chief Minister of Egypt put Joseph in prison. He could see no other way of safeguarding the reputation of his name and position.
Joseph in Prison
Imprisoned with Joseph, were two men who recognised his piety and righteousness. Both had been plagued by vivid dreams and now hoped Joseph would be able to interpret the dreams for them. One man saw a dream in which he was pressing wine, the other; saw a dream in which birds were eating bread from his head. Joseph said, “I will inform you of the meaning of these dreams before your next meal is served”.
“He said, ‘No food will come to you (in wakefulness or in dream) as your provision but I will inform (in wakefulness) its interpretation before it (the food) comes. This is of that which my Lord has taught me. Verily, I have abandoned the religion of a people that believe not in God and are disbelievers in the Hereafter. And I have followed the religion of my fathers, - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and never could we attribute any partners whatsoever to God. This is from the Grace of Allah to us and to mankind, but most men think not (i.e. they neither believe in Allah nor worship Him).’” (Quran 12:37-38)
Notice the demeanor of Joseph. When they ask him a question about dreams he immediately reminds them that it is God who provides their sustenance, as well as his own knowledge of dream interpretation. Joseph is very careful to make a distinction between what is from God and what is from himself. He makes his religion clear. He does not believe the religion being practiced around him but believes in the true religion that includes belief in the Hereafter. Joseph asserts that his family, the family of Abraham, hold the knowledge of the Oneness of God, and that his religion and family do not attribute partners to God. Although the people of Egypt knew about God they choose to worship other deities as partners or intercessors.
After informing his companions that false gods have no substance and explaining the Omnipotence of God, Joseph interprets the dreams. He says, one of you will become a close associate of the King, the other will be crucified and birds will eat from his head.
“As for one of you, he (as a servant) will pour out wine for his lord to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified and birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which you both did inquire.” (Quran 12:41)
Joseph approached the companion who destined to be close to the King and said “please remember me to your King”. He hoped that the King would look into his case, see his oppression and free him. However, the whisperings and subterfuge of Satan, caused the companion to forget to mention Joseph and consequently he remained in prison for a few more years. The scholars of Islam hold two different opinions about the nature of the forgetfulness. Ibn Katheer mentions that the companion forgot to mention Joseph, whereas other scholars focus on the possibility that Joseph forgot to seek the help of God, and thus the companion forgot to mention him. Whatever the case, Joseph remained in prison and continued to trust in God with patience and fortitude.
The King’s Dream
The King dreamed he was standing on the banks of the Nile watching seven fat cows emerge from the river, followed by seven lean ones. The seven lean cows devoured the fat ones. Next, the dream changed and he watched seven green ears of grain growing on the banks of the Nile. They disappeared into the mud and on the same spot grew seven dry ears of grain. The King awoke shocked and frightened, and sent for his sorcerers, priests and ministers. They failed to interpret the dream and reached the unanimous conclusion that it was just a nightmare. Joseph’s companion from the prison came to hear of the dream and remembered Joseph. With the King’s permission, he rushed to the prison and asked Joseph to interpret the dream.
“Joseph said, ‘For seven consecutive years, you shall sow as usual and that the harvest which you reap you shall leave in ears, all --except a little of it which you may eat. Then will come after that seven hard years, which will devour what you have laid by in advance for them, all except a little of that which you have guarded (stored). Then thereafter will come a year in which people will have abundant rain and in which they will press wine and oil.’” (Quran 12:47-49)
The King was astonished at this interpretation, not only did Joseph give the meaning but also recommended a course of action. The King demanded Joseph be bought before him. However, Joseph refused to leave prison and insisted the messenger return to the King and ask him, “What happened to the women who cut their hands?” (Quran 12:50) Joseph did not want to leave the prison until his innocence was established.
Fitnah is an Arabic word that does not translate easily into English. It means a time of trial or tribulation. Most particularly a situation that prevents one from worshipping God correctly, or causes acts of disobedience or disbelief..
FROM PRISON TO PALACE
Prophet Mohammad said: “Every Prophet was sent to his nation exclusively, but I was sent to all mankind.” God sent Joseph, son of Jacob, to the people of Egypt and supported him with abilities that were observable and made sense to the people the Joseph had been sent to guide. At the time of Joseph, dreams and dream interpretation were very important, and this is clear throughout the story of Joseph. Prophet Jacob (Joseph’s father), the companions of the prison and the King of Egypt all have dreams.
When the King heard Joseph’s interpretation of his dream, he was astonished, and set Joseph free. However, Joseph refused to leave the prison with out clearing his name of any wrongdoing. He wanted his master Al Aziz to be completely sure that he (Joseph) had not betrayed his trust. Joseph respectfully demanded that the King investigate the affair of the women who cut their hands. The King became curious and called for the wife of Al Aziz and her associates.
“(The King) said (to the women), ‘What was your affair when you did seek to seduce Joseph?’ The women said, ‘God forbid! No evil know we against him!’ The wife of Al-’Aziz said, ‘Now the truth is manifest (to all), it was I who sought to seduce him, and he is surely of the truthful.’” (Quran 12:51)
Once his innocence was established, Joseph appeared before the King. After hearing, Joseph’s words the King became even more impressed and entrusted him to a position of high rank. Joseph said, “Set me over the storehouses of the land; I will indeed guard them with full knowledge.” (Quran 12:55) In the religion of Islam, it is not permissible for one to ask for a position of authority or two talk about oneself in a boastful manner. However when Joseph asked the King to put him in charge of the storehouses he did both of those things.
The scholars of Islam explain that when you are the only person fit for that position then it is permissible to ask for it, and if you are new to a community, it is permissible to introduce yourself. Joseph knew the trials about to face Egypt and he knew he was capable of averting the danger inherent in a time of famine. For Joseph, not asking for this position would have been irresponsible. The young boy betrayed and thrown into the well was now established as the finance Minister of Egypt. His patience and perseverance, and above all his total submission to the will of God had already resulted in great reward. Joseph knew however that the greatest reward for patience and righteousness would be in the hereafter.
Joseph Meets His Brothers
The time passed. During the seven good years, Joseph prepared for the time of famine to come. The drought and famine correctly prophesized by Joseph did not only affect Egypt, but also the surrounding lands including the place where Jacob and his sons were living. Joseph managed the affairs of Egypt so well there was enough grain to feed the people of Egypt and those in the surrounding areas. As life became difficult and food scarce, people began to flock to Egypt to buy the grain Joseph was selling at a fair price.
Among those seeking provisions were Joseph’s ten older brothers. When the brothers were ushered into Joseph’s presence, they did not recognise him. Joseph looked at his brothers and his heart filled with longing for his father and his young brother Benjamin. He greeted them respectfully, asked questions about their family and homeland, and explained that the rations of grain would be distributed per head; therefore, if they had bought their younger brother they would have received more rations. Joseph was hoping to encourage them to bring Benjamin, in fact Joseph went far as to say that without their young brother they would receive no provision at all.
“But if you bring him not to me, there shall be no measure (of grain) for you with me, nor shall you come near me.” (Quran 12:60)
When they returned to their father, Prophet Jacob, they explained to him that no more grain would be provided to them unless they travelled with their young brother. Benjamin had become very close to his father, especially after Joseph’s disappearance. Remembering his previous loss, Jacob did not want to part with his young son. Once again, the brothers promised to safeguard their youngest brother, and once again Jacob felt his heart constrict with fear. The brothers then found that the money they paid for the grain had been secretly returned to them.
Jacob had complete trust in God and gave them permission to take Benjamin only after they had sworn an oath in God’s name to protect him. Although Prophet Jacob was particularly close to his sons Joseph and Benjamin, he loved all his sons dearly. They were strong, handsome, capable men, and Jacob was afraid that some harm might befall them on yet another trip to Egypt. To minimise the risks, he made his sons promise to enter the city by different gates. Jacob said to them,
“O my sons! Do not enter by one gate, but enter by different gates, and I cannot avail you against God at all. Verily! The decision rests only with God. In Him, I put my trust and let all those that trust, put their trust in Him.” (Quran 12:67)
The brothers returned to Egypt, entered by different gates and went to Joseph for the promised provisions. During this meeting, Joseph took Benjamin aside and revealed that he was his long lost brother. The two embraced and their hearts were filled with joy. Joseph, however, asked Benjamin to keep their meeting a secret for the time being. After providing the brothers with their rations of grain, Joseph arranged for golden bowl to be covertly placed in Benjamin’s bag, then according to Joseph’s arrangements someone cried out, “O you in the caravan, surely you are thieves.” (Quran 12:70)
The brothers were astonished because they were not thieves. They inquired about the stolen item, and were astounded to hear it was a golden bowl belonging to the King. Whoever returned it, they were told, would be rewarded with camel’s load of grain. The brothers of Joseph claimed to have no knowledge of this theft. They asserted that they were not thieves and did not come to Egypt to create mischief. One of Joseph’s men asked, “What is your punishment for one who steals?” The brothers replied that under the law of Prophet Jacob, the one who steals is taken as a slave. Joseph did not want his brother punished under the laws of Egypt but wanted the opportunity to keep his brother with him while the others retuned to their father Jacob. The bags were searched, and the golden bowl was found amongst Benjamin’s possessions.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DREAMS
The golden bowl was found in Benjamin’s belongings and his brothers were astonished. They quickly realised the Chief Minister (Joseph) would follow their own law and keep Benjamin as a slave. This upset them greatly. They were afraid of returning to their father without his beloved youngest son. One of the brothers offered to accept the punishment on Benjamin’s behalf, but the offer was refused. Another brother, probably the eldest, chose to stay in Egypt while the others returned to their homeland to face their father Jacob. When the brothers arrived home they went immediately to their father and said,
“O our father! Verily, your son (Benjamin) has stolen, we testify not except according to what we know, and we could not know the unseen! And ask (the people of) the town where we have been, and the caravan in which we returned, and indeed we are telling the truth.” (Quran 12:81-82)
Prophet Jacob had heard this all before. When the brothers betrayed Joseph and threw him in the well, they went to their father pleading and crying yet their words were nothing but lies. This time Jacob refused to believe them. He turned away from them saying, “Nay, but your own selves have beguiled you into something. So patience is most fitting (for me).” (Quran 12:83) Jacob had spent years grieving for Joseph and trusting in God. When this new sorrow overwhelmed him, his first reaction was to be patient. He knew, without a shred of doubt, that the affairs of his beloved youngest sons were controlled by God.
Even though he trusted God completely, Jacob behaved as any father would in the same circumstances. He was overcome with grief and wept uncontrollably. He remembered Joseph, and wept until he became ill and lost his sight. The brothers were concerned about his pain and sorrow and questioned his constant grief. They asked him, “Will you cry until the day you die?” Jacob answered that he only complained of his grief and sorrow to God and that he (Jacob) knew, from God, things that they did not. (Quran 12:86)
Though many years had passed, Jacob had not forgotten his son Joseph. Jacob reflected on Joseph’s dream and understood God’s plan would come to fruition. Jacob was deeply hurt by the loss of his sons, but his faith in God sustained him, and he ordered his sons to go back to Egypt in search of Joseph and Benjamin.
The brothers once again set off on the long journey to Egypt. The famine had taken its toll on the surrounding areas and people were poor and weak. When the brothers stood before Joseph, they too were amongst the poor. Their level of weakness forced them to ask for charity. They said:
“O ruler of the land! A hard time has hit our family, and we have brought but poor capital, so pay us full measure and be charitable to us. Truly, God does reward the charitable.” (Quran 12:88)
Joseph could not bear to see his family in this position, even though these were the men who had betrayed him. He looked at his family and could keep his secret no longer, he said,
“Do you know what you did with Joseph and his brother, when you were ignorant?” (Quran 12:89)
The brothers recognised Joseph immediately, not because of his looks, for they had seen him many times before, however who else could know the true story of Joseph, but Joseph himself.
“I am Joseph, and this is my brother (Benjamin). God has indeed been Gracious to us. Verily, he who fears God with obedience to Him (by abstaining from sins and evil deeds, and by performing righteous good deeds), and is patient, then surely, God makes not the reward of the good doers to be lost.” (Quran 12:90)
The brothers were afraid, their past deeds were grave sins, and they were now in a position of weakness. They stood in fear before the Chief Minister of Egypt no longer a small, beautiful boy named Joseph. Through his trials and tribulations, Joseph, like his father, found comfort in submission to the One God. He understood patience and the qualities of mercy and piety imbedded in true patience. He looked down at his brothers who were trembling in fear and said, “No reproach of you this day, May God forgive you.” (Quran 12:91)
Joseph immediately made plans to reunite his family. He requested the brothers return to their father and cast an old shirt of his (Joseph’s) over his face. This, he said, would cause him to become clear sighted. Immediately, although the old man was so far away he turned his face towards the heavens and sniffed, believing that he could smell Joseph in the air. This is one of the miracles, made possible by God, of Prophet Joseph. When the brothers arrived, they cast the shirt over Jacob’s face and he became clear sighted. He cried out, “Did I not say to you, I know from God, that which you know not.” (Quran 12: 96)
The family of Prophet Jacob gathered their belongings together and travelled to Egypt. Jacob was eager to be reunited with his sons. They went straight to Joseph and found him sitting on an elevated throne. Joseph spoke to his family saying, enter Egypt, if God wills, in security.
The beginning of chapter 12 of the Quran, Joseph, began with the young boy Joseph describing his dream to his beloved father Jacob. He said, “Verily, I saw (in a dream) eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves to me.” (Quran 12:4) Quran concludes the story of Joseph in the same way as it began, with the interpretation of the dream. The eleven stars were his brothers, the sun his father and the moon was his mother.
“And he raised his parents to the throne and they fell down before him prostrate. And he said, “O my father! This is the interpretation of my dream of old! My Lord has made it come true! He was indeed good to me, when He took me out of prison, and brought you all here out of the Bedouin life, after Satan had sown enmity between my brothers and me. Certainly, my Lord is the Most Courteous and Kind unto whom He will. Truly He! Only He is the All Knowing, the All-Wise.” (Quran 12:98-100)
The essence of the story of Joseph is patience in the face of adversity and sorrow. Joseph faced every trial with patience and complete trust in God. His father Jacob bore his grief and misery with patience and submission. All the chapters of Quran were revealed at particular times, in response to particular situations. This chapter was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in a time of great sorrow. In fact, the year of its revelation is known as “the year of sorrow’. Prophet Muhammad had to bear the death of his beloved first wife Khadijah and his Uncle Abu Talib. Both had provided him with comfort and support. God was advising Prophet Muhammad that the road may be long and difficult but the ultimate victory belongs to those with God consciousness and patience. The story of Joseph is a lesson for us all. True patience, what the scholars of Islam call beautiful patience is a key to the gate of Paradise.
WHO IS 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 is known as both a religious leader and a lawgiver.
In Islam, Moses 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 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 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)
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’ 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 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 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 and once again, in the story of Moses 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’ 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.
TRUST IN GOD
There are lessons for humankind throughout the story of Moses, which are not only learnt after his prophethood; rather, they are found even when he was a newborn. His righteous mother’s behavior gives us numerous lessons that are relevant even today. Put your trust in God!
Moses was born in a year in which the sons of the Children of Israel were put to death the moment they were born. Imagine the sense of fear that permeated every aspect of life under such conditions. Pregnancy was not an event to be celebrated and cherished but a source of fear and insecurity.
Security guards roamed the streets and invaded homes searching for pregnant women, therefore Moses’ mother concealed her pregnancy. Imagine the conditions under which she gave birth: fearful, silent, possibly shrouded in darkness. Was she surrounded by women or alone? Did her husband hold her hand praying that she did not cry out revealing herself to the neighbours or guards?
Whatever the conditions, Moses was born. A boy. His parents’ heart must have constricted with joy and fear simultaneously. What were they to do now, how would they conceal a newborn baby? Moses’ mother was a righteous woman, pious and God fearing, therefore in her hour of need she turned to God and He inspired her next actions.
“And We inspired the mother of Moses saying, suckle him, but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back to you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers.” (Quran 28:2-7).
Moses’ mother has just spent the last months concealing her pregnancy for fear that her child would be put to death, now as she holds him to her breast God inspires her to cast him into the river. Not a gentle stream but the Nile River, a huge powerful river with a strong current. Her initial reaction must have been that such an action would be condemning him to certain death.
Moses’ mother put her trust in God. “Do not fear and do not grieve, for We will bring him back to you.” She made a waterproof basket, placed her tiny son inside, and cast him into the river. Ibn Kathir narrates that as the basket touched the water the raging current became calm and gentle, sweeping the basket silently downstream. Moses’ sister was instructed by her mother to slip silently through the reeds and follow the basket on its journey.
The basket with its precious cargo courses down the Nile River, passing houses, boats, and people, unnoticed until it stops at Pharaoh’s palace. Moses’ sister watches in fear, as someone from Pharaoh’s household removes the basket from the river. Moses was cast into the river to escape certain death and now his resting place is the palace of Pharaoh. This is surely too much for a mother to bear, however events about to unfold will demonstrate that the promise of God is true.
“...And whosoever fears God and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in God, then He will suffice him. Verily, God will accomplish his purpose. Indeed God has set a measure for all things.” (Quran 65:2-3)
Baby Moses was taken to Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh. Asiya, in contrast to her arrogant, proud husband was a righteous, merciful woman. God opened her heart and Asiya looked down up on the tiny baby and felt overcome by her love for him. The royal couple were unable to conceive a child and this tiny baby awakened her maternal instincts. Asiya clutched him to her chest and asked her husband to accept the child into family.
Possibly, against his better judgement Pharaoh accepted the child, who was part of God’s plan to bring down the royal house. Far from abandoning him, God set Moses up as a royal son of Egypt, he provided him with the strongest human support in the land. Asiya and Pharaoh now had a son, who was now protected by the very person who had sought to kill him.
“Then the household of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a cause of grief. Verily! Pharaoh, Haman, and their hosts were sinners. And the wife of Pharaoh said; ‘A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he maybe of a benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ And they perceived not (the result of that).” (Quran 28:8-9)
Asiya summoned wet nurses to the palace, but the tiny child refused to suckle. This was a cause of great distress; in those days there were no baby formulas or supplements to offer the child. At this stage the royal palace was in turmoil, the women of the household were fussing over Asiya and her new baby therefore no one noticed the presence of Moses’ sister amongst the servants. She summoned all her courage and stepped forward offering a solution. She said she knew of a woman who would suckle the child affectionately. Why would the royal household take the advice of an unknown child, if not to fulfil God’s plan. Moses’ sister was ordered to rush and fetch the woman.
“And We had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for him, until she (his sister came up and) said: "Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and sincerely they will look after him in a good manner?” (Quran 28:12)
Moses’ mother was in her home. Was she pacing, or weeping silently? We do not know, but God tells us that her heart was empty and that she was about to reveal herself. Was she considering dashing down to the river and searching frantically through the reeds? God relieved her of her torment when her daughter rushed into the house breathlessly relating the story of what had happened to Moses.
Mother and daughter lost no time returning to the palace. When Moses was handed to his real mother, he settled immediately and began to suckle. According to Ibn Kathir, the household, including Pharaoh himself, was astonished. Pharaoh asked the woman who she was and she replied, "I am a woman of sweet milk and sweet smell, and no child refuses me." Pharaoh accepted this answer, and thus Moses was returned to the arms of his mother and raised in the palace as a prince of Egypt.
“So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, and that she might know that the Promise of God is true. But most of them know not.” (Quran 28:13)
MOSES FLEES EGYPT
Chapter 28 of the Quran is named, ‘The Narration’, the first 45 verses focus solely on the story of Moses. 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 retuned to their home among the Children of Israel, others, including Ibn Kathir believe that Moses 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, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, are silent about this period of Moses 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 describe Moses as a tall, well-built, dark skinned man with curly hair. Both his character and physique are described as strong.
“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 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 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 was involved in the melee. However, the next day Moses 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 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 to the authorities. Later on that day, Moses 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 took the women’s sheep to the waterhole, where he easily pushed in amongst the men already there. After completing this task, Moses’ 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. She conducted herself with modesty and shyness and said to Moses, “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 had been invited to stay with the family, one of the women approached her father privately and advised him to hire Moses. 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, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, 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, although there are no authentic sources either confirming or denying this, offered Moses the safety and security of his own family. He gave one of his daughters in marriage to Moses on the condition that he work for eight years, or ten if Moses agreed to stay on for the further two years. Moses was a stranger in a strange land. Exhausted and alone, but God heard his supplication and provided for him from sources that Moses 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 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 and for humankind. God put Moses through experiences that would hold him in good stead in his coming mission. Moses 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 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 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 was a shepherd. Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, 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 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 was trekking back across the desert, he became lost. It was a cold dark night. Moses 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, 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 imperfecction, 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. He asked Moses 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, prayer was prescribed upon Moses 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 journey to Jerusalem and ascent into the heavens.
At this time, Moses 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 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 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 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 to put his hand inside his cloak, He revealed to him another sign of his magnificence and omnipotence. Signs, which Moses 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 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. 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 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 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.
The dialogue between God and Moses 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’ 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 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 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 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 wanted his brother to be his companion in prophethood and on this dangerous mission to confront Pharaoh because Aaron 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 and Aaron went together to Pharaoh and delivered their message. Moses spoke to Pharaoh about God, His mercy and His Paradise and about the obligation of humankind to worship God Alone.
MAGIC & ILLUSION
Quran narrates several conversations between Moses and Pharaoh. One of the most detailed accounts is in chapter 26 which is entitled ‘The Poets’. Moses speaks kindly to Pharaoh about God, His Mercy, and His Paradise, but Pharaoh reacts disdainfully and arrogantly. He reminds Moses of his past crime and asks Moses to be grateful that he was raised in the palace amongst luxuries and wealth. Moses 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, 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 was able to show by the permission of God were magic tricks and illusions.
When Moses 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 has learned the art of illusion. Ibn Kathir narrates the Pharaoh detained Moses and Aaron 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 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 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 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 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 to throw his stick.
Moses 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. 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’ serpent was real. They collectively fell in prostration declaring their belief in the Lord of Moses and Aaron.
“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 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 and some magicians had secretly organised for Moses 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 the children of Israel, became the scapegoats. They complained to Moses 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, 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 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 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 to the palace. Ibn Kathir narrates that Pharaoh wanted Moses 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, 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 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 was no more then a lowly slave with no power, strength or might. Moses 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 whither 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 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 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 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. Moses 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 stood at the edge of the Red Sea and looked out toward the horizon. Ibn Kathir narrates that Joshua turned to Moses and said, "In front of us is this impassable barrier, the sea, and behind us the enemy; surely death cannot be avoided!" Moses 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 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 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 to close the corridor. Moses 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 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 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 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
Pharaoh’s army was pursuing them closely, the people of Moses 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 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. There 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 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 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 recognised it as the place where he had spoken to God before his great journey into Egypt had begun. God ordered Moses to fast, as purification, for thirty days, and then added ten more days. After the fast was completed, Moses 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 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 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’ brother Aaron 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 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 returned to his people he saw them singing and dancing around the golden calf. He was furious.
THE DEATH OF MOSES
Moses 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 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; he was angry and grabbed him by the beard, at the same time he pulled Aaron towards him by the head. He bellowed at his brother demanding that Aaron explain why he disobeyed the instructions he had given him, and why he allowed As Samiri to beguile the Children of Israel. Aaron explained that the people did not listen to him, and were about to kill him. He appealed to Moses not to let the idolaters separate them. Aaron 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 to return.
God’s promise is true and His punishment was swift. Moses 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 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 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 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 was astounded. He immediately wondered what he would say to the Children of Israel. These seventy men were the best of people; Moses 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 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 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 died, so Moses was finally without his greatest supporter. Still he remained steadfast; still he remained in the wilderness never quite reaching the Promised land. Moses 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’ 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.”
LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF PROPHET MOSES
The human condition is filled with trials, tribulations, and tremendous learning curves. Life is full of surprises. However remembering God and striving to please Him is humankind’s lifeline. The Quran contains inspirational stories of prophets, and righteous men and women. The life of Moses is discussed frequently and his story teaches us that God is merciful, trustworthy, and caring. Allah, the Most Forgiving, has not left us alone; He has provided us with His guidance and light.
“Indeed, in their stories, there is a lesson for men of understanding. It (the Quran) is not a forged statement but a confirmation of God’s existing Books (the Torah, the Gospel and other Scriptures of God) and a detailed explanation of everything, a guide, and a Mercy for the people who believe.” (Quran 12: 111)
Throughout this series of articles, we have learned about Moses’ tremendous strength of character, and his ability to persevere even in dire circumstances. Moses followed God’s commandments with valor and determination, and beyond this all, he possessed a character of great importance, the character of sincerity. Moses was sincere in all his efforts. No matter what he did, he acted with the express purpose of pleasing God. When determination is coupled with sincerity a person’s character can become extraordinary.
During the years that the Children of Israel wandered the desert unable to enter the Promised Land, Moses met and spent time with Khidr. A man whom the majority of scholars believe to have been a prophet.
Ibn Kathir narrates that one day Moses was asked by someone, “O Messenger of God, is there another man on earth more learned than you?” Moses replied, “No!” believing that since God had allowed him to perform miracles and had given him the Torah, he must surely be the most learned man alive. This however was not the case. Moses’ encounter with Khidr teaches humankind that no one person can hold all the information available and that even though we may think we are wise and knowledgeable, the need to seek knowledge never ceases. When Moses learned of Khidr’s existence, he asked to meet him.
God instructed Moses to take a live fish in a container. When the fish disappeared, he would find the man he sought. Moses set out on his journey, accompanied by a young man who carried the container with the fish. They reached a place where two rivers met and decided to rest there. Instantly, Moses fell asleep. While he was asleep, his companion saw the fish wriggle out of the vessel into the river and swim away. However, he forgot to inform Moses.
When Moses awoke, they continued their journey until they were exhausted and hungry. Moses asked for a meal. Only then did his companion recall that the fish had gotten away. Hearing this, Moses cried, “This is exactly what we are seeking!” They hurriedly retraced their steps to the place where the rivers met and where the fish had jumped out.
When Moses realised that they had taken the wrong direction, he immediately turned back. He did not push forward hoping that he could save face, or time, he acknowledged that his path was incorrect and he changed his way. In this life, so many of us choose the wrong path but are afraid or too embarrassed to turn and face in a different direction. There are great lessons to be taken from the actions of Prophet Moses. Once a person realizes he is heading in the wrong direction in life he must immediately turn around and get back onto the Straight Path. One should not consider this a defeat; rather, it is a victory.
When Moses returned to the correct path, he met Khidr. It was a meeting designed to bring forth knowledge. This momentous story of the meeting of Moses and Khidr is narrated in Quran in Chapter 18, The Cave.
“Moses said to him, "May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgment?" He said, "Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?" Moses said, "You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in any order." He said, "Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I mention it to you." So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, al-Khidhr damaged it. Moses said, "Have you damaged it to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing." Al-Khidhr said, "Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?" Moses said, "Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty." So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khidhr killed him. Moses said, "Have you killed a pure soul for other than having killed a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing." Al-Khidhr said, "Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?" Moses said, "If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse." So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidhr restored it. Moses said, "If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment." Al-Khidhr said, "This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience. As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to defect it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. As for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience." (Quran 18:66-82)
The story of Moses and Khidr reminds us that God is the Most Wise. For the frail human being life can hold great joy and laughter but sometimes we are beset by trials, tragedies, and calamities that seemingly make no sense. As believers we should believe that whatever God’s decree is it stems from His Supreme and Absolute Wisdom.
This is the story of a feeble old man who loved and feared God; an elderly man, named Zachary (also called Zachariah), who had spent his life gaining knowledge and teaching others, purely for God’s pleasure. The Quran tells his story in Chapters 3 and 19, and it is similar to the story told in the Christian Gospel of Luke. However, we will concentrate on what the Quran has to say about this blessed man because Muslim’s believe the Quran has remained unchanged since its revelation, whereas the previous messages have been lost, changed or distorted.
“This is a mention of the mercy of your Lord to His slave Zachary; Remember when he called out to his Lord (God) a call in secret, saying: ‘My Lord! Indeed my bones have grown feeble, and grey hair has spread on my head, And I have never been unblest in my invocation to You, O my Lord!’” (Quran 19:4)
Prophet Zachary was a member of the family of Imran, a blessed family whose members also included Jesus and his mother Mary. When the young Mary went into the House of Prayer in Jerusalem, God, by His wisdom and grace appointed Zachary her guardian. Each day he would visit Mary to be certain that all her needs were met. Mary’s devotion to God impressed Zachary and he was amazed by the provisions he would find in her room. It is said that she would have the fruits of winter in the summer and the fruits of summer in the winter. When Zachary inquired about how Mary obtained the fruits she replied that God, the Sustainer, was indeed the One who had provided her sustenance. Mary said:
“It is from God. Verily, God provides sustenance to whom He wills without limit.” (Quran 3:37)
When Zachary observed Mary’s total submission to God and her unwavering faith in Him as the Provider, it opened his eyes to a new concept. No matter how overwhelming, or alternatively, insignificant our needs may feel to us, God is always there to listen and to respond. This is a very important idea to contemplate. God will give to His righteous slaves without limit. Mary had received fruits out of season; Zachary made supplication for something that according to human standards was not possible, for he and his wife were very old and the time for them to conceive a child had passed. The bounties of God are not constrained by worldly limitations, however, and anything is possible. Zachary learned this important lesson from his ward Mary.
So Zachary called out to his Lord in secret, saying that he was old, his hair was grey and his wife was also old and barren; yet he desired an heir who was pleasing to God. Zachary asked for a son to inherit from him; he was not thinking in terms of wealth, for he was a poor man. He desired a son to continue the Prophethood and to spread the knowledge that Zachary had acquired over his life time. God responded immediately, and said:
“Then the angels called him, while he was standing in prayer in a praying place, saying: God gives you glad tidings of John (Yahya), confirming the Word from God, noble, celibate, a Prophet from among the righteous.” (Quran 3:39)
In this verse from Quran the “Word of God” has a specific meaning: Jesus, because he was created by a word from God - “Be” (and he was). Zachary’s son, John, was to be amongst those who believed in and followed the Message of Jesus.
When Zachary received this astounding news he was standing in prayer. He responded by asking how this could possibly happen, considering his old age and the barreness of hiswife. God then confirmed the lesson Mary had understood. “Thus God does what He wills.” (Quran 3:40).
Zachary asked for a sign, wondering how he would know that this miracle was really happening to him, and to his wife. God replied that he (Zachary) would loose the power of speech and not be able to communicate, except with signals. Zachary was instructed to spend time remembering and glorifying God, and he emerged from his praying place unable to speak.
The Quran tells us that Prophet Zachary and his wife performed good deeds, called on God with fear and with hope, and were humble, so God rewarded them, in their old age, with a son.
“So We answered his call, and We bestowed upon him John, and cured his wife’s barreness for him. Verily, they used to hasten on to do good deeds, and they used to call on Us with hope and fear, and used to humble themselves before Us.” (Quran 21:90)
This was no ordinary child. John was granted wisdom while still a child and was instructed by God to hold fast to the Torah. He was sympathetic and able to display compassion and mercy towards mankind. God created John, righteous, and free from sin.
“‘O John! Hold fast the Scripture.’ And We gave him wisdom while yet a child, and made him sympathetic to men, as a mercy from Us, and pure from sins; and he was righteous.” (Quran 19:12)
The sincere supplication of an old man and his barren wife was accepted by God, and a valuable lesson was taught to all of mankind. The bounties of God are limitless. He is the Provider, The Sustainer, The One!
Based on the work of Al Imam ibn Katheer. The Stories of the Prophets.
Ibn Katheer mentions in his commentary that the word used may not mean complete celibacy, for that would preclude children, but immunity from illegal relations outside marriage. Its literal meaning is “exclusive” and “restrained” (Al Mawrid al Waseet Arabic English Dictionary), and God knows best.
Jesus, Mary, Zachary and his son John are all members of the same family, the family of Imran, who are descendents from the family of David. We learn from God’s own words, in the Quran, that they were righteous, and worshipped God with true submission.
“And Zachary and John and Jesus ..., each one of them was of the righteous.” (Quran 6:85)
“... and remember Our slave David, endued with power. Verily, he was oft-returning toward God in all matters and in repentance.” (Quran 38:17)
“And Mary was a truthful one; she believed in the words of God and His books ...” (Quran 5:75)
John is the Prophet known by Christians as “John the Baptist.” However, neither the Quran nor the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad speak of John as either baptising or being baptised. John’s mission was to remind the Children of Israel that they had entered into a covenant with God. He spoke the same words as all of the Prophets of God – worship One God with full submission.
A miracle child
In their old age, when all hope of having a child was gone, God provided Prophet Zachary and his wife with a miracle child. A son, the first child in the world named John. God, Himself, chose John’s name.
“God gives you glad tidings of John, confirming the Word from God, noble, celibate, a Prophet from among the righteous.” (Quran 3:39)
We know from the Quran that Prophet John was given wisdom as a child, and Islamic sources speak of him as being a quiet, gentle child, who loved learning and being outside amongst the animals. John grew into a devout and noble man. It is said that he lived a simple life in the wilderness or desert, spending his time praying and remembering God. He was filled with compassion and mercy for those around him and all of mankind. The scholars of Islam have said that John wept out of fear and love for God, and that his tears left marks on his cheeks.
John and Jesus
John was given strength and fortitude by God and was strong enough to control his worldly desires. He worked tirelessly, calling the people back to the laws of the Torah and endorsing the mission of his cousin, Jesus, Messenger of God. Part of John’s mission was to believe in and support the message of Jesus; “...confirming the Word from God ...” (Quran 3:39). John refers to his cousin Jesus as the “Spirit of God“ and does so to place emphasis on the miraculous creation of Prophet Jesus.
In the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (such as in Saheeh Ahmad, Tirmidi and others)there are stories relating to Prophets John and Jesus meeting and discussing their mission to guide the Children of Israel back to the straight path. Prophet Muhammad tells us that John gathered the Children of Israel together, and beseeched them to follow the commandments of God. To worship none but God; to pray; to fast; to give charity and to spend time remembering God.
God bestowed a special blessing upon his Prophet John. “And peace be on him, the day he was born, the day he dies, and the day he will be raised up to life again!” This is the greatest blessing that can be bestowed upon a human being. Peace – safety, security, contentment. This is the inevitable result of following the guidance sent to us from God.
The Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad do not reveal the details of John’s death. We do know, however, that he was reviled and persecuted because of his strong insistence on following the law of God as revealed in the Torah, and that this eventually led to his death. John’s life was one of struggle and striving, but he held tightly to the religion of God (to worship One God Alone) and died for his beliefs.
The family of Imran is a guiding light for mankind. Their devotion to God was unparalleled and their way of dealing with each other serves as a reminder to us. Each parent is concerned with their child’s hereafter rather then the delights of this world. Each child respects and deals with their elders and parents with the affection and dedication commanded by God. The members of this blessed family served God with true devotion, and put His laws above all others. And God said:
“So, as for those who believed (in the Oneness of God) and did deeds of righteousness, He will give their due rewards, and more, out of His Bounty. But as for those who refuse His worship and were proud, He will punish them with a painful torment. And they will not find for themselves, besides, God any protector or helper.” (Quran 4:173)
Mary was one of the Truthful, Jesus was the word of God, John was neither arrogant nor disobedient and Zachary glorified his Lord. Together these descents of Prophet David are the blessed family of Imran, and they are an example to mankind. If we struggle as they struggled, if we believe with certainty, as they believed, and if we serve God with full submission, just as they served God, on the Day of Judgement, by the Grace of God, we may be counted amongst the righteous.
THE STORY OF MARY IN BRIEF
In Islam, Jesus is considered one of the five greatest prophets sent by God to mankind. Muslims’ knowledge about Jesus is based on the two main sources of Islamic knowledge: the Quran and Hadeeth (prophetic sayings). In the Quran, Jesus is referred to as Isa ibn Maryam, or Jesus, the son of Mary. The story of Mary and Jesus is best described in the Quran in chapters 3 and 19.
Mary: A Precocious Girlhood
The story starts with Mary, who was blessed as a child with God’s protection. Mary was born to the pious household of Aal Imran, or the family of Imran. Many people argued for the honor of taking care of the child, but the responsibility was given to Zechariah, an elderly and childless man, who immediately noticed that the young girl was special. One day, Zechariah noticed that the girl had in her possession certain provisions for which he could not account. He asked her how she came by the food and she answered,
“It is from God. Indeed, God provides for whom He wills without account.” (Quran 3:37)
This simple answer had a deep impact on the elderly man. Having long wished for a son, the devout Zechariah prayed to God for progeny. As the Quran relates in the verses below, his prayers were answered almost immediately, although his wife was barren and beyond childbearing age:
“At that, Zechariah called upon his Lord, saying, ‘My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.’ So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, ‘Indeed, God gives you good tidings of John, confirming a word from God and [who will be] honorable, abstaining [from women], and prophet from among the righteous.’” (Quran 3:38-39)
The uniqueness of Mary, noticed by Zechariah, was spelled out to her by the angels:
“And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those bow [in prayer].’” (Quran 3:42-43)
Here the story of Mary’s upbringing and girlhood, as related in the Quran, ends.
The Miracle of Jesus
In chapter 19, entitled “Mary,” we hear more of this special woman’s story, best told by the Quran itself.
“And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel [i.e., Gabriel], and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, ‘Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God.’ He said, ‘I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy [i.e., son].’ She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?’ He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’” So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” (Quran 19:16–22)
From the Quranic description of events, we can deduce that Mary spent most of her pregnancy alone. What happened to her during this period is not mentioned in the Quran. The Quran picks up the story at the moment that Mary goes into labor.
“And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of palm tree. She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.’ But he called her from below her, ‘Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.’” (Quran 19:23-24)
God, knowing the reaction of society, further guided her how to deal with the situation:
“And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. (Quran 19:25)
When she carried the baby Jesus to her people, they questioned her; and as a baby in her arms, Jesus gave them the answer. The Quran describes this scene in detail:
“So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.’ So she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?’ [Jesus] said, ‘Indeed, I am the servant of God. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and he has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.’” (Quran 19:26-33)
And so the baby Jesus defended his mother from any accusations of adultery, and in a nutshell, explained who he was and why he was sent by God.
Here ends the story of Mary and miraculous birth of one of the greatest prophets of God, Jesus.
“That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute.” (Quran 19:34)
WHO IS MARY?
It may surprise many people to learn that Mary is one of the most esteemed and respected women in Islam and that the Quran gives her great importance. Maryam is the name of chapter 19 of the Quran, and Chapter 3 is Aali Imran, named after her family. Islam holds the entire family of Imran in very high regard. The Quran tells us that:
“God chose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran over all others of world’s of mankind and jinn.” (Quran 3:33)
God choose Adam and Noah individually, but He chose the family of Abraham and the family of Imran.
“Offspring of one another.” (Quran 3:34)
The family of Imran are from the descendents of Abraham, the family of Abraham are from the descendants of Noah and Noah is from the descendents of Adam. The family of Imran also includes many people known and respected in the Christian traditions – Prophets Zachary and John (known as the Baptist), Prophet and Messenger Jesus and his mother, Mary.
God chose Mary above all the women of the world. He said:
“And when the angels said: ‘O Mary! Verily, God has chosen you, purified you,and chosen you above the women of the worlds of mankind and jinn.’” (Quran 3:42)
Ali ibn Abu Talib said:
“I heard the Prophet of God saying Mary, the daughter of Imran was the best among women.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
In Arabic the name Maryam means the maidservant of God, and as we shall see, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was dedicated to God even before she was born.
The Birth of Mary
The Bible is unable to give us any details of Mary’s birth; however, the Quran informs us that the wife of Imran dedicated her unborn child to the service of God. Mary’s mother, the wife of Imran, was Hannah. She was the sister of Prophet Zachary’s wife. Hannah and her husband Imran had believed they would never have children, but one day Hannah made a sincere and heartfelt supplication to God begging for a child, and vowing that her offspring would serve in God’s House in Jerusalem. God heard Hannah’s supplication and she fell pregnant. When Hannah realised the glorious news she turned to God and said:
“O my Lord! I have vowed to You what is in my womb to be dedicated for Your services, so accept this, from me. Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knowing.” (Quran 3:35)
There are lessons to be learned from Hannah’s vow to God, one of which is caring for the religious education of our children. Hannah was not thinking in terms of this world at all, she was trying to ensure that her child was close to God and in His service. These chosen friends of God, such as family of Imran, are the parents whom we should take as our role models. God says many times in the Quran that He is the One who supplies provision for us, and He warns us to save ourselves and our families from the fires of Hell.
In her supplication, Hannah asked that her child be free from all worldly work. By promising that her child would be the servant of God, Hannah was securing her child’s freedom. Freedom is a quality of life that every human being strives to attain, but Hannah understood that true freedom comes from complete submission to God. This is what she aspired to for her yet unborn child. Hannah wanted her child to be a free person, a slave to no man and no desire, but a slave only to God. In due time, Hannah gave birth to a girl, again she turned to God in prayer and said:
“‘O my Lord, I have delivered a female child,’ and the male is not like the female, and I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge with You for her and her offspring from Satan, the outcast.” (Quran 3:36)
Hannah named her child Mary. With reference to her vow to God, Hannah now found herself facing a dilemma. Serving in the House of Prayer was not acceptable for women. Mary’s father, Imran had died before she was born, so Hannah turned to her brother in law, Zachary. He comforted Hannah and helped her to understand that God knew that she had delivered a girl. This girl child, Mary, was from the best of creation. Prophet Mohammad mentioned that whenever a child is born Satan pricks him or her and therefore the child cries loudly. This is a sign of the great enmity between mankind and Satan; however there were two exceptions to this rule. Satan pricked neither Mary nor her son Jesus, due to the supplication of Mary’s mother.
When the time came for Mary to go into the House of Prayer, everybody wanted to take care of this pious daughter of Imran. As was the custom of the time, the men drew lots for the privilege, and God ensured that her guardian was Prophet Zachary.
“So her Lord accepted her with goodly acceptance, and made her grow in a good manner, and put her under the care of Zachary.” (Quran 3:37)
Prophet Zachary served in the House of God and was a wise and knowledgeable man devoted to teaching. He had a private room built for Mary so that she was able to worship God and go about her daily duties in private. As her guardian, Prophet Zachary visited Mary daily, and one day he was surprised to see fresh fruit in her room. It is said that in winter she would have the fresh fruits of summer and in the summer she would have the fresh fruits of winter. Prophet Zachary inquired about how the fruit got there, to which Mary replied, it was indeed God Who provided her sustenance. She said:
“It is from God. Verily, God provides sustenance to whom He wills without limit.” (Quran 3:37)
Mary’s devotion to God was at that time unparalleled, but her faith was about to be tested.
From the Tafseer of Ibn Katheer.
Based on the work of Al Imam ibn Katheer. The Stories of the Prophets.
THE BIRTH OF JESUS
Esteemed and loved by all Muslims and known as a pious and devout woman, Mary, the mother of Jesus was chosen above all other women. Islam rejects the Christian notion that Jesus is part of a trinity that is God, and denies emphatically that either Jesus or his mother, Mary, are worthy of worship. The Quran categorically states that there is no god but God.
“Such is God, your Lord! None has the right to be worshipped but He, the Creator of all things. So worship Him ...” (Quran 6:102)
Muslims are required, however, to believe in and love all of the Prophets, including Prophet Jesus, who holds a special place in the Islamic creed. His mother, Mary, holds a place of honour. As a young woman, Mary went into the House of Prayer in Jerusalem, her entire life dedicated to the worship and service of God.
Mary Hears the News of Jesus
While she was in seclusion from everybody, a man appeared before Mary. God said:
“She screened herself from them; We sent to her Our Spirit, and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.” (Quran 19:17)
Mary was afraid and tried to flee. She appealed to God saying:
“Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Gracious (God) from you, if you do fear God.” The angel said: “I am only a Messenger from your Lord to you, announcing the gift of a righteous son.” (Quran 19:18-19)
Mary was amazed and puzzled by these words. She was not married, rather a virgin who kept chaste. She asked incredulously:
“‘O my Lord! How will I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He said, “So (it will be): for God creates what He wills; when He has decreed something, He says to it only ‘Be’ – and it is.” (Quran 3:47)
God created Adam from the dust of the earth, without either mother or father. He created Eve from Adam's rib; and Jesus, He created without a father, but with a mother, the pious Virgin Mary. God, who has only to say ‘Be’ to a thing in order to bring it into existence,, blew the spirit of Jesus into Mary via the Angel Gabriel.
“And We breathed into it through Our Spirit, and she testified to the truth of the Words of her Lord ...” (Quran 66:12)
Although the stories of Mary in the Quran and in the Bible have many aspects in common, the view that Mary was betrothed or married is totally rejected by Islam. Time passed, and Mary became afraid of what the people around her would say. She wondered how they could possibly believe that no man had touched her. The majority of scholars in Islam agree that the duration of Mary’s pregnancy was normal. Then, as the time came for her to give birth, Mary decided to leave Jerusalem, and travelled towards the city of Bethlehem. Even though Mary must have recalled the words of God, for her faith was strong and unwavering, this young woman was anxious and uneasy. But the angel Gabriel reassured her:
“O Mary, Verily God gives you glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and will be one of those who are near to God.” (Quran 3:45)
Jesus is Born
The pains of childbirth drove her to clutch at the trunk of a date-palm tree and she cried out in anguish:
“Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!” (Quran 19:23)
Mary delivered her child right there, at the foot of the date tree. She was exhausted after the birth, and filled with distress and fear, but nevertheless she heard a voice calling out to her. .
“Grieve not! Your Lord has provided you a stream of clear water under you; and shake the trunk of palm tree towards you; it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and be glad...” (Quran 19:24)
God provided Mary with water, as a stream suddenly appeared beneath the place she was sitting. He also provided her with food; all she had to do was shake the trunk of the date tree. Mary was scared and frightened; she felt so weak, having just given birth, so how could she possibly shake the immense trunk of a date tree? But God continued to provide Mary with sustenance.
The next event was indeed another miracle, and as human beings we learn a great lesson from this. Mary didn’t need to shake the date tree, which would have been impossible; she only had to make an effort. As she attempted to follow God’s command, fresh ripe dates fell from the tree and God said to Mary: “…eat, drink and be glad.” (Quran 19:26)
Mary now had to take her new born child and go back to face her family. Of course she was afraid, and God knew this well. Thus He directed her not to speak. It would not have been possible for Mary to explain how she had suddenly become the mother of a new born child. Since she was unmarried, her people would not believe her explanations. God said:
“And if you see any human being, say: ‘Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Gracious (God) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.’” (Quran 19:26)
Mary came to her people carrying the child, and they immediately began accusing her; they exclaimed “What have you done? You are from a good family, and your parents were pious.”
As God had directed her, Mary did not speak, she merely pointed to the baby in her arms. Then Jesus, son of Mary, spoke. As a newborn baby, Jesus, the Prophet of God performed his first miracle. By the permission of God he said:
“Verily! I am a slave of God. He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet; and He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer, and alms, as long as I live, and to be dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, unblest. And peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!” (Quran 19:30-34)
Mary is referred to in the Quran (5:75) as a siddqa (truthful one) but the Arabic word siddiqaimplies more then just speaking the truth. It means that one has achieved a very high level of righteousness. It means that one is truthful, not only with themselves and those around them, but also with God. Mary was a woman who fulfilled her covenant with God, Whom she worshiped with full submission. She was pious, chaste, and devout; the woman chosen above all other women to be the mother of Jesus was Mary, the daughter of Imran.
This is explained in commentaries as an opening in her garment, though the verse itself speaks of “her chastity” (i.e. guarding herself from opening up to marriageable men). Thus God blew into what she guarded by means of the angel Gabriel.
Sheikh al Shanqeeti in (Adwaa’ al-Bayaan, 4/264)
THE STORY OF JESUS IN BRIEF
In relating the story of Jesus, the Quran describes how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was approached by an angel from God, bringing her tidings she had never imagined: that she will give birth to a son, a Messiah, who will be of the righteous and will be a prophet of God, calling the Children of Israel (the Israelites) to the straight path of God.
“(And mention) when the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near (to God). He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.” (Quran 3:45-46)
Naturally, for Mary, this news was both strange and seemingly impossible.
“She said, ‘My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?’ (The angel) said, “Such is God; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.” (Quran 3:47-48)
The very nature of Jesus is so special, that God compares the uniqueness of His creation to that of the first man and prophet, Adam.
“Indeed, the example of Jesus to God is like that of Adam. He created him from dust; then He said to him, ‘Be,’ and he was.” (Quran 3:59)
Jesus and His Miracles
Jesus became one of the greatest prophets of God, and was sent to the Children of Israel in order to confirm the teachings of his predecessor, the Prophet Moses. His birth was a miracle, and, like all prophets of God, he was granted several miracles. He approached his people, telling them:
“And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (who will say), ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord’ in that I design for you from the clay (that which is) like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of God. And I cure the blind (from birth) and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of God. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And (I have come) confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me. Indeed, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path.” (Quran 3:49-51)
The Quran continues the story of Jesus by relating several incidents of his life and his disciples.
“But when Jesus felt (persistence in) disbelief from them, he said, ‘Who are my supporters for (the cause of) God?’ The disciples said,” We are supporters for God. We have believed in God and testify that we are Muslims (submitting to Him.) Our Lord, we have believed in what You revealed and have followed the messenger (i.e., Jesus), so register us among the witnesses (to truth).” (Quran 3:52-53)
In another incident, after which an entire surah (chapter) of the Quran is named, the disciples of Jesus asked him for another miracle.
“(And remember) when the disciples said, ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary, can your Lord send down to us a table (spread with food) from the heaven?’ (Jesus) said, ‘Fear God, if you should be believers.’ They said, ‘We wish to eat from it and let our hearts be reassured and know that you have been truthful to us and be among its witnesses.’ Said Jesus, the son of Mary, ‘O God, our Lord, send down to us a table (spread with food) from the heaven to be for us a festival for the first of us and the last of us and a sign from You. And provide for us, and You are the best of providers.’” (Quran 5:112-114)
God sent them the table they had asked for, but not without a warning.
“God said, ‘Indeed, I will sent it down to you, but whoever disbelieves afterwards from among you – then indeed will I punish him with a punishment by which I have not punished anyone among the worlds.’” (Quran 5:115)
The End of the Story?
The story of Jesus never really ends in the Quran, as we are told that Jesus was not killed, but that rather, God raised His beloved prophet up to Him.
“(Mention) when God said, ‘O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify (i.e., free) you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you (in submission to God alone) superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ. And as for those who disbelieved, I will punish them with a severe punishment in this world and the Hereafter, and they will have no helpers.’ But as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, He will give them in full their rewards, and God does not like the wrongdoers.” (Quran 3:55-57)
The Quran also points out that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified. Speaking of the Children of Israel, God faults their accusations against Mary as well as their claim that they killed Jesus.
“And (We cursed them) for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander. And (for) their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of God.’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but (another) was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, God raised him to Himself. And ever is God Exalted in Might and Wise.” (Quran 4:156-158)
The Quran confirms that Jesus was raised up by God, and the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, reassured us that Jesus will be sent down to earth once again before the Day of Judgment. In a saying of Prophet Muhammad, narrated by Abu Hurairah, the Prophet said:
“By the One in Whose hand is my self, definitely the son of Maryam will soon descend among you as a just judge, and he will break the cross, kill the pig, and abolish the jizyah (tribute), and wealth will be so abundant that no one will accept it, until a single prostration will be better than the world and everything in it.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Stories of Prophets and Messengers
Dr Saleh as Saleh
01 – Adam ‘alayhis-salaam
02 – Nuuh ‘alayhis salaam
03 – Huud ‘alayhis salaam
04 – Saalih ‘alayhis salaam
05 – Ibraaheem ‘alayhis salaam – part 1
06 – Ibraaheem ‘alayhis salaam – part 2
07 – Luut ‘alayhis salaam
08 – Shu’ayb ‘alayhis salaam
09 – Muusaa ‘alayhis salaam
10 – Dawood and Sulayman ‘alayhumaa as-salaam
11 – Dawood ‘alayhis salaam
12 – Lessons from Stories of Prophets