THE DA’WAH OF MUSA AS
Musa AS carried with him two commands for Pharaoh. The first was an invitation to Allah and the second was to release Bani Israel from all the torture and oppression imposed on them by Pharaoh’s regime. Proof was going to be required in this confrontation, and Musa AS was already armed with two of the nine signs that Allah would bestow upon him, his hand and his staff.
The Qur’an mentions: So go to him and say, ‘Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance. Indeed, it has been revealed to us that the punishment will be upon whoever denies and turns away. (Qur’an 20:47-49) Therefore, Musa AS was to spread a message of peace, together with a warning for those who refused to follow the path of the truth.
Together with his brother, Harun AS, he went to Pharaoh. It is reported that they had to persist for two years before the palace guards plucked up the courage to ask permission from Pharaoh to grant them an audience.
If we recall, Musa AS had lived under Pharaoh’s roof for almost 40 years and had to flee Egypt to escape the death penalty when he accidentally killed a man. Therefore, Musa AS was already on thin ice in Pharaoh’s estimate. He was risking his life by engaging Pharaoh in such a controversial dialogue.
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Nevertheless, once he faced Pharaoh and his assembly, Musa AS said, “O Pharaoh, I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds, [Who is] obligated not to say about Allah except the truth. I have come to you with clear evidence from your Lord, so send with me the Children of Israel.” (Qur’an 7:104-105)
Naturally Pharaoh was astonished at what he perceived to be sheer audacity on Musa’s AS part. He seized the opportunity to remind Musa AS of his upbringing and also to remind Musa AS of his crime – a veiled threat to Musa AS and his personal liberty. He did not respond to the call by Musa AS, but instead, employed tactics to discredit him.
[Pharaoh] said, “Did we not raise you among us as a child, and you remained among us for years of your life? And [then] you did your deed which you did, and you were of the ungrateful.” (Qur’an 26:18-19)
[Musa] said, “I did it, then, while I was of those astray. So I fled from you when I feared you. Then my Lord granted me wisdom and prophethood and appointed me [as one] of the messengers. (Qur’an 26:20-21)
Musa AS continued with a counter argument: “And is this a favour of which you remind me – that you have enslaved the Children of Israel?” (Qur’an 26:22), meaning, how can this tyrannical act ever be interpreted as a favour?
Instead of refuting this claim, Pharaoh asked, “And what is the Lord of the worlds?” (Qur’an 26:23) Musa AS replied “The Lord of the heavens and earth and that between them, if you should be convinced.” (Qur’an 26:24)
Pharaoh was incredulous and asked those around him, “Do you hear that?” The da’wah of Musa AS was only met with ridicule and laughter. Pharaoh then asked of his forefathers, to which Musa AS replied “Your Lord and the Lord of your first forefathers.” [Pharaoh] said, “Indeed, your ‘messenger’ who has been sent to you is mad.” (Qur’an 26:26-27) From a criminal, Musa AS was then relegated to the category of insane. Throughout history, the accusation of insanity was a common reaction against any Prophet or Messenger who was trying to establish the truth in his community.
Undeterred, Musa AS continued: “Lord of the east and the west and that between them, if you were to reason.” (Qur’an 26:28) This was a rational argument, for Pharaoh’s authority did not range as far as east to west, earth to heaven. The existence of all of that existed could only be attributed to the Creator, and anyone with understanding could see that plainly.
Refusing to accept Musa’s AS rationale, Pharaoh changed tactics and tried to intimidate both Musa AS and Harun AS: “If you take a god other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned.” Like all tyrants, Pharaoh wanted to play the role of judge, jury and executioner. [Musa] said, “Even if I brought you proof manifest?” [Pharaoh] said, “Then bring it, if you should be of the truthful.” (Qur’an 26:29-31)
In response to the challenge, Musa AS threw his staff, and it suddenly transformed into a serpent. He also drew out his hand, and it became white and radiant for all the observers to see.
By his own rules, Pharaoh had already lost the argument. However, in debates, the arrogant and ignorant are blind to the truth, no matter how glaring, and instead deflect logic and reality with distractions, smokescreens and digressions. If you were to ever rationalize with anyone stubborn or arrogant, he will not even stick to the original ground rules of the argument, but will keep changing the regulations as and when he pleases, going off tangent from one topic to the next. Just as there is a certain sunnah (an established way or sequence) in good, there is also a certain sunnah in evil. This trait was evident in Pharaoh.
Therefore, rather than accepting his defeat with integrity, Pharaoh said, “Have you come to us to drive us out of our land with your magic, O Musa?” (Qur’an 20:58) Again, he failed to acknowledge the reason supporting Musa’s AS mission, which was to spread truth and justice. Just like strategy of all corrupted leaders and politicians, he played the role of the good guy while slinging accusations at the innocent.
[Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, “Indeed, this is a learned magician. He wants to drive you out of your land by his magic, so what do you advise?” (Qur’an 26:34-35) Ever the manipulator, Pharaoh played on the fear and paranoia of his self-serving counsel, uniting all of them against Musa AS. In a few short minutes, the accusations changed from criminal, madman, magician to usurper!
They said, “Postpone [the matter of] him and his brother and send among the cities gatherers, Who will bring you every learned, skilled magician.” (Qur’an 26:36-37). Realising that their positions and status in Pharaoh’s court were at stake, Pharaoh’s sycophants and cronies banded against Musa AS, asking for time to gather their own forces so that the defeat of Musa AS and Harun AS would be absolute.
Pharaoh announced to both brothers: “Then we will surely bring you magic like it, so make between us and you an appointment, which we will not fail to keep and neither will you, in a place assigned.” (Qur’an 20:58)
Musa knew that Allah would grant him victory, and played this to his advantage. He asked for the contest between magicians and prophets to take place on the day of a prominent festival, during the mid-morning. At this time and place, the contest would unfold in broad daylight and in clear visibility of the crowd. This way, once the magicians were defeated, it would be in everyone’s plain view, obviating any opportunity to deny the defeat of Pharaoh and his magicians.
Their appointment agreed, Musa AS and Harun AS were imprisoned while the magicians were given the opportunity to coordinate and make preparations.
THE DAY OF THE FESTIVAL
The day of the festival drew upon them.
Prophets and Messengers are not sent to bring us harm. Their role is to guide us to the truth. Hence, this match was not a battle of ego for Musa AS, but rather a means of guiding people to the truth. With this in mind, he warned the congregation of magicians that had gathered to pitch their skills against him:
“Woe to you! Do not invent a lie against Allah or He will exterminate you with a punishment; and he has failed who invents [such falsehood]. (Qur’an 20:61).
This caused some consternation amongst the magicians. They discussed this privately – was he indeed a Prophet as he had claimed, or a magician like them? Finally, they declared, in a manner that would instigate hostility against the two Prophets amongst the swelling crowd: “Indeed, these are two magicians who want to drive you out of your land with their magic and do away with your most exemplary way. So resolve upon your plan and then come [forward] in line. And he has succeeded today who overcomes.” (Qur’an 20:63-64)
They sought confirmation from Pharaoh that the winner of this event would be granted favours and other rewards from him, including being elevated in status to be closer to him. Pharaoh agreed.
This must have been the event of a lifetime for the audience. The magicians came in rank and faced Musa AS and Harun AS. They asked Musa AS who would be the first to cast, and Musa AS deferred to them and let them throw first.
The magicians threw their instruments of magic, such as their ropes and staffs, and suddenly it seemed is if such instruments were moving like snakes. These were not in fact snakes, but rather, the Qur’an explains: When they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people and struck terror into them, and they presented a great [feat of] magic. (Qur’an 7:116)
It would probably be akin to mass hypnosis, where the audience were made to see something that was not there. While the magicians used sorcery, such modern day tools still exist through other means, such as the mass media, which is often utilised as a means of baffling and fooling the general public to believe something false.
The magicians were triumphant and declared themselves the winners: “By the might of Pharaoh, indeed it is we who are predominant.” (Qur’an 26:44)
Musa AS, seeing these repulsive and ungodly objects slithering towards him, felt a momentary apprehension. However, Allah said, “Fear not. Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is.” (Qur’an 20:68-69)
It must have been a momentous sight to watch. Musa AS threw his staff to the ground and it immediately became a snake, which devoured all the snakes one by one. There was bedlam, the onlookers were terrified by this spectacle and started fleeing to watch this event from a safe distance.
This was the tipping point! Pharaoh and his magicians were speechless, their public defeat was incontrovertible. The truth was established, and the magicians’ trickery and sorcery were proven false in the eyes of all the spectators. None of Pharaoh or his magicians saw this coming!
What did this defeat mean to the magicians? At this time, magicians were not in the business of show business like today. Rather, magic and sorcery were taken seriously and played a large role in Egyptian politics. Sorcerers formed the scholarly elite and learned of society, many of them holding high positions and having the role of advising Pharaoh and his inner sanctum. Yet, they immediately recognised the truth. From being the disbelievers who dabbled in the dark arts, something miraculous happened. They knew that what they saw was not some cheap sleight of hand, but rather, the power of Allah at work.
Before the crowd, they unanimously fell down in prostration to the Lord of all the worlds. Here they were, esteemed and highly regarded by society. By embracing Islam, they had everything to lose – their positions, salaries, political connections and even their lives. But this did not stop them.
So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, “We have believed in the Lord of Harun and Musa.” (Qur’an 20:70)
This was probably the last thing Pharaoh expected or needed! He was furious by the turn of events and true to his arrogant and cruel nature said:
“You believed him before I gave you permission. Indeed, he is your leader who has taught you magic. So I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and you will surely know which of us is more severe in [giving] punishment and more enduring.” (Qur’an 20:71)
Again, even though Musa AS had won the contest in accordance with Pharaoh’s own rules, the latter refused to acknowledge defeat. Instead, he made a ridiculous assertion that Musa AS had conspired with the magicians and had taught them – a claim made even more absurd given that both Musa AS and Harun AS were locked up in prison during the time the magicians were gathered for this event.
Further, Pharaoh was not issuing an empty warning. The punishment he promised was horrific, disgraceful and agonising. The magicians knew that Pharaoh would deliver his threat and more. Yet, they held firm to their newfound faith:
They said, “No harm. Indeed, to our Lord we will return. Indeed, we aspire that our Lord will forgive us our sins because we were the first of the believers.” (26:50-51)
They also said, “Never will we prefer you over what has come to us of clear proofs and [over] He who created us. So decree whatever you are to decree. You can only decree for this worldly life. Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.” (Qur’an 20:72-73)
How magnificent was their faith and their courage! In a split second, Allah had altered their vision and allowed them to see the truth, gave them the humility to admit the error of their ways and instilled in their hearts steadfastness against the physical torture that lay ahead for them. In a few minutes, they changed from being disbelievers to one of the best Muslims. Their faith took root in their hearts so quickly and firmly – in the morning, they were trying to defeat and humiliate the Messenger of Allah, and now, they were willing to martyred for his faith and theirs. There was no turning back for them, no matter what the earthly consequences. It is reported that when the magicians fell in prostration, they saw their palaces and houses in Jannah, and this is why they did not feel threatened by Pharaoh. They knew that everlasting Paradise awaited them. Such was the magnitude of their faith, and such was the comfort provided by Allah in the last moments of their lives.
Their conversion was also unique because in respect of previous Prophets and Messengers, the elite had disdained the message while it was the weak and the poor who embraced Islam.
Meanwhile, upon the conversion of his esteemed magicians, Pharaoh was afraid of his authority unravelling. However, a greater shock was to come, the conversion of someone within his own household!
Faith is not something that comes with age. Many of us are born into Islam, yet only a few of us have the absolute iman and taqwa demonstrated by the magicians. Their submission to Allah is mentioned a few times in the Qur’an, and when we read this, we should ask ourselves how highly we value our own faith, and how much we are willing to sacrifice for it. Many of us have deep rooted Islamic knowledge, yet when we are put under the spotlight, are we willing to stand up for Islam the way these people did? Within a few minutes, they were ready to lay their lives down for Islam, not because they had a complete understanding of the intricacies associated with the faith, but because they had firmness and conviction of belief. Such firmness which gave them the strength to put Allah above all else, even their own lives.
Today, we are so quick to give in. Our priorities are misplaced, we tend to bend over backwards for difficult bosses and clients, but are lax when it comes to doing our utmost for Allah. We make excuses – the job environment is tough, financial pressures are tough, society is hostile to Muslims – but this is actually our test of faith and conviction. If we know that Allah is watching, we should also know that Allah is with us if we are with Him. Compromises on this should be minimal, in fact they should not even exist.
We are afraid of losing our assets, or getting left behind, and play the politics of office and life to get ahead in the material world. Yet, look at the magicians. They had everything to lose, and from the perspective of the worldly life, they did in fact, lose everything. However, what awaited them in the eternal hereafter was much greater, better than this world and what it contains. They understood that.
Further, what of the audience? Instead of realising Pharaoh’s fallibility and taking heed from the magicians, they stood by passively in face of the truth. We have seen the power of the people, if they could pool together to reach critical mass, they can topple governments. Yet, the community did nothing.
In every time and place, there is Pharaoh, the oppressor, the tyrant and the corrupt. And in every time and place, there is Musa AS, the embodiment of good and justice. Which one are we, and which one do we choose to ally ourselves with?