Many people think that the story of Musa AS ended after the crossing of the Red Sea. However, events continued to unfold after the destruction of Pharaoh. The story carries on with the new lives of Bani Israel, no longer overshadowed by the tyranny of Pharaoh’s regime.
During the crossing of the Red Sea, angel Jibril AS was riding beside Musa AS. According to some reports, every time the horse’s hooves struck the ground, the earth was illuminated. Some other reports say that the nature of the soil around the hoof prints transformed and grass grew from it. In any case, a sly and manipulative man from Bani Israel by the name of Al Saimiri noticed this and picked up the dust secretly. We shall explain why later, Insha Allah.
When Bani Israel reached the opposite shore, they saw people worshipping idols. Although their feet were still wet from the journey, and despite having experienced one of the greatest miracles known to mankind, some of the Bani Israel demanded Musa AS to create a similar idol for them to worship! Notwithstanding all they had undergone, they were still hankering over false gods and statues because they wanted visible evidence of a deity!
Musa AS responded that they were certainly a most ignorant people and reminded them of the favors of Allah upon them: having sent them a Prophet, His book and having saved them from the bondage and slavery to Pharaoh, by drowning Pharaoh and his army and by allowing them to inherit his property and wealth. It would be utterly wrong for them at this stage to still be tempted by false gods when so much evidence had been laid out before them, which they experienced first hand and witnessed with their own eyes.
This matter was not finished, but we shall come to that later, Insha Allah.
They then traveled towards Baitul Maqdis (Jerusalem), which was overrun by transgressors and wrongdoers. Musa AS commanded Bani Israel to enter the city, and expel the wrongdoers from Jerusalem, for Allah had promised this land to them by their father Ibrahim AS and then through Musa AS.
We shall see from this story and many of the subsequent ones that Bani Israel is the most impertinent, cowardly, and troublesome race. That is why prophet after prophet was sent to their communities, to rectify their disbelieving ways. In this instant, unwilling to believe in the promise of Allah, they offered paltry excuses, and therefore not only denied what Allah had promised but blatantly disobeyed Him.
[Musa AS said] “O my people! Enter the holy land (Palestine) which Allah has assigned to you, and turn not back (in flight) for then you will be returned as losers. They said: “O Musa (Musa)! In it (this holy land) are a people of great strength, and we shall never enter it, till they leave it; when they leave, then we will enter.” (Al Qur’an 5:21- 5:22)
Even with Allah’s promise of victory, their faith in Allah was so weak that they flatly refused. Only two of the entire Bani Israel (estimated to be around 70,000) were willing to heed Allah’s command.
Two men of those who feared (Allah and) on whom Allah had bestowed His Grace [they were Yusha’ (Joshua) and Kalab (Caleb)] said: “Assault them through the gate, for when you are in, victory will be yours, and put your trust in Allah if you are believers indeed.”(Al Qur’an 5:23)
As for the rest, they preferred to just sit and watch like cowards, publicly confirming their disbelief and insolence to Allah. They had just witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s kingdom, which was a more powerful regime than what they would have had to face in Jerusalem, but they were so spiritually blinded and defeated from within that they had no courage to overcome their internal humiliation and behave with dignity:
They said: “O Musa (Musa)! We shall never enter it as long as they are there. So go you and your Lord and fight you two, we are sitting right here.” (Al Qur’an 5:24)
In response to this, Musa AS turned towards Allah and said:
“O my Lord! I have power only over myself and my brother, so separate us from the people who are the Fasiqun (rebellious and disobedient to Allah)!” (Al Qur’an 5:25).
As a punishment for their disobedience and rebelliousness, Allah made them lost in the desert for forty years. The tribes traveled aimlessly, with no destination, purpose, or comfort, day or night; lost and without any bearings.
(Allah) 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 the Fasiqun (rebellious and disobedient to Allah).” (Al Qur’an 5:26)
THE GOLDEN CALF
One day, Musa AS was commanded by Allah to meet Him at Mount Tur, a mission which was to last 30 nights. He entrusted his brother Harun AS to stand in his place of taking care of Bani Israel, and “do right, and not follow the way of the corrupt.” (Al Qur’an 7:142-7:143)
During this time, Musa AS fasted for the entire duration in spiritual preparation for his appointment with Allah. At the end of thirty days, he gathered some sweet-smelling herbs and chewed them to freshen his breath before meeting Allah. For this act, Allah commanded him to stay for another ten days. We are reminded here of the hadith which says that the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is fresher (to Allah) than the fragrance of musk. Thus, Musa’s AS return to his people was delayed.
After Musa AS left, the cunning Al Saimiri melted the gold booty that they collected from Pharaoh’s people and molded it into a golden calf. He then threw the dust that he had secretly collected from the footsteps of Jibril’s AS horse on the day Bani Israel crossed the Red Sea, either into the fire or onto the completed golden calf. The statue also had a hollow running from its front to its rear, the cow produced a strange sound, which gave it the impression of possessing supernatural qualities.
“Then he (Saimiri) took out (of the fire) for them a statue of a calf which seemed to low. They said: “This is your ilah (god), and the ilah (god) of Musa (Musa), but [Musa (Musa)] has forgotten (his god).’” (Al Qur’an 20:88)
The faith of Bani Israel in Allah was weak, and it was further shaken by Musa’s AS delay. Therefore, they pounced upon this excuse to worship the golden calf. The divine miracles they had witnessed were all but forgotten. Disregarding all the evidence of Allah they had seen, they went back into their ignorant and corrupted ways, saying: “We will not stop worshipping it (i.e. the calf), until Musa returns to us.” (Al Qur’an 20:91)
Harun AS tried to advise them during his brother’s absence but in vain.
When Musa AS returned and saw their behavior with his own eyes, he was so livid that he threw down the Tablets containing the teachings of the Torah onto the ground. Musa AS also vented his anger to his brother. Grabbing him by the beard, he asked why he did not prevent them from going astray. Harun AS replied:
“O son of my mother! Seize (me) not by my beard, nor by my head! Verily, I feared lest you should say: ‘You have caused a division among the Children of Israel, and you have not respected my word!’ ” (Al Qur’an 20:94).
However, to understand Musa’s AS fury, we have to appreciate a fundamental principle in Islam: that loyalty to Allah always overrides any loyalty to family.
As for Al Saimiri, his excuse was:
“I saw what they saw not, so I took a handful (of dust) from the hoofprint of the messenger [Jibrael’s (Gabriel) horse] and threw it [into the fire in which were put the ornaments of the Pharaoh’s people, or into the calf]. Thus my inner-self suggested to me.” (Al Qur’an 20:96)
Musa AS cursed Al Saimiri that no one would touch him and that he would be alone for the rest of his life. All supplications of Prophets and Messengers are granted, and so Al Saimiri was banished and has a very painful appointment in the hereafter waiting for him.
Musa then said: “O my Lord! Forgive me and my brother, and make us enter into Your Mercy, for you are the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.” (Al Qur’an 7:155)
When his anger subsided, Musa AS picked up the Tablets, and in them were the inscriptions of divine guidance from their Lord.
However, Allah did not accept the repentance of those who worshipped the calf except by death. Those who were willing to be executed would receive Allah’s pardon and enter Jannah. Those who did not surrender themselves for execution would never be forgiven by Allah. This was a grueling trial of sincerity for the whole of Bani Israel because Allah had commanded that the wrongdoers were to be executed by the hands of the believers.
The calf was burnt and its particles scattered into the sea. The disbelievers who truly wanted to repent were asked to reveal themselves, meaning offer themselves to certain death.
And (remember) when Musa 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 wrongdoers among you), that will be better for you with your Lord.” Then He accepted your repentance. Truly, He is the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful. (Al Qur’an 2:54)
This was one of the many calamities of Bani Israel after the exodus. Numerous other calamities followed because no other tribe on earth is as stubborn as Bani Israel.
The repeated theme in the story of Musa AS is to emphasize one main message from Allah. Allah is the one who owns harm and the cause of harm, and He is the one who owns benefit and the cause of benefit. Pharaoh may plot and plan, but if one is on a journey of faith, these plots and plans come to naught. We see how Allah can provide for whom He wants, in an odd situation. We also see the power of the believer, when he believes entirely in Allah.
Allah can create His own hidden soldiers and army in the most unlikely objects and people. Seawater, a simple basket, the currents of the river, the heart of Pharaoh’s wife, and even the enemy of Allah, can be transformed at Allah’s will, in an instant.
The story of Musa’s (AS) life also demonstrates the wisdom and power of Allah, to emphasize that whatever Allah has written will unfold, regardless of whether we understand or like it. Allah’s choice reigns supreme above all our choices, and this teaches us istikharah. No matter how much we plot and plan, Allah is the ultimate planner. If we examine our lives with honesty, we will find out that we are losers every time we try to make any long-term plan. Allah is the One planning for us, and this should teach us to have a manner with Allah’s decree for us, instead of arrogantly making our long-term plans in life as if we were in sole control.
All the laws of physics and nature belong to Allah and are subject to Allah’s commands. The staff of Musa AS transformed into a snake and back to staff, and it causes the Red Sea to part. Musa AS, with nothing but a staff in his hand, could paralyze and defeat an entire army. The power does not lie in the staff, but rather, with Allah. If we are with Allah, Allah can change the condition regardless of the external circumstances. What is impossible for us in our realm is possible for Allah. We just need to believe, trust, rely upon and have a complete conviction in our belief. Allah will always give His believers the ultimate victory. However, Allah will also place us under trials to test our sincerity, as He did with Bani Israel, and the majority of Bani Israel failed the trial.
This story also reveals the hypocritical heart of Bani Israel, which is to be taken as a warning to us all. Allah’s miracles manifested in a way that Bani Israel could see and experience with their own faculties. However, even though Allah allowed them to passage on dry land when the Red Sea parted, their conviction was lacking and this exposed their hypocrisy and lack of belief in Allah. They were still fresh from their miraculous crossing and yearned to worship objects rather than Allah. Had their faith been firm, Saimiri would not have been able to trick them into worshipping the golden calf. However, sign after sign, even one of the most amazing miracles they had witnessed, was not enough for them. This is why Allah commanded for the disbelievers to be executed: that even after what they had seen, they were still denying Allah’s omnipotence and would have led so many others astray with their arrogance and disobedience.
This is a warning to all of us. We see the magnificence of Allah’s creation, the miracle of life, and the horror of destruction. Allah tells us to just observe our surroundings, for everything, from the rising of the sun and the regrowth of every leaf after winter, are all miracles for us to behold. Yet, we constantly reject what Allah tells us to do. Like the people of Bani Israel, many of us demand proof, and therefore only pick the aspects of Islamic worship that we like. We put our own arrogance above our submission to Allah and His commands. A Muslim is supposed to submit wholeheartedly to the faith, yet many of us only submit partially, when it pleases us. This lack of conviction makes us vulnerable to the persuasions and manipulations of the enemies of Islam and making us unable to see beyond the distorted reporting of the media and the false words of world leaders and even our own politicians, into what is actually the truth. May Allah save us and give us sincerity, wisdom, and vision, Ameen.