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
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
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.