Prophet Moses is a central figure in the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Long after the time of Prophet Joseph the Jewish people had been reduced to slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. His story and the Exodus permeate the religious life of Jews and Prophet Moses is still referred to as ‘Moses our teacher’.
Moses led his people out of Egypt and on their behalf he received the Torah which included not only the Ten Commandments, but a total of 613 commandments. Moses is the person from the Old Testament most often mentioned in the New Testament. In the Judeo Christian traditions as well as Islam Moses is known and respected as both a religious leader and a lawgiver.
Prophet Moses, like all the prophets, is a revered figure in Islam. He is considered to be both a Prophet and a Messenger. In his role as a Prophet he spread the message that there is only One God and as a messenger he came to his people with a specific set of laws. His role is not very different from the Judeo Christian version of Moses.
Moses in the Quran
However Islam is able to give us a much broader look at his character and his story. He is mentioned 120 times in Quran and his story ranges over several chapters making it a most comprehensive and detailed narrative.
Any account of Moses’ life is filled with lessons and guidance for all of humankind. The lessons in Quran however are not only in the story that Judaism and Christianity call the Exodus but begin when he was a newborn baby.
Chapter 28 of Quran is entitled The Narration and the first 45 verses focus solely on Moses. It tells the tale concisely from the time of Moses birth to the time he was given the Commandments. Throughout the other chapters of Quran little details are revealed and the tale is completed.
Moses was born into a time of political strife and civil turmoil and the first thing we learn about him is that his mother was a pious and resourceful woman. From the start she demonstrated complete trust in the will and commands of God.
In the year of Moses’ birth the new born sons of the Children of Israel were routinely put to death. Egyptian thugs roamed the streets alert for the sounds of a newborn’s cry.
Anyone who has held a child in their arms knows the fear that must have been choking the Children of Israel yet in this palpable situation Moses’ mother wrapped her new born baby securely and set him afloat in the Nile river.
The first lesson we learn is that when everything around you seems intent on stealing your well-being, put your trust in God and ask yourself how He would want you to behave. Moses’ mother trusted and soon her son was safely backed in her arms.
Human beings plan and scheme but God’s plan always takes precedence. In the biblical version, Moses is welcomed into the royal household by Pharaoh’s daughter but Quran tells us that it was his childless wife Asiya.
Moses’ Strong Character
Asiya was a secret believer in One God and failed to recognize her husband as the god he portrayed himself to be. Islamic scholars tell us that Moses’ birth mother was able to live in the palace because of her role as wet nurse.
Here is a dimension of Moses’ character that we do not get a sense of from the Bible. Moses was brought up by two very strong and religious women. Asiya was eventually put to death by her husband because she refused to denounce her belief.
Islam tells us that Moses was strong; strong of character and strong of build. He stood up for the weaker members of society and that is what led him to unintentionally killing the Egyptian and seeking refuge and a new life in Midian. When Moses returned to Egypt he needed his own strength and the strength of his brother Aaron.
The Biblical version of Moses’ story would have us believe that Moses was very reluctant to obey God and had to be convinced whereas the Quran tells us that Moses was a willing participant in God’s plan only requesting that his brother Aaron to accompany him.
Moses wanted his brother Aaron to be his companion in prophethood and on this dangerous mission to confront Pharaoh because he was strong, trustworthy, articulate and persuasive. God conferred prophethood on both Moses and Aaron and they formed a most formidable team.
They went to Pharaoh and delivered their message but it was Moses who spoke to Pharaoh about God in a non-confrontational way as he had been instructed.
Whenever a person stands with his brother united in a common sense of purpose, united in their worship of God, and united in righteousness they are unbeatable even against the most intimidating enemy.
In order to make each Prophet credible in his particular time and place, God granted them miracles that were pertinent, relevant, and understandable to the people to whom they were sent.
In Egypt magic and sorcery were widespread therefore Moses’ miracles, his stick turning into a serpent and his hand becoming white and lustrous, attracted the people. At this time many people in Egypt practiced magic and there were even schools teaching classes in magic and illusion.
Pharaoh thought that the manifest signs Moses was able to show by the permission of God were nothing but magic tricks and illusions. And that was his first in a long line of mistakes.
The story of the parting of the Red Sea is a tale familiar to Jews, Christians and Muslims and is also familiar to film buffs thanks to the blockbuster movie version of the Ten Commandments.
The stories are all similar but the fate of Pharaoh is certainly very different in Islam. It is worth remembering that Pharaoh had ample opportunity to heed God’s message.
Moses invited him to worship God and set the Children of Israel free from their bondage. His personally recruited magicians recognized God and were subsequently executed in a most brutal way, and his wife is said to have died calling out to God. It is almost as if the plagues that were sent upon Egypt were secondary to his own personal experiences.
None the less Pharaoh waited until the waves were crashing above him to call out to God and profess his belief. By then however it was too late.
Ibn Kathir, noted Islamic historian, described 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 worshiped and obeyed was a mere man who could not keep death away from his own neck.”
Quran further tells us that Pharaoh’s body will be preserved, a sign for all time.
Quran tells us the stories of the prophets so that we can learn from them. In Quran the prophets are always worthy role models, they are men that face the same trials and tribulations as the average person in any era. We can learn from them and try to emulate their good qualities and their stories fill us with hope.
Moses’ story teaches us that there is no protection in this world except God’s protection and that He can turn failure into success and replace weakness with strength.
(From Reading Islam’s archive.)