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3 Life Lessons from the Story of Moses

The stories of the Prophets in the Quran serve two purposes.

The first is historical, meaning that when a Prophet is mentioned in the Quran the story is designed to connect Islam and Muslims to the monotheistic tradition.

By doing so, we recognize that the message of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the culmination of God’s communication with mankind that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Islam, therefore, is not something unique, but the final chapter in a longer religious line.

Second, the details of the lives of the Prophets themselves provide us as Muslims with guidelines to morality and lessons that help us to live our lives following the path of God and His Messengers.

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The Prophets, although responsible for carrying a divine message, were human. Their trials and tribulations – and how they dealt with them – are examples for us to read about, contemplate, and follow.

Today, I wanted to look at the story of Moses, one of the central figures of the Jewish tradition, and the only Prophet other than Muhammad (PBUH) to have spoken directly to God.

His story is well-known throughout Western culture, and we can draw several important lessons from the events of his life.   

Lesson 1: Finding Family and Belonging is the Journey of a Lifetime

The first lesson comes from the story of Moses’ travels. Abandoned initially by his mother as she feared for his life, Moses found his first family in the arms of his eventual enemies: the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Although he was treated well by Pharaoh’s family, lived the life of an Egyptian prince, and was even eventually re-united with his mother, he never felt fully at home in his new setting.

It was only when he abandoned his family entirely and found a new home in Midian (in the northwestern Arabian Peninsula which is today the border region between Saudi Arabia and Jordan), that Moses started to feel at home for the first time.

That feeling wouldn’t last long, as Moses was eventually called by God to return to Egypt and bring the message of monotheism to Pharaoh.

After a period of conflict, Moses delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, and found his last and final family with the Israelite tribesmen.

The lesson to be learned here coincides with an old saying we have in Texas, which is, “Home is where the heart is.”

Throughout his life, Moses was forced by both the obligations of prophethood and circumstance to adapt to vastly changing environments.

In our own lives, we will be faced with the same type of changes. Some of us will have to live in new countries, adapting to different cultures and settings.

When we face these changes, it is important to learn that finding our family – those with whom we have the closest relationships – takes time and is the journey of a lifetime.

Lesson 2: Doing the Right Thing is Not Always the Easiest

The next lesson is from the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as described in chapter Ta-Ha (Chapter 20) of the Quran.

Although he had known Moses his entire life and had no reason to distrust him, Pharaoh was immediately hostile to the idea that Moses was a Messenger of the One, True God. He asked:

Who is your God, Moses?

Moses responded:

Our Lord is He who gave each thing its form and then guided it.” “And what about the former generation?”

Pharaoh rebutted, drawing out Moses by forcing him to admit that all his forefathers were idolaters and condemned to Hell.

“Their knowledge is with my Lord, recorded in the Book. My lord does not err, nor does he forget.”

To test the validity of Moses’ claim, Pharaoh brings forth Egypt’s greatest sorcerers who tricked people into believing that their ropes and staffs had turned into snakes.

It is in the next two verses where our lesson comes. The Quran states:

So Moses’ heart was filled with fear. We said to him: “Have no fear, for it is you who will prevail.”

Prophets, even Moses, had his moments of doubt and insecurity. He knew that what he was doing was right, speaking the truth, and standing up to those who were unjust regardless of their power or influence.

Choosing the right path in life, therefore, doesn’t always mean that you are choosing the easiest path. Likewise, just because something seems easy, doesn’t always mean that it is right.

We have to learn how to discern the truth for ourselves, and then learn to stand with it, no matter how hard the consequences might be.

Lesson 3: Above All Those Who Know, is Another Who is More Knowledgeable

The third final lesson from the story of Moses comes from the one part that the Quran does not share with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This is his famous encounter with the “Servant,” known in popular literature as Al-Khidr, or the “Green One,” even though he is never given a name in the Quran.

In this story, Moses travels alongside the servant, watching as he sinks a boat, kills a boy, and restores a wall in an inhospitable village.

Moses is confused, as what the servant did in each situation was morally wrong. At the end of the story, the servant dismisses Moses, explaining that there was a legitimate justification behind each of his acts.

The boat belonged to poor people, and by damaging it he ensured that it would not be confiscated by the government.

The boy would grow up to become an oppressive non-believer, and by killing him his parents would be given a better offspring.

Finally, the wall concealed a treasure meant for orphans, and by restoring the wall the treasure would be protected from the inhospitable villagers.    

The lesson here is actually from a part of a Quranic verse mentioned in the story of another Prophet, Joseph, or verse 76 of Chapter 12:

Above all those who know is another who is more knowledgeable.

As human beings our knowledge has limits. Even if you happen to be the Prophet Moses, given the Revelation from God and the power to stand against one of the most overwhelming figures of human history: the Pharaoh of Egypt.

We must learn from this lesson to be humble. Say “I don’t know” when that is the case, and don’t jump to conclusions to judge others. You might be in a situation like Moses, not knowledgeable of every angle of the story.

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.