بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
When one goes through the Quran the first few times, one wonders why it has so much repetition of apparently the same incidents, e.g. the punishments meted out to transgressing past nations, stories from the lives of Prophets, and descriptive reminders of the torments and rewards of the Hereafter.
The Quran also seems to repeatedly “comfort” Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] by recounting to him the difficulties bygone prophets faced from antagonists. This is perhaps to make it easier for him to cope with the enmity he faced from people after he started calling them towards the monotheistic Deen of Islam.
The wisdom behind the repetition in the Quran is, perhaps, the fact that average, prone-to-err human beings like us need consistent reminders to keep ourselves steadfast on the Right Path. However, many a time, I find that in each supposed “repetition” of the same historic event or story in the Quran, there lies a subtly incorporated, additional detail that invites reflection from the reader.
I think another startling quality of the Quran is how it sometimes hits straight home i.e. when you are facing some problem or challenging situation in your life, and you recite or reflect upon the Quran, you “happen to” come across verses that seem to uncannily talk to you. They seem to offer a direct solution to your problem.
In short, the Quran seems to be directly addressing you! Those of you who have been fortunate enough to have experienced this phenomenon will perhaps immediately know what I am talking about.
The story of Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] and his encounter with the tyrannical ruler Pharaoh is peppered throughout the Holy Quran. In their mutual dialogue that is quoted many times, there are some poignant lessons for us modern-day callers to Islam.
What always strikes me most when I go through the numerous verses describing Prophet Musa’s encounters and conversations with Pharaoh, is how people and places change with time, but the words, attitudes, reactions and other forms of human behavior related to da’wah (calling someone towards Allah), remain the same.
Here is a list of the reactions of Pharaoh to the da’wah done by Prophet Musa [عليه السلام]:
Publicly highlighting faults and shortcomings:
أَمْ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْ هَذَا الَّذِي هُوَ مَهِينٌ وَلَا يَكَادُ يُبِينُ
“Am I not better than this (Moses), who is a contemptible wretch and can scarcely express himself clearly?” [Al-Zukhruf, 43:52]
According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, “Al-Suddi said, “He was saying, `Indeed I am better than this one, who is despicable’.” Some of the grammarians of Basrah said that Fir`awn was saying that he was better than Musa . But this is an obvious lie. By describing Musa as despicable he meant — as Sufyan said — ‘insignificant’. Qatadah and Al-Suddi said, “He meant ‘weak’.” Ibn Jarir said, “He meant, he had no power, authority or wealth.”
Pharaoh’s arrogance is obvious in the way he gloats over his supposed worldly superiority over the Prophet of Allah in terms of power, authority, social influence, status and wealth. Consequently, he mocks the latter, deriding his style of speech.
It might have happened to you. You were asked a question about your practice of religion, or about any other aspect of Islam, in front of other people in a social setting, and considering it your moral duty, you walked into the trap and started talking.
Then it came – the hit.
A sudden derogatory remark; a barely disguised personal attack directed at one of your obvious flaws or shortcomings, perhaps at how you pronounced a word, or the way you stuttered, how you spoke, or something that showcased your obviously lower socioeconomic background or financial standing. You felt the blood rush to your face and the anger well up inside you, as a ripple of muffled guffaws and snickers swept across the room. Instead of returning the favor, you decided to ‘take the higher road’, and clammed up.
It wasn’t just Pharaoh who gloated over his power, influence and wealth. Give that to anyone nowadays who regards “religious” callers towards Islam with disdain, and watch what happens. The slurs and insults are hard to miss.
She approached the entrance of the wedding reception, spotting her distantly-related aunt standing there to welcome her guests. She inwardly braced herself, because she still felt nervous attending weddings in her demure abaya and niqab [face veil]. Not even one other unmarried girl in the family dressed this way or even wore the head-cover.
She greeted her aunt warmly.
Her aunt returned the greeting, adding, “…… Neelum Daaku!”
At such points in your life, when things like this happen to you; things that inevitably every da’ee faces again and again, remember the fact that Prophet Musa’s supposed shortcomings, of being socially/economically of a lower status than Pharoah and of his less-than-perfect oratory ability, were publicly scorned and highlighted in front of everyone by the arrogant gloater when the former was conveying the message of Allah.
The only difference is that, while Pharaoh was very outright in his disdain of Prophet Musa, blatantly asking everyone present to point out which one of them both “was better”; what happens in modern-day settings is that tyranny is not so obviously practiced, but the public disdain is definitely expressed. It is openly directed at the caller to Islam, especially when the latter is inviting people towards Allah via the spoken or written word.
It might be an indirect remark on a Facebook status update or an indiscreet tweet on Twitter; a fiery blog post or an inflammatory article lambasting “religious” people in general. Or it might be a direct insult verbally flung at a speaker right in the middle of his or her speech or public address.
The question “(أَمْ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْ هَذَا الَّذِي هُوَ مَهِينٌ )?” is clearly asked via the scathing words and the provocative tone. The antagonist challenges and invites the readers or listeners present to judge which of the two “adversaries” is better, in a tone that makes it clear that he or she thinks of the da’ee as “مَهِينٌ” — lowly and insignificant.
قَالَ إِنَّ رَسُولَكُمُ الَّذِي أُرْسِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ لَمَجْنُونٌ
“Pharaoh) said: “Lo! Your messenger who has been sent unto you is indeed a madman!”” [26:27]
When Prophet Musa kept conveying the message of Allah, describing His attributes to everyone, including the congregation of courtiers present, Pharaoh called him a “madman”.
The word he used, “مَجْنُونٌ”, was the same word used to tag Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] by his enemies in Makkah after he started his role of “messenger” or da’ee. In fact, according to the Quran, this word has been used to mock all past messengers of Allah:
كَذَٰلِكَ مَا أَتَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِم مِّن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا قَالُوا سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ
“Even so, there came no messenger unto those before them but they said: “A wizard or a madman!”” [51: 52]
Its not fun to be called “crazy” or deranged. However, it happened to the best of mankind: Allah’s messengers, so if us average da’ees get called contemporary words that imply the same meaning, we should take it as a good sign.
The nom de plume chosen for me by others seems to be “extremist”.
“There is no need to be such an extremist!”,
“Forget what Sadaf says, she is an extremist,” etc.
Whenever someone thinks I am going a bit crazy, especially as part of their reaction to witnessing me stringently adhere to aspects of Deen that they deem insignificant or trivial, they tend to call me “extremist”, either on my face or behind my back.
Another label often used for me is “عجيب” (in Urdu), which has its basis in Arabic and translates to “strange”, “odd” or “different” (usually not in a positive sense).
I take this behavior as a compliment. 🙂
This is because I know for a fact that anyone who is serious and passionate about something, goes to “extremes” in sticking to his or her principles, rules, and personal habits regarding that thing.
Bring to mind the ardent fitness freak, who refuses to eat a single morsel of gluten or refined sugar after they have resolved to give it up; who awakes at 6 a.m every day for their morning jog, workout or gym session – come what may.
Think of the A-list, blockbuster actor or actress who puts their life at risk to film all their dangerous stunts themselves, for the sake of the advancement of their careers. Extremist? No. Dedicated, strong-willed, mature, steadfast, tenacious, persevering, determined, resolute, purposeful? Yes.
Or bring to mind the genius painter or a “creative artist” of any other genre, who works tirelessly for hours on a product of their creative genius, willingly forgoing sleep, food and social interaction until they are done with their masterpiece. Are they considered extremists, or are they unanimously respected as passionate and gifted people endowed with innate greatness?
If, then, a “religious” person like myself sticks to their religious principles in the same vein, and is therefore called an “extremist”, I take it as a compliment.
Reminders of past favors:
قَالَ أَلَمْ نُرَبِّكَ فِينَا وَلِيدًا وَلَبِثْتَ فِينَا مِنْ عُمُرِكَ سِنِينَ
“(Pharaoh) said: “Did we not raise you as a child among us, and did you not stay in our midst many years of your life?” [Al-Shu’ara, 26:18]
Pharaoh reminded Prophet Musa of the fact that he had been raised in his own household as a child, and that he had spent many years among them as “one of their own”, so to speak.
Pharaoh considered himself the god of his people (فَقَالَ أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَى “So he said, “I am your Lord, Most High!“[79:24]), so when Prophet Musa came to him openly inviting him to worship the one and only god, Allah, Pharoah felt his authority publicly challenged.
What better way to undermine Prophet Musa’s message than to publicly remind him that he was the “end-product”, so to speak, of Pharaoh’s home itself?
It is indeed a test in humility for an older person who has nurtured, reared, given birth to, taught, tutored, helped, or cared in any other way, for a younger one when the latter knew little or next to nothing, to have that person – their protégé – turn around and correct them – even if it is done in a respectful and humble manner.
The first thought that crosses the mind of the older person is surely, “You are turning around to correct me, when it was I who made you what you are today?” In Urdu, we use the adage:”ہماری بلی اور ہم ہی سے میاؤں”?
The fact is, that our Deen teaches us this very lesson in humility: to accept the truth even if it is coming from someone lower than us in age, education, knowledge, social standing, lineage or authority. For example, if your servant corrects you in what you are doing, or suggests a better way to do it, you should accept it and be grateful.
If someone’s perceived lower worldly status than ours is the only factor preventing us from giving credibility to or accepting their statements, advice or opinions, then we should realize that we are, like Pharaoh, arrogant. Not just that, but we are then also treading the same path that Pharaoh tread – a path that doesn’t have a good end with Allah.
Reminders of past deeds and mistakes:
وَفَعَلْتَ فَعْلَتَكَ الَّتِي فَعَلْتَ وَأَنتَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ
“And you did a deed of yours which (you know) you did, and you are an ungrateful (wretch)!” [Al-Shu’ara, 26:19]
Prophet Musa had delivered a fatal blow to, and killed by mistake, a Coptic man. This happened when Prophet Musa fought him off in defense of a weaker slave-man whom the former was oppressing.
Prophet Musa immediately sought forgiveness from Allah for his mistake. The Quran is proof of the fact that Allah forgave him.
And yet, here is Pharaoh, publicly denouncing him for the accidental killing, further calling him an ingrate for having left the land after being brought up in Pharaoh’s house.
Its not surprising when a caller to Islam is reminded of his past mistakes, even if he has, unbeknownst to the world, sincerely sought forgiveness from Allah and been forgiven for them. The days before he entered completely into Islam; when his life was steeped in actions, activities, company and places involving rejection of haqq and disobedience of Allah – are thrown in his face.
After he turns over a new leaf and relinquishes his past life to embrace Islam as a complete lifestyle, many might not be too pleased with it, but they still shrug off his reversion as a matter of his personal choice, and move on. To each his own.
However, it is when he chooses to boldly and eloquently start calling others towards Islam, his new way of life, including the same people whose social company and lifestyle he relinquished, do the sharp fangs, lashing tongues, and curved claws come out.
You see, people do not like being told that what they are doing is not right; that they are disobeying Allah; that perchance this weirded-out, freak-show “religious” brigade could in any way know or do better than them.
So when someone conveys to them in any manner that they should give up their way of life and “submit” to Allah and adopt the Deen of monotheism, first and foremost from the antagonistic insults and caustic rhetoric hurled at that person, is public mention of his or her past life – his “sins”.
Further, he is accused of denying the favors hitherto meted out to him by his family, colleagues, friends or others; of being ungrateful and unappreciative, because he ultimately chose Islam and the approval/pleasure of Allah over their good opinion and social acceptance of him.
Suspicion of ulterior motives; false and baseless accusations:
إِنَّهُ لَكَبِيرُكُمُ الَّذِي عَلَّمَكُمُ السِّحْرَ
When the plot cooked up by Pharoah’s courtiers to overthrow Musa by competing with him in sorcery backfired, and the expert magicians summoned to beat Prophet Musa on their “turf”, so to speak, instead submitted to Prophet Musa’s da’wah and believed in his message, Pharoah was outraged. He accused Musa of being their leader-wizard in cahoots against him, who had taught them what they knew of sorcery and magic.
His courtiers, sucking up to their arrogant leader, further accused:
يُرِيدُ أَن يُخْرِجَكُم مِّنْ أَرْضِكُمْ
Both these claims were a lie!
Why did Pharaoh and his courtiers resort to false accusations?
I would say, it was a knee-jerk reaction to the miracle of Allah everyone had just witnessed. Because it was nothing short of a jaw-droppingly miraculous victory for Prophet Musa, whose wooden staff turned into a giant serpent before everyone’s eyes, devouring the smaller serpents thrown forth by Pharaoh’s wizards.
Since Pharoah and his gloating courtiers were not expecting the socially weak Musa to be able to match their magicians’ sorcery, and since they did not believe in Allah’s might and powers, they were completely and utterly shell-shocked when they saw his victory.
Their denial of the truth and their disbelief in Allah’s absolute powers made them come to the conclusion that the only way that Prophet Musa could have beaten the magicians was if he was, unbeknownst to them, actually their teacher, from whom they had learned sorcery.
Also, since people who deny monotheism do not believe in doing anything for the sake of Allah alone; since they instead do everything solely for the pursuit of personal gains and worldly benefits, the courtiers concluded that the actual reason why Prophet Musa had come to preach Allah’s message of truth to Pharaoh was his “hidden agenda” of wanting to kick Pharaoh out of his land and take his place as ruling king.
This is what happens to people who call others towards Allah in the modern day as well. When any of their skills outshines others in their field, especially those who reject Islam and refuse to submit to Allah’s commands, or if they hands down win at any competition or debate, the last resort left for their antagonists is to hurl false accusations at them, suspecting them to have ulterior worldly motives or a nefarious, hidden agenda.
Those who deny Allah’s message, deny the Akhirah – the life of the Hereafter and its multitudes of rewards, for which Muslims who submit to Allah’s commands avoid forbidden modes of enjoyment and relinquish pursuit and satiation of their worldly desires. They can therefore never fathom why or how someone would give up worldly benefit. That is why, they always suspect those who call towards Allah of having ulterior, hidden motives.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that even those Muslims who follow the obligations of Islam at a preliminary level are usually prone to be skeptical about the motives of those ardent Islamic evangelists, whom they observe to be active in da’wah and propagation of Deen at a superlative level; a level that involves strenuous effort and personal sacrifice.
“How is it possible that all these teachers who teach here don’t take any salary? I worked in a school for years, and the teachers there would never stay back after school hours to do any work, unless they were paid extra for it.
However, all the teachers here stay back so willingly. Surely they are paid!”
– A skeptical acquaintance’s comment when she asked me how much my salary was, for the umpteenth time, while I taught at Al-Huda, and I answered truthfully (yes, I was that naive).
قَالَ لَئِنِ اتَّخَذْتَ إِلَهًا غَيْرِي لَأَجْعَلَنَّكَ مِنَ الْمَسْجُونِينَ
“(Pharaoh) said: If you choose a god other than me, I shall surely place you among the prisoners.” [26:29]
فَلَأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ وَلَأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ فِي جُذُوعِ النَّخْلِ وَلَتَعْلَمُنَّ أَيُّنَا أَشَدُّ عَذَابًا وَأَبْقَى
“I will surely cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall ye know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment!” [20:71, 26:49]
Last but not least, Pharaoh hurled direct threats at Prophet Musa, when he saw that the latter might gain influence and a loyal following among the weak, dominated slaves over whom he enjoyed exclusively reigning as “god”.
The fact is that arrogant people are inherently insecure. As soon as they get any position of authority in this world, they use fear and their temporary power/privileges to control, subjugate, oppress and dominate those under them who are weaker.
In actuality, arrogant people are cowards consumed by the fear of losing their domination over others (in Pharaoh’s case, these were primarily the masses of slaves).
It is this fear that makes them exude threats when their sense of security hits rock bottom and their fear of loss of control reaches an all-time high. Threats of inflicting physical or other harm upon those perceived “enemies” from whom they fear loss of authority is, in effect, a last, desperate attempt to hold on to their superior position .
When doing da’wah, many callers to Islam receive outright death threats from antagonists. To keep doing the work of propagation of Islam after they and/or their families are threatened with extradition or murder is indeed commendable.
Average people like us, who try to remain steadfast upon our own practice of Deen in a sometimes hostile environment, might find ourselves on the receiving end of milder, veiled threats. E.g. a single person who refuses to date, or to exhibit themselves like a tart or lollipop at events to advertise their availability, might be told that no one will marry them; a young person who refuses lucrative career opportunities because they involve disobedience of Allah’s commands might be told that they’ll remain a pauper all their life. You get the drift.
Though these threats are undoubtedly a great test of faith, some of the less difficult ones that average da’ees like us might come across are the ones comprising of subtle “emotional blackmail” meted out by the people one is close to.
At times, we have to choose between the pleasure of Allah and that of someone among our family or friends, and the choice could be such that both options become mutually exclusive, viz. that person or people will get offended if we choose the pleasure of Allah instead of theirs.
In such a situation, they might adopt a demeanor that clearly indicates, even if they do not make any outright verbal threats, that if we choose the pleasure of Allah over theirs, the relationship will suffer serious damage, or it might end completely (the latter applies mostly to friendships, since they do not come with any blood ties, or attached strings, so to speak).
When one is faced with such “threats”, one must remember that they are a cleverly disguised way of endeavoring to manipulate and control our actions; actions that form the basis of our personal relationship with Allah.
If we give in to these “emotional threats” (they might come accompanied with the other behaviors described above, especially reminders of past favors, which are often used as “guilt trips” intended to make us falter), we must remember that, by forsaking the pleasure of Allah to temporarily win the pleasure of someone else, we will still stand to ultimately be the loser….in the world as well as in the Hereafter.
Take a critical look in the mirror
By analyzing the behavior of Pharaoh towards Prophet Musa, it is easy to fall into the trap of “playing the victim”. By this I mean, that a da’ee might start to think that he or she is as saintly and free of fault as a Prophet of Allah, and not pause to think that they could actually possess some of Pharaoh’s negative qualities or display his behavioral characteristics.
A da’ee should use these verses of the Quran as a mirror to highlight their own faults; specifically, to analyze whether he or she has fallen into the trap of arrogance.
When pondering on the ‘character sketch’ of Pharaoh depicted in the Quran, we all should ask ourselves: do I point out other people’s shortcomings in front of others? When someone invites me to the way of Islam, do I retort by reminding them of their past habits, or of the favors that I have done to them? Do I call others by demeaning (nick)names? When I see someone doing positive work of Deen, do I give in to suspicions and doubts, spreading unverified reports about their having some ulterior worldly motive? Do I threaten anyone to stop working for the cause of Allah, or else face my wrath?
Its easy to become all holier-than-thou and presume that we are always the good guy like Prophet Musa [عليه السلام], and the bad guy like Pharaoh is always someone else who is doing us wrong. Shaitan makes us undermine our own sins, and makes us think that shortcomings and faults lie only in others; that we don’t mistreat them, but are always mistreated ourselves.
It is for a reason that the Quran has highlighted the verbal statements spoken by one of the most tyrannical and arrogant rulers in the history of mankind, in response to sincere da’wah by a vicegerent of Allah: to showcase for us the psychological human behavior we should strive to avoid if we want to submit to the haqq when it is brought to us.
The Most Comprehensive and Authentic Explaination of the Quran!
Purchase the complete Tafsir Ibn Kathir (10 Vol Abridged) By Dar-us-Salam Publications.