Allah then spends a considerable amount of time telling the story of Moses (vv. 103-171). He begins with a retelling of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, told in a way that suggests that the hearers have heard it before: for example, we see Moses telling Pharaoh to “send with me the Children of Israel” (v. 105), but it is assumed that the reader will know that the Israelites were at this time oppressed as slaves in Egypt. Moses performs various miracles before Pharaoh, as in the Biblical account — although when Moses’ hand becomes “white for the observers” (v. 108), Ibn Abbas says this was “not because of leprosy,” which is contrary to Exodus 4:6. The Ruhul Ma’ani says that Moses’ hand shone brighter than the sun. Pharaoh, as in the Biblical story, is unimpressed. But Pharaoh’s magicians are, and say, “We have believed in the Lord of the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron” (vv. 121-122). Pharaoh then threatens to cut off their hands and feet on opposite sides and crucify them (v. 124) — the same punishment Allah prescribes for those who wage war against Allah and Muhammad (5:33). The magicians pray that Allah will “pour upon us patience and let us die as Muslims” (مُسْلِمِين, v. 126): this is another reminder that the Qur’an considers the Biblical prophets all to have been prophets of Islam whose messages were later corrupted to create Judaism and Christianity.
As Pharaoh threatens Moses and his people, Moses tells them: “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do” (v. 129) — and of course, the Jews fail the test. Allah does indeed destroy their adversary: he sends plagues upon the Egyptians, again enumerated as if the hearers are already familiar with the story: “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” (v. 133), drowns Pharaoh’s men in the sea (v. 136), and makes the Jews, “the people who had been oppressed,” the inheritors of “the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which We had blessed” (v. 137). But the Jews, encountering idolaters in their new land, immediately turn to idolatry themselves (v. 138). Moses goes up on Mount Tur (28:46) to converse with Allah and receive laws, which the Qur’an does not enumerate, on stone tablets (v. 145). Moses’ people, meanwhile, are worshipping “a calf – an image having a lowing sound” (v. 148).
Moses prays for Allah’s forgiveness (v. 155), and Allah promises mercy to “those who fear Me and give zakah and those who believe in Our verses” (v. 156). Zakah (زكاة) is Islamic charity, and “verses” is ayat (آيات), the verses of the Qur’an — again indicting that Allah shows mercy only to those who are Muslims. Underscoring this is the further elaboration that Allah shows mercy to “the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel” (v. 157). This is, of course, Muhammad, whom Muslims contend was prophesied about and described in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures before they were corrupted. Says Ibn Kathir: “This is the description of the Prophet Muhammad in the Books of the Prophets. They delivered the good news of his advent to their nations and commanded them to follow him. His descriptions were still apparent in their Books, as the rabbis and the priests well know.” The rabbis and priests well know: here again is the Islamic belief that the Jews and Christians, or at least their leaders, know that Muhammad is a true prophet, but obstinately refuse to accept him; they aren’t rejecting him in good faith.
It is Muhammad who “enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them” (v. 157). This is one of the foundations for the belief in the hadith, the traditions of Muhammad’s words and deeds: Muslims are told to follow what Muhammad commands, and only in the hadith can those commands be discovered.
Among the Jews there is “a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice” (v. 159), but “those who wronged among them” altered their Scriptures: they “changed to a statement other than that which had been said to them” (v. 162) — that is, altered Allah’s revelations to them. They disregarded Allah’s command to observe the Sabbath, whereupon he transformed them into “apes, despised” (v. 166) and “divided them throughout the earth into nations” (v. 168).
Allah then returns yet again to another pet topic, warning warn against idolatry and the perils of rejecting him (vv. 172-206). Everyone on earth is born Muslim (v. 172), as a hadith has Muhammad saying: “No child is born but has the Islamic Faith, but its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian” (Sahih Muslim 6426). In another hadith, Allah produces all of the multitudes of the children of Adam from his back and asks them, “Am I not your Lord?” (Alastu Bi Rabbikum). All affirm that he is. Therefore, says Bulandshahri, “none will be able to claim that he had no knowledge of the fact that Allah is his Lord.” This is another reason why some Muslims often assume that non-Muslims are dealing in bad faith: they know the Qur’an is true and Muhammad is a prophet, but refuse to acknowledge it.
Allah tells Muhammad to recite the story of a man to whom Allah gave revelations but he rejected them (v. 175). This is, according to Abdullah bin Mas’ud, a reference to the story of Bal’am, a Jew who received revelations but abandoned them. This appears to be Balaam, the reluctant prophet of Numbers 22:2-24:25.
Allah has created a large number of men and jinns for hell: “And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear” Indeed, they’re entirely bestial: “Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless” (v. 179). The believers, on the other hand, shall guide mankind with Allah’s truth and establish justice by means of it (v. 181). Muhammad is not insane (v. 184) and has no knowledge of the unseen world. He is just a messenger (v. 188). Allah alone protects people and can help them; idols can do nothing (v. 197). Allah tells Muhammad to “Take what is given freely, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant” (v. 199). According to Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam, “Allah commanded [Prophet Muhammad ] to show forgiveness and turn away from the idolators for ten years. Afterwards Allah ordered him to be harsh with them.” As we shall soon see.
(Revised May 2015)