20. Ta-Ha

This sūrah of 135 verses was revealed in Makkah. Ta-Ha begins by consoling God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. As in nearly all of the Makkan sūrahs, it dwells on the essentials of God’s Religion which was preached by all the Prophets. It allots most space to the mission and experiences of the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, because they are extremely significant for the preaching and future of Islam. It consoles the Muslims, who were suffering great persecutions at the hands of the Makkan polytheists, by mentioning Moses’ victory over the magicians and the Pharaoh; and it also warns them against straying in belief in any way, presenting as an example the time when the Children of Israel began to worship a golden calf made by one among them, shortly after Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

Some commentators maintain that even though Tā-Hā is made up of two separate letters, they signify the Perfect Human Being, while Yā-Sīn (the title of sūrah 36) signifies human.

In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

1. Tā. Hā.

2. We do not send down the Qur’ān on you so that you suffer distress (in your duty of conveying it to people);

3. But only as a reminder for him who holds some awe of God in his heart (and so has the potential to achieve faith).

4. A gradual sending down from Him Who has created the earth and the high heavens,

5. The All-Merciful, Who has established Himself on the Throne.1

6. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth, and whatever is between them, and whatever is under the soil.

7. If you say something aloud (or keep it to yourself), He surely knows the secret as well as (whatever you may be keeping as) the more hidden.

8. God – there is no deity save Him; His are the All-Beautiful Names.2

9. Has the report of Moses come to you?3

10. (He was traveling with his family in the desert) when he saw a fire, and so said to his family: “Wait here! Indeed I perceive a fire far off. Perhaps I can bring you a burning brand from it, or find guidance by the fire.”4

11. Then when he came near to it, he was called by name: “O Moses!

12. “Indeed it is I, I am your Lord. So take off your sandals, for you are in the sacred valley of Tuwā.5

13. “I have chosen you (to be My Messenger), so listen to what is revealed (to you).

14. “Assuredly, it is I. I am God; there is no deity save Me. So worship Me, and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions for remembrance of Me.6

15. “Surely the Last Hour is bound to come (unexpectedly. It is so great a truth that) I all but keep it hidden so that every soul may strive for what it strives for (and achieve the just recompense for it).

16. “So do not let anyone who does not believe in it and (instead) follows his own desire and caprice, turn you from (believing in, and preaching the truth about) it, lest you then perish!7

17. “What is that in your right hand, Moses?”

18. He said: “It is my staff. I lean on it, and with it I beat down leaves for my flock, and I have some other uses for it.”

19. (God) said: “Throw it down, O Moses!”

20. So he threw it down, and there and then it was a snake, slithering.

21. (God) said: “Take hold of it and do not fear! We will return it to its former state.

22. “Now, put your (right) hand under your armpit: it will come forth shining white, flawless, as another (miraculous) sign,

23. “So that We may show you some of Our greatest miraculous signs.

24. “Go to the Pharaoh, for he has indeed rebelled.”

25. (Moses) said: “My Lord! Expand for me my breast.

26. “Make my task easy for me.

27. “Loosen a knot from my tongue (to make my speech more fluent),

28. “So that they may understand my speech clearly.

29. “And appoint a minister (helper) for me from my family:

30. “Aaron, my brother.

31. “Confirm my strength with him,

32. “And let him share my task;

33. “So that we may glorify You much,

34. “And mention and remember You abundantly.

35. “Surely You are ever seeing and watching us.”8

36. (God) said: “Your request has already been granted, O Moses.

37. “And assuredly We did bestow Our favor upon you at another time before.

38. “We inspired in your mother that which she was to be inspired with, saying:

39. ‘Place the child in a chest and cast it into the river, then the river will throw it up on the bank: one who is both My enemy and his enemy (the Pharaoh, who has decided to kill all the newborn sons of the Children of Israel) will take him up.’ I cast over you (Moses) love from Me (protecting you, so love for you was aroused in the hearts of people who saw you), and so that you were brought up under My eyes.

40. “When your sister (on your mother’s instruction, knowing the Pharaoh’s household had taken you in) went and said: ‘Shall I guide you to one who will nurse him?’ Thus (and it is We Who made none other capable of nursing you) We returned you to your mother, so that she might rejoice and forget her grief. And (much later on) you killed a man (not intending it), so We saved you from the (ensuing) trouble, and We tested you with trial (of different kinds and degrees only to perfect you). You stayed for years among the people of Midian, and then you attained to the (quality of mind and spirit) expected of and decreed for you, O Moses.

41. “And I have attached you to Myself (and so trained you to My service).

42. “Go, you and your brother, with My miraculous signs (with which I have provided you), and never slacken in remembrance of Me and reminding (others) of Me.

43. “Go, both of you, to the Pharaoh for he has exceedingly rebelled.

44. “But speak to him with gentle words, so that he might reflect and be mindful or feel some awe (of me, and behave with humility).”9

45. They said: “Our Lord, we fear lest he act hastily in regard to us (not allowing us to complete our preaching), or become (more) tyrannical.”

46. He said: “Do not fear! Surely I am with you, hearing and seeing.

47. “Go to him and say: ‘We are indeed Messengers of your Lord (Who has created and sustains you), so let the Children of Israel go with us, and do not cause them to suffer (longer). Assuredly we have come to you with a manifest proof from your Lord. And peace (success, and safety, and triumph) is upon him who follows His guidance.

48. ‘It has surely been revealed to us that (only) punishment is upon him who denies and turns away (from God’s call).’ ”

49. (When they had spoken to the Pharaoh as God had commanded them,) the Pharaoh said: “Who is this Lord of you two, O Moses?”

50. (Moses) said: “Our Lord is He Who creates everything and endows each thing with its particular character, and then guides (it to the fulfillment of the aim and purpose of its existence).”

51. (The Pharaoh) said: “Then, what is the case with the earlier generations (all of whom have passed away— how are they recompensed for their beliefs and deeds)?”

52. (Moses) answered: “My Lord holds the knowledge of them in a Record. My Lord never errs, nor forgets.”

53. He Who has made the earth a cradle for you and traced out roads on it for you, and sends down water from the sky, and produces with it pairs of various plants.

54. Eat thereof, and feed your cattle. Surely, in all this are signs (manifesting the truth) for people of sound, unbiased thinking.

55. From it (earth), We create you, and into it, are We returning you; and out of it, will We bring you forth a second time.

56. We certainly showed the Pharaoh Our signs, all of them (including those We granted particularly to Moses), but he contradicted them and refused (to believe).

57. He said: “Moses, have you come to drive us from our land with your sorcery?

58. “Then, We will most certainly produce before you sorcery like it. So appoint a meeting between us and you, which neither we nor you will fail to keep, in an open, level place convenient (to both of us).”

59. (Moses) said: “The meeting will be on the Day of the Festival, and let the people assemble in the forenoon.”10

60. The Pharaoh then left, and he (set out to) mobilize all his devices, then presented himself (at the appointed meeting).

61. Moses said to them (warning them before it was too late for them to be warned): “Woe to you! Do not fabricate lies against God (such as falsely describing His clear proofs as sorcery, falsely pretending that His Message to you aims at driving you out of your land, or by adopting other deities than Him), lest He ruin you with a severe scourge. Whoever fabricates a lie is doomed.”

62. (Moses’ warning having influenced some among the sorcerers)) they began to debate their affair among themselves. (Whereupon, the Pharaoh’s men intervened, and)  spoke to them secretly.

63. (, They said: “These two men are surely sorcerers intent on driving you out of your land with their sorcery and doing away with your exemplary way of life.

64. “So gather your devices, and then come in ordered ranks (as an organized, unified force), for the one who gains the upper hand today has surely triumphed.”11

65. They (the sorcerers) said: “Moses, either you throw or we will be the first to throw!”

66. He said: “No, you throw first!” And there and then, by their sorcery, their ropes and their staffs seemed to him to be slithering.

67. Then Moses felt in his soul a bit apprehensive (that people may have been influenced by their sorcery).12

68. We said: “Do not fear! You surely, you are the uppermost.

69. “Throw that which is in your right hand: it will swallow up all that they have contrived. What they have contrived is only a sorcerer’s artifice. And a sorcerer can never prosper, whatever he may aim at.”

70. And so (it happened, and) the sorcerers were thrown down, prostrate. They proclaimed: “We have come to believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses!”

71. (The Pharaoh) said: “Do you believe in Him before I give you permission? I see that he (Moses) is your master who taught you sorcery! I will surely have your hands and feet cut off alternately, and have you crucified on the trunks of palm-trees, and you will certainly come to know which of us (– the Lord of Aaron and Moses or I –) is more severe in punishment and (whose punishment is) more lasting!”13

72. They said: “We will never prefer you above the clear evidence (manifesting the truth) that has come before us, and above Him Who originated us. So decree whatever you decree: you can decree only for the life of this world.

73. “We have surely come to believe in our Lord, and (we hope) that He may forgive us our faults and that sorcery to which you compelled us. God is the best (in giving reward), and the most permanent.”

74. Whoever comes before his Lord as a disbelieving criminal, for him surely there will be Hell: he will neither die therein nor live.

75. Whereas he who comes before Him as a believer who did good, righteous deeds, for such are high ranks and lofty stations –

76. Gardens of perpetual bliss through which rivers flow, therein to abide. Such is the recompense of whoever attains purity.

77. We revealed to Moses: “Set forth with My servants by night, and (when you reach the sea’s edge with the Pharaoh and his army in pursuit) strike for them a dry path with your staff through the sea, and you need have no fear of being overtaken (by Pharaoh) or of drowning in the sea.”

78. Then the Pharaoh pursued them with his armed hosts, and they were overwhelmed by the sea to their complete destruction.

79. The Pharaoh had led his people astray (and finally he led them to destruction); he did not guide them (either to the truth or to prosperity).14

80. O Children of Israel! We saved you from your enemy; and We made a covenant with you through Moses on the right side of Mount Sinai (and granted you the Torah); and We sent down on you manna and quails (to sustain you in the desert).

81. (We said:) Eat of the pure, wholesome things that We have provided for you, but do not exceed the bounds therein (by wastefulness, ingratitude, unlawful earnings, and the like). Otherwise, My condemnation will justly fall upon you, and upon whoever My wrath falls, he has indeed thrown himself into ruin.15

82. Yet I am surely All-Forgiving to whoever repents and believes and does good, righteous deeds, and thereafter, keeps himself on the right path.

83. (When Moses came to Our appointment with him in Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, We asked him:) “Moses, what has caused you to leave your people behind in such haste?”

84. He replied: “They are following in my footsteps; and I have shown haste to come to You so that You may be well-pleased with me.”

85. (God) said: “Then (know that) We have put your people to a test in your absence, and the Sāmirī has led them astray.”16

86. So Moses returned to his people in anger and sorrow. He said: “My people! Did your Lord not make you a fair promise (that He would grant you the Torah for your happiness in both worlds, and settle you in the land the environs of which He has blessed)? Did, then, the time appointed (for my absence) seem too long to you, or did you desire that a condemnation from your Lord should fall upon you, that you broke your promise to me?”

87. They said: “We did not break our promise to you of our own accord (with intent), but we were loaded with (sinful) loads of ornaments of the people (of Egypt), and we threw them (to get rid of them), in the same way as the Sāmirī threw (them, into a fire).”

88. And then he brought out for them a calf, shaping to it (from the molten ornaments) a body (which made a sound like) mooing. Then they said (some of them to others): “This is your deity and the deity of Moses, but he has forgotten.”

89. Did they not see at all that (even) it could not return to them a word (for answer), and had no power to harm or benefit them?

90. And Aaron had certainly said to them, before Moses’ return (warning them:) “O my people! You are only being tested through this (idol, to prove the quality of your understanding and faith). Truly Your Lord is the All-Merciful (Who is most forgiving), so follow me and obey my order!”

91. But they said: “We will by no means cease to worship it until Moses comes back to us.”

92. (Having returned, and unaware of Aaron’s warning, Moses) said: “O Aaron! What prevented you, when you saw them gone astray,

93. “From following me? Have you, then, disobeyed my order?”17

94. Aaron said: “O son of my mother! Do not seize me by my beard, nor by my head! I was afraid lest you should say: ‘You have caused division among the Children of Israel, and paid no heed to my orders!’ ”18

95. (Moses turned to the Sāmirī and) said: “What is the matter with you, O Sāmirī (that you did such a monstrous thing)?”

96. He answered: “I have seen something which they were unable to see, and so I took a handful (of dust) from the trail of the messenger (the archangel Gabriel) and cast it into the molten ornaments: thus did my soul prompt me to act.” 19

97. (Moses) said: “Be gone, then! (The sentence) upon you is that in this present life, you say ‘Touch me not!’ (to warn people against proximity to you); and surely there is for you a promise (of punishment) that you cannot evade. Now look to this deity of yours to whose worship you have become devoted: we will most certainly burn it, and scatter whatever remains of it over the sea!

98. “(O my people!) Your only deity is God, other than Whom there is no deity. He encompasses all things in His Knowledge.”

99. Thus do We relate to you (O Messenger) some of the exemplary events which happened in the past. Indeed, We have granted you a Reminder (a Book of knowledge and instructions) from Our Presence.

100. Whoever turns away from it certainly bears a burden on the Day of Resurrection,

101. Forever carrying it. How evil a burden is theirs on the Day of Resurrection!

102. That Day the Trumpet will be blown, and We will raise to life and gather the disbelieving criminals, white-eyed (with terror and fatigue);

103. They whisper among themselves: “You stayed in the world only ten (days).”

104. It is We Who have full knowledge of what they talk about, when the most perceptive among them say, “You stayed only one day.”

105. They ask you (O Messenger) about (what will happen to) the mountains (on Doomsday). Say: “My Lord will blast them into scattered dust.

106. “And He will leave it (the earth) as a desolate waste.

107. “You will see in it neither curve nor ruggedness.”

108. On that Day, all will follow the summoning Voice straightforwardly without any deviation, and all voices will be humbled for the All-Merciful, and you will hear nothing but a hushed murmur.

109. On that Day, intercession is not of any avail except his, to whom the All-Merciful gives permission and with whose words He is well-pleased.

110. He knows what lies before His servants (especially on Judgment Day), and whatever (of intentions, speech, or actions) they have left behind, whereas they cannot comprehend Him with their knowledge.

111. And (on that Day) all faces are humbled before the All-Living, the Self-Subsisting One (by Whom all else subsist). And, assuredly, he has failed whose load is wrongdoing.

112. Whereas whoever does good, righteous deeds, being a believer, need have no fear of being wronged or deprived (of his just recompense).

113. And thus, have We sent it down as a qur’ān (a discourse) in Arabic, and set out in it warnings in diverse contexts and from diverse perspectives, so that they may keep from disobedience to Us in reverence for Us and piety, or that it may prompt them to remembrance and heedfulness.

114. Absolutely exalted is God, the Supreme Sovereign, the Absolute Truth and Ever-Constant. Do not show haste (O Messenger) with (the receiving and memorizing of any Revelation included in) the Qur’an before it has been revealed to you in full, but say: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”

115. Assuredly, We had made a covenant with Adam (and forbidden him to approach a tree in the Garden), but he acted forgetfully. We did not find resolve in him (at that moment).

116. And when We said to the angels, “Prostrate yourselves before Adam,” they all prostrated themselves. But Iblīs did not; he refused.

117. So We said: “O Adam, surely this is an enemy to you and your wife; so let him not drive the two of you out of the Garden, lest you become distressed.

118. “Surely it is provided for you that you shall not go hungry therein nor become naked,

119. “And that you shall not go thirsty therein, nor suffer the sun’s heat.”

120. But Satan made an evil suggestion, saying: “O Adam, shall I lead you to the tree of everlasting life and a kingdom that will never decay?”

121. They both ate of it, so their shameful parts (and all the seemingly evil impulses in their creation) were apparent to them, and both began to cover themselves with leaves from the Garden. Adam disobeyed his Lord and fell into error.

122. Thereafter, his Lord chose him (for His favor), accepted His repentance, and bestowed His guidance upon him.

123. We said: “Go down from here, the two of you, all together (with Satan, and henceforth you will live a life), some of you being the enemies of others. If there comes to you from Me a guidance (like a Book through a Messenger), then whoever follows My guidance (and turns to Me with faith and worship), will not go astray, nor will he be unhappy.

124. “But as for him who turns away from My remembrance (and from the Book), his will be a suffocated life, and We will raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection.”20

125. He says: “My Lord, why have You raised me up blind, while I used to be seeing (in my life of the world)?”

126. (God) says: “Just so. Our Revelations came to you but you disregarded them, so today you will be disregarded.”

127. Thus do We recompense him who is wasteful (of his God-given faculties) and commits excesses, and does not believe in his Lord’s Revelations. And indeed, the punishment in the Hereafter is more severe and most enduring.

128. Is it not guidance for them how many a generation We have destroyed before them, in whose ruined dwelling-places they walk about (in the present)? Surely, in that, there are signs (manifesting the truth) for people of discernment.

129. Had it not been for a decree already issued by your Lord,21 and for a term already appointed (by Him), the judgment (against them) would certainly have been given and executed.

130. Therefore, be patient (O Messenger) with whatever they say, and glorify your Lord with praise before sunrise and before sunset, and glorify Him during some hours of the night – as well as glorifying (Him) at the ends of the day – so that you may obtain God’s good pleasure and be contented (with what God has decreed for you).

131. Do not strain your eyes toward what We have given some groups among them to enjoy (in this worldly life), the splendor of the present, worldly life, so that We may test them thereby. The provision of Your Lord (the favors He has bestowed upon you here and hereafter) is better and more lasting.

132. Order your family and community to establish the Prayer, and be diligent in its observance. We do not ask you to provide for Us; rather, it is We Who provide for you. (So, all your worship is for your own benefit.) And the (desired) outcome is in favor of piety and righteousness.

133. And they say: “If only he brought us a miracle from his Lord!” Has there not come to them (as a sufficient miracle) a Clear Evidence of (the truth) in what is (to be found) in the former Scriptures?22

134. Had We destroyed them with a punishment before it (before the Evidence came to them), they would surely have said: “Our Lord! If only You had sent us a Messenger, we would have followed Your Revelations before we were humiliated and disgraced.”

135. Say: “Everyone (we and you) is in an expectation (of what the future will bring), so continue to expect! You will soon come to know who have been the followers of the even path and who have been rightly guided (and therefore, whose expectations have proved true).

The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English

The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English

1. For the Throne and God’s establishing Himself on it, see sūrah 7: 54, note 13; and sūrah 11: 7, note 2. This verse, along with the three following it, emphasizes God’s absolute dominion and Oneness as the Lord of creation.

2. For God’s All-Beautiful Names, see sūrah 7: 180, note 44, and sūrah 17: 110, note 41.

3. Apart from references to the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, in the sūrahs revealed earlier, the narrative in this sūrah from this verse to verse 98 is the earliest Qur’ānic explanation of the story of Moses, upon him be peace, as such.

4. This happened in the Sinai desert while Moses, upon him be peace, was returning with his family from Midian, where he had spent eight to ten years, to Egypt, or while he was in search of a suitable place to dwell. It was a cold night and they needed a fire to warm themselves, and a light to be able to continue their way. They must have been lost in the desert in the darkness of the night.

5. Taking off one’s sandals or shoes is done in the Presence of God; the sacredness of the valley arises from the fact that it was where God’s Presence was manifested to Moses, upon him be peace. However, it should also be noted that, just as some parts of time have sacredness of their own – if this sacredness is not because of their being the time of certain types of worship – some places on earth may have some sacredness for some reasons beyond our comprehension – if this sacredness does not arise from their being the places of certain Divine manifestations.

As stated in Sūrat al-Qasas (28), the Almighty called out to the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, from behind a tree (28: 30). This type of Divine calling is one of the three types of Divine Revelation. The Qur’ān clarifies that God speaks to a human being either from behind a veil, or by putting the meaning in the heart of the human being (as a special kind of Revelation), or by sending an angel (42: 51). A Prophet is sure that the one who speaks to him from behind a veil or puts a meaning in his heart is God. So the Qur’ān does not mention any reaction of Moses, upon him be peace, when God called out to him. A Prophet who will receive Revelation has already been prepared for it. The Qur’ān mentions that God granted Moses, upon him be peace, knowledge, insight, and good judgment years before he received this first Revelation, and that he was one devoted to doing good as if seeing God (28: 14).

6. Mentioning the Prayer in addition to worship – although the Prayer is a kind of worship – is because of its importance as the chief way of worship.

7. Islam is the Divine Religion preached by all the Prophets, with slight differences in matters of law, according to time and conditions, a religion which was universally perfected through the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. It is based on four fundamentals, and it is upon these that the Qur’ān dwells. The first and most important of these is the belief in God’s Existence and Oneness. It is this very fundamental which was first conveyed to the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace. Although belief in the Resurrection and the Hereafter is the fundamental of second-degree importance, the relationship of God as the Deity and Lord, and His servants as the created and sustained, requires worship on the part of the servants; therefore, worship, another of the fundamentals discussed, is mentioned after belief in God’s Existence and Oneness in the verses above. Justice in human individual and collective life is a dimension of worship, and verse 16 alludes to it. In other words, belief in the Resurrection and the Hereafter, which is the final or ultimate purpose of the existence of the world and humankind, and human worldly life, is the second fundamental of Islam. The fourth fundamental is Prophethood, which is required by God’s being the Lord of the whole creation and the fact that He created it. If God had not made Himself known to His conscious servants, informed them of His purpose for creating the universe and humankind, and what He expects them to do, and if He had not appointed a leader to humanity to communicate all this, His creating them would have been unintelligible. So, God’s purpose for creating the whole universe and humankind requires Prophethood, or the sending of Prophets. In conclusion, God mentions these four fundamentals in the first Revelation He sent to the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace.

8. The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace. The term “Pharaoh” was a title by which the kings of the native Copts in ancient Egypt were called. The Pharaoh to whom Moses, upon him be peace, was sent was the son of the Pharaoh in whose palace he grew up. As mentioned in several verses of the Qur’ān, this Pharaoh persecuted the Children of Israel. While trying to protect one of his people against an Egyptian, Moses, upon him be peace, accidentally caused the death of the man and, on hearing that he was being sought by officials, Moses, upon him be peace, left for Midian. After having stayed there for eight to ten years, he most probably was returning to Egypt when he received the Divine Revelation. Now he was to go to the Pharaoh’s palace with an extremely important and difficult task. So he asked his Lord to expand his breast, so that he would be able to show greater patience with whatever difficulty he would encounter from the Pharaoh and his clan, and to fully understand God’s Religion and all that He would be pleased with. He also asked Him to increase his own power of speech and to allow his brother, Aaron, a fluent speaker, to share his task as a Messenger. His purpose was to worship, exalt, glorify, and mention God as much as possible.

By saying, You are ever seeing and watching us, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, presented, despite being a great Prophet, his weakness as a mortal being before the Almighty, and his need of help as a servant, to the Divine Court as a means of intercession.

9. The tentative form of the phrase so that he might ponder, as well as similar phrases that frequently exist in the Qur’ān, never implies any doubt on God’s part. Rather, it relates to the intention or hope with which the Messengers (and other addressees) should approach their task.

10. The Prophet Moses’ decision is very significant. By appointing a time when almost all of the people would assemble on a special day, a day when they would be in different mood, he manifested his utmost confidence in his message and mission. In addition, he would deal a great blow to the Pharaoh and to his prestige and belief, and have the possibility to announce his message before all people with undeniable, visible proofs.

11. History is a telling of the recurring patterns and meanings in events at different times. The encounter told here is of the recurring battle between truth and falsehood, justice and tyranny. The Qur’an presents events in such a way that we not only follow clearly the line of events unfolding, but also understand the weight of meaning carried in them, their causes and outcomes, and the manners and motives of the people involved in them

Islam never aims to debase or destroy people; instead it comes to exalt them. For this reason, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, made an influential address to his opponents, warning them. Through the earlier efforts of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, God’s true Religion – Islam – had begun to prevail in Egypt. Therefore, at the time Moses, upon him be peace, began his mission, it could still be traced among the people there. As can be understood from the miracles granted to Moses, upon him be peace – for the miracles given to every Prophet were in relation to the branch of science or craft most developed at that time – chemistry and alchemy were of great import. Sorcerers were the leading scientists and intellectuals of the time. By addressing them (and other people) in verse 61) Moses, upon him be peace, who knew Egypt very well, did his principal task of conveying the Divine Message while also warning them against a possible calamity. His address had the expected influence on the sorcerers and caused a difference of opinion to arise among them. But, as always happens in history, the Pharaoh and his men intervened and attempted to eliminate this difference. They tried to encourage the sorcerers by saying that Moses and Aaron, upon them be peace, were sorcerers, like them, and alarmed and provoked them by saying that Moses, upon him be peace, intended to drive the people out of their own land and abolish their way of life then the Pharaoh went on to make alluring promises to them. We read this promise in 7: 113–114 and 26: 41–42: Pharaoh promised: “(If you are the winners), you will indeed be among those nearest (to my favor).”

12. When the sorcerers threw their ropes and staffs, it seemed to Moses, upon him be peace, as if hundreds of snakes were gliding on the ground. Elsewhere, the Qur’an describes it: When they threw (whatever they held in their hands to make spells) they cast a spell upon the people’s eyes (i.e. overawed and deluded them), and produced a mighty sorcery (7: 116).This caused some apprehension to arise in his heart that people might have been influenced by their sorcery. However, the miracle with which God equipped him would show that sorcery had nothing with the truth and was doomed to be defeated in the face of it. 

13. The Pharaoh’s reaction is the reaction of all dictators throughout history. Nimrod and his men showed the same reaction before the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace; when they were defeated in an intellectual argument, they threw him into fire. The sorcerers who began to show their skills by declaring that they would triumph by the Pharaoh’s honor and might (26: 44) were able to distinguish between sorcery and the truth. They saw that what the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, did was not sorcery, and that the Pharaoh’s honor and might were of no avail, so they came to believe. Yet the Pharaoh refused to believe, even in the face of the truth which showed itself in utter clarity. The event had taken place before a crowd, so it was quite probable that some among those, too, would believe, and some others would feel a light in the name of belief appearing in their heart. This was what the Pharaoh feared. He could not bear defeat, and he felt that his sovereignty was at stake if people were to believe. So he resorted to threats and massacres.

This verse discloses another aspect of dictatorship. Dictators want people to do whatever they order them to do. They see themselves as the one and only authority to decide for people what to believe and what not to believe in, as well as what to think and what not to think. That is, they try to command even their minds and hearts.

The miracles granted to each Prophet were of the same kind as the science and crafts which had developed in his time; each Prophet surpassed the level of that science and those crafts through the miracles he worked. Moses’ experience with the Pharaoh also revealed that in addition to having outstanding virtues, the representatives and preachers of Islam also should excel others in knowledge.

14. For the events which took place in the encounter of Moses and the sorcerers and the Exodus, see 7: 127–35; 10: 75–90.

15. For details of the events and warnings and the subsequent events mentioned in verses 80 and 81, see sūrah 2: 51, 57, and 61, and the notes 67 and 73; sūrah 7: 142, note 30.

16. The Old Testament records that it was the Prophet Aaron, upon him be peace, who made the effigy of a calf for the Children of Israel to worship (Exodus, 32: 4, 24), whereas the Prophet Aaron, upon him be peace, was the Prophet Moses’ elder brother who shared his mission. He, in fact, tried his best to prevent the calf-worship. The Qur’ān openly states that the one who made the calf is a man referred to as as-Sāmirī.

The article (al-) before Sāmirī and the suffix (ī) of the case ending suggest that the man was someone belonging to a place or tribe called Sāmir. Although some Orientalists and Christian writers, starting from the fact that Samaria was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel established in 925 bc, tried to accuse our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, of ignorance, as if he were the author of the Qur’ān, the Bible itself refutes this ungrounded accusation. We read in I Kings, 16: 24 that King Omri bought the hill, Samaria, from a man named Shemer and built the city of Samaria on this hill, naming it after Shemer. So Samaria already existed before Moses, upon him be peace, as the name of a hill. The Sāmirī may well have been from that territory, or he may have descended from the ancestry of Shemer. Another point to be considered is that the Sumerians lived in Iraq before the time of the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace. There were emigrations from this region to Egypt. For example, the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt during the time of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, had emigrated from Syria. So it is possible that the Sāmirī had descended from a Sumerian tribe that had immigrated to Egypt.

It is also possible that the personal name of the Sāmirī was “Aaron,” and the later scribes of the Torah confused him with the Prophet Aaron.

The Bible sadly contradicts itself in attributing the making of the calf to the Prophet Aaron, upon him be peace. For we read in Exodus, 32: 27–28 that God ordered “every man to kill his brother (who had worshipped the calf); and every man, his companion; and every man, his neighbor; and the sons of Levi did, and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” The Prophet Aaron, upon him be peace, was not among those who were killed. Again, according to Exodus, 32: 32–33, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, prayed to God to forgive his people or blot his name out of His book, and God answered that He would blot whoever had sinned against Him out of His book. It is clear in Numbers, 18: 5–7 that God did not blot Aaron’s name out of His book; instead, He favored him and his sons with the duty of being in charge of the sanctuary and the altar, that there might be no further wrath on the Children of Israel (al-Mawdūdī, 5: 217–218, note 69).   

17. Before leaving for Mount Sinai, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, appointed Aaron as his deputy among his people, saying: Take my place among my people (act to reform them and set things right), and do not follow the way of those who provoke disorder and corruption (7: 142).

18. As we have stated elsewhere before (i.e., sūrah 7, note 35; sūrah 15, note 11; sūrah 19, note 1), while narrating an event in different places, the Qur’ān deals with the aspects of the event that concern the topic discussed. So it reports here only part of Aaron’s answer to Moses, upon them be peace, I was afraid lest you should say: “You have caused division among the Children of Israel, and paid no heed to my orders!” This does not mean that Aaron, upon him be peace, did nothing else. As reported in sūrah 7: 150, he did his best to prevent the fundamental error into which his people had lapsed, but they nearly killed him. So Aaron, upon him be peace, aware of the delicacy of the situation, did not proceed, in order to avoid causing a division among them which would most probably have amounted to bloodshed. He waited for Moses’ return, as he knew he had gone for a short, definite period.

19. How should we understand these words of the Sāmirī?

The people of ancient Egypt were farmers who worshipped cattle in addition to other major deities. The Children of Israel had been influenced by this. This influence manifested itself as devotion to this statue of the calf, to the extent that the Qur’ān describes it as follows: Because of their unbelief, they were made to drink into their hearts (love of) the calf (with then no place left therein for faith) (2: 93). They were also inclined toward idol-worship or adopting figures as deities, as manifested by their asking the Prophet Moses, upon them be peace, to make them an idol when they found a people worshipping idols along their way in the desert, after departing from Egypt: And We led the Children of Israel across the sea, and then they came upon a people who were devoted to the worship of some idols that they had (particular to themselves). They said: “O Moses! Make for us a deity even as they have deities!” (7: 138).

Some people have exceptional abilities or characteristics, such as telepathy, necromancy, the ability to make contact with the jinn, or the ability to act as a medium. They can bring about some accomplishments which may seem extraordinary to others, and they themselves like to add some mystery to their accomplishments. But because of the haughtiness and self-admiration that arise from these accomplishments, and because of their misuse of the abilities God has given them, God Almighty makes their abilities a means of gradual perdition for them.

The Sāmirī had the ability of smelting ore and making statues. He intentionally made an effigy of a calf to lead the Children of Israel astray, and caused it to produce a sound by means of some holes located in the effigy.

The Qur’ān introduces the matter of the calf as a trial and temptation for the Children of Israel. By saying, I have seen something which they were unable to see, and so I took a handful (of dust) from the trail of the messenger and cast it into the molten ornaments, is merely a lie the Sāmirī made up to add a spiritual and mysterious dimension to some abilities he had, or that he thought he had, and, in fact, what he had done. He must also have attempted to excuse himself for what he did. .

20. For the incidents and truths described from verse 115 on, see 2: 30–39, notes 30–44; 7: 11–27, notes 3–4. Here we can add the following points:

    • The prohibition of approaching a tree in the Garden was not a prohibition included in the Sharī‘ah or the Religious Law. It was a prohibition and instruction concerning the life of Adam, upon him be peace, and his spouse. It is clear that the purpose of such a prohibition was, for their part, to avoid suffering from hunger, nakedness, thirst, and the heat of the sun. So the consequence of, or recompense for, not heeding this prohibition would be exposure to these kinds of suffering.
    • The verses reveal that the desire for eternity, the passionate desire for the opposite sex (especially for women on the part of men), and the worldly kingdom are, at least, among the most alluring lusts or appetites for human beings, so much so that they cause human beings many sufferings.
    • The Qur’ān mentions Adam, upon him be peace, as being chosen and forgiven just after their lapse in order to prevent us from harboring any negative feelings towards Adam, upon him be peace. It also teaches us that we should immediately repent and pray for forgiveness as soon as we have sinned or lapsed.
    • The Bible unfortunately blames Eve more than Adam for their lapse (Genesis, 3: 1–6). According to the Bible, Eve incited Adam to eat from the forbidden tree. This caused the Jews and Christians to see women as being accursed creatures for many centuries. By contrast, the Qur’ān tells us that Satan approached Adam and deceived him. This reveals an important truth that it is generally men who have been responsible for the deviation of women from the right path, and not the other way round.

21. The decree is that which was proclaimed during Adam’s descent from the Garden: There shall be for you on the earth (where you have already been appointed as vicegerent) a habitation, and provision until an appointed time (2: 36; 7: 24).

22. Is it not a sufficient miracle for them that there has come to them a Messenger who was predicted by the former Divine Scriptures and whose features are found in them? That Messenger, though an illiterate one, has come to them with a Book which contains all the truths concerning correct belief and worship, and eternal principles for a good life, which are all to be found in the former Divine Scriptures. This Book also explains what happened to the peoples who asked their Messengers for similar miracles.

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