The Da'wah of Musa AS
Musa AS carried with him two commands for Pharaoh. The first was an invitation to Allah and the second was to release Bani Israel from all the torture and oppression imposed on them by Pharaoh's regime. Proof was going to be required in this confrontation, and Musa AS was already armed with two of the nine signs that Allah would bestow upon him, his hand and his staff.
The Qur'an mentions: So go to him and say, 'Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance. Indeed, it has been revealed to us that the punishment will be upon whoever denies and turns away. (Qur'an 20:47- 20:49) Therefore, Musa AS was to spread a message of peace, together with a warning for those who refused to follow the path of the truth.
Together with his brother, Harun (Aaron) AS, he went to Pharaoh. It is reported that they had to persist for two years before the palace guards plucked up the courage to ask permission from Pharaoh to grant them an audience.
If we recall, Musa AS had lived under Pharaoh's roof for almost 40 years and had to flee Egypt to escape the death penalty when he accidentally killed a man. Therefore, Musa AS was already on thin ice in Pharaoh's estimate. He was risking his life by engaging Pharaoh in such a controversial dialogue.
Nevertheless, once he faced Pharaoh and his assembly, Musa AS said, "O Pharaoh, I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds, [Who is] obligated not to say about Allah except the truth. I have come to you with clear evidence from your Lord, so send with me the Children of Israel." (Qur'an 7:104 – 7:105)
Naturally Pharaoh was astonished at what he perceived to be sheer audacity on Musa's AS part. He seized the opportunity to remind Musa AS of his upbringing and also to remind Musa AS of his crime – a veiled threat to Musa AS and his personal liberty. He did not respond to the call by Musa AS, but instead, employed tactics to discredit him.
[Pharaoh] said, "Did we not raise you among us as a child, and you remained among us for years of your life? And [then] you did your deed which you did, and you were of the ungrateful." (Qur'an 26:18 - 26:19)
[Musa] said, "I did it, then, while I was of those astray. So I fled from you when I feared you. Then my Lord granted me wisdom and prophethood and appointed me [as one] of the messengers. (Qur'an 26:20 - 26:21)
Musa AS continued with a counter argument: "And is this a favour of which you remind me - that you have enslaved the Children of Israel?" (Qur'an 26:22), meaning, how can this tyrannical act ever be interpreted as a favour?
Instead of refuting this claim, Pharaoh asked, "And what is the Lord of the worlds?" (Qur'an 26:23) Musa AS replied "The Lord of the heavens and earth and that between them, if you should be convinced." (Qur'an 26:24)
Pharaoh was incredulous and asked those around him, "Do you hear that?" The da'wah of Musa AS was only met with ridicule and laughter. Pharaoh then asked of his forefathers, to which Musa AS replied "Your Lord and the Lord of your first forefathers." [Pharaoh] said, "Indeed, your 'messenger' who has been sent to you is mad." (Qur'an 26:26 - 26:27) From a criminal, Musa AS was then relegated to the category of insane. Throughout history, the accusation of insanity was a common reaction against any Prophet or Messenger who was trying to establish the truth in his community.
Undeterred, Musa AS continued: "Lord of the east and the west and that between them, if you were to reason." (Qur'an 26:28) This was a rational argument, for Pharaoh's authority did not range as far as east to west, earth to heaven. The existence of all of that existed could only be attributed to the Creator, and anyone with understanding could see that plainly.
Refusing to accept Musa's AS rationale, Pharaoh changed tactics and tried to intimidate both Musa AS and Harun AS: "If you take a god other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned." Like all tyrants, Pharaoh wanted to play the role of judge, jury and executioner. [Musa] said, "Even if I brought you proof manifest?" [Pharaoh] said, "Then bring it, if you should be of the truthful." (Qur'an 26:29 - 26.31)
In response to the challenge, Musa AS threw his staff, and it suddenly transformed into a serpent. He also drew out his hand, and it became white and radiant for all the observers to see.
By his own rules, Pharaoh had already lost the argument. However, in debates, the arrogant and ignorant are blind to the truth, no matter how glaring, and instead deflect logic and reality with distractions, smokescreens and digressions. If you were to ever rationalize with anyone stubborn or arrogant, he will not even stick to the original ground rules of the argument, but will keep changing the regulations as and when he pleases, going off tangent from one topic to the next. Just as there is a certain sunnah (an established way or sequence) in good, there is also a certain sunnah in evil. This trait was evident in Pharaoh.
Therefore, rather than accepting his defeat with integrity, Pharaoh said, "Have you come to us to drive us out of our land with your magic, O Moses?" (Qur'an 20:58) Again, he failed to acknowledge the reason supporting Musa's AS mission, which was to spread truth and justice. Just like strategy of all corrupted leaders and politicians, he played the role of the good guy while slinging accusations at the innocent.
[Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, "Indeed, this is a learned magician. He wants to drive you out of your land by his magic, so what do you advise?" (Qur'an 26:34 - 26.35) Ever the manipulator, Pharaoh played on the fear and paranoia of his self-serving counsel, uniting all of them against Musa AS. In a few short minutes, the accusations changed from criminal, madman, magician to usurper!
They said, "Postpone [the matter of] him and his brother and send among the cities gatherers, Who will bring you every learned, skilled magician." (Qur'an 26:36 – 26:37). Realising that their positions and status in Pharaoh's court were at stake, Pharaoh's sycophants and cronies banded against Musa AS, asking for time to gather their own forces so that the defeat of Musa AS and Harun AS would be absolute.
Pharaoh announced to both brothers: "Then we will surely bring you magic like it, so make between us and you an appointment, which we will not fail to keep and neither will you, in a place assigned." (Qur'an 20:58)
Musa knew that Allah would grant him victory, and played this to his advantage. He asked for the contest between magicians and prophets to take place on the day of a prominent festival, during the mid morning. At this time and place, the contest would unfold in broad daylight and in clear visibility of the crowd. This way, once the magicians were defeated, it would be in everyone's plain view, obviating any opportunity to deny the defeat of Pharaoh and his magicians.
Their appointment agreed, Musa AS and Harun AS were imprisoned while the magicians were given the opportunity to coordinate and make preparations.