A New Life
Having killed a man, and knowing that the Pharaoh and his men were hot on his heels, Musa AS escaped Egypt. He did not know exactly where to head, for he had never stepped outside of Egypt before. Nevertheless, he went towards Madyan, and said that “I hope that my Lord will lead me to the right path.” (Qur’an 28:22)
He had no mode of transportation, cash or any provisions. He only had the clothes on his back. Imagine if we were in his position, fleeing without credentials, money, or even an ATM card to pay for the next meal! Ibn Abbas RA reported that Musa AS went from Egypt to Madyan eating only plants and leaves. He was barefooted and his stomach was stuck to his back as a result of his hunger, a direct contrast to the palace luxuries.
When he reached the wells of Madyan (if we recall, it was the same location that Shuaib’s AS community used to live before they were destroyed), he observed a group of shepherds watering their flocks. He also spotted two women modestly keeping themselves and their own flocks segregated from the men. He enquired what the matter was, and the women explained that they were sisters and to protect their chastity and personal security, could only draw water from the well once the men had dispersed. Their father was elderly and unable to perform the task himself.
According to reports, once the men were done, they would cover the mouth well with a big rock to protect it, leaving the women the only option of using the leftover water from the previous flock. According to Umar RA, the rock was so heavy that it required the strength of ten men to carry it, however, Musa AS had been bestowed with exceeding strength. On this day, Musa AS removed the rock and helped the sisters water the flock.
Then, tired and hungry, he went into the shade and said “My Lord! I am in need of any good that You may send to me!” (Qur’an 28:24) This humble manner was befitting of a Prophet and teaches us how to ask Allah for help.
When the sisters came home from their daily tasks earlier than usual, their father was surprised. They related the incident to him, upon which he asked one of them to fetch Musa AS and bring him home. According to the Qur’an, one of the two returned to Musa AS, approached him with shyness, and explained that that her father had invited Musa AS to reward him for his kind act. Musa AS complied, and explained his circumstances to their father. The latter, who himself was a righteous man, reassured him not to be afraid, for he had done well to escape from the evildoers.
A Marriage Proposal
While Musa AS was in conversation, one of the sisters hinted to her father that he should hire Musa AS. She suggested that he should “Engage him on wages, surely, the best of those you can employ is the one who is strong and trustworthy.” (Qur’an 28:26)
She was alluding that because of his character, Musa AS was a choice prospect for a son in law. Musa AS was without any means of providing for his future wife. However, he was clearly of sound character. Therefore, in consideration of marrying his daughter, the father offered Musa AS employment for eight years, and if Musa AS felt gracious, for an additional two years. However, the older man clarified that it was not his intention to impose hardship upon Musa AS, and thus Musa AS could, of his own volition, work either duration. Musa AS agreed to the terms, and most reports say that he worked for the entire tenure of ten years. He had remained employed for that time, solely for food and for his modesty, and not for wealth.
All Prophets and Messengers have to spend some portion of their lives as shepherds, to isolate and sever themselves from the distractions of the worldly life. Tending a flock requires the type of patience and vigilance that can only be learnt on the job rather than through observation. This patience and self-awareness is key for them to focus on their relationship with God as a preparation for the difficult task ahead. This time is also known as the waqfat tarbiyah, the time and place for Allah to teach them of His Oneness and to train their manner and character. This was the kind of training that cannot be gleaned from books. Musa AS was no different, and further, his time in the desert eradicated the influence that the corrupt lifestyle at the palace might have had on him. This stage of his life was the final preparation for his great destiny as one of the mightiest Prophets and Messengers of Allah.
In the final year, as a reward for his hard work, his father in law offered that for the next breeding season, all lambs born with a particular rare colour would belong to Musa AS. According to some reports, by the will of Allah, the next season, every ewe bore twins, and each alternate sheep was of that rare colour. Therefore, from owning virtually nothing, he amassed a modest amount of wealth.
Conversation with God – The First Revelation
Years passed, and Musa AS missed his family in Egypt. Once his contract with his father in law was fulfilled, he set back with his wife and family back towards his homeland. We have to remember that he was still, as far as Egypt was concerned, a fugitive.
It was at this time that events took a strange turn. To reach Egypt, they had to cross the Sinai desert. On one particularly cold and dark night, they seemed to have lost their way. As Musa AS walked in the darkness, he saw a light in the distance, on the side of Mount Tur. He directed his family: “Stay here, I see a fire, I hope I may bring you from that you may warm yourselves.” (Qur’an 28:29) The same incident was also reported in Surah Ta Ha, 20:9, and Surat An Naml, 27:7.
He approached the light and found something wondrous – there was a green tree but it was glowing and burning with an unusual fire and light! Musa AS was, at this time, in the valley of Tuwa, facing the Qibla, when his Lord called out to him. Surah Ta Ha sets out the conversation beautifully:
And when he came to it, he was called, “O Musa, Indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa.
And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you].
Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. (Qur’an 20:11 – 20:14)
The message continued:
Indeed, the Hour is coming – I almost conceal it – so that every soul may be recompensed according to that for which it strives.
So do not let one avert you from it who does not believe in it and follows his desire, for you [then] would perish. (Qur’an 20:15-20:16)
How great a guidance it was, for this was the beginning to the revelations to Musa AS. From a firsthand introduction by Allah Almighty Himself, and the order to worship Him, Musa AS was immediately directed not to be distracted from such worship by the non-believers. In the first few powerful sentences, Allah has comprehensively reminded Musa AS, and by extension, us as the readers of the Qur’an, of the impending destruction of this temporary world, and of our reckoning thereafter. Imagine the magnitude of the Message and the impact it had on Musa AS!
The Transformation of the Staff
Barely had Musa AS the time to absorb the first revelation when the conversation shifted to another topic: his staff, or walking stick. This is the cadence of the Qur’an – it sometimes presents a general snapshot of the scenario, before suddenly narrowing onto a specific topic or object.
Surah Ta Ha continues:
And what is that in your right hand, O Moses?”
He said, “It is my staff; I lean upon it, and I bring down leaves for my sheep and I have therein other uses.” (Qur’an 20:17 – 20:18)
Of course, Allah knew what the staff was for, and needed no explanation. However, here, we are drawn to the qualities of a simple walking stick, an everyday, nondescript and inanimate object.[Allah ] said, “Throw it down, O Moses.”
So he threw it down, and thereupon it was a snake, moving swiftly. (Qur’an 21:20)
His staff miraculously transformed into a writhing snake, pulsing with life and according to some reports, with huge fangs. Musa AS was naturally terrified by this unnatural metamorphosis and ran away. While attributed with strength of faith, Musa AS was also as human as the rest of us, and was freaked out by what he saw.
[Allah] said, “Seize it and fear not; We will return it to its former condition. (Qur’an 20:21)
Musa stopped in his tracks and picked the fearful reptile by the head. Here was the first test of Musa’s AS faith. Within minutes of the first revelation, he was commanded to subordinate his natural terror to the obedience of Allah. Suppressing his fright, he picked up the snake by its head. As Allah promised, the serpent was restored into a staff.
Allah commanded him further:
And draw in your hand to your side; it will come out white without disease – another sign,
That We may show you [some] of Our greater signs. (Qur’an 20:22- 20:23)
Reports say that Musa AS suffered from leprosy. He obeyed Allah’s command to put his arms around himself, to calm himself down. Lo and behold, when he withdrew his hand, his skin was flawless and free of disease.
Hence, the purpose of Allah’s question about the staff encapsulates the message of all messages: that Allah is the holder of the possible and the impossible. We tend to arrogantly rely on our intellect and forget that our knowledge and ability are so limited. The crucial message to Musa AS was the power and might of Allah, which is what Allah wanted him to grasp. The objects that can benefit can also harm, and the objects that can harm can also benefit, by the will of Allah.
This was the shortest journey in iman and yaqeen ever amongst human beings.
The Prophetic Mission
Musa AS had spent over a decade in the desert as he was afraid of facing a murder trial in Egypt. Therefore, the next commandment from Allah must have been the last thing in the world that Musa AS wanted to do:
“Go to Pharaoh. Indeed, he has transgressed.” (Qur’an 21:24)
Now that Allah had given Musa AS some signs of His Might, the next order was to go back to the lion’s den and spread the message of Islam to Pharaoh! Within minutes of the first revelation, Musa AS was asked to expose himself to the treacherous elements that he had been trying to hide from in the first place. What’s more, to do the impossible – preach Islam to the most tyrannical disbeliever in the world!
To complicate matters, Musa AS reportedly had a stammer, which surfaced whenever he was upset or agitated. Imagine if we had to debate with our President or Prime Minister, who was already hostile and ready to execute us – and we had a speech impediment to put us at a more severe disadvantage!
However, Musa AS knew that only Allah was the one able to override his physical shortcomings and increase his eloquence. It was only Allah who could grant him confidence.[Musa] said, “My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance]. And ease for me my task. And untie the knot from my tongue. That they may understand my speech. And let him [i.e. his brother Harun] share my task. That we may exalt You much. And remember You much. Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.” (Qur’an 20:25 to 20:35)
Allah gently recounted Musa’s AS entire life history – from how it was Allah Who had inspired his mother to place him in the basket when he was an infant, to restoring him to her and later, saving him from the reach of Pharaoh’s punishment. Further it was Allah who had ensured that he was provided for in Madyan. Musa’s AS entire life was an impossibility from the outset, yet it became possible because he had been in Allah’s care and sustenance throughout, simply because Allah had ordained it so.
At Musa’s AS request. Allah permitted his brother, Harun AS to accompany him for his mission. Then, Allah said:
“Go, you and your brother, with My signs and do not slacken in My remembrance. And speak to him [Pharaoh] with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear.” (Qur’an 20:44)
Here is a wonderful lesson on how to spread the message of Islam. Gentleness is a fundamental point in da’wah. Pharaoh was the worst tyrant on earth and proclaimed that he was the greatest God. Even with such despicable arrogance, Allah neither cursed him nor called him names. Instead, Allah still gave him a chance to repent and mend his ways. Musa AS was commanded to approach the Pharaoh and invite him towards Allah with kind speech.
Musa AS then expressed fear of punishment by the Pharaoh for the murder he had committed. Allah assured him:
“Fear not. Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see.” [Qur’an 20:46]
This was a reassurance from Allah to go, and in return, He will give them support and victory. The power and victory of Allah now lay with a man, who in a few hours, was transformed from a shepherd into a prophet and messenger for the people of Egypt.
Lessons for Us
Proposals by women
The way the future wife of Musa AS proposed to him demonstrates that women are permitted to choose their husbands, and moreover, offer themselves in marriage in a discreet manner, either directly, or through an appropriate intermediary. People of the old days were quick to recognise quality, and women were, and still are, allowed to initiate the marriage proposal in order to gain a husband of good character and attributes. We see this again in the life of Prophet Muhammad SAW, whose first wife, Khadijah RA recognised his exemplary character and proposed to him.
The Power of Allah
The demonstrations of Allah’s power were just a glimpse of Allah’s Might. Within minutes of Musa AS being introduced to Allah, his faith was immediately put to the test, but Allah showed him just a sliver of His abilities, to give Musa AS enough signs to fortify his faith. It is the same for us. When one claims belief in Allah, that faith is not just professed by the tongue, but by the total obedience to commands of Allah, even if they are opposite one’s natural desires and instincts.
Look around us, and we see the evidence of Allah’s powers everywhere we go, through every miracle of creation that we see. The miracle witnessed by Musa AS was not in the snake, the staff or his skin condition, but rather, the Owner of such power to change any circumstance and situation. The staff was merely a tool to demonstrate that nothing is impossible in the Kingdom of Allah, the One who is able to change all conditions in ways beyond our limited human imagination. If we understand the overwhelming and all encompassing power of Allah, then obedience will follow easily.
The Fundamentals of Da’wah
Today when we give da’wah we start with halal and haram, when we ignore fundamental Oneness of the Creator illustrated in the incident of the staff.
Allah asked His own Prophet to address Pharaoh nicely, even though they were on the opposite extremes in the spectrum of good and evil. None of the Prophets and Messengers were bad mannered, and therefore, we do not have the license to spread Islam through aggression, argumentation and debates, most of which are centred around our inflamed egos and self righteousness, rather than a genuine compassion to save our brothers and sisters in humanity from the flames of hellfire.
Around eighty years after the death of Prophet Muhammad SAW, a Bedouin was granted an audience with a tyrant ruler in Iraq. He was notorious for slaughtering many Muslims, and it was said that at one point, the Ka’bah was flooded by the blood of those he had slain. The Bedouin addressed the ruler harshly, and the ruler asked: Are you better than Musa AS? Am I worse than Pharaoh? How harsh we can be sometimes in comparison to those we are trying to persuade towards Islam! Sometimes we get worked up, forgetting that none of us are at the level of Prophets, and neither are the people we speak to at the level of Pharaoh.
Another basic element is that, Allah is not assessing us based on our result, but rather, on the sincerity of our efforts. Nuh AS preached for over 950 years, which resulted in a small number of followers. Similarly, Musa AS was sent down to one of the most stubborn and disbelieving communities in mankind. Yet, both of them are amongst the greatest five Prophets and Messengers, for their ever-continuing perseverance in preaching to their communities, even though the results were sparse. Similarly, Allah will not judge us by numbers, but rather, by our effort and obedience. Our mission is to try, but the results rest with Allah alone.