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Historical Accounts in the Qur’an

Sayyid Qutb

Arab News, 11/23/04

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

Your Lord called Moses: “Go to the wrongdoing people, the people of Pharaoh. Will they have no fear of God?” (The Poets: Al-Shu’ara: 26: 10-11)

The surah recounts here a major episode of the history of Moses (peace be upon him), which fits perfectly the main theme of the surah and the emphasis it places on the fate of those who deny divine messages, accusing God’s messengers of fabrication. It also comforts the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he faces the accusations of the unbelievers, reassuring him that God will always take care of His message and those who believe in it and continue to advocate it in the face of determined opposition. Such advocates may be powerless, unable to match the might of the tyrannical forces lined against them and subjecting them to brutal persecution, which was precisely the case of the Muslims in Makkah at that time. Providing historical accounts was one of the means of educating the Muslim community employed in the Qur’an.

Earlier in the Qur’an, episodes of the history of Moses have been told in surahs 2, 5, 7, 10, 17, 18 and 20, with some brief references to it in other surahs. In each case, the presented episode or reference fits perfectly with the theme of the surah and matches the main drift of its context. The same applies here. The relevant account clearly contributes to illustrating the theme.

The episode of Moses’ account which we have here is that of his message and the opposition with which he was met by Pharaoh and his people, ending with their drowning to forestall their attempt to carry out a campaign of terrible persecution against Moses and his followers. It also mentions the fact that Moses and the children of Israel were saved. This confirms the truth of God’s statement at the end of the surah, threatening the unbelievers: “Those who are bent on wrongdoing will in time know how an evil turn their destiny will surely take.” (Verse 227).

It also confirms the same threat mentioned at the opening of the surah: “They have indeed denied (the truth of revelation); and they will in time come to understand what it was they were wont to deride.” (Verse 6).

This episode is divided into a number of scenes, with gaps in between. These gaps are very brief, allowing the curtains to drop on one scene before they are raised again to show a different one. This is an important aspect of the Qur’anic approach to story telling. We have here a total of seven scenes, beginning with one in which we see how Moses receives God’s call, is assigned his message and the revelations given to him. It also includes the dialogue between him and his Lord. The second scene consists of the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh and his chiefs, in which Moses shows the two signs given to him, namely, his staff and his hand becoming shining white in color. Pharaoh’s scheming as he gathers his sorcerers and assembles all the people for the confrontation provides the third scene. We are then entertained to a scene of the sorcerers gathered in Pharaoh’s presence and making sure that they would receive handsome reward. The fifth scene shows the contest that ends with the total submission of the sorcerers and their declaration of their belief in God, followed by the threats uttered by Pharaoh. Next we have a scene that consists of two images: God’s inspiration to Moses to move forth with God’s servants by night, and Pharaoh’s sending summoners to raise an army to chase the children of Israel. The final scene is that of the two hosts drawing close by the seaside and its dramatic end: The sea is parted, and the believers are saved while the unbelievers are drowned.

These scenes are also painted in Surahs 7, 10 and 20: The Heights, Jonah and Ta Ha respectively. But in each case, they are presented in a different way, suited to the context in which they occur. Thus they serve to highlight the points of emphasis suitable to each surah. For example, in Surah 7, The Heights, the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is briefly recounted, and that of the sorcerers and their assembly is shown at a rapid pace, while the scene of Pharaoh’s scheming with his chiefs is related at length, giving more details. It also shows the signs given to Moses during his stay in Egypt following his context with the sorcerers before showing the scene at the sea with the believers being saved and the drowning of the unbelievers. It moves on then to provide several scenes of what happened to the children of Israel after they crossed the parted sea. Nothing of this is mentioned in this surah, while we have more details of the argument between Moses and Pharaoh on God’s oneness and the revelations He vouchsafes to His Messenger. This was the central point of argument between Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the unbelievers in Makkah.

In Surah 10, Jonah, the first scene of confrontation is briefly shown, making no mention of the two signs of Moses’ staff and his hand. It also provides a brief reference to the contest between Moses and the sorcerers, while both scenes are shown here in more detail.

Surah 20, Ta Ha, portrays the first scene of the dialogue between Moses and his Lord at greater length, before painting the scenes of the confrontation with Pharaoh and the contest with the sorcerers in great detail. It also accompanies the children of Israel for a long part of their journey. Here in this surah, nothing is mentioned about what happens to them after they were saved from drowning.

Hence we can say that there is no repetition of the story despite the fact of numerous references being made to it in the Qur’an. The episodes chosen for discussion each time, and the painted scenes, and the aspects emphasized of each scene and the way they are portrayed makes each account stand out at its particular position as new, and perfectly suited to the context in which it occurs.

Earth, a planet hungry for peace

 Apartheid Wall

The Israeli Land-Grab Apartheid Wall built inside the Palestinian territories, here separating Abu Dis from occupied East Jerusalem. (IPC, 7/4/04).


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, like a Python. (Alquds,10/25/03).

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