Try to picture the scene. The crack of dawn, Musa (as) and his followers travailing upon the shores of the Red Sea after an exhausting night journey. Fir’awn’s notorious army, bolstered by his entire establishment, rapidly approaching. The defeatist screams of “We are sure to be overtaken!” from the oppressed camp. The end of the road, or so it appeared. To appreciate exactly how we got to this moment we need to touch on three points which preceded this historic event.
Musa’s (AS) Hatred for Oppression
It is clear from early on in his life, even prior to his Prophethood, that Musa (as) demonstrated a firm resolve to being a force against oppression. The first instance by which we behold this was when he (as) interceded in a dispute to defend one of his own people, a member of the weak and oppressed class in Egypt, from an Egyptian, accidentally killing the offender in his zeal. The second occasion was when he had fled Egypt and arrived in Madyan, beyond the brink of exhaustion from his journey made by foot, yet still unable to rest whilst noticing the plight of two young women who were struggling amongst men with their flock.
This esteemed virtue is central to the story of Musa (as), indeed Fir’awn is the very symbol of oppression in the Qur’an!
إِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ عَلَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَجَعَلَ أَهْلَهَا شِيَعًا يَسْتَضْعِفُ طَائِفَةً مِّنْهُمْ يُذَبِّحُ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيِي نِسَاءَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
“Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.” [TMQ Al-Qasas: 4]
This was Fir’awn; the tyrant who struck fear into the hearts of his subjects by his very mention, the ideological Father of colonial divide-and-rule policy, the murderer who would mercilessly slaughter their newborn sons. It was this Fir’awn with all this power at his disposal that Musa (as) opposed, challenged and exposed.
This virtue was not only maintained but enshrined in the Shari’ah of Muhammad (saw).
Tariq ibn Shihab reported: a man asked the Messenger of Allah (saw), “What is the best jihad?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.” Source: Musnad Aḥmad 18449.
In the 21st century we are taught to believe there is scarcity of resources, medicine, food, shelter, jobs, homes, PPE – you name it – but there is certainly no scarcity of tyranny and oppression. We must ask ourselves: do we embody the same commitment as Musa (as) to standing for the truth? Or are we comfortable living in our current state, covered in darkness from all around us, displaying only token commitments to establishing the Justice of Allah (swt)?
Ibn Kathir (rh) mentioned in his Tafseer of the verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُم جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do.” [TMQ Al-Ma’idah:105]
Imam Ahmad recorded that Qays said, Abu Bakr As-Siddiq stood up, thanked Allah and praised Him and then said, “O people! You read this Ayah (see above) but you explain it the wrong way. I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: ‘If the people witness evil and do not change it, then Allah is about to send His punishment to encompass them.’”
Go To Fir’awn!
However if we only consider the above without scrutinising further we will arrive at some very diverse results. Even the most liberal of “Muslims” would agree with almost everything mentioned thus far, but their subsequent path would be far removed from what the Shari’ah prescribes.
Hardly had the core commands of tawheed and salah been revealed to Musa (as) did Allah (swt) immediately reveal the order to begin the struggle against the tyrant. This demonstrates the intrinsic link between politics and worship in Islam. Ibn Rajab al Hanbali (rh) states in his Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom: “There is a sound hadith from Abu Ishaq from Silah ibn Zufar from Hudhayfah (rh) that he said: “Islam has eight portions. Islam is a portion, prayer is a portion, zakah is a portion, hajj of the house is a portion, jihad is a portion, fasting Ramadhan is a portion, commanding the good is a portion, forbidding the evil is a portion and whoever has no portion has failed.” Al-Bazaar narrated it as a Marfu’ hadith but it is more authentic to say that it is a Mawquf statement.”
It is well known that there are many similarities between the story of Musa (as) and the seerah of RasulAllah (saw), this would help us to understand why Allah (swt) mentioned and detailed the story of Musa (as) the most in the Quran.
إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ رَسُولًا شَاهِدًا عَلَيْكُمْ كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ رَسُولًا
“Indeed, We have sent to you a Messenger as a witness upon you just as We sent to Pharaoh a Messenger”. [TMQ Al Muzammil: 15]
The intrinsic link between politics and worship is one such area where we find such similarities. It is incorrect to think that Politics was an afterthought to RasulAllah (saw) that only became relevant once the Hijrah occurred. Rather, just like with Musa (as), it was a defining feature from the very beginning.
Indeed the message of Islam sat least comfortably amongst the leaders of Quraysh with many Makki surahs singling them out for dishonour. Whether it was attacking the leaders of Quraysh, highlighting social-political corruption, or promising victory to the Muslims, the Quran provided a framework within which the Sahabah understood the centrality and importance of Islamic politics. The following verses encapsulate this remarkably:
وَلَقَدۡ جَآءَ اٰلَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ النُّذُرُۚ ﴿۴۱﴾ كَذَّبُوۡا بِاٰيٰتِنَا كُلِّهَا فَاَخَذۡنٰهُمۡ اَخۡذَ عَزِيۡزٍ مُّقۡتَدِرٍ ﴿۴۲﴾ اَكُفَّارُكُمۡ خَيۡرٌ مِّنۡ اُولٰٓٮِٕكُمۡ اَمۡ لَكُمۡ بَرَآءَةٌ فِى الزُّبُرِۚ ﴿۴۳﴾ اَمۡ يَقُوۡلُوۡنَ نَحۡنُ جَمِيۡعٌ مُّنۡتَصِرٌ ﴿۴۴﴾ سَيُهۡزَمُ الۡجَمۡعُ وَيُوَلُّوۡنَ الدُّبُرَ ﴿۴۵﴾ بَلِ السَّاعَةُ مَوۡعِدُهُمۡ وَالسَّاعَةُ اَدۡهٰى وَاَمَرُّ
“And there certainly came to the people of Pharaoh warning. They denied Our signs, all of them, so We seized them with a seizure of one Exalted in Might and Perfect in Ability. Are your disbelievers better than those [former ones], or have you immunity in the scripture? Or do they say, “We are an assembly supporting [each other]”? [Their] assembly will be defeated, and they will turn their backs [in retreat]. But the Hour is their appointment [for due punishment], and the Hour is more disastrous and more bitter.” [TMQ Al Qamar: 41-46]
Here we are once again reminded of the similarities in the missions of both Prophets (asws). This time Allah (swt) brings attention to the enemies of each Prophet, i.e. Fir’awn and his establishment and the leaders of Quraysh. Hence Allah (swt) is asking Quraysh: are you disbelievers better than those disbelievers (i.e. the people of Fir’awn)? Stressing that every era will have their unique arguments as to why they oppose the message of Islam; whether it be the Fir’awnic claim to divinity, the Qurayshi custom of following their forefathers, or the western ideology of secularism. The colours may vary, but as far as Allah (swt) is concerned, they are all the same shade of Kufr.
Beyond this, however, we derive an important lesson of the visionary acculturation of the Quran, given these verses were revealed in Makkah. Imam Tabari (rh) narrates in his Tafseer: “when the verse سَيُهۡزَمُ الۡجَمۡعُ وَيُوَلُّوۡنَ الدُّبُرَ (verse 45 above) was sent down, Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) asked, which multitude will be put to flight?! On the day of the battle of Badr, I saw the Prophet moving in his armour and saying, “soon will their multitude be put to flight!” I knew then what was meant by this verse”. In these brief but powerful verses, Allah (swt) was informing the Sahaabah of their imminent victory whilst they were weak and persecuted in Makkah, foretelling and fostering a time of independence, authority and strength.
A Team Effort
Musa (as) recognised the enormity of the task at hand, immediately imploring Allah (swt) to grant him a helper and ally.
وَاجۡعَلْ لِّىۡ وَزِيۡرًا مِّنۡ اَهۡلِىْ ۙ ﴿۲۹﴾ هٰرُوۡنَ اَخِى ۙ ﴿۳۰﴾ اشۡدُدۡ بِهٖۤ اَزۡرِىْ ۙ ﴿۳۱﴾ وَاَشۡرِكۡهُ فِىۡۤ اَمۡرِىْ ۙ ﴿۳۲﴾ كَىۡ نُسَبِّحَكَ كَثِيۡرًا ۙ ﴿۳۳﴾ وَّنَذۡكُرَكَ كَثِيۡرًا ؕ ﴿۳۴﴾ اِنَّكَ كُنۡتَ بِنَا بَصِيۡرًا
“And appoint for me a minister from my family – Aaron, my brother. Increase through him my strength. And let him share my task. That we may exalt You much. And remember You much. Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.” [TMQ Ta Ha: 29-35]
Here we get a true appreciation of the wisdom and humility of Musa (as) who, having just been chosen by the Lord of all creation for such an honourable task, could have allowed arrogance and pride to fill his chest, believing himself to be an unstoppable one-man force. He could have pondered and savoured the fame and glory that would come with the individual accomplishment of such a mission. Instead his motivation was the pleasure of Allah (swt) and his objective: the liberation of his people.
This is the very same attitude we must reflect upon in our quest for delivering this Ummah from her plight. In this individualistic society which celebrates arrogance, pride and material pursuits, working within a group can be a heavy burden upon our Nafs. Regardless, it must be known that the achievement of such a noble mission is impossible without a collective effort. Had it been a task possible for a single man, RasulAllah (saw) would have been the most capable and worthy of fulfilling it, yet we saw the contrary.
RasulAllah (saw) organised the Sahaabah as a single group opposing the tide of Qurayshi society. They would study together, pray side by side and organise their Da’wah collectively. RasulAllah (saw) even made Du’a to strengthen this group through the conversion of specific individuals like Umar ibn al Khattab (ra).
Allah (swt) made the collective effort inseparable from enjoining the good and forbidding the evil when he commanded in the Quran:
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” [TMQ Aale ‘Imran: 104]
The beautiful supplication of Musa (as) sheds some light on the wisdom behind this command: to cultivate brotherhood; to increase our collective strength; to lighten the burden of the task; all of this in order to exalt the name of Allah (swt), making His (swt) name the most high and producing a civilization in which His (swt) remembrance will flourish.
The combination of these pillars of Musa’s (as) struggle with Fir’awn resulted in a highly effective and exemplary model for engaging in a bitter struggle with one of the most infamous tyrants this world has ever seen. The culmination of this struggle brings us back to the scene set in the beginning, when the believers were at the brink of defeat, the pit of despair and the end of the road, or so it appeared. It was only at this point that Allah (swt) chose to grant his believing servants with His victory, this is the Sunnah of Allah (swt).
أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُم مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِن قَبْلِكُم ۖ مَّسَّتْهُمُ الْبَأْسَاءُ وَالضَّرَّاءُ وَزُلْزِلُوا حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ الرَّسُولُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا إِنَّ نَصْرَ اللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] Messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is the help of Allah?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” [TMQ Al Baqarah: 214]
Thus did Allah (swt) grant authority, leadership and inheritance of the Earth to Bani Israel, just as he promised he would grant the same honour to the Ummah of Muhammad (saw).
وَنُرِيۡدُ اَنۡ نَّمُنَّ عَلَى الَّذِيۡنَ اسۡتُضۡعِفُوۡا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ وَنَجۡعَلَهُمۡ اَٮِٕمَّةً وَّنَجۡعَلَهُمُ الۡوٰرِثِيۡنَۙ ﴿۵﴾ وَنُمَكِّنَ لَهُمۡ فِى الۡاَرۡضِ وَنُرِىَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَهَامٰنَ وَجُنُوۡدَهُمَا مِنۡهُمۡ مَّا كَانُوۡا يَحۡذَرُوۡنَ ﴿۶﴾
“And We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors. And establish them in the land and show Pharaoh and [his minister] Haman and their soldiers through them that which they had feared.” [TMQ Al Qasas: 5-6]
So whilst we fast on this momentous day of ‘Ashura, seeking the mercy and forgiveness of Allah (swt), celebrating the victory of Musa (as) and praying for His (swt) imminent victory to be bestowed upon this Ummah, let us not forget that however helpless the international situation may appear, He (swt) is اَلنَّاصِر (The Granter of Help). Notwithstanding, we are still required to play our part by learning, understanding and implementing those actions which are required to work towards the victory.