If we were to apply human laws, Musa AS should not have existed. Set against its historical context, his story should have ended before it began. Yet, in the face of the impossible, he did exist, and he grew up to be one of the Ulul Azm, the mightiest five Messengers and Prophets, simply because Allah ordained it so.
His life account is widely reported in the Qur’an and is contained in almost fifty chapters, mainly in Surat Ta Ha, Al Qasas, Fussilat and Al A’raf. His life is an example of divine destiny, defying all the odds, and illustrating how the plot, plan and grand design of Allah SWT are beyond any human challenge or resistance. The account of his life will show us the triumph of faith in God over all adversities. We should take inspiration from all its twists and turns, because nothing of the tribulations in our lives will ever match his life story.
Let us first understand the background of the society that Musa AS was sent down to. By ancestry, Musa AS was the son of Imran bin Qahath, who was in turn one of the direct descendants of Yaqub AS, himself the grandson of Ibrahim AS. Yaqub AS was also known as Israel, and from the story of Yusuf AS, we are informed that Yaqub AS had twelve sons, who, together with their descendants, would be referred to in history as Bani Israel or the sons of Yaqub AS.
Before his death Yaqub AS asked his sons whom they would worship after he died. His sons affirmed their belief in the Oneness of the Creator, and vowed that they were Muslims and would worship the Lord of Ibrahim AS.
When Bani Israel stayed in Egypt, they used to study the scriptures, and one of these prophesised that one of the sons of Bani Israel will cause the downfall of the Egyptian kingdom. In parallel, we should also recall that generations previously, when Ibrahim AS and his wife Sara travelled through Egypt, the king of Egypt at that time attempted to violate Sara. However, a result of her piety, Allah not only protected her from harm, but also ordained that one of her progeny be the cause of the destruction of the Egyptian empire.
As time elapsed, this prophecy of Bani Israel became subsumed in legend, passing down from one generation to the next.
Over the years, Firaun or Pharaoh came into being and ruled Egypt. He was one of the mightiest rulers in history, and his civilisation was so technologically advanced that that we are still unable to understand or even replicate much of it today. However, he was also the most tyrannical and oppressive leader in history. Power made him exceedingly arrogant, and he expressed himself to be the lord of creation. He, together with his ministers, Qarun and Haman, ruled the land with an iron fist.
The prophecy of Bani Israel inevitably reached Pharaoh’s ears through his council of advisors. Pharaoh was greatly disconcerted by these predictions, and as a precaution, ordered that all the pregnant women of Bani Israel be strictly observed and monitored. No woman delivered a baby boy without the wide network of the Pharaoh’s army knowing about it, and these newborns were immediately annihilated in a cold blooded and systematic infanticide. As for the rest of Bani Israel, the women were spared, but the whole population was brutally exploited, forced to live the life of subservience, being permitted to take up only the lowest professions and most menial tasks.
Allah mentions in Surah Al Qasas that: 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. (Qur’an 28:2)
The routine killings of the male population proved to be unsustainable, and before long, it adversely impacted the economic and social structure of Egypt. There was a shortage of manpower and the rest of the Egyptian society refused to perform the lowly tasks which were customarily assigned to the men of Bani Israel. Hence, at the advice of his ministers, Pharaoh ordered what he thought was a feasible solution – that the newborn males of Bani Israel were only to be slaughtered on alternate years, to facilitate a controlled increase in the population of the male workforce.
THE PIOUS MOTHER
During one of the years of pardon in which boys were permitted to live, Harun AS, the older brother of Musa AS was born. However, Musa AS was born on the year that the male infants were to be killed. Therefore, according to all the law of the land, Musa AS should have been killed. However, Musa’s AS life demonstrates the journey of faith in Allah, and the power of predestination above all human planning.
It is said that the signs of pregnancy did not even show on Musa’s AS mother when she carried him. Hence, with all the soldiers on the lookout for pregnant women, she went completely unnoticed. The birth was discreet, but when he was born, she knew that if he was discovered, death was unavoidable. The situation was precarious – the smallest sound of the crying infant would bring the soldiers upon them and they would kill Musa AS before her very eyes. How was a mother, still tender from the strain of childbirth, and already under months of severe emotional pressure of the concealed pregnancy, to endure the horror?
Let us see what Allah revealed in her heart, through a divine inspiration (which is not to be confused with revelation – the latter is only reserved for Prophets and Messengers). Surah Al Qasas says that:
“And We inspired to the mother of Musa, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers.’” (Qur’an 28:7)
In these short sentences, came instructions, commands, reassurance, comfort, advice and glad tidings.
Now try to visualise yourself in the mother’s shoes. She feared for his life, and the improbable solution to hurl him into the river would have run against any maternal instincts. What were the odds of his survival in its swirling waters? How can a river, which only flows in one direction, bring him back to her? How could she not feel ripped apart by the hopelessness of the situation?
Yet, what viable alternative did she have but to obey Allah’s commandment if she wanted her son to live?
With a heart steadfast and full of trust in Allah’s promise, she suckled him and then placed Musa AS into a basket. As instructed, she then flung him into the swift currents of the Nile, but she asked her daughter, his older sister, to secretly keep track of his whereabouts.
Here, it is to be noted, that a river, like all creations of Allah, is a slave of Allah. Not a drop of its rushing waters could move without Allah willing it so. By Allah’s command, the currents navigated the baby to safety, and lodged the basket and its precious content by the riverbank. Again, Allah’s plan was in motion, and the basket was dispatched to the most unlikely place – by the palace of Pharaoh!
And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners. (Qur’an 28:8)
By some reports, the basket was spotted by Asiah AS, the wife of Pharaoh, and by others, the basket was discovered by the slaves close to the river bank, who, having no authority to open the basket, presented it to their queen. The moment Asiah AS laid eyes on the baby, Allah placed in her heart a love of this little boy, a kind of love of goodness that can only originate from Allah. At the same time, Pharaoh was approaching and commanded that the baby be killed, but his queen persuaded him otherwise.
And the wife of Pharaoh said, “[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not. (Qur’an 28:9)
She was correct, the presence of the baby altered the course of her life. Years later, she would come to embrace Islam, and through this baby that she had rescued, she would be led to her palace in Paradise.
Hence the biggest irony: the tyrant king who had heartlessly commanded for all newborn boys to be murdered, was unwittingly the one who would raise the very person whose existence he tried to prevent. Thus adopted, Musa grew up under the wing of Pharaoh and lived in the comfort of his palace until he reached adulthood. As stated in the Qur’an, they were to be mutual enemies, but until then, it was written by Allah that Pharaoh was to take care of Musa AS.
REUNITED AT LAST
Meanwhile, the heart of Musa’s AS mother was void but for the thoughts of him; she was distressed and worried about his fate. She would have reached breaking point and blurted the secret of his identity had Allah not placed steadfastness and faith in her heart.
Allah in His infinite wisdom prevented Musa AS from suckling all the wet nurses presented to him at the palace. He refused to eat or drink, and eventually, the situation became critical. They sent the hungry baby, under the care of a group of midwives and other women, to the market in order to seek someone who could be hired to feed him. His sister, without revealing her true identity, offered to introduce them to a woman who could breastfeed him. She led the entourage to her house, and once reunited with his birth mother, Musa AS immediately started suckling, much to everyone’s relief.
A messenger was sent to Asiah AS to relay the happy news. Not knowing the true identity of Musa’s AS mother, she offered for her to live in her palace in order to continue suckling the child, but Musa’s AS mother declined, explaining that she had a husband, children and other obligations at home to attend to. So, a deal was struck, where they mutually agreed for Musa AS to be dropped off at her home every day to suckle, and moreover, that she was to be given a grant to cover all her expenses. Again, what a strange turn of events, that the Pharaoh who had set out to kill him ended up paying for his upkeep and that of his family!
As Allah had promised: So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know. (Qur’an 28:13)
The very circumstances of Musa’s AS birth is the epitome of the journey of faith in Allah. It shows that if one relies and has faith in Allah, Allah can take any situation and make it work in his favour. The wisdom of Allah is above our limited wisdom. For example, to us a river denotes drowning and peril, while in the case of Musa AS, it became a passage of transportation to lead him peacefully to safety.
This is what we have to learn, that the only owner of destiny is Allah. The calamities that occur in life are designed to test our faith, on whether we believe in the condition, or whether our faith lies in the Owner of the condition. If we overlook the mirage of the condition, the Owner of the condition will take care of us, for all situations were created and generated by Him. This is why when we are met with calamities, one of our responses should be “innalillahi inna ilaihi rajiun” – loosely meaning, from Allah we come and to Allah we will return. However, we cannot dwell on our calamities, and instead, we should place our complete faith and trust in Allah SWT.
The story of Musa AS reinforces a major point about qadr, fate or destiny. It shows us the wisdom of Allah, and that what He has written will never be changed. Such stories are to be listened to by the heart, not just with the eyes and mental faculties. The story teaches us to recognise that the plan of Allah is above all else. The very life of Musa AS is in itself the journey of faith, and we shall see from beginning to end, is a journey against all rules and conventions. The underlying message is simple, all we need to get by in life is to have faith in Allah.
THE KILLING AND THE ESCAPE
Musa AS stayed in the palace of the Pharaoh until “he reached his full age and was firmly established” (Qur’an 28:14), which according to many scholars, meant that he stayed there until he was approximately forty years old.
One afternoon, he was walking in the city when he witnessed a fight between a man from his own people, and another from his enemy, an Egyptian Copt. The man from Bani Israel pleaded for Musa AS to help, and the latter responded by striking the Egyptian Copt with his fist. However, this blow was so forceful that the man died, such was Musa’s AS strength. This death blow was unintentional, and Musa AS prayed “O My Lord! I have wronged myself, so please forgive me.” (Qur’an 28:16) Allah forgave him. He said, “My Lord, for the favour You bestowed upon me, I will never be an assistant to the criminals.” (Qur’an 28:17)
He feared exposure for his crime and was walking in the city when suddenly he saw that the man who sought his help the previous day was in a fight with another Egyptian man. He cried out to Musa AS again for help. Musa AS said to him, “Indeed, you are an evident, [persistent] deviator.” He was about to hit the Egyptian when the man said: “O Musa, do you intend to kill me as you killed someone yesterday? You only want to be a tyrant in the land and do not want to be of the amenders.” (Qur’an 28:19)
This stinging statement made Musa AS stop in his tracks. It was evident that the news of his alleged crime had spread throughout town. According to the Qur’an:“And a man came from the farthest end of the city, running. He said, ‘O Musa, indeed the eminent ones are conferring over you [intending] to kill you, so leave [the city]; indeed, I am to you of the sincere advisors.’” (Qur’an 28:20)
This messenger provided the dreaded confirmation that the news had reached Pharaoh, and an army of Pharaoh’s police had already been deployed to capture Musa AS.
With Pharaoh’s net closing in around him, Musa’s AS only option was to leave the city. Thus his stay at the palace came to an abrupt end. So he left it, fearful and anticipating [apprehension]. He said, “My Lord, save me from the wrongdoing people.” (Qur’an 28:21) With just the clothes on his back, he fled and headed to Madyan, where he stayed in exile for over a decade.