History of the Prophets
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
Moses is the most frequently mentioned of all the prophets spoken of in the Holy Quran, and the details of his life are dwelt upon to a much greater extent than the details of any other prophet’s life. He is, moreover, the prophet to whom reference is made earliest in the Holy Book, in the chapter entitled al-Muzzammil, which stands third in the chronological order. The reason for giving so much importance to his history is also mentioned in this verse.
“Surely We have sent to you a Messenger, a witness against you, as We sent a messenger to Pharaoh.” (The Holy Quran, 73:15)
This verse points out the likeness of the Holy Prophet Muhammad to Moses, a likeness which Moses himself had pointed out in Deuteronomy (18:15, 18):
“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken…. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put My words in his mouth.”
We are told twice that the promised prophet, the like of Moses, shall appear from among
The people addressed here are the Israelites, and, therefore,
could only mean the Ishmaelites. And actually no Israelite prophet ever claimed to be the like of Moses. Up to the time of Jesus Christ we find the Israelites still awaiting the advent of the promised
of Moses, for John the Baptist was asked if he was Christ or Elias or that Prophet (Revised Version, the Prophet), the reference in the margin being given to Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. Nor did Jesus Christ ever say that he was the like of Moses, and his apostles still awaited the fulfilment of that prophecy after Jesus’ crucifixion:
“For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise unto you of your brethren like unto me” (Acts 3:22).
It was only the revelation of the Holy Prophet, and it was one of the earliest, which pointed out the fulfilment of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 in the advent of a prophet like Moses. This claim is made plainer still in a later revelation:
“Have you considered if it is from Allah, and you disbelieve in it, and a witness from among the children of Israel has borne witness of one like him.” (The Holy Quran, 46:10)
The history of Moses begins with a revelation to his mother to cast the child into the river, where he is picked up by Pharaoh’s people (The Holy Quran, 20:38,3 9; 28:7, 8), and brought up by Pharaoh (The Holy Quran, 26:18). When grown up, he finds one day an Israelite being oppressed by an Egyptian and strikes the Egyptian with his fist in order to save the Israelite. The Egyptian is accidentally killed, and Moses, on being informed that he cannot expect any justice from the authorities, flies to Midian (The Holy Quran, 28:14–21). There he meets Jethro, marries his daughter, and after ten years goes back to Egypt (The Holy Quran, 28:22–29). On his way back, he is called to the office of a prophet (The Holy Quran, 19:52; 20:11–14; 27:8, 9; 28:30; 79:15, 16), and sees in a visionary state that his staff has become a serpent and his hand is white (The Holy Quran, 20:17–23; 27:10–12; 28:31, 32). He is commanded to go to Pharaoh and to demand the deliverance of the Israelites (The Holy Quran, 7:103–105; 20:46–48; 26:15–17; 44:18). He asks for a helper, Aaron his brother (The Holy Quran, 20:25–35; 26:12–14; 28:33, 34). Pharaoh has a discussion with him (The Holy Quran, 20:47–55; 26:18–31). A secret believer from among Pharaoh’s people argues on behalf of Moses (The Holy Quran, 40:28–45). Pharaoh demands signs, and the two signs of the staff and the hand are shown (The Holy Quran, 7:106–108; 26:32, 33; 79:20). Pharaoh calls to his aid the enchanters, whose tricks do not avail aught against Moses (The Holy Quran, 7:113–126; 10:80–82; 20:60–73; 26:38–51), and they believe in him (The Holy Quran, 7:120,121; 20:70; 26:46–48). Moses then shows other signs (The Holy Quran, 7:130, 133), nine in all (The Holy Quran, 17:101). Every time that distress befalls Pharaoh he requests Moses to pray for its removal, promising to believe when it was removed, but fails to keep his promise (The Holy Quran, 7:134, 135; 43:49, 50). Moses exhorts his people to patience and prayer (The Holy Quran, 7:128; 10:84). He is ultimately commanded to leave Egypt and crosses the sea, while Pharaoh and his hosts are drowned (The Holy Quran, 2:50; 7:136; 10:90; 20:78; 26:52–66). He then retires to the mountain for forty days to receive the law (The Holy Quran, 2:51; 7:142–145; 20:83, 84), and the Israelite leaders with him demand that God should be shown to them manifestly (The Holy Quran, 2:55). Moses prays to God that He may show Himself to him (The Holy Quran, 7:143). A severe earthquake overtakes Moses and his companions (The Holy Quran, 7:143, 155), and they fall down in a state of swoon. Moses recovers (The Holy Quran, 7:143) and prays for his companions (The Holy Quran, 7:155), who are restored to their senses (The Holy Quran, 2:55, 56). Moses is given the Torah (The Holy Quran, 7:142–145), the book being revealed to him as books were revealed to other prophets (The Holy Quran, 2:53; 6:91). On his return, he finds people worshipping the image of calf which they had made in his absence under the directions of one called Samiri (The Holy Quran, 2:51; 7:150; 20:86–90). Aaron had warned them of their error before the coming of Moses, but they did not give it up (The Holy Quran, 20:90, 91). The image is burned and the ashes are scattered in the sea (The Holy Quran, 20:97). Moses orders his people to slaughter a cow which they were unwilling to do and obeyed the order after much quibbling (The Holy Quran, 2:67–71). His own people make false imputations against him (The Holy Quran, 33:69; 61:5). He asks his people to march on the Holy Land but they refuse and are made to wander in the wilderness for forty years (The Holy Quran, 5:21–26).
I have given some of the more important details of Moses’ life. Many other details are met with which the reader can see for himself. It would be noted that there are here some very important differences with the Bible narrative; for instance, Moses is not shown to be guilty of the murder of the Egyptian, his death being only accidental. According to the Bible, Moses received the Torah in the form of tablets written by the hand of God, and the writing was writing of God,
“graven upon the tablets.” (Exodus 32:16)
According to the Holy Quran, the Torah was revealed to Moses in the same manner as books were revealed to other prophets and as the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad:
“Who revealed the Book which Moses brought?” (The Holy Quran, 6:91);
“We have revealed to thee as We sent revelation to Noah and the prophets after him … and to Moses Allah addressed His word, speaking (to him)” (The Holy Quran, 4:163, 164).
Again, according to the Bible, Moses in his anger broke the tablets on which the word of God was written (Exodus 32:19), and Exodus 34:1 describes how they were renewed, but the Quran says that he only put them down and took them up again when his anger calmed (The Holy Quran, 7:150,154).
The importance attached to Moses’ life-story is due to the fact of his likeness with the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Moses was both a law giver and a nation-builder, and so was the Holy Prophet Muhammad to be. These two characteristics are not to be met with in any other Israelite prophet, and it would be seen that the details given above, as well as the other details met with about Moses in the Holy Quran, relate to one or other of these two characteristics, more to the latter than to the former. But in both these capacities, as a law-giver and as a nation-builder, the Holy Prophet Muhammad had to work on an immensely wider scale than Moses. The law of Moses was meant for a particular race, the Israelites, and even among them prophets appeared after Moses to meet the new needs and to effect the necessary alterations and abrogations; but the law given to the Holy Prophet Muhammad was meant for the whole human race and was made perfect, as he was the prophet for all nations and all times, no prophet appearing after him. This difference is repeatedly brought out in the Holy Quran; the following quotations serve only as an example:
“And We indeed gave to Moses the book and We made it a guide for the Children of Israel.” (The Holy Quran, 32:23)
“Blessed is He Who sent down the Discrimination upon His servant that he might be a warner to the nations.” (The Holy Quran, 25:1)
“And it is naught but a Reminder for the nations.” (The Holy Quran, 68:52)
“This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favour to you.” (The Holy Quran, 5:3)
But though the law is made perfect in the Holy Quran and no prophet appears after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, yet to meet new needs door is always open to work out the principles enunciated in the Holy Book and to deduce new laws from them to meet the requirements of the times.
As a nation-builder, the work of Moses occupies a very prominent place in his own life-story as well as in the history of the world. It was the very first message with which he was entrusted:
“Go ye both to Pharaoh and say, We are the messengers of the Lord of the worlds. Send with us the children of Israel” (The Holy Quran, 26:16, 17).
The law was given to him long afterwards. And the work was no doubt one of the greatest difficulty for the Israelites had been in a state of slavery to the Pharaohs of Egypt for about four centuries. But great and important as Moses’ work was, it was very limited in comparison to the work with which the Holy Prophet Muhammad was entrusted. He had to build a nation on quite a new principle, a nation not united by any ties of blood, race, colour, or country, but united by a moral and spiritual outlook, united by a belief in the Unity of God and His All-pervading Lordship. Such was to be the Muslim nation in which the Arab and the non-Arab, the white and the black, the Semitic and the Aryan, were all to be on one level. The whole world was the country and the whole of humanity the race out of which this nation was to be formed. With this apparently impossible task the Prophet was entrusted, and single-handed in the face of all difficulties, he built up the foundations of the new nation within the short period of twenty years. An accomplishment like this cannot be placed to the credit of any other man in the history of the world.