Doctrines > Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue   (10)

 

The magicians vs. Pharaoh

We are still with Moses’ story. This time, it is the turn of the magicians, whom Pharaoh mobilized from all over his kingdom to counter the Divine miracle Moses (a.s.) had earlier promised to demonstrate as a proof of the veracity of his prophecy. For his part of the deal, Pharaoh promised to reward the magicians, should they triumph over Moses (a.s.). The magicians showed their wizardry. Moses (a.s.) threw in his staff, which turned into a serpent, devouring all the trickery the magicians had demonstrated. Having realized that what Moses (a.s.) did was not in his power, but a miracle from God, they defected to his side in a sincere and true conversion. Pharaoh was seething with anger, as he suspected that what the magicians did was a conspiracy they had hatched in collaboration with Moses (a.s.).

Consequently, he did not want to admit that the magicians’ conversion to the cause of belief was a genuine one. This, of course, is symptomatic of all tyrants who cannot prove their case with strong evidence, and who choose not to comprehend that popular response to, and support for, the forces of change that stem from the strength of feeling for change and aspiration to throwing off the yoke of subjugation. Failing that, those despots seem to attribute rebellion against them to what they perceive as scheming by their enemies.

In a bid to intimidate the magicians, Pharaoh resorted to psychological warfare, threatening them with punishment – chopping off their limbs and executing them – to coerce them into changing their minds. The magicians had already resolved the issue. They were not going to budge in the least. Their position was an honorable one, demonstrating clearly what standing firm in faith against what the forces of unbelief and tyranny can do.

The following verses tell the tale of the magicians’ debate with Pharaoh, and how they first agreed to contest Moses’ claim in return for Pharaoh’s promised material reward, and how the outcome turned out to be a conversion to Moses’ cause:

So there came the sorcerers to Pharaoh: They said, “Of course we shall have a (suitable) reward if we win!” He said: “Yea, (and more) for ye shall in that case be (raised to posts) nearest (to my person).” They said: “O Moses! Wilt thou throw (first), or shall we have the (first) throw?” Said Moses: “Throw ye (first).” So when they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them: for they showed a great (feat of) magic. We put it into Moses’ mind by inspiration: “Throw (now) thy rod”: and behold! It swallows up straight away all the falsehoods that they fake! Thus truth was confirmed, and all that they did was made of no effect. So the (great ones) were vanquished there and then, and were made to look small. But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration, saying: “We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, The Lord of Moses and Aaron.” Said Pharaoh: “Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick that ye have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall ye know (the consequences). Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross.” They said: “For us, We are but sent back unto our Lord: But thou dost wreak thy vengeance on us simply because we believed in the Signs of our Lord when they reached us! Our Lord! Pour out on us patience and constancy, and take our souls unto thee as Muslims (who bow to thy will)!” (7: 113–26)

A bloody conflict

The Holy Quran put us in a different atmosphere with this dialogue, which the previous verses did not touch, thus:

So the magicians were thrown down in prostration: they said, “We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses”. (Pharaoh) said: “Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic! Be sure I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall ye know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment!” They said: “Never shall we regard thee as more than the Clear Signs that have come to us, or than Him Who created us! So decree whatever thou desires to decree: for thou canst only decree (touching) the life of this world. For us, we have believed in our Lord: may He forgive us our faults, and the magic to which thou didst compel us: for God is Best and Most Abiding. Verily he who comes to his Lord as a sinner (at Judgment), for him is Hell: therein shall he neither die nor live. But such as come to Him as Believers who have worked righteous deeds, for them are ranks exalted, Gardens of Eternity, beneath which flow rivers: they will dwell therein for aye: such is the reward of those who purify themselves (from evil).” (20: 70–76)

Pharaoh did not want them to embrace what Moses brought without his permission, as though the process of accepting the faith required his assent, as had been the case with any other activity of life.

This is true of all tyrants at all time and in any place. They always want to overbear on people, even in the way they think because they do not want them to ponder anything else, only regurgitate, instead, what they dish out to them. They do not want them to believe in anything apart from what they want them to follow. Thinking is banned and believing in the Divine is forbidden, except with the seal of approval of the authorities, which seem to have control over the people’s bodies as well as their minds.

In an attempt to ameliorate the shock and embarrassment he suffered, for what had happened constituted a blot on his rule, especially the fact that the rebels were among his close circle of followers, Pharaoh tried to play down the significance of the magicians’ defection. He tried to portray the situation as though their conversion was not a real challenge against his authority; rather, it was a joint conspiracy between the magicians and Moses (a.s.) as, according to Pharaoh’s words, he was their master who taught them the art of sorcery. Thus, they rallied to their masters’ support to announce him the winner over Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s threat to the magicians did not bear fruit, i.e. in making them reconsider their position. They did not yield to Pharaoh’s fuming shouts, telling him to his face: We are not going to give you preference over the evidence of the truth we have seen, come what may. Do whatever you want to do with us. Should you decide to kill us, it would not bother us the least, because we would achieve martyrdom in the way of God, for upholding His word. And you, however, are nothing but a mortal; you can neither protect yourself, nor anyone else. By contrast, God is Everlasting and He is the only guarantee, because He is the Owner of everything, including you. Thus, His is the best reward over everything in this world.

That was a great stand of holding fast to belief in adversity. It is an example of the standoff between the forces of unbelief and tyranny on one side and the forces of the truth and belief on the opposite side.

At this juncture, we feel a great need to reflect on such a stance against the tyrants and their threats. They are attempting to gag Islamic thought, which they do not want people to consider as a source of inspiration except only as far as they determine applicable, i.e. where their interests are served. They want it to be an agreeable façade behind which depraved and wrong practices can be hidden.

Those great examples in the history of the prophetic missions put forward this Quranic slogan in practice: “Whatever ye are given (here) is (but) a convenience of this life: but that which is with Allah is better and more lasting: (it is) for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord” (42: 36).