In the stories of the prophets in the Quran which are meant to emphasise the divine message of monotheism there are two stories narrated in Chapters 40 and 36 in which Allah shows how He facilitates the work of the prophets with faithful people who are not prophets themselves but assist in the propagation of the divine message to others. In the two dialogues which illustrate this point, the believing men provide a convincing account of why their people should believe in the one true God (Allah) and forsake idol worship which neither protects them nor provides any gains.
One detailed dialogue is presented in the story of Prophet Moses, the Pharaoh and a believing man in Surah Ghaafir, also known as Surah Momin (Chapter 40). The other, which is comparatively a short dialogue is presented in the story of three messengers, the unbelievers and a believing man in Surah Yaseen (Chapter 36).
In the first story the believing man is saved from the punishment in this world and the Hereafter. He was let go by the Pharaoh because he was from the same tribe as the Pharaoh – a Coptic and an Egyptian and was Pharaoh’s cousin from the king’s father side. In the second story the believing man was punished by the elders of his nation who stamped on him and crushed his intestines until he died. As soon as his soul departed this world he was granted entry into Paradise by Allah. The message of the two dialogues is that there is no other god except the one Glorious God and that it is not just the work of the prophets to spread the word of God to the people but it is also the responsibility of the believers to support the message of the prophets with wisdom, knowledge and the best manner that is pleasing but firmly conveyed.
After receiving the commandment of Allah on Mount Sinai, Prophet Moses came to the court of the Pharaoh with “clear signs and a manifest authority” (40:23). The court was filled with Pharaoh’s advisers, elites and ordinary people who had known Moses from his days in Pharaoh’s palace. Few in Pharaoh’s court had even secretly accepted the message Moses brought from the mountain; that is belief in one true God instead of the false deities the Egyptians and the Canaanites had come to worship after the death of Prophet Joseph. But the Pharaoh and his key advisers, Hamaan and Korah felt threatened from the message of Moses and they accused Moses of being a “sorcerer and a liar!” (40:24). At the heart of their defiance was the fear that Moses wanted to turn their population against them, take away their land and power and change their way of life which they were proud of.
The people of Egypt had seen the hollowness of Pharaoh’s claim to be a god, notwithstanding the fact that their religion allowed taking strong men from Egyptian and Canaanite mythology and history as gods. Even before the birth of Moses the Coptic soothsayers had warned the Pharaoh that a son will be born in the House of Israel who will challenge his throne. The Pharaoh was scared. He ordered to kill the male children (sons) of the Israelites but spare the women. This was the worse form of genocide which would erase Israeli race because their women would only bear Egyptian children. But the way of the Lord is far superior to the thinking of mortal men even if they defy the Lord and falsely claim to be gods as did the Pharaoh. Readers are aware how despite this systematic ethnic cleansing, Moses survived childhood with the Will of Allah and grew up in Pharaoh’s palace under his very care. Now that Moses had come back to Egypt after receiving his training and clear signs as a prophet, he became a real threat to the Pharaoh. Therefore, for the second time the Pharaoh ordered that anyone who believed in the message of Moses shall be meted out the same fate as was ordained earlier for the Israelis, i.e. their male child will be killed as a punishment for believing in the message of Moses. But Allah knows that “the plots of unbelievers always end in vain.” (40:25).
The Pharaoh went a step further and threatened to kill Moses saying “let him invoke his God to save himself. The dialogue starts at the point when the Pharaoh said to those attending his court that it was necessary to kill Moses because he feared that Moses may change their way of life or cause mischief in the land (40:26). Moses replied: “I seek refuge in Him who is my Lord as well as your Lord from every arrogant man or woman who does not believe in the Day of Reckoning.” (40:27).
At this point when everyone in the court of Pharaoh is quiet, a believing man stands up and delivers a calm speech. He tells the Pharaoh that although he is king it is not right to kill someone just because of his faith in one God. This believing man is not from another tribe. He is from the Pharaoh’s family. He is a believer in one God as preached by Moses but he has kept his faith private. He asks the Pharaoh “Would you kill a man because he says: My Lord is Allah, and he has come to you with clear signs from your Lord? And if he is a liar, upon him will be the burden of his lie; but if he is telling the truth, then some of that calamity wherewith he threatens you will befall on you. ….” (40:28).
The Pharaoh is not convinced despite seeing the clear signs because “Allah does not guide a transgressor to the right path’. (40:28).
The believing man then turns to the Pharaoh’s advisers and those present in the court and recognises that they enjoy power and prestige in the kingdom and that they are supreme in the land. But if Allah’s chastisement were to fall upon them for disobeying Him, no one would come to their help”.
The Pharaoh fears that the believing man might convince his advisers that Moses was right so he quickly interrupts the believing man and says: “I only counsel what I consider right; I only direct you to the right path” (40:29).
The believing man sees that the Pharaoh is trying to brainwash the audience therefore the believing man goes on to address the same theme. He cautions them: “my people verily, I fear that you might confront a day of disaster that overtook many people before you.” (40:30). It would be a day that overtook the people of Noah and Aad and Thamud, and those who came after them. Allah does not wish to subject His servants to any injustice”. (40:31). My people I fear that you will encounter a day when there will be much wailing and you will cry out to one another for help”. (40:32). It will be a day you will turn around to retreat but there will be none to protect you from Allah. He whom Allah lets go astray, none will be able to show him the right way”. (40:33).
The believing man further says: verily Joseph came to you with clear signs before, yet you continued to doubt his message. Prophet Joseph had said that there will be a prophet after him who will come with a clear sign. This was an affirmation of Moses but the Egyptians and Canaanites were confused and instead said: “Allah shall send no messenger after Joseph. “Thus Allah leads astray those who transgress the limits and are given to much doubting (40:34). “Those who dispute in Allah’s signs without any evidence that may have come to them to support their position are exceedingly loathsome to Allah and to the believers. Thus Allah seals the hearts of everyone who is proud and high handed (40:35). The Pharaoh and his advisers are intoxicated with a false sense of pride and power.
When the Pharaoh runs out of argument he tries to change the goalpost and shuts up the believing man. He shouts: “O Hamaan! Build me a tower that I may scale the highways – the highways of the heavens and have a look at the God of Moses, although I am certain that Moses is a liar (40: 36-37).
The Pharaoh sees his evil taunting as a fair proposition. He says build me a ladder to reach Moses’s God up in the heavens. But in fact Allah makes this evil deed look attractive to him, and he is barred from the right path. Pharaoh’s guile only leads him to his destruction. ((40:37).
The believing man who is endowed with faith says: “O my people, follow me; I shall direct you to the right path.” (40: 38). “My people the life of this world is temporary, whereas the Hereafter is your true permanent abode”. (40;39).
Continuing his speech, the believing man says; “Whosoever does an evil deed will be requited only with the like of it: and whosoever acts righteously and has attained to faith, be he a male or female shall enter Paradise and shall be provided sustenance beyond all reckoning”. (40:40).
“My people how is it that I invite you to salvation and you call me to the fire”. (40:41). “You call me to deny Allah and to associate with Him partners regarding whom I have no knowledge that they are Allah’s partners in divinity, whereas I call you to the mighty and the most forgiving”. (40:42). “There is no doubt that those whom you call me to, have no claim to be called upon in this world and in the Hereafter. Certainly to Allah shall be our return, and those who exceed the limits are destined to the hell fire”. (40:43). Soon you shall remember what I say to you. I entrust my affairs to Allah. Surely Allah is watchful over His servants.” (40:44).
“Eventually Allah saves the person endowed with faith from all the evils of their guile, and a woeful punishment encompasses the nation of the Pharaoh.” (40:45). “They are exposed to the fire every morning and evening; and when the last hour will come to pass, a command shall be given: Admit the nation of Pharaoh to an even more severe punishment.” (40:46).
The believing man was a trusted member of the Pharaoh’s cabinet. But because his heart was filled with the light of faith, he did not keep quiet and spoke his mind candidly without fearing the consequence of supporting the message of Moses. He knew the art of making a presentation wisely. He challenged the Pharaoh and surprised him with his logic. He built his argument with reasoning and kept demolishing the claim that the Pharaoh was on the right path. He gave examples of the power of Allah to guide and misguide, punish or let go whomsoever He pleases. Indeed, it is Allah who if He lets someone go astray, no one is able to show him the right way. And this is exactly what Pharaoh exemplified. He was blinded by power and pride.
In the end the Pharaoh is muted by the believing man who continues to glorify Allah and urges the people to accept the message of Moses. The theme of his speech is to challenge the polytheism of the Egyptians and Canaanites who had ten major idols representing light, fertility, water, fire etc. The Pharaoh had stripped the authority of the priests to interpret the religion for the people and declared himself to be a god on earth. The mission of Moses was to re-establish the kingdom of God (Yaweh) and bring back the monotheistic religion which Joseph, Jacob, Abraham Noah and other prophets before him had taught and practiced.
The second dialogue is narrated in Surah Yaseen (Chapter 36). It occurred in a town most probably Antioch (Antakya) which was then under the rule of King Antiochus who was an idol worshipper. Allah sent two messengers to this town to educate the people about monotheism and advise them to stop worshipping man-made idols who had no power to prevent disasters or benefit mankind. These messengers were then reinforced by a third messenger to fulfil their mission because the people of this town were cruel and did not pay heed to the divine message these messengers had brought to them. Commentators have offered different interpretations about who sent these messengers to this town. One interpretation is these three men were Prophets whom Allah had sent but did not name them like he has not named other Prophets in the Quran except those we know from the holy Scripture. The second interpretation is that these were messengers sent by Prophet Jesus to the town with the message from Torah. However, the contents of the dialogue between the messengers and the people and the believing man and the people suggest that these messengers were in fact prophets. Allah knows best.
The famous historian Ibn Ishaq mentions that these messengers were Sadiq, Sadeeq and Shulam. Another historian has stated that their names were Sham’un, Yuhanna and Bulus. In the Quran neither their names are mentioned nor the name of the city is identified because the object of the dialogue is not to get distracted by the detail but remain focused on the message which is monotheism. Allah has taken no partners and has not allowed to shares power with Him in His divine sovereignty.
In this story there are two sets of dialogues. One dialogue is between the three messengers and the people of the town. The second dialogue starts when the people of the town have belied the messengers and finally resolved to kill them. The second dialogue in this story takes place between a believing man and the people of the town and ends with the same fate for him as agreed by these cruel people for the messengers.
The two messengers and subsequently a third messenger came to this town to challenge idol worship and remind the people that these false gods whom they worshipped had no power over their affairs. The real power was with the one true God. The people of the town ridiculed their message and came up with the idea of challenging their authority. It was a clever way to skirt the issue and avoid a discussion about their false gods altogether. They said to the messengers you are but humans like us. Why did you, and not someone super human bring the divine message. “Lord Almighty has not sent you. You are but liars.” (36:15). “The messengers said our Lord knows that undoubtedly we have been sent to you”. (36:16) “And on us is not but clear deliverance”. (36:17). The people of the town said: “We suspect you are a bad omen and if you do not desist from your ways, we shall stone you and give you a painful chastisement”. (36:18). The messengers replied that the bad omen is but with you people. Do you consider good counsel as a sign of bad luck? Indeed, you are a people who exceed the limit.” (36:19). The limits these people had exceeded was that they had resolved to kill the messengers by regarding them as a sign of bad luck.
At this point there came running from the far end of the town a man who said
“O my people, follow these messengers”. (36;20). They are not demanding any reward from you for their service and they are indeed on the right course”. (36:21). Ibn Ishaq has reported that the name of this man was Habib. Some historians have stated that his name was Habib An-Najjar. He lived in the lepers’ corner of the town and worked with ropes. He was a very kind man. Continuing, this believing man said to the people: “And what is to me that I should not worship Him Who created me and you will also return only to Him”. (36:22). “Shall I take, besides Allah other gods that if the Lord Almighty intends any harm, their intercession shall not be of any use to me, nor would they be able to save me?” (36;23). If I do this, “undoubtedly then I am in a clear error”. (36:24). After firmly establishing the argument that whether or not these people acknowledge their one and only creator, His existence cannot be denied, he said: “Undoubtedly I believe in the Lord of all of you, so listen to me”. (36:25).
The people of the town were outraged that an ordinary man from their own town was saying the same thing that the messengers they were disputing were saying. They assaulted him badly and killed him by standing on his belly until such time his intestines came out of his body and his soul departed. Allah gave good tidings to this man. “It was said to him, enter the Paradise”. (36:26). Upon seeing the Paradise, the dying man called out: “Only if my people knew that “my Lord has forgiven me and has made me among the honoured ones”. (36:27).
After the brutal murder of the believing man by the town’s people Allah, decided their fate which was to meet a severe calamity. There was no need to send a force against these people to punish them. For Allah, a single explosion was enough to raze them to the ground. “And We sent not against his people after him any army from the heaven and nor are We ever to send down there any army.” (36:28). “It was but only a loud shriek, hence they were all extinguished.” (36:29). (And it was said) Ah! Woe is on those people, when any Messenger comes to them, they merely mock at them.” (36;30).
It is said that later Antioch became a stronghold of Christianity. It was the only city in the early years of Christianity where almost every inhabitant of this city was a believer. It is Allah’s way that throughout history when He replaces a despotic unbelieving nation that refuses to accept clear signs and kills Allah’s messengers, a severe punishment visits this nation and it is uprooted as if it never existed. The land, houses and building of this uprooted nation are given to another nation who believes in Allah and performs good deeds until such time Shaitan beguiles their children and tries to take them away from the right path.
Sunday 23 October 2016