The Story of Bal’am bin Ba’ra

Syed Sharfuddin

In Surah Al-A’raaf, verses 175-76, Allah asks Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to relate to the Jews an account of the man to whom Allah gave His signs but he followed Shaitan and became one of the perverse. Allah would have raised this man to the heights of attainment, but he clung to the earth and followed wanton desires. His example is like that of a dog whose tongue hangs out of its mouth relentlessly whether in peace or in the absence of peace. So narrate this account to those who reject Allah’s signs so that they may reflect.

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ الَّذِيَ آتَيْنَاهُ آيَاتِنَا فَانسَلَخَ مِنْهَا فَأَتْبَعَهُ الشَّيْطَانُ فَكَانَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ
وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَرَفَعْنَاهُ بِهَا وَلَـكِنَّهُ أَخْلَدَ إِلَى الأَرْضِ وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ الْكَلْبِ إِن تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَث ذَّلِكَ مَثَلُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُواْ بِآيَاتِنَا فَاقْصُصِ الْقَصَصَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

Scholars of Quran (Al-Tabri, Al-Zamakshari, Ibn Kaseer, Al-Razi, Al-Qurtubi, Al-Suyuti, Al-Shokani et al) identify this man as Bal’am, son of Ba’ra, who lived in Canaan during the time of Moses. Some scholars have named him Umaiya bin Abi al-Salat al-Saqfi from Yemen. He was from Bani Israel but he lived with a nation of non-believers (Qaum Jabbareen). Bal’am was a scholar and known for his faith and piety. He knew Allah’s greatest name. His spiritual knowledge helped him to get closer to Allah and his supplications were never rejected. He had 12000 students. His account is also found in Talmud.

When Moses moved an army of Bani Israel from the Levant to Canaan to fight against the non-believers, Bal’am’s people came to him and asked for his help against the army of Moses. They said: “Moses is strong and he is coming with his troops. If he gains victory over us, we will be destroyed and he will replace us with the children of Israel.” They requested Bal’am to pray to his God to destroy the marching army because they could not defend themselves against it. Bal’am told his people that he could not accept their request because Bani Israel were believers and Moses was a prophet of Allah. But they insisted that he should help their nation. Bal’am told them he would seek Allah’s guidance in this matter by sleeping over it. In is sleep he received confirmation that he should not supplicate against Moses and his army.

When he disclosed this to his people, they made him change his mind with flattery and gifts and gold. Shaitan lured him with wanton desires and greed. Bal’am became the follower of devil and rebelled against Allah. He was ungrateful and lost his faith. He mounted on his donkey and proceeded to Mount Hisban to make Dua against Moses and his troops. His donkey stopped three times on the way to the mountain but was beaten by Bal’am every time. On the third stop the donkey spoke to Bal’am in human voice and said: “Don’t you see, angels are stopping me from going to the mountain”. But Bal’am was led by Shaitan who had taken complete control over him.

Eventually when Bal’am reached the appointed place and started making the supplication against the army of Moses, he could not remember Allah’s great name (Ism Azam). His supplication turned against his own people who began dying. They told him that he was not making the right supplication because it was going against them and not against the troops of Bani Israel. The more Bal’am tried to make the supplication the more it went against the non-believers. His tongue came out of his mouth like that of a dog lashing out of his jaw. He knew that he had sold his soul to the devil and there was no salvation for him. Since he was under Shaitan’s spell, he told his nation that the only way to destroy the army of Bani Israel was by sending them beautiful women from their tribe to lure the soldiers of Bani Israel into fornication. This will invoke the wrath of God and they will be destroyed. The King offered his own daughter along with other women. She was very beautiful. He told her to go to Moses’ tent and allure him into sin. The women reached the army of Moses. The king’s daughter was captured by one of the sons of Aaron. He took her to Moses and asked if she was Halal for him. Moses refused. He said that he and his associates should not commit any sin with them and immediately return these women. But the men in Moses’ army were away from their homes for many weeks. They fell pray to Shaitan’s temptation and committed sin.

As punishment for their sin, a pandemic broke out in the army of Bani Israel. Nearly seventy thousand soldiers fell ill and died. The remaining troops of Bani Israel returned to Palestine without attaining victory. Moses was very sad because they did not heed his counsel.

For as long as he lived, his tongue continued to lash out of his mouth and hung on his chest like a bib. He resembled a condemned dog that kept showing his long tongue in any condition. Bal’am bin Ba’ra died an unbeliever and a condemned man. He could have achieved the highest rank of piety by being obedient to Allah but he chose the wanton desires of the world over the bliss of the hereafter and was destroyed by Shaitan.


In the holy Quran dog is mentioned in two places. In Surah Al-Araaf, as mentioned above, the dog represents restlessness as symbolised by its hanging tongue. In Surah Al-Kahf, the dog represents loyalty and fear. In the former parable, the dog is a guard of his pious masters; in the former parable, a pious man falls to the level of a restless dog. Allah also commands the believers to be mindful of Allah “in a betting way as He deserves and not die except in a state of full submission to Allah.” [Surah Al-Imran: verse 102).
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلاَ تَمُوتُنَّ إِلاَّ وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ