Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Setting the Scene for an Eventful Story.

A commentary by Sayyid Qutb

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

[i.] Ta Sin Mim.
[ii.] These are verses of the Book that makes things clear.
[iii.] We shall relate to you some of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, setting forth the truth for people who will believe.
[iv.] Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and divided its people into castes. One group of them he persecuted, slaying their sons and keeping their women alive. He was one who sows corruption.
[v.] And We wished to do a favour to those who were weak [and oppressed] in the land, and to make them rulers and to make them the inheritors .
[vi.] And to establish them in the land, and We let Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts receive from them that which they feared.

[The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 1-6]

Ta Sin Mim. These are verses of the Book that makes things clear.” [Verses 1-2] The surah begins with these three separate letters to make clear that it is from letters like these that the Qur’an is composed. Its verses are of greatly superior quality and of much finer import than what is normally composed by such letters in human language: “These are verses of the Book that makes things clear.” [Verse 2] Thus, this book is not the work of ordinary people; for no one can produce its like. It is revelation God relates to His servants, reflecting His incomparable ability, and the truth that is at the heart of everything God makes, large or small: “We shall relate to you some of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, setting forth the truth for people who will believe.” [Verse 3] It is then to the believers that this book is addressed. It is meant to remold and cultivate them, pointing out their way and showing them the code to implement. The stories related in this surah are meant for those believers, because they are the ones who will benefit by them.

This direct relation from God imparts an air of the special care taken of the believers, giving them a feeling of their high position and great importance. How could they fail to realize that, when it is God Almighty that relates His book to His Messenger for their sake. Being believers, they have the quality that fits them to receive such sublime care: “For people who will believe.” [Verse 3]

Having made this opening, the surah begins the story of Moses and Pharaoh, right from its very first moment, when Moses was born. Although Moses’ story is related in many other surahs, it is never started at the very beginning anywhere else. It is this very beginning, describing the difficult circumstances in which Moses was born, powerless among people who have been long persecuted and humiliated by Pharaoh that serves the main theme of the surah. It shows the hand of the divine will working openly, without any apparent human medium, to directly strike at the root of tyranny and injustice. It thus gives support and empowerment to the oppressed that have been deprived of all power. This is a concept that the small and weak Muslim minority in Makkah needed to fully understand. It was equally important that the powerful majority should be well aware of it.

In the majority of cases, Moses’ story begins in other surahs at the time when he received his message, giving an account of how strong faith stands up to tyrannical power, leading eventually to the triumph of faith and the defeat of tyranny. However, this is not the message this surah intends to give. Its message is that when evil is at its zenith, it carries the cause of its own destruction, and when aggression is let loose, it does not need people to fight and repel it. God will intervene to support those powerless people that are made to suffer at its hands. He will then save the good elements among them, educating them and making them leaders of humankind and inheritors of the earth.

Such is the purpose of relating this story in this surah. Hence, it begins with the episode that highlights this meaning. Every story related in the Qur’an is told in the way that best serves the purpose of the surah in which it occurs. It is a means to educate people and to emphasize concepts, values and meanings. Hence, it is made to smoothly fit in with the context in which it occurs.

The episodes of Moses’ story that are told here are those of his birth in exceptionally difficult circumstances and how God took care of him; his youth and the wisdom and knowledge God imparted to him; the events that took place at the time and how he killed an Egyptian, his flight from Egypt after learning of what was being plotted against him, his marriage in the land of Madyan and the time he spent there; his being called by God and given his message; the confrontation with Pharaoh and his people and how they rejected both Moses and Aaron; and finally a quick reference to Pharaoh’s meeting his end by drowning.

The first two episodes, which are mentioned only in this surah, are treated at length because they bring to the fore the open challenge to aggressive tyranny. We clearly see how Pharaoh is unable to evade God’s will despite all his precautions and maneuvers: “But it was Our will... to let Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts experience at their [i.e. the oppressed] hands the very things against which they were taking precautions.” [Verse 6]

Following the Qur’anic method, the story is actually shown in a series of scenes with some gaps in between that are left to our imagination. In fact, the reader does not miss anything of the events and images that are left out between scenes. On the contrary, we actually enjoy the active participation of our imagination. The first episode is recounted in five scenes, while the second takes up nine scenes, followed by four scenes in the third episode. In between each two episodes, there is a wide or narrow gap, as is between scenes, allowing the curtains to drop and be lifted again.

No comments: