It would like to revisit and share with you a commentary by Sayyid Qutb on the story of Moses and Pharaoh. It has a lot of significance to us, mankind.
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent.
Ta Sin Mim. These are verses of the Book that makes things clear. We shall relate to you some of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, setting forth the truth for people who will believe. [The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 1-3]
These verses begin a surah revealed in Makkah, when the Muslims were a small minority without power, while the idolaters were in full control of wealth, position and authority.
It establishes the true standard of values and power, making clear that there is only one true power in the universe, which is God’s, and one true value, which is faith. Whoever enjoys God’s support need have no fear, even though he may be bereft of any material power, and whomever God opposes can have no peace or security even though he may be in possession of all types of material power. A person who enshrines the value of faith enjoys every good thing, and the one who lacks it will not benefit by anything whatsoever.
The corpus of the surah is based on the story of Moses and Pharaoh at the beginning and the story of Qarun [or Korah] with Moses’ people at the end.
The first of these two stories tackles power and authority, showing Pharaoh, a ruthless tyrant, fully alert to any source of danger as he faced Moses, a suckling baby with neither power nor shelter. Pharaoh had exalted himself, ruling over people, dividing them into sections and classes, persecuting the Children of Israel, slaying their men and sparing their women, watching carefully lest they should do anything against him while they were under his control. Yet all his might and precautions are of little avail against a little child who is cared for by the only real power that protects him from all evil. Indeed this power challenges Pharaoh openly, throwing the child into his own lap, placing him in Pharaoh’s own palace so as to be doted upon by his own wife, while he stands watching, unable to do anything against Moses. On the contrary, he does with his own hands what brings about his downfall.
The second story demonstrates the value of wealth, as also the value of knowledge. Wealth takes up people’s whole attention as Qarun goes out in his adornment. They were fully aware that he was given such enormous treasures that carrying their keys alone would tire out a whole band of strong people. What is more, Qarun also had knowledge that he thought to have brought him all this wealth. Yet those endowed with true knowledge among his people were not bewitched by such wealth. They were looking up to God’s reward, knowing that it is infinitely better and more lasting. Then God’s power intervenes sinking him and his household into the earth, showing all beholders that neither his wealth nor his knowledge was of any avail to him. The intervention here is direct just like it is in the case of Pharaoh who was sunk with his troops in the sea.
Both Pharaoh and Qarun exalted themselves, tyrannizing over the Children of Israel, one with the brute force of authority and the other with financial might, but the end is the same in both cases: One was swallowed with his dwelling into the earth, and the other drowned with his army in the sea. In neither case do we see any opposing force to resist God’s direct power that intervened to put an end to tyranny and injustice. The two stories clearly show that when evil stands out in full view and corruption is manifest while those who are good and righteous appear powerless, God Almighty may intervene directly and openly to put an end to such evil and corruption.
In between the two stories, the surah takes the idolaters on a couple of rounds opening their eyes to the significance of the stories and directs their attention to some of God’s signs that are present in the universe, the fate of past communities or scenes of the Day of Judgment. All these endorse the moral of the stories and confirm God’s unalterable law.
The unbelievers used to say to the Prophet: “If we were to follow the guidance along with you, we would be torn away from our land.” [Verse 57] Thus they tried to justify their rejection of the Prophet’s message by their fear that people would tear them away from their land if they were to change their old beliefs that ensured that people held them in awe and reverence, as they were the custodians of the Sacred Mosque. God relates here the stories of Moses and Pharaoh showing which people could enjoy security and which should be in fear. It tells them that it is only under God’s protection that people could feel truly secure even though their situation may appear to lack all security. By contrast, fear lies in lacking such protection even though all familiar conditions people associate with security may be in full presence. Qarun’s story is related to confirm this basic truth in a different way.
Their justification of their attitude is answered as follows: “Have We not given them a secure sanctuary to which are brought the fruits of all things, as a provision from Us? But most of them have no knowledge.” [Verse 57] This is a reminder that it is God who has provided them with security, appointing the Sacred House in their own vicinity. It is He who has extended security to them and it is He who can easily deprive them of it. This is followed by a warning against arrogance and ungratefulness: “How many a community that exulted in its life [of ease and plenty] have We destroyed. The dwellings they left behind were but scarcely inhabited. It is We who are the only heirs.” [Verse 58]
The surah then makes it clear to them that they have already been warned when a messenger of God has been sent to them. God’s law has been in operation for a long time, making it inevitable that people are destroyed when they persist in their erring ways after a warner has been sent to them: “Your Lord would never destroy a community without first sending them a messenger who would recite to them Our revelations. Never would We destroy a community unless its people are intent on wrongdoing.” [Verse 59]
This is followed by a scene of the Day of Judgment when they stand alone, having been publicly disowned by those beings whom they alleged to be God’s partners. Thus they are made to realize what punishment they are liable to incur on the Day of Judgment, after they had suffered punishment in this present life. It tells them again where security lies and what brings fear.
The surah concludes with God’s promise to His Messenger as he is driven out of Makkah by the idolaters. The promise makes it clear that God, who has assigned to him this Qur’anic message and defined the duties involved in his assignment, will surely facilitate his return to his hometown, giving him support against idolatry and idolaters. God had favored him with the message to which he never aspired. He will certainly give him support and return him to the city from which he was driven out. The stories related in this surah endorse this promise. Moses returned to the very land that he fled in fear for his life. And when he came back, he took out with him the Children of Israel, saving them from Pharaoh who met his humiliating fate.
The final note in the surah also seals God’s promise: “Never call on any deity side by side with God. There is no deity other than Him. Everything is bound to perish except Himself. With Him rests all judgment, and to Him you all shall return.” [Verse 88]
Such is, in a nutshell, the theme of the surah and its outlined in four phases: Moses’ story, the comments that follow it, Qarun’s story and this final promise.