A commentary by Sayyid Qutb.
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
In Qur’an, Allah s.w.t, unfold that Moses was saved as follows:
[i.] We revealed to the mother of Moses: ‘Breast-feed him, and then when you have cause to fear for him, cast him in the river, and have no fear and do not grieve. We shall restore him to you, and shall make him one of Our messengers.’
[ii.] Pharaoh’s household picked him up; and so [in time] he would become an enemy to them and a source of grief. Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts were sinners indeed.
[iii.] Pharaoh’s wife said: ‘A joy to the eye he will be for me and for you. Do not kill him. He may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as our son.’ They had no inkling [of what was to happen].
[iv.] By the morning an aching void came over the heart of Moses’ mother, and she would indeed have disclosed his identity had We not strengthened her heart so that she could continue to have faith. [The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 7-10]
Having set the scene where the events of the story unfold, and given us the purpose for which it is told, the surah proceeds to relate the events beginning at the birth of Moses. The story begins and we are told how God’s hand works directly, not through anyone. Moses was born under the sort of difficult circumstances the surah has described: A newborn baby in great danger. We almost see the knife taken out to cut his throat. His mother is so worried, fearing that the news of his birth might reach the despotic authorities. She is well aware that she would not be able to protect or hide him. How could she prevent him crying and betraying his presence? She knows herself to be helpless and powerless.
At this point God’s hand intervenes, making a direct contact with the worried mother, and inspiring her with what to do: “We revealed to the mother of Moses: ‘Breast-feed him, and then when you have cause to fear for him, cast him in the river, and have no fear and do not grieve.’” [Verse 7] -- What inspiration is this? You, caring mother! Suckle your child, and if you fear for him when he is under your care, with your breast in his mouth and your full attention focused on him, then cast him in the river. However, when you do that “have no fear and do not grieve.” He will be in the river under the care of the One who provides all security and dispels all fear. The hand that makes the fire cool and relaxing, and makes the sea a place of shelter and repose will look him after. No Pharaoh dares to come near anyone this hand protects.
“We shall restore him to you.”-- You need not fear for his life or worry about his being taken away from you. “And shall make him one of Our messengers.” -- This is a promise for the future, and God’s promise is certain to come true.
This is the first scenario that shows a worried mother, receiving clear, reassuring revelation that promises a bright future. The revelation removes all fear and worry from her heart, and gives her peace and reassurance. The surah does not mention how she reacted or how she carried out the instructions given to her. The curtains fall here to bring us the next scene as they are raised again.
“Pharaoh’s household picked him up.”[Verse 8]--. Is this the security promised her? Does it augur the fulfillment of the happy news she has been given? How, when she feared for her son none other than Pharaoh and his household? Nothing could have worried her more than her child falling in their hands. Here we see the challenge thrown openly, in full view of all. It is a challenge to Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts. They were chasing every newborn in Moses’ community because of their fear for their positions. They had their spies everywhere so that no newly born boy could escape their watchful eyes. Now God’s hand puts into their hand such a child with no effort on their part. Indeed the child will bring their total downfall. He is now under their care and he is helpless, unable to fend for himself. Indeed, he cannot cry for help, should he be in danger. This very child is brought into Pharaoh’s palace, with no need to send his spies to bring news of newborn babies among the Israelites.
The purpose of bringing the child to them is also clearly stated: “So [in time] he would become an enemy to them and a source of grief.” He will certainly be an open foe, challenging them, and will bring them grief and sorrow. “Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts were sinners indeed.” [Verse 8]
The surah tells us straightaway: “Pharaoh’s wife said: ‘A joy to the eye he will be for me and for you. Do not kill him. He may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as our son.’ They had no inkling [of what was to happen]” [Verse 9] God’s hand does not only bring the child into Pharaoh’s fortified palace in open challenge, but takes him right into his wife’s heart, thus providing him with protection through love. It thus gives him a thin, transparent cover of love overflowing from a woman’s heart. Thus, he needs no weapons, authority or money for his protection. Such love defies Pharaoh and his despotism and fear for his kingdom. Pharaoh is too small and humble in God’s measure: The child needs no more than this thin cover to enjoy complete protection from him.
“A joy to the eye he will be for me and for you.” This is how she describes the child brought to them to become their enemy and bring them all, except for the woman herself, much grief. “Do not kill him,” when he will bring about Pharaoh’s end. “He may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as our son,” when it will be through him that their fate will be sealed. “They had no inkling [of what was to happen].” What an irony!
Thus ends the second scene and it fall temporarily here.
However, what about his mother who must be justifiably apprehensive? “By the morning an aching void came over the heart of Moses’ mother, and she would indeed have disclosed his identity had We not strengthened her heart so that she could continue to have faith.” [Verse 10] She did as she was told and threw her child in the river. But where is he now? Where has the river taken him? She might have indeed asked herself how could she do what no other mother had ever done? How could she hope that he would have security in the midst of all this danger?
The surah depicts a picture of the poor mother’s heart. It is “a void”, unable to think or act. “She would indeed have disclosed his identity,” betraying her own secret. We can imagine her driven to cry out that she had lost her child, or even saying that she threw the child in the river in response to some strange voice telling her to do that. “Had We not strengthened her heart,” giving her added strength to deal with her very difficult situation. “So that she could continue to have faith.” She needed to have faith in God’s promise, to be patient in the adversity she was facing and to continue to follow His guidance.