PROPHET MUSA (AS)
The Tribe Of Musa (As) Strays And Worships The Golden Calf
After Pharaoh and his soldiers were drowned in
the sea, Musa set off with his tribe to a safer place. In the course
of their journey, however, there occurred further evidence of the
Israelites' poor faith and their inclination to transgression.
The people of Egypt practiced a polytheistic religion.
They worshipped numerous idols. During their stay in Egypt, the
children of Israel were also influenced by this religion. The children
of Israel failed to occupy themselves with the remembrance of God,
and thus, failed to follow the noble way of the monotheist religions
they inherited from the Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac)
and Ya'qub (Jacob), peace be upon them all. In time, they came under
the influence of the Egyptian culture, embracing some of their perverted
customs and ideas. Their encounter with an idolatrous tribe on their
way brought to light this very tendency towards idolatry. Some of
the Jews developed an unwholesome inclination towards the idolatrous
practices of these people and asked Musa to give them an idol:
We conveyed the tribe of Israel across
the sea and they came upon some people who were devoting themselves
to some idols which they had. They said, "Musa, give us a god just
as these people have gods." He said, "You are indeed an ignorant
people. What these people are doing is destined for destruction.
What they are doing is purposeless." (Qur'an, 7: 138-139)
This propensity towards idolatry was to surface
again. Among the people of Musa, there were some who did not feel
an adequate fear for God, and thus were prone to unbelief.
Musa and his tribe headed for Mount Sinai. As the
Qur'an informs us, there, God was to "make a covenant" with Musa
during his stay on the mountain for a period of forty days. Musa
impatiently left his tribe behind and departed early. He left his
tribe under the care of Harun, also a messenger of God, who was
to rule the children of Israel during Musa's absence. Prior to his
departure, he gave some advice to Harun:
We set aside thirty nights for Musa
and then completed them with ten, so the appointed time of his Lord
was forty nights in all. Musa said to his brother Harun, "Be my
caliph among my people. Keep order and do not follow the way of
the corrupters." (Qur'an, 7: 142)
Leaving his people behind, Musa reached the mountain
of Horeb within the appointed time. There, God addressed him once
When Musa came to Our appointed time
and his Lord spoke to him, he said, "My Lord, show me Yourself so
that I may look at You!" He (God) said, "You will not see Me, but
look at the mountain. If it remains firm in its place, then you
will see Me." But when His Lord manifested Himself to the mountain,
He crushed it flat and Musa fell unconscious to the ground. When
he regained consciousness he said, "Glory be to You! I apologise
to You and I am the first of the believers!" He (God) said, "Musa,
I have chosen you over all mankind for My Message and My Word. Take
what I have given you and be among the thankful." We wrote everything
for him on the Tablets as an admonition and making all things clear.
"Seize hold of it vigorously and command your people to adopt the
best in it. I will show you the home of the deviators!" (Qur'an,
Meanwhile, the disbelievers among the tribe of
Musa took advantage of his leaving. Insolent to Harun, they made
an idol in the shape of a calf, as in the Egyptian religion:
After he left, Musa's people adopted
a calf made from their ornaments, a form which made a lowing sound.
(Qur'an, 7: 148)
In the meantime, God asked Musa about his tribe
and the reason that led him leave early:
"Why have you hurried on ahead of your
people, Musa?" He said, "They are following in my tracks. I have
hurried on ahead to you, My Lord, to gain Your good pleasure." (Qur'an,
Musa was unaware of the lapse committed by his
people. God informed him of the transgression, and of the existence
of a hypocrite among them by the name of Samaritan, and of how he
shaped certain materials into an idol in the form of a calf:
He said, "We tried your people after
you left and the Samaritan has misguided them." (Qur'an, 20: 85)
Then, taking the tablets, Musa returned to his
Musa returned to his people in anger
and great sorrow. He said, "My people, did not your Lord make you
a handsome promise? Did the fulfilment of the contract seem too
long to you or did you want to unleash your Lord's anger upon yourselves,
so you broke your promise to me?"
They said, "We did not break our promise
to you of our own volition. But we were weighed down with the heavy
loads of the people's jewellery and we threw them in, for that is
what the Samaritan did."
Then he produced a calf for them, a
physical form which made a lowing sound. So they said, "This is
your god-and Musa's god as well, but he forgot." (Qur'an, 20: 86-88)
This story provides clear details about how the
members of a community, who are diseased in their hearts, can be
lured away from the remembrance of God by a hypocrite. To create
chaos and disorder, hypocrites always seek certain opportune situations.
During Musa's absence, conditions were ripe for the hypocrites to
lead astray people who were already prone to transgression. Samaritan
appeared at just such a time; he was aware of these people's weakness,
of their proneness to idolatry. In any case, he knew that they had
previously asked Musa to make them an idol. Aware of their propensity,
he devised a method by which to ensure their going astray; he built
a statue of a calf and, to justify his actions, he claimed the statue
to be a former god of Musa, but which he later forgot.
Just as Musa had kept his faith firm, and guided
his people to righteousness when confronted by Pharaoh and his soldiers
at the shore of the sea, Samaritan led the same people into transgression.
This is indicative of the beneficial impact a faithful person can
have over a society, and the harm a hypocrite can bring to it.
In fact, Harun had warned his tribe and explained
to them that they were swerving from the right path. Nevertheless,
the people did not heed his admonition:
Harun had earlier said to them, "My
people! It is just a trial for you. Your Lord is the All-Merciful,
so follow me and obey my command!"
They said, "We will not stop devoting
ourselves to it until Musa returns to us." (Qur'an, 20: 90-91)
The foregoing conveys clearly the fact that Musa's
people followed him only because they accepted him as a leader.
If their obedience to Musa had been founded on a profound faith,
then the situation would be otherwise; they would have immediately
followed Harun as well, seeing as he was also a messenger of God.
However, not accepting him as their leader, they did not respond
to his appeals. Worse still, they even attempted to kill him when
he tried to prevent them from their misconduct:
He (Musa) said, "What prevented you
following me, Harun, when you saw that they had gone astray? Did
you too, then, disobey my command?"
He said, "Son of my mother! Do not seize
me by the beard or by the hair. I was afraid that you would say,
'You have caused division in the tribe of Israel and taken no notice
to anything I said.'" (Qur'an, 20: 92-93)
Harun said, "Son of my mother, The people oppressed
me and almost killed me. Do not give my enemies cause to gloat over
me. Do not include me with the wrongdoing people."
He (Musa) said, "My Lord, forgive me
and my brother and admit us into Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful
of the merciful." (Qur'an, 7: 150-151)
Upon Harun's reply, Musa released him and turned
to Samaritan, the actual person responsible for the tribe's transgression.
He questioned him about his wrongdoing. In an attempt to absolve
himself, Samaritan explained that he had done what he did for a
reason; he claimed to have noticed things others could not. He also
added that his inner self had urged him to do what he did:
He (Musa) said, "What do you think you
were doing, Samaritan?"
He said, "I saw what they did not see.
So I gathered up a handful from the Messenger's footprints and threw
it in. That is what my inner self urged me to do."
He (Moses) said, "Go! An outcast shall
you be in this life, nor shall you escape your appointed doom. Look
at your god to which you devoted so much time. We will burn it up
and then scatter it as dust into the sea." (Qur'an, 20: 95-97)
Here, it should be mentioned that Samaritan committed
such evil acts under the delusion that he was wiser and more farsighted
than the others. This arrogance of his can be clearly discerned
in his words "I saw what they did not see." These feelings of grandeur
and pride caused Samaritan be easily misled by the negative tendencies
of his soul and by Satan. Under these negative influences, he could
not escape the temptation to "do something different," and of becoming
a leader in order to lead the tribe astray.
On the contrary, a true believer never acts on
the assumption that he is wiser or superior to others. He is aware
of his imperfections, and seeks refuge in God from committing errors.
Even if he notices things others fail to, he takes it as a blessing
and a test from God, and behaves accordingly. If such were to be
the case, he says only: "God made me see this; the wisdom belongs
only to God."
In the case of Samaritan, however, what he noticed
was but what led him to transgression and evil. In regards to these
developments, Musa took two important measures against the evil
Samaritan had committed. He first exiled Samaritan, the source of
evil and transgression in the tribe. The second measure was to abolish
the idol completely. The idol the tribe worshipped was to be burnt
completely, and the ashes were to be cast into the sea, so that
nobody would ever find them again.
Evidently, Musa was very sincere and piously devoted
to the religion. Concerned about that which had led the people to
disbelief, Musa took definitive and appropriate measures to eradicate
it. This assertiveness is a common feature of all prophets and the
faithful leaders who have followed their path.
After destroying all sources of mischief, Musa
preached to his tribe, summoning them to repentance and obedience
And when Musa said to his people, "My
people, You wronged yourselves by adopting the Calf so turn towards
your Maker and kill your own (guilty)selves. That is the best thing
for you in your Maker's sight." And He turned towards you. He is
the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful. (Qur'an, 2: 54 )
Musa's words had little impact on his people. Initially,
the children of Israel heeded his warnings, repented and turned
towards their Lord. However, this change was temporary. As will
be explored in the following pages, the children of Israel took
every opportunity to disobey Musa, abusing him psychologically and
emotionally in every sense.
Of The Jewish Tribe
Initially, Musa directed his struggle against
Pharaoh. Before Musa came, his people, the children of Israel, were
languishing in slavery. It was for that reason when, as soon as
Musa had devised the plan to flee, the entire tribe willingly followed
him and left Egypt. However, this in no way implied sincere faith
on their part. Among them were people who joined merely out of tribal
loyalties. Most probably, the majority saw Musa as a political leader
who offered the possibility of release from oppression. Therefore,
rather than submitting themselves to the path of righteousness,
many of them seized every opportunity to return to their idolatrous
practices. Thus, they constantly defied Musa and resisted the true
religion brought by him.
First, God commanded Musa to divide the children
of Israel into twelve separate tribes:
We divided them up into twelve tribes-communities.
We revealed to Musa, when his people asked him for water: "Strike
the rock with your staff." Twelve fountains flowed out from it and
all the people knew their drinking place. (Qur'an, 7: 160)
The majority of the children of Israel failed to
develop a deep-seated faith in their hearts. They dared to ask Musa
to show them God, even to the point of declaring insolently that
they would not believe unless he complied with such a wish:
And when you said, "Musa, we will not
believe in you until we see God with our own eyes." So the thunderbolt
caught you while you were (all) looking on. (Qur'an, 2: 55)
Apparently, the traits of this nation were greed
and ungratefulness. As sustenance for the children of Israel, at
one point, God prepared food miraculously for them. This food, referred
to as "manna and quails" in the Qur'an, failed to please the children
of Israel, though it had been a favour from God:
And We shaded you with clouds and sent
down manna and quails to you: "Eat of the good things We have provided
for you." They did not wrong Us; rather it was themselves they were
wronging. (Qur'an, 2: 57)
And when you said, "Musa, we will not
put up with just one kind of food so ask your Lord to supply to
us some of what the earth produces-its green vegetables, cucumbers,
grains, lentils and onions," he said, "Do you want to replace what
is better with what is inferior? Go back to Egypt, then you will
have what you are asking for..." (Qur'an, 2: 61)
This was yet another clear sign of the great ingratitude
of the children of Israel.
The Story of Cow
The people of Musa clearly at no point seem to
have had a grasp of true faith. As pointed out earlier, they probably
followed Musa, not because they wanted to earn the good pleasure
of God, but because they saw him as a powerful and determined leader.
In an attempt to tailor the divine religion to
their own desires and to their ancient religious practices, they
made deliberate distortions to it. In total disregard for the simple
and clear nature of the religion, they rendered it complicated and
difficult to practice. They were inclined to worship idols rather
than God, and altered the religion into a series of rituals.
Their tendency to needlessly complicate the religion
is best explained in a story related in the Sura Baqara. In this
story, God commands the children of Israel to sacrifice a cow. The
command, conveyed by Musa to his tribe, is a very simple one. However,
the children of Israel complicated this plain and easy command,
and concerned themselves with all sorts of trivial details which
were not required. In fact, they went so far as to tell the messenger
of God: "Are you making a mockery of us?":
And when Musa said to his people, "God
commands you to sacrifice a cow," they said, "What! Are you making
a mockery of us?"
He said, "I seek refuge with God from
being one of the ignorant!"
They said, "Ask your Lord to make it
clear to us what it should be like."
He said, "He says it should be a cow,
not old or virgin, but somewhere between the two. So do as you have
They said, "Ask your Lord to make it
clear to us what colour it should be."
He said, "He says it should be yellow,
a rich yellow, a pleasure to all who look."
They said, "Ask your Lord to make it
clear to us what it should be like. Cows are all much the same to
us. Then, if God wills, we will be guided."
He said, "He says it should be a cow
not trained to plough or irrigate the fields-completely sound, without
a blemish on it."
They said, "Now you have brought the
So they sacrificed it - but they almost
did not do it. (Qur'an, 2: 67-71)
As related in the above account, the tribe of Musa
constantly raised objections against the commands of God. Only when
the command became almost non-practicable, due to the petty details
they begged for, they relented. In fact, the command was quite plain:
sacrifice a cow.
A scrutinizing look into Judaism today will reveal
this same stubborn rationale among the Jews. The Talmud, the body
of traditional Jewish teaching, includes perplexing details pertaining
to daily life and prayers. For instance, from milking an animal,
to the use of burning incense, one will find countless details seemingly
irrelevant to religion. In Judaism, a person's meticulousness in
observance of these details, in his daily life and prayers, is thought
to be determinant of his piety. The true essence of piety, on the
other hand, that is, faith in God and the day of Judgement, is wholly
neglected. As such, Judaism has been changed into a body of rituals
with no relevance to the fundamentals of faith, such as remembrance
of God, mercy of God, and love for Him.
Rebellion of the Children of Israel Against
the Command of God
Upon the departure of the children of Israel from
Egypt, God promised them a homeland in which to dwell. Much has
been said about the objections raised against Musa during this journey
in the previous pages. This tendency of theirs persisted until the
time they arrived in the Promised Land:
Remember when Musa said to his people, "My people!
Remember God's blessing to you when He appointed Prophets among
you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given
to anyone else in all the worlds! My people! Enter the Holy Land
which God has ordained for you. Do not turn back in your tracks
and so become transformed into losers."
They said, "There are tyrants in it,
Musa. We will not enter it until they leave. If they leave it, then
we will go in." (Qur'an, 5: 20-22)
God's help had always been with the children of
Israel. God saved them from Pharaoh by parting the sea and then
gave them a land. Furthermore, He promised a definite victory, provided
they waged a war against the tyrannical tribe dwelling there. They
should have put their trust in God and followed His messenger. Instead,
they did not heed Musa's warnings and were fearful. Only two among
the lot of them stated that they would put their trust in God and
enter the land:
Two men among those who were afraid,
but whom God had blessed, said, "Enter the gate against them! Once
you have entered it, you will be victorious. Put your trust in God
if you are believers." (Qur'an, 5: 23)
Despite such warnings, the children of Israel opposed
the messenger of God, and addressed him disrespectfully:
They said, "We will never enter it,
Musa, as long as they are there. So you and your Lord go and fight.
We will stay sitting here." (Qur'an, 5: 24)
The insolence of the people of Musa became aggravated
to such an extent that they began to actually ignore the words of
their prophets and openly objected to them. Therefore, Musa pleaded
his Lord and asked Him to save him and his brother Harun from this
He (Musa) said, "My Lord, I have no
control over anyone but myself and my brother, so make a clear distinction
between us and this deviant people."
He (God) said, "The land will be forbidden
to them for forty years during which they will wander aimlessly
about the earth. Do not waste grief on this deviant people." (Qur'an,
As mentioned here, the children of Israel were
prohibited from the Promised Land for forty years, due to their
insolence towards God and His messenger.
For much of his life, Musa had tried to communicate
God's message to them. He strove to save his tribe from the worship
of idols and guide them to the true religion. His aim was merely
to warn people and save them from the torment of Hell, a mission
which he carried solely to earn the good pleasure of God. To this
purpose, he had confronted Pharaoh and had attempted to rid his
people's beliefs of superstition. Nevertheless, he became the object
to the cruelties of Pharaoh, as well as his own people. However,
he was a noble servant, who lived merely to attain the good pleasure
of God, and his Lord saved him from all difficulties inflicted upon
There are lessons to be drawn from the ingratitude
of the children of Israel, a people who did not follow in their
prophets' footsteps, who turned their backs to the religion entrusted
to them, and so perverse as to say, "you and your Lord go and fight."
God has warned mankind against succumbing to the insolence of the
children of Israel towards their prophet:
You who believe! Do not be like those
who abused Musa. God absolved him of what they said and he was highly
honoured with God. (Qur'an, 33: 69)