This article is a summary of takeaways from Ustaz Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram’s Tafsir Lecture at Darul Makmur Mosque on 29th March 2020. Summaries of previous lectures on Surah Taha can be found here. This lecture is a continuation of last week’s lecture of Surah Taha verses 71 to 76.
What Happened After the Sorcerers’ Battle
وَلَقَدْ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ أَنْ أَسْرِ بِعِبَادِي فَاضْرِبْ لَهُمْ طَرِيقًا فِي الْبَحْرِ يَبَسًا لَّا تَخَافُ دَرَكًا وَلَا تَخْشَىٰ
And We revealed to Musa saying, “Set out with my servants at night, then make for them a dry path across the sea (with the strike of your staff), neither fearing to be caught up, nor having any fear (of drowning).” [20:77]
From this verse onwards, Allah speaks of the story of Prophet Musa AS with Bani Israel. We’ve spoken about the story of Prophet Musa leading Bani Israel across the Red Sea previously in Surah Al-A’raf. There are some things I want to address regarding this verse.
Even though this verse comes immediately after the Prophet Musa AS’ battle with the sorcerers, there was actually a long period of several years between that incident and the order to lead Bani Israel out of Egypt. Within this period, Prophet Musa AS had been guiding, preaching to and inviting the people of Bani Israel to Allah’s message. How do we know this? Well, if you remember from our previous lectures on Surah Al-A’raf verses 127 onwards, we learnt that after the battle with the sorcerers, Prophet Musa AS made da’wah to Bani Israel. This was the impetus for Firaun to come up with harsh penalties against Bani Israel and punish Prophet Musa AS. Firaun ordered that baby boys born amongst Bani Israel are to be killed while baby girls are spared to grow up as servants. This had been the same law that used to be in place at the time of Prophet Musa’s birth.
After a few years, there was a severe drought and famine in Egypt. This caused Bani Israel to go hungry. Many people from amongst Bani Israel started to blame Prophet Musa. As can be seen in Surah Al-A’raf verse 129, the people of Bani Israel complained to Prophet Musa about their people always being oppressed. They accused him of being the cause of their children being killed and the drought causing mass starvation. Prophet Musa patiently reminded them to trust Allah and have faith in the face of the trials. He AS promised that they would be able to return as free men to their homeland, the land of their ancestors and of Prophet Ya’qub AS.
After several years of drought and famine, Allah SWT increased their trials with hurricanes that caused massive floods, mass destruction and loss of lives. This was followed by swarms of locusts which wiped out the vegetation and food supply of Egypt. Before the crops could recover and grow again, an infestation of worm-like insects occurred, damaging the crops. After that, poisonous frogs swarmed and spread across Egypt, killing those who came in contact with them. Then, the waters of Egypt turned blood red, becoming unfit for consumption. As a result of being unable to bear all of these consecutive trials, Firaun asked Prophet Musa for help promising that he would accept Allah and set Bani Israel free once all of the trials have ended and Egypt returns to peace and prosperity.
However, when the trials did end, Firaun returned to arrogance and greed, threatening to kill Prophet Musa and continuing to enslave and oppress Bani Israel. He forgot his promise despite having seen all of the signs of Allah clearly, to the point of being driven to desperation. Only after this occurred did Allah give the order for Prophet Musa AS to leave Egypt along with Bani Israel as described by Surah Taha verse 77.
Bani Israel’s Departure and Firaun’s Defeat
فَأَتْبَعَهُمْ فِرْعَوْنُ بِجُنُودِهِ فَغَشِيَهُم مِّنَ الْيَمِّ مَا غَشِيَهُمْ
Firaun pursued them with his armies and was overwhelmed by the sea. [20:78]
وَأَضَلَّ فِرْعَوْنُ قَوْمَهُ وَمَا هَدَىٰ
And Firaun led his people astray and did not guide [them]. [20:79]
Despite them leaving late in the night, Bani Israel was a huge group of people and their departure was sure to attract some attention from Firaun and his people. Tafsir scholars have estimated that the population of Bani Israel at the point of their exodus from Egypt numbered at about 500,000 to 600,000 people. When the news reached Firaun, he was enraged and sent out armies to stop them. As previously mentioned, Firaun recognised that he would have no power if not for his large number of followers. Without Bani Israel acting as his slaves, Egypt would collapse because there would be nobody to work in the fields or in construction. Firaun did not merely give the order for his army to be despatched, he himself went with them to stop Prophet Musa AS.
These verses did not go into detail of the chain of events that happened. However what is clear is that Firaun did not survive the crossing of the Red Sea and was drowned along with his armies. Firaun was not only an arrogant person, he was also a lost leader who led his people to destruction. He was unable to save them from Allah’s punishment or to lead them towards success.
Bani Israel’s Blessings
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ قَدْ أَنجَيْنَاكُم مِّنْ عَدُوِّكُمْ وَوَاعَدْنَاكُمْ جَانِبَ الطُّورِ الْأَيْمَنَ وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ
O Children of Israel! We saved you from your enemy, and made a promise with you to meet on the right side of Mount Ṭur, and sent down to you ‘manna’ and ‘salwa’. [20:80]
After Bani Israel had crossed the Red Sea, they started heading towards their homeland. Along the way, they would pass Mount Tur, the same mountain where Prophet Musa AS first had his conversation with Allah SWT in which his mission and mu’jizat were revealed to him. Prophet Musa AS was given an appointment to meet with Allah SWT once again on Mount Tur. In Surah Al-A’raf, we were told that this meeting would take place after 30 days and 30 nights. When Prophet Musa was on the mountain, Allah SWT extended this meeting for another 10 days, making it a total of 40 days.
Prophet Musa therefore instructed his people to stay and wait for him during the span of 30 days. Bani Israel was gifted with the blessing of “Manna wa Salwa”. ‘Al-Manna’ is a sweet substance that comes in a fluid form. Allah brings it down during the night and it sticks to leaves and rocks. It appears like morning dew, but is sweet unlike water, to Bani Israel. ‘As-Salwa’ is a type of bird that was found in abundance for Bani Israel. It was easily caught, without the hassle of traps or having to hunt or chase for hours, and was delicious for consumption. There was no meat equal in taste and nutrition to ‘As-Salwa’ during that period. The people were blessed with a constant supply of food and drink without having to worry.
كُلُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ وَلَا تَطْغَوْا فِيهِ فَيَحِلَّ عَلَيْكُمْ غَضَبِي ۖ وَمَن يَحْلِلْ عَلَيْهِ غَضَبِي فَقَدْ هَوَىٰ
Eat from the good things We have provided for you, but do not overstep the bounds, or My wrath will descend on you. Anyone on whom My wrath descends has truly fallen. [20:81]
Allah SWT then instructs Bani Israel to enjoy the privileges that they have given and reminds them to stay in moderation during their enjoyment. What this meant was that Bani Israel was not to fall into greed, selfishness and ingratitude. They were warned of the punishments that would result from them transgressing their bounds.
Bani Israel’s Disobedience
وَإِنِّي لَغَفَّارٌ لِّمَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا ثُمَّ اهْتَدَىٰ
Surely, I am the Most-Forgiving for him who repents and believes and acts righteously, then follows the right path. [20:82]
Allah SWT then reminds them that He is ever ready to forgive anyone who repents for as long as they repent, believe, act righteously and stay consistent in the right path.
The scholars have discussed this verse, asking what the context behind it is. The answer is that even before Prophet Musa AS had gone up the mountain for his appointment with Allah SWT, Bani Israel had already committed a mistake. In Surah Taha, it was not mentioned. However, in Surah al-A’raf, it was mentioned that upon crossing the Red Sea, Bani Israel passed by a town whose inhabitants were idol worshippers. The people of Bani Israel asked Prophet Musa if he could make them “a god” just like the one that the people worshipped.
Perhaps they were still stuck in their old traditions of serving another entity such as Firaun. Despite having been taught and guided by Prophet Musa, having seen the signs of Allah’s punishment and having been granted freedom from oppression, the people of Bani Israel were still stubborn in their disbelief. My dearest brothers and sisters, imagine being in the position of Prophet Musa AS! After all of the sacrifices made, struggles and challenges overcome and effort put in, his people still persisted in misguidance. They were not stupid. Neither were they spoilt by richness of an abundant life. However they forgot easily after every trial that affected them passed. They did not merely hear of the stories of Prophet Musa AS, rather, they experienced these signs personally. Yet, they forgot.
In the coming verses, we will see how even the blessings of “Manna wa Salwa” will be forgotten by Bani Israel when they ask Prophet Musa AS for something else to eat because they had grown sick of what was given. In each of these incidents, Bani Israel made requests to Prophet Musa AS that were not only ridiculous, but also said in a manner that was disrespectful and harsh. They mocked him and complained about whatever they were granted and were quick to dismiss any good that they had been given.
Prophet Musa AS did not lose hope or get frustrated with his people. He stayed firm in fulfilling his responsibilities to his people as the leader of Bani Israel.
The Next Trial
وَمَا أَعْجَلَكَ عَن قَوْمِكَ يَا مُوسَىٰ
(Allah) said, “And what made you hasten from your people, O Musa?” [20:83]
قَالَ هُمْ أُولَاءِ عَلَىٰ أَثَرِي وَعَجِلْتُ إِلَيْكَ رَبِّ لِتَرْضَىٰ
(Musa) said: “They are close behind me, and I hastened to You, Lord, that You may be pleased with me.” [20:84]
So, Prophet Musa AS set off for his appointment with Allah SWT. As he was leaving, Prophet Musa brought along with him 70 leaders from amongst Bani Israel as instructed by Allah.
As previously mentioned, Prophet Musa was extraordinary in his physical abilities, he surpassed other men easily. In addition, he was a Prophet on a mission from Allah. He was excited and looking forward to the meeting, making haste in travelling to his destination. As a result, he found the 70 men following him trailing far behind him. Prophet Musa AS did not wait for them, knowing that they were bound to catch up with him eventually.
قَالَ فَإِنَّا قَدْ فَتَنَّا قَوْمَكَ مِن بَعْدِكَ وَأَضَلَّهُمُ السَّامِرِيُّ
(Allah) responded, “We have indeed tested your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray.” [20:85]
Upon Prophet Musa AS’ arrival on the mountain, he was met with the news of the trial that Allah SWT had sent upon Bani Israel through As-Samiri. As-Samiri was a man from Bani Israel who had not been selected to follow Prophet Musa AS. While he was with his people, he led them all astray in Prophet Musa AS’ absence.
فَرَجَعَ مُوسَىٰ إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ غَضْبَانَ أَسِفًا ۚ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ أَلَمْ يَعِدْكُمْ رَبُّكُمْ وَعْدًا حَسَنًا ۚ أَفَطَالَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْعَهْدُ أَمْ أَرَدتُّمْ أَن يَحِلَّ عَلَيْكُمْ غَضَبٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُم مَّوْعِدِي
So, Musa returned to his people, furious and aggrieved. He said, “O my people! Had your Lord not made you a good promise? Has my absence been too long for you? Or have you wished for wrath from your Lord to befall you, so you broke your promise to me?” [20:86]
Prophet Musa was full of anger and frustration at what his people did. He berated them out of sheer disappointment. We will go deeper into this story in the next session. As a preview, what the people had done was that they had begun to worship an idol shaped like a calf in Prophet Musa’s absence. Once again, their attitude and tendency for disobedience emerged and let them astray.
Despite the many signs and blessings experienced, they remained hard-hearted, forgetful and quarrelsome. As mentioned by Prophet Muhammad SAW, the cause of destruction of many groups of people before our times is “kathratul masa’ilihim” meaning ‘asking too many questions’ and “walkhtilafuhum ‘ala anbiya’ihim” meaning ‘opposing their prophets’. This was demonstrated by Bani Israel in the story of the cow, when they had been instructed to slaughter a cow and had asked so many questions that they were almost unable to fulfil the request because the task became too difficult for them.
Takeaways from Bani Israel’s Story
The lesson we should take from this is to ensure that we are not a defiant people. Islam is not a religion of blind faith. We are encouraged to ask questions and clarify if ever we do not understand or disagree with something being taught. However, this does not give us the permission to be disobedient, stubborn and arrogant in the religion. This attitude is what led to the downfall of Bani Israel. When they asked too many questions, it demonstrated their lack of sincerity in obeying Allah’s commands. Their lack of sincerity was what caused them to oppose the Prophets.
The point of learning about Bani Israel is not to put the blame on them. Rather, it is a call for us to reflect on ourselves and our own actions, how we as Allah’s servants respond to Allah’s commands and warnings. How do we as Muslims respond to what has been declared as good for us in this world and the next? Have a look and see if you have demonstrated any of the characteristics of Bani Israel in your speech and actions.
May Allah make us amongst the soft-hearted, who have excellent Adab in dealing with the Qur’an, the Hadith and the people who relay the messages of Allah to us. If ever you find yourselves not understanding something, come forward and ask. Let us be an Ummah who thinks. If you disagree, respectfully voice it out. Let us be an Ummah that exchanges opinion and has constructive discussions, not an Ummah that is quarrelsome and asks questions based on stubbornness in the heart. May Allah grant us the wisdom to learn from the arrogance and disobedience of Bani Israel so that we may avoid making the same mistakes as them. May we meet again in the next session to look deeper into this story. May Allah distance us from any harm during this period.
Summary by: Arina Adom
Arina Adom is a lover of learning who takes on the world with an open mind. Resourceful and adaptable, always ready to take on new challenges. Comfortable working with diverse groups of people, yet able to work independently. Thrives under pressure. Currently seeking a meaningful career that enables her to impact lives directly and bring about positive changes in the lives of others in the community.
Arina graduated with a degree in Science ( Hons ), Life Science from NUS. She is currently taking a diploma in Quran and Sunnah Studies from Al Zuhri.
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