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Does the Qur’an say Torah was given for the Egyptians?

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

Abstract

Reading specific verses out of context could possibly change the meaning of the Qur’an. Sometimes this misunderstanding is just due to ignorance of what the verses actually mean. Sometimes it is due to a malicious intent, in hopes of misleading others away from what the Qur’an is actually saying. This article will discuss one of the stories in the Qur’an that has been misinterpreted by some. The full context of the verses will be examined and it will be clear, without a doubt, as to what these verses are actually referring to.

1. Introduction

The critics of Islam often mix up things and fail to understand plain statements in the Qur’an. By doing this, they only make an exhibition of their lack of understanding and ignorance. One such example is what they call “another careless formulation in the Qur’an.”[1]

They allude to Qur’an 23:45-49 and Qur’an 40:53. Let us have a look at each of these references.

2. Torah was given to Moses to guide the Children of Israel, not Pharaoh

The critics use the translation of Arberry for this passage highlighting the pronouns in different verses:

Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron with Our signs and a manifest authority unto Pharaoh and his Council; but they waxed proud, and they were a lofty people, and they said, ‘What, shall we believe two mortals like ourselves, whose people are our servants?’ So they cried them lies, and they were among the destroyed. And We gave Moses the Book, that haply they would be guided.  S. 23:45-49 Arberry

These critics assert that “they” in all these instances refer to one subject (Pharaoh and his Council). On this basis, he assumes that the Qur’an is making some indication to the Torah being for the Egyptians.

2.1. Context

However, a simple look at the context refutes such wishful assumptions.

In Surah 23, there is a mention of multiple different nations in successions. From verse 23 to 30, it is about Prophet Noah and his people. From verse 31 to 41, the narrative is about Thamud, as clear from the mention of mode of their destruction in verse 41. Verses 43- 44 mention the attitude of all the various people and nations towards the prophets sent to them and the fact that they were punished. Verses 45-48 mention the mission of Prophets Moses and Aaron – may Allah be pleased with them both – toward Pharaoh and party.

After mentioning the destruction of Pharaoh and his people in verse 48, there is a word about the revelation of the Book to Moses – peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – for the guidance of his own people.

2.2. Further analysis

Verse 45 reads:

ثُمَّ أَرْسَلْنَا مُوسَى وَأَخَاهُ هَارُونَ بِآيَاتِنَا وَسُلْطَانٍ مُبِينٍ

“Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron, with Our Signs and authority manifest…”[2]

This verse says what Moses and Aaron were sent with to Pharaoh and his party. These were the clear signs establishing the manifest authority for what they said to them. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, we read that Allah said to Moses:

وَأَدْخِلْ يَدَكَ فِي جَيْبِكَ تَخْرُجْ بَيْضَاءَ مِنْ غَيْرِ سُوءٍ فِي تِسْعِ آيَاتٍ إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ وَقَوْمِهِ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ

“Now put your hand into your bosom, and it will come forth white without stain (or harm): (these are) among the nine Signs (you will take) to Pharaoh and his people: for they are a people rebellious in transgression.”[3]

Explaining these nine signs, Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, ‘Ikrimah, ash-Sha‘bi and Qatadah said, “They are his (glowing) hand, his staff, the years of famine, the failure of the crops, the flood, the locusts, the lice, the frogs and the blood.”[4]

It follows by the mention of the attitude of Pharaoh and his company in verses 46-47. In verse 47, we read:

فَقَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ لِبَشَرَيْنِ مِثْلِنَا وَقَوْمُهُمَا لَنَا عَابِدُونَ

“They said: ‘Shall we believe in two men like ourselves? And their people are subject to us!’”[5]

This verse shows the original people of Moses were not Pharaoh and his party but those who were the subjects of Pharaoh. He showed all these signs to Pharaoh only to make him believe in Almighty Allah and then let his people, the Children of Israel, go with him.[6]

When Pharaoh refused to hearken to the signs from Allah given to Moses and Aaron, he was destroyed along with his party, as mentioned in verse 48:

فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَكَانُوا مِنَ الْمُهْلَكِينَ

“So they accused them of falsehood, and they became of those who were destroyed.”[7]

It is certain that they were destroyed and what follows cannot be about them. Like in the previous verses, a group of people is mentioned and then we are told about their destruction. With this mention, there case stands closed.

The next verse is a different subject related to different people. Verse 49 mentions:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

“And We gave Moses the Book, in order that they might receive guidance.”[8]

Naturally, “they” in this verse cannot be about dead people. With the destruction of Pharaoh and his party, the people of Moses became free and Moses was given the Book for their guidance. It actually refers to the Moses’ original people for whom he pleaded and contended with Pharaoh to take with him.

Ibn Kathir (d. 774 A.H.) comments:

يخبر تعالى أنه بعث رسوله موسى، عليه السلام، وأخاه هارون إلى فرعون وملئه، بالآيات والحجج الدامغات، والبراهين القاطعات، وأن فرعون وقومه استكبروا عن اتباعهما، والانقياد لأمرهما، لكونهما بشرين كما أنكرت الأمم الماضية بعثة الرسل من البشر، تشابهت قلوبهم، فأهلك الله فرعون وملأه، وأغرقهم في يوم واحد أجمعين، وأنزل على موسى الكتاب -وهو التوراة-فيها أحكامه وأوامره ونواهيه، وذلك بعد ما قصم الله فرعون والقبط، وأخذهم أخذ عزيز مقتدر؛ وبعد أن أنزل الله التوراة لم يهلك أمة بعامة، بل أمر المؤمنين بقتال الكافرين، كما قال تعالى: {ولقد آتينا موسى الكتاب من بعد ما أهلكنا القرون الأولى بصائر للناس وهدى ورحمة لعلهم يتذكرون} [القصص: 43]

Allah tells us that He sent Moses – peace be upon him – and his brother Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs with decisive evidence and definitive proof. Pharaoh and his people were too arrogant to follow them and obey their commands because they were human beings, just as previous nations had denied the message of the human messengers. They were of a similar mentality, so Allah destroyed Pharaoh and his chiefs, drowning them all in one day. He revealed the Book to Moses (the Torah) in which were rulings, commands and prohibitions, after He had destroyed Pharaoh and the Egyptians and seized them with a punishment of the Almighty, All-Capable to carry out what He wills. After Allah revealed the Torah, Allah did not destroy any nation with an overwhelming calamity; instead, He commanded the believers to fight the disbelievers, as He says: “We did reveal to Moses the Book after We had destroyed the earlier generations, (to give) insight to men, and guidance and Mercy, that they might receive admonition.”(28:43)[9]

3. The Children of Israel received the book through inheritance

One critic then refers to Qur’an 40:53 and cunningly asks a rhetorical question:

Could it be that the author of the Qur’an really wants to say that the Torah was FIRST given to the Egyptians and that the Children of Israel only (later) inherited it from the Egyptians?[10]

Qur’an 40:53 reads:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْهُدَى وَأَوْرَثْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْكِتَابَ

“We did aforetime give Moses the (Book of) Guidance, and We gave the book in inheritance to the Children of Israel …”[11] 

With confessed confusion, he suggests that the Torah was first given to the people of Pharaoh and then the Children of Israel inherited it from them.

We have already seen that the Qur’an is categorical in stating that the Torah was revealed after the destruction of Pharaoh and his people. There is not even the remotest link to what these rivals of the truth tend to convey.

Al-Qurtubi (d. 671 A.H.) writes:

أي آتيناه التوراة والنبوة. وسميت التوراة هدى بما فيها من الهدى والنور، وفي التنزيل:” إنا أنزلنا التوراة فيها هدى ونور” [المائدة: 44] .” وأورثنا بني إسرائيل الكتاب” يعني التوراة جعلناها لهم ميراثا

“That is, he was given the Torah and the prophethood. The Torah was called ‘Guidance’ because it comprised guidance and light. As it is said (elsewhere) in the Qur’an, ‘Surely We have sent down the Torah, in which there was guidance and light.’ (5:44) ‘We gave the book in inheritance to the Children of Israel,’ means it was made inheritance for them.”[12]

Ar-Razi (d. 606 A.H.) writes:

يكون المراد منه أنه تعالى لما أنزل التوراة على موسى بقي ذلك العلم فيهم وتوارثوه خلفا عن سلف

“It means when Allah Almighty revealed the Torah unto Moses, that knowledge remained among them and they inherited it generation after generation.”[13]

Revelation and the receipt of guidance through the Torah has nothing to do with Allah’s promise that he would make the Children of Israel inherit gardens and will establish them in the land.

4. Conclusion

1. The Qur’an is very clear that the Torah was given to Moses for the guidance of the Children of Israel.

2. His mission to Pharaoh was about making him submit to the will of God in letting the Children of Israel go to the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.

3. The Torah was given to Moses after the destruction of Pharaoh and deliverance of the Children of Israel.

4. The Torah was revealed to Moses and the Children of Israel inherited it from him generation to generation.

.

References & Notes:


[2]Qur’an 23:45

[3] Qur’an 27:12

[4] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1419 AH) Vol.5, 124

[5] Qur’an 23:47

[6] Qur’an 7:104-105

[7]Qur’an 23:48

[8] Qur’an 23:49

[9] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim, Vol.5, 414

[11] Qur’an 40:53

[12] al-Qurṭubi, al-Jami‘ li Aḥkam al-Qur’an, (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyyah, 1964) Vol.15, 323

[13] ar-Razi, Mafatiḥ al-Ghayb, (Beirut: Dar Iḥya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1420 AH) Vol. 27, 525

Published : May 25, 2014

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