Verses from Surah Al-A‘raf (130 – 136)

In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the Merciful

[130] Then We seized Fir‘awn’s folk178 with years of drought and scarcity of fruits179 that haply they might be admonished. 

Commentary

178. Rashid comments on the textual word “ ‘al” (tr. as folks) that originally the word stood for a nation’s individuals of grace and honour such as, the Prophets, kings and elders of a people. Eventually, it came to be used for distinctive individuals and finally for the common people too. This is the basis of the opinion of the scholars of Islam that “ ‘al al-Nabiyy” would include all those who follow him. It is in this sense that the word “ ‘al al-Nabiyy” has been used in the tashahhud. However, not every follower of the Prophet (saws) is included in the term by default. Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was told: “People say that the whole of the Ummah of the Prophet (saws) is included in the term “ ‘al al-Nabiyy. Is that correct?” He replied: “They lied while they spoke the truth. They lied when they said that the whole of his Ummah is included in the term. But they spoke the truth if they meant to include those who live by the Shari‘ah.”

179. A stricter meaning of “thamarat” would include all kinds of produce, be they agricultural or industrial (Au.).

Sayyid  Qutb  writes: “When  a man’s true nature is disfigured then he cannot see Allah’s hand behind the events happening around him. He severs the links between events and events, bereft of any relationship with One Who runs and controls the universe. So that, the only thing that a Khrushchev, (former Russian President) could say when faced up with years of crop failure, was, “Nature seems to be against to us!”

[131] But, whenever a good (thing) came to them, they said, ‘This is our due.’ But when an evil touched them they would augur ill by Musa and those with him.180 Nay! Rather their ill augury was with Allah.181 But most of them realized not.182 

Commentary

180. Whenever something good happened at the national level, they would take the credit for it themselves. But when an ill-fortune struck them they would say, ‘Since the time Musa has appeared we have been facing one problem after another’ (Ibn Jarir).

Asad adds: “The phrase tatayyara bihi signifies “he attributed an evil omen to him” or “he augured evil from him.” It is based on the pre-Islamic Arab custom of divining the future or establishing an omen from the flight of birds. Thus, the noun tair (lit. “a flying creature” or “a bird”) is often used in classical Arabic to denote “destiny” or “fortune,” both good and evil.”

The drawing of omen from the flight of birds consisted in disturbing a bird in its nest. If it flew off towards the right, it was taken as a good sign. But if it flew towards the left, it was taken as an evil sign (Sayyid). The Prophet (saws) has said in a Sahih hadith: “There is no such thing in Islam as drawing omen from the birds” (Au.). Islam has rather left the outcome to proper application, good intentions, hard work, etc., that result in the manifestation of Allah’s Decree (Sayyid).

181. That is, whatever visited them, whether good or adversity, was all from Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas (Ibn Jarir).

182. Qurtubi writes: The Prophet (saws) has said: “Drawing bad omen is a (kind of) shirk” – he said that three times, and then added – “and each of us has (something of it in his heart). But Allah (swt) cures it with trust in Him.” The report is in Musnad Abu Da’ud.

According to another report, if someone finds that in his heart, he should say:  ie., “O Allah! None comes with the good but You and none removes the evil but You. There is no power but with You.” Then, after that, let the man proceed with whatever he wishes to do, with faith and trust in Allah (swt).

[132] And they said, ‘Whatever sign you may bring us to cast a spell upon us therewith, we are not going to believe in you.’ 

[133] Therefore, We let loose on them flood,183 the locusts,184 the lice,185 the frogs,186 and (water turning into) blood:187 signs distinct.188 But they waxed proud. And, indeed, they were a criminal (minded) people. 

Commentary

183. The textual word “tufan” has been variously interpreted by Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and others as death, floods, plague or any general calamity resulting in wide-scale death and destruction (Ibn Jarir).

184. Ibn Kathir quotes several ahadith to prove that locusts are lawful for the Muslims, although the Prophet (saws) did not eat it, just as he avoided eating dubb-meat. His wives, however, used to send across plate-full of it as gift. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab too seems to have been fond of locusts. Locusts were apparently lawful to the Jews. Ch. 1, verse 6 of Luke says: “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey” (Au.).

185. The textual word “qummal” is for any little wingless insect. It would include lice, pests that attack the grain, fleas, etc. According to a statement of Sa`id b. Jubayr, it was a little insect that ate off the wheat from within, so that when ground, they got nothing out of the grain. Suddi however has said that it were insects that filled everything: their grain, food, clothes – kind of omnipresent (Ibn Jarir).

Majid comments: “This particular plague was eminently fitted to work upon the Egyptian abhorrence of impurity and defilement. ‘The Egyptians had an intense hatred of lice, and looked upon them as so impure that the priests were required to shave their entire bodies in order that no louse or other impure creature might adhere to them’ (Rawlinson, Moses: His Life and Times).”

186. In trustworthy reports preserved by Abu Da’ud, Ibn Majah and others, the Prophet (saws) has forbidden killing of: “Sarad (a kind of bird that preys on sparrows), frogs, ants and hoophoe” (Qurtubi).

Majid quotes from Rawlinson’s Moses, His Life and Times: “One of the Egyptian divinities, Hika, has the head of a frog, and we may presume therefore, that the head of a frog was a sacred animal which it was not lawful to destroy… How could those creatures be divine which had aroused such hatred and loathing in the hearts of the entire people? How could they henceforth be looked upon without detestation? The whole theory of sacred animals must have suffered a shock when Hika’s sacred sign, the emblem of fecundity and productiveness, became an object of hatred and abhorrence.”

187.  Sa‘id Ibn Jubayr and Suddi have said that water, once fetched by Pharaoh’s folk, turned to blood. Ka‘b al-Qurazi has said that the trial lasted full seven days (Ibn Jarir).

Majid writes: “This plague coming out of the sacred river Nile must have caused a severe shock to the Nile-worshipping Egyptians. ‘That sacred stream, so fondly worshipped as the giver of all good, was the generator of this great evil. Nile, want to bestow nothing but blessings, brought forth this curse’ (Rawlinson, Moses: His Life and Times).”

188. The textual word “mufassilat” can both be rendered as “self-evident” as well as “distinct” (Zamakhshari). Their self-evidence was strengthened by the fact that they touched only Fir`awn and his subjects. The Israelites did not suffer from them.

For e.g., water remained water for the Israelites but turned blood once poured out from an Egyptian’s pitcher into an Israelite’s pitcher (Ibn Jarir).

Although no detail has come down from the Prophet (saws) about these signs – all being reports of Israeli origin – yet, that the signs had to be of the specific kind that they were, was necessary because magic and its effects were nothing new for the Egyptians.

Nothing less than “distinct signs” appearing on the national level and disappearing at Musa’s supplications, could convince the least skeptic of them that they were miracles of heavenly origin.

How long did Musa tarry in Egypt? We have no authentic reports to this effect. However, Qurtubi has said that Musa lived in Egypt for 20 years from the date of the magicians falling into prostration until the drowning of Fir‘awn. This should also explain why Fir‘awn and his folks would not believe despite the distinct signs they experience. That was perhaps because firstly, the signs appeared at long intervals and, secondly, they appeared and disappeared gradually, almost in a natural manner to allow skepticism to play its role in leading the disbelievers to disbelief (Au.)

[134] Whenever a wrath fell upon them they cried out: ‘O Musa! Supplicate to your Lord by what He has promised you. If you release us (O Musa!) from this wrath, we shall believe in you and shall let go with you the Children of Israel.’

[135] But when We relieved them of the wrath until a term they were to come to, behold, they went back (on their word).189 

Commentary

189. Majid writes: “Nakatha (of the text) is to undo the threads of a garment, or to undo, or untwist a rope.”

[136] So We took vengeance on them and drowned them in the sea190 for that they cried lies to our signs and were unmindful of them.

Commentary

190. The word in the original “al-Yamm” is for a bottom-less sea (Zamakhshari).