Verses from Surah Ta-Ha (9-23)

[9] And, have you received the story of Musa?7


7. Imam Razi expresses the possibility that among the Makkan revelations this was the first time the Qur’an was narrating Musa’s story and hence it started with words, “Have you received the story of Musa?”

 [10] When he saw a fire,8 and said to his family, ‘Stay here.9 I can perceive a fire. Perhaps I can bring you back a burning brand from it, or find guidance at the fire.’10


8. We are at a point in Musa’s story when, having completed his term with his father-in-law, Musa (asws) was heading back to Egypt, with his wife. It was a cold wintry night and Musa had lost his way (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and others).

9. The form is plural, leading us to believe that it was a small caravan comprising of a wife, a child, or more (Au.).

10. That is, guidance to the path Musa had lost that would lead him to Egypt (Ibn Kathir from Ibn `Abbas).

[11] When he came to it, he was called, ‘O Musa!

[12] Surely I, I am your Lord! So put off your shoes;11 you are in the sacred valley Tuwa.12


11. Majid quotes: “Among the Hebrews, ‘it was a mark of reverence to cast off the shoes on approaching a sacred person or place’ (ERE. XII. p. 149).”

The earliest scholars differed between themselves over why Musa was asked to remove his shoes. Quite a few said that they were made of a dead donkey’s leather and so unclean. But Ibn Jarir distrusts the Prophetic report in this regard and prefers the reason that Musa was asked to do so for his feet to draw spiritual blessing (barakah) by touching the soil of the Holy Valley.

Qurtubi adds: Musa (asws) was possibly asked to remove his shoes for reasons of humility due at the time of devotional acts. The Salaf used to remove their shoes while circumambulating the house. Indeed, Imam Malik would not ride upon a camel within Madinah out of respect for the Prophet’s body buried there. Nevertheless, it is allowed in our Shari`ah to Pray with the shoes on. In fact, someone has said that it is preferable to do so in view of Allah’s instruction (7: 31), “Put on your adornment at every Prayer.” But the condition is that they should be free of filth. It is reported that:

Once the Prophet removed his footwear, placed them on the left hand side and then entered into Prayers. The Companions behind him followed him. After the Prayers he asked them why they had done that. They said they did in his imitation. He said, “Jibril came to me to say that my footwear was unclean.” Then he added, “When one of you comes to the Prayers, let him look at his shoes. If unclean, let him rub off the dirt and then Pray in them.”

Abu Da’ud narrated this hadith and Muhammad Abdul Haq rated it as Sahih.

In fact, Ibrahim al-Nakha`i used to say, “I would like to see the shoes of those who Pray without them taken away by a needy person!” However, according to a report in Nasa’i, the Prophet himself was seen on the day he entered Makkah triumphant removing his shoes and placing them on the left side before Prayers. He placed them on the left side because he was the Imam. As for others, they should put them in a place where they do not inconvenience others. Further, if the dirt is say urine, excrement, etc., then, according to most scholars, rubbing them off is not sufficient. They must be washed. According to Abu Hanifah, if the impurity is dry it may be rubbed off, but if wet, the shoes must be washed.

Qurtubi’s commentary ends here.

Finally, the fact must not be lost sight of that Arabia is a dry place, sandy, craggy, and rocky, with no rains and no mud. There is little or nothing to dirty one’s shoes in complete contrast with wet places, where streams, open sewages, and pools of water dotting the landscape help spread the dirt by feet. Thus, what is applicable to Arabia is not applicable to every other place (Au.).

12. Commentators are divided between the majority accepting Tuwa as the name of the valley and a minority, as meaning “twice,” i.e., a valley twice blessed.

[13] I have chosen you; therefore give ear to what is to be revealed.13


13. That is, listen carefully. Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna has said that the first step towards gaining knowledge is to hear carefully, intently. Then memorize it, then put it to practice and finally, spread it (Qurtubi).

[14] Verily I, I am Allah. There is no god but I; therefore worship Me, and perform the Prayers for My remembrance.14


14. “Thus, the conscious remembrance of God and of His oneness and uniqueness is declared to be the innermost purpose, as well as the intellectual justification, of all true prayer” (Asad).

The translation represents the general understanding. However, another possible meaning is, “offer the Prayers whenever you remember” (Ibn Jarir). This draws its strength from a hadith in Ahmad. It says,

 “When one of you sleeps off his Prayer, or forgets to do it, then let him do it when he remembers, for Allah said, ‘Perform the Prayers for My remembrance’” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Similar reports are in the Sahihayn (Shawkani).

The text however, writes Qurtubi, allows for both the interpretations. In its extended meaning, hadith literature tells us that if someone did not do his Prayers intentionally, he might do it when he repents. This is the opinion of almost all scholars except that of Da’ud (Zahiri) and one or two minor scholars. The situation is the same as with fasts. Whoever did not do Ramadan fasts is, by consensus, required to do them later. So also Prayers. Those who said against, perhaps said it to impress the importance of the Prayers, and not to discourage people from not Praying at all later, if in the first instance, they did not do it intentionally.

[15] Surely, the Hour is to come that I would well-nigh conceal it,15 so that every soul be requited for its labors.


15. The literal translation of “akadu” as “almost” is the understanding of Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah, Abu Saleh and others who said that the meaning is, “I would almost conceal it from Myself, it being an affair of such suddenness” (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

However, some have understood “akadu” in the sense of “I wish (to conceal)”, i.e., from the creations. Ibn Jarir and others quote poetical lines to show that classical Arabic has examples of such usage, although he himself accepts the former interpretation as most likely intended. Further, the word “ukhfi-ha” changes its meaning if read as “akhfi-ha” which some have done. In that case it would mean, “I will show” or, “manifest”, and the whole verse would mean, “The Hour is coming and I am about to show it.” But this is not a popular understanding (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi and others).

[16] So let him not avert you from it who does not believe in it but follows his lust, lest you perish.

[17] And what is it in your right hand, O Musa?’16


16. Some scholars have said that the question was asked about an obvious thing in order to draw Musa’s attention to the fact that it was after all a wooden rod that he held in his hand (and which he will see undergo a transformation) – Ibn Kathir.

[18] He answered, ‘It is my staff. I lean on it, beat down therewith leaves for my sheep, and I have other uses thereof.’17


17. The lengthy answer by Musa (asws) to a short and simple question leads us to believe, writes Qurtubi, that one may answer more than asked. We have similar examples in the hadith. When the Prophet (saws) was asked about sea water he replied, “Its water is clean, and its dead lawful.” And, when a little girl was raised up and asked, “Can she perform Hajj?” he answered, “Yes. And you will get the reward.” Many such examples can be quoted from the hadith.

The ahl al-qalb of course have not missed to note Musa’s anxiety to prolong his conversation with His Lord.

Qurtubi also devotes more than a page to the use of a staff and is inclined to believe that every believer should carry one, whether old or young. He quotes Maymun b. Mahran as saying: “Carrying a staff is a Sunnah of the Prophets of all times, and a sign of a believer.” Hasan al-Busri said, “There are six points involved in a staff: a Sunnah of Prophets, adornment for the righteous, a weapon against enemies, a supporter for the weak, hateful to the hypocrites and an increase in obedience.” Our Prophet too carried one. (Of course not because he was too old: Au.). He used it for several purposes. One was to use it as a barrier (Sutra) during Prayers in the open. During Tawaf he used it for pointing to the Hajr al-Aswad in lieu of a kiss. He also leaned on it during his sermons. In fact, there is consensus that the Khateeb should lean on it during the sermons. During tarawih Prayers ordered by ‘Umar, some Companions used to support themselves with staffs because of the lengthy recitation.

The above said, we may point out that although several ahadith quoted on the virtues of carrying a staff (although Qurtubi does not quote any), are, according to Albani untrustworthy (see Ahadith al-Da`ifah wa al-Mawdu`ahhadith no. 536); none the less, we know that the staff was commonly used by the Companions. We also know that apart from our own Prophet, Musa (asws) carried a staff, and that Sulayman (asws) died while leaning on one. We also have a hadith in Tabarani, declared trustworthy by Ibn abi Hatim, to the effect that on the Day of Judgment all the Prophets will be carrying a staff (Haythami, Kitab al-Ba`th). In fact, other reports imply that a few others will be carrying staffs on that Day. A report (Hasan according to Ibn Hajr) says that when `Abdullah b. Unays had completed his mission successfully, the Prophet gave him a staff in reward and told him to preserve it for he will be carrying it on a Day when few will be carrying anything to support themselves with. Following his instructions, it was buried with him when he died (Au.).

[19] He said, ‘Cast it down O Musa.’

[20] He cast it and behold, it was a snake,18 moving swiftly.


18. The textual word “hayyah” is a generic word meaning “snake.” In other places the Qur’an referred to the staff-turned-snake as “jann” which is for a thin swift moving snake as against “thu`ban” – also used in the Qur’an – which is for a python. Perhaps the staff took different shapes at different times. Some have conjectured that although it became like a large python, it moved as fast as a thin snake which made it all the more fearful, and hence the two names (Au.).

Majid adds: “This miracle of the rod had a special significance in Egypt, where snake was deified and worshipped as a sacred deity. ‘Of all the animals’ that were the real gods of Egypt, ‘none were so numerous or were so universally feared and venerated as the snake’ (Syce, Religion of Ancient Egypt, p. 208).”

Some of the crowns of ancient Egyptian rulers were decorated with snake figures (Au.).

[21] He said, ‘Grasp it and fear not.19 We shall restore it to its former state.


19. Majid once again, “Moses was subject to the primary human emotion of fear as much as any other mortal, and there is absolutely nothing derogatory to him in that he got frightened at the wonderful ‘freak of nature’. Cf, the OT: ‘And the Lord said unto him, what is that in thine hand? And he said, a rod. And He said, cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled before it’ (Ex. 4: 2-3).”

[22] And press your hand to your side, it will come forth white without blemish20 – an additional sign.

[23] In order that We may show you (some) of Our great signs.


20. That is, without any similarity with the hand of a leprous person (Ibn Jarir).

Majid explains why this phrase was added: “The import of the phrase.. is to correct the derogatory misstatement of the Bible that Moses’ ‘hand was leprous as snow’ (Ex. 4: 6) and also a story quoted by Josephus (an ancient Jewish historian: Au.) that ‘Moses was a leper, and was expelled from Heliopolis on this account’ (DB. II. p. 96).”

  (To be completed)

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