Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 28: Al-Qasas (The Stories) [14-25]


[14] Then, when he had reached puberty and attained full strength,23 We gave him judgment and knowledge.24 Thus do We reward those who do good.


23. This is how Ibn Jarir explains “Istawa.” Zamakhshari writes that it is that stage in life after which no further physical development is possible.

Sayyid adds: “(At this point we enter into a new phase of Musa’s life). As for what happened after he was restored to his mother, how was he brought up in the royal Pharaonic palaces, what kind of relationship existed between him and his mother after the suckling period was over, what was Musa’s status in the palaces and outside them after he had grown up, what were his beliefs, while he was being readied under Allah’s own eye ..these are all details that the Qur’an did not discuss, but rather, we are taken straight to the next stage in his life and to the next episode.”

24. “This implies that he was pious and righteous from early manhood, and was at no time of his adult life an unbeliever” (Majid).

[15] And he entered the city at a time when its people were inattentive.25 He found there two men fighting: this from his own faction and this from among his enemy. Now the one that was of his faction appealed to him against the one who was from among his enemy. Musa struck him26 and finished him off.27 He exclaimed, ‘This is one of Satan’s doing. Surely, he is a misguiding, manifest enemy.’


25. It was perhaps midday, the markets were closed, and so there weren’t any people around in the streets (Ibn Jarir).

26. Wakaza-wakz” is to fold the fingers and assault with the hand (Zamakhshari), what is known as a punch or a box today (Au.).

27. Although Musa did not intend to kill him (Ibn Jarir).

But how could a punch cause death? Today’s medical science explains it as the result of Commotio Cordis. Examples of sudden death on the field are recorded of players:

Commotio Cordis is a primary arrhythmic event that occurs when the mechanical energy generated by a blow is confined to a small area of the precordium (generally over the left ventricle) and profoundly alters the electrical stability of the myocardium, resulting in ventricular fibrillation.

The impact occurs within a specific 10-30 millisecond portion of the cardiac cycle. This period occurs in the ascending phase of the T wave, when the ventricular myocardium is repolarizing, during the transition from systole to diastole (relaxation). This small window of vulnerability makes commotiocordis a very rare event. (

[16] He said, ‘O my Lord! Surely I have wronged my soul. Therefore, forgive me.’ So He forgave him. He is indeed the Forgiving, the Merciful.28


28. Alusi comments on why Musa had to seek forgiveness for an unintended murder. First, he points out that the Prophets of Allah never commit a major sin at any time in their lives. So, Musa was blameless on that account. However, he was remorseful because after the man died, he might have analyzed his behavior. Did he over-react? Should he not have merely pushed the man away instead of punching him? Yes he could. He had indeed proven hasty which was unbecoming of a man of his status. Hence he said, ‘O my Lord! Surely I have wronged my soul. Therefore, forgive me.’ And he was forgiven. He sought forgiveness because commitment of an unintentional wrong by the pious is considered a sin by those who are closer to Allah.

Mufti Shafi` emphasizes the illegality of a Muslim killing a non-harbi pagan, or confiscating his property. He quotes Ibn Hajr as writing in his Sharh al-Bukhari as follows, “The fact of pagans and Muslims living together in peace, makes their life and property unlawful unto the Muslims.

Thanwi’s opinion is close to this, writes Mufti Shafi`, and was the last of his legal opinions that he heard from him on the 2nd of Rajab 1362 A.H., Thanwi succumbing to his prolonged illness, breathing his last on the 16th of Rajab the same year.

Mufti Shafi` perhaps thought it wise to emphasize –in view of the prevailing situation in the Indian sub-continent, where Muslim life and property is constantly under attack – the question that arises: should they retaliate in a similar manner, or sit back doing nothing? The answer is, so long as the state does not consider attacks against them as legal, they might defend themselves by whatever means possible, but not retaliate in the manner in which they are attacked, such as, indiscriminately killing any non-Muslim, or destroying property, as their enemies do (Au.).

[17] He said, ‘My Lord! For the favor You have bestowed on me, I shall never be a helper to the criminals.29­


29. Hence, Ataa’ has said that it is not lawful for anyone to help an oppressor, or be his writer, or even accept his company. It is reported that Dahhak was asked by Sulayman b. Muslim (an early Abbasid: Ibn Kathir in Tarikh) to go up to Bukhara and distribute some state funds among the people there. He declined. Sulayman made repeated requests but Dahhak emphatically refused. He was asked the reason. He replied tersely, “I do not wish to be a helper to any wrongdoing person in any way.” `Ataa’ b. Rabah was asked, “I have a brother who earns his livelihood with his pen. He keeps the accounts, entering, deducting, etc. He has family and children. If he gives up, he will have to live on loans.” He asked, “Who employs him?” He was told, “Khalid b. `Abdullah al-Qasra” (an Umayyad: Ibn Kathir in Tarikh). He remarked, “Have you not read what a pious person (of the past) had to say?: ‘My Lord! For the favor You have bestowed on me, I shall never be a helper to the criminals!’” (Zamakhshari in part, Qurtubi, Alusi and Mawdudi).

[18] Thus he did his morning in the city in fear, watchful, when behold, the one who had sought his help the previous day was calling after him. Musa told him, ‘You are indeed an evident deviant one.’30


30. For, you are the one who led me to yesterday’s killing (Alusi and others).

[19] Then, as he tried to lay his hand on the one who was an enemy to both,31 he cried out, ‘O Musa! Do you intend to kill me as you killed a man yesterday?32 You do not wish but to be a tyrant in the land, and do not wish to be one of those who set things right.’


31. That is, Musa (asws) did not wish to strike him. He merely tried to restrain the Copt (Au.).

32. He wrongly perceived the threat from Musa’s words of alarm, “Indeed, you are an evident deviant one” (Alusi and others).

[20] Then came a man from the farthest end of the city, hurrying, and said, ‘O Musa! The chiefs are conferring over you, to kill you.33 Therefore, depart. I am indeed one of your sincere advisers.’


33. The intervening events are left out, viz., reports carried to Fir`awn that Musa was the one who had killed the Copt the previous day, and the discussions amongst the ruling elite as to what action was to be taken against Musa, the majority insisting that he be put to death in retaliation, etc. Their decision also implies that although Musa was brought up among the royals, he was never accepted as one of the royalty or even as one of the Copts, to be spared for accidentally killing one of them. Muslims who try to integrate themselves with the non-Muslims, and go a long way to please them, should perhaps make note of this historical reality (Au.).

[21] So he departed therefrom in fear, watchful saying, ‘O my Lord! Save me from the wrong-doing people.’34


34. Yusuf Ali tries to figure out Musa’s state of mind: “Moses saw that his position was now untenable, both in the Palace and in the City, and indeed anywhere in Pharaoh’s territory. So he suffered voluntary exile. But he did not know where to go to. His mind was in a state of agitation. But he turned to Allah (swt) and prayed. He got consolation, and felt that after all it was no hardship to leave Egypt, where there was so much injustice and oppression.”

[22] Then, as he turned his face towards Madyan, he said,35 ‘I do hope that my Lord will guide me to the right way.36


35. Various commentators, especially Majid and Mawdudi, have speculated the route Musa could have taken when leaving Egypt: none perhaps wholly accurate. We reproduce one possibility from Yusuf Ali, not for its certainty, but for its brevity: “East of Lower Egypt, for about 300 miles, runs the Sinai Peninsula, bounded on the south by the Gulf of Suez, and on the north by what was the Isthmus of Suez, now cut by the Suez Canal. Over the Isthmus ran the highroad to Palestine and Syria, but a fugitive could not well take that road, as the Egyptians were after him. If he could, after crossing the Isthmus, plunge into the Sinai desert, east or south-east, he would be in the Midianite territory, where the people would be Arabs and not Egyptians. He turned thither, and again prayed to Allah for guidance.”

“Here,” Mawdudi adds a useful point, “the Biblical account is in agreement with the Qur’anic one in that both state that after leaving Egypt, Moses went to Midian. The Talmud, however, relates the absurd story of Moses fleeing to Abyssinia and becoming a great favourite of the king there.. Moses was then (at the time of departure from Abyssinia: au.) 67 years old (as stated by Polano, though not Talmud. See also The Jewish Encyclopaedia, vol.9, p. 48: ed.).” Or perhaps this story needs to be connected with another, viz. Musa & Israelites had gone back to Egypt after the drowning of Fir’awn. May be there is a mix-up in the sequence of events. See note no. 191 of surah no. 7 for further details.

36. The translation reflects the understanding of Ibn `Abbas who said that Musa did not know the way to Madyan and hence prayed in these words (Ibn Jarir, Kashshaf, Razi and others). Sa`id b. Jubayr mentioned that the journey (on foot) between Egypt and Madyan was eight days long (Kashshaf, Razi, Ibn Kathir and others).

Majid adds: “’And because the public roads were watched, he took the flight through the desert through a route his enemies could not suspect he would travel.’ (Ant. II, 11: 1). ‘The route he took was probably very much the same as that by which he afterwards led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. It avoided the Egyptian ports and settlements.’ (Rawlinson, Moses, His Life and Times’ p. 186).”

[23] Then, when he arrived at the waters of Madyan he found there a crowd of people watering (their flocks) and apart from them he found two women holding back (their flocks).37 He asked, ‘What is the matter with you two?’ They said, ‘We may not water (our flocks) until the shepherds drive off (theirs); and our father is a very old man.’38


37. That is, restraining their flock from rushing towards the well.

38. So, they had to wait until everyone had left by the end of the day, and be content with whatever water was left at the bottom of the well (Au.).

Although, a more becoming behavior on the part of those who are endowed with nature’s good qualities was that the girls should have been allowed to draw water first and drive away their flock before men would start (Sayyid).

Yousuf Ali beautifully fills in the gaps that the verses leave: “Here is a pretty little idyll, told in the fewest and most beautiful words possible. Moses arrives at an oasis in the desert, weary and travel worn, with his mind full of anxiety and uncertainty owing to his recent experiences in Egypt. He was thirsty and would naturally seek water. At the well or spring he found shepherds (or perhaps goat-herds) watering their flocks. As a stranger it was not for him to thrust himself among them. He waited under the shade of a tree until they should finish. He noticed two damsels, also waiting with their flocks, which they had come to water. His chivalry was roused. He went at once among the goat-herds, made a place for the flocks of the damsels, gave them water, and then resumed his place in the shade. They were modest maidens, and had given him in three Arabic words the key of the whole situation. ‘abu-nashaikhunkabirun’ our father is a very old man, and therefore cannot come to water the flocks; we therefore do the work; we could not very well thrust ourselves among these men.’

[24] So he watered (their flocks) for them,39 then he turned aside into the shade and said, ‘My Lord! Verily, whatever You send down to me of a good (thing), I am in need thereof.’40


39. This demonstrates that “perfection” (kamiliyyah) does not negate services to the people (Thanwi), in fact, it is a sign of perfection by itself (Au.).

Most commentators report that Musa drew water from the same well from which the shepherds were drawing. A few say that upon inquiry he was led by the girls to another well that had a huge rock on its mouth. Musa removed it, watered their flock and replaced the lid (Shawkani). The report is in `Abd b. Humayd and Ibn al-Mundhir (Alusi).

40. No human mind could ever think of expressing in such a short sentence, in such absolute sense, the extreme privation that Musa was suffering (Au).

It is said that Musa was in such a state that all that he wished by his supplication was a simple meal (Ibn Jarir).

His supplication demonstrates that the “perfect” are never tired of seeking Allah’s blessings, big or small, as against the “pseudo perfect” who evince total independence of material needs, in fact, spurn them when sent their way (Thanwi).

It is reported of Ibn Mas`ud: “I rode on my camel for two days until I was in Madyan. I inquired about the tree under which Musa had rested. I found it a lush green tree full of leaves. My hungry camel rushed to it and began to feed on it, which it did for an hour, and then vomited. I prayed for Musa and moved on” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). In fact, it is reported that Ibn Mas`ud also visited the tree (at Toor) from which Allah had spoken to Musa (Ibn Kathir).

[25] Then came to him one of the two walking bashfully.41 She said, ‘My father invites you that he may reward you with the wage for that you watered for us.’42


41. The Qur’an has no romantic tales. But a little phrase, “tamshee `ala-istihya’” throws open several avenues of thought to those who have had the experience of watching simple men and women of the country-side living out their lives in complete innocence and supreme natural joy. Gone into oblivion are those days and those scenes that Wordsworth drew in his pastoral poems, perhaps never to return. Among the commentators, Yusuf Ali stands alone in courage and imagination, to fill the colors in the Qur’anic sketches. The reader is advised to read all the notes of this context in his work.

`Umar (ra) is reported to have said (in a Sahih report: Ibn Kathir) that the girl had gone to Musa covering her face with her shirt-sleeve, bashful, unlike the forward and fearless women who are ever ready to dash out of their homes into the streets: on any pretext or no pretext (Ibn Jarir).

42. This demonstrates that acceptance of wages, that were not intended for a good deed, does not nullify a good intention, especially when such acceptance is a means of preventing ill consequences (Thanwi).

A man of keen sentiments, Yusuf Ali could not fail to feel like several characters of the story must have felt at the time the episode took place. He writes, boldly, but cautiously:

“Nothing could have been more welcome than such a message, and through such a messenger. Moses went of course, and saw the old man. He found such a well-ordered patriarchal household. The old man was happy in his daughters and they in him. There was mutual confidence. They had evidently described the stranger to him in terms which made his welcome a foregone conclusion.

“On the other hand, Moses had allowed his imagination to paint the father in something of the glorious colours in which his daughters had appeared to him like an angelic vision. The two men got to be friends at once. Moses told the old man his story–who he was, how he was brought up, and what misfortunes had made him quit Egypt. Perhaps the whole household, including the daughters, listened breathlessly to his tale. Perhaps their wonder and admiration were mingled with a certain amount of pity – perhaps with some more tender feeling in the case of the girl who had been to fetch him. In any case, the stranger had won his place in their hearts. The old man, the head of the household, assured him of hospitality and safety under his roof. As one with a long experience of life, he congratulated him on his escape. ‘Who would live among unjust people? It is as well you are free of them!’”

(To be continued)

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