Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 28: Al-Qasas (The Stories) [27-28]


[27] He said,46 ‘I intend to wed one of these my two daughters to you47 on (condition) that you serve me eight years.48 But if you complete ten, then, that will be (as a favor) from you.49 And I do not wish to press hard on you. You shall surely find me, Allah willing, of the righteous.’50


46. It should not be imagined that the entire conversation, from the time Musa met Shu`ayb, to this point, took place in one session (Au.).

47. In his re-portrayal of the scene, Yusuf Ali fills in the gaps with details that most readers would agree could be the missing links, “A little time passed, and at length the father broached the subject of marriage. It was not for the fugitive to suggest a permanent tie, especially when, in the wealth of this world, the girl’s family was superior, and they had an established position, while he was a mere wanderer. The father asked if he would marry one of the daughters and stay with them for at least eight years, or if he liked, ten years, but the longer term was at his option. If he brought no dower, his service for that period was more than sufficient in lieu of dower. The particular girl intended was, no doubt, tacitly settled long before, by the mutual attraction of the young hearts themselves. Moses was glad of the proposal, and accepted it. They ratified it in the most solemn manner, by appealing to Allah (swt). The old man, knowing the worth of his son-in-law, solemnly assured him that, in any event, he would not take advantage of his position to be a hard task-master or to insist on anything inconsistent with Moses’s interests, should a new future open out to him. And a new and glorious future was awaiting him after his apprenticeship.”

Sayyid echoes the words of Qurtubi in essence when he elaborates: “Thus, in this simple and frank manner that is devoid of any twist of the tongue, the man proposed his daughter to Musa: without any fuss, or feelings of shame or awkwardness. For, he is proposing the building up of a husband-wife relationship and establishment of a home. It is not something that has room for hesitation, vacillation, or far-fetched gestures nor the kind of artificiality that is to be found in societies that have lost their naturalness, having accepted false values and traditions. Such societies prevent the father or custodian from proposing to someone with whose religion, morals and personality he feels satisfied as matching with those of his daughter or sister. They prescribe that it is the man or his representative alone who should make the proposal to the girl’s father or custodian and it should never be done from the girl’s side. The deviation to be noted in such societies is that its young men and women mix together freely, talk freely, and move about freely without any intention of marriage; but when it comes to marriage, then suddenly a pall of unnatural embarrassment descends, and a wall of artificiality is erected, preventing a clear and frank discussion of the proposal.

“In contrast, at the time of the Prophet, fathers offered their daughters for marriage to those they approved. Sometimes, even a woman offered herself for marriage. And the affairs were conducted in perfect frankness, cleanliness, and good manners, unimpaired by the thoughts of shame or dishonor. `Umar offered his daughter to Abu Bakr, then to `Uthman, and then complained to the Prophet perhaps hoping that Allah might decree a husband for his daughter better than the two he had proposed. A woman offered herself to the Prophet – who refused – and then she left it to him to find a suitable match for her.”

48. He was to serve him looking after his flocks and attend to related works (Ibn Jarir and others).

“In patriarchal society it was not uncommon to have a marriage bargain of this kind conditional on a certain term of service. In this case, the episode conveys two lessons. (1) A man destined to be a messenger of Allah (swt) is yet a man, and must pass through the ups and downs of life like any other man: only he will do it with more grace and distinction than other men. (2) The beautiful relations in love and marriage may themselves be a preparation for the highest spiritual destiny that may await a Messenger of Allah (swt). A woman need not necessarily be a snare and a temptation: she may be the understanding help-mate that the Lady Khadija was to the holy Prophet (Yusuf Ali).

This kind of marriage, in which wages are offered by the male as mahr is allowed among the Hanafiyyah (Shabbir), but on certain conditions (Shafi`). There is a close example of this in the hadith. A man had nothing to offer as mahr, so the Prophet (saws) told him to teach the bride some verses of the Qur’an in lieu, to which the woman agreed (Qurtubi). Abu Hanifa’s personal opinion however, was that such an agreement is not allowable in Islam now. Further, this Qur’anic precedence cannot be quoted since in this case, Musa actually promised to serve Shu`ayb, while the mahr is a woman’s own right, and not that of her father (Shafi`).

A contemporary commentator thinks however, that the whole debate as conducted by the scholars of the Ummah over the issue is, in his words, “meaningless.” He lets his imagination loose, and constructs a scenario, which he perhaps thought could not have occurred to others before him. In the heat, he failed to notice the clear implications of the verse in question,viz. service to the father-in-law was a clause of the marriage contract (Au.).

49.  Although all of them weak, but severally they strengthen the report that of the two terms, Musa completed what was more becoming of him, that is, ten. We do not have a trustworthy hadith in this context, but this was the opinion of Ibn `Abbas, as reported in Bukhari (Ibn Kathir). Mujahid however maintained that altogether he served twenty years (Ibn Kathir, Alusi). If Musa was in his early twenties, which seems to be probable, then, it is quite likely that he stayed twenty years before thinking of returning to a land, where dangers lurking for him must have fizzled out over this long period of absence. Indeed, it is possible that he might have heard that the Fir`awn who had brought him up was dead and that another had taken his place (Au.).

In this, there is close affinity with our own Prophet’s mission. He left Makkah in fear, but came back eight years later to subdue it (Shabbir), and emptied it of pagans, just like Egypt was emptied of the pagans in ten years’ time (Muwaddih).

50. “Here again,” writes Mawdudi, “the Israelites have done woeful injustice to their most illustrious Prophet, their greatest benefactor and hero.. According to another Jewish tradition, mentioned in The Jewish Encyclopaedia: ‘On his arrival at Midian Moses told his whole story to Jethro, who recognized him as the man destined to destroy the Egyptians. He therefore took Moses prisoner in order to deliver him to Pharaoh .. Moses was imprisoned in a deep dungeon in Jethro’s house, and received as food only small portions of bread and water. He would have died of hunger had not Zipporah, to whom Moses had before this captivity made an offer of marriage by the well, devised a plan by which she no longer went out to pasture the sheep, but remained at home to attend to the household, being thereby enabled to supply Moses with food without her father’s knowledge. After ten (or seven) years, Zipporah reminded her father that he had at one time cast a man into the dungeon, who must have died long ago, but if he were still living he must be a just man whom God had kept alive by a miracle. Jethro went to the dungeon and called Moses, who answered immediately. As Jethro found Moses praying, he really believed that he had been saved by a miracle, and liberated him … and gave him the virtuous Zipporah as his wife.’” (Vol.9, pp. 48-9).

[28] He said, ‘Be that between me and you. Which soever of the two terms I fulfill, there will be no injustice to me. And Allah is a Witness51 to what we say.52


51. Literally, Trustee (Au.).

52.With this example of Musa before him, how can any Muslim, reduced to a state of discomforts, after the plenty he once possessed, complain of the vicissitudes of time? Or, agree to live among an oppressive or un-Islamic people, for reasons of a materially rich, but spiritually barren life? One may also note the goodness in the heart of a future Prophet. Just out of the palace, he marries a plain Bedouin shepherdess without any qualms, in order to be able to follow, as commentators have pointed out, a virtuous life, and to demonstrate that the love of the world had not touched the heart of someone brought up in luxuries (Au.).


(To be continued)

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