Verses from Surah Taha (23-40)

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

[24] Go to Fir`awn. He has indeed transgressed (all bounds).’21


21. The Fir`awn in question, (which was a title), is generally identified as Rameses II. Majid writes: “Rameses II the generally acknowledged oppressor of Israel, ‘was inordinately vain’ (Breasted, History of Egypt, p. 461).

[25] He said, ‘O my Lord, open my heart for me.22


22. Musa knew that destined to receive Revelation, he will need a large heart to accommodate its secrets and subtleties (Alusi).

Imam Razi has a commentary on this verse which runs into several pages but we drop it out because of its philosophical nature.

[26] Ease up my task unto me.

[27] And untie a knot on my tongue.23


23. In the absence of a hadith, it is not clear what the verse means, especially in view of the explanation offered by Sa`id b. Jubayr, Mujahid and Suddi, that prevents us from accepting the literal meaning. They explained, as in Tabari, and obviously relying on Jewish accounts, that once Fir`awn picked up the infant Musa. He tore off a few hairs from his beard. In rage, he wanted to kill him off then and there. But his wife pleaded saying “after all he is a child and does not know the difference between diamond and live coal.”

Fir`awn caught on that, and ordered that diamond and burning coals be brought and placed before Musa. Musa picked up live coal and put it in his mouth, which left a knot on his tongue, unable to speak out properly when he grew up. Suddi’s version says it was Jibril who put the burning coal into Musa’s hand.

But of course, the story does not sound true, apart from the fact that it is perhaps of Jewish origin (Au.).

At all events, Muhammad b. Ka`b al-Qurazi, who was of Jewish origin, seemed to have understood the verse in its apparent sense. Somebody once remarked to him that he sounded poor in Arabic. Ka`b asked him in return, “Are you not able to follow my speech?” (That is, can you understand what I say or can you not?) The he added, “I hope you will understand what I am about to say. Listen. Musa asked his Lord to remove a knot on his tongue in order that the Israelites are able to understand his speech..” Ka`b stopped short at that. The meaning then is, Allah removed just enough of the knot on Musa’s tongue for him to be able to communicate his ideas to others (Ibn Kathir).

In other words, the terms “a knot on my tongue” implies a part removal of some kind of impediment in reference to eloquent speech that Musa suffered (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani and others).

Later, in verse 52 of Surah 43, we will come across Fir`awn’s objection to Musa that he was not clear in presenting his argument. But that was a political gimmick. Fir`awn understood everything that Musa said, but he wished to pretend ignorance for the sake of his courtiers. Otherwise, one may look at Musa’s presentations and arguments in Fir`awn’s court. They are at the highest level of eloquence with no ambiguity surrounding them (Au.).

[28] That they understand my speech.24


24. This piece further strengthens the opinion that it was simply the ability to successfully communicate his ideas to others that Musa had requested when he had asked for the removal of a knot on the tongue. He did not suffer any physical impediment (Au.). Present day Bible supports this meaning. It says, “And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent .. but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Ex. 4: 10) – Majid.

[29] And appoint for me a helper25
from my family. 


25. The primary meaning of the term “wazir” is “burden-carrier” (from wizr meaning a “burden”).. “hence its later – post-classical – application to government ministers (Asad).

[30] Harun, my brother.26


26. Musa’s supplication in favor of his brother leads us to believe that he had remained in touch with him, was aware of his good qualities, and had good faith in him (Au.).

[31] Strengthen me by him.27


27. Literally, the translation should be, “strengthen my back with him.”

[32] Let him associate with me in my task.

[33] So that we glorify you much.

[34] And remember You greatly.

[35] Surely, You are ever seeing of us.’28


28. Of several possible explanations, one is that Musa meant to say, “I have asked for an assistant to help me out in the affairs entrusted to me. However, whether I need one or not is, O Lord, best known to You. After all, you are seeing of us” (Razi).

[36] He said, ‘You have been granted your requests O Musa.29


29. In all, Musa made eight requests and was granted all of them with no modifications, and no strings to them. This is how His slaves have to behave when dealing with one another: ever ready to give when asked. Our Prophet never said ‘no’ to anyone who asked. When he did not have anything to give, he promised he would give when he had (Au.).

[37] Indeed, We conferred a favor on you another time.30


30. Razi raises a question and then answers. Why did Allah say at this point, “We conferred a favor on you another time?” Why did He have to remind Him of a favor done? The answer is, (firstly, it was in order that Allah’s blessings may not be taken for granted. One has to be conscious of them. And that needs a reminder: Au.). Secondly, Musa needed the reminder that he did not earn those blessings: they were entirely bestowals from His Lord.

Sayyid adds that perhaps it was to remind Musa that he wasn’t being sent unprepared. It was a long plan, executed by Allah and not an accidental event that Musa was there receiving the command to proceed and warn Fir`awn.

Imam Razi further points out that earlier also Allah (swt) had bestowed eight favors on Musa (asws) – from birth until he came looking for fire in the valley of Tuwa.

[38] When We inspired your mother with what was inspired.31


31. The translation of “awhayna” (lit., We revealed) as “We inspired” reflects the unanimous understanding of the commentators that Musa’s mother was not a Prophetess.

Thanwi points out that this verse is the basis, apart from others, of the statement that non-Prophets can receive inspiration.

[39] (To the effect) that, “Place him in a chest and then cast it into the rive – that the river may cast him ashore, to be picked up by one who is an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.” And I cast upon you love from Me, that you be brought up under My sight.32


32. That is, under special care. Majid writes: “`Ala `Ayn is said in this instance to refer to ‘honouring and protecting.’”

[40] When your sister walked along and said, “Shall I lead you to someone who will take charge of him?’” Thus We returned you to your mother so that she may cool her eyes and not grieve33. Then you killed a man,34 and We rescued you from distress 35  and tried you with many trials.36  Then you remained several years with the people of Madyan. Finally you have arrived (here) according to a decree, O Musa.37


33. Understanding these verses requires the background story that the Qur’an unfolds in other chapters. A few points can be offered here drawing some details from sources other than the Qur’an. Fearing the advent of a Prophet among the Israelites, Fir`awn and his advisors decided that they should better kill every new-born Israeli male child. But, subsequently, fearing serious shortage of labor, they decided to kill the male offspring every alternate year. Harun (asws) was born the year they decided to spare them, but Musa in the year they were killing. Inspired to the action, his mother put him in a casket, and cast it into the river Nile. The casket however was held by a rope tied to a peg. She pulled it ashore to feed the child whenever she felt free of the dangers of Copt informers and inspectors. But one day the rope slipped off her hand and the casket floated away in good cheer. She sent her daughter behind it to find out what happened to it.

Meanwhile the casket was picked up by the Royal household. But the child, despite its heart-rending cries refused to be fed by anyone. His sister somehow came to know of him. (According to some reports, the news spread around that Fir`awn’s folks had picked up a child who was not accepting anyone’s breast: Alusi). She managed to speak to someone of importance and said (that although she knew nothing about who the child belonged to) she could lead them to someone, very decent, who could nurse him. (Perhaps any doubt about she being the true mother could have been removed from the color of the parents: Musa was dark, while his parents were perhaps as fair as the Semites: Au.). Thus the child was ultimately returned to the mother, who insisted she would rather take the child into her house instead of she herself moving into the palace: what with her another son Harun to be looked after?! Finally, they agreed to it, and paid her handsomely for the services to her son (Au.).

An account more in detail is available in Nasa’i and has been quoted by Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir and others.

34. The story behind the incident will appear in detail – in sha Allah – in Surah al-Qasas. In short, an Israeli sought Musa’s help against a Copt. Musa punched the Copt and he fell dead. Next day he found the same Israeli quarrelling with another Copt. As he advanced to help, the Israeli thought it was he who was about to receive the punch and revealed the other day’s happening. The previous accidental killing uncovered, Musa had to leave Egypt and seek refuge in Madyan.

Ibn Jarir presents a hadith which says that the Copt that Musa had killed was never intended to be killed yet Allah said, “Then you killed a man, and We rescued you ..

35. The allusion is to the removal of the distress caused by the accidental killing of a man in Egypt (Mujahid, Qatadah: Ibn Jarir).

36. To the question, were the trials to which Musa was subjected, a favor that His Lord mentioned here? Imam Razi and Qurtubi answer that yes, they helped cleanse him and led to his selection for Messengership.

When Sa`id b. Jubayr asked Ibn `Abbas the explanation of the trials, he narrated to him the entire story of Musa, from the beginning of the affair until he came to the Tuwa valley pointing out several trials that he was subjected to (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir, Alusi and others).

37. That is, it is not an accident that you came here, O Musa, to collect fire, but are receiving Messengership. The whole affair had been designed long past in time (Shabbir).

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