Translation and Commentary of Verses from Surah 26: Al-Shu`ara’ (The Poets) [ 34 – 59 ]



[34] He said to the eminent ones around him, ‘This, indeed, is a skilled magician.’

[35] ‘He plans to drive you out of your land by his magic.45 So, what is it then that you would advise?’46


45. That is, he will deprive you of your political power. (Ibn Kathir)

The verse also throws hint that the ruling Syksos were foreigners in the land, colonizers of Egypt. (Au.)

46. The textual word allows for two possible meanings: one, as in translation (from mu’aamarah), another, command. (Kashshaf)

Fir`awn wasn’t, of course, waiting for a command from them or for advice. Perhaps, by using such terms he aimed at beefing up their ego. He needed all of it to fight out Musa’s influence. (Au.)

[36] They said, ‘Put him and his brother off (for a while), and send in the cities musterers –

[37] To bring you every accomplished skilled magician.’47


47. The qualifying noun “every” (and “accomplished”: Au.) was meant to attenuate the emperor’s anxiety. (Kashshaf)

[38] So the magicians were assembled at the appointed time48 of a day well-known.49


48. The textual word “meeqat” covers both time and place of appointment, hence mawaaqit of ihraam which are for time as well as place. (Kashshaf, Razi, Alusi)

49. The “well-known” day was the day of festivities. (Zamakhshari)

It was actually Musa himself who had suggested that the appointed day be the day of festivities, as stated in Taa Haa, verse 59. And, initially, Fir`awn was hesitant about it, but accepted in fond hope that his sorcerers will win out. Yusuf Ali wrote at that point:

“Pharaoh was apparently taken aback at Moses appointing a solemn day of public Festival, when there would be a large concourse and there would sure to be some people not in the Court clique, who might be critical of Pharaoh’s own sorcerers. But probably there was something more in their dark counsels, something unfair and wicked, to which Moses refers in his speech in the next verse (which said, ‘So Fir`awn withdrew, got together his tricks and then came back:’ Au.)‏”

[39] And the people were asked, ‘Will you assemble?!50


50. “(To witness the glory of State religion and the discomfiture of these pretenders).” – Majid

Yusuf Ali adds: “…the object was to get together as large a concourse of people as possible. It was confidently expected that the Egyptian sorcerers with all their organization will win with their tricks against those amateur Israelites, and so the State cult of the worship of Pharaoh would be fastened on the necks of the people more firmly than ever.”

[40] Haply we shall follow the magicians if they are the ones who overcome.’

[41] Then, when the magicians arrived they asked Fir`awn, ‘Shall we indeed have a reward if we are the winners?’51


51. “There was no such thing as pure loyalty to an exploiting ruler like this Pharaoh. The sorcerers, who were probably also priests, were venal, and they hoped to establish their own hold on both king and people by the further enrichment of themselves and their order.” (Yusuf Ali)

[42] He said, ‘Of course. And, in that case, you shall surely be of those brought nigh.’

[43] Musa told them, ‘Throw down, whatever you are going to throw.’

[44] So they threw down their ropes and their staffs, and said, ‘By the might of Fir`awn,52 it is we who will be the ones to overcome.’


52. It was an oath (Kashshaf, Alusi). Ibn `Atiyyah, however (as well as a few others), have thought that it was for the purpose of drawing benediction (barakah), and a way to honor their earthly deity – Fir`awn. (Alusi)

[45] Then Musa threw his staff53 and lo, there she was swallowing54 what they had devised.


53. Majid comments: “The Bible, wrong and muddled as usual, attributes this miracle instead of Moses to Aaron. (Ex. 7: 9, 10)”

54. The textual talqafu has the connotation of quick swallowing. (Alusi)

[46] Consequently, the magicians were thrown prostrate.55


55. The belief and involuntary prostration was due to the fact that the magicians – being skilled as they were, and masters of their time – knew better than anyone else that what had nullified their magic was not any magic, but a true miracle. Also, they must have guessed that if what Musa presented was also magic, their own staffs and ropes would not have disappeared altogether. And the lesson is, expert knowledge serves you sometime, in some place. (Razi and Alusi paraphrased)

Perhaps, since the news of the nature of Musa’s miracle had spread far and wide before the actual encounter, the magicians had come prepared with the same kind of magic in order to fitfully refute him. They hadn’t brought, for example, apples that could become rabbits or rabbits to become bananas. So, when their only tools of magic: staffs and ropes, disappeared, they were left with nothing on hand to try something else. Their helplessness would have affected them to consider Musa’s feat seriously, which, along with Allah’s tawfiq, led them to declare their change of heart (Au.).


[47] Saying, ‘We believe in the Lord of the worlds.56


56. This demonstrates that Musa’s message and mission were fairly well-propagated by that time and so they knew what he stood for (Au.).

[48] Lord of Musa and Harun.’57


57. They added these words to disqualify Fir`awn (Kashshaf) who claimed Lordship, and to dispel any doubt about the identity of the Deity they had believed in. (Au.)

[49] Said he, ‘Have you believed before I granted you permission!? Why, he is your chief who taught you magic,58 so you shall presently know. I will indeed cut off your hands and feet on the opposite sides and shall crucify you all.’


58. Although Musa had been out of the kingdom for a decade, and hadn’t had the chance to travel through the land teaching the sorcerers magic, Fir`awn knew this ploy would still work, for, such is the mental disposition of the masses. In our own times, the American leaders work similar ploys on their masses with good success (Au.).

[50] They said, ‘No harm.59 To our Lord indeed we are to return.


59. They did not mean that they could not – or would not – be put to any harm, but rather that the harm they would face was nothing in comparison with the blessings of the Hereafter. (Razi)

[51] We do hope that our Lord will forgive us our errors for that we were first of the believers.’60


60. That is, as a group from among the Copts.

[52] And We inspired Musa,61 ‘Travel with My servants by night. You will surely be pursued.’62


61. That was said when Fir`awn and his people’s intransigency showed no sign of change in opinion with regard to Musa and his Message. (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir)

62. Mawdudi notes: “The change in the Exodus story does not imply that right after the contest Moses was commanded to take the Israelites out of Egypt. The details of these years are mentioned (elsewhere in the Qur’an).”

[53] Then Fir`awn sent musterers to the cities.

[54] ‘These are but a small band.63


63. The term “shirzimah” itself is for a small band, to which “qaleel” was added by Fir`awn to belittle Israelite efforts to escape. (Razi) 

[55] And they are surely enraging us.64


64. That is, no time passes but they do things that makes our anger rise more and more against them. (Razi, Ibn Kathir)

[56] But we are a vigilant multitude.’65


65. Some scholars have understood it as meaning, “We are ready with our arms and armies to destroy them all.” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir)

[57] Thus We brought them out of orchards66 and springs.67


66. It is said that throughout Egypt, both sides of the river Nile were adorned with orchards and cultivated fields. (Qurtubi, Alusi)

67. With reference to the use of the word ‘springs,’ Qurtubi presents quite some detail about river Nile. He explains that the taxing system depended on how high the Nile arose. The higher it arose, the higher were the taxes. It is recorded that after Egypt fell to Muslims, once the water did not rise at all. The local Copt population informed the Governor, ‘Amr b. al ‘Aas, that their custom in such circumstances was to offer a human sacrifice. In times past, they used to seek volunteer parents who would offer a virgin daughter of theirs. She was brought forth in the best apparel and jewelry and thrown into the remaining water. Usually the Nile arose. ‘Amr disagreed saying Islam did away wrong practices of the past. And when the populations showed readiness to migrate, he wrote to `Umar. `Umar wrote back that he was sending a letter to the Nile which was to be thrown into the river in place of the virgin. The letter said, “From a slave of Allah, leader of the believers, `Umar, to the Egyptian Nile: After praises to Allah. If you flow following your own command, then you may stop. But if it is Allah, the Almighty, by whose command you flow, then we beseech Him that He make you flow.” It was dipped in the Nile a day before the Copts had intended to dip the Cross (and the virgin). By the next day, the Nile started rising.

Qurtubi also quotes the hadith of Muslim which says, “Sayhaan, Jayhaan, Neel and Furaat are all springs of Paradise. The hadith of Isra’ (the Nocturnal Journey) says that the Prophet (saws) saw four rivers in Paradise from which sprang forth two apparent springs and two in-apparent springs. He asked Jibril about them who told him that the in-apparent springs were those of Paradise and the apparent ones were Neel and Furaat (Nile and Euphrates). According to a report in Bukhari, he was told that two rivers in Paradise were the constituents of Neel and Furaat.

[58] Treasures and an honorable position.68


68. Maqaam of the text is both masdar as well as “a noun of place” (Zarf Makan). According to Nuhhas, it is for “a place” as well as Maqaamah (pl. Maqaamaat).

[59] Even so, and We bequeathed them upon the Children of Israel.69


69. That is, Fir`awn and his folks left these things – orchards, springs, treasure and lofty positions – behind them in this world and Allah bequeathed these favors upon the Israelites. As Allah said (7: 137), “And We made those who were reduced weak by them inherit the easts of the earth and its wests in which we laid Our blessings” (Ibn Kathir).

Hasan and others have said however, that the Israelites returned to Egypt after the destruction of Fir`awn and his army (Qurtubi). Mawardi expressed similar opinion. It has also been said by some that not all of them went back to Egypt. Some did, while the main party proceeded to Syrian lands along with Musa (Alusi). Western sources, after laughing their heart out for a thousand years at the seeming Qur’anic error, have finally admitted that a section of the Israelites did go back to Egypt, although not recorded in the infallible Torah. Majid quotes:

“When the national life of Israel in Palestine ceased, an important section of the people, carrying with them the prophet Jeremiah, wandered back to Egypt. Thus, for the second time, Egypt became the home of the Jewish race, and much of later Jewish history was upon its soil. To what importance the Jews attained here can best be inferred from legends concerning them, originating in other countries. An Ethiopic apocryphal book contains a legend respecting Jeremiah which narrates that in answer to a prayer of prophet Jeremiah, the reptiles of the dry lands and the crocodiles of the rivers were exterminated’ (JE., I. p. 255). ‘Egypt, according to the testimony of Philo, was inhabited, as far as the borders of Libya and Ethiopia, by Jews whose numbers were estimated at a million.’ (p. 226) During a still later period Egypt had become, as it were, a second holy land for Judaism.’ (p. 227)”

See note 191, Surah Al-A`raf for further discussions (Au.).

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