Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 28: Al-Qasas (The Stories) [1-13]

Place of Revelation: Makkan1


 [1] Ta. Sin.Mim

[2] These are verses of a clear Book.2


1. Ibn `Abbas and Qatadah have said that this chapter is Makkan except for a verse which came down in Juhfah during the Hijrah journey. The verse in question is No. 85: “Surely He who ordained the Qur’an upon you, will surely bring you back to the place of return.” Muqatil however said that verses 52 to 55 are Madinan.

Ma`dikarab says, “We went to `Abdullah ibn Mas` ud and asked him to recite to us Surah Ta Sin Mim, the two hundred. He said, ‘I do not have it. But rather, you should take it from someone who took it directly from the Prophet, say Khabbab b. al-Art.’ So I went to Khabbab b. al-Art and asked, ‘How did the Prophet recite? Was it Ta Sin Mim, or Ta Sin?’ He answered, ‘The Prophet used to recite them all’ (Qurtubi).

The report is in Ahmad, Tabarani and Ibn Marduwayh, about which Suyuti has said that it has a good chain (Shawkani). Haythamiyy also mentioned it and approved the chain as in Ahmad (S. Ibrahim).

As is usual with the hadith masters, they are primarily concerned with the chain of narratives, leaving out the meaning of the text, or its criticism, to other experts. With reference to the above report, we could not find a proper explanation of the ending words. Perhaps by saying “recite them all” Khabbab meant “he used to recite them both ways.” Again, `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud was an authority on the Qur’an. What did he mean when he said he did not have the Surah? Did he mean he did not take it directly from the Prophet, but rather, Khabbab did?


Alusi reports from Suyuti that the Qur’an mentioned a few incidents from the life of Musa in Al-Shu`ara, such as Fir`awn said, in v.18-19,

{قَالَ أَلَمْ نُرَبِّكَ فِينَا وَلِيدًا وَلَبِثْتَ فِينَا مِنْ عُمُرِكَ سِنِينَ (18) وَفَعَلْتَ فَعْلَتَكَ الَّتِي فَعَلْتَ وَأَنْتَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ} [الشعراء: 18، 19]

Did we not raise you amongst us as a child, and you stayed with us many years of your life? But you committed a deed of yours that you committed, and you are of the ungrateful,” to which Musa replied, in v. 20-21,

{قَالَ فَعَلْتُهَا إِذًا وَأَنَا مِنَ الضَّالِّينَ (20) فَفَرَرْتُ مِنْكُمْ لَمَّا خِفْتُكُمْ فَوَهَبَ لِي رَبِّي حُكْمًا وَجَعَلَنِي مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ} [الشعراء: 20، 21]

I did it then while I was of the unguided. So I fled from you when I feared you.” Then in the next Surah, Al-Naml, what happened from that point onward in Musa’s return journey was revealed. It said, v.7,

{إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَارًا} [النمل: 7]

I perceive a fire.

The Qur’an did not state at those places what happened in the intervening gaps. It picks up the story now in this chapter to fill in the gaps. Considering a few other verses of this and the last two chapters, which, according to Ibn `Abbas were revealed in this sequence, one can say that what was presented in brief in the previous two chapters, was expanded upon in this one, while what was detailed in the previous two, received brief attention in this one.

We are indebted to Asad for pointing out the special characteristic of the story of Musa as it appears in this chapter. He writes: “It is noteworthy that most of this story depicts the purely human aspects of his life – that is to say, the impulses, perplexities and errors which are part of the human condition as such: aspects which the Qur’an stresses in order to counteract any possible tendency on the part of the pious to attribute ‘superhuman’ or, in the least resort, semi-divine qualities to God’s apostles. Appropriately, the surah ends with a sonorous evocation of the truth that ‘there is no deity save God,’ and that ‘everything is bound to perish, save His [eternal] Self.’”

He adds: “The presentation of Musa’s story in this chapter begins with his birth. Nowhere else in the Qur’an has his story started from this point although his stories are spread over several chapters in the Qur’an. This is because the first episode in Musa’s life, the difficult conditions prevailing at his birth, his isolation at birth from every power, the weakness of his people and their humiliations at the hands of Fir`awn .. all these go to serve the principal objective of this chapter and brings out the powerful, open, and challenging hand that works without any veil covering it and directly strikes at tyranny and oppression when humans become incapable of doing so, helping those weak ones who have no power to turn to and establish the persecuted ones who have no authority and no security. That was the meaning that the weak ones at Makkah were in the need to receive, to be reassured with, and which the rebellious, oppressive, and overwhelming majority pagans at Makkah were in the need of learning.”

2. Mubeen” has several connotations: a Book clear in itself, clearly depicting the truth, showing a clear path, as well as, clarifying its message, leaving no doubt about its intents and purposes, so that if somebody chooses a path other than that it shows, he shall not have the excuse of ambiguity of the text at his disposal. This is a proof of Qur’anic authenticity, which every other Scripture lacks (Au.).

[3] We recite to you a part of the story of Musa and Fir`awn in truth – for a people who believe.

[4] Indeed Fir`awn rose up in the land3 and divided its inhabitants into factions,4 weakening a group of them, slaughtering their sons and keeping their women alive.5 Indeed, he was of the corrupters.6


3. That is, writes Zamakhshari, the land of Egypt and Syria, (and elsewhere), Madyan excluded.

4. I.e., “..undoubtedly referring to the division of people into ‘high’ and ‘low-born’ (Asad) a practice now widely prevalent among all kinds of people (Au.).

5. Reports (and not ahadith: Au.) say that it was Ibrahim (asws) who had predicted that one day an Israelite will bring down the power and rule of the Fara`inah. The Children of Israel had been passing the tradition from generation to generation, which finally reached the ears of the Copts (Razi, Ibn Kathir).

According to Suddi, the Fir`awn contemporary to Musa dreamed that a fire had started from Jerusalem that reached the Egyptian lands which burned down houses of the Copts but spared those of the Israelites. The dream was interpreted by the Egyptian priestly class to mean that someone was to rise from the Israelites who would destroy Egypt. So Fir`awn ordered that every new-born male child was to be killed at birth and the general Israelite public to be put to hard and meanly labor.  This was the division that Allah (swt) spoke of in this ayah (Tabari, Razi, Qurtubi).

Qurtubi notes Zajjaj as commenting on the intelligence of the unbelievers, examples of which are reported to us on a daily basis from the elitists of the unbelievers in reference to Islam and Muslims: Consider Fir`awn’s idiocy. If the soothsayers had predicted that a man was to rise from among the Israelites who would destroy his kingdom, then there were two possibilities. Either, they were right in their interpretation, (which meant it would happen no matter what you did), in which case there was no point in killing the new-born males, or they were wrong, in which case too there was no point in killing the new-born (Au.).

 6. The Salaf understood the “`ard” of this occurrence as meaning, lands of Egypt and Syria.

[5] Whereas We wished to confer favor upon those who were weakened in the land7 and make them leaders,8and make them the inheritors.


7. “ allusion to the historical fact that the Hebrews were the first to accept monotheistic creed in a clear, unequivocal formulation..” (Asad).

8. See Surah Ta-ha, note 33 for explanation.

[6] And establish them in the land, and show Fir`awn and Haman9 – and their forces – that which they were dreading.


9. Majid discusses the identity of Haman. He writes: “Haman does not seem to be a personal name, but on the analogy of Pharaoh, it may well be only an official designation. That there was a great Egyptian god by the name of Amon admits of no doubt. ‘He was originally the local divinity of Thebes, but on the accession of the eighteenth dynasty, became the supreme ruler of the Egyptian Pantheon, and official god of the empire.’ (JE.I. p. 526). ‘Amon became the great god of the most important age of Egypt – the XVIIIth-XXth dynasties.’ (ERE.V. p. 247). ‘Later, Amon obtained pre-eminence and, with the rise of Thebes, became the official chief god of Egypt (EBi. C. 3429). And it is quite likely that the official acting as the high priest, in the king’s absence, of Amon’s temple may have borne a title closely akin to what in Arabic pronouncement is known as Haman.’ This is the more probable when we remember that it was impossible for the Egyptian king, who was the responsible head of a highly complex system of government, to exercise his high-priestly functions except on rare occasions, he accordingly was obliged to depute them to the heads, or higher members, of the various local priesthoods.’ (ERE.X. p. 294). Haman is here coupled with Pharaoh, as the latter, next to the king, was the highest dignity of the state. The Theban High Priest of Ammon, was recognized beyond dispute the chief of the sacerdotal order, and the next person in the kingdom after the king.’ (Rawlinson, AncientEgypt, p. 289).”

Asad’s own research confirms Majid’s. He writes: “This Haman, who is mentioned several times in the Qur’an as Pharaoh’s chief advisor, is not to be confused with the Persian Haman of the Old Testament (The Book of Esther iii ff.). Most probably, the word ‘Haman’ as used in the Qur’an is not a proper noun at all but the Arabicized echo of the compound designation Ha-Amen given to every high priest of the Egyptian god Amon. Since at the time in question the cult of Amon was paramount in Egypt, his high priest held a rank second only to that of the reigning Pharaoh. The assumption that the person spoken of in the Qur’an as Haman was indeed high priest of the cult of Amon, is strengthened by Pharaoh’s demand (mentioned in verse 38 of this surah as well as in 40: 36-37) that Haman erect for him ‘a lofty tower’ from which he could ‘have a look at [or ‘ascend to’] the god of Moses’: which may be, among other things, an allusion to the hieratic purpose of the great pyramids of Egypt and to the function of the high priest as their chief architect.”

[7] So We sent inspiration to Musa’s mother10 (to the effect): ‘Suckle him. Then, when you fear for him, place him into the river;11and fear not, nor grieve. We shall restore him to you and shall make him (one) of the Messengers.’12


10. Although the term used is “awhayna,” the revelation was not the type that is sent to Messengers, but rather, as Suddi has said, inspiration placed in the heart (Ibn Jarir).

There is consensus of opinion among the scholars of Islam that she was not a Prophetess. It is possible that an angel was sent to her just as an angel was sent to test three men: the blind, the bald and the leper. Angels also greeted `Imran although he was not a Prophet (Qurtubi). See surah Al `Imran note 76 of this work.

11. The precedence of the words “suckle him” suggest that she was not asked to place the infant into the sea the day of his birth, but rather, resort to it whenever she feared the inspectors’ visit (Tabari).

The textual word “yamm” is used for any large amount of water, applicable both to river as well as sea.

12. As Ibn Zayd said, these words were said at a time when she had placed the casket containing Musa into the Nile but had forgotten to tie up the rope to a peg. The casket floated away (Ibn Jarir).

Asma`ee said that once he praised a bedouin girl for her poetry. She replied, “Is that any eloquence in comparison to ‘Suckle him. Then, when you fear for him, cast him into the river; and fear not, nor grieve; We shall restore him to you and shall make him one of the Messengers!?’ In this short verse Allah, mentioned two commands, two prohibitions and two promises (Qurtubi).

Two commands: Suckle him, and, cast him into the river.

Two prohibitions: Fear not, and, grieve not.

Two promises: We shall restore him, and, make him a Messenger (Au.).

[8] Then the household of Fir`awn picked him up13 to be an enemy to them and a cause of grief. Verily, Fir`awn, Haman and their forces were of the erroneous ones.14


13. The allusion by the words, “Fir`awn’s folks” is to the slave girls of Fir`awn’s wife who were bathing in the Nile. Another opinion is that Fir`awn and his courtiers used to assemble by evenings at the bank of the river Nile with Asiyyah at his side. It is his courtiers who had picked up the casket (Tabari).

14. Literally, those who commit mistakes. Hence Zamakhshari’s comment: They committed mistakes in everything that they did, although “sinning” is another permissible connotation.

[9] Said Fir`awn’s wife, ‘Comfort of the eyes, for me and for you. Kill him not;15 perhaps, he will profit us,16 or we will adopt him as a son’ – and they perceived not.17


15. In keeping with the practice of killing off all male offspring of the Israelites, Fir`awn wished to do away with Musa too, having recognized him as of Israeli origin. But Asiyyah bint Muzahim argued him out of his intention (Ibn Kathir).

16. Ibn `Abbas said that when Asiyyah said, “Perhaps he will benefit us,” Fir`awn remarked dryly, “Maybe you, but not me.” The turn of events proved his words true. Musa benefited Asiyyah, who believed in him when he returned from Madyan as a Messenger, but not Fir`awn who refused and was drowned (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

This verse tells us by implication that one ought to interpret events occurring presently as foreboding good and, consequently expect good to unfold itself in the future.

 17. That is, as Mujahid and Qatadah said, they perceived not that their destruction would be at his hands (Ibn Jarir).

[10] And the heart of Musa’s mother became void.18 She well-nigh disclosed him, had We not fortified her heart – that she should be of the believers.19


18. Anyone who lost a dear one knows what it feels like in the heart for the first few days: it is as if there is a void where the heart used to be, or, as if within the heart there is a place vacant (Au.).

Although there are one or two other interpretations, the preferred meaning is that her heart became empty of everything except the remembrance of Musa. She could not think of anything or talk about anything except him. The pronoun in “bihi” then is for Musa’s remembrance which reached such levels that it was feared that she would reveal the birth and loss of child to his enemies. This is the interpretation offered by Ibn `Abbas (Ibn Jarir).  This interpretation is in Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, and Hakim, with the latter declaring it trustworthy (Alusi, Shawkani).

19. That is, a believer in Allah’s promise when He said to her, “We shall restore him to you” (Qurtubi).

[11] She said to his sister, ‘Follow him.’ So she observed him from a distance while they perceived not.20


20. Another possible meaning is that she spotted Musa from a distance while he was being picked up, though she herself was not within their sight. Alternatively, as some reports suggest, she spotted Musa outside the palace gates as the attendants were looking for someone who could nurse the child. For a few other details see Ta-ha, note 33.

[12] Now We had forbidden him aforetime (all) wet nurses.21 So she suggested, ‘Shall I direct you to a household that will take care of him and will be his sincere well-wishers?’


21. The word “maradi`” could also mean the place of suck, or, breasts (Zamakhshari, Alusi).

[13] Thus We restored him to his mother that she might be comforted, and not grieve; and that she might know that Allah’s promise is true but most of them know not.22


22. Several commentators discuss in detail how it all happened that ultimately Musa was restored to his mother. But since the reports have not been checked for their authenticity, we ignore them. Nevertheless, one or two points could be discussed, e.g., did it not occur to Fir`awn’s attendants how Musa’s mother could have milk without giving birth to a child? The answer given is that Musa’s mother explained by saying that she had a son to suckle, Harun, who was born the year before, which was another reason, it has been said, why she said she could not move into the Palace, when asked to do so. There was perhaps another stronger reason, which the commentators do not point out, as to why Musa’s mother could not be identified as his mother: he was pretty dark, as in sahihahadith, (but carefully concealed by Jews and Christians), while she was most probably fair. This author has known an extremely dark person, although none in the extended family was any worse than light brown (Au.).

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