Pharaoh in the Quran

Pharaoh in the Quran

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Pharaoh in the Quran is a very interesting topic. Pharaoh is a word used to mean kings of ancient Egypt. Pharaohs considered themselves as gods along with the other idols that they considered as their gods which they worshipped. The Pharaoh that God mentions in the Quran was a specific Egyptian king who lived at the time of Prophet Moses.

As to exactly who this pharaoh was is a subject of debate. According to a French scientist who studied mummies of pharaohs noticed that one of the mummies by the name of Merneptah had remnants of salt in his body. Therefore, he came to the conclusion that Merneptah was the Pharaoh who lived during the time of Moses and who drowned in the sea.

Pharaoh in the Quran: Killing Sons and Leaving Women Alive

The very first passage about the Pharaoh in the Quran is in surah Baqarah verse 49:

وَإِذْ نَجَّيْنَاكُم مِّنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ يُذَبِّحُونَ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَاءَكُمْ ۚ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُم بَلَاءٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ ﴿49﴾

[Remember] when We delivered you from Pharaoh’s clan who inflicted a terrible torment on you, and slaughtered your sons and spared your women, and in that there was a great test from your Lord.

The Pharaoh had heard from his fortune-tellers and soothsayers that a boy from the Children of Israel will be raised who will topple his government. Therefore, in order to avoid this, he ordered that every male child from among the Israelites be killed. Indeed, this was a great test from Allah for the Children of Israel. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh was unable to avoid his destiny and ultimately, Moses was born and was raised by the Pharaoh himself.

Pharaoh in the Quran: Pharaoh Adopts His Enemy

The Children of Israel had been downtrodden for years under the yoke of the Pharaoh. They were awaiting a savior from among themselves to put an end to the Pharaoh’s oppression. Ultimately, the savior was born. His father was Amram or ‘Imrān (عِمران) as it is known in Arabic, while his mother was Jochabed or Yūkābid (يوکابِد). God ordered Moses’ mother to put Moses in a basket and cast him into the sea so that he would be safe from the guards of the Pharaoh. At the same time, Moses’ mother told her daughter to closely follow the baby in the sea. Eventually, Moses was found by Āsiyah, the wife of Pharaoh. She pleaded with the Pharaoh not to kill the innocent boy and instead adopt him. And, so they did.

Pharaoh in the Quran Depicted as a Tyrant

The Quran depicts the Pharaoh as a ruthless tyrant who considers himself as God and expects everyone to obey and even worship him. The Pharaoh is unfair in that he enslaves the Children of Israel and does not allow them to live like other Egyptians in peace and comfort. Therefore, God sends Moses and his brother Aaron as prophets to the Pharaoh to preach him and guide him along the straight path as well as to free the Children of Israel. But would an arrogant tyrannical ruler like Pharaoh submit himself to the one and only God? The short answer is no. God orders Moses to:

اذْهَبْ إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَىٰ ﴿17﴾

‘Go to Pharaoh, for indeed he has rebelled,

فَقُلْ هَل لَّكَ إِلَىٰ أَن تَزَكَّىٰ ﴿18﴾

and say, ‘‘Would you purify yourself?

وَأَهْدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَتَخْشَىٰ ﴿19﴾

I will guide you to your Lord, that you may fear [Him]?’’ ’ 1

Then Moses showed him his miracles, however:

فَأَرَاهُ الْآيَةَ الْكُبْرَىٰ ﴿20﴾

Then he showed him the greatest sign.

فَكَذَّبَ وَعَصَىٰ ﴿21﴾

But he denied, and disobeyed.

ثُمَّ أَدْبَرَ يَسْعَىٰ ﴿22﴾

Then he turned back, walking swiftly,

فَحَشَرَ فَنَادَىٰ ﴿23﴾

and gathered [the people] and proclaimed,

فَقَالَ أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ ﴿24﴾

saying, ‘I am your exalted lord!’

فَأَخَذَهُ اللَّـهُ نَكَالَ الْآخِرَةِ وَالْأُولَىٰ ﴿25﴾

So Allah seized him with the punishment of this life and the Hereafter. 2

Pharaoh in the Quran: Enslavement of the Children of Israel

The Children of Israel aka the Israelites were a tribe that Pharaoh oppressed and tortured greatly. Their male newborn sons were killed and their women were spared. In fact, the Pharaoh was committing genocide by killing the male children of the Israelites. For this reason, God sent Moses and Aaron to the Pharaoh to stop his oppression and to guide him as well. God ordered Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh:

فَأْتِيَا فِرْعَوْنَ فَقُولَا إِنَّا رَسُولُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿16﴾

So approach Pharaoh and say, ‘‘We are indeed envoys of the Lord of the worlds

أَنْ أَرْسِلْ مَعَنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ ﴿17﴾

that you let the Children of Israel leave with us.’’ ’ 3

Similarly, elsewhere the Quran quotes Moses as saying:

فَأْتِيَاهُ فَقُولَا إِنَّا رَسُولَا رَبِّكَ فَأَرْسِلْ مَعَنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ وَلَا تُعَذِّبْهُمْ ۖ قَدْ جِئْنَاكَ بِآيَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكَ ۖ وَالسَّلَامُ عَلَىٰ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ الْهُدَىٰ ﴿47﴾

So approach him and say, ‘‘We are the apostles of your Lord. Let the Children of Israel go with us, and do not torture them! We certainly bring you a sign from your Lord, and may peace be upon him who follows guidance! 4

When Moses said to Pharaoh what God had asked him, the Pharaoh said:

قَالَ أَلَمْ نُرَبِّكَ فِينَا وَلِيدًا وَلَبِثْتَ فِينَا مِنْ عُمُرِكَ سِنِينَ ﴿18﴾

He [i.e. Pharaoh] said, ‘Did we not rear you as a child among us, and did you not stay with us for years of your life?

وَفَعَلْتَ فَعْلَتَكَ الَّتِي فَعَلْتَ وَأَنتَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ ﴿19﴾

Then you committed that deed of yours, and you are an ingrate.’ 5

Moses was raised in the court of the Pharaoh, and the deed that Pharaoh was talking about was Moses’ killing one of Pharaoh’s guards, after which he escaped the city and went to Midian. Moses himself also feared the Pharaoh’s retribution, but God Almighty assured him and promised to protect him.

Pharaoh in the Quran Rebels

After a conversation took place between Moses and the Pharaoh, and after Moses asked the Pharaoh to free the children of Israel and said that he is a messenger from God, the Pharaoh said who is your Lord? Moses introduced God to the Pharaoh:

قَالَ رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا ۖ إِن كُنتُم مُّوقِنِينَ ﴿24﴾

He said, ‘The Lord of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them,—should you have conviction.’ 6

Then the Pharaoh said:

قَالَ لِمَنْ حَوْلَهُ أَلَا تَسْتَمِعُونَ ﴿25﴾

He said to those who were around him, ‘Don’t you hear?!’ 7

The Pharaoh was perplexed. No one had dared to say that there is no god but God Almighty. Moses ignored the Pharaoh’s words and continued:

قَالَ رَبُّكُمْ وَرَبُّ آبَائِكُمُ الْأَوَّلِينَ ﴿26﴾

He said, ‘Your Lord, and the Lord of your forefathers!’ 8

The Pharaoh got very mad and said:

قَالَ إِنَّ رَسُولَكُمُ الَّذِي أُرْسِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ لَمَجْنُونٌ ﴿27﴾

He said, ‘Indeed your messenger, who has been sent to you, is surely crazy!’ 9

Once again, Moses ignored Pharaoh’s rude remark and continued introducing God the Exalted:

قَالَ رَبُّ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿28﴾

He said, ‘The Lord of the east and the west and whatever is between them—should you exercise your reason.’ 10

Then the Pharaoh said to Moses:

لَئِنِ اتَّخَذْتَ إِلَـٰهًا غَيْرِي لَأَجْعَلَنَّكَ مِنَ الْمَسْجُونِينَ ﴿29﴾

He said, ‘If you take up any god other than me, I will surely make you a prisoner!’ 11

Moses replied: What if I bring you something as a proof? The Pharaoh retorted, “Then bring it should you be truthful.” 12 So then Moses threw down his staff and it became a serpent. “Then he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white bright to the onlookers.” 13 The Pharaoh said Moses is indeed a sorcerer.

Pharaoh in the Quran: The Duel Between the Magicians and Moses

Even though Prophet Moses showed many of God’s signs to the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh still denied Moses and the Lord of the worlds by calling him an expert magician. So in order to disproof him, he summoned all magicians from different cities to challenge Moses to a duel. Then, he gathered all people to witness the duel. The magicians were clever in that they asked the Pharaoh:

أَئِنَّ لَنَا لَأَجْرًا إِن كُنَّا نَحْنُ الْغَالِبِينَ ﴿41﴾

‘Shall we have a reward if we were to be the victors?’ 14

The Pharaoh replied:

نَعَمْ وَإِنَّكُمْ إِذًا لَّمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ ﴿42﴾

‘Of course; and you will be among members of my inner circle.’ 15

The duel begins. Moses asks the magicians to throw down what they have first. So they do, and say:

بِعِزَّةِ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّا لَنَحْنُ الْغَالِبُونَ ﴿44﴾

‘By the might of Pharaoh, we shall surely be victorious!’ 16

Now it was Moses’ turn to throw down his staff. When he did, the giant serpent appeared and swallowed all those fake snakes. The magicians realized that what Moses did was not sorcery or magic, but rather an evident sign and miracle of God. Therefore, they fell down prostrating while saying, “We believe in the Lord of all the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron.” 17

Pharaoh in the Quran Plans to Punish the Magicians

When the magicians professed their faith in God and the religion of Moses, the Pharaoh got extremely angry and said:

قَالَ آمَنتُمْ لَهُ قَبْلَ أَنْ آذَنَ لَكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَكَبِيرُكُمُ الَّذِي عَلَّمَكُمُ السِّحْرَ فَلَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ ۚ لَأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ وَلَأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ ﴿49﴾

He [i.e. Pharaoh] said, ‘Do you profess faith in Him before I should permit you? He is indeed your chief who has taught you magic! Soon you will know! I will cut off your hands and feet from opposite sides, and I will crucify you all.’ 18

However, the magicians said that it did not matter to them and that they would return to their Lord. They said:

إِنَّا نَطْمَعُ أَن يَغْفِرَ لَنَا رَبُّنَا خَطَايَانَا أَن كُنَّا أَوَّلَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ﴿51﴾

Indeed we hope our Lord will forgive us our offences for being the first to believe.’ 19

One surprising thing to consider is that these magicians used to be disbelievers who were after worldly gains. However, when they saw the miracle of Moses, their tone changed all of a sudden and they became devout and earnest believers and said, “We hope our Lord will forgive us our offences for being the first to believe.” This shows how a person can be revolutionized in a matter of minutes or seconds and turn from an obstinate disbeliever into a devout and pious believer.

Pharaoh in the Quran Pursues Moses

God revealed to Moses to take the Children of Israel and travel by night because the Pharaoh and his men would surely pursue them. Therefore, Pharaoh sent heralds to different cities while telling them not to worry as they are just a small number of people. The Pharaoh said:

وَإِنَّهُمْ لَنَا لَغَائِظُونَ ﴿55﴾

They have aroused our wrath,

وَإِنَّا لَجَمِيعٌ حَاذِرُونَ ﴿56﴾

and we are alert and fully prepared.’ 20

Pharaoh and his men chased Moses and the Israelites at sunrise. The troops of the Pharaoh found Moses by the sea and surrounded them. The Israelites panicked and said they were done for. However, God revealed to Moses to strike the sea with his staff, whereupon it parted. Therefore, a passageway was made. Moses and his people all crossed the sea.

Pharaoh in the Quran Drowns

Pharaoh and his men chased Moses and moved across the parted sea. When Pharaoh and all his troops were in between the parted sea, God put the sea back together causing all of them to drown. At this instant, the Pharaoh said:

آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ ﴿90﴾

‘I believe that there is no god except Him in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am one of those who submit [to Him]!’ 21

However, it was too late:

آلْآنَ وَقَدْ عَصَيْتَ قَبْلُ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ ﴿91﴾

[He was told,] ‘What! Now? When you have been disobedient heretofore and were among the agents of corruption?! 22

Therefore, Pharaoh drowned and his faith in God at the final moment of his life was not accepted. Furthermore, God says in the Quran:

فَالْيَوْمَ نُنَجِّيكَ بِبَدَنِكَ لِتَكُونَ لِمَنْ خَلْفَكَ آيَةً ۚ وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ النَّاسِ عَنْ آيَاتِنَا لَغَافِلُونَ ﴿92﴾

So today We shall deliver your body so that you may be a sign for those who come after you.’ Indeed many of the people are oblivious to Our signs. 23

Based on history, his body was quickly brought out from the sea and was mummified. God wanted his body to be preserved so that it serves as a lesson for others who are arrogant like him.

Conclusion

The Pharaoh was an arrogant tyrant of his time who oppressed people because of their race, ethnicity, and religion. The fate of this tyrant is a lesson for all tyrannical rulers of the world. As the Quran says, the outcome will always be in favor of the Godwary. Therefore, no matter how much the tyrants oppress people and commit injustice, the final outcome will still be in favor of the Godwary. Moreover, God does not accept professing faith in Him and Islam while one is dying like the Pharaoh. In other words, one must do so before that.


References

  1. Quran 79:17-19 (Qara’i).
  2. Quran 79:20-25 (Qara’i).
  3. Quran 26:16-17 (Qara’i).
  4. Quran 20:47 (Qara’i).
  5. Quran 26:18-19 (Qara’i).
  6. Quran 26:24 (Qara’i).
  7. Quran 26:25 (Qara’i).
  8. Quran 26:26 (Qara’i).
  9. Quran 26:27 (Qara’i).
  10. Quran 26:28 (Qara’i).
  11. Quran 26:29 (Qara’i).
  12. Quran 26:30-31 (Qara’i).
  13. Quran 26:32-33 (Qara’i).
  14. Quran 26:41 (Qara’i).
  15. Quran 26:42 (Qara’i).
  16. Quran 26:44 (Qara’i).
  17. Quran 26:46-48 (Qara’i).
  18. Quran 26:49 (Qara’i).
  19. Quran 26:51 (Qara’i).
  20. Quran 26-55-56 (Qara’i).
  21. Quran 10:90 (Qara’i).
  22. Quran 10:91 (Qara’i).
  23. Quran 10:92 (Qara’i).
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Abu Mahdi
Abu Mahdi
I'm Abu Mahdi, one of the writers of this blog. I have a BA in English literature and an MA in English language teaching. I am also a teacher and reciter of the Quran in the field of reading the Quran, tajweed, and maqamat. Currently, we are working on a course for learning tajweed of the Quran here on Islam4u.

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