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Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue (7)

Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue (7)
Dialogue in the Story of Moses

The story of Moses (a.s.) occupies more space in the Holy Quran, so much so that it has been mentioned in some thirty places. The significance it has for our ever-changing world is that, with his strong character, Moses entered life at a very turbulent and difficult period right from his birth. His was a society that was oppressed and subdued. From his earliest years, he lived a life that was far from perfect. These experiences he lived to tell of. They hardened his iron resolve to face up to the difficult situations of life, a life that as soon as the struggle had pulled it away would revert to finding solace in God Almighty.

A critical situation

Before he was revealed to, Moses had lived a hard life that had made an impact on his character. He had experienced some concern and uncertainty about Pharaoh’s might and his overwhelming presence over the heads of his people.

Although he felt rather apprehensive when he was entrusted with delivering the Divine Message to Pharaoh, yet he was up to the task of propagating true belief in God, in that, in discharging his responsibility, he wanted to draw on the strength of God as well as on that of his brother. His frame of mind is brilliantly captured in the following Quranic verses that describe his dialogue with his Lord:

Go thou to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds.” (Moses) said: “O my Lord! Expand me my breast; ease my task for me; and remove the impediment from my speech, so they may understand what I say: And give me a Minister from my family, Aaron, my brother; add to my strength through him, and make him share my task: That we may celebrate Thy praise without stint, and remember Thee without stint: For Thou art He that (ever) regards us.” (20: 24–35)

As the verses suggest, although Moses did not turn down the job, yet he was not sure that he would be able to carry it out to the required standard. That is, delivering the message should be given its due regard, as it needed awareness of the surrounding circumstances, a foresight into the future and, above all, an articulate person who could put the message across with finesse. In another verse, you can see him pleading with God that there were things that might render him unsuitable for the job, such as he had already killed a man, thus: “And (further), they have a charge of crime against me; and I fear they may slay me” (26: 14)

Thus, his requests from God were dictated by his own circumstances. He asked his Lord to “expand me my breast; ease my task for me; and remove the impediment from my speech, so they may understand what I say: And give me a Minister from my family, Aaron, my brother; add to my strength through him, and make him share my task”, so that both of them could share the responsibility from a position of strength. The response came from God, thus: “Allah said: ‘Granted is thy prayer, O Moses!” (20: 36).

In the second chapter of the story, we come across Moses and Aaron standing shoulder to shoulder, when Aaron was charged with the task of giving support to his brother in delivering the Message. Both the brothers expressed their feeling as to the gigantic task that was put on their shoulders:

Go, thou and thy brother, with My Signs, and slacken not, either of you, in keeping Me in remembrance. Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds; but speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (God).” They (Moses and Aaron) said: “Our Lord! We fear lest he hasten with insolence against us, or lest he transgress all bounds.” He said: “Fear not: for I am with you: I hear and see (everything). So go ye both to him, and say, ‘verily we are apostles sent by thy Lord: Send forth, therefore, the Children of Israel with us, and afflict them not: with a Sign, indeed, have we come from thy Lord! And peace to all who follow guidance! Verily it has been revealed to us that the penalty (awaits) those who reject and turn away.” (20: 42–48)

Relying on absolute power

Defining the task was made manifestly clear, as Pharaoh overstepped his bounds and pushed his luck. He had to be sent a messenger to convey to him God’s words so that he could be brought back to his senses with that which could appeal to his heart and could send shivers down his spine with the threat of use of force of the Almighty, which was capable of destroying his might, if need be.

The Divine design was, first, to appeal to his heart with gentle and loving words, in the hope that he might respond to the call of the truth. The hope was that he might be reminded of God’s graces and bounties on him, and of His chastisement.

Moses and Aaron (a.s.) were alarmed that Pharaoh might transgress against them, as he had all the material power in his arsenal, compared to their insignificant one.

God tells them not be afraid because they draw on the Might of the Omnipotent, who bestows power on the powerful, and that He has control over such power and the powerful alike. God further assures them that He is with them in whatever they say or do. Everything happens with His knowledge and under His gaze. He then instructs them what to say.

At the outset, they have to inform Pharaoh of their capacity as the prophets of God, so that he is aware of their identity and whom they represent when they discuss matters with him. The target of their mission and demands would be freeing the Children of Israel, who were oppressed, from the clutches of repression and punishment. After setting them free, they should be given freedom of movement and they should be left with Moses and Aaron to start a new life, away from Pharaoh’s repression and excesses. Then the two brothers would present Pharaoh with the miracle that would prove the veracity of their prophecy, cautioning him of God’s punishment, should he chose to brand them liars and shun the Words of God

The dialogue between the two messengers and God ended after He had explained to them the terms of reference of their mission, only for the mission to be set on the road of execution. In their capacity as the messengers of God, with a mandate to speak in His name, they started the dialogue with Pharaoh thus:

(When this message was delivered, Pharaoh) said: “Who, then, O Moses, is the Lord of you two?” He said: “Our Lord is He Who gave to each (created) thing its form and nature, and further, gave (it) guidance.” (Pharaoh) said: “What then is the condition of previous generations?” He replied: “The knowledge of that is with my Lord, duly recorded: my Lord never errs, nor forgets, He Who has made for you the earth like a carpet spread out; has enabled you to go about therein by roads (and channels); and has sent down water from the sky. With it have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others. ‘Eat (for yourselves) and pasture your cattle: Verily, in this are Signs for men endued with understanding. From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.” (20: 49–50)

For a start, Pharaoh chose to ignore any knowledge about the Lord of Moses and Aaron, Whose Message they delivered to Pharaoh. Therefore, he tried to ask them about whom their Lord was, just to give the impression, before his people, that the issue could relate to some unknown person who might be competing with him. Moses’ answer dawned on Pharaoh in an all-encompassing word, putting the questioner in an unenviable situation, i.e. that of an ignoramus. How dare he ask such a question when he lives in this magnificent world where everything, be it small or big, testifies to the existence of God. He has given every being and entity in the whole universe the gift of existence. He then organized everything in such a fashion that it serves what it has been created for, according to flawless natural laws.

How can a person deliberately ignore all that, or pretend not to know about it, while everything in existence looks them in the eye. God’s presence is in the earth we walk on, in the sky, which sends the rain pouring, turning barren land into one heaving with life and flora. The similitude of such a person who is feigning ignorance, is that of him who closes his eyes to the reality of his own existence.

Pharaoh turned to another question, aiming to divert attention away from the answer he could not provide, to a marginal issue, which was capable of inflaming feelings and creating an atmosphere of animosity against the Message and the messengers. It was that of the destiny of the bygone generations who were not believers. Moses’ answer was that only God knew what they did, that it was all recorded, and that they would be called to book to answer for their deeds on the Day of Judgment.

Moses then went back to talk about God, His creation of the earth, which He spread out, adorning it with ways that make it inhabitable and His creation of the heavens, which give nourishment to the earth with the rainwater it sends down to benefit man and animal. He then gave Pharaoh an account of man’s journey in life, from the cradle to the grave to standing before God.

This was a skilful move by Moses (a.s.) to corner Pharaoh, who was running away from continuing the discussion on God Almighty, lest Moses should influence those around them who were listening attentively to the arguments and counter-arguments of the two men. Never before was Pharaoh confronted with a call and debate of such nature and intensity.

This dialogue has significance for our work in many respects:

1. The activists’ task and personal considerations

The activists should not turn their backs on the task of delivering the divine message. This should be the case, regardless of the state of mind they are in. Fear and uncertainty should not be a pretext to abdicate responsibility. They should ponder the matter in the same way Moses (a.s.) did when he was first called up to duty. What he did was to seek audience with God in supplication and prayer, explaining his position that it was not in his capacity to shoulder the full burden of Message. Thus, he pleaded with God to provide him with the spiritual strength required to be up to an acceptable standard. Moses did not stop there. He appealed for more support, by requesting that the Message be boosted further by another person whom he was sure could help him carry out his mission in the best possible manner.

These Quranic verses should provide us with this moral: the activist should not fall victim to his egotism, which would prevent him from seeking outside help with his work, or from accepting the offer of help from others for fear of losing his independence in discharging his duty. He may also think that, in the eye of others, he is not competent enough to shoulder practical responsibilities.

The reason being that the issue of active work in the arena of calling to the way of God is not a personal one. Rather, it is the faith that the activist holds and is responsible for. Accordingly, matters of success or failure are of a public nature rather than a personal one. So, when he decides to roll up his sleeves and enter the fray, he should be prepared to study all the basics that should contribute to making the task a success. This attitude should prevail across the board, be it the people he co-operates with or the means he uses to achieve the objectives. We should emulate Moses when he pleaded with his Lord to let his brother, Aaron, share the responsibility with him. Moses’ position encapsulates the highest standards of having a sense of responsibility. He did not have any qualms about asking for that which would benefit the work in the cause of spreading the message, especially in the areas where Moses found himself lacking.

It is a great Quranic lesson for those who, when working in the way of God, wish to look at this work from a personal self-centered perspective. This is bound to preclude a person from joining forces with others, in a bid not to give the impression that they are dependant.

2. Feeling the presence of God

God wants the workers in His way to feel His presence in all the situations they may encounter. They should feel His company overseeing their work and that of their adversaries. Feeling God’s presence is capable of giving the workers the required boost to combat any feeling of frailty in situations where they come face to face with the challenges and exaggerations of their adversaries. With this sense of security with God, the workers would not feel lonely, nor would they buckle under the pressure of others.

3. Two important pillars

In the realm of activity, the workers should espouse the approach that would make the hearts and minds of others respond to the sound of God’s words. This should encourage them to be articulate, calm and collected and give them confidence. On the other hand, they should avoid using complex or insensitive language, let alone adopting an annoying posture that is liable to give the impression of indecision and shakiness, which would in turn call for an shaky response. This can be avoided when it is known that the divine message draws on two realistic truths:

(a) The workers should not put any obstacle between themselves and others, be they mental or doctrinal, because this is bound to form a barrier against understanding the message and eventually embracing it. This is very important, in that it should not leave the other side with any excuse that they have not been approached with the message and had it explained thoroughly to them. Should they choose to remain impervious, this shall be their fate: “That those who died might die after a clear Sign (had been given), and those who lived might live after a Clear Sign (had been given)” (8: 42)

(b) Deep conviction that no matter how arrogant man may become and how distant he might be from God, there is still the possibility that he can be receptive to the truth and what is good. This is due to the intrinsic good drive within his psyche. Such innate nature is capable of responding to a gentle wake-up call that would send it roaming the spiritual world where tranquility and reflection rule supreme. For that reason, we should appeal to any person, irrespective of how far they might have deviated from the right path, with the nicest of words and the most gentle of methods, in the hope that they might create the right spiritual conditions for guidance.

This would explain the Divine instruction to Moses and Aaron (a.s.) to talk to Pharaoh in a tender way, in the hope that the nice words would find a way to his heart. Moreover, warning him of an impending divine punishment, should he choose to continue in the way of misguidance, might make him yield.

4. Not losing sight of the dialogue’s aim

The activists should keep abreast with all the methods the adversaries could use to steer the dialogue away from its main purpose and aim. There, the tactful and clever move should come in to keep the dialogue on course, exactly as Moses (a.s.) did in his dialogue with Pharaoh, as has already been discussed.