(Deeds) after the manner of the people of Fir’awn and those before them: They treated as false
the Signs of their Lord: so We destroyed them for their crimes, and We drowned the people of Fir’awn: for they were all oppressors and wrong-doers. (Surat al-Anfal: 54)
Ancient Egyptian civilisation, along with other city states established in Mesopotamia at the same time, is known to be one of the oldest civilisations in the world and it is recognised to have been an organised state with the most advanced social order of its age. The facts that they discovered writing around the third millennium BC and used it; that they made use of the River Nile and were protected against overseas dangers on account of the natural setting of the country, greatly contributed to the Egyptians improving their civilisation.
But this "civilised" society was one in which "the reign of pharaohs" prevailed the system of denial mentioned in the clearest and most straightforward way in the Qur’an. They swelled with pride, turned aside and blasphemed. In the end, neither their advanced civilisations, their social and political orders, or their military successes could save them from being destroyed.
The Authority of the Pharaohs
The Egyptian civilisation was based on the fertility of the River Nile. Egyptians had settled in the Nile valley due to the abundance of water from this river and the fact that they could cultivate the land with the river water without being dependent on rainy seasons. The historian Ernst H. Gombrich states in his writing that Africa is very hot and sometimes it does not rain there at all for months. For this reason, many areas in this huge continent are extremely dry and as a consequence are covered with vast desert. Both sides of the River Nile are also covered with desert, and it hardly rains in Egypt. But in this country, rain is not needed so much, because the River Nile runs through the middle of the whole country. *33
So, whoever has control of the River Nile, which is of such great importance, is also able to control Egypt’s biggest source of commerce and agriculture. The pharaohs were able to establish their dominance over Egypt in this way.
The narrow and vertical form of the Nile valley did not allow residential units situated around the river to expand much, and therefore Egyptians formed a civilisation made up of small-scale towns and villages instead of big cities. This factor also fortified the dominance of the Pharaohs over their people.
King Menes is known to be the first Egyptian Pharaoh who united the whole of ancient Egypt, for the first time in history, in one state around the third millennium BC. In fact, the term "pharaoh" originally referred to the palace where the Egyptian king lived, but in time, it became the title of Egyptian kings. This is why the kings, who were rulers of Old Egypt started to be called "Pharaohs".
Being owners, administrators and rulers of the whole state and its lands, these pharaohs were accepted as reflections of the biggest god in the distorted polytheistic religion of old Egypt. The administration of Egyptian lands, their division, their income, in short, all the estates, services and production within the country’s borders were managed on behalf of the Pharaoh.
The absolutism in the regime had given the Pharaoh such power that he could have anything he wished for. Right from the establishment of the first dynasty, at the time of Menes who became the first King of Egypt by uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, the River Nile started to be delivered to the public through canals. In addition, production was taken under control and the entire production of goods and services were assigned to the king. The king distributed and shared these goods and services in the proportions his people needed. It was not hard for the kings, who had established such a power in the region, to reduce the people to submission. The King of Egypt, or with his future name, the Pharaoh, was looked upon as a holy being who held great power and met all the needs of his people: and he was transformed into a god. The Pharaohs definitely believed in time that they were indeed gods.
Some of the words the Pharaoh mentioned in the Qur’an used during his conversation with Musa (as) prove that they held this belief. He tried to intimidate Musa (as) by saying: "If thou dost put forward any god other than me, I will certainly put thee in prison!" (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 29), and he said to the people around him: "No god do I know for you but myself." (Surat al-Qasas: 38). He said all this because he regarded himself as a god.
According to the historian Herodotus, the Ancient Egyptians were the most "devout" people in the world. However, their religion was not the religion of Truth, but a perverse polytheistic one and they could not abandon their perverse religion because of their extreme conservatism.
The religious beliefs of the Egyptians were mainly based on serving their gods. The "intermediaries" between these gods and people were the priests who were among the leaders of the society. Dealing with magic and witchcraft at the same time, the priests made an important class whom the Pharaohs used in order to keep the people in submission.
The Ancient Egyptians were largely influenced by the natural environment in which they lived. The natural geography of Egypt protected the country against external attacks perfectly. Egypt was surrounded by deserts, mountainous lands and seas on all sides. Attacks likely to be made on the country had two possible routes and it was very simple for the Egyptians to defend those routes. The Egyptians remained isolated from the external world thanks to these natural factors. But passing centuries transformed this isolation into a dark bigotry. Thus the Egyptians acquired a viewpoint which was locked against new developments and novelties, and which was extremely conservative about their religion. The "religion of their ancestors" mentioned frequently in the Qur’an became their most important value.
This is why Fir’awn and his close circle turned their backs on Musa (as) and Harun (as) when they announced the Religion of Truth to them, by saying: "Hast thou come to us to turn us away from the ways we found our fathers following - in order that thou and thy brother may have greatness in the land? But not we shall believe in you!" (Surah Yunus: 78)
The religion of Ancient Egypt was divided into branches, the most important of which were the official religion of the state, the beliefs of the people and belief in life after death.
According to the state’s official religion, the Pharaoh was a holy being. He was a reflection of the people’s gods on earth and his purpose was to dispense justice and protect them on earth.
The beliefs widespread among people were extremely complicated, and the elements which clashed with the state’s official religion were oppressed by the reigns of the Pharaohs. Basically, they believed in many gods, and these gods were usually depicted as having animal heads on human bodies. But it was also possible to meet with local traditions which differed from region to region.
Life after death made up the most important part of Egyptian belief. They believed that the soul went on living after the body died. According to this, the souls of the dead were brought by particular angels to the God who was a Judge and forty-two other witness judges, a scale was set in the middle and the heart of the soul was weighed in this scale. Those with more goodness passed on to a beautiful setting and lived in happiness; those with more wickedness were sent to a place where they were subject to great torments. There, they were tormented throughout eternity by a strange creature called the "The Dead Eater".
The belief of the Egyptians in the Hereafter clearly shows a parallel with the monotheistic belief and the religion of truth. Even their belief in the hereafter alone proves that the religion of truth and the message had reached ancient Egyptian civilisation, but that this religion was later corrupted, and monotheism was turned into polytheism. It is already known that warners calling people to the unity of Allah and summoning them to be His slaves were sent to Egypt from time to time, as they were to all the peoples on earth at one time or another. One of these was the Prophet Yusuf (as) whose life is told in detail in the Qur’an. The history of Yusuf (as) is also extremely important because it includes the arrival of the Children of Israel in Egypt and their settlement there.
On the other hand, in the historical resources, there are references to some Egyptians who invited people to monotheistic religions even before Musa. One of them is the most interesting Pharaoh in the history of Egypt, that is, Amenhotep IV.
The Monotheistic Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV
The Egyptian Pharaohs were generally brutal, oppressive, belligerent and ruthless people. In general, they adopted the polytheistic religion of Egypt and deified themselves through this religion.
But there is a Pharaoh in Egyptian history who is very different from the others. This Pharaoh defended belief in a single Creator and was subjected to great resistance by the priests of Ammon, who profited from the polytheistic religion, and some soldiers who supported them, and so he was finally killed. This Pharaoh was Amenhotep IV who rose to power in the fourteenth century BC.
When Amenhotep IV was enthroned in 1375 BC, he came across a conservatism and traditionalism which had been lingering for centuries. Until then, the structure of the society and the relations of the public with the royal palace had carried on without any change. The society kept all its doors firmly shut to all external events and religious innovations. This extreme conservatism, also remarked by ancient Greek travellers, was caused by the natural geographical conditions of Egypt as explained above.
Imposed on people by the Pharaohs, the official religion required an unconditional faith in everything old and traditional. But Amenhotep IV did not adopt the official religion. The historian Ernst Gombrich writes:
- He (Amenhotep IV) broke with many of the customs hallowed by an age-old tradition. He did not wish to pay homage to the many strangely shaped gods of his people. For him only one god was supreme, Aton, whom he worshipped and whom he had represented in the shape of the sun. He called himself Akhenaton, after his god, and he moved his court out of reach of the priests of the other gods, to a place which is now called El-Amarna. *34
After the death of his father, young Amenhotep IV was subjected to great pressure. This oppression was caused by the fact that he developed a religion based on monotheism by changing the traditional polytheistic religion of Egypt, and attempting to make radical changes in all fields. But the leaders of Thebes did not allow him to convey the message of this religion. Amenhotep IV and his folk moved away from the city of Thebes and settled in Tell-El-Amarna. Here, they established a new and modern city named "Akh-et-aton". Amenhotep IV changed his name which meant "Contentment of Amon" to Akh-en-aton, which meant "Submitting to Aton". Amon was the name given to the greatest totem in Egyptian polytheism. According to Amenhotep, Aton is the "creator of the heavens and the earth", his equating the name with Allah.
Disturbed by these developments, the priests of Ammon wanted to snatch Akhenaton’s power by profiting from an economic crisis in the country. Akhenaton was finally poisoned by conspirators. Succeeding Pharaohs were careful to stay under the influence of the priests.
After Akhenaton, Pharaohs with a military background came to power. They again caused the old traditional polytheism to become widespread and expended a considerable effort to return to past ways. Nearly a century later, Ramses II, who was to have the longest rule in the history of Egypt, came to the throne. According to many historians, Ramses was the Pharaoh tormenting the Children of Israel and fighting against Musa (as).*35
The Coming of the Prophet Musa (as)
The enslaved people whom Fir’awn wronged. Particularly in the age of the New Kingdom, minorities living in the country were set to work on massive construction projects. The Children of Israel were among those minorities. In the picture above top, the slaves who are seen working on the construction of a temple are most likely the Children of Israel. The picture below depicts technical preparations of slaves, again thought to be the Children of Israel, before setting to work on a construction project. The slaves are making bricks by boiling mud on fire, and preparing mortar.
Because of their deep bigotry, the ancient Egyptians would not abandon their idolatrous beliefs. Some persons came to them who announced the message of worshipping only Allah, but the people of Fir’awn always turned back to their perverted beliefs. Finally, Musa (as) was sent by Allah as a messenger (rasul) to them, both because they had adopted a system of falsehood contrary to the religion of truth, and also because they had enslaved the Children of Israel. Musa (as) was instructed both to invite Egypt to the religion of truth, and to save the Children of Israel from slavery and show them the right way. In the Qur’an, it is stated:
We rehearse to thee some of the story of Prophet Musa and Fir’awn in Truth, for people who believe. Truly Fir’awn elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, depressing a small group among them: their sons he slew, but he kept alive their females: for he was indeed a maker of mischief. And We wished to be Gracious to those who were being depressed in the land, to make them leaders (in Faith) and make them heirs, to establish a firm place for them in the land, and to show Fir’awn, Haman, and their hosts, at their hands, the very things against which they were taking precautions. (Surat al-Qasas: 3-6)
Fir’awn wanted to prevent the Children of Israel increasing in number, by killing all new-born male babies. This was why, by inspiration from Allah, Musa’s (as) mother placed him in a basket and left him in the river. This was the way that led him into the palace of Fir’awn. The story is told in the Qur’an as follows:
So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Musa: "Suckle (thy child), but when thou hast fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to thee, and We shall make him one of Our messengers."
Considered to be the Pharaoh mentioned in the Qur’an according to many historians, Ramses II is seen killing some of the slaves he has captured. As these wall pictures also reveal, the pharaohs had themselves idealised and depicted as strong warriors. They were presented as tall heroes with wide shoulders who could overcome a number of people at one time.
Then the people of Fir’awn picked him up (from the river): (It was intended) that (Musa) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow: for Fir’awn and Haman and (all) their hosts were men of sin.
The wife of Fir’awn said: "(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for thee: slay him not. It may be that he will be use to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (what they were doing)! (Surat al-Qasas: 7-9)
Fir’awn’s wife prevented the murder of Musa (as) and adopted him. In this way, Musa (as) spent his childhood in Fir’awn’s palace. With the help of Allah, his own mother was brought to the palace as his wet-nurse.
Years later, Musa (as) left Egypt and came to Madyan. At the end of the period he passed there, Allah spoke directly to him and gave him the station of prophethood. He was ordered to return to Fir’awn and convey the message of Allah’s religion to him.
Left: Since the Pharaohs saw themselves as divine beings, they tried to seem superior to all other people.
Right: War captives seized by the Egyptians are seen waiting for the execution of their death sentence.
Musa (as) and Harun (as) went to Fir’awn in obedience to Allah’s command and conveyed to him the message of the religion of truth. They asked him to stop tormenting the Children of Israel and let them go with Musa (as) and Harun (as). It was unacceptable to Fir’awn that Musa (as), whom he had kept near him for years and who most probably was to have been his successor on the throne, stood up to him and talked to him in this manner. For that reason, Fir’awn accused him of ingratitude:
(Fir’awn) said: "Did we not cherish thee as a child among us, and didst thou not stay in our midst many years of thy life? And thou didst a deed of thine which (thou knowest) thou didst, and thou art an ungrateful (wretch)!" (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 18-19)
Fir’awn was trying to play on Musa’s (as) sentiments and affect his conscience. It was as if he was saying that since it was he and his wife who had brought him up, it was Musa (as) who should obey them. This emotional attachment which Fir’awn tried to form, was also directed at influencing the leaders of his people, so that they would also agree with Fir’awn.
On the other hand, the message of the religion of truth proclaimed by Musa (as) undermined Fir’awn’s power, and reduced him to the level of ordinary people. As commanded in the Qur’an, he had to obey Musa (as) and also liberate the Children of Israel. Fir’awn believed that by doing so he would lose his power and suffer disgrace.
Out of pride and greed for power, Fir’awn did not listen to what Musa (as) said. He tried to make fun of him, attempted to prove his power, and denied him. At the same time, he aimed to portray Musa (as) and Harun (as) as anarchists and accuse them of being politically motivated. Finally, neither Fir’awn nor the leaders of the people within his close circle, except for the magicians, obeyed Musa (as) and Harun (as). They did not follow the religion of truth shown to them. Therefore Allah first of all sent some disasters to them.
Left: Ramses II is seen in his war chariot driving a big group of enemies. Just like many others, this is an imaginary scenario Fir’awn made his painters draw.
Right: The War of Kadesh. This battle held between Ramses and the Hittites, was falsely passed on by history as a great victory for Fir’awn. However, Fir’awn was saved from death at the last moment, and had to make peace.
The Disasters That Befell Fir'awn and His Close Circle
Fir’awn and his close circle were so deeply engaged in their polytheism and their idolatry, that is "the religion of their ancestors", that they never considered leaving it. Even the miracles of Musa (as) were not enough to make them move away from their superstitions. Moreover, they expressed this openly. They said: "Whatever be the Signs thou bringest, to work therewith thy sorcery on us, we shall never believe in thee
." (Surat al-A‘raf: 132)
Because of their conduct, Allah sent them a number of disasters as "separate miracles" to make them taste the torment in this world, before the eternal torment of the next world. The first of these was drought and scarcity of crops. In relation to the subject, it is written in the Qur’an: "We punished the people of Fir’awn with years (of droughts) and shortness of crops; that they might receive admonition
." (Surat al-A‘raf: 130).
Egyptians had based their agricultural system on the River Nile and, therefore, they were not influenced by changes in natural conditions. But an unexpected disaster befell them because Fir’awn and his close friends were proud and arrogant towards Allah and denied His prophet. For various reasons, the level of the River Nile sank a great deal and irrigation canals running off from the river did not carry enough water to agricultural areas. Extreme heat caused the crops to dry up. Thus, the disaster came on Fir’awn and his circle from a very unexpected direction from the River Nile upon which they relied. This drought dismayed Fir’awn who previously used to address his people as follows "O my people! Does not the dominion of Egypt belong to me, (witness) these streams flowing underneath my (palace)? What! see ye not then?
" (Surat az-Zukhruf: 51)
However, instead of "taking heed" as they should have, they held all that had happened was because of ill fortune brought by Musa and the Children of Israel. They were overcome by such conviction because of their superstitions, disobedience and devotion to the religion of their ancestors and, as a result, they suffered great distress for years. Allah sent to them a series of disasters, and warned them. These disasters are described as follows in the Qur’an:
So We sent (plagues) on them: Wholesale death, Locusts, Lice, Frogs, and Blood: Signs openly self-explained: but they were steeped in arrogance - a people given to sin. (Surat al-A‘raf: 133)
The disasters Allah sent down on Fir’awn and the denying people around him have also been described in the Old Testament in agreement with the Qur’an:
And there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. (Exodus, 7:21)
And if thou refuse to let [them] go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs. (Exodus, 8:2-3)
And the LORD said unto Moses, "Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt." (Exodus, 8:16)
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous [were they]; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. (Exodus, 10:14)
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This [is] the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. (Exodus, 8:19)
Awful disasters kept happening to Fir’awn and his close circle. Some of these disasters were caused by the objects worshipped as gods by the idolatrous people. For example, the River Nile and frogs were sacred for them and had been deified by them. As they expected guidance from their "gods" and called for their help, Allah punished them through their own "gods" so that they could see their mistakes and the plain fact that they actually had no power at all.
According to interpreters of the Old Testament, the "blood" was the turning of the River Nile into blood. This was explained as a metaphor for the River Nile’s turning solid red. According to an interpretation, what gave the river this colour was a type of bacteria.
The Nile was the main source of life for the Egyptians. Any harm done to this source could mean death for the whole of Egypt. If the bacteria had covered the River Nile so fully as to turn it red, this would cause every living thing using this water to be infected by these bacteria.
Recent explanations of the cause for the red colouring of water has favoured protozoan, zooplankton, both salt - and fresh - water algal (phytoplankton) blooms, and dinoflagellates. All of these various blooms - plant, fungal or protozoan - deoxygenate water and produce noxious toxins for both fish and frogs.
Citing the Exodus account in the Bible, Patricia A. Tester of the National Marine Fisheries Service, writing in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science, noted that while fewer than fifty out of approximately 5,000 known phytoplankton species are toxic, those which possess toxins can be dangerous to aquatic life. In the same publication, Ewen C. D. Todd of Health Canada, referring to historic and prehistoric data, cited nearly two dozen examples of specific phytoplanktons causing various outbreaks throughout the world. W. W. Carmichael and I. R. Falconer listed diseases associated with fresh-water blue-green algae. Aquatic ecologist Joann M. Burkholder, of North Carolina State University, described a dinoflagellate, Pfiesteria piscimorte (found in estuary waters) that is capable of, as the species name implies, killing fish. *36
In Fir’awn’s time, this kind of chain of disasters appears to have occurred. According to this scenario, when the Nile was contaminated, fish also died, and the Egyptians were deprived of an important source of nutrition. Without predator fish, the frogs could initially breed freely in both ponds and the Nile and thus overpopulate the river, eventually escaping the anoxic, toxic, and putrefying environment by migrating to land, hence dying on land and decomposing along with the fish. The Nile and adjacent lands thus became fouled, and the waters became dangerous to drink or to bathe in. Moreover, the extinction of frog species causes bugs such as locusts and lice to reproduce excessively.
Finally, no matter how the disasters took place, and what effect they left, neither Fir’awn, nor his people turned to Allah by paying heed, but they continued in their arrogance.
Fir’awn and his close circle were so hypocritical that they thought to deceive Musa (as) and thus, Allah (Allah forbid!). When the dreadful penalty fell upon them, they at once called for Musa (as) and asked him to save them from it:
Every time the penalty fell on them, they said: "O Musa! on your behalf call on thy Lord in virtue of his promise to thee: If thou wilt remove the penalty from us, we shall truly believe in thee, and we shall send away the Children of Israel with thee." But every time We removed the penalty from them according to a fixed term which they had to fulfil.
Behold! they broke their word! (Surat al-A’raf: 134-135)
Exodus from Egypt
Allah explained to Fir’awn and his close circle through Musa (as) that which they had to take heed of, and thus warned them. In response, they rebelled and accused him of being possessed and untrue. Allah prepared a humiliating end for them. He revealed to Musa (as) what was to happen:
As described in the above verses, the Children of Israel thought that they were trapped, and Fir’awn’s men thought that they were about to catch them. But Musa (as) said, never losing faith in Allah's help: "By no means! my Lord is with me! Soon will He guide me!" (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 62)
At that moment, Allah saved Musa (as) and the Children of Israel by dividing the sea. Once the Children of Israel had safely crossed, Fir’awn and his men were drowned under the waters which closed over them.
Then We told Musa by inspiration: "Strike the sea with thy rod." So it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain.
And We made the other party approach thither.
We delivered Musa and all who were with him;
But We drowned the others. Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe. And verily thy Lord is He, the Exalted in Might, Most Merciful. (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 63-68)
The staff or rod that Musa's (as) carried rod had miraculous qualities, by the will of Allah. Earlier, Allah had turned it into a serpent in front of the Fir’awn and his magicians. When the magicians tried the same trick, Musa’s (as) serpent swallowed all the serpents that Fir’awns magicians had conjured up. Now, standing at the edge of the sea, with Fir’awn and his men in hot pursuit, Musa (as), by the command of Allah, was able to divide the sea with this same rod. This was one of the greatest miracles given to the Prophet Musa (as).
Did the incident take place on the Mediterranean Coasts of Egypt, or in the Red Sea?
There is no common agreement on the place where the sea divided. Since no detail is given on the subject in the Qur’an, we cannot be sure of the correctness of any of the views on the subject. Some sources show the Mediterranean shores of Egypt as the place where the sea was divided. In the Encyclopedia Judaica
, it states:
The majority opinion today identifies the Red Sea of the Exodus with one of the lagoons on the shores of the Mediterranean.*37
David Ben Gurion said that the event could have taken place during the reign of Ramses II, possibly after the Kadesh defeat. In the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the event is said to have happened in Migdol and Baal-Zephon, which are located to the north of the delta.*38
This view is based on the Old Testament. In the translations of the Book of Exodus from the Old Testament, it is said that Fir’awn and his men were drowned in the Red Sea. But according to those who hold this view, the word translated as "The Red Sea" is in fact "The Sea of Reeds". The word is identified with the "Red Sea" in many sources, and used for that location. However, "The Sea of Reeds" is actually used to refer to the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. In the Old Testament, while mentioning the route followed by Musa (as) and those following him, the words Migdol and Baal-Zephon are mentioned, and these are located to the north in the Nile Delta, on the shore of Egypt. The Sea of Reeds, by implication, supports the possibility that the incident may have occurred on the Egyptian shores, because in this region, as the name suggests, reeds are produced thanks to the delta alluvions.
The Drowning of Fir'awn and His Men in the Sea
The Qur’an informs us about the most important aspects of the event of the division of the Red Sea. According to the account in the Qur’an, Musa (as) set out from Egypt with the Children of Israel who obeyed him. However, Fir’awn could not accept their departure without his permission. He and his soldiers followed them "in insolence and spit
e" (Surah Yunus: 90). By the time Musa (as) and the Children of Israel reached the shore, Fir’awn and his soldiers had caught up with them. Some of the Children of Israel, who saw this, began to complain to Musa (as). This weakness of the community is also described in the Qur’an in the following verse: "And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Musa said: 'We are sure to be overtaken.'
" (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 61)
We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs! (Surah Yunus: 92)
As a matter of fact, this was not the first time that the Children of Israel displayed such behaviour in which they showed no submission to Allah. Once before, they had said: "... We have had (nothing but) trouble, both before and after thou camest to us...
" (Surat al-A’raf: 129). In contrast to the weak conduct of his people, Musa (as) was extremely confident, since he had profound trust in Allah. Right from the beginning of his struggle, Allah had informed him that His help and support would be with him: "Fear not: for I am with you: I hear and see (everything).
" (Surah Ta-Ha: 46)
When Musa (as) first met the sorcerers of Fir’awn, he felt "a sort of fear
" (Surah Ta-Ha: 67). Thereupon, Allah revealed to him that he should not fear at all and that he would definitely overcome in the end. (Surah Ta-Ha: 68). Thus, Musa (as) was educated and supported by Allah and acquired a full maturity in respect to His ways. Consequently, when some of his people feared being overtaken, he said: "By no means! my Lord is with me! Soon will He guide me!
" (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 62)
Allah revealed to Musa (as) that he should strike the sea with his rod. Upon this, "it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain
." (Surat ash-Shu’ara: 63). In ordinary circumstances, at the moment when Fir’awn saw such a miracle, he should have understood that there was something extraordinary about the situation - that he was seeing Divine intervention. The sea opened for the people whom Fir’awn wanted to destroy. Moreover, there was no guarantee that the sea would not close back after they passed across. Still, he and his army followed the Children of Israel into the sea. Most probably, Fir’awn and his soldiers had lost their ability to think reasonably because of their insolence and spite, and were unable comprehend the miraculous nature of the situation.
The Qur’an describes the last moments of Fir’awn as follows:
We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Fir’awn and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: "I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islam)." (Surah Yunus: 90)
Here, it is possible to see another miracle of Musa (as). Let us remind ourselves of the following verse:
Musa prayed: "Our Lord! Thou hast indeed bestowed on Fir’awn and his chiefs splendour and wealth in the life of the present, and so, Our Lord, they mislead (men) from Thy Path. Deface our Lord, the features of their wealth, and send hardness to their hearts, so they will not believe until they see the grievous penalty."
Allah said: "Accepted is your prayer (O Musa and Harun)! So stand ye straight, and follow not the path of those who know not." (Surah Yunus: 88-89)
It is clearly understood from these verses that Musa (as) was thus informed in answer to his supplication that Fir’awn would believe in Allah at the time he faced the painful punishment. Indeed, Fir’awn said that he believed in Allah when the waters started to cover. Yet, the last-minute acceptance of faith of Fir’awn and his asking for forgiveness did not save him from drowning. Fir’awn and his army drowned and became a lesson to all.
(It was said to him): "Ah now! But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! and thou didst mischief (and violence)! This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!" (Surah Yunus: 91-92)
We are also informed that in addition to Fir’awn himself, his men also received their share of the punishment. Since the soldiers of Fir’awn were men of "insolence and spite
" (Surah Yunus: 90), "men of sin
" (Surat al-Qasas: 8), "did wrong
" (Surat al-Qasas: 40), and "thought that they would not have to return to Allah
" (Surat al-Qasas: 39) just like Fir’awn, they well deserved the punishment of Allah. Thus,
Allah “seized both Fir’awn and his hosts and flung them into the sea
”. (Surat al-Qasas: 40)
So Allah exacted retribution from them and drowned them in the sea, because they rejected His signs and failed to take warning from them. (Surat al-A‘raf: 136)
Allah describes in the Qur’an in the following verses, all that happened after the death of Fir’awn:
And We made a people, considered weak (and of no account), inheritors of lands in both east and west - lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. The fair promise of thy Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, because they had patience and constancy, and We levelled to the ground the great works and fine buildings which Fir’awn and his people erected (with such pride). (Surat al-A‘raf: 137)