Lessons in Patience from the Life of Musa

AFTER THE BATTLE of Ḥunayn, and as the Prophet œ was dividing the spoils among his Companions, a man exclaimed: “Muhammad did not seek Allah’s pleasure in this [i.e., he did not distribute the spoils fairly].” Ibn Mas¢ûd, who overheard the disparaging remark, reported it to the Prophet œ. Visibly hurt by the unfair statement, the Prophet œ remarked:

May Allah have mercy on Mûsa (Prophet Moses). Patiently he bore insults even worse than this. (Bukâri and Muslim)

So what were those “worse insults” which prophet Mûsa (Moses) suffered, so proverbial that Prophet Muhammad œ invoked them on such a significant occasion?

 Lessons from Musa for Us

There is an aspect of the Quranic narrative about what went between Prophet Mûsa and his followers that sets Mûsa’s story apart from those of his fellow prophets; namely, ingratitude. Then let there be no doubt that ingratitude is a frequent nuisance for dâ¢îs, or even a major roadblock upon their path and that of their counterparts, educators and reformers.

We all know that passive un-appreciation hurts. But there is something that injures more deeply: active in-appreciation, that is, rewarding favor, good faith, generosity, and kindness with insult, aggression, ignominy, and meanness.

We human beings naturally love to receive prompt appreciation for the good things we do for others—and such is the right of the good doer. In the da¢wah world of reform, however, this appreciation is, most of the time, hard to come by. That is why it is important for godly dâ¢îs and reformers to seek lessons and reminders in the stories of exemplary da¢wah role models, instruction that will hopefully set firm their hearts and see them along the exacting path they have chosen to tread.

Here we highlight some of the messages found in the Quran’s account of Mûsa, as well as the trials he grappled with throughout his prophetic career. These are the tough communal experiences to which Mûsa alludes in his Heavenly meeting with Prophet Muhammad (during the latter’s Night Journey, Al-Isrâ’ wa Al-Mi¢raj), saying:

By Allah! I have dealt [as a prophet] with a people before you, and I have had hard times with the Children of Israel. (¢Umdat Al-Qâri’, 17:129)

Musa and Bani Isra’il

Miserable and bleak was the lot of the Children of Israel before the mission of Mûsa. They were, as Allah said: Oppressed in the land [Sûrat Al-Qa|a|, 28:5]. Pharaoh was slaughtering their sons and sparing their women [Sûrat Al-Qa|a|, 28:4]. But through the auspices of Mûsa, Allah extracted them from the countless woes of their enslavement and humiliation, and destroyed their oppressor, the rejected tyrant Pharaoh, in a magnificent show of divine might and mercy.

Yet no sooner had the Children of Israel ended their miraculous walk across the dry seabed than they raised up their voices requesting Mûsa to make a god for us like theirs, that is, to fashion an idol for them like that of an aimless pagan tribe they had come across in the desert [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:138]. One can scarcely imagine the utter disappointment Prophet Mûsa felt when he heard so foolish a request, one that belied every truth and ideal that his da¢wah had so resolutely and miraculously brought to them. And such were the objectives for the sake of which Mûsa had for years done battle with Pharaoh, perhaps the fiercest tyrant of all time.

Still Mûsa’s reaction to his peoples’ ungrateful request was no more than this:

Indeed, you really are a foolish people. The cult these people practice is doomed to destruction and what they have been doing is useless. [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:138-139]

Mûsa then reminded his imprudent people of how their request was an outrageous insult to Allah, their Munificent Benefactor:

Why should I seek any god other than Allah for you, when He has favored you over all other people? [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:140]

But Prophet Mûsa maintained his composure and calm in the face of this and many other disappointments and kept to his call of reform, never losing his resolve.

Yet the outrageous attitude of the Children of Israel toward his person and mission did not end with their shocking request. No sooner had Mûsa e left to receive the Tablets of his Lord than it was revealed to him:

We have tested your people in your absence. The Samiri has led them astray. [Sûrat >â Hâ, 20:85]

So “angry and aggrieved” [Surat >â Hâ, 20:86], Mûsa returned to his people who, this time, passed from mere foolish talk into concrete transgressive action, fashioning and worshipping the golden calf in total disregard for Allah’s claims on them, the Heavenly guidance which Prophet Mûsa had brought them, and the pleas and cautioning of Prophet Hârûn, Mûsa’s brother and aide.

Despite this flagrant violation and extreme slighting on the part of his people, Mûsa sought to salvage the situation. First he admonished his people and reminded them of Allah and what might befall them if they persisted in their rebellious attitude. Then Mûsa brought them the Torah—which Allah himself had inscribed—and appealed to them to remember the guidance it contained.

Mûsa’s people, however, flinched, saying they would not accept the Torah until he had explicated its injunctions. Not only this, but they would accept of its rules only those which they judged to be undemanding. But when Allah, by way of intimidation made the mountain loom high above them like a shadow, and they thought it would fall on them [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:171], then they grudgingly bowed their heads, their apprehensive eyes fixated on the hovering mountain which they thought would come crashing down and crush them at any moment.

More Obstinacy

Mûsa then began leading his people to the promised Holy Land, giving them glad tidings along the way and reminding them of Allah’s assurance that they would conquer it, saying:

My people! Go into the Holy Land, which God has ordained for you. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:21]

But his people refused to go into the Holy Land. They protested that they would never enter it as long as its fearsome inhabitants were still in it. In a crude, foolish way, they addressed Mûsa, saying:

Go in, you and your Lord, and fight, and we will stay here. [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:24]

At that point, Allah, utterly displeased with them, took vengeance on them. So He caused them to wander aimlessly in the wilderness.

All this meanness, offensive attitude, and ungratefulness on the part of his people Mûsa endured patiently. He kept on calling them to the Straight Path. He did not despair. He did not lose hope in their returning to Allah. Amid their aimless wandering in the wilderness, Allah bestowed upon the Children of Israel a blessing, a delicacy inaccessible even to city dwellers. Most High and Exalted, Allah sent down to them ‘manna’ and quail (al-manna wa al-salwa).

Now, you would think this generosity would mellow their audacity and impudence? On the contrary, instead of expressing gratitude, they bitterly complained:

O Mûsa! We cannot bear eating only one kind of food. So pray to your Lord to bring forth for us some of the earth’s produce. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:61]

Then they turned on Mûsa, hurling absurd personal insults at him. They claimed, for instance, that he was a leper, an allegation that Allah cleared him of [Al-A^zâb, 33:69]. But when their effrontery crossed all boundaries and they started blaspheming the Creator by saying: O Mûsa! We will not believe you until we see Allah face to face [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:55], thunderbolts struck them as they looked on.

When death was finally approaching him and he realized that he would not achieve his desire of entering the Holy Land, Mûsa petitioned Allah to take his life in a spot close to the Holy Land, a plea that Allah granted (Bukhâri).

What the Prophetic Example of Musa Teaches Us

  1. Thanks to his tenacity, his sincere devotion to Allah, and his patient endurance of all the bad and ugly things he wrestled with in his da¢wah, his call to Allah, Prophet Mûsa rose in Allah’s sight and gained membership in the prestigious Hall of Prophetic Fame known in the language of the Quran as ulu al-¢azm.Mûsa’s sincere struggles in the cause of Allah won him his Lord’s appreciation. They rendered him eligible for generous divine pardon, which extended even to his poking the eye of the Angel of Death, his breaking of the Tablets in anger, his seizing of the hair and beard of his prophet-brother, Hârûn, and his protestation against Allah’s preference of Muhammad œ over him (Al-Mustadrak ¢ala Majmu¢ Al-Fatâwah, 1,132).
  2. The road traveled by the exemplary dâ¢îs to Allah has been ever fraught with afflictions. Thus the closer the caller to Allah follows in their footsteps, the greater his share of afflictions and trials shall be, and the higher his place with Allah.
  3. In the stories of Allah’s prophets, especially in the Quran, there is divine solace for dâ¢îs, particularly those of them who are struggling with their people. Addressing the Prophet œ Allah says:Yet all that We relate to you, O Muhammad, from the tidings of the messengers who preceded you, is but to set firm your own heart. [Sûrat Hûd, 11:120]
  4. Arduous difficulties notwithstanding, a believer is ever eagerly and hopefully expecting the dawn of ajr (divine reward and pleasure), a lofty feeling that mitigates the hefty burden of taklîf (legal and moral obligation). Imam Al-Shâfi¢î is reported to have said:”If you think of the object of your striving [i.e., Allah], the bliss you are after [Paradise], the punishment you are running from [Hellfire], then your works and sufferings will look insignificant in your eye.”
  5. The Quran records the attitude of the believers in fulfilling the needs of others:We feed you purely for the sake of Allah. We desire no reward from you, nor thankfulness. [Sûrat Al-Insân, 76:9] This ayah should be the motto of the Muslim dâ¢î. For the true dâ¢î is one who expects nothing from Allah’s creation. His mind is determinedly fixated on a single object: Allah’s pleasure and reward.
  6. The greatest provision of the dâ¢î is his sincerity with Allah. For it is this that gains him Allah’s friendship, keeps him along the challenging path of taklîf, and guides his steps to the holy land of salvation:But as to those who strive for Us alone, against every evil, we shall, most surely, guide them upon our pathways to salvation. For, indeed, Allah is most surely with those who excel in doing good. [Sûrat Al-¢Ankabût, 29:69]

May Allah endow us with steadfastness in all our affairs and resolve us to right guidance, to gratitude for His bounties, and to excellence in ¢ibâdah. Âmîn.

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