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Trampling Over Allah’s Favors

By Sayyid Qutb
Muslim Intellectual — Egypt
Mercy

{We led the Children of Israel across the sea; and thereupon they came upon people who were dedicated to the worship of some idols of theirs. Said [the Children of Israel]:

“Moses, set up a god for us like the gods they have.” He replied: “You are indeed an ignorant people. As for these people: their method will inevitably lead to destruction, and worthless is all that they have been doing. “[And] he said: `Am I to seek for you a deity other than God, although He has favored you above all other people?” We have indeed saved you from Pharaoh’s people, who oppressed you cruelly: they slew your sons and spared your women. Surely that was an awesome trial from your Lord.} (Al-A`raf 7: 138-141)

This picture of the Children of Israel after having crossed the sea is the seventh scene in this story. We clearly see here the deviant, incorrigible nature of those people encumbered by their long history. It has not been long since they were subjected to cruel oppression under the paganism of Pharaoh and his people. A short while earlier, they were saved from that oppression at the hands of their Prophet and leader, Moses (peace be upon him), in the name of Allah, the only Lord in the universe, who destroyed their enemy and parted the sea for them to cross. Yet hardly had they crossed the sea than they came upon pagan people, dedicated to the worship of idols. At that moment, they asked Moses (peace be upon him), the Prophet sent by the Lord of the universe preaching self-surrender to the One God, to set up for them a deity to worship.

{We led the Children of Israel across the sea; and thereupon they came upon people who were dedicated to the worship of some idols of theirs. Said [the Children of Israel]: ‘Moses, set up a god for us like the gods they have.} (Al-A`raf 7:138)

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Diseases of the soul are contagious just like diseases of the body, yet the infection cannot be passed on except to souls that are ready to receive it. As accurately and faithfully portrayed in the Qur’an, the nature of the Children of Israel is weak, totally lacking in resolve. It hardly begins to follow proper guidance when it relapses into deviation. Scarcely does it begin to elevate itself before it tumbles again. When it has gone only a short distance along the straight path, it suffers a sudden setback. All this is accompanied by a rigid and hardened attitude that will not abide by the dictates of the truth. Here we see their nature brought out in full relief. Hardly had they come across people engaged in worshipping deities than they began to overlook what they had been taught over a period extending more than twenty years since Moses first called on them to believe in Allah’s oneness. Some reports mention that Moses (peace be upon him), spent twenty-three years in Egypt from the day when he first put his message to Pharaoh and his people to the day when he crossed the sea with the Children of Israel. They even forgot the miracle that had only a short while ago saved them from Pharaoh and drowned him and his army. Those who were with Pharaoh subjugated and oppressed the Children of Israel in the name of idolatry. Pharaoh’s aides tried to provoke him so that he would punish Moses and his followers. They said to him:

{Will you allow Moses and his people to spread corruption in the land and to forsake you and your gods?} (Al-A`raf 7: 127)

When science and reason look at this universe and the laws that operate in it they understand that all these laws point to the single Creator who has set everything in motion. These laws do not reflect only Allah’s careful planning

Yet those very Children of Israel forgot all this and made their singular request of Moses, the messenger sent by the Lord of the universe, to set up a god for them! Had they themselves made such gods, the matter would appear less strange than asking Moses to provide them with one. But such is the nature of the Israelites. Motivated by his faith in Allah, the Lord of the universe, Moses was very angry. He could not understand how his people could relapse into paganism. He said to them: {You are indeed an ignorant people.} (Al-A`raf 7: 138)

He did not specify what they were ignorant of, because he wanted this description to apply in its fullest sense. In the Arabic original, the term “ignorant” is used in two senses, contrasting with knowledge and wisdom. Such a request betrays a total lack of both. This tells us that deviation from the faith based on Allah’s oneness into paganism can only happen to those who are both ignorant and stupid. Knowledge and wisdom will inevitably lead to believing in Allah’s oneness. No true knowledge or true wisdom can lead anywhere else.

When science and reason look at this universe and the laws that operate in it they understand that all these laws point to the single Creator who has set everything in motion. These laws do not reflect only Allah’s careful planning, but also the unity, the complementarity and coherence between these laws and the effects of their operation. All this would readily appear to anyone who reflects properly on the universe and what takes place in it. No one will turn a blind eye to all that except ignorant and stupid people, although they may claim to have knowledge, as they often do.

Moses explains to his people what may result out of their request, pointing to the terrible end that awaits those whom they wanted to imitate, making gods similar to theirs:

{As for these people: their method will inevitably lead to destruction, and worthless is all that they have been doing.} (Al-A`raf 7: 139)

Their idolatry, and the type of life they lead on the basis of such beliefs are in vain.

How could they, after all this, request their Prophet to seek for them a deity other than Allah, when they were at that very moment enjoying Allah’s grace?

The large army of functionaries and clerics, and the rulers who derive their authority from such a chaotic mess and all the erroneous concepts and corrupted life that result from deviating away from belief in one Allah are of no avail. They will all end in ruin. But Moses’s anger at his people’s attitude takes an even stronger expression and in a higher pitch that also wonders at how they could so quickly forget Allah’s grace when its manifestations are still there.

{Am I to seek for you a deity other than Allah, although He has favoured you above all other people?} (Al-A`raf 7: 140)

That they were favored above all mankind in their own time was reflected in the fact that they were chosen to be the bearers of the divine message of Allah’s oneness.This is the greatest favor of all. They were also chosen to be the heirs to inherit the blessed land, which was at that time in pagan hands. How could they, after all this, request their Prophet to seek for them a deity other than Allah, when they were at that very moment enjoying Allah’s grace? As typical of the Qur’an, the surah follows the argument made by Moses with an address by Allah Himself:

{We have indeed saved you from Pharaoh’s people, who oppressed you cruelly: they slew your sons and spared your women. Surely that was an awesome trial from your Lord.} (Al-A`raf 7: 141)

Such a direct link between the two speeches is a gesture of sublime honor to those Prophets and advocates of the divine message.
References
Taken with slight modifications from the Book : In the shade of the Qur'an
Related Links:
Transmission of the Qur'an Written Text
How the Revelation Came to Prophet Muhammad
A Life of Remembrance (Part 1)

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