Concept of Lord God by the Pharaoh and his People
Next, we come to the Pharaoh and his people, regarding whom there are even greater misconceptions than in the case of Namrud and his people. The view generally held is that the Pharaoh not only denied the existence of God but himself claimed to be God, that is, that he had become so misled as to presume to be the creator of the heavens and the earth, and that his people too were so bereft of reason as to unquestioningly subscribe to such claim. The Holy Qur'an and history both show, on the contrary, that there was little difference between his people and those of Namrud in regard to their beliefs about God as both the Ilah and the Rabb. The only difference was the existence of a racial bias against the Bani-Israel which prompted the Egyptians to refuse, to openly acknowledge God as the Ilah and the Rabb, although they knew that He existed, as do also many a professing atheist in our own day.
The facts are that, after being vested by the king with high authority, Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace) had striven to the utmost to bring the people to the path of Islam, and the impact of his efforts had lasted right down to the time of Hazrat Musa (peace be upon him). Even though everybody had not come to embrace the true faith, there was nobody after Hazrat Yousuf's time entirely ignorant of God's existence or of His being the sole Creator of the heavens and the earth. Not only that, but Hazrat Yousuf's teachings had also inculcated in everybody the notion of His being both the, ilah and the Rabb in the supernatural sense, so that there was none who denied His existence. As to those who had stuck to their beliefs, even their error consisted in associating others with Him. And the impact of these teachings had not quite died out even till the time of Hazrat Musa (Moses, on whom be peace) [If one were to believe in what is slated in the Old Testament, it would appear that about one-fifth of the population of Egypt had come to accept, over the course of time, the faith of Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace). The total number of the Israelites who left Egypt with Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) is stated to have been about two million, while the total population of Egypt armor at that time have been more than a hundred million. Unfortunately all these two million are referred to, in the Old Testament as the children of Israel, which seems impossible because, surely, the descendants or the twelve sons of Hazrat Yaqoob (Jacob, on whom be peace) cannot have risen to two million even in about four centuries. The only plausible inference one can draw from this is that a large number of non-Israelis too had accepted the religion of the Israelis-which, of course was, essentially, the religion of Islam-and had left the country along with the Israelis. (The number, incidentally, shows pointedly the extent of the tabligh work done by Hazrat Yousuf and his successors). A. A. Maududi]. This fact is clearly proved by the speech made by a Coptic noble at the court of the Pharaoh, who had become a Muslim but had not declared his faith openly and who, on learning of the Pharaoh's determination to have Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) put to death, protested boldly in the following words:
Would you people kill a person for the reason only that he says that his Rabb is Allah alone, and despite the fact that he comes to you with manifest signs from your Rabb? If he lies, then upon him be his lies. And if be should be telling the truth, then surely some of what he warns you against is bound to smite you. Verily, Allah does not guide aright any who exceeds all limits in lying. True, my people, the land is yours, but who will save us if Allah's chastisement should come down upon us? I fear grievously that you may suffer a fate the like of that which overtook, mighty nations before, like the people of Nuh, the Aad and the Thamud, and others after them (who wont wrong)... And there was also the time that Yousuf came to yon with clear signs (from God) but you continued to harbor doubts , but when he died you said that Allah would not send another prophet after him. .. And, is it not strange, my people, that while I call you to the path of salvation you call me to the one which leads to (the) fire (of Hell)? What you would have me do is to commit kufr in regard to Allah, and to associate those with him regarding whom I know not for sure that they are His associates; My call to you is that you turn to the One (God) Who is the Mighty and the Oft Forgiving ! (Quran 40:28-40)
This whole speech bears witness that despite the passing of several centuries, the impact of the great personality of Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace) had persisted and, due to his teachings, the Egyptians had not yet sunk so low in ignorance as to be entirely unacquainted with the existence of God or to not know Him as being the Rabb and the Ilah, or that He is the Lord and master of all Nature and that His wrath is something to be feared. The last sentence in fact clearly shows that they did not deny God's being the Ilah and the Rabb totally but that they erred in associating others with him.
The only thing which might tend to cast doubt on the above explanation is that, when Hazrat Musa use (on whom be peace) had announced to the Pharaoh that he and his brother Hazrat Haroon (Aaron, peace be upon him) had been sent to him as the messengers of the Rabb-al'aalameen (the Lord of the worlds), He had countered with the question, "And who might this Rabb-al-'aalameen be?" He had also ordered his minister, Haman, to build him a skyscraper that he might look at Hazrat Musa's Ilah from its heights, had threatened to put Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) in jail if he took anyone other than him (the Pharaoh) as his Ilah had caused it to be proclaimed to all the people throughout the land that he was their supreme rabb (obviously lest their beliefs be affected by Hazrat Musa's teachings), had told his nobles that he knew of no-one but himself to be their ilah, and so on. Utterances like these might no doubt give the impression that he denied the existence of God altogether, had no conception of Rabb-al-aalameen, and regarded himself as the only ilah (in the world).
The fact, however, seems to be that his whole attitude was inspired by his racial prejudices. Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace) had not only been the cause of the spread of Islam, but the prestige of his high office had also been instrumental in the Israelis' coming to occupy a dominant position in the land which they had held for three or four hundred years. Then germs of Egyptian nationalism had begun to sprout, until at last the Israelites were dethroned from their position and a nationalist Egyptian dynasty became the ruler. The new rulers did not stop at merely downgrading the Israelites. They also took deliberate steps to wipe out all vestiges of the times of Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace) and to revive the civilization and culture of their own former Age of Ignorance. Therefore, when against this background Hazrat Musa, an Israeli, presented himself as messenger from God, they naturally apprehended that the Israelis might recover their former prestige and dominance and they themselves lose their newly retrieved authority. It was because of these fears and the Egyptian's nationalist and racial prejudices and the consequent natural hostility between the two peoples that the Pharaoh attempted repeatedly to confuse and perplex Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) so as to abort his mission. When, for example, he asked, "And who might this Rabb-al-'aalameen be?" It was not that he did not know what the words meant or Who was referred to. He certainly did know, as his own words on other occasions show. For example, once, in trying to reassure his own people that Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) was not a Divine messenger, he raised the objection:
(And if he be a prophet), why have not golden bracelets been sent down for him, or why did not angels follow him in procession? (Quran 43:53)
Can such words have been uttered by a person devoid of any notion of God or the angels? On yet another occasion, the following words passed between him and Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace):
Then said (the Pharaoh) to him: "I can only think that you have lost your reason." (To which) Musa replied; "You know very well that it is none other than the Lord of the Worlds Who has sent down these manifest, signs, and I (on my part,) believe that you, O Pharaoh, are doomed." (Quran 17:101-102)
In another place in the Qur'an God describes the mental state of the Pharaoh's people in the following words:
And when our signs became absolutely manifest to them, they said: "This surely is magic." Inwardly, their hearts had become convinced (that it was not magic but the Truth), but they refused to acknowledge this out of sheer mischief and willful rebellion. (Quran 27:13,11)
Then Muss said to them: "Woe unto you; Forge not a lie against God; for (if you do) He will destroy you by chastisement; and whoever has committed forgery has only suffered frustration. On hearing which they began to dispute among themselves and held secret counsels, wherein it was said: "This surely is a pair of magicians aiming at driving you away from your land and doing away with your cherished traditions and way of life." (Quran 20:61-63)
They could only have begun to dispute, on being warned of Divine chastisement and of the punishment for forging lies, because there still endured in their hearts some remnants of the notion of God's greatness and might and some fear of Him. But when the ruling racist nationalists spoke of a possible political revolution in case they adopted the faith of Musa (on whom be peace) and raised the specter of fresh Israeli domination over Egypt, their hearts became hardened once again, and they unanimously decided to defy both the Prophets.
This point having been settled, we can now easily get at the real basis of the dispute between Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) and the Pharaoh, see wherein lay the latter's error and of his people, and in what sense did he claim to be ilah and rabb. In this connection, the verses in the Qur'an which appear to be relevant, are set out below:
1. On one occasion the war-mongers among the courtiers asked the Pharaoh:
Would you give Musa and his people free rein to spread disruption in the land to give up your ilah? [Some commentators have read the word aalihatika in verse 7:127 as ilahatika on the supposition only that the Pharaoh himself claimed to be the Lord of the world, and have interpreted the word ilaha to mean worship. In other words, they translate the verse to mean "to give up yourself and your worship". However, in the first place, this reading of the word is rare and contrary to the general reading. In the second, the very supposition on which it is based is wrong ab initio. In the third, ilaha can, besides worship, mean goddess also, and this word was in fact used in Arabia in the Age of Ignorance for the sun. We know that to the Egyptians it was the sun which was the supreme god, whom they called Ra, and the word Pharaoh actually meant descendant, or incarnation, of Ra, so that the Pharaoh, claimed to be incarnations of the Sun god Ra. A. A. Maududi] (Quran 7:127)
As against this, the one who had affirmed belief in Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace), said to the others What you want is that I deny God, and associate those with Him regarding whom I have no valid proof (of any divine status). (Quran 40:42)
When we study these verses against the background of what we know from archaeological research, we can only conclude that both the Pharaoh himself and his people associated some of their gods with the One God who is the only Rabb, in the first and second senses of rububiyyah, and gave their worship to them on that basis. Obviously, if the Pharaoh had claimed to be god in the supernatural sense, that is, if he had presumed to be the ruler of the entire universe and believed in none other than himself to be the ilah and the rabb of the earth and the heavens, he would not have needed to worship any god at all.
2. The Qur'an also reports the Pharaoh to have said:
(i) To his nobles: "(As for me) I know of no ilah for you except myself." (Quran 28:38)
(ii) To Hazrat Musa (peace be upon him): "If you take anyone other than me to be your ilah I shall surely throw you in prison." (Quran 26:29)
These words do not mean that the Pharaoh denied the existence of any ilah but himself. He meant only to reject the call of Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace). This call was to God not only as the Ilah in the supernatural sense but also as the Supreme Sovereign and the ultimate Law-giver in all matters whether political, cultural, or social. The Pharaoh on the other hand held that there was no ilah but himself in political and cultural and social matters, and at the same time threatened Hazrat Musa that if he took anyone else as his ilah in this sense he would find himself in prison.
These verses also show, and this again is borne out both by history and archaeological discoveries, that the Pharaohs of Egypt did not stop at claiming absolute sovereignty but, by claiming kinship with gods, had also pretensions to a special sanctity, so as to further strengthen their holdover men's minds and hearts. In this, of course, they were not exceptional, because there have been many dynasties which too have, besides assuming absolute sovereignty, laid claim to a measure of divinity, and made it incumbent, on their subjects to perform various acts of worship before them. However, this was actually something of secondary importance only, because the real purpose was always to consolidate their own authority and the claim to possess a degree of divinity was only a means towards that end. And that is why the godhood of all these dynasties came forthwith to an end, in Egypt and elsewhere, the moment their temporal rule ended. If at all, the spiritual over lordship was transferred to the new occupants of the throne.
3. The Pharaoh's real claim was not to godhood in the spiritual, but in the political sense. It was in the third, and fifth senses of rububiyyah that he claimed to be the overlord of Egypt and its people, to be master of the country and all that there was in it, to the exclusion of all others and to have the absolute right to rule as he pleased. His alone was the supreme authority, and he alone the fountain-head of all cultural and social life in Egypt. None else had the right to speak in these matters, and to say what people might do, and what they might not. The basis for the claim, according to the Qur'an, was as follows:
And the Pharaoh proclaimed throughout Egypt: "Am I not the lord of this land? And do not the rivers in this country flow under me? Do you not all see this (and believe in what) I say!" (Quran 43:51)
This was the same basis on which Namrud had rested his claim to be a rabb-"(He having pretensions of his own) disputed with Ibrahim as to He Whom the latter regarded as his Rabb and on the basis only that Allah had bestowed him with kingship"-and on the same basis too had the king who ruled Egypt during the time of Hazrat Yousuf (on whom be peace) held himself out as the rabb of his people.
4. The real dispute which lay between Hazrat Musa, (on whom be peace) and the Pharaoh and his nobles, etc., was that the former called the people to believe in no-one as being in any degree an ilah or a rabb, in any sense of these terms, except Allah, the Lord of the Worlds (Rabb-al-'aalameen), Who alone was the Ilah and the Rabb in the supernatural sense and in political social and cultural matters too. He alone was worthy of worship, and His Word alone was the Law. Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace) also announced that it was none other than Allah Who had sent him to the Pharaoh and his people as His representative, to make known His Commandments through him. The reins of authority should therefore be in his hands and not in those of the Pharaoh (who, be it remembered, was a rebel against God). And this led the Pharaoh and his nobles, naturally, to claim that the two brothers (Hazrat Musa, and Hazrat Haroon, may peace be upon both) wanted to dispossess them of their authority and to rule over the land themselves, to root out the existing creed and culture, and install their own:
And We indeed sent Musa with our Signs, and clear tokens of authority to the Pharaoh and his nobles but the people obeyed the word of the Pharaoh, though he (certainly) was not in the right. (Quran 11:96-97)
And We had previously put Pharaoh's people through a test; a noble prophet had come to them, and said to them: "Make over authority over Allah's creatures to me; 1 am to yon a Divine Messenger and worthy of all trust, and so be not arrogant against God, for I come to you with authority (which is) manifest." (Quran 44:17-19)
(And, O people of Makkah:) Verily We have sent to you a messenger, who will bear witness over you, in just the same way that We sent a messenger to the Pharaoh; then the Pharaoh disobeyed the messenger, and (for this) We seized hold of him most woefully. (Quran 73:15-16)
The Pharaoh asked: "(And, if you do not acknowledge either our gods or the Royal family to be your rabbs, then who, after all, is your Rabb?") "The same," replied, Musa, "Who gave everything in creation its own peculiar structure, shape, and qualities, and then taught man how to put them to his use." (Quran 20:49-50)
The Pharaoh asked, "And who might this Rabb-al- 'aalameen (Lord of the Worlds) be?" And Musa, replied: "The Lord of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them-if you were only to believe." Do you hear?" the Pharaoh asked those around him. "The Lord of all of you," added Musa, "and of all your predecessors too." "This (self-styled Divine) messenger," remarked the Pharaoh, is verily a mad person." "The Lord of the East and of the West," retorted Musa, "and of all that is between them if you only had the true understanding". To which the Pharaoh could only reply, "Take heed, O' Musa If you dare take anyone other than me as your ilah, you certainly shall find yourself in prison." (Quran 20:23-29)
The Pharaoh asked. "Have you come to us that you should drive us out of our land, with (the help, or the threat of the use of) your magic, O Musa?" (Quran 20:57)
And the Pharaoh said "Let me do with Musa as I wish - to have him put to death-and then let him call to his Rabb to save him, for I very much fear that he will change your creed or disturb the peace of the land." (Quran 40:26)
They (the Pharaoh's nobles) said: "They (Musa and Haroon) are both (nothing but) magician, who wish to drive you out of your land by the force of their magic, and to do away with your most excellent way of life." (Quran 20:63)
The above verses bring out clearly the fact that in the land of the Nile too there prevailed the very same misconception with regard to rububiyyah as had existed among other peoples of old, and that the message of Hazrat Musa and Hazrat Haroon (on whom both be peace) to the Egyptians was also the same as of the prophets before them to their own respective people.