The Great Contest
On the customary festival day, which attracted citizens from all over the Egyptian empire, Pharaoh (Pharaoh) arranged for a public contest between Moosaa (Moses), may Allah exalt his mention, and the magicians. The people came in droves when they heard of the greatest contest ever between Pharaoh’s many magicians, and a single man who 'claimed to be a prophet'.
Everyone was eager and excited to watch this great contest. Before it began, Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, arose and addressed the magicians, saying (what means): "‘Woe to you! Do not invent a lie against Allah or He will exterminate you with a punishment; and he has failed who invents [such falsehood].’” [Quran: 20:61]
Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, had spoken sincerely and made the magicians think. But they were overwhelmed by their greed for money and glory. They hoped to impress the people with their magic and to expose Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, as a fraud and a cheat.
Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, asked the magicians to perform first. They threw their magical objects down on the ground. Their staffs and ropes took the forms of wriggling serpents while the crowd watched in amazement. Pharaoh and his men applauded loudly. Then, Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, threw his staff. It began to wriggle and became an enormous serpent. The people stood up, craning their necks for a better view. Pharaoh and his men sat silently as Moosaa's huge serpent swallowed all the snakes, one by one. Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, bent to pick it up, and it became a staff in his hand.
The crowd rose like a great wave, shouting and screaming with excitement. A wonder like this had never been seen before! On witnessing the power of Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, the magicians prostrated themselves to Allah, declaring (what means): "…‘We believe in the Lord of Haaroon [Aaron] and Moosaa.’"[Quran: 20:70] Pharaoh was furious and began plotting his next move. He charged that the demonstration had been arranged secretly between Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, and the magicians. He demanded that the magicians confess to their scheme, threatening them with death. They refused to denounce Allah and stuck to their sincerity of their belief. No longer hiding his cruel nature, Pharaoh threatened to cut off their hands and feet and to crucify them on the trunks of palm trees as an example to his subjects.
Almighty Allah recounts this event in the following verses (which mean):
“He [Pharaoh] said: ‘Have you come to us to drive us out of our land with your magic, O Moosaa? Then we will surely bring you magic like it, so make between us and you an appointment, which we will not fail to keep and neither will you, in a place assigned.’ [Moosaa] said: ‘Your appointment is on the day of the festival, when the people assemble at mid-morning.’ So Pharaoh went away, put together his plan, and then came [to Moosaa]. Moosaa said to them [i.e., the magicians summoned by Pharaoh]: ‘Woe to you! Do not invent a lie against Allah or He will exterminate you with a punishment; and he has failed who invents [such falsehood].’ So they disputed over their affair among themselves and concealed their private conversation. They said: ‘Indeed, these are two magicians who want to drive you out of your land with their magic and do away with your most exemplary way [i.e., religion or tradition]. So resolve upon your plan and then come [forward] in line. And he has succeeded today who overcomes.’ They said: ‘O Moosaa! Either you throw or we will be the first to throw.’ He said: ‘Rather, you throw.’ And suddenly, their ropes and staffs seemed to him from their magic that they were moving [like snakes]. And he sensed within himself apprehension, did Moosaa. We [i.e., Allah] said: ‘Fear not! Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is.’ So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said: ‘We have believed in the Lord of Haaroon and Moosaa.’ [Pharaoh] said: ‘You have believed him [i.e., Moosaa] before I gave you permission. Indeed, he is your leader who has taught you magic. So I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and you will surely know which of us is more severe in [giving] punishment and more enduring.’ They said: ‘Never will we prefer you over what has come to us of clear proofs and [over] He who created us. So decree whatever you are to decree. You can only decree for this worldly life. Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.’ Indeed, whoever comes to his Lord as a criminal – indeed, for him is Hell; he will neither die therein nor live. But whoever comes to Him as a believer having done righteous deeds – for those will be the highest degrees [in position]: Gardens of perpetual residence beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally. And that is the reward of one who purifies himself.” [Quran: 20:57-76]
The magicians represented the elite of the Egyptian society. They were its scholars. They prostrated before righteousness, but the people abandoned them and left them to their fate. The path of righteousness was plain, but in spite of this, the people did nothing but stand by and watch. If every one of the Egyptians had stopped to pick up a piece of brick and had thrown it at Pharaoh, he would have fallen dead and the history of Egypt would have been changed. This obviously did not happen. None of the people moved. Each one stood motionless in his place. The people did nothing but watch, and they paid the price of this inactivity: they were drowned later as the price for the cowardice of one day.
Moosaa and Haaroon, may Allah exalt their mention, left, and Pharaoh returned to his palace. Pharaoh was completely stupefied when he faced the two miracles. When Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, went out of his presence, Pharaoh’s emotions changed from amazement and fear to violent rage. He quarrelled with his ministers and men, reviled them bitterly for no reason, and commanded them to get out of his presence. When he was left alone, he tried to think more calmly. He drank several cups of wine, but his anger did not abate.
Then he summoned all the ministers, leaders, and responsible men for a serious meeting. Pharaoh entered the meeting with a rigid face. It was obvious that he would never surrender easily. He had established a kingdom on the basis of his being a god worshipped by the Egyptian people. Now Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, came to destroy what he had built. Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, said that there was no Lord other than Allah in existence. This meant that Pharaoh was a liar.
Pharaoh opened the session by throwing a sudden question at Haamaan, his aide: "Am I a liar, O Haamaan?" Haamaan fell to his knees in amazement and asked: "Who dared to accuse Pharaoh of lying?" Pharaoh said: "Has he (Moosaa) not said that there is a Lord above the heaven?" Haamaan answered: "Moosaa is lying." Turning his face to the other side, Pharaoh asserted impatiently: "I know he is a liar." Then he looked towards Haamaan and cried (what means): "…‘O Haamaan! Construct for me a tower that I might reach the ways – the ways into the heavens – so that I may look at the deity of Moosaa; but indeed, I think he is a liar.’ And thus was made attractive to Pharaoh the evil of his deed, and he was averted from the [right] way. And the plan of Pharaoh was not except in ruin." [Quran: 40:36-37]
Pharaoh issued his royal command to erect a lofty tower to reach the heavens. Pharaoh’s command depended fundamentally upon Egyptian civilisation and its fondness for building what Pharaoh wanted. However, he ignored the rules of engineering. In spite of this, Haamaan assented (hypocritically), knowing that it was impossible to erect such a tower. He said that he would issue a command to build it immediately. "However, your majesty, let me object to Pharaoh for the first time. You will never find anyone in the heavens. There is no god but you."
Pharaoh listened to a settled fact. Then he declared in the famous meeting his historic line (which means): "…‘O eminent ones! I have not known you to have a god other than me’…" [Quran: 28:38]
Pharaoh was absorbed in his new problem. A series of serious meetings began in his palace. He summoned those responsible for the army, the police and, what we call today his director of intelligence. He also summoned the ministers, princes, and priests. He called whoever had a powerful effect on the direction of events.
[To be continued…]