Sovereignty of Pharaoh in Egypt and the condition of the children of Israel




Besides the city states established in Mesopotamia, Egyptian

civilization was one of the most ancient civilizations in history. Ancient

Egypt is known to have had the most organised social and political order

of the time. Their invention of writing around 3000 B.C., their use of the

river Nile, the deserts surrounding the country and serving as a strong

defence against external threats were major factors in the successful

progression of the Egyptian Civilization.

Nevertheless, this great civilization was ruled by Pharaoh, whose reign

is clearly described in the Qur'an as an example of obstinance. These people

acted proudly against God, turned their backs on Him, persisting in their

denial of the truth. Therefore, even their advanced civilization, social and

political order, and military achievements, could not protect them from


The most important events of the history of Egypt took place in

connection to the presence of the children of Israel in the land.

Israel is the other name of the Prophet Ya'qub (Jacob) (as). The sons

of Ya'qub had formed "the children of Israel," the tribe which in time came

to be known as "Jews." The children of Israel first came to Egypt during

the time of the Prophet Yusuf, the youngest son of Ya'qub. In the Qur'an,

a detailed account of the life of Yusuf is given in Sura Yusuf. Beginning in

the early years of his life, Yusuf had faced many difficulties and had been

subjected to numerous assaults and slanders. Later in his life, after his

release from prison where he had been put because of a false accusation,

Yusuf was placed in authority over the treasures of Egypt. His appointment

was followed by the influx of the children of Israel into Egypt. This is

described in the Qur'an as follows:

Then when they entered into Yusuf's presence, he drew his parents

close to him and said, "Enter Egypt safe and sound, if God wills."

(Qur'an, 12: 99)

According to the account in the Qur'an, the children of Israel, who

had dwelled in peace and security in Egypt, eventually lost their status in

the society, and in time, were finally enslaved. From the related verses in

the Qur'an we understand that the children of Israel lived in such a

condition at the time Musa arrived on the scene. As described in the

Qur'an, Musa went to Pharaoh as "a member of an enslaved tribe." The

following arrogant answer, which Pharaoh and his inner circle made to

Musa (as) and Harun (Aaron) (as), informs us about this fact:

They said, "What! Should we believe in two human beings like

ourselves when their people are our slaves?" (Qur'an, 23: 47)

As depicted in these verses, the Egyptians had subjected the children

of Israel to slavery and placed them in their personal service. To maintain

and enforce this system of slavery, the Egyptians employed methods of

repression. This pressure was exercised to the extent of controlling the

entire Israelite population. The proliferation of the male population,

deemed to be a challenge to the Egyptian's own survival, was obstructed,

whilst the female population was exploited for their service. This situation

is conveyed in the verses in which God addresses the children of Israel:

Remember when We rescued you from the people of Pharaoh. They

were inflicting an evil punishment on you—slaughtering your sons

and letting your women live. In that there was a tremendous trial for

you from your Lord. (Qur'an, 2: 49)

Remember when We rescued you from Pharaoh's people who were

inflicting an evil punishment on you, killing your sons and letting

your women live. In that there was a tremendous trial from your Lord.

(Qur'an, 7: 141)

The religion that was prevalent in the land of Egypt was the legacy of

the idolatrous practices of Pharaoh's ancestors. This unjust religion posited

the existence of numerous gods. Pharaoh was, on the other hand, believed

to be a living god. It was precisely this belief which proffered pharaohs

with such power over their subjects. Pharaoh and his immediate circle saw

Musa as a threat to the way of life dictated by the religion of their

ancestors, since, according to that religion, it was Pharaoh who possessed

all the might and glory. Pharaoh's arrogance, his striving to maintain

control, and his regarding Musa and Harun as rivals, are evidenced in the

following words of Pharaoh and his immediate circle, in their address to

Musa and Harun:

They said, "Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our

fathers doing, and to gain greatness in the land? We do not believe

you." (Qur'an, 10: 78)

In accordance with his ancestors' religion, Pharaoh claimed that he

was a god. He even went to such lengths as to claim he was their most

exalted Lord



Sovereignty of Pharaoh in Egypt and The Condition of The Children of Israel

An ancient Egyptian engraving depicting the entry of the children of

Israel into Egypt

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