The Tribe of Musa(a.s)strays and worship the golden Calf
WORSHIPS THE GOLDEN CALF
After Pharaoh and his soldiers were drowned in the sea, Musa set off
with his tribe to a safer place. In the course of their journey, however,
there occurred further evidence of the Israelites' poor faith and their
inclination to transgression.
The people of Egypt practiced a polytheistic religion. They
worshipped numerous idols. During their stay in Egypt, the children of
Israel were also influenced by this religion. The children of Israel failed to
occupy themselves with the remembrance of God, and thus, failed to
follow the noble way of the monotheist religions they inherited from the
Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac) and Ya'qub (Jacob), peace be
upon them all. In time, they came under the influence of the Egyptian
culture, embracing some of their perverted customs and ideas. Their
encounter with an idolatrous tribe on their way brought to light this very
tendency towards idolatry. Some of the Jews developed an unwholesome
inclination towards the idolatrous practices of these people and asked
Musa to give them an idol:
We conveyed the tribe of Israel across the sea and they came upon some
people who were devoting themselves to some idols which they had.
They said, "Musa, give us a god just as these people have gods." He said,
"You are indeed an ignorant people. What these people are doing is
destined for destruction. What they are doing is purposeless." (Qur'an, 7:
This propensity towards idolatry was to surface again. Among the
people of Musa, there were some who did not feel an adequate fear for
God, and thus were prone to unbelief.
Musa and his tribe headed for Mount Sinai. As the Qur'an informs
us, there, God was to "make a covenant" with Musa during his stay on the
mountain for a period of forty days. Musa impatiently left his tribe
behind and departed early. He left his tribe under the care of Harun, also
a messenger of God, who was to rule the children of Israel during Musa's
absence. Prior to his departure, he gave some advice to Harun:
We set aside thirty nights for Musa and then completed them with ten, so
the appointed time of his Lord was forty nights in all. Musa said to his
brother Harun, "Be my caliph among my people. Keep order and do not
follow the way of the corrupters." (Qur'an, 7: 142)
Leaving his people behind, Musa reached the mountain of Horeb
within the appointed time. There, God addressed him once again:
When Musa came to Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he
said, "My Lord, show me Yourself so that I may look at You!" He (God)
said, "You will not see Me, but look at the mountain. If it remains firm in
its place, then you will see Me." But when His Lord manifested Himself
to the mountain, He crushed it flat and Musa fell unconscious to the
ground. When he regained consciousness he said, "Glory be to You! I
apologise to You and I am the first of the believers!" He (God) said,
"Musa, I have chosen you over all mankind for My Message and My
Word. Take what I have given you and be among the thankful." We wrote
everything for him on the Tablets as an admonition and making all things
clear. "Seize hold of it vigorously and command your people to adopt the
best in it. I will show you the home of the deviators!" (Qur'an, 7: 143-145)
Meanwhile, the disbelievers among the tribe of Musa took
advantage of his leaving. Insolent to Harun, they made an idol in the
shape of a calf, as in the Egyptian religion:
After he left, Musa's people adopted a calf made from their ornaments, a
form which made a lowing sound… (Qur'an, 7: 148)
In the meantime, God asked Musa about his tribe and the reason
that led him leave early:
"Why have you hurried on ahead of your people, Musa?" He said, "They
are following in my tracks. I have hurried on ahead to you, My Lord, to
gain Your good pleasure." (Qur'an, 20: 83-84)
The children of Israel were influenced by the superstitions of the Egyptians. Though Musa had brought the
ways of ignorance. The errant practice of "worshipping a calf," as portrayed in the engraving above, led the
Musa was unaware of the lapse
committed by his people. God informed
him of the transgression, and of the
existence of a hypocrite among them by
the name of Samaritan, and of how he
shaped certain materials into an idol in
the form of a calf:
He said, "We tried your people after
you left and the Samaritan has
misguided them." (Qur'an, 20: 85)
Then, taking the tablets, Musa
returned to his people:
Musa returned to his people in anger
and great sorrow. He said, "My people,
did not your Lord make you a
handsome promise? Did the
fulfilment of the contract seem too
long to you or did you want to unleash
your Lord's anger upon yourselves, so
you broke your promise to me?"
They said, "We did not break our
promise to you of our own volition.
But we were weighed down with the
heavy loads of the people's jewellery
and we threw them in, for that is what
the Samaritan did."
Then he produced a calf for them, a
physical form which made a lowing
sound. So they said, "This is your
god—and Musa's god as well, but he
forgot." (Qur'an, 20: 86-88)
This story provides clear details
about how the members of a community,who are diseased in their hearts, can be lured away from the
remembrance of God by a hypocrite. To create chaos and disorder,
hypocrites always seek certain opportune situations. During Musa's
absence, conditions were ripe for the hypocrites to lead astray people
who were already prone to transgression. Samaritan appeared at just
such a time; he was aware of these people's weakness, of their proneness
to idolatry. In any case, he knew that they had previously asked Musa to
make them an idol. Aware of their propensity, he devised a method by
which to ensure their going astray; he built a statue of a calf and, to justify
his actions, he claimed the statue to be a former god of Musa, but which
he later forgot.
Just as Musa had kept his faith firm, and guided his people to
righteousness when confronted by Pharaoh and his soldiers at the shore
of the sea, Samaritan led the same people into transgression. This is
indicative of the beneficial impact a faithful person can have over a
society, and the harm a hypocrite can bring to it.
In fact, Harun had warned his tribe and explained to them that they
were swerving from the right path. Nevertheless, the people did not heed
Harun had earlier said to them, "My people! It is just a trial for you. Your
Lord is the All-Merciful, so follow me and obey my command!"
They said, "We will not stop devoting ourselves to it until Musa returns
to us." (Qur'an, 20: 90-91)
The foregoing conveys clearly the fact that Musa's people followed
him only because they accepted him as a leader. If their obedience to
Musa had been founded on a profound faith, then the situation would be
otherwise; they would have immediately followed Harun as well, seeing
as he was also a messenger of God. However, not accepting him as their
leader, they did not respond to his appeals. Worse still, they even
attempted to kill him when he tried to prevent them from their
He (Musa) said, "What prevented you following me, Harun, when you
saw that they had gone astray? Did you too, then, disobey my command?"
He said, "Son of my mother! Do not seize me by the beard or by the hair.
I was afraid that you would say, 'You have caused division in the tribe of
Israel and taken no notice to anything I said.'" (Qur'an, 20: 92-93)
Harun said, "Son of my mother, The people oppressed me and almost
killed me. Do not give my enemies cause to gloat over me. Do not include
me with the wrongdoing people."
He (Musa) said, "My Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us into
Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful." (Qur'an, 7: 150-151)
Upon Harun's reply, Musa released him and turned to Samaritan,
the actual person responsible for the tribe's transgression. He questioned
him about his wrongdoing. In an attempt to absolve himself, Samaritan
explained that he had done what he did for a reason; he claimed to have
noticed things others could not. He also added that his inner self had
urged him to do what he did:
He (Musa) said, "What do you think you were doing, Samaritan?"
He said, "I saw what they did not see. So I gathered up a handful from the
Messenger's footprints and threw it in. That is what my inner self urged
me to do."
He (Moses) said, "Go! An outcast shall you be in this life, nor shall you
escape your appointed doom. Look at your god to which you devoted so
much time. We will burn it up and then scatter it as dust into the sea."
(Qur'an, 20: 95-97)
Here, it should be mentioned that Samaritan committed such evil
acts under the delusion that he was wiser and more farsighted than the
others. This arrogance of his can be clearly discerned in his words "I saw
what they did not see." These feelings of grandeur and pride caused
Samaritan be easily misled by the negative tendencies of his soul and by
Satan. Under these negative influences, he could not escape the
temptation to "do something different," and of becoming a leader in order
to lead the tribe astray.
On the contrary, a true believer never acts on the assumption that he
is wiser or superior to others. He is aware of his imperfections, and seeks
refuge in God from committing errors. Even if he notices things others
fail to, he takes it as a blessing and a test from God, and behaves
accordingly. If such were to be the case, he says only: "God made me see
this; the wisdom belongs only to God."
In the case of Samaritan, however, what he noticed was but what led
him to transgression and evil. In regards to these developments, Musa
took two important measures against the evil Samaritan had committed.
He first exiled Samaritan, the source of evil and transgression in the tribe.
The second measure was to abolish the idol completely. The idol the tribe
worshipped was to be burnt completely, and the ashes were to be cast
into the sea, so that nobody would ever find them again.
Evidently, Musa was very sincere and piously devoted to the
religion. Concerned about that which had led the people to disbelief,
Musa took definitive and appropriate measures to eradicate it. This
assertiveness is a common feature of all prophets and the faithful leaders
who have followed their path.
After destroying all sources of mischief, Musa preached to his tribe,
summoning them to repentance and obedience to God:
And when Musa said to his people, "My people, You wronged yourselves
by adopting the Calf so turn towards your Maker and kill your own
(guilty) selves. That is the best thing for you in your Maker's sight." And
He turned towards you. He is the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful.
(Qur'an, 2: 54 )
Musa's words had little impact on his people. Initially, the children
of Israel heeded his warnings, repented and turned towards their Lord.
However, this change was temporary. As will be explored in the
following pages, the children of Israel took every opportunity to disobey
Musa, abusing him psychologically and emotionally in every sense.