The Tribe of Musa(a.s)strays and worship 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

his admonition:

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.

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