Lessons From Ashura – The Story of Prophet Musa a.s.

The day of Ashura and and the story of Prophet Musa a.s. are deeply intertwined. We reflect on the lessons as we navigate contemporary challenges with faith and wisdom.
by Ustaz Abdullah Al-Muaz Mohamed Fatris 2024-07-10 • 14 min read
Ustaz Abdullah Al-Muaz Mohamed Fatris obtained a degree in Theology (Usuluddin) from the University of Jordan before pursuing a higher degree in Counselling from Monash University.
2024-07-10 • 14 min read

The Islamic commemoration of Ashura is deeply rooted in the story of Prophet Musa a.s. This significant day, observed on the 10th of Muharram, marks the liberation of Bani Israel from the tyranny of the Pharaoh (fir’aun). According to a hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas r.a, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. found the Jews in Madinah to be fasting on the day of Ashura. The Prophet s.a.w. asked them about this practice, to which they answered:

هذا يَوْمٌ عَظِيمٌ، وهو يَوْمٌ نَجَّى اللَّهُ فيه مُوسَى، وأَغْرَقَ آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ، فَصَامَ مُوسَى شُكْرًا لِلَّهِ‏

“It is a day of great significance. On this day, Allah saved (Prophet) Musa and drowned the people of the Pharaoh, so (Prophet) Musa observed fasting out of gratitude to Allah.”

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Although the Arabs in the pre-Islamic era had also observed fasting on the day of Ashura, the Prophet affirmed its practice within the Islamic faith and instructed Muslims to uphold it. In another narration, he explains the reward for fasting on this day:

يُكَفِّرُ اَلسَّنَةَ اَلْمَاضِيَةَ

“It expiates for the preceding year.”

(Sahih Muslim)

Read: Fasting on the Day of Ashura

In this regard, the observance of Ashura encompasses profound spiritual merits and lessons. The act of fasting and the expiation of sins provide a meaningful way to welcome the new Hijri year with a renewed sense of faith and gratitude. Indeed, it is a befitting time for us to reflect on the trials and triumphs of past prophets, particularly Prophet Musa a.s, and to draw lessons from their lives.

Read: Why Is Muharram Celebrated and Other Muharram FAQs

Introduction to the Story of Prophet Musa a.s.

Prophet Musa’s early life was marked by trials and divine interventions that shaped his journey as a prophet. Born into a time of great oppression under the Pharaoh's rule, Musa a.s. was miraculously saved from a royal decree to kill all newborn boys. He was placed in a basket and set adrift on the Nile River by his mother, only to be found and adopted by Pharaoh's own family.

Read: Sayyidatina Asiyah: 4 Women of Paradise

As he grew, Musa a.s. became aware of his true heritage and the plight of his people. His journey away from the kingdom began when he accidentally killed a man from the Pharaoh’s oppressive army while intervening to defend a slave from Bani Israel. Upon learning that the Pharaoh’s chiefs were plotting to kill him, Musa a.s fled to the land of Madyan (an ancient civilisation and geographical site that is located in modern-day southern Jordan and northwest Saudi Arabia), where he found refuge, married, and started a new life. During this period, the revelation of prophecy came to him on Mount Sinai, and Allah instructed him to return to Egypt and liberate Bani Israel from the Pharaoh's tyranny.

Sunrise over at Mount SinaiSunrise at Mount Sinai, Egypt.

Confronting the Pharaoh’s Tyranny 

The Pharaoh's rule over Egypt was characterised by extreme cruelty and oppression, particularly towards Bani Israel. He subjected them to backbreaking labour and ordered their newborn sons to be killed. The Quran vividly describes the Pharaoh’s tyranny:

اِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ عَلَا فِى الْاَرْضِ وَجَعَلَ اَهْلَهَا شِيَعًا يَّسْتَضْعِفُ طَاۤىِٕفَةً مِّنْهُمْ يُذَبِّحُ اَبْنَاۤءَهُمْ وَيَسْتَحْي نِسَاۤءَهُمْۗ اِنَّه كَانَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِيْنَ

“And recall when We saved your forefathers from the people of Pharaoh, who afflicted you with the worst torment, killing your sons and keeping your women alive. And in that was a great trial from your Lord.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:49)

Read: Bani Israel: Who Are They, and Why Does the Quran Mention Them?

With his brother Prophet Harun a.s. by his side, Prophet Musa a.s. returned to Egypt to confront the Pharaoh and demand the release of Bani Israel. It is worthy to note that even in this instance, Allah reminded Prophet Musa to approach the Pharaoh in a good manner:

فَقُولَا لَهُۥ قَوۡلًا لَّيِّنًا لَّعَلَّهُۥ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوۡ يَخۡشَىٰ

“Speak to him gently so that perhaps he may be reminded or fear Allah.”

(Surah Taha, 20:44)

Despite facing immense resistance and arrogance, Prophet Musa’s confrontation with the Pharaoh is a testament to his unwavering faith and commitment to fulfilling his divine mission. Undeterred, Musa continued to deliver Allah’s message, warning the Pharaoh of dire consequences if he persisted in his tyranny. As the Pharaoh's defiance grew, so did Allah’s signs and plagues that befell Egypt, eventually forcing the Pharaoh to concede and grant Bani Israel their freedom.

The Miracle of the Splitting Sea

As Bani Israel made their exit from Egypt, the Pharaoh backtracked on his decision and pursued them with his army. Trapped between the advancing forces and the Red Sea, they despaired. However, inspired by divine guidance, Prophet Musa a.s. struck the sea with his staff, causing it to miraculously split apart, thus creating a path for them to pass through safely. As the Pharaoh and his army attempted to pursue, the waters returned, drowning them and securing Bani Israel’s escape:

فَاَوْحَيْنَآ اِلٰى مُوْسٰٓى اَنِ اضْرِبْ بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَۗ فَانْفَلَقَ فَكَانَ كُلُّ فِرْقٍ كَالطَّوْدِ الْعَظِيْمِ

 وَاَزْلَفْنَا ثَمَّ الْاٰخَرِيْنَ

وَاَنْجَيْنَا مُوْسٰى وَمَنْ مَّعَه اَجْمَعِيْنَ

ثُمَّ اَغْرَقْنَا الْاٰخَرِيْنَ

“Then We inspired to Musa, ‘Strike the sea with your staff.’ It parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain. And We brought the pursuers to that place. We saved Moses and all his companions, then We drowned the others.”

(Surah Ash-Shu’ara, 26:63-66)Geological map of Red Sea

Throughout his encounter with Prophet Musa a.s, the Quran repeatedly highlights the Pharaoh's arrogance and his self-proclaimed divinity. He stubbornly refused to acknowledge the signs sent by Allah and continued his oppressive and unjust rule. His widespread tyranny and corruption ultimately incurred divine consequences: 

وَفِرْعَوْنَ ذِى الْاَوْتَادِ. الَّذِيْنَ طَغَوْا فِى الْبِلَادِ. فَأَكْثَرُوا۟ فِيهَا ٱلْفَسَادَ. فَصَبَّ عَلَيْهِمْ رَبُّكَ سَوْطَ عَذَابٍ. اِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَبِالْمِرْصَادِ

“And the Pharaoh, owner of the stakes? All whom oppressed within the lands and increased therein corruption. So, your Lord poured upon them a scourge of punishment. Indeed, your Lord is in observation.”

(Surah Al-Fajr, 10-14)

After a long struggle, Prophet Musa a.s. was eventually rewarded for his beautiful patience and steadfast belief in Allah. His success over the Pharaoh and the liberation of Bani Israel from oppression stands as a testament to the power of true faith and divine justice. 

5 Lessons from the Story of Prophet Musa a.s.

The story of Prophet Musa a.s. is rich with lessons that hold relevance in our world today. These lessons can guide us in navigating contemporary challenges with wisdom and faith.

1. The Value of Human Life and Dignity

Despite the severe and systemic oppression faced by Bani Israel, Prophet Musa a.s. championed their cause, highlighting the importance of standing up against injustice and protecting the dignity of every individual. In our world today, where rights continue to be violated, and oppression still persists, we are reminded to uphold the sanctity of life and work towards ensuring justice for all.

2. Prophet Musa’s Unwavering Dedication

Prophet Musa’s unwavering dedication to fulfil his covenant with Allah, despite facing numerous challenges, serves as an inspiration for all. His perseverance in the face of adversity teaches us the importance of staying true to our commitments and remaining resilient in our pursuits. Whether in our personal lives or in our collective efforts towards societal betterment, Prophet Musa’s example encourages us to remain steadfast and dedicated.

3. The Resilience and Power of Faith

The story of Musa a.s. underscores the resilience and power of faith in overcoming obstacles. His journey was fraught with difficulties, yet his faith in Allah's guidance and support never wavered. This teaches us that, regardless of the challenges we face, maintaining a strong faith can help us navigate through difficulties and emerge stronger.

4. The Importance of Upholding Justice, Compassion, and Faith

Throughout his mission, Musa a.s. embodied the principles of justice, compassion, and faith. He confronted oppression, empathised with the oppressed, and maintained his belief in Allah's plan. Upholding justice, practising compassion, and strengthening our faith can contribute to creating a more harmonious and just society.

5. The Significance of Community and Collective Effort

Prophet Musa’s journey was not a solitary one. He sought the help of his brother Harun a.s. and achieved the collective support and trust of Bani Israel to achieve their liberation. This highlights the significance of community and collective effort in achieving shared goals. In our current context, whether we aim to address social issues, foster community development, or work towards common objectives, the story of Prophet Musa a.s. reminds us of the power of unity and collaboration.

Prayers and supplications of a Muslim

Call to Action

As we reflect on the story of Prophet Musa a.s, let us draw inspiration from his unwavering faith, dedication, and commitment to justice. In our daily lives, we can strive to uphold the values he exemplified:

1. Standing Against Injustice:

Advocate for the rights and dignity of every individual. Speak out against oppression and support efforts that promote justice and equality through available means.

2. Strengthen Our Faith:

Especially in times of difficulty and uncertainty, turn to our faith for strength and guidance. Trust in Allah's plan and remain steadfast in our beliefs.

3. Foster Community Unity:

Work together with the community to achieve common goals. Recognise the importance of collective effort and support one another in times of need.

4. Practise Compassion and Empathy:

Show compassion towards others, especially those who are oppressed or marginalised. Understand their struggles and offer support and kindness.

By embodying these principles, we can honour the legacy of Prophet Musa a.s. and contribute to creating a better world.

Read: 5 Incredible Lessons from The Prophet's ﷺ Last Sermon

Conclusion

The story of Prophet Musa a.s. is not just a historical narrative; it is a source of inspiration and guidance for Muslims throughout time. His journey, marked by trials, miracles and upholding faith, offers valuable lessons that are applicable to our contemporary lives. As we commemorate the event of Ashura and reflect on the liberation of Bani Israel, let us internalise these lessons and strive to embody the values of justice, compassion, and faith in our daily lives.

May Allah keep us grounded in faith, resilience in the face of adversity, and the wisdom to uphold justice with compassion. May He forgive our past shortcomings and guide us to be grateful and righteous servants. Amin.

Read: 4 Similarities Between Yom Kippur and Ashura

 

 


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