(5:20) Remember when Moses said to his people: 'My people, remember Allah's
favour upon you when He raised Prophets amongst you and appointed you rulers,
and granted to you what He had not granted to anyone else in the world.42 وَاِذۡ قَالَ مُوۡسٰى لِقَوۡمِهٖ يٰقَوۡمِ اذۡكُرُوۡا نِعۡمَةَ اللّٰهِ عَلَيۡكُمۡ
اِذۡ جَعَلَ فِيۡكُمۡ اَنۡۢـبِيَآءَ وَجَعَلَـكُمۡ مُّلُوۡكًا ۖ وَّاٰتٰٮكُمۡ مَّا
لَمۡ يُؤۡتِ اَحَدًا مِّنَ الۡعٰلَمِيۡنَ
(5:21) My people! Enter the holy land which Allah has ordained for you;43
and do not turn back for then you will turn about losers.44 يٰقَوۡمِ ادۡخُلُوا الۡاَرۡضَ الۡمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِىۡ كَتَبَ اللّٰهُ لَـكُمۡ
وَلَا تَرۡتَدُّوۡا عَلٰٓى اَدۡبَارِكُمۡ فَتَـنۡقَلِبُوۡا خٰسِرِيۡنَ
(5:22) They answered: 'Moses, therein live a ferocious people: we will not
enter unless they depart from it; but if they do depart from it then we will
surely enter it.'
قَالُوۡا يٰمُوۡسٰٓى اِنَّ فِيۡهَا قَوۡمًا جَبَّارِيۡنَ ۖ وَاِنَّا لَنۡ
نَّدۡخُلَهَا حَتّٰى يَخۡرُجُوۡا مِنۡهَا ۚ فَاِنۡ يَّخۡرُجُوۡا مِنۡهَا فَاِنَّا
(5:23) Two from among these who were frightened but upon whom Allah had bes-towed
His favour45 said: 'Enter upon them through the gate - for if you
do enter - you will be the victors. And put your trust in Allah if indeed you
are men of faith.'
قَالَ رَجُلٰنِ مِنَ الَّذِيۡنَ يَخَافُوۡنَ اَنۡعَمَ اللّٰهُ عَلَيۡهِمَا ادۡخُلُوۡا
عَلَيۡهِمُ الۡبَابَۚ فَاِذَا دَخَلۡتُمُوۡهُ فَاِنَّكُمۡ غٰلِبُوۡنَ ۚ وَعَلَى
اللّٰهِ فَتَوَكَّلُوۡۤا اِنۡ كُنۡتُمۡ مُّؤۡمِنِيۡنَ
(5:24) Nevertheless they said: 'O Moses! Never shall we enter it as long
as they are there. Go forth, then, you and your Lord, and fight, both of you.
As for us, we will sit here.'
قَالُوۡا يٰمُوۡسٰٓى اِنَّا لَنۡ نَّدۡخُلَهَاۤ اَبَدًا مَّا دَامُوۡا فِيۡهَا
فَاذۡهَبۡ اَنۡتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلَاۤ اِنَّا هٰهُنَا قَاعِدُوۡنَ
(5:25) Thereupon Moses said: 'My Lord! I have control over none but my own
self and my brother; so distinguish between us and the transgressing people.'
قَالَ رَبِّ اِنِّىۡ لَاۤ اَمۡلِكُ اِلَّا نَفۡسِىۡ وَاَخِىۡ فَافۡرُقۡ بَيۡنَـنَا
وَبَيۡنَ الۡـقَوۡمِ الۡفٰسِقِيۡنَ
(5:26) Allah said: 'This land will now be forbidden to them for forty years
and they will remain wandering about on the earth.46 Do not grieve
over the condition of these transgressing people.47 قَالَ فَاِنَّهَا مُحَرَّمَةٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ اَرۡبَعِيۡنَ سَنَةً ۚ يَتِيۡهُوۡنَ
فِى الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ فَلَا تَاۡسَ عَلَى الۡقَوۡمِ الۡفٰسِقِيۡنَ
42. This refers to the glory the Israelites enjoyed before the time of Moses.
There had appeared among them such great Prophets as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
Joseph. Moreover, from the time of Joseph they were able to achieve very considerable
power and authority in Egypt. For a considerable period they were the greatest
rulers of the civilized world, reigning supreme in Egypt and the surrounding
territories. People are generally inclined to regard the time of Moses as the
starting point for the rise of the Israelites. The Qur'an, however, states categorically
that the truly glorious period of their history had passed long before Moses,
and that Moses himself drew the attention of his people to that period as their
time of glory.
43. This signifies Palestine which had been the homeland of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. After their exodus from Egypt, God ordered the Israelites to go forth
to Egypt and conquer it.
44. This statement of Moses refers to the second year after they had come
out of Egypt when he and his people lived in tents in the wilderness of Paran.
This desert lies in the Sinai peninsula adjacent to the northern borders of
Arabia and the southern borders of Palestine.
45. This could have two meanings: either that two of those who feared the
high-handed people of the Promised Land made that statement or that two of those
who feared God did so. (However, most Qur'anic commentators subscribe to the
latter meaning - Ed.)
46. The details of this incident are found in the Bible in Numbers, Deuteronomy
and Joshua. The essence of the story is that Moses sent twelve heads of Israel
to spy out Palestine. They returned after forty days and said: 'We came to the
land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey. Yet the people who
dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and
besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there . . . and all the people that
we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons
of Anak, who come from the Nephilim); and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers,
and so we seemed to them.' Then all the congregation cried out: 'Would that
we had died in the land of Egypt; or would that we had died in this wilderness;
why does the Lord bring us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and
our little ones will become a prey; would it not be better for us to go back
to Egypt?' At this they were censured for cowardice by two of the twelve heads
who had spied out Palestine, Joshua and Caleb. Caleb suggested that they should
go and seize Palestine. Then both of them said: 'If the Lord delights in us,
He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk
and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of
the land ... for the Lord is with us; do not fear them' (Numbers 14: 1-9). But
the congregation responded to this by crying out that both ought to be stoned.
This so provoked the wrath of God that He commanded that their bodies would
fall dead in the wilderness and that of all their numbers numbered from twenty
years old and upward, who had murmured against Him, none would come into the
promised land except Caleb and Joshua; that only after an entire generation
had passed away and a new generation had sprung up would they be enabled to
conquer Palestine. Because of this divine decree, it took the people of Israel
thirty-eight years to reach Transjordan from Paran. During this period all those
who had left Egypt in their youth had perished. After the conquest of Transjordan
Moses died (Ibid., 14: 10 ff.).
WANDERINGS OF THE ISRAELITES IN THE SINAI PENINSULA
The Prophet Moses (peace be on him) led the Israelites out of Egypt and brought
them to Mount Sinai by way of Marah, Elim and Rephaim in the Sinai Peninsula.
Here he stayed for a little over a year and received most of the Commandments
of the Torah. Then he was commanded to lead the Israelites towards Palestine
and conquer it, for that land was to be given to them as an inheritance. So,
he led them through Taberah and Nazareth and came to the desert of Paran from
where he despatched a deputation of prominent Israelites to spy out Palestine.
The deputation returned after forty days and made their report at Kadesh. Except
for the encouraging picture presented by Joshua and Caleb, the report made by
the other members was so disappointing that the Israelites cried out in disgust
and refused to march on to Palestine. Thereupon God decreed that they would
wander for forty years in the wilderness and none of their older generation
except Joshua and Caleb would see Palestine. Thus, the Israelites wandered homeless
in the wilderness of Paran, Shur and Zin, fighting and struggling against the
Amalekites, the Amorites, the Edomites, the Midianites and the Moabites. When
the forty years was about to end, the Prophet Aaron (peace be on him) died in
Mount Hor, near the border of Edom. At about this time the Prophet Moses (peace
be on him) entered Moab at the head of the Israelites, conquered the whole area
and reached Heshbon and Shittim. After him Joshua, his first successor, crossed
the River Jordan from the east and captured Jericho, the first Palestinian city
to fall to the Israelites. Later on the whole of Palestine was conquered by
them within a short period.
Later on during the caliphate (sic) of Joshua the Israelites became capable
of conquering Palestine.
In view of the fact that the followers of all the Prophets are Muslims, the
author has used a peculiarly Islamic term - caliphate, rather than kingship,
etc. - to signify the predominantly religious (or shall we say, Islamic) quality
of his rule and to distinguish it from systems of government not animated by
the religious spirit - Ed.
47. The purpose of referring to this event becomes clear if we reflect upon
the context. It seems to be to bring home to the Israelites that the punishment
to which they would be subjected if they adopted a rebellious attitude towards
Muhammad (peace be on him) would be even more severe than the .one to which
they had been subjected in the time of Moses.