Session Eight: Dialogue in the Qur’an
One of the powerful means that the Qur’an spreads its teachings is by dialogue. In many surahs in the Qur’an, Allah ta’ala displays to us the conversations between people: Allah ta’ala and the Angels, Ibrahim alayhi salaam and his father, Musa alayhi salaam and Khidr, the two men of the garden (surah Kahf), and Musa alayhi salaam and Fir’awn.
The beauty of these dialogues is that Allah azza wa jal could have told us what happened, but rather He chose to convey to us in the form of dialogue.
One subcategory of dialogues in the Qur’an is the idea of transitions. In the Qur’an, Allah ta’ala displays transitions that help us as the audience visualize the scene.
An amazing example of both dialogues and transitions in the Qur’an is from Surah Shu’ara (26), the story of Musa alayhi salaam and Firawn.
Allah azza wa jal says to Musa alayhi salaam, أَنِ ائْتِ الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ قَوْمَ فِرْعَوْنَ أَلَا يَتَّقُونَ “go to the wrong doing people–the People of Firawn, will they not have taqwa?” (10-11)
He responded to Allah ta’ala, إِنِّي أَخَافُ أَنْ يُكَذِّبُونِ “O my Rabb, I am scared that they will belie me” (12) Musa alayhi salaam mentions another fear of his in the coming verses, that they will kill him for his crime, but the first fear he mentions is that they will belie him. He is more afraid that he will not fulfill the mission that Allah ta’ala gave Him, than of his own safety.
Then he alayhi salaam expresses his shortcomings:
وَيَضِيقُ صَدْرِي وَلَا يَنْطَلِقُ لِسَانِي فَأَرْسِلْ إِلَىٰ هَارُونَ
“and that my breast will tighten and my tongue will not be fluent, so send (with me) Haroon” (13) Musa alayhi salaam was known for his temper and when someone has a temper, they do not express themselves clearly which results in their chest being constricted. He alayhi salaam is saying that: if I do fail in my mission, then at least send Haroon alayhi salaam with me to help.
The thing in the mind of Musa alayhi salaam is fulfilling this mission–which is why he explains his concerns to Allah azza wa jal. He then mentions:
وَلَهُمْ عَلَيَّ ذَنْبٌ فَأَخَافُ أَنْ يَقْتُلُونِ
“and they have upon me a sin, so I fear that they will kill me” (14) Musa alayhi salaam mentions the accidental killing of the Egyptian man, and if they kill him and he cannot fulfill the mission, Haroon alayhi salaam can continue it.
Allah azza wa jal responds to him: كَلَّا, “No!” فَاذْهَبَا بِآيَاتِنَا“both of you go with our signs”, Allah ta’ala did not respond to Musa alayhi salaam saying, “Haroon will be a messenger”, but Allah’s Speech is concise, He said: fathhabaa, both of you go!
إِنَّا مَعَكُمْ مُسْتَمِعُونَ“there is no doubt that I will be alongside listening” (15) The dialogue about to take place now between Musa alayhi salaam and Firawn is so important that we must listen closely. Why? Because Allah azza wa jal said Himself that He was مُسْتَمِعُونَ “one who listens attentively”, He did not even says ‘musme’oon: one who listens’, but مُسْتَمِعُونَ, one who listens carefully and closely.
Allah azza wa jal instructs them:
فَأْتِيَا فِرْعَوْنَ فَقُولَا إِنَّا رَسُولُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ “And when you both come to Firawn, say: We are the Messenger of the Rabb of the ‘Alameen” (16). Rasool is singular, because they are presenting themselves as one entity, they are inseperable.
Let’s look more at the situation: Musa alayhi salaam is a fugitive in their eyes, and Haroon alayhi salaam is from a people, who according to Firawn, are second class citizens. Then they have to go to Firawn, directly to his palace and say we are messengers from Rabb al ‘Aalameen. Firawn already claimed and thought he was rabb! This message was already offensive to Firawn.
Then they say: أَنْ أَرْسِلْ مَعَنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ,“So allow the Children of Israel to go with us. ” (17). It’s like they (alayhum assalaam) are saying to Firawn: For your information, there is another Rabb, the True Rabb, and second of all, send with us those who you have enslaved….This seems to be a a BIG request for the like of Firawn!
In the next ayah, a shift occurs. The previous dialogue was between Allah ta’ala and Musa alayhi salaam, then Allah ta’ala switches the scene where they are already speaking to Firawn.
How does Firawn react to their claim? He says: أَلَمْ نُرَبِّكَ فِينَا وَلِيدًا وَلَبِثْتَ فِينَا مِنْ عُمُرِكَ سِنِينَ , “Did we not bring you up among us as a child? And you did dwell many years of your life with us.” (18) Musa alayhi salaam said: We are messengers from Rabb al ‘Aalameen, and send with us Bani Isra’eel. Firawn did not even respond to his requests, rather he goes straight to Musa alayhi salaam and attacks his character and alligence. Firawn is a politician, he addressed everything but the issue.
Then he says:
وَفَعَلْتَ فَعْلَتَكَ الَّتِي فَعَلْتَ وَأَنْتَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ“And you did your deed, which you did. And you are one of the ungrateful.” (19) Firawn is being sarcastic by using “fa’alta”, he doesn’t even say the murder of the man because he is undermining and threatening Musa alayhi salaam. So Firawn, instead of responding to the requests of Musa alayhi salaam: questions his loyalties (did we not raise you up?) and suggests that he is a criminal.
At this point in the dialogue, it seems that Firawn has the upper hand. But of Musa’s alayhi salaam genius, he addresses some of what he says and he goes in order of importance:
- فَعَلْتُهَا إِذًا وَأَنَا مِنَ الضَّالِّينَ “I did it then, when I was an ignorant” (20) This was the last point Firawn addressed but it was the first of importance to Musa alayhi salaam, because it was not deliberate but a mistake.
- فَفَرَرْتُ مِنْكُمْ لَمَّا خِفْتُكُمْ“So I fled from you when I feared you.” (21) Look at the bravery of Musa alayhi salaam, he says to Firawn, in his own palace infront of all of his chiefs: لَمَّا خِفْتُكُمْ when I feared you, meaning: You don’t scare me anymore!
- فَوَهَبَ لِي رَبِّي حُكْمًا وَجَعَلَنِي مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ“Then my Rabb has granted me religious knowledge and appointed me as one of the Messengers.” (21) Notice that Musa alayhi salaam keeps mentioned Rabb, he did not even say Allah. Remember in the conversation with Allah ta’ala, Musa alayhi salaam was concerned about not fulfilling the mission? Here, by mentioning Rabb over and over, he is not moving from the agenda of conveying that he is messenger from Rabb al ‘Aalameen.
- وَتِلْكَ نِعْمَةٌ تَمُنُّهَا عَلَيَّ “and that was a favor that you gave me” (22) Musa alayhi salaam acknowledges the favor that Firawn gave him that he allowed him to stay in his midst.
- BUT: أَنْ عَبَّدْتَ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ “(is that a reason) that you have enslaved the children of Isra’eel?” (22) Musa alayhi salaam is saying: just because you raised me in your home, does that give you the right to enslave Bani Isra’eel, a whole nation? Or is it because you raised me, I cannot ask you for their release? There is a whole in the arguments of Firawn, and Musa alayhi salaam is not moving from his agenda.
In response, Firawn tries to comeback after being cornered:
وَمَا رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ“And what is Rabb al ‘Aalameen?” (23) Firawn intentionally says مَا “what”, instead of “man” (who). “Maa” is something which can be an imaginary idea, something that is not real, this is extremely condescending.
Musa alayhi salaam keeps his cool and answers briefly and succinctly:
رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا “Rabb of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them both” (24) The people of Firawn thought that they were the descendants of the “Sun God”, but Musa alayhi salaam removes this from them and attacks their religious beliefs with this statement: my Rabb is the Rabb of your supposed “god”, and the Rabb of the supposed ‘rabb’ (Firawn) of this earth.
Then he turns to the crowd–imagine now how big the audience must be at this point, he says: إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُوقِنِينَ “if you seek to be convinced with certainty” (24)
Now Firawn is getting very nervous and feels the blow of the answer. So what does he do? He says to his chiefs and those around him:
أَلَا تَسْتَمِعُونَ “You hear that, don’t you?” (25) In an attempt to laugh Musa alayhi salaam to his close people, he says. In an administration, when one looses the close people around them, then they loose everything, so Firawn out of his nervousness stops talking to Musa and turns to his chiefs: do you realize what he is saying?! Implying mockery and that they are listening to Musa alayhi salaam over him.
How does Musa alayhi salaam respond? He doesn’t move from the agenda!
رَبُّكُمْ وَرَبُّ آبَائِكُمُ الْأَوَّلِينَ “Your Rabb and the Rabb of your forefathers” (26) My Rabb is the Rabb of even the first of you pharaohs.
When someone is in a debate and they are stumped, the best thing they can do is turn to character assassination…That is exactly what Firawn does. He says:
إِنَّ رَسُولَكُمُ الَّذِي أُرْسِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ لَمَجْنُونٌ “Certainly this messenger who has been sent to you is insane!” (27) Firawn attacks the message by attacking the messenger. Once you destroy the reputation of the Rasool, the people don’t care about the message anymore. As Muslims, we believe otherwise, as Ali radi Allahu anhu said: Judge the statement before we judge the speaker. However, it’s of the nature of humans to be judgmental.
Firawn thinks the crazy claim will put an end to Musa, but Musa alayhi salaam continues:
“Rabb of the East and the West, and all that is between them both” إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ “If you do but understand!” (28) Musa alayhi salaam is claiming: if I am crazy, then why would I saw something intellectual that makes complete sense? (‘aql means the intellect). Furthermore, Musa alahyi salaam says Allah is the Rabb of the East and the West, why is this so significant? Because the people of Firawn used to worship the sun, and Musa is conveying to them: my Rabb is the Rabb of where the sun rises from and sets!
Now imagine the anger of Firawn! The audience is definitely captivated by what Musa alayhi salaam is saying. So he turns to threats:
لَئِنِ اتَّخَذْتَ إِلَـٰهًا غَيْرِي لَأَجْعَلَنَّكَ مِنَ الْمَسْجُونِينَ “if you take a deity (ilaah) other than me, surely I will make you among the prisoners!” (29) The way Firawn phrased this statement, it shows us that there were already people being imprisoned. If you opposed or went against him, then you went to jail. Firawn, as mentioned before, is the ultimate politician and reading his statements is like learning Politics 101. The more policing you need to do in your administration, the less powerful your government is. If Firawn throws every single person who disagrees with him in jail, then this shows how powerless he is, he has nothing.
Musa alayhi salaam is still not nervous, he says:
أَوَلَوْ جِئْتُكَ بِشَيْءٍ مُبِينٍ “Even if I bring you something manifest and clear?” (30) Now Firawn cannot say no to this request because Musa has already intrigued his people, and they would demand to see this manifest proof, yet at the same time, maybe Firawn was thinking that he could carry on his claim that Musa alayhi salaam was crazy if he brought a proof that was weak…Whatever the reason is, Firawn agreed: فَأْتِ بِهِ إِنْ كُنْتَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ “bring it then, if you are truthful” (31)
Musa alayhi salaam brings the two ayaat:
فَأَلْقَىٰ عَصَاهُ فَإِذَا هِيَ ثُعْبَانٌ مُبِينٌ وَنَزَعَ يَدَهُ فَإِذَا هِيَ بَيْضَاءُ لِلنَّاظِرِينَ
“So he threw his stick, and behold, it was a serpent, manifest. And he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white to all beholders!” (32-33)
Firawn, continuing with the attacks says to his chiefs around him–sensing how mesmerized and impressed they were by these powerful ayaat: إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَسَاحِرٌ عَلِيمٌ “Indeed this is a learned magician!” (34) Now this attack contradicts the claim that Musa alayhi salaam is crazy…How can he be an intelligent magician and crazy at the same time? Firawn, out of his weakness, realized that when the crazy argument didn’t work, he moved on to magic.
Then he riles up the patriotism of the chiefs: يُرِيدُ أَنْ يُخْرِجَكُمْ مِنْ أَرْضِكُمْ بِسِحْرِهِ فَمَاذَا تَأْمُرُونَ“He wants to drive you out of your land by his sorcery, then what is it your counsel, and what do you command?” (35) The best way to oppose someone who brings something new to society is to display them as a security threat to your nation. Firawn says he is a threat to his national integrity. In order to make the chiefs unify against Musa alayhi salaam, he unifies them upon nationalism. Look at the cunning of Firawn, Musa alayhi salaam did not say he wanted them to leave, rather he said: give us Bani Isra’eel so we can leave!
So what do the chiefs advise? أَرْجِهْ وَأَخَاهُ وَابْعَثْ فِي الْمَدَائِنِ حَاشِرِينَ يَأْتُوكَ بِكُلِّ سَحَّارٍ عَلِيمٍ “Put him off and his brother, and send callers to the cities; and bring up to you every well-versed sorcerer” (36-37) The chiefs, seeing that Musa alayhi salaam has clear and manifest proofs, advise Firawn to bring not only a saahir (magician), but a سَحَّارٍ ‘sahhaar’, a well-versed and veteran magician, one who knows what he is doing, the experts.
فَجُمِعَ السَّحَرَةُ لِمِيقَاتِ يَوْمٍ مَعْلُومٍ “So the sorcerers were assembled at a fixed time on a day appointed.” (38)
Now we can see the transition in the dialogue, which moves from the palace of Firawn to another day.
The debate between Musa alayhi salaam and the magicians was on the day of the fair, it was a national event, such a known that that people were invited and asked to come to support their nation: وَقِيلَ لِلنَّاسِ هَلْ أَنْتُمْ مُجْتَمِعُونَ لَعَلَّنَا نَتَّبِعُ السَّحَرَةَ إِنْ كَانُوا هُمُ الْغَالِبِينَ “And it was said to the people: are you (too) going to assemble? That we may follow the sorcerers if they are the winners.” (39-40) There was a whole procession for the magicians, and Musa alayhi salaam was painted as the traitor while the magicians were the national heroes.
The magicians were of course hired by Firawn, and they claimed that they were competing with Musa alayhi salaam for their nation, for their people and for Firawn, but this pandering they do in public is different from what they do in private, another transition occurs and the conversation moves to Firawn and the magicians:
أَئِنَّ لَنَا لَأَجْرًا إِنْ كُنَّا نَحْنُ الْغَالِبِينَ “Will there surely be a reward for us if we are the winners?” (41) Allah ta’ala gives us insight to their private discussion: we’re going to get paid, right? Firawn replies that he will pay them and will give them high positionsنَعَمْ وَإِنَّكُمْ إِذًا لَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ“Yes! and you shall then verily be of those brought near (to myself).”(42) In private there is capitalism, but they convinced everyone else that it was nationalism…greed is the main factor.
You may be thinking that this is something similar you’d see on C-Span or the news, but this is from the Qur’an! Allah ta’ala is showing us how people ar swayed…This was the media of all times.
We learn from this that there is not enough attention given to dialogue in the Qur’an–these dialogues give us a lens into how society runs. This one simple example contains so much to learn.
May Allah ta’ala grant us understanding of His Book, Ameen.
I am not the biggest Mishary fan, but the way he recites this surah (Shu’ara) is absolutely amazing…enjoy: