Pharaoh is often referred to in the Qur' an as one of those who grew arrogant towards Allah. However, regarding Pharaoh as a merely unique example, is to fail to recognise the broader significance of the subject. It is important to recognise that the story of Pharaoh in the Qur' an, aside from merely providing information about his life, defines the "Pharaonic" character that has become prevalent in our time.
Whether recognised or not, history has seen many people possessed of the Pharaonic character. As a matter of fact, most are familiar with this character. Those who are known for their arrogance are often likened to Pharaoh.
The Qur' an refers to Pharaoh and his people as follows:
Such was the case with Pharaoh' s people and those before them. They denied their Lord' s Signs so We destroyed them for their wrong actions. We drowned Pharaoh' s people. All of them were wrongdoers. (Surat al-Anfal, 54)
The character trait common to Pharaoh and other nations that perished before him is arrogance. The arrogance they harboured in their hearts prevented them from accepting Allah' s messenger and obeying him. Their rejection only led them to torment both in this world and beyond. Further exploring the nature of the arrogance of Pharaoh, and considering the nations referred to in the Qur' an as those that have gone down in history for their arrogance, and their relevance to our day, will help us better understand the importance of the subject.
The attitude of Pharaoh and his people towards Allah' s messenger was common to all corrupted nations. Their arrogance reached to such an extent that they even dared to make a mockery of Allah' s messengers and the book he was sent with. This is related in the following verses:
We sent Musa with Our Signs to Pharaoh and his nobles. He said, "I am the Messenger of the Lord of the worlds." But when he came to them with Our Signs, they merely laughed at them. (Surat az-Zukhruf, 46-47)
One of Pharaoh' s distinguishing traits was, as is the case with his leader, Satan, his immoderate attachment to worldly things. Due to this distorted mindset, he failed to make a rational assessment of the events that confronted him, and thus, could not grasp Musa' s superiority. According to him, worldly values, such as wealth, power, money etc., were the criteria that established one' s superiority. This poor reasoning of Pharaoh' s is described in the Qur' an as follows:
Pharaoh called to his people, saying, "My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see? Am I not better than this man who is contemptible and can scarcely make anything clear? Why have gold bracelets not been put upon his arms and why is there not a train of angels accompanying him?" (Surat az-Zukhruf, 51-53)
The issues Allah draws our attention in the verses above are as follows:
Pharaoh Tried to Exalt Himself Before Musa (as)
A conversation between Musa (as) and Pharaoh is quoted in the Qur' an as follows:
Go to Pharaoh and say, "We are the Messenger of the Lord of all the worlds to tell you to send the tribe of Israel away with us." He (Pharaoh) said, "Did we not bring you up among us as a child and did you not spend many years of your life among us? Yet you did the deed you did and were ungrateful." He (Musa) said, "At the time I did it I was one of the misguided." (Surat ash-Shu' ara' , 17-20)
In the verses above, a different form of Pharaoh' s arrogance is made apparent. When summoned to comply with Allah' s commands, he immediately resorted to foolish methods. Verbal abuse was one such ruse. By referring to Musa (as) that he had been brought up in the palace, Pharaoh attempted to remind him of the loyalty he owed him. Furthermore, he tried to coerce him by mention of the Egyptian man he unintentionally killed when he has been ignorant of the religion. In this way, he foolishly intended to abase Musa (as) and to exalt himself before him and his people.
Pharaoh' s Attempt to Kill Musa (as) Out of Arrogance
Pharaoh said, "Let me kill Musa and let him call upon his Lord! I am afraid that he may change your religion and bring about corruption in the land." Musa said, "I seek refuge in my Lord and your Lord from every proud man who does not have faith in the Day of Reckoning." (Surah Ghafir, 26-27)
Pharaoh was so arrogant that, only in murdering Musa (as) would he find relief. This belligerent attitude of his was also a revolt against Allah. Aware of Musa' s finer qualities, he felt jealous of him, and saw killing him as the only way to maintain his authority over the people of Egypt. When faced with Pharaoh' s insolence, Musa (as) maintained a composure that was truly exemplary, continually seeking refuge in Allah.
The above mentioned verse also draws our attention to Pharaoh' s disbelief in the Day of Reckoning. One' s disbelief in the books sent by Allah and of the Day of Reckoning, which has been proclaimed by Allah' s messengers, is another sign of a person' s insolence and arrogance. However, such arrogant people will only suffer greatly in the hereafter, just as Pharaoh did.
Pharaoh' s Claim of Divinity
Pharaoh said, "Haman, build me a tower so that perhaps I may gain means of access, access to the heavens, so that I can look on Musa' s God. Truly I think he is a liar." That is how Pharaoh' s evil actions were made attractive to him and he debarred others from the Path. Pharaoh' s scheming led to nothing but ruin. (Surah Ghafir, 36-37)
Pharaoh said, "Council, I do not know of any other god for you apart from Me..." (Surat al-Qasas, 38)
What Pharaoh stated in the verses above, in addition to the manner of his struggle with Allah, exemplify his audacity. As well, he falsely assumed Allah to be the Lord of the heavens alone, and denied that Allah is the Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything in between. According to his deviant outlook, his admitting to Allah' s existence would nullify his authority and might. That is why he strove to argue that Allah is the Lord of the heavens alone. However, Allah informs us in Surah Ghafir that Pharaoh' s ideas led him only into torment. Though, until that time, when he was to meet his torment, Pharaoh maintained his arrogance and his claim of divinity. Moreover, he even resorted to force and threatened his own people, as well as Musa (as), to submit to this claim:
Pharaoh said, "What is the Lord of all the worlds?" He said, "The Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything between them if you knew for sure." He said to those around him, "Are you listening?" He (Musa) said, "Your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers, the previous peoples." He (Pharaoh) said, "This Messenger, who has been sent to you, is mad." He (Musa) said, "The Lord of the East and the West and everything between them if you used your intellect." He (Pharaoh) said, "If you take any god other than me, I will certainly throw you into prison." (Surat ash-Shu' ara', 23-29)
These verses make light of Pharaoh' s claim of divinity and his struggle with Allah. Pharaoh first posed a question about Allah, whose basis was evil. His arrogance was so overwhelming that he was determined to refuse Musa' s answer, no matter what. He was insistent on denying Allah' s might, despite all the signs he witnessed. Pharaoh responded to the message of Allah, communicated to him by Musa (as), with threats and abuse; he was angered to hear that Allah was the Lord of all humanity, both of the past and present. His insolence led him to accuse the messenger of insanity. Because he lacked wisdom, a quality peculiar to believers alone, he engaged himself in a struggle with Musa (as), yet, failed to remember one important fact: Allah was the protector of Musa (as), the sole possessor of everything, including him (Pharaoh), as well as all that he possessed.
Arrogance Made Pharaoh Deny Miracles
After first listening to the message of Allah, communicated through the Prophet Musa, Pharaoh asked him to bring about a miracle. Pharaoh, who trusted in the skills of his magicians, wanted Musa (as) to confront his magicians, since he was certain of his ultimate victory. In his opinion, a successful confrontation would secure his authority. However, the magicians' performance was mere sorcery, which the miracle performed by the Prophet Musa rendered void. Thus, Pharaoh was defeated. Yet, instead of acquiescing and accepting to be rightly guided, he became still more arrogant.
Witnessing the miracle performed by Musa (as), the magicians embraced faith and came to believe in the Lord of Musa (as). Nevertheless, their choice had no impact whatsoever on the hardened heart of Pharaoh. Rather, he decided instead to use force:
The magicians threw themselves down in prostration. They said, "We believe in the Lord of all the worlds, the Lord of Musa and Harun." Pharaoh said, "Have you believed in him before I authorised you to do so? This is just some plot you have concocted in the city to drive its people from it. I will cut off your alternate hands and feet and then I will crucify every one of you." (Surat al-A' raf, 120-124)
Drawing a Lesson from the End Met by Pharaoh
Pharaoh was one of the most arrogant people in history. He followed in the footsteps of Satan, and was repaid for what he did with unprecedented humiliation. So abject was this humiliation that, he not only lost his dignity in the eyes of his own people, but became a lesson to all men of all ages. The lesson from the end met by Pharaoh is related in the Qur' an as follows:
We brought the tribe of Israel across the sea and Pharaoh and his troops pursued them out of tyranny and enmity. Then, when he was on the point of drowning, he (Pharaoh) said, "I believe that there is no god but Him in whom the tribe of Israel believe. I am one of the Muslims." What, now! When previously you rebelled and were one of the corrupters? Today we will preserve your body so you can be a Sign for people who come after you. Surely many people are heedless of Our Signs. (Surah Yunus, 90-92)
At the moment of his death, Pharaoh repented, yet, his repentance was of no avail. He persisted in arrogance and denial although he was confronted with the facts and witnessed great miracles. It was his conceit and feelings of superiority that created such a disposition in him and he felt regret only at the moment of his death, though it did not save him.
Here, a point deserves special mention. Arrogance was the major reason behind Pharaoh' s denial. He insisted on denial, not because he failed to see or grasp the signs of faith, but because it hurt his sense of pride. His magicians' acknowledgment of Musa' s forthrightness and their embracing the faith had been a great sign for him. The miracles performed by Musa (as) too were sure signs. Anyone witnessing such miracles would normally come to believe in Allah.
However, Pharaoh was devoid of a sound judgement, since his overbearing pride obscured his wisdom. The magicians' conversion to Musa' s religion did not make him reflect upon the extraordinary situation he had confronted. All that he could think about was that the magicians had embraced the faith without him authorizing them to do so. Pharaoh' s ability to judge was severely obscured by his pride. This is why he insisted on denial, until death came upon him.
The condition that led Pharaoh to disbelief holds true for every disbeliever. The reason of their denial is their overbearing pride. In the Qur' an, Allah describes these people as follows:
When Our Signs came to them in all their clarity, they said, "This is downright magic," and they repudiated them wrongly and haughtily, in spite of their own certainty about them. See the final fate of the corrupters. (Surat an-Naml, 13-14)
Pharaoh Will Lead His People on the Day of Judgment
Pharaoh lost his wealth and all the blessings he enjoyed in this world. Moreover, he was convicted to torment in the life of the hereafter. He lost the gardens, rivers, beautiful estates, crops, in brief, every thing for which he boasted. As the Pharaoh' s case exemplifies, no matter how wealthy or powerful a person may be, Allah may take away his possessions in an instant.
For one of such insolence and arrogance, the torment of Hell will be terrible. As well, those who follow leaders with a Pharaonic character, and do not keep their mind occupied with the remembrance of our Lord, will also be punished. On the Day of Judgment, those who followed in the footsteps of Pharaoh will be brought with their leaders before their Lord to give an account of the deeds they performed in this world. Indeed, that which Pharaoh and his followers will meet on the Day of Judgment is related in the Qur' an as follows:
We sent Musa with Our Signs and clear authority to Pharaoh and his ruling circle. They followed Pharaoh' s command but Pharaoh' s command was not rightly guided. He will go ahead of his people on the Day of Rising and lead them down into the Fire. What an evil watering-hole to be led to! They are pursued by a curse in the world and on the Day of Rising. What an evil gift to be given! (Surah Hud, 96-99)
As said earlier, it would be wrong to assume that these qualities are peculiar to Pharaoh. All must fear succumbing to such a disposition, and be wary of a similar end. Those with such a disposition must remember the end of Pharaoh, and ardently avoid a similar punishment.
There is another point here that deserves mention; not only the Pharaonic arrogance but all forms of arrogance, are evil. Because arrogance obstructs one' s wisdom, his pride can achieve dangerous proportions without him noticing it. Before all else, as many verses of the Qur' an make clear, arrogance is a quality with which Allah is displeased. This is why believers should endeavour to eschew arrogance with all their effort, and never allow their lower-selves to lead them to boast. We must keep in mind that even the smallest lapse permitted to one' s lower-self may ultimately cause a great loss. A person may, without recognising it, become carried away, believing in the superiority of his opinions and attitudes. Indeed, Pharaoh, who harboured deep-seated pride, was seized by such an obsession. This is related in the Qur' an as follows:
... Pharaoh said, "I only show you what I see myself and I only guide you to the path of rectitude." (Surah Ghafir, 29)
The verse quoted above illustrates Pharaoh' s distorted sense of self. He sought to lead the masses astray. He was so assured of himself that he never doubted the reliability of the way to which he adhered.
This tendency is common to all arrogant people. The arrogant people have total confidence in themselves, and are often insistent on refusing the possibility that others may know better than themselves. Especially, they cannot tolerate those people chosen by Allah, and endowed with superior qualities. People who are assured of their superior intelligence must draw a lesson from the story of Pharaoh. While there is still time, one must consider the imprudence of the Pharaonic character, be guided instead by his conscience, and thus, avoid following in Pharaoh' s footsteps, but seek forgiveness from Allah.