Some Members of the Tribe of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) Stray and Worship the Golden Calf
After Pharaoh and his soldiers were drowned in the sea, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) set off with his tribe to a safer place. In the course of their journey, however, there occurred further evidence of the some 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, some of the Children of Israel were also influenced by this deviant religion. Some of the Children of Israel failed to occupy themselves with the remembrance of Allah, and thus, failed to follow the noble way of the monotheist religions they inherited from the Prophets Abraham (pbuh), Isaac and 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 the Prophet Moses (pbuh) 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, "Moses, 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." (Surat al-A'raf: 138-139)
This propensity towards the deviant ideology of idolatry among the people of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) was to surface again in some people. Among the people of the Prophet Moses (pbuh), there were some who did not feel an adequate fear for Allah, and thus were prone to unbelief.
The Prophet Moses (pbuh) and his tribe headed for Mount Sinai. Prior to his departure, he gave some advice to the Prophet Aaron (pbuh):
We set aside thirty nights for Moses and then completed them with ten, so the appointed time of his Lord was forty nights in all. Moses said to his brother Aaron, "Be my caliph among my people. Keep order and do not follow the way of the corrupters." (Surat al-A'raf: 142)
Leaving his people behind, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) reached the mountain of Horeb within the appointed time. There, Allah addressed him once again:
When Moses 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 (Allah) 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 Moses 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 (Allah) said, "Moses, 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!" (Surat al-A'raf: 143-145)
Meanwhile, the hypocrites among the tribe of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) took advantage of his leaving. Insolent to the Prophet Aaron (pbuh), they made an idol in the shape of a calf, as in the superstitiuos Egyptian religion:
After he left, Moses' people adopted a calf made from their ornaments, a form which made a lowing sound… (Surat al-A'raf: 148)
In the meantime, Allah asked the Prophet Moses (pbuh) about his tribe and the reason that led him leave early:
"Why have you hurried on ahead of your people, Moses?" He said, "They are following in my tracks. I have hurried on ahead to You, My Lord, to gain Your good pleasure." (Surah Ta-Ha: 83-84)
Allah 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." (Surah Ta-Ha: 85)
Then, taking the tablets, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) returned to his people:
Moses 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 Moses' god as well, but he forgot." (Surah Ta-Ha: 86-88)
The children of Israel were influenced by the superstitions of the Egyptians. Though the Prophet Moses (pbuh) had brought them the truth, they held on to their ancient ways of ignorance. The errant practice of "worshipping a calf," as portrayed in the engraving above, led the children of Israel to reject their faith.
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 Allah by a hypocrite. To create conflicts and disorder, hypocrites always seek certain opportune situations. During the Prophet Moses' (pbuh) absence, conditions were ripe for the hypocrites to lead astray people. 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 the Prophet Moses (pbuh) to make them an idol. In order to defend this perverse act with his own foolish mind, he acted so immorally to claim that the statue was also the Prophet Moses' (pbuh) deity but that he forgot him. (Allah is beyond that.)
In fact, the Prophet Aaron (pbuh) had warned his tribe and explained to them that they were swerving from the right path. Nevertheless, the people did not heed his admonition:
Aaron 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 Moses returns to us." (Surah Ta-Ha: 90-91)
He (Moses) said, "What prevented you following me, Aaron, 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.'" (Surah Ta-Ha: 92-94)
Aaron 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 (Moses said, "My Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us into Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful." (Surat al-A'raf: 150-151)
Upon the Prophet Aaron's (pbuh) reply, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) released him and turned to Samaritan, the actual person responsible for the tribe's transgression. He questioned him about his wrongdoing.
The related verses read:
He (Moses) 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." (Surah Ta-Ha: 95-97)
Here, it should be mentioned that Samaritan committed such evil acts under the assumption 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.
On the contrary, a true believer never acts on the assumption that he is wiser or superior to other believers. He is aware of his imperfections, and seeks refuge in Allah from committing errors. Even if he notices things others fail to, he takes it as a blessing and a test from Allah, and behaves accordingly. If such were to be the case, he says only: "Allah made me see this; the wisdom belongs only to Allah."
In the case of Samaritan, however, what he noticed was but what led him to transgression and evil. In regards to these developments, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) took two important measures against the evil Samaritan had committed. He first distanced 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, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) was very sincere and piously devoted to the religion. Concerned about that which had led the people to disbelief, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) 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, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) preached to his tribe, summoning them to repentance and obedience to Allah:
And when Moses 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. (Surat al-Baqara: 54 )
By Allah's leave, these decisive interventions and words of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) had impact on his people. Initially, the Children of Israel heeded his warnings, repented and turned towards our Lord.