In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
The Passover time is also quite special for me as an American Muslim. This is not because the story of the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt is a happy one for me, as well, despite the fact that I am of Egyptian ancestry. It is not because my absolute favorite movie of all times, The Ten Commandments, plays on television once again. These are all true.
Yet, when Passover comes, it reminds me of the Exodus saga and that hope always springs eternal, no matter how hard having that hope may seem. The slavery of the Hebrews was an established institution of Egyptian life and society – despite all the benefits brought by their ancestor Joseph – and to abolish such a thing would have seemed unthinkable.
Yet, here came Moses – sent by the Lord – to tell one of the most powerful leaders on Earth to “let my people go.” Undeterred by the mockery sent his way, Moses threw down his staff and raised up his glowing hand, as commanded by God, to show them the truth of his message. When Pharaoh was able to “reproduce” his miracle with a simple magician’s trick, Moses became scared. But, Scripture tells me what happened next:
And in his heart Moses became apprehensive. [But] We said: “Fear not! Verily, it is thou who shalt prevail! And [now] throw that [staff] which is in thy right hand -it shall swallow up all that they have wrought: [for] they have wrought only a sorcerer’s artifice, and the sorcerer can never come to any good, whatever he may aim at!” (20:67-69)
Although apprehensive, the Lord taught him never to lose hope, and he ultimately prevailed. As the story goes, when Moses’ miracle exposed the magicians’ trick as just that, the magicians all believed in Moses and fell prostrate in worship for the Lord our God, defying Pharaoh and his threats of violence against them.
As each plague befell the Egyptians for their arrogant intransigence, and their oppression of the Hebrews increased in guile and brutality, the people of Moses began to lose hope. But, as the Scripture says, Moses strengthened them and told them never to lose hope:
[And] Moses said unto his people: “Turn unto God for aid, and have patience in adversity. Verily, all the earth belongs to God: He gives it as a heritage – to such as He wills of His servants; and the future belongs to the God-conscious!”
[But the children of Israel ] said: “We have suffered hurt ere thou camest to us and since thou hast come to us!„ [Moses] replied: “It may well be that your Sustainer will destroy your foe and make you inherit the earth: and thereupon he will behold how you act.” (7:128-129)
When Moses and his people were trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s horde, coming to destroy them all, the people again lost hope. Moses, however, did not falter:
And so [the Egyptians] caught up with them at sunrise; and as soon as the two hosts came in sight of one another, the followers of Moses exclaimed: “Behold, we shall certainly be overtaken [and defeated]!” He replied: Nay indeed! My Sustainer is with me, [and] He will guide me!” Thereupon We inspired Moses thus: Strike the sea with thy staff!”- whereupon it parted, and each part appeared like a mountain vast. And We caused the pursuers to draw near unto that place: and We saved Moses and all who were with him (26:60-65)
At the end this passage of Scripture is this message: ” In this [story] behold, there is a message [unto all people], even though most of them will not believe [in it]” (26:67). And among the many messages is that hope must always spring eternal.
All of these lessons, all of these passages, all of these insights come to me, not from the Old Testament, but from the Quran. The story of Moses is mentioned dozens upon dozens of times in the Quran. The story of the Exodus is recounted several times, in fact. Moses is mentioned more by name in the Quran than the Prophet Muhammad himself. This may come as a surprise to many, but the truth is that Moses (and Jesus) figure prominently in Muslim belief and scripture. Even though I may not hold a Seder in my home, it does not mean that the story behind the Seder is not near and dear to my heart.
And the lessons of the story of Moses and Pharaoh are applicable today: in the midst of such immensely difficult times for all communities in America, we should never lose hope. Whether it is the American Muslim community, which faces suspicion and hostility based on the actions of a tiny fraction of extremists; or the Gulf Coast community, still reeling from the BP oil spill that occurred one year ago; or the countless “Main Streets,” which still suffer under the weight of the Great Recession: the story of Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt reminds us that hope must always spring eternal.
Things will get better, and, God willing, we will eventually make it to the Promised Land. We just have to work our hardest – and work together – to reach it.