In recent weeks we have seen a modern-day Pharaoh brought to his knees. This is not the first time this has happened in history, nor will it be the last. When we read the Qur’an we find that the most-mentioned prophet is Moses (as). A core element of the story of Musa (as) is his confrontation with the Pharaoh of his time in Egypt. In this article we will look at some of the characteristics of that Pharaoh as described by Allah so that we can try to work towards eliminating these characteristics in ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Bad Trait #1: The God Complex
Pharaoh had many deeply-rooted negative traits, the most severe being his “god complex.” He took this to the highest level when he told people to outright worship him. It is no hidden fact that many of us practice elements of this trait in our daily lives. When Musa (as) came to Pharaoh and told him about the message of tawḥīd (monotheism) Pharaoh’s arrogant reply was, “…O eminent ones, I have not known you to have a god other than me…” (Qur’an, 28:38)
Pharaoh truly believed he was the most powerful, a god that his people should worship and dedicate their lives to, or face death. Sometimes we also feel that we should be the center of everyone else’s existence. An example of this is how we update our facebook statuses with all kinds of small things that are not of concern to others. Why are you telling us that you just had a nice coffee or that you prefer diet pepsi over diet coke? Are these actions small indications that we are beginning to think we are so important that everyone else should care that much about the minor details of our lives?
One interesting thing about this self-involved trait is that when a person acquires it he/she begins to misread things that happen around them. In the case of Pharaoh, Allah says,
“…But they followed the command of Pharaoh, and the command of Pharaoh was not [at all] discerning.” (Qur’an, 11:97)
Allah also said,
“Pharaoh said, ‘I do not show you except what I see, and I do not guide you except to the way of right conduct.’” (Qur’an, 40:29)
Pharaoh’s statements and outlook in this regard are very similar to the hypocrites referred to in the beginning of Surah al-Baqarah. Allah says,
“In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie. And when it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption on the earth,’ they say, ‘We are but reformers.’ Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive [it] not.” (Qur’an, 2:10-12)
This condition of the heart is something we should pay attention to. When a person’s relationship with Allah is very close, He will give them better insight into their lives. Similarly, when a heart is diseased with love for oneself, it shows signs of hypocrisy towards Allah. The heart reflects the actions of a person, so anyone who worships Allah alone (tawhīd) will have a purer heart and will not corrupt others. At the same time, if they are disobedient towards Allah then He will mislead them further into darkness. Allah said,
“So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts.” (Qur’an, 22:46)
Bad Trait #2: Tyranny & Oppression
The Pharaoh was a relentless tyrant. Again, he took this trait to the extreme, but each of us exhibit oppressive shades in our daily lives. Allah said about Pharaoh, “…And indeed, Pharaoh was haughty within the land, and indeed, he was of the transgressors.” (Qur’an, 10:83)
When reading about Pharaoh’s tyranny we should think about how we interact with our families, coworkers, children, and neighbors. Do we exceed Allah’s limits or make our own? Do we demand more or give more? Do we always speak with kindness or only when it suits us? Allah narrates how Pharaoh wished to execute his ultimate law in Egypt,
“Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.” (Qur’an, 28:4)
Allah mentions this corruption again when instructing Prophet Musa (as) to carry the message of tawhīd to Pharaoh:
“Go to Pharaoh. Indeed, he has transgressed.” (Qur’an, 20:24)
We see in all of these verses that one of Pharaoh’s core traits was tyranny. He transgressed ethical bounds in everything he did to monstrous proportions. We also learn from these verses that he had particular techniques to accompany his tyranny: transgression or excessiveness, and dividing the people. Both of these problems afflict us today as individuals and communities. As for transgression, Allah has prohibited excessiveness in all its forms. Allah said,
“…And eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” (Qur’an, 7:31)
We should think about how this relates to our lives. In the face of excessive consumerism and materialism, many aspects of our lives are lived in excess. We can easily cut back and save to give that extra to another – otherwise we too become pharaohs.
Pharaoh’s second oppression was in dividing his people into “different factions.” We have all heard how the maxim “divide and conquer” has been used by the powerful to control their people. Unfortunately now we see this in our own Muslim communities, where rather than engaging in constructive discourse for unity, we simply hurl labels and suspicion at the ‘other’ to write them off. This does not mean that we should not have various organizations working for good, but it does mean that those groups should act more like battalions in one struggle, rather than political parties at each other’s throats.
Bad Trait #3: Making Excuses in Front of the Truth
Pharoah’s third bad trait was to make excuses whenever he was faced with the truth. This is clearly seen by his arrogance and rejection of all the signs Musa (as) brought to him. When Musa (as) confronted Pharaoh, Allah says,
“And We had certainly given Moses nine evident signs, so ask the Children of Israel [about] when he came to them and Pharaoh said to him, ‘Indeed I think, O Moses, that you are affected by magic.’” (Qur’an, 17:101)
In another attempt of denying Allah and His dominion,
“Pharaoh called out among his people; he said, ‘O my people, does not the kingdom of Egypt belong to me, and these rivers flowing beneath me; then do you not see?’” (Qur’an, 43:51)
In these instances we see Pharaoh being confronted with truth and in both of these examples we see Pharaoh ignoring that truth and coming up with any excuse to not follow it. We should ask ourselves whether we respond the same way when we are confronted with a conflict between what we want and what the teachings of Islam want. If we follow that which Allah has commanded rather than our own desires then we actualize what it means to truly submit to Allah.
These are just three major bad qualities exhibited by Pharaoh. I ask Allah to guide us to worship Him in the best way possible and cleanse us from these traits. Ameen.