International Affairs Qur'an Reflections

Today’s Opening of the Red Sea (Lessons from Egypt)

When Prophet Musa (as) stood in front of the Red Sea, a tyrant and his army approached from behind. Some of those in Musa’s midst began to divide. Looking ahead, those people saw only defeat:

“And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Moses said: ‘We are sure to be overtaken.’”(Qur’an, 26:61).

But Musa (as) had different eyes. His eyes were spiritual eyes that saw through the illusions of worldly hardship and defeat. He saw through. With a heart connected to the Most High, looking at the same seemingly impossible situation, Musa saw only God:


“(Moses) said: ‘By no means! My Lord is with me! He will guide me through!’” (Qur’an, 26:61-62)

And indeed Allah did just that:

“Then We told Moses by inspiration: ‘Strike the sea with thy rod.’ So it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain. And We made the other party approach thither. We delivered Moses and all who were with him; But We drowned the others.” (Qur’an, 26: 63-66).

Today in Egypt, we are standing in front of a Red Sea. Today in Egypt, a tyrant and his army are at our back.  Today, there are some who see only defeat. But, there are others whose eyes are looking through the blockade to the path and the hope beyond it. Today in Egypt, there are some who – even with a tyrant at their back – are saying:

إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ

“Indeed my Lord is with me, He will guide me through.”

One might wonder why, at such a critical time in history, we would retell an ancient story. Why would something that happened thousands of years ago be relevant today? The reason is that it is not just a story. Nor is it ancient. It is an everlasting sign and a lesson for all time. In the very next ayah, Allah says:


“Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe.” (26:67)

It is a sign of the Reality of God and the secrets of this world. It is a sign that tyranny never wins and that obstacles are only illusions, created to test us, train us, and purify us. But most of all it is a sign of where success comes from. And it is a vision of what that success, against all odds—at a time we think we’re trapped, defeated, and powerless—really looks like.

Some might ask why, if we are indeed on the side of God, does victory not come easily? Some might wonder why God doesn’t just give the righteous victory without immense struggle and sacrifice. The answer to this question is also given by God. He tells us:


“And We did not send a prophet in a town but We overtook its people with distress and affliction in order that they might humble themselves (reach a state of tadaru’).” (Qur’an, 7:94)

Here, Allah says that the purpose of the affliction is to reach a state of tadaru. Tadaru is humility before God – but it is not just humility. To understand the concept of tadaru, imagine yourself in the middle of an ocean. Imagine that you are all alone on a boat. Imagine that a huge storm comes and the waves become mountains surrounding you. Now imagine turning to God at that point and asking for His help. In what state of need, awe, dependency and utter humility would you be in? That is tadaru. Allah says that He creates conditions of hardship in order to grant us that gift. God does not need to make things hard for us. He creates those situations in order to allow us to reach a state of closeness to Him, which otherwise we’d be unlikely to reach.

That priceless state of humility, nearness and utter dependence on God is what the Egyptian people have been blessed with today. Allahu akbar – God is great. But Allah mentions another purpose for these hardships and struggles. He says:


“And We divided them throughout the earth into different groups. Of them some were righteous, and of them some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience].” (Qur’an, 7:168).

In Surat ali-Imran, Allah tells us:

If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loveth not those that do wrong. Allah’s object also is to purify those that are true in Faith and to deprive of blessing Those that resist Faith. Did ye think that ye would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard (In His Cause) and remained steadfast?” (Qur’an, 3:140-142).

Here, Allah describes the purpose of hardship as being tamhees. Tamhees is the same word used to describe the heating and purifying of gold. Without heating it up, gold is precious metal—but it’s full of impurities. By performing tamhees, a process of heating, the impurities are removed from gold. This is what God also does with the believers. Through hardships, believers are purified—just like gold.

And so too are the Egyptians being purified. Only days before the uprising, the world had considered the Egyptian youth a lost cause. We believed they had lost their direction and their purpose. We believed that they had chosen to live their lives on the streets, catcalling girls, or at internet cafes smoking hookah. Through this hardship, the Egyptian youth have been brought back from the dead.

Now, these youth are standing on the streets in defiance of tyranny, on their knees praying, and with their hands facing the sky, calling on their Lord. The same people who just days before barely prayed, stand today in front of military tanks to bow down to their Creator. Only days before the uprising, the tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Christians had grown to an all-time high. Today the Christians and Muslims stand side by side in defense of each other and their country. The same people who did not trust each other the day before their ‘heating,’ have come together as brothers and sisters, as one body, to defend their streets, their homes, and their neighborhoods. And through this hardship, a person who only days before lived for his cell phone, sheesha, and cigarettes, has become willing to sacrifice his own life to give freedom to his people.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an:


“Say: ‘Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?’ They will soon say, ‘(Allah)’.  Say, ‘Will you not then show piety (to Him)?’” (Qur’an, 10:31)

It is Allah who brings the living out of the dead. He has brought us back from the dead. Don’t think for a moment that a single moment of this is not happening with a purpose—a deep, profound and beautiful, liberating purpose. For decades the Egyptian people have lived a life of fear. But when you let fear control you, you are a slave. Allah has liberated the Egyptian people from this slavery, by making them face–and overcome–their greatest fear. Allah has liberated the Egyptian people by allowing them to look their oppressor in the eye and tell him, and the whole world, that they will no longer live in fear.  And so whether Mubarak stays or goes, lives or dies—it doesn’t really matter. The Egyptian people have already been liberated.

They have been liberated.

Hosni Mubarak is irrelevant. He is nothing but a tool—a tool by which God carries out His plan for the Egyptian people and for the entire Ummah. A tool to carry out His plan to purify, beatify and liberate the Egyptian people and the Ummah. And whether we are in Egypt today or not is unimportant. Egypt is just one limb of our body. The purification of Egypt is a purification of the whole body of our Ummah. It is the purification of you and me. It is our chance to ask ourselves to what are we attached. What are we afraid of? What are we striving for? What do we stand for? And where are we going?

When a body is in a deep, deep slumber—a coma—it is only out of His infinite mercy that He sends us a wakeup call. It is only from His infinite mercy that He sends to us life where there was once only death. We were heedless, so He sent us a sign. We were asleep, so he woke us up. We worshiped this life, and preferred our material possessions to the liberation of a soul attached to, and afraid of nothing but Him—so He freed us.

How many people will experience something like this in their lifetime? How many people will experience the opening of a Sea, the humbling of a tyrant? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why we were chosen to see it? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we were intended to learn, change, transform? Because if we think for a moment this is all just about the people of Egypt, then we have desperately missed the point. We were asleep, and Allah chose to wake us.

We were dead and Allah wants to give us life.

We were conditioned to believe that our enemy was outside of ourselves. That he had power over us. This is also an illusion. The enemy is inside of us. All external enemies are only manifestations of our own diseases. And so if we want to conquer those enemies, we must first conquer the enemy inside ourselves. This is why the Qur’an tells us:


“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they first change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an, 13:11)

We must first conquer greed, selfishness, shirk, ultimate fear, love, hope and dependence on anything other than Allah. We must conquer hubb ad-dunya (love of dunya)—the root of all our diseases, and all our oppression. Before we can defeat the Pharaohs in our lives, we must defeat the Pharaoh inside ourselves. So the fight in Egypt is a fight for liberation. Yes. But liberation from what? Who is truly oppressed? Are you and I free? What is true oppression? Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) answers this question when he says: “The one who is (truly) imprisoned is the one whose heart is imprisoned from Allah and the captivated one is the one whose desires have enslaved him.” (Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Wabil)

When you are free inside, you will never allow anyone to take away your freedom.  And when you have inner freedom, you can look through tyrants and thugs to the Lord of the tyrants and thugs. When you are free inside, you become unenslaveable, because you can only enslave a person with attachments. You can only threaten a person who is afraid of loss. You only have power over someone when they need or want something that you have the ability to take away. But there is only one thing which no person has the power to take away from you: God.

And so when we fight to free Egypt, on a grander and realer scale it is a fight to also free ourselves. It is a fight to free ourselves of the tyranny of our own nafs and desires. A fight to free ourselves from our own false attachments and dependencies, from all that controls us, from all that we worship—other than Him. It is a fight to free us from our own slavery. Whether we are slaves to the American dollar, to our own desires, to status, to wealth, or to fear—the purification of Egypt is a purification of us all.

That is why the formula for true success given to us in the Qur’an consists of two elements: Sabr (patience, perseverance) and Taqwa (fear of God alone):


“O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear God (alone) that you may be successful.” (Qur’an 3:200).

So if we watch Egypt today as if it is only a spectacle happening outside of ourselves, without cleaning, examining, and really changing ourselves and our lives, then we have missed it’s purpose.

After all, it isn’t every day that a sea is opened before our very eyes.

About the author

Yasmin Mogahed

Yasmin Mogahed received her B.S. Degree in Psychology and her Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing her graduate work, she taught Islamic Studies and served as the Sisters’ Youth Director for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. She also worked as a writing instructor for Cardinal Stritch University, and a staff columnist for the Islam section of InFocus News. Currently she’s an independent media consultant and a writer for the Huffington Post, where she focuses most of her work on spiritual and personal development. Her written works, including a book chapter on the portrayal of Islam post-911, have appeared in print and online publications worldwide.


  • Subhan’Allah that was beautiful- jazaki’Allahu khayran sister.

    One night last week when I went to bed really, really worried for the people there (after hearing about the thugs etc)–when I woke up in the morning an ayah kept going around my mind- it was the one you quoted from surat aali imraan (140)- I kept saying it as I came round from my sleep and when I was conscious enough to reflect on what I was saying- I had to say Alhamdulillah because it brought complete peace to my heart… Indeed these times are sent for a good reason – to separate those who say they believe to those who ACT and LIVE by what they believe–
    My husband years back said that these testing times are good for us because they separate the men from the boys–the wheat from the chaff-
    What worries me is not knowing how I will behave in such a situation–will I stand the test- or will I sell out.
    I hope to stand firm but who knows how weak or strong my heart really is? May Allah help us to stay firm insha’Allah. Ameen

  • JAK sis Yasmin. May Allah SWT Reward you and yours. Amin.

    Tying in the past to the present is a necessary component of adding fluidity to our existence on this Earth–allowing us to connect lessons learnt from the past to the strengthen our present and uplift our future towards good, iA.

    The introspective nature of your article also reminded me of something our dear sis Muslema recently said, which is: “Fight the Mubarak within.” 😉

    May we succeed is doing so. Amin.

  • Barakallahu Fik for such a beautiful article. You made very clear comparison between the current conditions and the opening of the Red Sea. I truly believe that the tests and calamity that the Ummah is experiencing right now will bring us back to humility and success. May Allah grants us and those who are struggling against oppression taqwa and sabr. May Allah swiftly give victory to the Ummah of rasulallah (SAW)and replace us with righteous leaders. Ameen!

  • ASA, WOW! JazakAllah Khairan for making sense of this situation. Thank you for making me see the personal side of this global struggle. It all makes perfect sense, and that I need to deeply investigate who is my Oppressor and who am I oppressing? If I have allowed Shaytan to be my Oppressor, then I need to beg Allah SWT for HIs Divine Help for my release. You have truly allowed me to reflect deeply, and inshaAllah to make positive changes as a true Mominah.

  • MashaAllah beautiful

    This is one of my favorite ayaat from the Qur’an

    “(Moses) said: ‘By no means! My Lord is with me! He will guide me through!’” (Qur’an, 26:61-62)

    it is a such a powerful defiance and antidote to the mentality of doubt, hesitation, fear, defeat, finger-pointing, blaming, pessimism, paralysis — that plagues us as individuals and in groups.

    and you have explained it (and so much more) better than i could ever.

    thank you! and jazaki Allahu khairan

  • This was one of the best things I had read in a long time. I shared it with my friends as well because I felt like sometimes we DO miss the point.
    This was absolutely beautiful and eye opening, MashAllah.
    Thank you for putting your time and effort into showing us such a humble and outstanding perspective.
    JazakAllah Khair.
    May Allah reward you with many many blessings.

  • Jakah Allah! I am speechless at how you weaved this article! May Allah give you amal for this in this world and the next

  • Mashallah, what beautiful words about self purification and perspective on where the enemy of faith truly resides.
    I would simply caution the author and readers alike from jumping to conclusions regarding events in Egypt. In fact, I would voice strong objection to the idea that we are witnessing events in the magnitude of Musa parting the Red Sea. Subhanallah, how can anyone be confident that what follows Mubarak will be positive? The US has tremendous leverage in the wheat market and will pursue any means necessary to ensure strategic interests are maintained by whatever leadership emerges.
    I, like all of you, will continue to make dua for this Ummah everyday, inshaallah. Self purification as emphasized by the author is an absolute imperative for every Mu’min who wishes to keep hold of their faith. However, I also feel the need to stress a perspective of rationality and realism. If, as the author suggests, Egypt is “standing at the Red Sea”, who is going to fulfill the role of Musa? Omar Sulaiman? I agree 100% that ultimately tyranny will NEVER win, and that Allah has prepared a special place in jahannam for the likes of Hosni Mubarak. I also agree that we should not allow defeat and oppression to discourage us or cause Muslims to doubt their Rabb — which is why I wrote this response in the first place 😀 Let us continue our internal struggles for purification regardless of external difficulties, where ever we find them, inshallah.

  • Beautifully put Sr. Yasmin.

    With today’s historic culmination of events, this message is now even more emphatic. It is so true, how often will we see such an event? As your and Sr. Muslema’s articles have elicited, if we don’t take the deeper meaning, which both of you have explained so clearly, we will have lost our chance. I actually never thought about it that way before reading these pieces, that now that the Egyptian people woke up and did something to change their situation, that it should inspire us to do the same. I was inspired by what they were able to do in just 18 days, yet with so much sacrifice and determination and conviction – if they can face death (especially those so young, several years my junior) why can’t I overcome my own obstacles, especially ones that I have created for myself?

    Jazak’Allahu Khairan as always.

  • May Allah reward you and increase you! Only Allah knows the inspiration you brought to my heart with this article. May “He” the most high elevate your status for such a lesson you have taught me today. Wallahi, reading this article just changed me. It was the answer I’ve been waiting for. Alhamdululah! Never before i have connected the dots the way you explained. Alhamdulilah this ummah has such goodness.

    Noor (A muslim nasheed band) wrote this song describing not wanting to live in fear the way you wrote about it.

    Don’t wanna be afraid no more
    Don’t wanna hide behind my front door
    I don’t wanna live in fear
    I want I want I want I want I want to be free
    Don’t wanna be afraid no more

    Every day the sun sets and rises
    Every dawn a new day begins
    Around here we don’t like surprises
    Terrified of exploding devices

    To raise our hopes and end our fears
    To take this land in a new direction
    To stop the pain and end the tears
    A lasting peace after all these years

    you can hear it at

  • Wow!! SubhanAllah – you are so right Sr Yasmin – this is a sign in 2011 for all of the world to wake up and stop accepting haram in our own lives. Thank you for this very inspirational article. May Allah [swt] reward you for your efforts

  • Subhanallah, what powerful words… they’ve taken my breath away, Subhanallah, Subhanallah!!

    A personal reflection: I felt at moments that I was standing in Egypt against the tyrant. I felt, after he stepped down, that this is the missing ingredient in uniting all the Muslimeen all over the world– a trial that will force us to seek one another, break the borders that divide us in countries, and become one body, one Ummah. May Allah protect us from tests and trials, and soften our hearts for one another. Ameen.

  • I’m so glad I came across this article, Alhamdulillah! I was going through a very rough night and this put a lot of things in perspective for me, a great reminder that trust in God is all anyone needs to get through this tough life. The Egyptians are some amazing people and may Allah guide them to the righteous path and protect them from evil. May Allah reward Sheikh Suhaib and all the other shyookh who help guide this ummah to the straight path. Ameen.

  • we are a global ummah, hence the events that have taken place and that are still taking place in the islamic lands have a natural impact and effect on us. My question is, what will ultimatley solve the crisis situation in the islamic lands …and what role can we play living here in the “lions mouth” (where kufr is manfactured and exported to the wider global village)in order to aid that comprehensive solution?

    This is an open question to any one but if the sister who rote the above could answer thats a

  • […] a global level, such as injustice in the Muslim world. But as we read in Sr. Yasmin’s amazing article, the point of the struggle is to realize who is in charge. It is Allah (swt). Allah (swt) has told […]

  • at that time I had no news, no television,no radio and no real contact to the world and jet a friend from California had searched for me and found me and told me about the liberation of Egypt! Today by the grace of Allah I can share this with you. Alhamdu lil-laah!!

  • I’m so glad I came across this article, Alhamdulillah! I was going through a very rough night and this put a lot of things in perspective for me, a great reminder that trust in God is all anyone needs to get through this tough life. The Egyptians are some amazing people and may Allah guide them to the righteous path and protect them from evil. May Allah reward Sheikh Suhaib and all the other shyookh who help guide this ummah to the straight path. Ameen.

  • […] on a global level, such as injustice in the Muslim world. But as we read in Sr. Yasmin’s amazing article, the point of the struggle is to realize who is in charge. It is Allah (swt). Allah (swt) has told […]

  • […] on a global level, such as injustice in the Muslim world. But as we read in Sr. Yasmin’s amazing article, the point of the struggle is to realize who is in charge. It is Allah (swt). Allah (swt) has told […]

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