Am anā khyarun min hādhal-ladhī huwa mahīnun walā yakādu yubīn
Am I not better than this fellow, who is contemptible and cannot even speak clearly?
(Sūrat al-Zukhruf, No.43, Āyat 52)
This verse is part of the response that Fir‘awn has to Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis salām. When the Prophet came to his court and invited him to believe in One God, Fir‘awn mocked him. He points out to his kingdom and the rivers that flow beneath him. He then turns to Mūsā (a) and sneers at the outward simplicity of the Prophet.
In this verse Pharaoh disparages the Prophet by pointing out two so called weaknesses in him:
1) ‘Muhīn’ meaning contemptible or despised – this was a reference to the classes of society that existed at that time. The rich and the powerful belonged to the upper class while the hard working and poor belonged to the lower class. It could also be a reference to the fact that Prophet Musa belonged to the tribe of Banū Israel who were slaves of Fir‘awn. To Fir‘awn these criteria determined the superiority or inferiority of a person. The verse after this one reinforces the point he is trying to make. He asks why the Prophet does not have gold bracelets. Or angels to escort him if he is truly from God. These outward and superficial signs are what matter according to Fir‘awn.
2) ‘Yakādu yubīn’ – he cannot speak clearly or scarcity in expressing. This ‘fault’ Fir‘awn points out in Moses is that he cannot express himself clearly. This is a reference to the fact that Prophet Musa had a stammer in his speech. He had acknowledged this when entrusted with the mission and had prayed for his tongue to be fluent. He had prayed to his Lord: And loosen the knot from my tongue, that they may understand my speech better (Q 20:27 & 28). According to Tafsīr Namūne this prayer of Prophet Musa was answered and he was able to speak clearly in the court of the Pharaoh, for Allah ‘azza wa jall responds: All that you requested has been granted, O Mūsā! (Q 20:36). The reference could be to how he spoke earlier. Another possibility is that it was a reference to the different dialect which Prophet Musa spoke.
The phrase ‘I am better than . . .’ is attributed in the Quran to Shaytān and to Fir‘awn. These are the words of those whose inner judgment is clouded by greed, ego and selfishness. They are unable to discern the real signs of superiority. Having wealth that has come from illegal sources and power which is derived from oppressing others is actually a matter of lowliness and disgrace, only if people were to realize!
This verse shows us the tactics of people who deem themselves as ‘superpowers’. They rely on wealth, power, boasts and threats in their attempts to overpower others. They scorn others, looking down on aspects that are innately and essentially human. They appeal to the base instincts of their followers and prey on their gullibility. What they fail to realize is that their strategies are built on flimsy foundations that crumble eventually.
Let this verse remind you not to be taken in by the false blustering of those in power. It is not a new tactic. History has many such examples. Their outcomes show that the ultimate victory is for God and the God-wary.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr; http://www.alketab.org/