قَالَ رَبِّ أَرِنِي أَنظُرْ إِلَيْكَ ۚ قَالَ لَن تَرَانِي وَلَٰكِنِ انظُرْ إِلَى الْجَبَلِ فَإِنِ اسْتَقَرَّ مَكَانَهُ فَسَوْفَ تَرَانِي ۚ فَلَمَّا تَجَلَّىٰ رَبُّهُ لِلْجَبَلِ جَعَلَهُ دَكًّا وَخَرَّ مُوسَىٰ صَعِقًا ۚ
He [Mūsā] said, ‘My Lord, show Yourself to me, that I may look at You!’ He said, ‘You shall not see Me. But look at the mountain: if it abides in its place, then you will see Me.’ So, when his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain, He levelled it, and Mūsā fell down, swooning.
(Sūrat al-A‘rāf , No 7, Āyat 143)
This is part of a verse that talks about an important incident in the life of Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis-salām. Some of the Banū Israel insisted that they wanted to see Allah ‘azza wajall and would not believe in Him unless they saw Him. Prophet Mūsā (a) goes to the mountain with seventy of his people. He asks to see Allah. Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā tells him he will never see Him, but he should try and look at the mountain as Allah manifests Himself to it. The mountain came crashing down. Prophet Mūsā was unable to bear that and fell into a swoon.
A few questions are raised about this verse:
1) Why would Prophet Mūsā (a) ask to see Allah (swt) when as a Prophet of Allah, he knew that Allah cannot be seen. Tafsīr-e Namūneh says that he did that to convey the message of his people, so that they would hear him and get the answer. It was the people who wanted to see Allah physically, not Prophet Mūsā. Sūrat al-Nisā also talks about this unseemly request of the people: The People of the Book ask you to bring down for them a Book from the sky. Certainly, they asked Mūsā for greater than that, for they said, ‘Show us Allah visibly,’ whereat a thunderbolt seized them for their wrongdoing (Q 4:153).
We also see that after this event, Prophet Mūsā (a) pleads with Allah not to destroy them because of what some foolish ones from his people have said. He says: Will You destroy us because of what the fools amongst us have done? (Q 7:155). This affirms the fact that not only did Prophet Mūsā (a) not have such a request himself, the wise ones from his people also knew that such a thing was not possible. It was only a group of stubborn, ignorant people who had such a request.
2) Is it possible to see Allah? The verse says: look at the mountain; if it abides in its place, then you will see Me. Does that attest to the possibility of seeing Allah? The answer is that this expression is to signify the impossibility of such an occurrence. The mountain would not be able to stay in its place when the glory of Allah was manifested to it. A similar expression of an impossible occurrence can also be found in the Quran: nor shall they enter paradise until the camel passes through the needle’s eye (Q 7:40).
3) What does ‘tajalla’ mean? It is translated as manifested His glory, but what does that mean? How does Allah manifest His glory to a mountain? Tafsīr-e Namūneh explains it as Allah disclosing a radiance from one of His created forces on to the mountain. This force could be one of His greater signs which we are unaware of. Or it could have been a mysterious wave, or a bolt of thunder which made the mountain come crashing down. This was to show the people two things:
- a) That they were unable to see a small manifestation of the power of the Almighty, how could they think they can see Him Himself?
- b) The people were not able to see or comprehend the force that descended on the mountain. But they could see the effects – the roaring sound, the shaking, and the crashing down of the mountain. Their senses were inadequate when it came to the root force, they could only understand the effects. But they could not deny that a force had descended on the mountain. How then could they deny belief in God unless they saw Him with their senses, despite seeing all His effects in the world?
This verse reminds us that Almighty Allah is beyond the comprehension of human senses. Imam al-Hādī ‘alayhis-salām in answer to a question about seeing Allah from Ahmed Ibn Ishāq says: Seeing is not possible if there is no air (space) between the seer and the seen thing through which sight goes through . . . When the seer equals the seen thing in the cause of sight between them, sight takes place, but those who compare the seer (man) to Allah, they are mistaken because they liken Allah to man (al-Tawhid of Al-Sadūq, p.109).
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh