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أَمْ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْ هَٰذَا الَّذِي هُوَ مَهِينٌ وَلَا يَكَادُ يُبِينُ
Nay! I am better than this fellow, who is contemptible, and who can hardly speak distinctly.
(Sūrat al-Zukhruf, No.43, Āyat 52)
Attitudes expressed by people in power towards those under them are often condescending and even scornful. Unless there is belief in God and a humility that is the necessary fruit of faith, power breeds arrogance and a feeling of invincibility. There is the intoxication of power, to be able to do whatever one wants to. There is no fear of accountability or responsibility. There is also the support of those around, so that the power may be of benefit to them. Such unrestrained power is dangerous and can wreak havoc in society. This is especially true when the power is used to oppress a people.
Tyrants of the past have used different strategies to oppress their people. The use of fear, humiliation, and intimidation is all part of these strategies. The Quran talks about the strategies used by Fir‘awn in Sūrat al-Shu‘arā. It mentions the threats he used:
لَأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ وَلَأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
Certainly, I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and certainly I will crucify you all (Q 26:49).
He accused Prophet Mūsā (a) of different things: إِنَّ رَسُولَكُمُ الَّذِي أُرْسِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ لَمَجْنُونٌ.
Most surely your Apostle who is sent to you is insane (Q 26:27) and
إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَسَاحِرٌ عَلِيمٌ يُرِيدُ أَن يُخْرِجَكُم مِّنْ أَرْضِكُم بِسِحْرِهِ
Most surely this is a skillful magician, who desires to turn you out of your land with his magic (Q 26:34-35).
In the verse of this week, Fir‘awn shows his contempt for Prophet Mūsā (a). He declares he is better than the Prophet and describes him as contemptible and unable to speak clearly. He starts with a statement that is satanic in nature – Shaytān also claimed he was better than Prophet Adam (a). According to Tafsir-e Namūneh, Fir‘awn shows contempt because he considers himself to be from a higher class in society. He is from the dominant group while the Prophet is not. He also feels superior because he is more wealthy and powerful. The value and worth of a person are measured by false standards such as wealth and class. In the following verse he asks why the Prophet has no gold bracelets. Such are his criteria for greatness. Fir‘awn tries to present the poverty of the Prophet as a weakness. What he fails to understand is that not having wealth that is derived from oppressing others is not a weakness. In fact, it is a source of pride as it comes from principled living.
Imam Ali (a) describes this encounter in Nahjul Balāgha:
When Musa son of ‘Imran went to Pharaoh along with his brother Harun wearing (coarse) shirts of wool and holding sticks in their hands, they guaranteed him retention of his country and continuity of his honour if he submitted; but he said: “Do you not wonder at these two men guaranteeing me the continuity of my honour and the retention of my country although you see their poverty and lowliness. Otherwise, why do they not have gold bangles on their wrists?” He said so feeling proud of his gold and collected possessions and considering wool and its cloth as nothing. When Allah, the Glorified, deputed His prophets, if He had wished to open for them treasures and mines of gold and (surround them with) planted gardens and to collect around them birds of the skies and beasts of the earth, He could have done so. If He had done so then there would have been no trial, nor recompense and no tidings (about the affairs of the next world). (Sermon 192)
Fir‘awn also labels the Prophet as unable to speak clearly. Although the Prophet had a stammer before, Tafsīr-e Namūneh says that he did not have it at the time when he went to the court of Fir‘awn. That is because he had asked Allah to untie the knots from his tongue (Q 20:27) and his prayers had been answered. Fir‘awn brings up the past as a weakness. Agha Qarā’atī in Tafsīr Nūr says that Fir ‘awn is inflating a weakness that was not actually so bad.
Contempt and scorn for people is always part of the oppressor’s agenda. This contempt is spread through derogatory words and inhuman terms for the oppressed group. The present conflict has used dehumanizing language for the Palestinians. They have been described as human animals and degraded as uncivilized. It is the latest in a long history of oppressive strategies that the world has witnessed. May the Almighty bring an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people and help them gain their rights.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh
Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr