Featured, Tafseer

The story of how Pharaoh mobilised Public Opinion against Moses and his followers

The story of Musa (as) and Pharaoh has countless timeless lessons for the believers to understand the continuous struggle between truth and falsehood.


In one passage in Sura Al-Zhukruf from verses 46 to 56, Allah ﷻ gives us an account of the nature of the struggle between Musa (as) and Pharaoh. In this brief article, I want to focus on how Pharaoh mobilised public opinion against Musa (as) and his followers. It is essential to understand that controlling and commanding public opinion by any state or authority is equally important as commanding an army. Controlling the general public opinion is what gives a state the authority to rule and enact policies. It legitimises the action of the ruler in the minds of the public. It is essential for aware Muslims to be mindful of public opinion and those who shape and control it, and it is through this awareness one can identify the hidden aims and plans of the ruler or the state.

In the following few verses, Allah ﷻ informs us how Pharaoh prepared the public opinion against Musa (as) and his followers which gave credence and legitimacy for the persecution of Musa (as) and the children of Israel.

Allah ﷻ says:

وَنَادَىٰ فِرْعَوْنُ فِى قَوْمِهِۦ قَالَ يَـٰقَوْمِ أَلَيْسَ لِى مُلْكُ مِصْرَ وَهَـٰذِهِ ٱلْأَنْهَـٰرُ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِىٓ ۖ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ

Pharaoh called to his people, saying, ‘My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see?

(Az-Zukhruf, 43:51)

The usage of the expression- وَنَادَىٰ فِرْعَوْنُ فِى قَوْمِهِ – Pharaoh called to his people, – should not be understood literally here, it is used here metaphorically (مَجازٌ عَقْلِيٌّ) meaning that he commanded his aids and official announcers of the royal decrees to proclaim to the public the official statements and proclamations. In modern-day, this is known as the state media that announces state policies, narratives and laws etc. The point is that Pharaoh had a media machine to create and direct public opinion against his enemies in this case Musa (as) and his followers. The lesson here is that media is a political tool of the state which can be used for either good or evil depending on the ideological basis of the state. In the case of Pharaoh, he aimed to preserve his oppressive authority and the continuation of enslaving the children of Israel. In our times we see how the media is used by the tyrannical rulers from the west to create a particular narrative about Islam and the Muslim ‘threat’ to protect their systems, interests and power.

Pharaoh then declared through his media machine: قَالَ يَـٰقَوْمِ أَلَيْسَ لِى مُلْكُ مِصْرَ وَهَـٰذِهِ ٱلْأَنْهَـٰرُ تَجْرِى مِن تَحْتِىٓ ۖ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ – saying, ‘My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see? – Boasting about his authority and power over Egypt and rhetorically asking the question to his people -أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ – do you not then see? He is implying that Musa (as) and his people are weak. Then Pharaoh says – أَمْ أَنَا۠ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ هَـٰذَا ٱلَّذِى هُوَ مَهِينٌ وَلَا يَكَادُ يُبِينُ – Am I not better than this man who is contemptible and can scarcely make anything clear? [43:52] – saying that Pharaoh is better than ‘this contemptible man’. Moreover, he attacks the speech impediment of Musa (as) as a personal attack. Personal attacks and propaganda are a classic tactic used by intellectually bankrupt authorities instead of engaging in honest debates and arguments based on sound reasoning and evidence to reach the truth. It is no different today; we see secular states and politicians using cheap propaganda against Islam and Muslims by labelling them as terrorists, extremists, backwards and other derogatory adjectives to justify their oppressive policies against Islam and Muslims.

Pharaoh then proceeds to mock Musa (as) further by saying: فَلَوْلَآ أُلْقِىَ عَلَيْهِ أَسْوِرَةٌ مِّن ذَهَبٍ أَوْ جَآءَ مَعَهُ ٱلْمَلَـٰٓئِكَةُ مُقْتَرِنِينَ – Why have gold bracelets not been put upon his arms and why is there not a train of angels accompanying him?’ [43:53] – meaning, adornments which are placed on the arms. Yusuf Ali makes an interesting comment: “Gold bracelets and gold chains were possibly among the insignia of royalty. In any case, they betokened wealth, and the materialists judge a man’s worth by his wealth and his following and equipage. So Pharaoh wanted to see Musa (as) if he had any position in the spiritual kingdom, invested with gold bracelets, and followed by a great train of angels as his Knight-companions! The same kind of proofs was demanded by the materialist Quraish of our holy Prophet (as). These were puerilities, but such puerilities go down with the crowd. Barring a few Egyptians who believed in Allah and in the Message of Moses, the rest of Pharaoh’s entourage followed Pharaoh in his pursuit of revenge, and were drowned in the Red Sea.”

Consequently, with this mockery and propaganda against Musa (as) and his followers, Pharaoh managed to legitimise the oppression of killing and enslaving the children of Israel as an acceptable public opinion.

Allah ﷻ says:

فَٱسْتَخَفَّ قَوْمَهُۥ فَأَطَاعُوهُ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا۟ قَوْمًا فَـٰسِقِينَ

In that way he swayed his people, and they succumbed to him. They were a people of deviators. [43:54]

Likewise, today many of the non-Muslim public have been brainwashed by the constant negative media against Islam and Muslims. It has created a hostile atmosphere against ordinary Muslims who are being increasingly verbally and physically abused, discriminated against and creating worrying trends of killing Muslims in their place of worship. These acts are not happening in a vacuum but in a hostile environment which the western states, politicians and many media outlets have legitimised with their vilification of Islam and Muslims.

The primary purpose of the campaign against Islam and Muslims under various guises such as the ‘war on terror’ and ‘fighting radical Islam’ and other such evil headlines is to prevent the return of Islam as a civilisation that will challenge the western liberal hegemony over the world.

In the end, Allah ﷻ punished Pharaoh and his people for their lies and belligerence. Pharaoh and his people were made an example of for nations and generations to come who follow the path of Pharaoh and his people.

Allah ﷻ says:

فَٱسْتَخَفَّ قَوْمَهُۥ فَأَطَاعُوهُ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا۟ قَوْمًا فَـٰسِقِينَ ﴿٥٤﴾ فَلَمَّآ ءَاسَفُونَا ٱنتَقَمْنَا مِنْهُمْ فَأَغْرَقْنَـٰهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ ﴿٥٥﴾ فَجَعَلْنَـٰهُمْ سَلَفًا وَمَثَلًا لِّلْـَٔاخِرِينَ ﴿٥٦﴾

Then when they had provoked Our wrath, We took revenge on them and drowned every one of them. We made them a thing of the past, an example for later peoples (43:55-56)