Leaving his brother, Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam) as his Khalifah (Representative) to oversee Bani Israaeel, Hadhrat Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) by the command of Allah Ta’ala departed for Mount Toor where the promised Tauraah would be revealed. Here on Mount Toor, Allah Ta’ala bestowed to Hadhrat Musa (alayhis salaam) the wonderful favour of communion with Him. For 40 days Hadhrat Musa (alayhis salaam) was enraptured in conversation with Allah Azza Wa Jal. In this ecstatic state of annihilation and divine absorption, Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) exclaimed: “Show me that I may see You!” Came the Divine Response: “Never can you see Me!” Nevertheless, Allah Ta’ala instructed him: “Look towards the (peak of) the mountain. If it remains in its place, then you will see Me.”
Then from behind 70,000 veils of the Divine Arsh, Allah Ta’ala manifested an infinitesimal speck His Illumination (Noor) on the mountain to the extent of the eye of a needle. Mentioning the effect of this speck of Divine Illumination, the Qur’aan Majeed states: “When his Rabb manifested (His) Illumination on the mountain, It reduced the mountain into particles, and Musa fell down unconscious.” The devastating impact of Allah’s Noor split the mountain into bits with such force that huge boulders and pieces of rock went flying in all directions. Three huge pieces of rock landed in Madinah Munawwarah. These three rocks became known as Uhud, Radhwi and Faani. Another three pieces of rock landed in Makkah Muazzamah and became known as Hiraa’, Sheereen and Thaur. Meanwhile the surrounding wilderness turned into a blazing inferno.
This episode of Divine Illumination occurred on a Thursday evening on the Day of Arafah. Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) meanwhile remained unconscious until the following Friday. When he revived, he was shuddering uncontrollably with fear, and he spontaneously cried: “Subhaanaka! I repent. I am the first of the Mu’mineen.” Thereafter Allah Ta’ala said to Musa: “O Musa! Verily, I have chosen you over the people with My Risaalat (i.e. being a Rasool) and My Speech.”
The Tauraah which was presented to Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) here, consisted of seven large tablets made of precious heavenly red-stone. The Tauraah had 1000 Surahs. Only four persons had committed the whole Taurah to memory: Hadhrat Musa (alayhis salaam), Hadhrat Yusha’ (alayhis salaam), Hadhrat Uzair (alayhis salaam) and Hadhrat Isaa (alayhis salaam). An elaborate and grand arrangement was made for preserving the Tauraah. A special casket of gold was made to encase the Tauraah. A domed structure wherein the casket was kept, was erected., and Haaroon (alayhis salaam) was appointed the trustee. The trusteeship remained in his family.
While Hadhrat Musa (alayhis salaam) was in communion with Allah Azza Wa Jal on the mountain, his people, Bani Israaeel, lapsed into worshipping a golden calf which they had built on the advice of a man called, Saamiri. Who was Saamiri? Saamiri was born at the time when Fir’oun had proclaimed the mass slaughter of all male infants of Bani Israeel. His mother, fearing the imminent killing of her baby, hid him in the bushes along the River Nile. Allah Ta’ala commanded Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) to tend to the baby and nurture him. Thus, Saamiri was nourished in this miraculous way by Hadhrat Jibraeel (alayhis salaam). As a result of this affinity, Saamiri in later years would be able to perceive the presence of Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) when he would appear in human form to execute divinely imposed tasks.
On the day when Bani Israaeel was crossing the Red Sea, Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) on horseback was leading Fir’oun and his army into the pathways of the sea. Saamiri observed that wherever the horse of Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) set foot, grass would spring up. He was therefore convinced that the rider was Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) and that the soil on which the horse trampled held miraculous effects. He gathered an amount of this soil and treasured it.
After Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) had departed for Mount Toor, Saamiri approached Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam) and said: “O Haaroon! All the gold, silver, precious stones and wealth which we had captured from Fir’oun’s people as booty should not be utilized by our people without Nabi Musa’s permission. However, I am seeing that our people are misappropriating all this treasure.” Saamiri’s proposal appealed to Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam). He immediately instructed the people to hand over all of this treasure and await the decision of Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam). Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam) appointed Saamiri to be the treasurer and trustee in whose custody all the treasure was placed. Thus, Saamiri’s dark plot succeeded.
Saamiri was an expert goldsmith and sculptor. He silently went about his plot to build the golden calf. The golden calf which he constructed was a huge form which he emblazoned with diamonds and other precious stones. In was a ‘beautiful’ structure which would amaze onlookers when they beheld it. Then Saamiri cast into the golden calf some of the miraculous sand which he had brought along with him, and immediately the calf displayed signs of life and began making sounds like a cow. Referring to this episode, the Qur’aan-e-Kareem sates:
“And, after the departure of Musa, they (some people of Bani Israaeel) made from their jewels a calf which was a body which emitted sounds. What! Did they not realize that it could not speak to them nor guide them to (the Straight) Path. They took it (as their god), and indeed they were oppressors.”
(Aayat 148, Surah A’raaf)
Saamiri had built his calf in secret. When it was completed, he enclosed it in a chamber adorned with silk and velvet veils. Addressing the people he said: “If you obey me, I shall show you Musa’s god right here.” The ignoramuses fell into Saamiri’s trap. They pledged obedience to him. After obtaining the pledge of obedience, Saamiri lifted the veils. When their eyes fell on the glitter, dazzle and beauty of the golden structure they were rendered speechless with amazement. The incomprehensible sounds emitted by the idol added a mysterious dimension. All the people fell down in prostration and thousands began worshipping the golden calf.
Seventy thousand people of Bani Israaeel took to the worship of the calf. When this shocking development reached Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam), he rushed barefoot to the scene, and vociferously remonstrated and reprimanded them for commission of shirk. But the people were intoxicated by the golden calf. They declared with confidence that this calf was the same god whom Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) was searching in the mountains and wilderness. Despite Haaroon’s pleas and admonition, they not only refused to heed him, but threatened to kill him if he continued to pester and interfere with their worship. Dejected and lamenting, Haaroon (alayhis salaam) secluded himself in his tent, waiting for Nabi Musa to return.
Meanwhile on Mount Toor, Allah Ta’ala had informed Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) that his people had taken to worshipping the golden calf. This had immensely grieved and angered Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam). Grief-stricken and full of anger, Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) returned to his people and with great haste went to the scene where the worship of the golden calf was taking place. When he personally witnessed this shirk and idolatry, his rage and fury had no bounds. He put down the Tauraah Tablets and in a fit of rage grabbed hold of the hair and beard of his brother, Nabi Haaroon (alayhis salaam). He shook his brother by the hair and accused him of having allowed Bani Israaeel into idolatry. Referring to this episode, the Qur’aan Majeed says:
“And, when Musa returned to his nation in anger and grief, he said: ‘Indeed evil is it that you have perpetrated after me. Do you desire to hasten the command of your Rabb?’
Then he put down the Tablets, seized the head of his brother and pulled him to himself.
Haaroon pleaded: ‘O son of my mother! Verily, the people considered me weak and almost killed me. Therefore, do not let the enemies make a laughing stock of me, and do not include me among the oppressors (the transgressors).”
(Aayat 150, Surah A’raaf)
After hearing this plea of his brother, Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) realizing his error, supplicated to Allah Ta’ala: “O my Rabb! Forgive me and my brother. Enter us into Your mercy. And, you are the Most Merciful of all merciful ones.” (Aayat 151, Surah A’raaf)
When Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) was informed by Allah Ta’ala of the shirk of his people, he was immensely grieved and hurt. But when he observed the shirk with his own eyes, his fury overwhelmed him. Commenting on the aggravated rage of Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) when he personally witnessed the perpetration of shirk by his people, Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “The receipt of information is not the same as personally witnessing the incident.” Thus, when Allah Ta’ala had informed Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) of the crime of his people, his anger was not beyond control. But when he personally saw the enactment of the evil of shirk, he cast down the Tablets of the Tauraah in utter disbelief and his rage drove him to seize his senior brother, Haaroon (alayhis salaam), also a Nabi, without first instituting an investigation. This was the effect of Nabi Musa’s Bughd fillaah (Hatred and anger for the sake of Allah), hence there was no divine reprimand for Musa’s action.
Turning his attention to his people, Musa (alayhis salaam) reprimanded them with great vehemence and sounded the dire threat of everlasting punishment in Jahannum for the shirk they were committing. His admonition exercised a profound effect on the people. They finally realized and acknowledged their error and were ready for Taubah and to make amends. Referring to this episode, the Qur’aan states: “And, when they expressed their regret and realized that they had gone astray, they said: ‘If our Rabb does not have mercy on us and forgive us, then we shall be among the losers.”
(Aayat 149, Surah A’raaf)
Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) meanwhile supplicated to Allah Ta’ala to forgive his people who were sincerely repenting. However, the crime of shirk is the worst of all acts of treason committed against Allah Ta’ala. Also, despite having emancipated them from Fir’oun’s bondage, brutality and oppression, and despite them having miraculously crossed the Red Sea and observing Fir’oun’s ignominious destruction, they had requested Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) to construct an idol for their worship. This episode has already been narrated earlier. Now after Nabi Musa’s departure to Mount Toor, they had indulged in a worst act of shirk although they had earlier solemnly pledged never to turn to shirk. Forgiveness for these transgressors was therefore no longer a simple and easy option. They were incorrigibly prone to idol-worship, hence there had to be a severe trial to expunge all vestiges of idolatry from their hearts and to purify the perpetrators from the evil of shirk in which they had indulged.
Jibraeel (alayhis salaam) appeared and said to Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam): “O Musa! Allah Ta’ala sends Salaam to you and said that the crime of your people was not insignificant. They had committed shirk. The only form of Taubah (Repentance) for this vile act of oppression is execution. They all will have to be killed.” Stunned by this divine pronouncement, Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) gathered Bani Israaeel and explained to them that the only way for their repentance and redemption was to submit to Allah’s command. All the perpetrators of shirk will be put to death. They should now choose between this form of repentance or the everlasting stay in Jahannum from which there will never be release.
The transgressors had realized their error and even before this announcement, inclined to repentance. When they heard the form of their taubah, they wholeheartedly submitted and said that they choose this temporary punishment to the everlasting perdition of Jahannum. The day for the execution was appointed. In a vast plain all the thousands of people, men and women, the old and the young – all who had worshipped the calf, assembled to offer their lives at the altar of Taubah to gain the mercy and pleasure of Allah Ta’ala. This was indeed a supreme gesture of sincerity and sacrifice.
Nabi Musa (alayhis salaam) addressing them instructed that they should be prepared to meet their Rabb in the state of purification. They were ordered to sit in the kneeling position in ranks with their necks lowered to facilitate swift execution with the sword. Hadhrat Musa (alayhis salaam) ordered his brother, Hadhrat Haaroon (alayhis salaam) to move into position with 12,000 men with extremely sharp swords to accomplish the command of Allah Ta’ala.