The Pharaoh, his Helper and the rich man

In Surah Qasas, Allah (swt) relates the story of Korah (Qarun), “Verily, Qarun (Korah) was of Musa’s (Moses) people, but he behaved arrogantly towards them. And We gave him of the treasures, that of which the keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men. When his people said to him: “Do not be glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours). Verily! Allah likes not those who are glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours).” (Qasas 28:76)

The Surah begins with the story of Musa (as) and Pharaoh, followed by Haman, who is Pharaoh’s Army Chief and ends with Qarun’s tale of worldly riches. As in other stories, we do not know the time and place of where the events took place specifically, and so those details are not important. This story is narrated exactly as my grandmother told me many years ago.

Nani Jan (grandmother) talked to me because I had been given a warning from school about skipping class: Beta (child), you will always be known by the company you keep.

Me: What do you mean? Am I not accountable only for what I do?

Nani Jan: Yes, you are – but what you do is always influenced by who your friends are. Let me tell you a story of a tyrant king, his army chief and a rich man from his court.

Me: Oh, this sounds very interesting. I would love to be rich and buy whatever I want. No need to collect pocket money to buy treats.

Smiling a gentle, wise smile my grandmother started: Once upon a time there was a great nation, but it had its roots in evil, slavery and oppression. The king was called Firawn, and he forced his subjects to call him God. He enslaved an entire nation of people called the Israelites, and forced them to do whatever he commanded. His power was absolute in his kingdom, and no one dared challenge it. Firawn had helpers to maintain his power and evil. His biggest ally was his Army Chief – Haman. Haman used his physical strength, to oppress people and carry out his king’s orders of murder and injustice.

They also had a third partner, his name was Qarun. He was not of the people of Firawn, but he was from the slave race. Yet, due to his servitude to Firawn, he was rich and helped to subjugate his own people.


Most of the slaves were struggling for one meal a day and Firawn would kill the male babies and keep only the female babies alive. He would order Haman to abuse the slaves. The Israelites were believers in Allah (swt) and they told each other that Allah (swt) will surely send someone to help them against the evil Firawn.

As true believers, their heart never accepted doing the wrong thing – calling Firawn God, or oppressing others. They also never gave up hope of Allah (swt) saving them. These are signs of true Muslims. Even though, they could do nothing; they knew in their hearts that what Qarun was doing was a sin. Their test was long and hard, but they knew that help was on the way.


Since, the rest of Qarun’s people were true believers, they warned him not to be arrogant. They told him to invest in the Akhirah (hereafter) and seek only Allah’s (swt) pleasure. But Qarun’s friends were Firawn and Haman, he wanted to be like them; hence, he did not listen to his well-wishers. He thought they were jealous.

“But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts).” (Qasas 28:77)

So, Qarun was blind to his faults and told the people, “He said: “This has been given to me only because of knowledge I possess.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him generations, men who were stronger than him in might and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected. But the Mujrimun (criminals, disbelievers, polytheists, sinners, etc.) will not be questioned of their sins (because Allah knows them well, so they will be punished without account).” (Qasas 28:78)

Me: But Nani Jan, can I not spend my money on myself? Must I always give everything away? That is just not fair. I work hard to earn my pocket money.

Nani Jan: Beta, Islam teaches us the best way, the moderate way. We can definitely use our portion of the wealth we have, but we must also remember to share with others. Be good to others as Allah (swt) has been good to you. So, when you see someone who might have more wealth and better things, thank Allah (swt) and know that it is a test.

Me: So, what happened next? Qarun was wealthy and he enjoyed his wealth. He was happy. What is so bad about that?

Nani Jan: Qarun, did not do anything to help others. In fact, he started to show his wealth off so others would feel sad and hopeless about what they did not have.

“So he went forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world, said: Ah, would that we had the like of what Qarun (Korah) has been given? Verily! He is the owner of a great fortune.” (Qasas 28:79)

“But those who had been given (religious) knowledge said: “Woe to you! The Reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is better for those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and this none shall attain except those who are patient (in following the truth).” (Qasas 28:80)

Qarun was Dunya-centric. He did not care about what Allah (swt) had commanded. His friends did not advise him to help others. He was occupied in pleasing his desires only. He thought, “I am smart and know how to create wealth, others are stupid. Allah (swt) has not given me all this. I have earned it by using my intelligence.” Qarun spread mischief by parading his wealth; his intention was to show others that he was better than them all. The significance of the heavy keys mentioned in the verse are not that he locked the wealth to keep it safe, but that wealth is a heavy burden- a difficult test from Allah (swt) for the true believer.

Qarun was Dunya-centric. He did not care about what Allah (swt) had commanded. His friends did not advise him to help others.

Now some people, who did not know better, wished they had what Qarun had. But Allah (swt) tests each of us in His own way. We must go beyond the appearance, and be patient in whatever our test is. It could be knowledge, wealth, fame, fortune, poverty etc.

“So We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling place. Then he had no group or party to help him against Allah, nor was he one of those who could save themselves.” (Qasas 28:81)

“And those who had desired (for a position like) his position the day before, began to say: “Know you not that it is Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it to whomsoever He pleases of His slaves. Had it not been that Allah was Gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up (also)! Know you not that the disbelievers will never be successful.” (Qasas 28:82)

Now, those who desired his wealth and position knew that it is only Allah (swt) Who gives and takes. Allah (swt) is the only One Who can decide what is right for you. People thanked Allah (swt) for not being as wealthy as Qarun, or as arrogant. They were convinced that only the Hereafter is the ultimate goal, and only the pious will have a good end.

“That home of the Hereafter (i.e. Paradise), We shall assign to those who rebel not against the truth with pride and oppression in the land nor do mischief by committing crimes. And the good end is for the Muttaqun.” (Qasas 28:83)

“Whosoever brings good (Islamic Monotheism along with righteous deeds), he shall have the better thereof, and whosoever brings evil (polytheism along with evil deeds) then, those who do evil deeds will only be requited for what they used to do.”. (Qasas 28:84)

Oh Allah (swt), shield us from the wealth trap. We are not Qarun, we do not envy him. In fact, we do not want to be mentioned along with him. His is not the company we want to keep.

Adapted for Hiba by Tasneem Vali

Stories from the Quran 1: The Believer in Pharaoh’s House

The Background

Long ago, in the land of Egypt lived a man known as Pharaoh, who disobeyed all of Allah’s (swt) commands; so much so that he started to call himself God. Allah (swt) sent Moosa (as) with the message of Tawheed, to warn Pharaoh to return to worshipping Allah (swt). We enter this story to see a battle between truth and falsehood being played out by a person from Pharaoh’s family. This believer is eloquent; he tries to show people that the truth will always prevail. He presents logical opinions; while reminding Pharaoh, Haman and Korah that the life of comfort and authority that they are enjoying, will come to an end. They will suffer a punishment from Allah (swt) like others have experienced before them.

The Elements in the Story


The Characters

Believer: He is the person who is a part of Pharaoh’s household, who has embraced the message of Moosa (as), but has kept it secret.

Pharaoh: The king of Egypt who calls himself God; he and Moosa (as) grew up together in the palace.

Haman: A verse in Surah Ghafir represents Haman as a person who Pharaoh trusts; He is also in charge of building projects in Egypt, which is why he is asked to build a tower that reaches the Heavens.

Korah: He is a rich person from the Banu Israel and becomes arrogant due to his wealth and position in Pharaoh’s court. He is also present during this debate.

The Setting

“And indeed we sent Moosa with Our Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), and a manifest authority…” (Ghafir 40:23-24) So Moosa (as) comes to Pharaoh’s court with the intention of guiding his childhood friend toward Allah (swt). Moosa (as) has the people and the court in awe since he has the power of truth. However, with the entire court, all the elite, the magicians and the common people are watching these three deny Allah (swt) and call Moosa (as) a sorcerer- just to safeguard their position for they felt the truth threatened Pharaoh, Haman and Korah!

“…to Pharaoh, Hâmân and Qârûn (Korah), but they called (him): A sorcerer, a liar!” (Ghafir 40:24)

The Plot

The people are not convinced by what Pharaoh says. They are starting to believe in Moosa (as). Hence, like any other tyrant, Pharaoh ordered, “then, when He brought them the Truth from us, they said: “Kill the sons of those who believe with Him and let their women live”, but the plots of disbelievers are nothing but errors!” (Ghafir 40:25)

The magicians recognized the truth and are killed; now Pharaoh is threatening to kill anyone else who sides with Moosa (as). Recall this was the same plan that had been used when Moosa (as) was a baby, but Allah (swt) is the best of planners and He saved Moosa (as).

The Story

So Pharaoh tells the people to let him take care of the problem. And that he is going to do what is best for them.

“Pharaoh said: Leave me to kill Moosa, and let him call his Lord! I fear that He may change your religion, or that He may cause mischief to appear in the land! Moosa said: Verily, I seek refuge in My Lord and your Lord from every arrogant who believes not in the Day of Reckoning!” (Ghafir 40:26-27)

At this point when everyone is quiet, the hero of our story starts his speech. He wants to convince the people that murdering someone just because of their belief in one God is preposterous. “And a believing man of Pharaoh’s family, who hid his faith said: Would you kill a man because he says: My Lord is Allah, and he has come to you with clear signs from your Lord? And if he is a liar, upon him will be (the sin of) his lie; but if he is telling the truth, then some of that (calamity) wherewith he threatens you will befall on you….” (Ghafir 40:28)

What a beautiful argument he puts forth. If Moosa is telling the truth, then you should believe in him or else the punishment will destroy you. But if he is not, then the sin is his alone, he will bear all the consequences. He is guiding them to a win/win situation with a warning, “Allah guides not one who is a Musrif (a polytheist, or a murderer who shed blood without a right, or those who commit great sins, oppressor, transgressor), a liar.” (Ghafir 40:28)

Now, he reminds the people and the court that should Allah’s (swt) wrath befall them when none can save them? Thus, they should be thankful to Allah (swt). “O my people! Yours is the kingdom this day, you are uppermost in the land. But who will save us from the Torment of Allah, should it befall us?”(Ghafir 40:29)

Pharaoh sees that this man is changing people’s minds and hearts, he interjects trying to brainwash the people, “Pharaoh said: “I show you only that which I see (correct), and I guide you only to the path of right policy!” (Ghafir 40:29)

The man reminds the people of the Prophets that have come before Moosa (as), he reminds them of Nuh (as) and Yusuf (as). “And he who believed said: O my people! Verily, I fear for you a fate like that day (of disaster) of the Confederates (of old)!” (Ghafir 40:30)

Well, Pharaoh cannot let someone steal the limelight, he uses drama, creates doubt. “And Pharaoh said: O Haman! Build me a tower that I may arrive at the ways. The ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the God of Moosa but verily, I think him to be a liar.” (Ghafir 40:36-37) This is Pharaoh’s plan to convince people he is fair, he is willing to test Moosa’s (as) claim. He even claims that Moosa (as) is a liar, but he, Pharaoh, is still giving him a chance. Satan has influenced Pharaoh, so he thinks he is taking steps to maintain peace and help others. He is blinded by his pride.

The Conclusion

Faced with such stupidity and arrogance, the believer has no choice but to make a final plea to Pharaoh, the noblemen and the people.

“And the man who believed said: O my people! Follow me; I will guide you to the way of right conduct.O my people! Truly, this life of the world is nothing but a (quick passing) enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter that is the home that will remain forever…And O my people! How is it that I call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire…And you will remember what I am telling you, and my affair I leave it to Allah. Verily, Allah is the All-Seer of (His) slaves.” (Ghafir 40:39-44)

The believer directly challenges Pharaoh by saying that he is the one who is guiding them towards salvation, not Pharaoh. The argument is now over, he has declared the truth and it is up to each individual to decide which path he wants to follow.

The Moral

  • The believer at first hid his faith because the environment was hostile, so we can hide our faith – it is alright not to say anything because he was weak initially and the people around him could cause him harm. But when it came down to injustice of murdering Moosa (as), he spoke up.
  • Allah (swt) shows us that belief and disbelief are not inherited. Sometimes people judge another person based on their family, which is not fair; we are only responsible for what we do.
  • Allah (swt) will not guide the one who transgresses and is a liar. Allah (swt) guides the truthful – because they do not lie to themselves and the pious– because they do not exceed their boundaries.
  • There is no one other than Allah (swt) who will protect us. We cannot protect ourselves nor can anyone else.
  • Why mention Yusuf (as), when you are in the field of Dawah? Talk to people so that they can relate. Bring them to a common point to grab their attention. However, always state the truth.
  • Shaytan beautified Pharaoh’s sins for him, made it acceptable to him, and convinced him that he was just. Remember Shaytan beautifies/adorns evil deeds/sins so we don’t even realize what we are doing is wrong.
  • A Daee must be kind and caring- not expecting anything for delivering the message.

(Adapted with permission for “Hiba” by Tasneem Vali.)