وَقَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ ذَرُونِي أَقْتُلْ مُوسَىٰ وَلْيَدْعُ رَبَّهُ ۖ إِنِّي أَخَافُ أَن يُبَدِّلَ دِينَكُمْ أَوْ أَن يُظْهِرَ فِي الْأَرْضِ الْفَسَادَ
The Pharaoh said (to his chiefs): “Let me kill Moses, and let him call upon his Lord! I fear lest he alter your religion (replacing it with his), or lest he provoke disorder in the land.” (Al-Mu’min 40:26)
This verse exists in the chapter of the Qur’ān which is named after a “mu’min,” or “believer,” who belonged to the clan of the Pharaoh and came out at the most critical moment to support Prophet Moses, upon him be peace. The Pharaoh says: “Let me kill Moses, and let him call upon his Lord! I fear lest he alter your religion (replacing it with his), or lest he provoke disor-der in the land.”
In order to fully understand the verse, it is of use to remember the incidents that finally caused the Pharaoh to utter these words. The Pharaoh had been defeated before Moses in all his attempts to falsify, invalidate, and render ineffective his Message. Finally, he felt obliged to consult with his clan to kill Moses. His words displayed his helplessness, defeat, and despair before Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. Having been defeated before Moses in thought, belief, and intellectual struggle, the Pharaoh seemed to be asking his clan in a weak and despairing voice for permission to kill Moses. This style and manner of speech cannot belong to a powerful, despotic king who had self-confidence. They can only belong to a despot who has lost all his sources of power and support one by one and is cruel when he is powerful but humiliated, despicable, and quasi democrat when he is powerless. This kind of a despot who used his people, and particularly the Children of Israel, as if mud, cement, and straw in the construction of pyramids can only be called withering contempt and hypocrisy. This means one’s drawing in one’s horns and taking refuge in the public. By doing so, he would take advantage of the customs and religion that the people had long been following and get their support. He would use for his interest the masses that he had oppressed in his powerful days. Just as the unbelievers of Makkah claimed that Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was “splitting families and trying to dissuade them from the way of their ancestors,” the Pharaoh addressed his people, saying: “I fear lest he alter your religion (replacing it with his), or lest he provoke disorder in the land.” That is, the Pharaoh was acting in the same way as all dictators have done and was trying to conceal his injustices and mischief.
Like all other arrogant tyrants who have recourse to force and demagogy when they are defeated before the truth, the Pharaoh attempted to present himself as powerful and appealed to the people to form a public opinion in his favor through demagogy. As if everything had been in right order in his country until then and the people had been pleased with him and as if Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, had caused disorder and confusion in the country, he said: “I fear lest he alter your religion (replacing it with his), or lest he provoke disorder in the land.”
At just this point, the believing man whom the Qur’ān mentioned in Sūratu’l-Mu’min (“The Believer”) came out to support Moses. He belonged to the clan of the Pharaoh and, according to some reports, was the brother-in-law of the Pharaoh and commander of his armies. He had concealed his belief until that point. However, it is not conceivable that an insightful, discerning one like Prophet Moses was unable to detect him. He must have discovered him and acted in awareness of the existence of such a secret, powerful support. When the Pharaoh felt almost powerless and appealed to his people for help and support in order to be able to kill Moses and put an end to his activities, that believer came out to support Moses and warn the people against rejecting Moses’ Message and about the plots staged against him. Prophet Moses must have made use of his support very well.
The Qur’ān assigns more room to that believing man than even some of the Prophets. He began with a democratic attitude in the face of the Pharaoh’s show of democracy, and said: “Would you kill a man only because he declares, ‘My Lord is God!” (Al-Mu’min 40:28). He asked them whether they had no respect for others’ beliefs and thoughts, and with a gradually higher tone he declared his belief in the Hereafter, saying: “O my people! I do indeed fear for you the Day of the Summons (the Day when people will vainly be calling out to one another for help and cursing one another in distress)—the Day when you will (strive in vain desperation to) turn and flee (from the Fire), having none to protect you from (the punishment of) God. Whomever God leads astray, there is no guide” (Al-Mu’min 40:32–33).
In the face of his convincing speeches, the Pharaoh felt more helpless and sought refuge in new demagogies: “I would show you only what I see, and I guide you only to the right way” (Al-Mu’min 40:29). He attempted to seem as an advocate of the truth.
While the Pharaoh was advancing to the point of failure, Prophet Moses was very calm and at rest. He paid no heed to the threats of the Pharaoh. Hence, he delivered his reply promptly, saying: “Indeed, I seek refuge in my Lord, Who is your Lord as well, from every haughty one who disbelieves in the Day of Reckoning” (Al-Mu’min 40:27). Thus, while Moses expressed his trust in God, he reminded people, once more, that God is the only Lord of everyone.
In short, there are two scenes during one of which the Pharaoh’s threats, apprehensions, and uneasiness in awareness of his logical, intellectual, and emotional inconsistencies causes him to appeal to his people to support him and to attempt to make use of their religious beliefs. He accuses Moses of making mischief while he is one who always causes corruption and makes mischief and claims that Moses will change others’ religion while he himself does not show the least respect for Moses’ and his people’s religion. The other scene shows Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, with his solemnity, self-possession, reliance on nobody but God, and his reproach of the Pharaoh for haughtiness and arrogance to his face. To sum up, the whole description can be summed up as the struggle of the people or followers of God and the followers of Satan.
 Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāyah, 3/60.