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“When the drowning overtook the Pharaoh, he exclaimed...” (Yunus 10:90)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūrah Yūnus (Jonah)

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حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَدْرَكَهُ الْغَرَقُ قَالَ آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِي
When the drowning overtook the Pharaoh, he exclaimed: “I have come to believe that there is no deity save Him in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims (those who have surrendered).” (Yūnus 10:90)

As some hadīths inform us, everyone sees the truth clearly right before their death.[1] Hence, it can be said that there is no person who goes to the other world without believing. However, as discussed in the interpretation of 4:18 above, believing during the state of despair right before the moment of death is of no use. Pharaoh declared faith at just that time, when believing would not benefit him. Before this, however, he was always in rebellion, even while riding his horse in pursuit of Prophet Moses and his community. When he declared, “I have come to believe,” he was about to drown and had no time to do even one single thing according to his belief. In fact, the expression of “Now?” in the following verse emphasizes the point in a quite concise way. The verse continues:

Now – (You surrender now) when before this you always rebelled? (Yūnus 10:91)

If he had declared faith while riding after Moses and his community, it would not have been too late, and he would have been able to find an opportunity to do some good. But he declared faith when it was too late for his declaration to be accepted.

In conclusion, God Almighty did not prevent one who attempted to believe. On the contrary, the one who attempted to believe did so when it was too late for his attempt to be accepted.

Did Pharaoh really utter that he believed while he was drowning, or did he intend to believe and believe without uttering it? According to Ahlu’s-Sunnah (The people of the Sunnah; that is, the vast majority of Mus-lims, who follow the way of the Prophet and his Companions), if one makes a sound intention to say something when one can do it, it is not important whether one utters it or not. Such an intention is regarded as the utterance. The utterance is only the physical form of the content formed in one’s mind. Whether the Pharaoh made the utterance of belief or sincerely intended to believe, as stated in the verse,

But their faith when they actually saw (the coming of) Our mighty punishment could not avail them. (Al-Mu’min 40:85)

the Pharaoh had missed the opportunity to believe.

Here, we should also inquire whether the Pharaoh uttered those words only to escape drowning and rotting away in the sea. The Egyptians during the time of the Pharaohs believed that the spirits of the dead continued to live after death and had their dead bodies mummified so that they might serve their spirits. Answering the Pharaoh’s prayer, God saved only his body so that it might become a lesson for humankind. Additionally, instead of saying “(I have come to believe in) the All-Exalted God, in Whom Moses and Aaron believe,” the Pharaoh said: “in whom the Children of Israel believe.” That is, rather than aiming at the Prophetic horizon in belief, he turned to the misty horizon of the perception of the Children of Israel, whose minds were confused and hazy. As a consequence, the Pharaoh made a tortuous attempt to repent and believe due to the misconceptions he had. By doing so, he did not declare belief in the Messengership of Moses and Aaron either. When we consider that belief in God and His Unity requires also believing in the Messengership of the Messenger sent by God with His Message, the Pharaoh’s belief implied some sort of unbelief.

According to historical record, although the Pharaoh had some conceptions of deity, albeit not the right sort, he was a truly materialist-oriented person. It was not easy for such a materialistic person to promptly believe in every branch of faith, especially the existence and Unity of God and His Messengers.

[1] Bukhārī, Riqāq, 41; Dārimī, Riqāq, 43; Ibn Mājah, Zuhd, 31; Nasāī, Janāiz, 9.