Qur'an Contradiction:

Pharaoh's repentance in the face of death?

Response to Saifullah

In our Quran Contradictions section, we stated:

According to Sura 10:90-92, Pharaoh repented "in the sight of death" and was saved. But Sura 4:18 says that such a thing can't happen.

I am actually not sure what it means when Allah said in response to his repentance and confession of faith that "This day shall We save you in your body, ..."

10:100 does say that "no soul can believe, except by the Will of Allah" and verse 103 affirms that "This is it fitting on Our part that We should deliver those who believe!" And in 10:90 Pharaoh clearly confesses "I believe that there is no god except Him whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit." So, according to 100 and 103 this was a work of Allah and he will deliver him. But 4:18 says this is impossible.

But if this cannot be eternal deliverance from the judgment, then "as it seems" maybe it is deliverance from the drowining? I.e. physical deliverance? But this doesn't fit either, because Sura 17:103 makes clear that Pharaoh was indeed drowned and no repentence is indicated in this passage.

Dr. MSM Saifullah responds to the above with the following:


Now what is left unclear by the Christian missionaries rather delibrately is that what is meant by Pharaoh being 'saved' in the verse 10:90-92. If we read the verse again

We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: "I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islam)." (It was said to him): "Ah now!- But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion!- and thou didst mischief (and violence)! "This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!" [Qur'ân 10:90-92]

it is clear that the Pharaoh's body was saved and that he was not saved from the hell fire. This is because the Pharaoh repented only when the death approached him. And repentence at the face of death is not accepted as Allah says:

Allah accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. Of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil, until death faces one of them, and he says, "Now have I repented indeed;" nor of those who die rejecting Faith: for them have We prepared a punishment most grievous. [Qur'ân 4:17-18]

Further, this can be clarified by comparing verses 10:90-92, 4:17-18 with 38:42.

Pharaoh said: "O Chiefs! no god do I know for you but myself: therefore, O Haman! light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay, and build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses: but as far as I am concerned, I think (Moses) is a liar!" And he was arrogant and insolent in the land, beyond reason,- He and his hosts: they thought that they would not have to return to Us! So We seized him and his hosts, and We flung them into the sea: Now behold what was the end of those who did wrong! And we made them (but) leaders inviting to the Fire; and on the Day of Judgment no help shall they find. In this world We made a curse to follow them and on the Day of Judgment they will be among the loathed (and despised). [38:42]

So, it is pretty clear that the Pharaoh instead of being admitted into the paradise, would be one of the companions of the hell-fire. So, he is not saved from the Hell-fire rather his body is saved. In other words, the verses are in perfect agreement with each other and they clarify each other.

It is worthwhile to point here that this method of exegesis using internal relationships, i.e., al-Qur'ân yufassiru bacduhu bacdan (different parts of the Qur'ân explain each other), is widely employed in the stories of the Prophets and the people of the past. Certain themes have been treated in more than one place in the Qur'ân, including, for instance, God's power and grace, the hereafter, stories of earlier prophets, etc. The conciseness or expansion in one place or another depends on muqtadâ'i 'l-hâl, and an expanded statement in one place clarifies a concise one in another.

And Allah knows best!


What is actually clear is the authors' assumptions that are evidently at work throughout their exegesis of these passages. For instance, the authors must assume that the phrase, "We save thee in thy body" means that God saved Pharaoh's body. The only problem is that the phrase, "thee in thy body" presumes that more than Pharaoh's body shall be saved. Hence, what would be in Pharaoh's body except his soul?

This implies that Allah promised to save both his soul and his body from destruction. Yet, this leaves a couple of problems for Saifullah and his staff. If "saving Pharaoh in his body" meant that God would save him from drowning then this is in clear contradiction of S. 38:42 where it states that both Pharaoh and his army were flung into the sea and destroyed (cf. 17:102-103; 28:40). If the phrase "saving thee in thy body" implies that both Pharaoh's body would be preserved and his soul spared from eternal destruction, then this verse would again contradict S. 38:42 where it clearly claims that Pharaoh will be one of those that enter hell. In fact, early Muslim exegetes believed that S. 10:92 clearly affirmed that Pharaoh had been forgiven of his sin:

It was quoted on the strength of Ibn Abbas' report, that Muhammad said: `When Allah drowned Pharaoh, the latter said: "I believe that there is no god but He in whom the Children of Israel believe." Gabriel said: "O Muhammad, I would that you saw me taking of the mire of the sea and stuffing it in his mouth, for fear that Allah's mercy should reach him."' It was said in another report that Gabriel filled Pharaoh's mouth with mud, lest he should say: `There is no god but Allah,' and thus Allah's mercy should reach him. Others said: `Lest Allah should show mercy on him,' (see al-Tabari's commentary on Sura Yunis 10:90-92). Al-Razi objected to this and said: `Is it right that Gabriel filled Pharaoh's mouth with mud, that the latter might not repent, because he was angry with him? The most probable answer is no, because in that case it would be asked, Did Allah command Pharaoh to believe, or not? If he did, then it would not be permissable for Gabriel to prevent him from repenting; rather he ought to help him repent and obey Allah in all respects. But if, on the other hand, the commandment to Pharaoh did not exist at that time, then what was said about Gabriel would be of no effect. Also, if Gabriel prevented him from repenting, he would be approving of Pharaoh's remaining an infidel, and the approval of infidelity is infidelity. Moreover how does it fit the majesty of God to forbid Gabriel to prevent Pharaoh from believing? If you say that Gabriel did this of his own accord and not by God's injunction, your words would be annulled (or disproved) by Gabriel's statement in Sura Maryam 19:64: "We come not down, save at the commandment of they Lord"' (see al-Razi's commentary on Sura Yunis 10:90-92). Al-Razi's argument was answered by saying that the aforementioned hadith (concerning Gabriel's filling Pharaoh's mouth with mud) is sound, and that God may stand as a barrier between a man and his heart (namely, to prevent him from believing), etc. (True Guidance [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach Austria], pp. 141-142)

Applying Razi's logic, the fact that God commanded Pharaoh to repent, leading him to believe, meant that the latter no longer remained an infidel and therefore was spared from eternal destruction.

Furthermore, on the authors' allusion that the body of Pharaoh has been found is not entirely correct. Scholars are in disagreement over the identity of the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Exodus took pace in the 19th dynasty period of Egypt, making Seti 1 and Rameses 2 the Pharaohs of the oppression and Exodus.

Others, citing 1 Kings 6:1 as evidence, believe that the Exodus took place in 1446 B.C. due to the statement in 1 Kings that Israel's deliverance from Egypt took place 430 years before "The fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel" (i.e. 966 B.C.). This would make Thutmose 3 and his son Amunhotep 2 the Pharaohs of that period.

This is a fact with which at least one Muslim commentator agrees:

Lit. `We shall save thee in thy body': Probably an allusion to the ancient Egyptian custom of embalming the bodies of their kings and nobles and thus preserving them for posterity. Some Egyptologists assume that the `evil Pharaoh' of the Quran and the Bible was Ramses II (about 1324-1258 B.C.), while others identify him with his unlucky predecessor, Tut-ankh-amen, or even with Thotmes (or Thutmosis) III, who lived in the 15th century B.C. However, all these `identifications' are purely speculative and have no definitive historical value. In this connection it should be remembered that the designation `Pharaoh' (fir'awn in Arabic) is not a proper name but a title born by all the kings of ancient Egypt." (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur'an [Dar al-Andalus Limited, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar 1993], p. 306, f. 112)

Finally, the story of Pharaoh's repentance at the face of destruction was not a new revelation. The Talmud documented this story long before the Quran was ever compiled.

Perceive the great power of repentance! Pharaoh, king of Egypt, uttered very wicked words - 'Who is the god whose voice I shall obey? (Exod. 5:2). Yet as he repented, saying. 'Who is like unto thee among the gods?' (Exod. 15:2). God saved him from death; for it saith; Almost had I stretched out my hands and destroyed; but God let him live, that he might declare his power and strength.' " (Pirke Rabbi Elieazer, xliii; Midrash Yalkut, ccxxxviii - see also T.P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam [Kazi Publications Inc., Chicago Il. 1994], p. 241)

Hence, there is nothing in the Quran that had not been previously known by the Jews, Christians and pagans.

Sam Shamoun

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