And when Moses prayed for water for his people, God said, “March forth and strike the rock with your stick,” and then 12 springs flowed from it. Each tribe knew their drinking place. (Therefore), eat and drink of the provisions of God, and do not act corruptly on Earth, making mischief. And when people said, “Moses, we cannot endure one type of food. Please pray to your God on our behalf to bring us earthy food—its herbs, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, and onions,” he (Moses) said, “Would you exchange what is good with what is worse? (If you so desire), enter a city (e.g., go back to Egypt) and you will find what you ask for.” Abasement and humiliation descended on them, and they incurred displeasure from God. Why? Because they disbelieved in the message from God and would kill prophets without justification. This is how they rebelled (against God) and persisted in crossing the boundaries.
Moses tried to appease his followers in many ways with help from God on many occasions, as are described in the Qur’an and the Bible. Moses prayed to God, and water came in the most convenient way, as 12 separate sources of water were identified and made available, one for each tribe. Food, such as manna and quail, was made available in abundance, but instead of gratitude, Moses’ people and followers were complaining and showing a lack of appreciation and gratitude. Their continued and persistent questioning, doubt, and disobedience brought about their punishment, which is also detailed in the Qur’an and the Bible. God’s displeasure with the Jewish people is further corroborated in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 28:64–65, Moses indicated the same fate: “The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the Earth even unto others . . . . And among those nations thou shall find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest; but the Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, failing eyes, and sorrow of mind.” We have to bear in mind that this is not because someone is a Jew, but because of what conduct and morals they do exhibit collectively as a community. The same could be said of today’s Muslims who have deviated from the morals and teachings of God and the Prophet; the fate of the Muslims is no different from the humiliation and abasement that came down on the followers of Moses. This again testifies to the uniform standard by which God judges people of all times and all places. Numerous times in the Qur’an, God said that those closest to Him are the ones who are most righteous, without mention of Jews, Christians, or Muslims (2:62). Our futures will depend on our faith and good deeds and not on our “Muslim” label.
It is imperative that Muslims not dwell on the fate of the Jews and Christians in the early times, as described here, but focus on our current conditions and reflect on why we are suffering from the same fate. Here is an example of how the Qur’an teaches different things to its audience at different times: For the early Muslims, the message was primarily not to disregard or disrespect Prophet Mohammad and to pay close attention to his teachings and the universal norms by which God provides His guidance and brings forth the consequences of ignoring that guidance. But for contemporary Muslims, one sees for certain the parallel consequences of Muslims versus the fate of the Jews when either community chooses to ignore God’s message and disregard their own prophets.
As we understand the causes for the abasement and humiliation of the followers of Moses in these verses, we Muslims need to ensure that we do not follow the same path going forward. We need to change our outlook and activities so that we act and behave within the boundaries set by God and His prophets in order to be worthy of God’s blessings and mercy.