The Earth Swallows Korah

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Another of the episodes during the wandering is the story of Korah[1].  Korah, named Qaroon in the Quran, was one of the Levites, as was Moses, and shared a grandfather, Kohaith.  This meant he was one of Moses’ cousins.  He was a leader among the rebellious Levites, according to the Bible, because of his immense wealth.  He was so wealthy that even the keys of his treasury needed several men to carry them.  He was also an arrogant person given to spreading mischief and corruption among the people.  According to the Bible, he went as far as to incite his followers to question Moses’ authority, claiming that he usurped the priestly right to transmit God’s message to the people.  According to the Quran and Prophetic narrations, he assumed he had been blessed with wealth because of his intrinsic worthiness as a man of knowledge.

When the more God-fearing among the people came advising him not to gloat over his wealth or display it arrogantly abroad, but to use it wisely, he refused to listen.  They used to say:

“Seek, with that (wealth) which God has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter….” (Quran 28:77)

They did not mean he should forgo legal enjoyment, such as a nice home, wives and children, and the provision of adequate clothing and food for them.  They meant that to spend beyond necessities in vainglory, boastfully spreading lies about his self importance, would simply stir others to envy and create dissention and mischief.  Rather, he should generously spread his wealth for the sake of God by spending in charity, helping relatives and strangers, and providing funds for military and civic campaigns.  This would only be just, as God had been generous to him in giving him his wealth in the first place.

He would say:

“This has been given to me only because of knowledge I possess….” (Quran 28:78)

In other words, he felt he was deserving of his possessions, believing he had obtained them by virtue of the knowledge he had been gifted with.  He came out with all his retinue, showing off in front of the people.[2]  Many people whose desires were orientated towards fulfillment in this world were swayed by the display, considering him lucky and envying him.  They said:

“…Ah, would that we had the like of what Korah has been given?  Verily!  He is the owner of a great fortune.” (Quran 28:79)

According to one narration, Korah had challenged Moses’ prophethood with his own wealth, and suggested that they invoke curses upon each other before God to see which of them would be answered.  Moses offered Korah the chance to curse first, which he did, but God did not accept the invocation.  Then Moses spoke, saying:

‘O God!  Command the earth that it will obey me today!’

Then he told the earth to swallow Korah, his treasures and the Levites with him.[3]  God said:

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

The people whose hearts had been swayed looked on in horror, reflecting on what they had narrowly missed.  Indeed they learnt a lesson from this, saying:

“Know you not that it is God Who enlarges the provision or restricts it to whomsoever He pleases of His slaves.  Had it not been that God was Gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up (also)!”[4] (Quran 28:82)

God says that disbelievers will never enter heaven.  It is only those who have faith that will get there. 

“He allots wealth on those he loves (the believer) and does not love (the disbeliever) alike, but true faith is allotted only upon those whom he loves.”[5]

“We shall assign a home of the Hereafter to those who do not want to exalt themselves in the land nor cause corruption.  And the good end is for the God-fearing.”[6] (Quran 28:83)

This story gives a very telling lesson.  Believing that one individually has the blessing of God because of some outward sign in the mundane everyday world is a mistake.  Even believing that one has God’s guidance by some inner voice is a mistake, for one never knows what makes suggestions to your soul.  The only true guidance is truly submitting to the One God, not mixing Him with others.  If one does not, one risks the end that Korah had, who foolishly challenged a favorite of God because he felt his knowledge and wealth gave him the stature to do so.

The Death of Moses
The story of Moses’ death shows his strength and tenacity, even in the face of the inevitable.  It also shows his ultimate submission to God and his keenness for God’s ultimate reward.

When the angel of death came to Moses to take his soul, he resisted.  Instead of submitting to death, Moses beat the angel, knocking his eye out.  The angel of death went back to his Lord and complained about the man, a slave of God, who refused to die.  God does not like to refuse His slaves’ wishes, and Moses, being a Prophet, was one of His most beloved.  Thus He told the angel to go back to Moses and inform him that God would grant him one more year of life for every hair he could cover by placing his hand on the back of an ox.

Now Moses had expected to carry out many more tasks before his death, including finally settling the Israelites in the Holy Land after the punishment God had ordained for them had run its course.  But the visit from the angel of death had clearly signaled that God’s decree was other than that.  So when the angel of death came back with God’s offer, he asked:

‘Oh Lord!  Then what will happen?’

He was told, ‘You will die.’

So Moses knew death was inevitable; he said, ‘Then why not now.’

Still, in choosing to die immediately instead of uselessly hanging on, he had one last request to make.  He said, ‘O Lord!  Bring me nearer to the Holy Land, as near as a stone’s throw away.’

And so he died, in sight of the land he had led his people to and admonished them to enter.  The Bible says that nobody knows where the grave of Moses is,[7]  but Muhammad, may God praise them both, told us he would be able to show his companions the site of the grave below a red sand hill on the side of the road if he happened to be there with them.[8]  He said:

“When I was taken on the Night Journey, I passed by Moses, and he was standing, praying in his grave, beside the sand hill.” (Saheeh Muslim)

One of the Characteristics of Moses was his strong will and tenacity to complete whatever he started.  But coupled to this was his obedience and submission to the Will of God.  Whenever he was confronted with a choice, he would always choose to obey God rather than pander to his own wishes.  He provides for us a human model of rectitude and fortitude, a trait echoed by the prophets down the ages, and culminating in Muhammad, the Messenger of God who brought Islam to the world.

[1] Quran 28:76-84 & 29:39-40; Numbers 16

[2] The Bible reports that 250 priests, as well as his extended family and other ‘men of worth’ from the tribes, were with him, and that he used the occasion to challenge the right of Moses and Aaron to lead the people. (Numbers 16:1-3)

[3] Ibn Kathir, in Stories of the Prophet; English translation by R. A Azimi.

[4] The Bible reports that, other than those who were swallowed by the earth or destroyed by fire, 14,700 people died of the plague the next day because they questioned the justice of Korah’s fate.

[5] Ahmad.

[6] God has prepared for his righteous servants what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and the heart of a human cannot comprehend. Recite, if you wish: “No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.” (Quran 32:17) (Fath al Bari 8:375)

[7] Deuteronomy 34:6.

[8] Ibn Kathir, in Stories of the Prophet; English translation by R. A Azimi.

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