Academic Article

The Conversation between Moses and God (Munajat Musa) in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’)

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Al-Kitab: La Sacralité du Texte Dans Le Monde de l‘Islam. Actes du Symposium International Tenu à Leuven et Louvain-la-Neuve du 29 Mai au 1 Juin 2002, ed. Daniel De Smet, Godefroyde Callataÿ, and JanVan Reeth, published by Acta Orientalia Belgica, Subsidia III, 2004, pp. 371-87.

In the following article, Dr Ali-de-Unzaga brings to light how, besides Qur’anic quotations, the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’) include quotes and ‘pseudo-quotes’ from the Torah, the ‘Books of the Prophets’ and the Gospelsinfo-icon, as well as traditions, sayings and passages attributed to or dealing with Biblical Prophets.

He has focused discussions in this paper on quotes related to the conversations between Moses and God (the Munajat Musa, or Masa’il Musa). He analyses the way the Munajat tradition has been incorporated into the Epistles, with special reference to its origins and contents, whether they appear in fragments cited in diverse works or in unpublished manuscripts entitled Munajat Musa.

To study the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’) has a great deal in common with the excavation of an archaeological site. The Epistles are like a city whose foundation and layout must be unearthed. Even though much has been written about them, many streets and avenues are still to be ‘discovered.’ One of the least explored avenues in the scholarship on the Epistles is the use of Qur’anic quotations and echoes, with which they are replete. But the Epistles are interested not only in the Qur’aninfo-icon, since they include quotes and what can be termed ‘pseudo-quotes’ from the Torah, the ‘Books of the Prophets’ and the Gospels, as well as traditions, sayings and passages attributed to or dealing with Biblical Prophets. Some of the most interesting of these passages are those related to the conversation between Moses and God (the so-called Munajat Musa, or Masa’il Musa). Non-canonical Islamic materials have not received sufficient attention, and the Munajat Musa are no exception.[1]  In these pages we intend to contribute to the understanding of the Epistles and their place in their literary, religious and intellectual contexts.

What follows is an analysis of the way the Munajat tradition has been incorporated into the Epistles, with special reference to its origins and contents, whether they appear in fragments cited in diverse works or in unpublished manuscripts entitled Munajat Musa.

The origin of Moses’ conversation is of course in the Bible. Moses appears in the Pentateuch conversing with God in many passages, particularly on the occasion of the sighting of the burning bush and upon the delivery of the Tablets.[2] The life of Moses in general and the events in Mount Sinai in particular provided the foundations for numerous stories and legends found in Judaism and later in Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish tradition, the books known as apocrypha and pseudoepygrapha contain legends on episodes like ‘The Burning Bush,’ ‘The Ascension (or Assumption) of Moses’, ‘Moses’ visit to Paradise and Hell’,[3] ‘The Revelation on Mount Sinai’ and ‘Moses receiving the Torah’.[4] There is also an Ethiopian text on the ‘Death of Moses’.[5] These legends are narratives which expand on particular points of the scripture sometimes containing a dialogue between Moses and God which can take the form of questions posed by Moses.

In the Hellenistic period, the life of Moses was presented from the angle of moral and allegorical exegesis of Biblical texts. The Jewish Neoplatonist Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 CE) interprets it as an exemplary life,[6] while Christian thinkers like Clement of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE) and Gregory of Nissa (d. ca. 395 CE) saw the events in the life of Moses both as an allegory for the stages of the soul’s spiritual journey towards God and as a pre-figuration of the advent of Jesus.[7] These works are plain narratives and did not adopt the dialogue form.

The Qur’an pays special attention to Moses and highlights his conversation with God, as can be seen in the verses Q. 4:164—“God spoke to Moses directly” (wa kallama Allahu Musa takliman) and Q. 19:52— “We brought him near to converse” (wa qarrabnahu najiyyan). Subsequently, the character of Moses and his status as God’s interlocutor was typified by the epithets Kalim Allah and Najiyy Allah given by Muslim authors in the same way as Abraham is called God’s friend (Khalil Allah).[8]

In time, the Qur’anic account of the conversation was developed into, and complemented with traditions, stories and legends, some being based on Jewish and Christian materials and others being original.[9] The accounts (sing. Khabar, Hadithinfo-icon) that early Muslim authorities are reported to have attributed to Moses’ conversation, gave birth to what can be termed ‘the Munajat tradition.’ A central position among these authorities is occupied by Ka‘b al-Ahbar ( 32 AH/652 CE) and Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 110 AH/728 CE), two Yemenis conversant in Judeo-Christian lore. Other traditions are attributed to Muhammad himself, his cousin Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 68 AH/687 CE), Abu Hurayra (d. 59 AH/678 CE), Qatada b. Di‘ama (d.117 AH/735CE) and, among the Shi‘is, also to Muhammad al-Baqir (d. 114 AH/732 CE) and Ja‘far al-Sadiq (d. 150 AH/765 CE). The accounts are of differing length (from one sentence to several pages) and are presented with or without a chain of transmission (isnad). They are found in hadith collections, Qur’anic commentary (tafsir), Stories of the Prophets (Qisas al-anbiya’), books of history and other genres.


The Annunciation Tradition

The Munajat genre became a literary form that was capable of embodying different themes, but it seems to have first developed around the “annunciation tradition”, i.e., the Qur’anic concept that the advent of Muhammad had been announced in previous scriptures (Q. 7,156-7; Q. 61,6).[10] In this tradition, which may have originated in commentaries of Deuteronomy 18:18,[11] Moses is portrayed as repeatedly asking God about the identity of a people he has found “in the Torah”. God replies, “That is the people of Ahmad (tilka ummat Ahmad)”. This is repeated a number of times, every question referring to a specific characteristic of that people. Each time, Moses asks to be made part of that people. This tradition has been attributed to various authorities. Uri Rubin has performed a detailed study on the version of the annunciation tradition attributed to Qatada b. Di‘ama by ‘Abd al-Razzaq (211 AH/827 CE) and his conclusion is that the tradition is an attempt at replacing the Israelites “by Muhammad’s believers as God’s chosen community.”[12] In Qatada’s version, Moses is denied access to the community of Ahmad, which causes him to smash the Tablets in anger, though eventually he receives God’s pardon.[13]

In the Khatm al-Awliya’ of al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (285 AH/898 CE), one of the ‘spiritual questions’ is ‘What is the interpretation (ta’wilinfo-icon) of Moses’ statement ‘Lord, make me [part] of the people of Muhammad?’[14] Although Tirmidhi does not identify the origin of the tradition, the fact that he discusses it indicates that the munajat was a topic of discussion for the early Sufis.

Tha‘labi (427 AH/1035 CE) and Abu Nu‘aym al-Isfahani (430 AH/1038 CE) report that Ka‘b al-Ahbar is the transmitter of the annunciation tradition, which—he claimed— he had read in a book from the Torah owned by his father.[15] Ka‘b had converted to Islam from Judaism and was an authority on antiquity, the Bible and early Islam. His main aim and role seems to have been to provide “Islamic sacred history with biblical foundations.”[16] He became influential since figures who would later become hadith authorities such as Ibn ‘Abbas and Abu Hurayra drew upon his information.[17] There are multiple versions of the same theme, which is sometimes presented as a hadith reported by Abu Hurayra, and other times as a report from Wahb b. Munabbih, a disciple of Ibn ‘Abbas and, like Ka‘b, a Yemenite and an outstanding figure of the early period who was acquainted with Jews and Christians and had knowledge of their scriptures.[18] We find the tradition as transmitted by Wahb b. Munabbih in several works like Kisa’i’s Qisas al-Anbiya’, and Qurtubi’s (671 AH /1273 CE) Qur’an Commentary, to cite only some examples.[19] Both Ka‘b and Wahb became wrapped in “legendary trappings” and a great variety of biblical and pseudo-biblical traditions, particularly those stories relating to the prophets, were credited to them, as we will see in the manuscripts.[20]

In Shi‘i circles, Ibn Shu‘ba al-Harrani (380/990) transmits an anonymous version of “Munajat Allah li-Musa b. ‘Imran”, which is in fact a long monologue addressed from God to Moses.[21] Majlisi’s (d. 1110 AH/1699 CE) collection of Shi‘i hadith, Bihar al-Anwar, provides an excellent source of information. It includes some exegetical traditions of Qur’anic verses referring to Moses, traditions on and pseudo-quotes from the Torah, and fragments from the Munajat, some of which are not found anywhere else.[22] Interestingly, none of these traditions are attributed to Ka‘b or Wahb, but mainly to Muhammad al-Baqir, some to Ja‘far al-Sadiq and occasionally Ibn ‘Abbas or Muhammad.[23]


Development of the Genre and Manuscripts

The genre of the Munajat developed in two directions. In Sufi circles, the concept of intimate conversations with God was taken up in works containing the author’s own conversations with God.[24] Among the most popular of these compositions entitled Kitab al-Munajat were those by Junayd (d. 297 AH/910 CE), Hallaj (d. 309 AH/922 CE) (neither of which has survived) and Suhrawardi (d. 587 AH/1191 CE).[25] In the Persian tradition, one of the most popular Sufi works is ‘Abd Allah Ansari’s (d. 481 AH/1089 CE) Munajat,[26] while Jalal al-Dininfo-icon Rumi (d. 672 AH/1273 CE) is also known for using fictional dialogues or divine supplications in the mouth of Prophets or other characters.[27] For many Sufis, Moses represents a model of sanctity and his “divine encounters” are read metaphorically as part of the inner experience of the mystic.[28]


On the other hand, belonging to the wider genre of Munajat, that is “supplications or prayers to God by saints and pietist people,” we find that there exist entire manuscripts entitled Munajat Musa, as well as Munajat ‘Isa, Munajat ‘Ali, and so on.[29] There also exist numerous Christian versions of the conversations of Moses in Syriac and Karhsuni script.[30] The structure and contents are very similar to the Muslim Munajat, except that it is the coming of Jesus that God announces to Moses. I have consulted two unpublished Arabic manuscripts of the Munajat Musa, from Cambridge[31] and the British Library.[32] These works show that the Munajat Musa developed as an independent sub-genre. Rather than attempting to explain the passages found in the scriptures, these Munajat manuscripts take the encounter on Mount Sinai merely as a point of departure to tackle questions and issues which must have provoked the curiosity of mystics and others. They are made up of diverse Munajat traditions, arranged, expanded and modified so as to form an independent work portraying a coherent dialogue from beginning to end. Apart from the already-mentioned annunciation of Prophet Muhammad and the virtues of his community, these manuscripts share a similar structure and some common topics, such as:  a) aspects of Moses’ mission; b) “personal” questions to God regarding his nature, his location and so on; c) the order of creation; d) the annunciation tradition;[33] e) descriptions of paradise and hell; and f) descriptions of believers and sinners and their respective rewards and punishments. The contents and structure of this genre provide an exciting source of research into the area of apocryphal Islamic writings. Suffice it to mention that the descriptions of Paradise and Hell and the different sins and punishments is also found in the Jewish legend known as ‘Moses visits Paradise and Hell.’[34]

Having seen the background of the Munajat Musa, we now turn to the elements of that tradition that are found in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren.

The Munajat in the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’

References to the exchange between Moses and God appear on various occasions in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren. We will deal with the Munajat in three sections: firstly, as a prayer which reflects a high mystical stage; secondly, we will cover the circumstances surrounding the conversation between Moses and God, and finally, we will analyse the actual fragments of the dialogue reproduced in the Epistles.

The Munajat as a mystical prayer

Before dealing with the actual references, it must be said that the Epistles pay special attention to the concept of Munajat as a type of prayer. As we saw above, this is a prayer in the form of a dialogue which takes place at a high mystical level. The Epistles compare the virtue that the soul acquires from the spiritual world (and then transmits to the body) to the knowledge that the teacher has acquired from his own teacher and then transmits to his pupil. When the soul has accomplished its mission, it is time for it to enjoy spiritual bliss. Similarly, “when [the teacher] has concluded teaching and training [his pupil] by his instruction, he then commits himself to worshipping his Lord and to seeking solitude in order to have intimate conversations (Munajat) with his creator. He desires to accompany his ancestors and relatives, and to join the assembly of His angels.”[35] The Epistles add that this is the path of prophets, philosophers (Hukama`[36]) and ancient sages (al-Qudama‘ al-Rabbaniyyin). Some lines below, the Epistles quote a well-known hadith qudsi which is usually transmitted by sufis, and for which no isnad (provenance) is normally given.

As quoted in the Epistles, God’s words are the result of a question posed by a prophet, who remains unidentified, in his mystical conversation:  “It is related in some accounts (akhbar) that one of the Prophets of God said in his intimate conversation (munajat) with his Lord: “Oh Lord, why did you make the creation after it did not exist?[37] His lord said to him, by way of allegory (‘ala sabil al-ramz): ‘I was a hidden treasure [full] of goodness (khayyirat) and virtues (fada’il), but I was not known, and I wanted to be known’.[38]

Another anonymous divine conversation contains the bold statements and the non-submissive tone that is typical of the Munajat tradition. It is attributed in the Epistles to “one of the friends of God” who, in his reflections on the meaning of suffering, could not get any satisfactory answers, so “he said in his munajat: “Lord, you created me, but you gave me no command; you made me pass away but you did not consider me bad; you gave me commands and prohibitions, but you did not let me choose; you let a deceiving passion and a seducing devil have power over me. You put inbuilt desires inside me and laid an embellished world in front of my eyes and yet you frightened me and castigated me with threats and coercion (…).”[39]

At the end of the Epistle on Music there is a series of maxims which are anonymously attributed to philosophers (Hukama’ and Falasifa) who are invited by a king to comment on the philosophical aspects of music.[40] The first of these aphorisms says: “…Take heed, when listening to music, lest the desires of the animal soul excite you towards nature’s charms, which will divert you from the rightly-guided paths and will keep you away from the intimate conversation (Munajat) with the superior soul (al-Nafsinfo-icon al-‘Uliya).”[41] With these passages, it has been made clear that in the thought of the Epistles the Munajat are a kind of meditation which corresponds to an elevated state of the soul. It is with this in mind that we should approach the conversation of Moses with God in the Epistles.

The Context of Moses’ Conversation

Among the circumstances surrounding the Munajat of Moses, i.e., what would correspond to the Asbab al-nuzul genre in Qur’anic commentary, three events are paid attention in the Epistles – Moses’ ascension to the Mount, Satan’s whispering, and Moses’ ecstasy.[42]  “… After the killing of the calf-worshippers—they say— Moses wanted to depart to the mountain in order to converse with his Lord (li-munajat rabbihi) ....”[43] This is followed by the death of Aaron and the death of Moses himself, which are part of the qissat Musa found in the literature.[44] What is of interest for us here is that the conversation is presented not as coming from God unilaterally, but as a voluntary act, as something that Moses, purportedly a spiritually advanced man, wanted to do.


The Qur’an asserts the belief that all prophets have been victims of the Devil’s temptation (Q. 22:52)[45] and Moses indeed accuses the Devil when he kills a man saying “this is the Devil’s doing,” (Q. 28:15). Though Moses’ encounter with Iblisinfo-icon is not in the Qur’an, extra-Qur’anic traditions developed to explain its details. One of the most crucial events in the story of Moses is narrated in the book of Exodus (33:18ff.). During his conversation with God on Mount Sinai, Moses wants to see God, but only obtains a negative response: “For there shall no man see me, and live”.[46] The Qur’an expresses the same in very similar terms in Q.7:143. We find this verse quoted in a section of the Epistles dealing with the encounters of prophets with the Devil, where they mention “the narration of the devil's [encounter] with Moses, in which—they say— he whispered to [Moses]: "Perhaps the words (kalaminfo-icon) that you hear are not the words of the Lord of the worlds." And then Moses said: ‘Lord, show yourself to me that I may gaze upon you. He said, ‘You will not see me’.”[47] This brief fragment can be considered a piece of tafsir, since it attempts to explain the reason of Moses’ request to see God as a reaction to the “whispering” of Iblis, who is portrayed as putting doubts in Moses’ mind as to the origin of what he heard.[48]


The third contextual moment that the Epistles relate to the Munajat Musa actually refers to the moments following Moses’ encounter with the Divine. The Qur’an mentions that Moses collapsed in a swoon after seeing the Divine manifestation on the mountain (Q. 7:143). In the Munajat Musa manuscripts, Moses is said to have fainted during his conversations with God.[49] Authors such as Tabari (310AH /923 CE) remark that Moses is about to collapse after seeing and hearing the angels,[50] while Kisa’i (5th/11th c.) relates that the angel of death found Moses in a state of ecstasy “speaking as a drunk.”[51]


The Epistles pick on a different tradition which emphasised Moses’ musical gift. They tell us: “It is said that when Moses heard the intimate conversation (Munajat) of his Lord, he was filled with such joy, happiness and delight that he could not contain himself, until [he began to] sing ecstatically and sweetly (taraba wa tarannama); thereafter, all the melodies, tunes and sounds became insignificant for him.”[52] The relationship of Moses with music was already present in Jewish lore, since Moses is described in the Bible as having written a song after having written down the Law, before his death,[53] and Philo of Alexandria considered Moses, just like Pythagoras, capable of hearing the celestial music.[54] In the same vein other traditions, like the one transmitted by Tha‘labi from Wahb b. Munabbih, picture Moses as hearing the sound made by the angels who descend from the seven heavens to him.[55] The point that the Epistles try to make with this passage is that music has an immediate effect on the soul.


The Dialogue between Moses and God

Passages belonging to the conversation between Moses and God are scattered through the Epistles. We will analyse them in three sections:

Oh Lord, Where Can I Find You?

In Munajat Musa manuscripts, Moses is depicted asking God bold personal questions. These are probably the result of people’s thirst to enquire about God’s identity and especially his whereabouts. In the Cambridge ms. Dd. 11.92 (fol. 84b)[56], Moses asks God, “where are you?” and “where were you before the creation”. In the British Library ms. Or. 4376 (fol 4a), Moses asks God questions such as, “Are you near or far?”

In the Epistles we find a question of that kind. In the context of the discussion on the nature and kinds of love, to which one of the Epistles is devoted, it is said: “According to a tradition (khabar) from Moses, he addressed (nada) his Lord saying, “Oh Lord, where can I find you?” [God] said: “with those whose hearts are broken for my sake.”[57] The same reply is found among Sufi works although in very different contexts but we do know that it is attributed to Moses’s conversation (as in the Epistles) in Abu Talib al-Makki’s (d. 386 AH/996 CE), Qut al-qulub fi mu‘amalat al-mahbub,[58] and in Abu Nu‘aym al-Isfahani’s Hilyat al-Awliya[59]


The Annunciation Tradition

The best-known fragment of the Munajat Musa, the annunciation tradition that we have discussed above, is found twice in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren, of which this is the longest one: 

“After a long discourse (khitab) in his intimate conversation (munajat), Moses said: ‘Lord, I find in the Torah the description of a people (ummainfo-icon) who are close to being prophets (kadu an yakunu anbiya`) by the subtlety of [their] discernment, knowledge and righteousness. Who are they? Make them of my people!’ God said: ‘Oh Moses, that is the people of Ahmad.’ Moses said: “Oh, Lord, you have made all the good in the people of Ahmad; make me one of them!’ And his Lord said to him: ‘You are of them and they are of you. You follow the religion of submission (dininfo-icon al-islam) and they follow the religion of submission.’”[60]

In the other versions of this tradition that we mentioned above, the vocabulary employed varies according to the authors, but the dialogue is always used to ‘prove’ that the coming of Muhammad had been announced by a previous prophet.[61]

However, the Epistles make a different use of it. Firstly, in a section where the Epistles provide a description of “the friends of God and his virtuous (salihin) servants,” they quote a hadith from Prophet Muhammad —“In this community (umma), there will always be forty virtuous men from those who follow the religion (milla) of Abraham, the friend [of God]”—, a saying of ‘Ali —“Those are small in number, but of great worth before God; their knowledge allows them to penetrate the true nature of things and they are in touch with the spirit of absolute truth”— and the annunciation tradition.[62]

The underlying common idea in all three quotes, as the Epistles see it, is that among common believers there is always a group of the select few who belong to a higher spiritual level. In the second citation of the annunciation tradition, the emphasis is laid on the phrase kadu an yakunu anbiya, which can be translated as ‘are close to being prophets,’ ‘come close to the rank of Prophecy,’ or ‘are virtually prophets.’ This is because the tradition is quoted in a section explaining man’s reception of revelation (qabul al-wahi).[63]

The Epistles’ stand is that the rank of man is between the animals and the angels, but closer to the latter. Due to the resemblance of his nature to the angelical nature and thanks to the purity of his soul, man is prone to receive inspiration and revelation from the angels. What is original in the Epistles is that they consider that not only prophets, but any man who is duly prepared and purified, can receive divine revelation. To support this view they bring, apart from the annunciation tradition, quotes attributed to Moses, Muhammad and Jesus.[64]

As we can see, the interpretation of this tradition can be ascertained by the context in which it is found in the Epistles. These do not emphasise, as most other authors were interested in doing, Moses’ supposed prophecy of Muhammad’s coming, but the possibility that man has to ascend to the highest spiritual levels. 


The 12,000 Utterances

In the closing sections of the ‘Epistle on the Traits of Character’[65] we find a long fragment of the Munajat Musa. It starts as follows: “Know, Oh Brother, may God strengthen you and us with a spirit from Him,[66] that God spoke to Moses the son of ‘Imran and conversed[67] with him with 12,000 utterances (kalimat);[68] at the end of every utterance He said to him, ‘Oh Moses come close to me and know my power; for I am God.’”[69] While in the Pentateuch, God only calls Moses’ name in one verse in an isolated way,[70] the Epistles are more likely to have taken the idea of vocative ‘Oh Moses’ from the Qur`an, where it is used repeatedly either at the beginning of each of God’s utterances (five times)[71] or at the end (another five times).[72] Afterward, the Epistles provide the following dialogue:

“— [God said,] ‘Oh Moses, Do you know why, from among all my creatures, I spoke to you and why, from among all the Israelites, I have selected you to [deliver] my message?’[73]

— Moses said, ‘Bestow your grace on me oh Lord!’

— [God] said, ‘Because I know the innermost feelings of my servants, and I do not see any heart purer in its love for me than your heart.’[74]

— Moses said, ‘Why did you create me after I did not exist?’[75]

— [God] said, ‘I wished you well’;

— [Moses] said: ‘Lord, bestow your grace on me!’

— [God] said, ‘I will make you inhabit my Paradise and will let you into the Abode of my Generosity in the company of my angels, so you will live there eternally in joy, pleasure and happiness.’

— [Moses] said: ‘And what do I have to do?’

— [God] said, ‘Let your tongue be always fresh with my remembrance, your heart filled with fear of me and your body busy in my service. You are not safe from deceiving me till you set your foot in Paradise.’

— [Moses] said, ‘Oh Lord, why did you put me to the test with Pharaoh?’[76]

— [God] said: ‘I have chosen you for my service[77] in order to address the Israelites through your tongue, so that I may make them hear my speech, teach them the law of the Torah and the custom of religion, and point out the afterlife to them, whoever they may be, whether those who follow you from among them [i.e the Israelites] or others.’

—‘Oh Moses, convey to the Israelites that, when I created the heavens and the earth, I made inhabitants and residents for them; the inhabitants of my heavens are my angels and my pure servants, who do not disobey me and do what they are commanded.’[78]

—‘Oh Moses, say to the Israelites, and convey to them from me, that I will raise him who accepts my commandment (wasiyya), fulfils my covenant and does not disobey me, to the rank of my angels; I will let him into my paradise and I will reward him for his best deeds.’

—‘Oh Moses, say to the Israelites, and convey to them from me, that when I created all the jinn, the humans and the animals, I inspired them with the necessary requirements of this life, and I taught them how to manage in it in order for them to search for the benefits of life and to avoid the harm there is in it; all that [is possible] with the hearing, sight, heart, discernment, and all the senses that I made for them; similarly, I inspired my prophets and messengers and the cream of my servants and taught them about the origin, the return and the second creation,[79] and showed them the path and how to arrive to there.’

—‘Oh Moses, say to the Israelites who accept my commandment from my prophets and act according to it,  and promise them from me, that I will provide them with all the needs they require for both this world and the next. He who abides by my covenant, I will abide by his covenant, whoever he may be from the Children of Adam. I will join them to my prophets and my angels in the hereafter, the abode of eternity.’[80]

— Moses said: ‘Oh Lord, had you created us in Paradise and had you spared us the afflictions, calamities and hardship of this world, would that not have been better for us?’

— [God] said: ‘Oh Moses, I did with your father Adam as you said, but he did not know my true reality or the power of my grace. He did not keep my commandment, and did not abide by my covenant. On the contrary, he disobeyed me, so I expelled him from Paradise.  When he repented and turned [to me], I promised I would take him back there, but I set upon myself that no one from his progeny would enter Paradise except he who has accepted my commandment and abided by my covenant. My covenant does not apply to the wrong-doers, and the arrogant will not enter my paradise, because I made it for those who wish to strive after neither high status on the earth nor corruption. The end is for the pious.’[81]

—‘Oh Moses, summon my servants and remind them of my pledge, for they will only mention every good from me sooner or later, in this life and the next.’

—‘Oh Moses, woe to he whom my paradise escapes; neither affliction nor remorse will be of any use to him!’

—‘Oh Moses, I created Paradise the same day I created the heavens, and I embellished it with diverse beauties, and made the bliss and joy of its inhabitants’ rest and repose;[82] if the inhabitants of this world were to take a peek at it from afar, they would not be happy with the life of this world after that.’

—‘Oh Moses, it is reserved for my friends (awliya`) and the just from among my servants, whose greeting on the day they meet Him will be “Peace!”[83] For them there will be beatitude and a beautiful place of return.’[84]

—Moses said: ‘Oh Lord, you have made me desire [Paradise], so show me oh Lord that I may gaze upon it.’[85]

—[God] said: ‘Oh Moses, the life in this world would not befit you after looking at [Paradise], because you are one of the children of this world, until an appointed time [86]; but when the spirit separates from the body you will see it, arrive to it and enter it and you will be in it as long as the heavens and the earth [exist]; so do not hasten, oh Moses, do as I commanded you and convey the glad tidings I gave you to the Children of Israel, summon them to it [i.e. Paradise], kindle their desire for it, and urge them to renounce this world.’[87]

This dialogue is an interesting example that shows how the Epistles use Qur’anic vocabulary in the phrasing of non-Qur’anic materials. The dialogue works as a framework, where verses and phrases are expanded and explained through exegetical devices. For instance, while in Q. 7:144, God selects Moses, but it is not said why; God’s question in the dialogue, “do you know why I selected you…?” allows for an explanation of the Qur’anic verse.

A most interesting point in this dialogue is the re-working of Q. 7:143. The Qur’an (as the Bible) describes how Moses asks to see God himself. We have already seen above the ‘circumstantial’ interpretation of this verse, when we discussed the encounter of Moses with the Devil. Here, however, the dialogue takes an interesting twist with regards to the scripture. The Epistles shift from Moses’ yearning to see God (“that I may gaze upon you”- li-anzur ilayha), to his desire to see afterlife (“so that I may gaze upon it”- li-anzur ilayha). Consequently, the dialogue makes God respond that paradise is only accessible to the soul after its separation from the body. Thanks to this interpretative shift, the Epistles put across their own message, which is that Paradise and the delights of the afterlife are spiritual realities.


The Qur’anisation of Scriptures


Disregard for chains of transmission and reluctance to name authors or sources are commonplace in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren. The use of Munajat fragments in the Epistles is also illustrative of how willing their author, or authors, were to accept sources that could express their ideas, regardless of their authenticity or historicity. The Epistles resemble the genre of the stories of the prophets (qisas al-anbiya`) in that their main objective is to give moral instruction. The inclusion of a fragment of the Munajat in the Rasa’il also indicates that this genre survived in mystically-inclined circles, to which the author(s) of the Epistles must have felt very close. We have presented a study of some Munajat fragments and have attempted to contrast them to the other accounts of Moses’ conversations. However, at the present stage we cannot say whether the fragments found in the Epistles are taken from a particular work or whether they are the Epistle’s own creation, or re-creation.

The Munajat belong to a genre of literature that is located between legend and scripture. As such, this mystical colloquy provided the Epistles, and other authors, with a well known framework (the encounter at Mount Sinai) of dramatic and dialogued potentialities for expanding and interpreting the scriptures. The Epistles incorporate the Munajat as any other source into its structure and contents, and is put to work for their own purpose in the contexts we have seen and analysed. The author/s seem to take this dialogue as a device to express ideas they can easily assimilate and transmit and show no interest in the apocryphal character of the text.

To conclude, the Munajat Musa, as used in the Epistles of the Pure Brethren, is an example of how a motif from a scripture can be interpreted, expanded, turned into an independent genre and be used to illustrate particular concepts. In other words, this paper is about the development of revealed scriptural materials and the sacralisation of texts. The Epistles take the Qur’anic wording as a starting point for the conversation and, more importantly, they expand the scriptural message, which serves as a springboard for their own recreation of the dialogue. This phenomenon might be termed the Qur’anisation of previous scriptures.

[1]              The scant but valuable information on the subject is found in Joseph Sadan, “Some literary problems concerning Judaism and Jewry in Medieval Arabic sources”, in: M. Sharon (ed.), Studies in Islamic History and Civilisation in Honour of Professor David Ayalon, Jerusalem: Cana; Leiden: E.J. Brill 1986, pp. 353-98; M. J. Kister, “Hadditu ‘an Bani Isra`il wa-la haraga. A Study of an Early Tradition,” Israel Oriental Studies 2, 1972, pp. 215-39, esp. 222; and Uri Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder. The life of Muhammad as viewed by the early Muslims: a textual analysis, Princeton: Darwin, 1995, esp. ch 1, “The Biblical Annunciation’, pp. 21-43.

[2]              See e.g. Leviticus 18 1-3: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God.” (King James’ version).

[3]              Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, translated from the German by Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-1938), vol. II (1920), pp. 303-4, 304-9 and 309-16.

[4]              Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. III, translated by Paul Radin (1911), pp. 90-4 and 114-9 respectively. See also Abraham Meyer, Légendes juives apocryphes sur la vie de Moïse: La chronique de Moïse. L'ascension de Moïse. La mort de Moise, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1925.

[5]              Mota Musé (La mort de Moïse): texte éthiopien, traduit en hébreu et en français, annoté et accompagné d'extraits arabes, ed. Jacques Faïtlovitch, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1906.

[6]              Philo of Alexandria. Moses (De Vita Mosis), in: F. H. Colson (ed. and tr.), Philo (Loeb Classical Library), Cambridge, Mass., 1935, VI.

[7]              Gregory of Nissa, La vie de Moïse, ou, Traité de la perfection en matière de vertu, ed. and tr. J. Daniélou, Paris: CERF 1968. Engish tr. Abraham J. Malherbre and Everett Ferguson, New York etc: Paulist Press 1978.

[8]              See D.B. Macdonald, “Musa”, The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, ed. H.A.R. Gibb et al., Leiden, E. J. Brill 1960- [henceforth EI2], VOL. VII, pp. 639-40.

[9]              On the possible influence of Haggadic materials on the Qur`anic account itself see Julian Obermann, “Koran and Agada. The events at Mount Sinai,” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 58/i, 1941, pp. 23-48.

[10]            See Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder, ch. 1, “The Biblical Annunciation”, pp. 21-43

[11]            “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.”

[12]            Uri Rubin, Between Bible and Qur`an. The Children of Israel and the Islamic Self-Image, Princeton: Darwin 1999, esp. ch. 5, “The tables of Moses and Muhammad’s Umma”, pp. 101ff.

[13]            Qatada’s version is an explanation of the circumstances (asbab) that led to the revelation of Q. 7,144 and Q. 7, 159.

[14]            ed. ‘Uthman Isma‘il Yahya, Beyrut: al-Matba‘a al-kathulikiyya, 1965, p. 317, question no. 145

[15]            For particular references see Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder, ch. 1. For Ka‘b’s biography see, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Tadhhib al-Tahdhib, Hyderabad, 1325 [1907], vol. I, pp. 438-440, and Mark Lidzbarski, De propheticis, quae dicuntur, legendis Arabicis, Lipsiae, 1893, pp. 31-40.

[16]            Ka‘b’s role as a ‘Judeo-Muslim’ has been discussed by Rubin, Between Bible and Qur`an, esp. ch. 1 and “Exursus B”, pp. 251-8.

[17]            See, e.g., Moshe Perlmann, “A Legendary Story of Ka‘b al-Ahbar’s Conversion to Islam”, in The Joshua Starr Memorial Volume, New York, 1953, pp. 85-89

[18]            On Wahb’s life and works, see Lizbarski, De propheticis, pp. 44-54. See also Raif Georges Khoury, Wahb ibn Munabbih, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz, 1972. See also Khoury, Les légendes prophétiques dans l'Islam, depuis le Ier jusqu'au IIe siècle de l'Hégire. Kitab bad` al-khalq wa-qisas al-anbiya`, d'après le manuscrit d'Abu Rifa‘a ‘Umara b. Wathima b. Musa b. al-Furat al-Farisi al-Fasawi, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1978; M.J. Kister, “On the papyrus of Wahb b. Munabbih”, BSOAS 37, 1974, pp. 545 –571; Khoury, “Quelques remarques supplementaires concernant le papyrus de Wahb b. Munabbih”, BSOAS 40/i, 1977: pp. 15-24; Kister, “On the papyrus of Wahb b. Munabbih: An Addendum”, BSOAS 40/i , 1977, pp. 125-127 and Cl. Huart , “Wahb b. Monabbih et la tradition judéo-chrétienne au Yémen”, Journal Asiatique 10/iv, 1904, pp. 331-350. For an attempt of reconstruction of Wahb’s Kitab Isra`iliyyat, see Victor Chauvin, La récension égyptienne des Mille et une nuits, Brussels, 1899.

[19]            See Kisa`i, Qisas al-Anbiya`, p. 221 (Eng. tr. 237); Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur`an, ed. Salim Mustafa al-Badri, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1420 [2000], vol. IV, p. 6 (upon Q. 3,3) and vol. XVIII, p. 55 (upon Q. 61,5).

[20]            See M. Schmitz, “Ka‘b al-Ahbar”, EI2, vol. IV, pp. 316-7 and J. Horowitz, “Wahb b. Munabbih”, in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. M. Th. Houtsma et al., Leiden & London: E. J. Brill & Luzac & co., 1913-1938, vol. IV, pp. 1084-5.

[21]            Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, Tehran: Maktabat al-Saduq, 1376 [1956], pp. 490-496; found also in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, ed. Jawad al-‘Alawi and Muhammad al-Akhundi , Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, 1376-1405 [1957-1985], XIII, pp. 332-338 (tradition no. 13).

[22]            Most of volume XIII is devoted to the story of Moses and Aaron (chapters 1-12, pages 1-376); section 11 (pp. 323-362), which includes 80 hadiths is devoted to the dialogue conversation between Moses and God.

[23]            For Shi‘i traditions on Moses attributed to the prophet see e.g. Majlisi, Bihar, vol. XIII, p. 344 (no.25; no. 27), p. 345 (nos. 29, 30) and p. 347 (no. 33), among others.

[24]            See A.J. Arberry, “The Divine Colloquy in Islam”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 39/ix, 1956, pp.18-44. See also C. E. Bosworth, “Munadjat”, EI2, vol. VII, p. 557, according to whom, munajat can refer to an ex-tempore prayer and also to the sufi communion with God.

[25]            See Carl Brockelman, Geschichte der Arabisher Litteratur, 2nd ed., Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1943, vol. I, p. 438.

[26]            Munajat va nasa`ih-i Khvaja ‘Abd Allah Ansari, [n.e.], Berlin: Chapkhanah-i Kaviyani, 1924; translated by W. M. Thackston, The Book of Wisdom. Ibn ‘Ata`illah. Intimate conversations. Khwaja ‘Abdullah Ansari, London: SPCK, 1979.

[27]         Rumi, The Mathnawí, ed. and tr., R.A. Nicholson, London: 1925-1940, vol. II, pp. 340-6 (English translation vol. II, pp. 310-315). See the episodes on Moses and shepherd, pp.346-9; tr. pp. 315-7) and Moses talks to God (vol. II, pp. 365-6; tr. Vol. II, pp. 332-3).

[28]            For the mystical reading of Moses by Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150 AH/768 CE) and Ja‘far al-Sadiq (d. 148 AH/765 CE) see Paul Nwiya, Exégèse coranique et language mystique: nouvel essai sur le lexique technique des mystiques musulmanes, Beirut, Dar al-Mashriq; Imprimérie Catholique, 1970, pp. 90-99 and 178-183, respectively. On hallaj (d. 309 AH/922 CE) and other mystics see Louis Gardet, “L’experience intérieure du prophète Moïse”, in Henri Cazelles et al. (eds.), Moise, l’home de l’alliance, Tournai, New York: Desclée, 1955, pp. 393-402; reprinted in Georges-C. Anawati et Louis Gardet (eds.), Mystique musulmane: aspects et tendances, expériences et techniques, Paris : J. Vrin, 1961, pp. 261-71.

[29]            On such manuscripts see Sadan, “Some literary problems”, pp. 373-374 (n. 56) and pp. 395-396.

[30]            I have consulted the one edited and translated into English by H. Halt, “The Colloquy of Moses on Mount Sinai,” Hebraica, April 1891, pp. 161-77.

[31]            1) Ms. Cambridge, Dd. 11.9 2 (fols. 81a-87b). The ms. has no beginning and is not dated. It is bound together with two works in Turkish, Ahwal qiyamat and a fragment of Qisas al-anbiya`. See Edward G. Browne, A hand-list of the Muhammadan manuscripts: including all those written in the Arabic character, preserved in the library of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge: University Press, 1900, p. 331 (no. 1476).

[32]            British Library Ms. Or. 4376 (fols. 1b-11a). Like the Cambridge ms., it is undated, but it starts with a short isnad stating that “it was transmitted from Ja‘far b. Muhammad, from Wahb b. Munabbih, from Ka‘b al-Ahbar,” which is indicative that it has been constructed with the names of most authoritative characters connected to the Munajat tradition.

[33]            See British Library ms. OR 4376: fols 1b-2a; 5b-6a, and 10b.

[34]            See Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. II (1920), pp. 309-16.

[35]            ‘Epistle on Causes and Effects’ (III,9), Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa‘ wa Khullan al-Wafa’, ed. Butrus al- Bustani, Beirut: Dar Sadir: Dar Bayrut, 1957, repr., 1983, vol. III, p. 355. German tr. Friedrich Heinrich Dieterici, Die Lehre von der Weltseele bei den Arabern im X. Jahrhundert, Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1872, repr. Wiesbaden, Otto Harrasowiz 1999, p. 147, and Susanne Diwald, Arabische Philosophie und Wissenschaft in der Enzyklopädie. Kitab Ikhwan as-Safa‘ (III) Die Lehre von Seele und Intellekt, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1975, p. 449.

[36]            See Diwald, Arabische Philosophie, p. 449 for manuscript variants which indicate that by “hukama” is meant “philosophers.”

[37]            Lit. “after you had not created it” (ba‘da an lam takun khalaqtahu).

[38]            ‘Epistle on Causes and Effects’ (III,9), Rasa’il, vol. III, p. 356. German tr. F.H. Dieterici, Die Lehre, p. 148, and Diwald, Arabische Philosophie: 450

[39]            ‘Epistle on the Traits of Character’ (I,9), Rasa’il, vol. I, pp. 370-373. Partial German translation in Dietetici, Die Logik und Psychologie der Araber im zehnten Jarhhundert Chr., Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1868, repr. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1969, p. 161.

[40]            Amnon Shiloah notes that a large part of the first aphorism is found in Mas‘udi’s Muruj al-dhahab, but he gives no reference. See his article “L’Épitre sur la musique des Ikhwan al-Safa’(traduction anotée- Risala 5) (II)”, Revue des Études Islamiques 34, 1966, p.  193.

[41]            ‘Epistle on Music’ (I,5), Rasa`il, vol. I, p. 234. English tr. Amnon Shiloah, The Epistle on Music of the Ikhwan al-Safa`, Baghdad, 10th century, Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University, 1978, pp. 65-6; French tr. Shiloah, “L’Épitre sur la musique… (II)”, p. 185. German tr., F.H. Dieterici, Die Propaedeutik der Araber im zehnten Jahrhundert, Berlin: E.S Mittler & Sohn, 1865, repr. Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz, 1999, p. 146.

[42]            For a collection and commentary (in Italian translation) on six accounts on the life of Moses, see Roberto Tottoli, Vita di Mosè secondo le tradizioni islamiche, Palermo: Sellerio 1992. Tottoli has used the works of Tabari (the Tafsir and the Ta`rikh), Ibn Kathir (the Tafsir and the Qisas al-Anbiya`), Tha‘labi (Qisas al-Anbiya`) and Kisa`i (Qisas al-Anbiya`). See pp. 113-116 for references.

[43]            ‘Epistle on the Explanation of the Doctrine of the Pure Brethren’ (IV,3), Rasa`il, vol. IV, p. 27. English tr. Eric van Reijn, The Epistles of the Sincere Brethren (Rasa`il Ikhwan al-Safa`). An Annotated Translation of Epistles 43-47, London: Minerva Press, 1995, p. 26.

[44]            See, for instance Tha‘labi, Qisas al-Anbiya`, Cairo, 1306 [1889], pp. 154-56, and Kisa`i, Qisas al-Anbiya`. Vita Prophetarum, ed. Isaac Eisenberg, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1922-23, pp. 237-240. See Tottoli, Vita di Moisè, pp. 91-96.

[45]            See also Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder, ch 10: ‘Isolation. The Satanic verses’, pp. 158-67.

[46]            And he [i.e. Moses] said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. And He [i.e. God] said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And He said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

[47]            ‘Epistle on Astronomy’ (I, 3), Rasa`il, vol. I, p. 143. German tr. F.H. Dieterici, Die Propaedeutik, p. 72.

[48]            For traditions on Moses’ encounter with Iblis see: ‘Moses receives the Torah,’ in Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. III, p. 118; Gardet, “L’expérience intérieur du prophete Musa” (on Hallaj); Ibn Babawayh al-Saduq (d. 381 AH/991 CE), Amali al-Saduq, ed. Muhammad Mahdiinfo-icon Hasan al-Musawi al-Kharsan, Najaf: al-Matba‘a al-Haydariyya, 1389 [1970], p. 595 - reproduced by Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. XIII, p. 338 (no. 14); Tha‘labi (d. 427 AH/1035 CE) Qisas al-Anbiya`, p.126; Italian tr. in R. Tottoli, Vita di Mosè, p. 57; Ahmad al-Gazali (d. 520 AH/1126 CE), in Ibn al-Jawzi’s Kitab al-Qussas wa’l-Mudhakkirin, ed and tr. Merlin S Swartz, Beirut, 1971, p. 104 (tr. p. 184-6); on Moses’ bold reply to “you won’t see me” see ibid: 104 (tr. 185-6); and Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. XIII, p. 350 (no. 39).

[49]            British Library, Ms. Or. 4376 fol 4a and 5a; Cambridge Ms. Dd. 11.92, fol 86a.

[50]            See Tottoli, Vita di Mosè, p. 61 (See p.115 for references).

[51]            Kisa`i, Qisas al-Anbiya`, p. 239. English tr. by W.M. Thackston, The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisa`i, Boston: Twayne, 1978, p. 258.

[52]            ‘Epistle on Music’ (I,5), Rasa`il, vol I, p. 241. English tr. Shiloah, The Epistle on Music, pp. 72-73; French tr. Shiloah, “L’Épitre sur la musique (II)”, REI 34, 1966, p. 193; German translation, F.H. Dieterici, Die Propaedeutik, p. 153.

[53]            Deuteronomy 31:30- 32:1-47

[54]              For references see Farmer, Sa‘adia Gaon on the Influence of Music (London: Arthur Probsthain, 1943): p. 7, n. 3. Farmer also says that “The Islamic East long believed that Moses (Musa) was a musician and he was called Musa musiqari as the patron saint of flute players.”

[55]            Tha‘labi, Qisas al-Anbiya`, p. 127.

[56]            Cfr. Rumi, The Mathnawí, vol. II, pp. 346-9 (tr. pp. 315-7), where a shepherd asks God where He is in anthropomorphic terms and gets rebuked by Moses.

[57]            “Epistle on the Essence of Love” (III, 6), Rasa`il, vol. III, p. 282. German tr. F.H. Dieterici, Die Lehre, p. 80, and Diwald, Arabische Philosphie, p. 286. Spanish tr., Ricardo-Felipe Albert Reyna, “La "Risala fi mahiyyat al-‘isq" de las Rasa`il Ikhwan al-Safa`”, Anaquel de Estudios Árabes 6, 1995, pp. 202-203.

[58]            Cairo: al-Matba‘ah al-Yamaniyya, 1310 [1893], vol. I, p. 264; German tr. Richard Gramlich, Die Nahrung der Herzen: Abu Talib al-Makkis Qut al-qulub, (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1992- ) II: 271.

[59]            Cairo: Maktabat al-Khanji: Matba‘at al-Sa‘ada, 1932-1938, vol. IX, p. 311, and with variants in vol. II, p. 364 and vol. VI, p. 177.

[60]            ‘Epistle on the Essence of Faith’ (IV,5), Rasa`il, vol. IV, p. 117. English. tr., E. van Reijn, The Epistles, p. 89. It would be interesting to see other versions containing the same ending to verify the source used by the Epistles.

[61]            On the prediction of Muhammad see, apart from the already mentioned, Rubin, Between Bible and Qur’an, Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined worlds: medieval Islam and Bible criticism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, ch. 4 (pp. 75-110), and Camilla Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible, Leiden: Brill, 1996, ch. 5, esp. pp. 139-162, and the literature mentioned there.

[62]            “And Moses [also] alluded to them when he said in his Munajat, ‘Oh Lord, I find in the Torah the description of men who, by the strength of their discernment, knowledge and righteousness are almost prophets. Who are they, oh Lord? Make them of my people (umma)! And God made a revelation (awha) saying: “that is the people of Ahmad.’”, ‘Epistle on the Traits of Character’ (I, 9), Rasa`il, vol. I, p. 377. German tr. F.H. Dieterici, Die Logik: 165.

[63]            ‘Epistle on the Essence of Faith’ (IV, 5), Rasa`il, vol. IV, pp. 116-117. English. tr., E. van Reijn, The Epistles, pp. 88-89.

[64]            It would be interesting to trace the origin of these quotes.

[65]            Rasa`il, vol. I, pp. 383-385. German tr. F.H. Dieterici, Die Logik, pp. 170-172.

[66]            Ayyadaka’llah wa iyyana bi-ruhin minhu, an echo of Q. 58,22 (wa ayyadahum bi-ruhin minhu). This is a formula used throughout the Epistles to address their audience.

[67]            Kallama’llah Musa ibn ‘Imran wa najahu- Clear Qur’anic echoes: Q. 4,164: “God spoke (kallama) to Moses directly” and Q. 19,52: “We brought him near to converse (najiyyan).”

[68]            The number is probably symbolic. Cfr. Ibn Babawayh (d. 381 AH/991 CE), who transmits a hadith with the chain al-Dahhak - Ibn ‘Abbas - Muhammad, according to which “God addressed Moses the son of ‘Imran with 124,000 utterances during three days and three nights.” Kitab al-Khisal, ed. ‘Ali Akbar al-Ghaffari, Tehran: Maktabat al-Sadduq, 1348 [1969], p. 641-642. The hadith is reproduced in the collection of Shi‘i hadith material made by Majlisi (1110 AH/1699 CE), Bihar al-Anwar, ed. Jawad al-‘Alawi and Muhammad al-Akhundi, Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, 1376-1405 [1957-1985], vol. XIII, p. 344 (no. 25).

[69]            Echo of Q. 20,14, Q. 27,9 and Q. 28,30. Cfr. Leviticus 18:1-3: “And the Lord Spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God.”

[70]            Exodus 3,4: “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.” The Qur’anic equivalent passage is Q. 20,11 ff.

[71]            Q. 7,144; 27,9; 27,10; 28,30 and 28,31.

[72]            Q. Surainfo-icon 20, verses 17, 19, 36, 40 and 83.

[73]            Istafaytuka li-risalati, an echo of Q. 7,144 (Inni’stfaytuka ‘ala’l-nas bi-risalati wa kalami)

[74]            Cfr. Majlisi, who transmits a tradition in God’s answer is that Moses was the most humble (ashadd tawadi‘an), Bihar al-Anwar, vol. XIII, p. 357 (no. 61).

[75]            Literally, “after I was not anything” (ba‘da an lam akun shay`an).

[76]            A similar sense is found in Exodus 3:11:  And Moses said unto God, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

[77]            Istana’tuka li-nafsi, an echo of Q. 20:41

[78]            Wa yaf‘aluna ma yu`marun, an echo of Q. 16:50 and Q. 66:6 (where it is said of the angels).

[79]            Al-nash`a al-akhira, an echo of Q. 29:20

[80]            Al-akhira dar al-qirar, an echo of Q. 40:39

[81]            Al-aqaba li’l-muttaqin. In Q. 7:128 it is Moses who says that to his people.

[82]            Na‘im ahliha wa sururuha rawh wa rayhan, echo of Q. 56:89 (fa-rawh wa rayhan wa jannat al-na‘im).

[83]            Tahiyyatuhum yawm yalqawnahu salaminfo-icon - Q. 33:44.

[84]            Tuba lahum wa husn ma`ab, an echo of Q. 13:29.

[85]            Fa-arani ya Rabb li-anzura ilayha, an echo of Q. 7:143 (rabbi arani anzur ilayka).

[86]            Ila waqt ma‘lum, an echo of Q. 15:38 and Q. 38:81 (ila yawm al-waqt al-ma‘lum).

[87]            While here Moses is not allowed to see Paradise, in the Jewish Legend known as ‘The Ascension of Moses’ , he is taken to the seven heavens by Metatron, ‘the angel of the Face’; see Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. II (1920), p. 305. 


This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Al-Kitab: La Sacralité du Texte Dans Le Monde de l‘Islam. Actes du Symposium International Tenu à Leuven et Louvain-la-Neuve du 29 Mai au 1 Juin 2002, ed. Daniel De Smet, Godefroyde Callataÿ, and JanVan Reeth,...