The Event of Wor­ship to the Gold­en Calf

In their ten­den­tious list of Qur’an Con­tra­dic­tions”, the padres at Answer­ing Islam” had point­ed out some con­tra­dic­tions in the Qur’an­ic nar­ra­tive of the wor­ship of a Gold­en Calf by the Israelites, which they find very con­fus­ing”. An attempt will there­fore be made in the fol­low­ing to address these two con­tra­dic­tions” and help the padres over­come their con­fu­sions”.

Part (I): Before or After Moses Returned ?

Accord­ing to the missionaries :

    …in 7:149, the peo­ple repent­ed about wor­ship­ping the gold­en calf BEFORE Moses returned, but accord­ing to 20:91 they refused to repent but rather con­tin­ued to wor­ship the calf it until Moses came back. (Empha­sis already in the quote)

Here is an accu­rate ren­der­ing of the Qur’an­ic vers­es allud­ed to in the above quote :

But when they fell on their hands, and they saw that they had gone astray, they said : Assured­ly, if our Lord does not show mer­cy to us and for­give us, we shall be of the losers.” (7:149)

When Moses returned to his peo­ple angry and griev­ed, he said : I’ll have ye act­ed as my suc­ces­sors after I left you…” (7:150)

They said : We shall not cease to cleave to it until Moses return to us.” (20:91)

Even a brief look at them is suf­fi­cient for a dili­gent ren­der for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fal­la­cy in the rea­son­ing of the author of the above-cit­ed quote : his mis­ap­pre­hen­sion of the fac­tor, the occur­rence of which caused the Israelites to repent.

That fac­tor, after whose occur­rence Moses’(P) peo­ple repent­ed, is spec­i­fied in the verse 7:149 as their real­iza­tion of their hav­ing gone astray :

But when they fell on their hands, and they saw that they had gone astray, they said:…”

Does this verse, or the verse 7:150, or any oth­er verse in this con­text, say that the Israelites real­ized they had gone astray at a point in time before Moses’(P) return ? Or, in oth­er words, does the verse 7:149 or 7:150 tell us that the Israelites real­ized their error before Moses’(P) return ?

No. What the verse 7:149 describes as the fac­tor, which caused the Israelites to repent, was their real­iza­tion of their error (i.e., when they stumbled/​repent­ed”).

No infor­ma­tion is giv­en in these vers­es as to whether they stumbled/​repent­ed BEFORE or AFTER Moses’(P) return. Just because the verse 7:150 begins with the words :

When Moses returned to his peo­ple, angry and grieved…”

does not imply that the stumbling/​repenting of the Israelites was sequen­tial­ly ear­li­er than Moses’(P) return to them. In short, the only fac­tor, which the verse 7:149 actu­al­ly men­tions as hav­ing caused the Israelites to repent, was their real­iza­tion of their hav­ing gone astray, which is inde­pen­dent of Moses’(P) return.

On the oth­er hand, since the (above-cit­ed) oth­er Qur’an­ic verse 20:91 clear­ly makes the Israelites say that they would not aban­don the gold­en calf until Moses’(P) return, there­fore, this addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion leads us to con­clude that the real­iza­tion by the Israelites of their hav­ing gone astray, when Moses(P) told them that they had griev­ous­ly sinned, is what caused them to repent, and which occurred only after Moses’(P) return.

There­fore, the vers­es 7:149 – 50 and 20:91 are com­ple­men­tary, and not contradictory.

Part (II): Did He or Didn’t He ? Aaron and the Mak­ing of the Gold­en Calf

Accord­ing to the missionaries :

    In Sura 20:85, Allah told Moses We have test­ed thy peo­ple in thy absence ; the Samiri has led them astray”. Allah did not place any blame on Aaron. Aaron admit­ted that he did no wrong : O my peo­ple ! Ye are being test­ed in this … so fol­low me and obey my com­mand” (20:90).

    Since Moses knew this (because Allah told him already), why did he place the blame on Aaron ? O Aaron ! What kept thee back, when thou sawest them going wrong, from fol­low­ing me ? Didst thou then dis­obey my order?” (20:92). And why did he drag him by the hair (7:150)? These two accounts contradict.

    Accord­ing to (7:151), Aaron was part­ly respon­si­ble for the sins of his peo­ple because Moses prayed for Aaron’s for­give­ness. And this time (con­trary to his oth­er con­fes­sion), Aaron admits to idol making/​idol wor­ship­ping in verse 150 because of the peo­ple who near­ly killed him when he tried to resist it. But seem­ing­ly he gave in and did as they said.

Allah told Moses(P) that his peo­ple were being test­ed in his absence. That test was in the form of Samir­i’s fraud. By def­i­n­i­tion, those sub­mit­ted to a test can either pass or fail it depend­ing upon their train­ing and capa­bil­i­ty. So, the rea­son why Moses(P) upon return rep­ri­mand­ed Aaron(P) was not that he was hold­ing the lat­ter respon­si­ble for lead­ing his peo­ple astray. On the con­trary, the rea­son why Moses(P) rebuked Aaron(P) was that he had been made the man in-charge in his absence by Moses(P) (see 7:142) and was there­fore expect­ed by Moses(P) to have res­cued his peo­ple by dint of his lead­er­ship, which he had been unable to do.

In con­trast to Exo­dus 32, at no place in the Qur’an was Aaron(P) blamed for the sin of the Israelites. In 7:151, Moses(P) prays for for­give­ness, not just for Aaron(P), but for him­self as well — not because they were respon­si­ble for mak­ing the Israelites sin, but because they were unable to stop them from sinning.

We have thus used the tra­di­tion­al method of Qur’an­ic exe­ge­sis, i.e., al-Qur’an yufas­siru ba’­duhu ba’­dan (dif­fer­ent parts of the Qur’an explain each oth­er). What is giv­en in a gen­er­al way in one place is dis­cussed in detail in some oth­er place in the Qur’an. What is dealt with briefly at one place is expand­ed in some oth­er place.

Fur­ther Obser­va­tion : The OT and NT Con­tra­dicts on Aaron’s Guilt ?

It is fur­ther inter­est­ing to note that the New Tes­ta­ment con­tra­dicts the Old Tes­ta­ment on the mat­ter of blam­ing Aaron(P). Exo­dus 32 square­ly puts the respon­si­bil­i­ty of mak­ing the calf on Aaron :

He [Aaron] took this from their hand, and fash­ioned it with a grav­ing tool and made it into a molten calf.” (Exo­dus 32:4)

Com­pare this with Stephen’s speech in the Acts of the Apos­tles, which clear­ly shifts the blame on the Israelite peo­ple them­selves by employ­ing the plur­al number :

At that time they made a calf and brought a sac­ri­fice to the idol, and were rejoic­ing in the works of their hands.” (Acts 7:41)

And only God knows best ! The Event of Worship to the Golden Calf 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Asif Iqbal, The Event of Wor­ship to the Gold­en Calf,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 14, 2005, last accessed April 14, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​q​u​r​a​n​/​t​h​e​-​e​v​e​n​t​-​o​f​-​w​o​r​s​h​i​p​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​g​o​l​d​e​n​-​c​a​lf/

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *