The Quran mentions four women who play important roles in the story of Prophet Moses (PBUH). These are his mother, his sister, his wife, and Pharaoh’s wife.
The following verses in Surat Al-Qasas (28) narrate the events that took place after Moses’ (PBUH) birth. Several verses in the Quran describe the difficult circumstances which the Children of Israel were experiencing in Egypt during that time. Pharaoh was warned by a fortune teller that one the male babies born to the Israelite will grow up to threaten the throne of the Pharaoh. Pharaoh ordered the execution of all the Israelite male babies, sparing the lives of all female babies, “Remember God’s favor on you when He delivered you from Pharaoh’s people who were afflicting you with dreadful torment, and were slaying your sons and sparing your women; that was a tremendous trial from your Lord.” (14: 6) The following verse from Surat Al-Qasas describes the state of Moses’ mother when she delivered Moses (PBUH) and how God reassured her, “And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying, ‘Suckle him and, when you fear for his safety, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. We shall bring him back to you and shall make him (one) of Our messengers.’” (28: 7) Consistent with the style of the Quran, it mentions the Quranic response to Moses’ mother’s predicament. One can imagine the apprehension and fear of Moses’ mother during such a highly chaotic time. What would possess a mother to do something as seemingly careless as casting her baby into a river? Fear and a deep sense of protection are powerful motivators during dangerous times. Fearing Pharaoh’s soldiers, who could knock at any moment, would arrive demanding to execute the newly born baby, Moses’ mother was inspired by God to cast her baby boy into the river. Instead of feeling anxious about the plan, the inspiration brought by God provided a deep sense of comfort and security to Moses’ mother, as she was told, do not fear nor grieve, God will take care of him and will return him safe and sound. Moses’ mother entered into an agreement with God and He assured her and delivered on His promise as we will see in the next few verses when God said, not only will Moses (PBUH) be saved, he will be made a Messenger of God. This was certainly a difficult test for Moses’ mother, but her ability to follow through reflects her deep sense of trust in God.
Through the stories in the Quran, we are able to follow the basket that served as Moses’ cradle as it is carried by the Nile into Pharaoh’s palace where he was picked up by the guards, “And the family of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a source of grief, indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts were deliberate sinners.” (28: 8) Pharaoh’s soldiers were looking everywhere for the newborn male babies to slay them, and here is one that floats right into the palace. The verse indicates clearly the intention of bringing the harmless, helpless Moses (PBUH) into the hands of Pharaoh. He will become for them, “an enemy and a source of grief.” God made Pharaoh’s wife feel a sense of tenderness toward the baby and she pleaded with her husband, “The wife of Pharaoh said, ‘(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for you. Do not slay him. It may be that he will be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ And they perceived not (what they were doing).” (28: 9) Moses (PBUH) was therefore protected from Pharaoh’s persecution, and it’s interesting to note that his change of heart came not by force but by love.
The verses then return to Moses’ mother. The verses share her state of worry and concern about the whereabouts and condition of Moses (PBUH). She acted according to God’s inspiration but was now filled with apprehensive and fear over what might happen to her baby, “And the heart of the mother of Moses became void, and she would have betrayed him if We had not fortified her heart, that she might be of the believers.” (28: 10) The Quran uses an extremely expressive word to describe and create powerful imagery over the mother’s feelings, “And the heart of the mother of Moses became void.” Meaning, her heart became void of all means of rationalization or power to think. She was about to give her secret away, “would have betrayed him,” but God gave her the strength to trust in His promise and to remain steadfast, “if We had not fortified her heart.”
However, she wanted to know her son’s fate so she enlisted her daughter to look into Moses’ whereabouts, “And she said to his sister, ‘Follow him.’ So she observed him from afar, and they were unaware.” (28: 11) Moses’ sister must have located him and seen him in the hands of Pharaoh’s servants while they were looking for a woman to nurse this new baby they had found. It was part of the divine will that Moses (PBUH) would refuse to suckle from any of the women that were ready to nurse him, “And We ordained that he would refuse to be suckled by any foster-mother,” His sister then came forward suggesting a solution to save the baby, “so she (his sister) said, ‘Shall I tell you about a household who will take care of him for you?’” (28: 12) This suggestion was happily embraced by the people of Pharaoh. So, he was brought back to his mother, “So We returned him to his mother that she might be comforted and not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of God is true. But most of them do not know.” (28: 13)
The baby was returned safe and sound back to his mother, protected by Pharaoh, and loved by Pharaoh’s wife.
These verses are all the Quran reveals regarding Moses’ mother and sister. Though small in number, these verses show the commitment of Moses’ mother and her strong trust in God. They also show that his sister was an agile, resourceful, and clever individual.
The following verses from the same Sura follow Moses (PBUH) as he escapes from Egypt, fleeing the vengeance of Pharaoh after he had killed an Egyptian. Moses (PBUH) long journey finds him at a watering place in Madyan. Moses (PBUH) is tired and exhausted, not just from the journey but one could assume also from the stress surrounding the need for such a quick escape. As he arrives, he sees a crowd of shepherds watering their sheep and notices two women keeping their sheep away from the watering place. His thoughtful nature compelled him to ask the ladies if they need help, “What is the matter with you?” They said, “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take back (their flocks). And our father is a very old man.” (28: 23) So he watered their sheep for them. This may seem like a simple act; however, a deeper understanding helps us to understand the nobility of Moses’ (PBUH) character. He was a fleeing man, tired and exhausted; resting under the shade of a tree after a long journey. Yet, he was concerned about the situation of the two helpless ladies. Unflustered by his own dire situation, he was not consumed with worry about himself or his safety. Even under trauma, he showed his character by focusing his worry on helping those in need, “So he watered (their flocks) for them;” (28: 24)
As it was a hot, sunny day, Moses took refuge from the heat in some shade and prayed to God, “Then he turned back to the shade, and said, ‘My Lord, truly I am in (desperate) need of any good that You send down for me.’” (28: 24) Moses (PBUH) pleaded with God saying he was in desperate need for help. The response was quick, “Then one of the two women came to him, walking modestly. She said, ‘My father invites you, that he may reward you having watered (the flock) for us.’” (28: 25) One of the two women, whom he had helped earlier, came walking shyly toward him. The verse stresses her approach to Moses (PBUH) inviting him to meet her father. Although she was shy her speech was clear. The following verse takes us to the meeting between Moses (PBUH) and the old man. The Quran does not reveal the identity of the old man, but only narrates the dialogue between him and Moses (PBUH), “Then, when he came to him and told him the (whole) story, he said, ‘Fear not, you escaped from the wrongdoers.’” (28: 25) The old man reassured Moses (PBUH) that he was safe in Madyan.
“One of the two women said, ‘My father, hire him. Indeed, the best (man) that you can hire is the strong, the trustworthy.’” (28: 26) The two women worked hard to take care of the sheep, feed them, and water them. The previous verses described the difficulty they were facing in watering the sheep and how they had to compete with strong men to be able to do it. The two ladies were reluctant to engage in such a competition with the other shepherds. One of them saw an opportunity for a solution that would benefit them and at the same time benefit this stranger. She advised her father to hire him. She described him as “strong and trustworthy,” refined traits that she had been able to pick up on after only a short interaction with Moses, which shows how perceptive this woman was. The old man accepted the idea and approached Moses (PBUH) in a straight forward way, “He said, ‘I desire to wed one of these my daughters to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years; but if you complete ten years, it will be (a grace) from you. But I intend not to place you under any difficulty. You will find me, indeed, God willing, one of the righteous.’” (28: 27) This was a simple and straight forward offer combined with a promise of fair working conditions. The old man did not promote himself but expressed his hope that Moses (PBUH) would find him to be a righteous person which reflects his modesty and good character. Moses accepted, “He said, ‘That (is settled) between you and me. Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, there will be no injustice to me, and God is a witness over what we say.’” (28: 28) The conditions for the contract were clearly stated and accepted by both men. It was narrated that Moses (PBUH) completed the longer term although it was his choice to stop after the eight years as agreed upon in the contract.
- The actions of Moses’ mother show a woman with a strong faith and deep trust in God.
- The actions of Moses’ sister show a woman with great acumen and ingenuity.
- Moses wife is depicted as a woman with great insight and deep perception of human nature.