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The Curious Story of Moses and the Angel: Did the Messenger Musa عليه السلام Really Punch an Angel?

Dr Shadee Elmasry

Published

It is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that when the angel of death came to Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) he punched him and popped his eye out. The angel then complained to Allah, “You sent me to a servant who does not want to die.” The hadith continues, but for our purposes, we can stop here. Doubters say: “Could a prophet really punch an angel? This can’t be a hadith. Therefore, Sahih al-Bukhari itself should be doubted if it narrates such hadiths.”

The answer: Actually, the person who finds this surprising, has clearly not pondered the life and characteristics of the Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

Tell me: what do you say about someone who throws a holy book? Did not Musa “throw the tablets in which there was guidance and light”? The questioner should be more concerned with this than with the angel.

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Tell me: what do you say about someone who grabs the beard of a respected scholar? Well, didn’t Musa “grabbed the beard of his brother (a prophet) and dragged him to himself” to the point that Harun had to plead with him, “Do not embarrass me in front of the enemy.” Didn’t all this happen in Surat al-Araf? Isn’t this all more critical than punching an angel?

And way before this, did not Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surat al-Qasas see a man arguing with a fellow Hebrew then “punched him and killed him”? Do prophets punch people? Does a prophet punch someone before hearing both sides of the story (later Musa would come to realize that in fact his compatriot the Hebrew was the argumentative one, not the Egyptian). Even before receiving their revelation, prophets are exemplars of upright character. So the doubter who wishes to shed doubt on Sahih al-Bukhari should actually be questioning the Quran first.

The reality is that Musa was so passionate for the truth that sometimes, actually quite a number of times, the unfiltered expressions that came out of him were technically incorrect actions by outward. But Allah looks at motives and intentions as well. Did Musa purposely do sinful actions? Did he do them because of base desires? Or rather, did they overflowed from a heart filled with passion for Haqq. And for this reason, Allah did not blame him for any of these actions because his heart was so pure. Allah knew Musa was angry for the right reasons. Some people are angry for the right reasons, and others are calmly polite for the wrong reasons. Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) threw the tablets and grabbed the beard of his brother out of anger when seeing his people worshipping the golden calf. Musa killed the man when he had had enough of the Egyptian humiliation of the Hebrews.

And there’s more…

What do you say of someone who answers back to Allah and becomes angered with His actions? Surat al-Araf continues to speak about Musa’s “ghadab” or anger: After the incident with the golden calf, “He (Musa) chose seventy of his men for Our meeting” (to make taubah and draw near to Allah). They climbed the mountain with him and watched him pray. They saw a cloud come upon him and saw lights flickering within it. But they weren’t satisfied. They said show us Allah Himself. “Then a loud quake overtook them (and killed them). He (Musa) said, ‘Lord! If You wanted You could have just killed me and them before this!” Is this how someone talks to the Lord of the worlds? He talked like this to Allah because of how much he had wanted these men to come near to Allah and know Him with certainty. He wanted to see good results in the da’wa. And also because he would be held responsible for the lives of these men; they died under his watch. What would he tell the people when he went back? They might all make kufr after this catastrophic result. (Allah resurrected them and they returned safely to their families, having made taubah.)

And yet Allah overlooked this because his motive was sound. In fact, it is said that when Allah gazed upon the earth for someone who would overthrow Pharaoh, He found no heart more humble and pure than the heart of Moses.

Look closely, and you will find that every time Musa’s “anger subsided” he brings forth the most beautiful of prayers. After killing them Egyptian: “’My Lord, indeed I’ve wronged myself, so forgive me,’ and He forgave him. Indeed, He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. ‘My Lord, for the favor You bestowed upon me, I will never be an assistant to wrong doers’” (28:15-16 al-Qasas). After throwing the tablets and scolding his brother the Prophet Harun 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him): “My Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us into Your mercy, for You are the most merciful of the merciful.” (7:151 al-Araf).

And yet there’s still more…

Did not Allah inform Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) about a man whom, “We granted ‘Laddunni’ knowledge”—knowledge directly from Allah in Surat al-Kahf. And what happened? Every single time Khidr took an action, Musa rejected it and questioned it. Was it because he felt he knew better? Did he have doubts? Did he disrespect his teacher? No. It was his zeal for the Sacred Law. If it was bad manners, Khidr would not have given him all the answers after parting with him.

 

Now we get to the angel. Finally, after forty years wandering in the desert, and a total of eighty years presiding over the Bani Israel with the sole mission of delivering them from bondage to the Promised Land, Musa passed over a hill and finally laid eyes on the holy territory that would be the first home to God’s true religion. And then at that very moment the angel came to take his life. Now, after all that you have seen from the fiery zeal of this great messenger, how do you expect him to react?? He punched that angel so hard, his eye popped out. And he continues marching to his destination with determination. Did he punch him out of love of dunya? Or out of hatred of death? Never. It was a reaction that emanated from his devotion to finish the mission Allah gave him. To finally deliver the Believers from bondage and wandering to freedom and the establishment of the deen of Allah on the earth.

* * *

You might be wondering about the rest of the story. Allah put the eye back into the socket of the angel and said, “Tell My servant to rub the back of a calf. For every hair he touches I will give him a year more of life.” The angel gave Musa the good news. Musa replied, “Then what?” “Death” said the angel. Musa said, “In that case, just take me now.” And this is how Prophet Musa alayhi salam died one day’s journey away from the Promised Land. He never saw it. It wasn’t destined to be. But his loyal assistant—that same boy who traveled with him to meet Khidr—took the mantle after him and led the believers into the Holy Land, and there they resided in a land where Allah’s Word ruled.

 

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Dr Shadee Elmasry was born and raised in New Jersey and studied in the Muslim world in Fez, Hadramawt, Cairo, Makka, and Madina. He completed a Masters from The George Washington University in comparative religion, then a PhD from the University of London, SOAS on “Da’wa in the Works of Imam al-Haddad.”

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    zainab

    August 12, 2016 at 6:44 PM

    An excellent write up!

  2. Avatar

    Badr

    August 13, 2016 at 4:07 AM

    SubhanAllah, so many lessons can be drawn from Prophet Musa peace be upon him. Allah knows best why he mentions him extensively in the Quran.

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    Anwar khan

    August 13, 2016 at 6:56 PM

    The so called Hadith is as ludicrous as the one in which Prophet Musa is supposed to have come out of the river after bathing and found his clothes gone.The stone on which he had left his clothes had moved away. As Musa ran naked to pick up his clothes the stone ran too ; during this race people were watching hiding behind some cover to confirm whether Musa had the manly attributes or not, because many believed he was not a man.

    • Avatar

      Ayesha

      August 17, 2016 at 11:07 PM

      SubhanAllah! May Allah reward Shaykh Shadi for explaining this Hadith! I heard it somewhere long time ago and was earnestly wanting to know the truth if this was true and the explanation behind it. Alhamdulillah

      May Allah send peace and blessings upon our messenger Muhammad SallalahuAlaihiwasallam and Musa AlaihiSalam.

  4. Avatar

    Anwar khan

    August 13, 2016 at 7:03 PM

    The so called Hadith is as ludicrous as the one in which Prophet Musa is supposed to have come out of the river after bathing and found his clothes gone.The stone on which he had left his clothes had moved away. As Musa ran naked to pick up his clothes the stone ran too ; during this race people were watching hiding behind some cover to confirm whether Musa had the manly attributes or not, because many believed he was not a man.
    Mullahs do their best always to defend Sahih Bokhari.Many eminent scholars have established that many fabricated shading exist in all Collections named Sahih.
    They defend every narration in all the collections because if the accept one Hadith as weak or fabricated, then all ahadith will become dubious and the structure of Mullah’ Islam will start crumbling.

    • Avatar

      ASA

      August 13, 2016 at 9:38 PM

      You ignoramus!
      Name your ‘many eminent scholars’. Also don’t conflate issues – ‘Mullaism’ and the rigorous science of Hadith.

      • Avatar

        Anwar Khan

        August 17, 2016 at 11:01 PM

        Decorum should be maintained during intellectual debates and we should repect other’s right to their point of view.We should abstain from lowering ourselves by hurling indecent titles against those with whom we disagree.
        Let me start with the “conflate” between Mullahism and Hadith. Both are linked because the orthodox obscurantist mullahs build their structure of Islam on weak and dubious ahadith. Islam is based on Shariah and Shariah has two components: the holy Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet. Hadith is not part of Shariah but mullahs have misled people to believe that Hadith is a component of Shariah.
        Regarding “science of Hadith” we should understand that Hadith is not a science. Science is based on irrefutable facts and evidence.
        Many of the eminent ulema such as Darqutni,Ibn Hazam and others have criticized the Sahiain and have acknowledged that they contain a number of weak and unconfirmed ahadith.Once Abu Huraira (r.a.) narrated a hadith in front of Abdullah bin Abbas (r.a.) that “Wudu becomes void after eating anything cooked on fire” Ibn Abbas (r.a.) replied that if this is correct then wudu would become void also after drinking water heated on fire.Quoted from Sahih Tirmidhi,”Bab al Wudu” by by Shibli Naumani and Syed Suleman Nadvi in “SEERAT AL NABI” vol.1 page 39.Ibn Abbas considered that the hadith did not stand the test of scrutiny and did not accept it. When someone narrated a hadith in front of Hazrat Ayesha(r.a.) that “when someone does Noha (wailing) over the deceased person,the deceased suffers punishment”. She refused to accept it as true because she considered it contrary to The Quran which says” Nobody will carry the burden of another person.” (Bani Isarael surah 15).She said “neither you are liars nor your sources,but ears can make mistake.”Similarly,when the following hadith was narrated in front of Hazrat Ayesha (r.a.) by Abdullah Ibn Umar in relation to the martyrs of Badr,that the Prophet (pbuh) had said” whatever I say they hear it”.,she did not accept it because it was contrary to the Quran.( Seerat Al Nabi,voli1,page 50).
        An eminent sunni scholar,Mullah Qari (lived in10th/11th century A.H.) laid down some principles against which ahadith are to be judged :
        1. Those in which trivial things are mentioned which cannot possible be uttered by the Prophet (saw)
        2.Those which are against general observation e.g. “eating egg plant is a cure for all ailments”
        3. Those which are opposed to reality e.g. “Don’t take a bath with the water which has been placed in the sun,because it causes leprosy”
        4.Those which are not in keeping with the utterances of the Prophet(saw) e.g. three things improve vision,greenry,flowing water,and watching a beautiful face.
        5.Those in which there is a prophecy about the future occurrences with a set date.
        6.Those against which there are valid arguments e.g. Auj bin Anaq was 3000 yards tall
        7. Those ahadith which mention the merits of different surahs of the Quran
        The Hadith quoted by Abu Huraira(r.a.) regarding Prophet Musa running naked after the stone to get his clothes appears in Sahih Bukhari.Similarly,the hadith regarding Prophet Musa punching the angel of death is also narrated by Abu Huraira and recorded in Sahih Sahih Bukhari.Both these ahadith are demeaning for the status of a Prophet.
        Ibn AL-Hadid writes in his commentary on Nahjul Balagha ,vol 1,page 360,”Abu Jafar Asqalani has said,” the ahidth narrated by Abu Huraira (r.a) were not acceptable to Hazrat Umar (r.a.);he had told Abu Huraira (r.a.) that he had changed hadith and had attributed false sayings to to the Prophet(saw). It is reported by Ibn Asakarin his Tarikh Kabir and Muttaqi in his Kanzul Umma that Caliph Umar (r.a.) lashed him ,rebuked him and forbade him to narrate ahadith from the Prophet(saw) Hazrat Umar (r.a) said to Abu Huraira (r.a.) because you narrate ahadith in large numbers from the Prophet(saw) so you must stop narrating ahadith from the Prophet(pbuh),otherwise I will send you to the land of Dus( a clan in Yemen ,from where Abu HUraira (r.a.) had come.

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    hashir

    August 14, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    Masha Allah. How different the prophets and older generations are from us. Today, we are eager to die to get to paradise. But here is moosa a.s. punching the Angel so that he can serve his people more. There is a great lesson in this for us.

  6. Avatar

    Abubakar

    August 15, 2016 at 9:04 AM

    Some matters are very confusing. just when you think youve understood Islam another contradicting issue comes around. I just hope Allah guides us.

    • Avatar

      Haroon

      September 1, 2016 at 5:13 AM

      I agree with you brother Abubakar. But let me start by thanking sheikh Shadee Elmasry for a rather elaborate discussion on this Hadith. In particular the Quotation and attempt to explain the character of Musa S.A.W.It is very enlightening! However i would like to caution my brothers and sisters on one thing let us try as much as possible to use the Holy Quran to lead lives that please Allah. ”This is the Book that makes all things clear” Surat AL-Naml 27:1. Every thing that is necessary for success is made clear in this Book. The sunna of the prophet S.W.W was only meant as the best example for those who lived with him to understand how best a person can follow the Quran!If we are in doubt about what a particular verse encourages us to do in a certain special situation, then only in this case should we turn to the Prophets example and the stories of other prophets peace be upon them all.
      Apart from this specific purpose, it may be spiritually better for us to abstain from having an academic discussion of a Hadith and even trying to prove it is ”authentic” or right by Quoting the Quran. This may be dangerous to our spiritual development! Like i proposed above ,use the Quran to lead a good life it is clear enough. When in doubt consult a relevant sunna, or even Hadith and those who know better.When you are sure put all your trust in Allah and you will succeed.

      Indeed while the advise i have to give may stock a lot of emotions, many narrated Sunna, Hadith and opinions of learned scholars may be wrong! Only Allah is the one who is always absolutely right. And the Quran is the only source of light today in which there is no doubt-Allah protected it Himself knowingly! Try to keep away from discussing stories about His prophets outside the Quran which Allah in His Wisdom chose to leave out of the Holy Quran!
      So finally my point is that while the verses in Quran about Musa are very enlightening and the explanation for them interesting. The objective of trying to prove if this curious story was right or wrong is not useful nor important.
      1. The story is not recorded in the holy Quran-it is not important for us 2. The story does not explain any particular verse in the Holy Quran-so it is not useful for your guidance and mine 3. There are very many critical lesssons Allah wants you and I to remember every Day especially in the Life of Prophet Musa and they are narrated in the Quran,wasting time on those stories left out of The Quran will rob you of the precious but limited time you have to contemplate on the seriuos matters Allah presents to us!
      Allah reminds us in the Holy Quran” O ye who believe! Ask not questions which if explained to you will cause you trouble! Some people before you did ask search questions and on this acount lost their faith” Surat AL-Maida 5:101-102

    • Avatar

      Haya

      June 18, 2020 at 9:46 PM

      So does ths article wish to teach that its ok n right to be angry if its for zeal of dawa or law of allah ? I dont think so.plz dont teach things that justify anger to people for gud cause. Tell me do u see this anger style in our prophet muhammad sallalahu alaihiwassallam ?
      The truth is everytime anger is expressed there are consequences n there were spiritual consequences for prophet musa. U want to learn from his example in quran or u want to cover up n idolize.?

  7. Avatar

    AYEINA

    August 15, 2016 at 9:32 AM

    Never heard the hadith so searched it on sunnah.com (which labels ahadith in a detailed manner – wAllahu a’lam) and found one here:
    http://sunnah.com/nasai/21/273

    May Allah guide us all.

  8. Avatar

    Muslim

    August 24, 2016 at 5:11 AM

    It appears that some people will do anything to defend the sanctity of their tribe/madhab/worldview and bring a Prophet of God (AS) down just not to belittle the status of their tribe/madhab.

    Prophets of God (AS) are bearers of a perfect message from a perfect source, that’s why they have to be perfect humans. Part of their that perfection is that they recognize no matter how much they worship Allah it is inadequate, so they ask Allah for forgiveness for that inadequacy, not because they were wrong or have sinned, Astagfulilah.

    The whole notion that there can be a book except the book of Allah (SWT) that is Sahih is majorly flawed, hadith books have been compiled and written by fallible humans, so they will have mistakes in them, its natural. People are quick to label those who attribute infallibility to the progeny of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but in return attribute infallibility to the compilers of hadith. Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy by Jonathan Brown and the works of late Mahmud Shaltut should be read by all Muslims in order not to exaggerate and at the same time not diminish the role of hadith and the books of hadith.

    Just because there are hadith in Sahih Bukhari or Muslim , it does not mean they are 100 percent correct, there are some hadith narrated from questionable chains of narration and some with what many would consider questionable content.

    • Avatar

      N.S.

      August 25, 2016 at 6:57 AM

      The presence of hadith being Sahih does not in any way take away from the authenticity of the Quran. This is not an appropriate comparison to make. The great scholars back in those times obviously knew more and had a deeper understanding of what’s contained in our collections of Sahih hadith. Who are we, the followers who come a thousand and more years later to refute? Muslims today have been bickering over these small things without having the backing of knowledge *and* WISDOM necessary to make such claims. It’s this constant disunity over small matters that continues to divide us and in turn prevents us from collectively helping each other. May Allah guide us all. Aameen

    • Avatar

      Haroon

      September 1, 2016 at 5:25 AM

      You make a very strong point Muslim. While talking with disbelievers, the Prophet always stressed his being a normal human being honoured with a divine message”I tell you not that with me are the treasures of Allah, nor do I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me… Will ye then consider not?’’ Al –An’am 6:50

      We must focus on this Message…rather than spend time on trying to prove whether this or that ”hadith” is right or wrong. for the answer to this question may not be useful to us, may be divisive and even misleading. May Allah bless, forgive and guide us all to His straight path!

  9. Avatar

    Tahir Hussain

    December 27, 2016 at 10:57 PM

    So when the Qur’ān says, “…At length, when death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul, and they never fail in their duty.” (6:61), but what it really means is except that one time with Musa (AS) when the Angel failed in his duty? Also, Angels can have their eye socket knocked out by a human? That too with a slap? The hadīth is ahad, should it therefore have the authority to be able to form part of aqīda? No; it lacks certainty, it’s not mutawatir. Did Allah ﷻ not say, “But to no soul will Allah grant respite when the time appointed (for it) has come…” (63:11) Did He ﷻ mean except if you punch the Angel then you will be granted respite? “To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached, not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation)”, again, did the Qur’ān forget to mention that it can be delayed if the Angel is slapped? Did Imām Abū Hanifah (RA) not say that if a narration conflicts with the Qur’ān then it is not from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and is rejected? But let me guess, the narration doesn’t conflict with the Qur’an in your opinion? Mūsa (AS) didn’t know it was an Angel even though the Angel said, “Respond to the call of God” and he instead decided to punch the Angel for saying such a thing? This narration is problematic and the only reason it’s accepted is to protect the sanctity of Sahih Bukhari but what about the sanctity of Mūsa (AS)? What about the Qur’ān opposing this narration?

  10. Avatar

    Millata

    July 13, 2018 at 5:08 AM

    I challenge the Author to prove to me that Musa as and Haroun as were also condemned to the 40 years of wilderness. Come with proof..and I will prove they were not sentenced to it.

  11. Avatar

    Omar A Mirza

    October 28, 2018 at 10:31 AM

    Thanks for the article! May I just comment briefly on this?
    “And this is how Prophet Musa alayhi salam died one day’s journey away from the Promised Land. He never saw it”
    I don’t think this can be right, since a sound hadith tells us that Sayyiduna Musa, peace be upon him, asked to die within a stone’s throw of the Sacred Land. Since, as we know from the prophetic biography, a prophet is always buried where he dies, we know he was buried a stone’s throw away from the Sacred Land (the well-known place near Jericho can’t be his grave, therefore, since it is right in the Sacred Land.)

  12. Avatar

    Omar A Mirza

    October 28, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    I also wanted to comment on this, inshaAllah:
    “And way before this, did not Musa ‘alayhi’l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surat al-Qasas see a man arguing with a fellow Hebrew then “punched him and killed him”? Do prophets punch people? Does a prophet punch someone before hearing both sides of the story”

    I don’t think it made sense for Sayyiduna Musa, peace be upon him, to hear both sides of the story, since there was a man facing physical harm and crying out to him for help, and it was already clear who was the oppressor and who was the oppressed.
    The strike was meant to stop the wrongdoer, not to kill him, though we know Sayyiduna Musa, peace be upon him, was gifted with supernatural strength: it is enough to point this out as an explanation, and to mention that the next time the same man appealed to him for help, he grabbed, rather than striking, the wrongdoer.

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    Sahil

    May 3, 2019 at 4:08 PM

    How can a fellow muslim, who seems very intellectual, berate one of our Holy Prophets, Musa (AS)?

    The tone of this is not only disrespectful, but when you say that one should question the Quran of Musa’s attitude is borderline-offensive.

    I am not saying that we shouldn’t question our religion, but it seems to me that you think Musa was a bad man from the start, even so his prophethood was only after he killed that innocent man. Be more respectful to a Prophet who is never to be tarnished in a way you wrote in this article, brother.

    I hope to Allah that you’ve realised your mistake, otherwise why would this article still be up?

  14. Avatar

    Jeffkl

    November 8, 2020 at 2:48 AM

    Sounds like an Israelite story…..its a Hadith, not the Quran, and Hadiths are fallible.

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