The Period of Disasters and the Folly of Pharaoh
One after another, Allah tried Pharaoh and his subjects with various disasters, a people obstinate in denial. First, there began a period of extreme drought in Egypt. Water was terribly crucial for the Egyptians, the drought directly threatening their very livelihood. As a result, agricultural products diminished in availability and famine ensued:
We seized Pharaoh's people with years of drought and scarcity of fruits so that hopefully they would pay heed. (Surat al-A'raf: 130)
One of the calamities inflicted by Allah on Pharaoh and his people was a "famine." Above is an ancient Egyptian fresco depicting Egyptians suffering from hunger.
As the above verse informs us, the famine lasted for several years. After his confrontation with the people of Pharaoh, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) stayed many years in Egypt to communicate the message of Allah. Within that time, Allah asked the Prophet Moses (pbuh) to build houses for his people so as to fulfil their prayers in safety. In this way too, the believers aided in staying together:
We revealed to Moses and his brother: "Settle your people in houses in Egypt and make your houses places of worship and establish prayer and give good news to the believers." (Surah Yunus: 87)
In these houses, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and his adherents performed their prayers and remembered Allah. The people of Egypt, on the other hand, continued to encourage one another in ignorance:
Whenever a good thing came to them, they said, "This is our due." But if anything bad happened to them, they would blame their ill fortune on Moses and those with him. No indeed! Their ill fortune will be with Allah. But most of them did not know. (Surat al-A'raf: 131)
Disasters were occurring everywhere in the land. In spite of them however, Pharaoh and his inner circle did not abandon their perverse polytheistic practices; they were zealously devoted to the "religion of their ancestors." Not even the two miracles Allah granted to the Prophet Moses(pbuh), that is, his hand appearing white and his staff turning into snake, helped them abandon their superstitious beliefs. Utterly unwise, they stated that they would not believe in him, even if they were to see other miracles:
The disasters that befell Pharaoh's people are also referred in ancient Egyptian sources.
On the left is an excerpt from the famous Ipuwer Papyrus (Chapter 2, pages 5-6): "Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere…"
They said, "No matter what kind of Sign you bring us to bewitch us, we will not have faith in you." (Surat al-A'raf: 132)
Because of their reprehensible conduct, as Allah relates in the verse, Allah inflicted upon them a number of calamities as "signs, clear and distinct" (Surat al-A'raf: 133), in order for them to taste torment in this world too. The first one of these was the drought mentioned earlier, which caused a detrimental decline in the production of agricultural goods.
The Egyptians' agricultural system was based on the Nile river, and thus was not effected by changes in natural conditions. Even in the hottest seasons when no rain fell on the Egyptian soil, the Nile river carried an abundance of water from inland Africa. However, because Pharaoh and his inner circle remained arrogant and proud towards Allah, a disaster that had been hereto unexpected befell them; a drought. This drought clearly refuted the words of Pharaoh related in the Qur'an, when he said "'My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see?" (Surat az-Zukhruf: 51)
Nonetheless, instead of "taking heed," with great ignorance and imprudence the unbelieving people regarded these disasters as a misfortune brought upon them by the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the Children of Israel. They were convinced of such a delusion because of their unwise conviction to superstitions and the perverted religion of their ancestors. Because they did not change their deviant mentality and wicked attitude, they suffered various troubles and torments, but what was to befall them was not limited to these initial disasters. Allah inflicted upon them a series of calamities. They are described in the Qur'an as follows:
So We sent down on them floods, locusts, lice, frogs and blood, Signs, clear and distinct, but they proved arrogant and were an evildoing people. (Surat al-A'raf: 133)
Despite all such disasters, they continued in their denial. Even when they had grasped that these disasters were a result of their denial, they persisted in their denial. In compliance with a deviant mentality, Pharaoh and his companions sought to deceive the Prophet Moses (pbuh), and in consequence, Allah (Allah is beyond that). When these terrible disasters came upon them, one after another, they called the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and implored him to save them from them:
Whenever the plague came down on them they said, "Moses, pray to your Lord for us by the contract He has with you. If you remove the plague from us, we will definitely believe in you and send the tribe of Israel away with you." But when We removed the plague from them—for a fixed term which they fulfilled—they broke their word. (Surat al-A'raf: 134-135)
We should note that the behavior of the disbelievers were very similar to that of satan. Satan displayed the imprudence of refusing to obey Allah despite acknowledging His existence and thus displayed a reprehensible attitude. In like manner, the people of Pharaoh rejected submitting to Allah and His messenger, despite their acknowledgement of the fact that these disasters came from Allah. Ultimately, they acknowledged the existence of Allah, but nevertheless rejected submitting to Him due to their arrogance and blind adherence to the deviant religion of their ancestors.
For a long time, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) warned his tribe and communicated to them the religion of Allah. Furthermore, he effected a series of miracles as signs from Allah. Allah sent down many disasters to these people, so that they might turn to Him: however, none of the idolaters abandoned their polytheistic religion or turned to our real Lord, Who created them. In the Qur'an, Allah informs us that despite all of the Prophet Moses' (pbuh) efforts, Pharaoh resisted him:
In Moses, too, there was a sign. We sent him to Pharaoh with clear authority. But he turned away with his forces... (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 38-39)
Rebuffed by this firm refusal, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) prayed to our Lord to inflict torment upon this rebellious nation:
Moses said, "Our Lord, You have given Pharaoh and his ruling circle finery and wealth in the life of the world, Our Lord, so that they may be misguided from Your Way. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they do not have faith until they see the painful punishment."
He (Allah) said, "Your request is answered, so go straight and do not follow the way of those who have no knowledge." (Surah Yunus: 88-89)
Allah answered the prayer of the Prophet Moses (pbuh). Pharaoh and his people, who did not accept the path of righteousness despite all warnings, met a "painful punishment." Their end was representative of their attitude, having been buried with all their possessions.