Guilt of Aaron in the Calf-Worship?

By Ansar Al ‘Adl

The allegation is as follows:

Concerning the worshippers of the Calf, does Aaron share in their guilt? No [20:85-90], yes [20:92, 7:151].

Verses in question:

20:85-90 (Allah) said: “Verily! We have tried your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray.”
Then Moses returned to his people in a state of anger and sorrow. He said: “O my people! Did not your Lord promise you a fair promise? Did then the promise seem to you long in coming? Or did you desire that wrath should descend from your Lord on you, so you broke your promise to me (i.e disbelieving in Allah and worshipping the calf)?”
They said: “We broke not the promise to you, of our own will, but we were made to carry the weight of the ornaments of the [Pharaoh’s] people, then we cast them (into the fire), and that was what As-Samiri suggested.”
Then he took out (of the fire) for them a statue of a calf which seemed to low. They said: “This is your god, and the god of Moses, but (Moses) has forgotten (his god).'”
Did they not see that it could not return them a word (for answer), and that it had no power either to harm them or to do them good?
And Aaron indeed had said to them beforehand: “O my people! You are being tried in this, and verily, your Lord is (Allah) the Most Beneficent, so follow me and obey my order.”

20:92 He [Moses] said: O Aaron, what hindered you from stopping them when you saw them going astray?

7:150-151 And when Moses returned to his people, angry and sorrowful, he said: ‘Evil is the thing you did in my absence! Would you hasten the retribution of your Lord? He threw down the Tablets and, seizing his brother by the hair, dragged him closer. ‘Son of my mother,’ cried Aaron, ‘the people overpowered me and almost killed me. Do not let my enemies gloat over me; do not consider me among the wrongdoers’. ‘Lord,’ said Moses, ‘forgive me and my brother. Admit us to Your mercy, for, of all those that show mercy, You are the most merciful.’

  1. Quite clearly, none of the verses of the Qur’an imply anything close to Aaron’s guilt in the matter. Prophet Moses pbuh left Aaron in charge of his people when he went to recieve the revelation from Allah. Verse 20:90 indicates that Aaron struggled against the sin of his people and persisted in calling them back to the truth. As Abdul Majid Daryabadi comments on this verse:

This more than vindicates Aaron’s unflinching monotheism against the aspersions of the Bible. (Daryabadi, The Glorious Qur’an: Text, Translation & Commentary, The Islamic Foundation 2001, p.571)

So the Qur’an clearly differs from the Bible in this regard, as the Bible states that Aaron was an accomplice in the crime, while the Qur’an maintains his constant opposition to evil, throughout this trial.

2. Verses 20:92 and 7:150-151 state that Prophet Moses pbuh was upset upon his return and was angry with Aaron for not preventing his people from worshipping the calf. We know that Aaron tried to stop them and called out to them, but they persisted in their sin and threatened to kill him. At no point does the Qur’an say that he joined them in their sin. Commenting on verse 7:150, Ibn Kathir writes:

(..and seized his brother by (the hair of) his head and dragged him towards him.) for Moses feared that Aaron might not have tried hard enough to forbid them from their evil action. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 4, p.166 )

Therefore, Prophet Moses pbuh was angry with Prophet Aaron pbuh because he feared he did not try hard enough to prevent the sin. But, Aaron never committed the sin himself. As Moiz Amjad writes:

The words: “what hindered you from stopping them when you saw them going astray?” can by no means be taken to imply that Moses (pbuh) thought Aaron (pbuh) to be an accomplice in the crime of the calf worshippers. At the most they can be taken to signify Moses’ (pbuh) anger at Aaron (pbuh) for not stopping the Israelites from committing the heinous crime. The same is the case of Al-A`raaf 7: 150.

  1. Verse 7:151 shows Prophet Moses making a prayer of forgiveness for himself and Prophet Aaron. It is claimed that this is an indication that Aaron was part of the crime. If that was the case, why has Moses included himself in the prayer of forgiveness? Evidently, Moses is asking forgiveness for himself and Aaron because they did not prevent their people from sinning. The prayer of forgiveness does NOT mean that they were involved in the sin, themselves.

4. On the issue of who made the calf, it is claimed that the Qur’anic accounts are contradictory. The Qur’an states:

7:148 And the people of Moses made in his absence, out of their ornaments, the image of a calf (for worship). It had a sound (as if it was mooing). Did they not see that it could neither speak to them nor guide them to the way? They took it for worship and they were wrong-doers.

This verse indicates that the people of Moses made the calf in his absence, out of their ornaments or jewellery.

20:87-88. They said: “We broke not the promise to you, of our own will, but we were made to carry the weight of the ornaments of the [Pharaoh’s] people, then we cast them (into the fire), and that was what As-Samiri suggested.”
Then he took out (of the fire) for them a statue of a calf which seemed to low. They said: “This is your god, and the god of Moses, but (Moses) has forgotten (his god).'”

This verse does not contradict the former verse in any way. It clearly states that the Israelites participated in the making of the calf, when they threw the ornaments into the fire. Then As-Samiri shaped it for them. There are different interpretations on who As-Samiri was.

Muhammad Ibn Ishaq reported from Ibn Abbas that he said, “As-Samiri was a man from the people of Bajarma, a people who worshipped cows. He still had the love of cow worshipping in his soul. However, he acted as though he had accepted Islam with the Children of Israel. His name was Musa bin Zafar. (Tarikh At-Tabari 1:424) Qatadah said, “He was from the village of Samarra. (At-Tabari 18:363) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 6, p.382 )

Ibn Kathir gives his own opinion on this matter is his Qasas Al-Anbiyah:

A man from the among the Israelites, whose name was Aaron Samiri, came forth and took all the jewellery which had been borrowed from the Egyptians, and moulded it into a calf after he had melted them. (Stories of the Prophets:Israelites and the worshipping of the calf, Ibn Kathir)

According to Ibn Kathir’s interpretation, As-Samiri was an Israelite himself, and made the calf with the help of his fellow Israelites. Either way, there is no contradiction between this verse and the above.(For a more detailed discussion on As-Samiri please see articles by the Islamic-Awareness.org team).

20:85 (Allah) said: “Verily! We have tried/tested your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray.

It is claimed by critics that this verse suggests that it was Allah who made the calf, which contradicts the previous verses.

As we have mentioned in previous articles, Allah may test us in different ways. Allah tested the Children of Israel through the tricks of As-Samiri. Everything happens by the permission of Allah. Please refer to On the Origin of Calamity.

Some scholars also believed that the calf made by the Israelites made an actual sound, and moved, i.e. it became alive. If that is the case, then Allah made it come to life as a test for the children of Israel, and there is still no contradiction. But the majority of scholars believe that it did not come to life.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in these papers and articles are strictly those of the authors. Furthermore, Al Baseera does not endorse any of the personal views of the authors on any platform. Our team is diverse on all fronts, allowing for constant, enriching dialogue that helps us produce high-quality research.

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