The story of the Exodus holds a special place in Islamic traditions, with Moses playing a key role as one of the most prominent prophets of God in the Quran. Known in Arabic as Musa, Moses is described in the Quran as a “pure, a messenger, a prophet” [19:51] with the ability to intercede on behalf of God and directly speak and [4:164] even see God [4:164]. He is also described when he reaches maturity and becomes a prophet in Midian (modern-day northwest Saudi Arabia), followed by other accounts about his relationship with other prophets, including his brother Aaron and Khidr. Moses also plays a positive role in ahadith concerning the Mi’raj, the Prophet’s ascent to heaven.

The Exodus story is described in terms of how God commands Moses to strike the sea with his rod, causing it to split and save the Israelites while drowning the Egyptian army [26:52-68 and 44:17-33]. Pharaoh is urged to repent and seek forgiveness from God. For their lack of gratitude for God’s help, the Israelites are then punished when Moses leaves them in the wilderness for 40 nights. According to 7:142-7, Moses’ 40 days and nights on the mountain comes to an end when finally he receives the Torah, as God’s revelation. The Exodus story demonstrates how God can be present even when he appears to abandon or punish his people.

Some scholars of the Quran argue that the later chapters (suras) – known as the “Madinan suras” – show a shift away from Moses and the Exodus and toward the example of Abraham. This follows another apparent shift in focus in these suras, from the Levant and Jerusalem to the Arabian Peninsula and Mecca. Despite this, the Exodus story and its associated holy places remain important in regional Islamic practice. Jabal Harun (the Mountain of Aaron, brother of Moses), near the Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan, is one example. Recently published inscriptions commemorate visits to the site by Muslims as early as the 8th century CE. A Muslim geographer of the 10th century mentions the mountain as a holy site of the Christians, but in the early 14th century CE, an Islamic shrine to the Prophet Aaron was constructed – or a Christian shrine converted – on the top of the mountain (pictured).

Content: Babak Rahimi, Associate Professor of Communication, Culture and Religion, Department of Literature, UCSD; and Ian W.N. Jones, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, UCSD

The Shrine of the Prophet Aaron at the top of Jabal Harun, southern Jordan.
Credit: Walking Jordan (www.walkingjordan.com)