Where does Surah 7 (The Heights) – Surah al-A’raf – get its name from? When the Prophet Musa (PBUH) went on the heights of the mountain to receive Shariah Law. We saw in the First Sign of Musa – Passover – that Allah had decreed death to all firstborn sons except for those who were in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and blood painted on the doorposts. Pharaoh did not submit so his son died and Musa (also called Moses – PBUH ) led the Israelites out of Egypt, and Pharaoh drowned while chasing them across the Red Sea.
But Musa’s role as Prophet was not only to lead them out of Egypt, but also to lead them to a new way of living – by living according to Sharia Law established by Allah. So shortly after leaving Egypt, Musa (PBUH) and the Israelites came to Mount Sinai. Musa (PBUH) went up the mountain for 40 days to receive Sharia Law. Surah Baqarah and Surah al-Araf refers to this time with the following ayat.
And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (The towering height) of Mount (Sinai) : (Saying): “Hold firmly to what We have given you and bring (ever) to remembrance what is therein: Perchance ye may fear God.” (Surah Baqarah 2:63 – The Cow)
We appointed for Moses thirty nights, and completed (the period) with ten (more): thus was completed the term (of communion) with his Lord, forty nights. …” (Surah al-Araf 7:142 – The Heights)
So what was the Law that Musa (PBUH) received? Though the complete Law was quite long (613 commands and regulations to decide what was and was not permitted – like regulations on what is haram and what is halal) and these commands make up much of the Taurat, Musa first received a set of specific commands written by Allah on tablets of stone. These were known as the Ten Commandments, which became the foundation for all the other regulations. These Ten were the absolute essentials of the Law – the prerequisites before all the others. Surah al-Araf refers to this in the ayat:
And We ordained laws for him in the tablets in all matters, both commanding and explaining all things, (and said): “Take and hold these with firmness, and enjoin thy people to hold fast by the best in the precepts: soon shall I show you the homes of the wicked,- (How they lie desolate).” Those who behave arrogantly on the earth in defiance of right – them will I turn away from My signs: Even if they see all the signs, they will not believe in them; and if they see the way of right conduct, they will not adopt it as the way; but if they see the way of error, that is the way they will adopt. For they have rejected our signs, and failed to take warning from them. (Surah al-A’raf 7:145-146 – The Heights)
The Ten Commandments
So the Qur’an says that these Ten Commandments written in tablets of stone were signs by Allah himself. But what were these commands? They are given here exactly from the Book of Exodus in the Taurat that Musa (PBUH) copied from the tablets of stone. (I only add the numbers to count the commands)
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
1) You shall have no other gods before me.
2) You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
3)You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
4) Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
5) Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
6) You shall not murder.
7) You shall not commit adultery.
8) You shall not steal.
9) You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. ” Exodus 20:1-18
Often it seems that many of us who live in secular countries forget that these were commands. They were not suggestions. They were not recommendations. Nor were they negotiable. They were commands to be obeyed – to submit to. It was Sharia Law. And the Israelites were in fear of God’s Holiness.
The Standard of Obedience
But an important question remains. How much or many commands were they to obey? The following verse comes just before the giving of the Ten Commandments
…they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “… if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. (Exodus 19:2-5)
And this verse was given just after the Ten Commandments
Then he (Musa) took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Exodus 24:7).
In the last book of the Taurat (there are five) which is Musa’s final message, he summarized the obedience to the Law in this way.
The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25)
Here appears this word ‘righteousness’ again. It is a very important word. We first saw it in the Sign of Adam when Allah said to the children of Adam (us!):
“O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness – that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition” [Surah al-Araf 7:26 (The Heights)]
Then we saw it in Sign 2 of Ibrahim when Allah promised him a son, and Ibrahim (PBUH) trusted this promise and it says then that
Abram believed the LORD, and he [i.e. Allah] credited it to him [i.e. Ibrahim] as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
(Please see Sign 2 of Ibrahim for a full explanation of righteousness).
Here through the Law provides a way to obtain righteousness because as it says “if we are careful to obey all this law … that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:25)
But the condition to gain righteousness is severe. It says we need to ‘obey all this Law’ and only then do we get righteousness. This reminds us of the Sign of Adam. It took only one act of disobedience for Allah to judge and eject them from Paradise. Allah did not wait for several disobedient acts. It was the same with Lut’s wife in the Sign of Lut. To help us really understand the seriousness of this linked here are many verses in Taurat that stress that this exact level of obedience to the Law.
Let us think what this means. Sometimes in the university courses I took, the professor would give us many questions (for example 25 questions) in the exam and then required only some of the questions of our choice to be answered. We could, for example, choose 20 questions out of the 25 to answer in the exam. Someone might find one question too difficult and he could choose to skip that question but another student finds a different question difficult and he skips that one. In effect, we would only have to do 20 out of 25 questions of our choice. In this way the professor made the exam easier for us.
Many people treat the Ten Commandments of the Law in the same way. They think that Allah, after giving the Ten Commands, meant, “Attempt any five of your choice from these Ten”. But no, this was not how it was given. They were to obey and keep ALL the commands, not just some of them of their choice. Only in keeping all the Law would it ‘become their righteousness’.
But why do some people treat the Law like this? Because the law is very difficult to keep, especially since this is not just for a day but for your entire life. So it is easy for us to deceive ourselves and lower the standard. Review these commands and ask yourself, “Can I obey these? All? Every day? Without failing?” The reason we need to ask this question for ourselves is because the Ten Commandments are still in effect. Allah has not discontinued them even as other prophets (including Isa al Masih and Muhammad – PBUT – see here) continued after Musa (PBUH). Since these are the basic commands that deal with idolatry, the worship of One God, adultery, stealing, murder, lying etc. they are timeless and so we all need to obey them. No one can answer this question for another person – he can only answer it for himself. And he will answer them again on Judgment Day before Allah.
The all-important question before Allah
So I will pose a question, modified from Deuteronomy 6:25 so it is personal and you can answer for yourself. Depending on how you respond to this statement from the Law, the Law acts on you in different ways. Choose the answer that you think is true about you. Click on the answer that applies to you.
From Deuteronomy 6:24-25 personalized for you
The LORD commanded me to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that I might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And I have been careful to obey all this law before the LORD my God, as he has commanded me, and that will be my righteousness.”