Question: Pharaoh's Magicians - Muslims or Rejectors of Faith?
In the Qur'an there exist two fundamentally different conclusions to the story of Moses' contest with the magicians of the Pharaoh. After the power of Moses (given to him by God) was seen to be stronger than the power of Egyptian magic, we read:
"... the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration. Saying: ‘We believe in the Lord of the Worlds,- The Lord of Moses and Aaron.’ Said Pharaoh: ‘Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick which ye have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall ye know (the consequences). Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on apposite sides, and I will crucify you all.’ They said: ‘For us, We are but sent back unto our Lord: But thou dost wreak thy vengeance on us simply because we believed in the Signs of our Lord when they reached us! Our Lord! pour out on us patience and constancy, and take our souls unto Thee as Muslims (who bow to Thy Will)!’" S. 7:120-126
According to this passage, the Egyptian magicians have become believers, they confessed faith in the Lord of Moses and Aaron. They are even called Muslims in verse 126. In Sura 10, however, after recounting the same event we find this conclusion:
"But NONE believed in Moses except some of the children of HIS people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds. Moses said: ‘O MY PEOPLE! If ye do (really) believe in Allah, then in Him put your trust if ye submit (your will to His).’ They said: ‘In Allah do we put out trust. Our Lord! make us not a trial for those who practice oppression; And deliver us by Thy Mercy from those who reject (Thee).’" S. 10:83-86
The report of Sura 7 that some Egyptian sorcerers become believers is contradicted by the categorical statement of Sura 10:83 that none but some of Moses' own people (the Israelites) believed in him.
Because of this rather apparent contradiction some commentaters of the Qur'an have suggested that the pronoun "his" in "his people" does not refer to Moses which would be the natural understanding but instead refers to Pharaoh, and "his people" are the Egyptians.
Had the statement in 10:83 been "only a few of his people believed in Moses", then such an interpretation would still be forced and unnatural, against the common use of language, but on a formal level it may have solved the problem. The Qur'an, however, states that "none believed in Moses" (an absolute and universal statement) before it gives the only exception to the rule: "except some of his people".
We seem to have only this alternative:
"his people" refers to Moses' people, the Israelites, resulting in a logical contradiction between Sura 7:120-126 and Sura 10:83; or
"his people" refers to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, leaving us with the ridiculous claim, that none of the Israelites believed in Moses - not even Aaron his brother - even though all the Israelites followed Moses and left Egypt for the dangerous journey and uncertain future in a promised land.
Situation 1: 7:120-7:126 The Magicians believed in the God of Moses and Aaron.
7:120 But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration. وَأُلْقِيَ السَّحَرَةُ سَاجِدِينَ
7:121 Saying: "We believe in the Lord of the Worlds,- قَالُواْ آمَنَّا بِرِبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
7:122 "The Lord of Moses and Aaron." رَبِّ مُوسَى وَهَارُونَ
7:123 Said Pharaoh: "Believe ye in Him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick which ye have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall ye know (the consequences).
قَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ آمَنتُم بِهِ قَبْلَ أَن آذَنَ لَكُمْ إِنَّ هَـذَا لَمَكْرٌ مَّكَرْتُمُوهُ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ لِتُخْرِجُواْ مِنْهَا أَهْلَهَا فَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
7:124 "Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on apposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross." لأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلاَفٍ ثُمَّ لأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
7:125 They said: "For us, We are but sent back unto our Lord: قَالُواْ إِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّنَا مُنقَلِبُونَ
7:126 "But thou dost wreak thy vengeance on us simply because we believed in the Signs of our Lord when they reached us! Our Lord! pour out on us patience and constancy, and take our souls unto thee as Muslims (who bow to thy will)! وَمَا تَنقِمُ مِنَّا إِلاَّ أَنْ آمَنَّا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّنَا لَمَّا جَاءتْنَا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَتَوَفَّنَا مُسْلِمِينَ
Situation 2: 10:79-10:86: "some children of his people" is about the Israelites who believed Moses. The verses do not exclude of the faith of few of the Egyptians. It is like saying: But none believed in Moses from Moses' people except some children of his people. At that time particularly when the Israelites were still oppressed they were still having many doubts that they will be delivered. Very likely their faith was in its peak when they saw God drowning Pharoah and his soldiers. That is what I think the meaning of the verses and God knows better.
10:79 Said Pharaoh: "Bring me every sorcerer well versed." وَقَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ ائْتُونِي بِكُلِّ سَاحِرٍ عَلِيمٍ
10:80 When the sorcerers came, Moses said to them: "Throw ye what ye (wish) to throw!"
فَلَمَّا جَاء السَّحَرَةُ قَالَ لَهُم مُّوسَى أَلْقُواْ مَا أَنتُم مُّلْقُونَ
10:81 When they had had their throw, Moses said: "What ye have brought is sorcery: Allah will surely make it of no effect: for Allah prospereth not the work of those who make mischief.
فَلَمَّا أَلْقَواْ قَالَ مُوسَى مَا جِئْتُم بِهِ السِّحْرُ إِنَّ اللّهَ سَيُبْطِلُهُ إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُصْلِحُ عَمَلَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
10:82 "And Allah by His words doth prove and establish His truth, however much the sinners may hate it!"
وَيُحِقُّ اللّهُ الْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَاتِهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُجْرِمُونَ
10:83 But none believed in Moses except some children of his people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds.
فَمَا آمَنَ لِمُوسَى إِلاَّ ذُرِّيَّةٌ مِّن قَوْمِهِ عَلَى خَوْفٍ مِّن فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِمْ أَن يَفْتِنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ لَعَالٍ فِي الأَرْضِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
10:84 Moses said: "O my people! If ye do (really) believe in Allah, then in Him put your trust if ye submit (your will to His)." وَقَالَ مُوسَى يَا قَوْمِ إِن كُنتُمْ آمَنتُم بِاللّهِ فَعَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلُواْ إِن كُنتُم مُّسْلِمِينَ
10:85 They said: "In Allah do we put our trust. Our Lord! make us not a trial for those who practise oppression; فَقَالُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ تَوَكَّلْنَا رَبَّنَا لاَ تَجْعَلْنَا فِتْنَةً لِّلْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
10:86 "And deliver us by Thy Mercy from those who reject (Thee)." وَنَجِّنَا بِرَحْمَتِكَ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ