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And Moses chose seventy of his people for Our place of meeting: when they were seized with violent quaking, he prayed: “O my Lord! if it had been Thy will Thou couldst have destroyed, long before, both them and me: wouldst Thou destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? this is no more than Thy trial: by it Thou causest whom Thou wilt to stray, and Thou leadest whom Thou wilt into the right path. Thou art our Protector: so forgive us and give us Thy mercy; for Thou art the best of those who forgive. (verse 155)

“And ordain for us that which is good, in this life and in the Hereafter: for we have turned unto Thee.” He said: “With My punishment I visit whom I will; but My mercy extendeth to all things. That (mercy) I shall ordain for those who do right, and practise regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs;- (verse 156)


Seventy people and their Death
The verse 155 describes an unusual event. After the Prophet Musa
(pbuh) brought the Torah for his people and bade them to follow it,
they, being a crooked and pretentious people, said that they were not
sure of it’s being the word of Allah, and that the Prophet Musa (pbuh),
might have written it himself. He prayed to Allah for making them
certain about it. Allah said to Musa that he should choose
seventy men out of his people and bring them to the mount of Sinai,
He shall make them hear the word of Allah which was done as was
promised. But they said that they were not certain of the voice heard
by them as being the voice of God – ‘We shall believe only when we see
Allah vividly.’ Since this demand was based on ignorance and obstinacy, they evoked the wrath of Allah. They were caught by the earthquake from beneath and by a thunder clap from above. Instantly they
fell down on the ground as senseless as dead.

The word used in Surah Al-Baqarah while describing this event is
() which signifies thunder, while in this verse the word () has
been used which denotes earthquake. The two words can be reconciled
by assuming that they were punished by both the thunder and the
earthquake. In short, they looked like dead, or perhaps they were really dead. The Prophet Musa (pbuh) was extremely aggrieved by this incident. Firstly, because they were all prominent personalities of
the Israelites, secondly, he did not know how he would face his people
on his return. They would blame him with the murder of all these people, and would even kill him. The Prophet Musa (pbuh) said to
Allah, ‘O, my Lord, I know that it is not your will to kill them, as they
could be killed at earlier occasions more suited to their destruction.
They could be drowned with Pharaoh, or killed at the time of calf worship, but you did not do so. I am sure that You do not want them
dead, but You aim at giving them warning in this way. Besides, You
cannot kill all of us for the bad deeds done by some foolish people.’ He
also said, “O my Lord, I know this is just a trial from You. You let
some people go astray with Your test and give guidance to some others
who percieve the wisdom and lesson inherent in them. I am also
among those who know that You are The Wise and All-Knowing. You
are the Most Merciful of all and the Most-forgiving. O my Lord, forgive
the insolence shown by these people.” As a result of his prayer, all the seventy men were raised to life.

“And write for us good in ‘this world and in
the Hereafter. We turn to you in repentance.” Allah Almighty
answered in response to this request:

“As for My punishment, I afflict with it whom I will. And My
Mercy extends to everything. So I shall write it for those who
fear, and pay Zakah and those who do believe in Our verses”.

That is, though all the disobedient deserve the punishment of
Allah but out of His mercy, which encircles everything, even the
wrath of Allah, He afflicts with His punishment only a few whom He
wills. His mercy is as great as includes everything, even those who
rebel Allah and deny Him are shown some of His mercy, though it is
limited to this world alone. When His mercy is so covering that it
includes even the disobedient, He will surely write it for those who
deserve it by fearing Allah, paying Zakah and by believing in His
verses. Then the Prophet Musa (pbuh) was given the good news of it’s
acceptance.

The Commentators have varied opinion about the above interpretation of this prayer. This verse has no indication of the acceptance of his prayer in clear words as in other cases the approval of his prayers
has been’ clearly mentioned. For example, the approval of his prayer
has been mentioned in these words at another occasion (20:36): O Musa you are given what you asked for.” It is mentioned in another verse (10:89) (O Musa and Harun) your prayer has
been accepted.” At this occasion (7:156), no mention of such approval
has been made. Some commentators have, therefore, suggested that
this prayer of the Prophet Musa (pbuh) was not accepted in favour of
the Israelites, rather, it was accepted in favour of the Muslim Ummah.
The author of Ruh al-Ma’ani has, however, said it to be a remote
possibility.

The correct interpretation, therefore, is that the Prayer of the
Prophet Musa was comprised of two requests. The first, was of mercy
and forgiveness for those who were punished, and second for writing
the good for him and his people both in this world and in the Hereafter. The acceptance of the first request is mentioned in this verse
while the answer to the second request has been mentioned in the next
verse (157). In response to his first request he was told that Allah does
not punish every one who acts sinfully. He punishes only a few whom
He will for their transgression. Therefore these people also shall not be
punished. His Mercy is as great as covers every creation of Allah. Even
those who are punished are not completely deprived of His mercy,
since they could get harder punishment than they got. Allah has all
the powers to do everything He wills.

The Satan claimed that according to this verse he was also the
subject of His mercy because His mercy is said to be extending to
everything and he was one of ‘everything.’

My teacher, the Sheikh Anwar Kashmiri has said that this verse
has indicated that His mercy can encircle every thing. It did not say
that His mercy shall encircle everything. In another verse of the Holy
Qur’an it has been said in more clear words:

If they disbelieve in you say: ‘Your Lord has all encompassing mercy; but His punishment cannot be warded
off from the evil-doers-6:147.”

This has made it clear that vastness of His mercy does not
preclude the sinners from being punished by Him.

In short, the first part of the invocation of the Prophet Musa (pbuh) in favour of these people for mercy and forgiveness was instantly granted, but the second part asking for writing the perfect favour of
Allah both in this world and in the Hereafter was stipulated with
certain conditions. That is, as far as this world is concerned Allah can
make His mercy common to all without regard to their belief or disbelief, but the Hereafter is a distinct world where His Mercy shall be limited only to those who fulfil certain conditions. Firstly, those who fear Allah and take to piety that is, they fulfil all their religious obligations and avoid things forbidden by Allah, and pay Zakah regularly
out of their earnings, and thirdly, those who, firmly believe in His
verses without offering any pretences or false interpretations to them.
If these people too, fulfil the above conditions, the perfect favour shall
be written for them both in this world and in the Hereafter.

The next verse, however, has indicated that people who shall
perfectly fit the above description will be those coming after them in
the last age, and follow the last Prophet, consequently deserving the
perfect Mercy or favour of Allah. According to the report of Qatadah
cited above, the Satan claimed that he also deserved the Mercy of
Allah, for His Mercy extends to everything but the condition of ‘Iman
(belief) etc. specified in the verse excluded him. Similarly, the Jews
and the Christians claimed that they too believed in Allah and paid
Zakah, therefore, they shall also get the perfect Mercy of Allah in both
the worlds. The next verse, however, included the condition of belief in
the last Prophet (S) and in the verses of the Qur’an. This has excluded
the Jews and the Christians who did not believe in the Holy Prophet
(S).

References:

Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .4 surah 7 verses 155- 156)English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-4.pdf (islamicweblibrary.com)

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