A Prophet Like Moses
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
19 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
Thus God spoke unto the Prophet Moses (؏), promising to send a prophet similar to Moses himself from the Israelites' "brethren." In this article I would like to explore this prophecy and its ultimate fulfillment in the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), and the profound implications it has on our understanding of Islam during and after his lifetime.
Was Joshua (؏) the Prophet like Moses?
The first objection that may be raised to reading this prophecy as referring to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is the claim that this prophecy had already been fulfilled before him. In fact, Jews of today often say that this prophecy was fulfilled by Moses's (؏) immediate successor Joshua (؏). However, such a claim is directly contradicted by the Torah itself:
10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face...
We find that the Bible explicitly states that no prophet has since arisen among the Jews like Moses (؏), and it even tells us what this similarity entails: knowing the Lord "face to face." Only one other prophet can be said to have communicated with God in such a way, and that is the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) on his Mi’raj, the night journey on which he ascended to the heavens, until he was "at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer" (Qur'an 53:9) to his Lord. In addition, the Jews of antiquity themselves did not understand this prophecy to be referring to Joshua (؏), as is evidenced by texts such as those found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and even the Gospels, which will be discussed later in this article. Rather, the Jews of the first centuries BCE and CE understood this prophecy to be referring to a prophet to come, one who would fulfill a critical eschatological role.
Must the Prophet like Moses be an Israelite?
Some argue that this prophecy can only be referring to another prophet from among the Israelites, as the verse says "from among their brethren" (in Hebrew: מֵאַחֶיךָ). However, such an interpretation is not consistent with the Torah's own usage of the word brethren (or its Hebrew equivalent). In Deuteronomy 2, we see that the children of Esau are referred to as the brethren of the Israelites, being descended from Esau the brother of the prophet and patriarch Jacob (؏):
4 And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau...
The word used here for brethren in Hebrew is אֲחֵיכֶם. Both come from the etymological root אַחֶ (akh), meaning brother, a word familiar to Arabic speakers as part of a shared Semitic heritage. If the Edomites, descendants of Esau the brother of Jacob (؏), can be referred to as the brethren of the Israelites, why then is it far-fetched to say that the descendants of Ishmael (؏), the brother of the patriarch Isaac (؏) and paternal uncle to Jacob (؏), are the brethren of the Israelites?
Furthermore, we find this understanding supported by the Jewish exegetes:
Do not desert your friend and your father’s friend;
Do not enter your brother’s house in your time of misfortune;
A close neighbor is better than a distant brother.
The famous rabbi and commentator Rashi writes relating to this verse:
and...your brother’s house: Do not rely on the children of Esau and Ishmael that they should befriend you. We find that when Israel was exiled to Babylon, they would say to those who led them in neck irons, “We beg of you, lead us on the way of our brethren, the sons of Esau and Ishmael,” and the sons of Esau went out toward them and welcomed them with various kinds of salty foods and blown up flasks.
Therefore, the brethren of the Jews are the Ishmaelites and the Edomites. We can also find this understanding in the Midrash:
Forsake not implies that if you would forsake God, remember what happened to the house of your brothers, Ishmael and Esau.
Neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity. R. Joshua the son of Levi said: When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Israelites to Babylon, they bound their hands behind them; and coupled them together with iron chains and led them naked, like beasts. As they were passing the territory of the Ishmaelites, they said to the officers in charge: Be kind and merciful to us and take us to our brethren, the sons of Ishmael, our uncle. They did so.
With that in mind, we can find that the notion that the prophethood would be taken away from the Children of Israel and given to another people was already predicted by the Prophet Jesus (؏), who is quoted in the Gospel of Matthew as having said to the Jews:
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
Note the interesting linguistic parallel between saying that the kingdom of God would be given "to a people who will produce its fruit" and the promise made by God regarding Ishmael in Genesis:
As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.
We will discuss this particular prophecy regarding Ishmael later in depth. This understanding that prophethood and the divine covenant could or be given to other than the Israelites was not just held by the Christians, however:
In this way we can reply to our opponents, who argue from the verse in the Torah: “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” This verse signifies, they say, that a law will be given through the new prophet as it was given through Moses; also that “from among their brethren,” means from the brethren of Israel and not from Israel itself. Our reply to these men is that granting that, according to the verse quoted, a prophet will come to give a law, as Moses did before, the expression, “I will raise them up a prophet … like unto thee,” signifies that his “raising up” and the verification of his prophetic mission, which is a fundamental dogma of divine law, as we have seen, must be of the same kind as the verification of Moses’ prophetic mission, which took place in the presence of six hundred thousand people, so that there was no doubt and no suspicion of any kind.
Here, rabbi and exegete Joseph Albo acknowledges that the verse can be read to mean that a prophet would come "from the brethren of Israel and not from Israel itself." His response, rather than to refute such a possibility, is to state that in order for this to be the case, the prophet would need to demonstrate undeniable proof of prophecy just as Moses did. Note that he also acknowledges that this prophet will "come to give a law, as Moses did before..." This is also incompatible with an understanding of any prophet other than Muhammad (ﷺ).
The famous rabbi Maimonides, also known as Rambam, also acknowledges that the phrase "from among their brethren" is compatible with a non-Jewish prophet:
The words "like unto me" were specifically added to indicate that only the descendants of Jacob are meant. For the phrase "of thy brethren" by itself might have been misunderstood and taken to refer also to Esau and Ishmael, since we do find Israel addressing Esau as brother, for example, in the verse, "Thus saith thy brother Israel" (Numbers 20:14).
Iggerot HaRambam, Iggeret Teiman
Although he admits that brethren may include Ishmaelites or Edomites, he attempts to refute this by stating that a prophet "like unto" Moses must mean an Israelite, as Moses was an Israelite. This particular requirement, however, is arbitrary and is not the only way a prophet can be like unto Moses (؏). In fact, we know from Deuteronomy 34:10, as previously discussed, that no such prophet had arisen among the Israelites. This was something taken note of by other rabbis and Jewish exegetes. Or HaChaim writes in his commentary on Deuteronomy 34:10:
ולא קם נביא עוד, and no other prophet arose, etc. The past tense קם means that as of the time when these words were written no other comparable prophet had arisen. The addition of the word עוד means that no comparable prophet would arise in the future either.
בישראל, "amongst the people of Israel." This is a hint that the greatness of Moses as a prophet was due in large measure to the people of Israel. This is supported by the statement in the Sifri that during all the years when the Jewish people were in G'd's disfavour, G'd did not even communicate with Moses. Our sages claim that the word בישראל means that whereas no comparable prophet arose in Israel, there was a prophet of comparable stature amongst the Gentiles, i.e. Bileam.
Here, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar interprets this verse to mean that no prophet has ever, nor will ever, arise in Israel that will be like unto Moses (؏). He takes this prophecy to instead have been fulfilled in the Gentile prophet Balaam. The same view is expressed by Rabbi Joseph Albo:
This is the reason why the Torah testifies about him at the end that a prophet will never arise again like Moses; even in Israel, which has the prerogative of the prophetic institution, there will never arise another like him, as he was promised; not to speak of the other nations, who are not worthy of the prophetic spirit. The Rabbis indeed say, commenting on the passage, “And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses,” there hath not arisen in Israel, but there hath arisen among the heathen, namely Balaam.
We can also find this in the work of other Jewish exegetes:
“And no other prophet arose in Israel like Moshe” - in Israel, none did arise, but among the nations of the world, one did arise; so that there not be a claim open to the nations to say, “If we had a prophet like Moshe, we would have worshiped the Holy One, blessed be He. And which prophet did they have [that was] like Moshe? This was Bilaam the son of Beor. However there is a difference between the prophecy of Moshe and the prophecy of Bilaam: Three characteristics were in the hand of Moshe that were not in the hand of Bilaam. Moshe would speak with Him, standing; as it is stated (Deuteronomy 5:28), “And you stand with Me and I will speak to you, etc.” And with Bilaam, He would only speak with him prostrate, as it is stated (Numbers 24:4), “fallen and of open eyes.” Moshe would speak to Him 'mouth to mouth,' as it is stated (Numbers 13:8), “'Mouth to mouth' I speak to him.” And with Bilaam [it is written,] “Speaks the one who hears the speeches of God” – as He did not speak to him 'mouth to mouth.' Moshe would speak to him face to face, as it is stated (Exodus 33:11), “And the Lord spoke to Moshe face to face.” And with Bilaam, He only spoke in parables, as you say (Numbers 24:15), “And he started his parable, etc.” Three characteristics were in the hand of Bilaam that were not in the hand of Moshe.
These Jewish exegetes understand Deuteronomy 34:10 to be stating that not only has a prophet never arisen in Israel like unto Moses, but that such a prophet never would. Therefore, how would this prophecy be fulfilled? They take it to have been fulfilled in the prophethood given to Balaam son of Beor. However, there are no significant similarities between Moses (؏) and Balaam except that they were both prophets, as the BaMidbar Rabbah itself makes mention of. Therefore, this cannot be the case and Balaam is not the prophet like Moses. Such an interpretation is forced in order to account for who this Gentile prophet would be.
An indication of who this prophet would truly be can be found in the Hebrew Bible, such as these verses from Isaiah 42:
1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices;
let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
Note that Kedar was the son of Ishmael, and the forefather of the Adnanite Arab tribes from which the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his tribe, the Quraysh, were descended. Now, what does Sela refer to? Sela is the name of a mountain in Medina, the city to which the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) migrated with his followers to escape persecution. Upon his entrance into the city, the Medinians rejoiced in song, singing what would come to be known as the first nasheed, or Islamic devotional music, Tala' al-Badru 'Alayna. There is another place by the name of Sela referenced in the Second Book of Kings, located in the land of Edom. However, this cannot possibly by the Sela referenced in the verse in Isaiah, as it says that Sela would rejoice when this promised servant would come. However, the prophet Obadiah is recorded in the Bible as having prophesied that Sela would be ruined, and until today it remains barren. The only Sela that rejoiced at the arrival of a person was Medina. That is also the only Sela associated with the people of Kedar, as the other Sela we know of is in the land of the Edomites.
It is also noteworthy that God refers to this servant as "my chosen one..." while we know that one of the titles by which the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was known was al-Mustafa, meaning "the chosen one." The word translated as "his teaching" here is תוֹרָתוֹ in Hebrew, which is phonetically transliterated: lə-ṯō-w-rā-ṯōw - his Torah, or his Law. So what he is coming with is a new Law, a new Torah. This also refutes the claims of the Christians, who claim that this prophecy is about Jesus Christ (؏). Jesus did not bring about an entirely new Law, or a "new song" as it is referred to in this passage, but rather he came to "fulfill the law" of Moses (Matthew 5:17). In addition, the people of Kedar never widely became Christian, so this again disproves the Christian claim. That this is a "new song" also refutes the Jewish interpretation that the Servant referred to in this passage is Israel as a collective, as the Jews believe that the Mosaic covenant still stands and will continue to stand until the end of time. Therefore, if this passage were referring to Israel in the end times bringing justice to the nations, what is the new song referencing?
Another point of interest is that the verses say that God will make this servant into "a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." Let us compare this to how the Quran describes the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ):
He it is Who has sent to the gentiles a Messenger from among themselves, one who rehearses to them His verses, purifies their lives, and imparts to them the Book and the Wisdom3 although before that they were in utter error.
Alif, Lām, Rā. [This is] a Book which We have revealed to you, [O Muḥammad], that you might bring mankind out of darknesses into the light by permission of their Lord - to the path of the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy.
"Those who follow the messenger, the Gentile Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper."
Furthermore, the fact that the description of the Servant in verses 1-7 is not congruent with the description of the Servant beginning in verse 18, who is described as blind and deaf, was not lost on many Jewish exegetes. In fact, a number of great rabbis understood the initial verses of Isaiah 42 to be a reference to a single individual, specifically the Messiah or in Ibn Ezra's case, Isaiah himself:
Malbim in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Now [God] explains who is the the man that the prior vision referred to... he is my servant , who is the Messiah-king.
Mezudat David in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Here is my servant who will gain my support - the Messiah-king
Radak in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
Here is my servant - that's the Messiah-king
Ibn Ezra in his commentary on Isaiah 42:
My servant. Most of the commentators refer this expression to the pious Israelites; the Gaon to Cyrus; I to the prophet, who speaks here of himself, as in 49:6.
In appealing to these commentators, my aim is not to say that they are correct in their interpretations and that this passage is actually referring to the Messiah-king, Isaiah, or Cyrus. Rather, it illustrates that it is not at all inconsistent with the text to understand that the "Servant whom I uphold" is referring to a particular individual rather than the nation of Israel. Who this particular individual is is then another question, to which I would posit that only the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) fulfills the prophecy satisfyingly. The Kedarites did abandon idolatry, but it was not due to Israel's guidance. Rather, it was the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), who, as we will go on to examine, fits the rest of the prophecy so well that we can arrive at no other reasonable conclusion.
That the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled in the descendants of Ishmael (؏) is also directly hinted at in the Torah, as can be found in God's promise to Abraham (؏) regarding his eldest son:
And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
This prophecy is usually understood to have been fulfilled in the birth of Ishmael's 12 sons. It is important to note, however, that the phrasing parallels the precise wordings of the covenantal promises made unto Abraham and Jacob (؏):
1 Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
2 I will make you a great nation
2 Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
3 So He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.
The identical phrasing of a promise of "a great nation" indicates that the covenant made with Ishmael (؏) and his descendants is just as binding and significant as that made to the descendants of Israel (؏). Does it make sense for one of the three promises to the family of Abraham (؏) regarding God making of their descendants a "great nation" to be solely worldly while the other two are spiritual? This prophecy would also come true when the Ishmaelites, namely the Arabs, turned away from idolatry and went from an insignificant population to establishing one of the greatest civilizations of the world, due to the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). What else did Kedar rejoice over, if not the fulfillment of God's promise?
These are not the only references to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in the Hebrew Bible, however:
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
Here, the patriarch and Prophet Jacob (؏) prophecies that the kingship will continue in the lineage of his son Judah (from whose descendants would come the House of David) until the coming of "he to whom it belongs," in Hebrew "Shiloh." Christians understand this to be a reference to Jesus (؏), but this again does not make any sense as Jesus (؏) himself was a descendant of Judah and of the House of David. In fact, it is upon this very basis that the Christians identify him as the Davidic Messiah. How, then, can Shiloh be a reference to him when it clearly says it will be a man from outside of Judah? The only prophet who can be identified with this verse, as one who ruled and received the obedience of the nations, is the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).
An Eschatological Prophet?
That the Prophet like Moses was understood to be a figure distinct from the Messiah is indicated in the following verses in the Gospel of John, regarding John the Baptist (؏):
20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Here, John the Baptist (؏) is asked if he is the Messiah, which he denies. He is then asked if he is the Prophet Elijah (؏), whose reappearance is associated with the end of days in Jewish eschatology. Lastly, they ask him if he is "the Prophet." The importance of this statement cannot be understated, as it demonstrates clearly that there was an expectation among the Jews that a prophet would come in the end of days, hence the association with the other two eschatological figures. In fact, not just any prophet, but the Prophet. This same eschatology is reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran, which date from approximately 150 BCE to 68 CE:
They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their hearts, but shall be ruled by the primitive precepts in which the men of the Community were first instructed until there shall come the Prophet, and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.
This above text, also known as The Manual of Discipline, describes three eschatological figures: the Prophet, the Messiah of Israel, and the priestly Messiah like unto Aaron. It is also notable in that it mentions that the Law is in effect until the coming of this Prophet, at which point it will be superseded by something new.
The Testimonia (4Q175), another text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dated to the early first century BCE, contains five Biblical quotations arranged into four sections concerning God's activities during the end of days. The text is notable for its poly-messianic eschatology, something shared throughout a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as other early Jewish texts. The first section quotes two passages from Deuteronomy, referring to the prophet similar to Moses who was to come. It reads:
I will raise up a prophet for them from among their own kindred like you and I will put my words in his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I command him. If there is someone who does not heed my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
The second section contains an extract from a prophecy of Balaam in the book of Numbers about the Davidic Messiah. This prophecy predicts:
A star shall come out of Jacob and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel; he shall crush the temples of Moab and destroy all the children of Sheth.
The third section is a blessing of the Levites, and implicitly of the Priest-Messiah.
One may wonder whether the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) saw himself in any sort of eschatological or messianic role. After all, he passed away over 1400 years ago and does not play a role in the Armageddon, whereas Jesus Christ (؏) and the Mahdi (؏) do. We know, however, that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) explicitly declared himself as and was seen by others as a sign of the Hour and the Last Day:
Narrated Sahl bin Sa`d:
I saw Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) pointing with his index and middle fingers, saying. "The time of my Advent and the Hour are like these two fingers."
Once the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, climbed on the pulpit, and the colour of his cheek changed; then he approached the people saying: "O Muslims, I have been sent to you with the Day of Judgement as close in time, as these two"; then he put together two index fingers.
Furthermore, we do not find mention of the Prophet like Moses taking part in the Armageddon or even interacting with the Priest or Messiah in any of the eschatological Dead Sea Scroll texts, as we will explore further in the next passage. This strengthens the understanding that the Prophet like Moses (؏) is a forerunner to the messianic age but does not himself play a direct role in its climactic battle.
The Messiah and the Priest
These other two messianic figures are elaborated on in other texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
[As it is written in the book of] Isaiah the Prophet, [The thickets of the forest] will be cut [down with an axe and Lebanon by a majestic one will f] all. And there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse [...] the Branch of David and they will enter into judgement with [...] and the Prince of the Congregation, the Br[anch of David] will kill him [ ... by strok]es and by wounds. And a Priest [of renown(?)] will command [ ... the s]lai[n] of the Kitti[m ... ]
Here again we see mention of the Branch of David paired with the Priest commanding the armies during the eschatological great war between the forces of good and evil. The Biblical prophet Isaiah is quoted, but my intention in quoting the Scroll rather than the original book of the Bible is to highlight how Jewish communities saw these texts as eschatological in nature. The Davidic Messiah is believed by both Christians and Muslims to refer to Jesus the son of Mary (؏), and the following text from the Dead Sea Scrolls bears striking similarity to both Christian and Muslim depictions of Jesus:
[The hea]vens and the earth will listen to His Messiah ["anointed one"], and none therein will stray from the commandments of the holy ones.
Seekers of the Lord, strengthen yourselves in His service!
All you hopeful in (your) heart, will you not find the Lord in this?
For the Lord will consider the pious (hasidim) and call the righteous by name.
Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power.
And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.
He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]
And f[or] ever I will cleav[ve to the h]opeful and in His mercy...
And the fr[uit...] will not be delayed for anyone.
And the Lord will accomplish glorious things which have never been as [He...]
For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor
...He will lead the uprooted and knowledge...and smoke (?)
Compare this text to the Qur'anic description of Jesus (؏):
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.'
The very same miracles are described in the Gospels, in which he cures the blind and brings the dead back to life. Even his description as one who "bring[s] good news to the poor" aligns remarkably closely with the Jesus (؏) depicted in the Gospels, who associated with the poor and needy and is quoted in the Gospel of Luke as saying:
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Who, then, is the messianic Priest? This figure can be identified with the Mahdi, a messianic figure in Islamic eschatology who descends from the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and leads the believers in the final age. Hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) indicate a hierarchy between the Mahdi and the Messiah, Jesus (؏):
Jabir b. 'Abdullah reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: A section of my people will not cease fighting for the Truth and will prevail till the Day of Resurrection. He said: Jesus son of Mary would then descend and their (Muslims') commander would invite him to come and lead them in prayer, but he would say: No, some amongst you are commanders over some (amongst you). This is the honour from Allah for this Ummah.
Similar hadith are reported in Shi'a sources, indicating that the Mahdi (؏) would lead Jesus (؏) in prayer. Incredibly, this same hierarchy is established in the Dead Sea Scrolls, albeit with a different narrative:
And when they gather for the community table, or to drink wine, and arrange the community table and mix the wine to drink, let no man stretch out his hand over the first-fruits of bread and wine before the Priest. For it is he who shall bless the first-fruits of bread and wine, and shall first stretch out his hand over the bread. And afterwards, the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hands over the bread. And afterwards, all the congregation of the community shall bless, each according to his rank.
The Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a)
When we look at all of these texts together, we can establish that the Jews of antiquity were anticipating the arrival of three messianic figures: (1) the messianic prince (akin to David); (2) the messianic priest (identified with Elijah in some texts and as another individual, akin to Levi, in others); (3) and the messianic prophet (akin to Moses). The Prophet Like Moses (؏) appears to be a forerunner to the messianic age, acting as a lawgiver. He also appears to be a final prophet, due to his eschatological role. The Davidic Messiah and the Priest-Messiah act together to lead the believers in the final age, with the Priest-Messiah having a role above that of the Davidic Messiah. This narrative aligns perfectly with that of Islam, in which the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is sent as the final prophet, ushering in the final age. This period ends with the climactic battle between the forces of good, led by the Mahdi and the returned Jesus (؏), and the forces of evil, led by the Antichrist (Dajjal), after which there is a period of justice and peace over the earth.
Was Jesus (؏) the Prophet Like Moses?
Is it possible that the prophet like Moses could have been Jesus Christ (؏), as is claimed by the Christians? This cannot be the case, as it is clear from the eschatological literature and even the Gospels themselves that the prophet like Moses and the Messiah were two distinct figures, as we have already established. Furthermore, such a claim was not advanced by Jesus (؏) himself, nor by any of the Gospel authors. In fact, the Gospels appear to offer an entirely different portrait, as the account of the Transfiguration of Christ demonstrates:
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
The Jews, as we have discussed previously, were anticipating three eschatological figures: the Messiah (akin to David), the Priest (identified as Elijah in some accounts and elsewhere appears to be a different person, akin to Levi), and the Prophet (akin to Moses). This account, related in each of the Synoptic Gospels, seems to portray Jesus (؏) as the Messiah alone, as he appears with Moses (؏) and Elijah (؏) separately. By depicting him appearing with the Prophet and the Priest, the narrative seems to be attempting to portray the messianic prophecy as having come true with these three figures. This cannot be the case, however, as the Prophet like Moses cannot literally be Moses himself, nor did Moses (؏) speak unto the people upon reappearing briefly on the mount. Therefore, the prophecy of the Prophet like Moses was not fulfilled yet as per the Gospels.
The claim that Christ (؏) himself was the Prophet like Moses is only found in Pauline literature, and is made with the assumption that Jesus (؏) is the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies (including the coming of another prophet like Moses) and that no one was to come after him. This claim is unfounded, as we see that Jesus (؏) himself gave us instructions on how to determine the truth of prophets after him, and even told of one who would come after him:
7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment...
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
These verses are often understood by the Christians to be referring to the Holy Spirit. However, such a reading is not consistent with the text. The Holy Spirit is believed by the Christians to be God, so how can God not speak on behalf of Himself? Why does God need to hear from Himself what He needs to speak? Furthermore, the Holy Spirit was present before Jesus Christ (؏). In fact, the Spirit descends on Jesus (؏) during his baptism, so evidently it does not require Jesus (؏) to leave before he comes. One may question why the word "Spirit" is used. In fact, the same word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to human beings:
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In fact, spirit is not just used here to describe human beings, but specifically claimants to prophethood. Therefore it is natural that the word Spirit would be used to describe the prophet coming after Jesus (؏). This "Spirit of truth" is contrasted with the false prophets who are tested and found to be lacking.
The word used for this coming guide in John 16:7, translated here as "Advocate", is Paraklētos (commonly rendered in English as Paraclete). This word is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus Christ (؏) himself, again indicating that this can refer to a man. That the Paraclete was understood to be a man is further demonstrated by the fact that Mani, the founder of the religion of Manichaenism, claimed to be the Paraclete himself. It has even been suggested that Parakletos may be a corruption of Periklytos (meaning praiseworthy), which translates into Arabic as Ahmad, a name of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).
Let us look at the speech of Jesus (؏) about the Spirit of truth, or the Paraclete, in further detail. His description parallels the text of Deuteronomy 18 quite closely:
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16)
18 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. (Deuteronomy 18)
This indicates strongly that the guide Jesus (؏) is referring to is none other than the Prophet like Moses described in Deuteronomy. Note the verse of Qur'an:
Your companion (Muhammad) has not strayed, nor has he erred. Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. Rather, it is not but a revealed scripture."
Moses (؏) & Muhammad (ﷺ)
Can we be sure, however, that the Prophet like Moses (؏) is truly the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)? Let us examine some similarities between the two figures:
Both were adopted and raised by other than their biological parents
Both worked as shepherds for a period of time
Both were commissioned by God at the age of 40
Both men received their first revelations alone atop a mountain
Both were forced to flee their home to escape persecution
Both led a migration of their followers to a new home
Both were lawgiving prophets, who brought a new and independent scripture
Both spoke to God "face to face"
One caused the sea to split (Moses), the other caused the moon to split (Muhammad)
One caused water to gush forth from a rock (Moses), the other caused water to gush forth from his fingers (Muhammad)
Both married and had children
Both were simultaneously religious/spiritual and political leaders
Both led and took part in armed conflicts against polytheists
Both were accepted by the majority of their people (the Israelites and the Arabs)
Both transmitted a holy book consisting solely of the words of God to their people (as opposed to "divine inspiration" of a man-made text with attributed authorship to another person like the Gospels)
Both appointed 12 leaders among their people (12 leaders/spies in Numbers 13, 12 Imams) - this will be elaborated on later
In the following hadith, Abu Talib makes a direct reference to the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18:
It was said to him (Ja'far as-Sadiq): They allege that Abu Talib was a disbeliever! So he said: They have lied. How could he be a disbeliever when he said, “Do they not know that we found Muhammad as a prophet like Moses, mentioned in the first Books?”
This is even mentioned as early as Ibn Ishaq, who records Abu Talib as reciting the following:
Tell Lu'ayy, especially Lu'ayy of the Banu Ka'b,
News of our condition.
Did you not know that we have found Muhammad,
A prophet like Moses described in the oldest books...
Ibn Ishaq also records the statement of 'Abdullah b. Salam, a Jew, upon the entrance of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) into Medina:
"O my aunt! He is really, by God, the brother of Moses and follows his religion. He was sent with the same mission as Moses."
In fact, even the Quran itself makes this comparison explicit:
Indeed, We have sent to you a Messenger as a witness upon you just as We sent to Pharaoh a messenger.
In other words, there is a resemblance between the Prophet sent to Pharaoh, namely Moses (؏), and the Prophet sent to us, Muhammad (ﷺ).
Aaron (؏) & 'Ali (؏): The Vizier
The similarities do not end there, however. To Moses (؏), Aaron (؏) was a faithful brother, a patient and eloquent vizier, and a vicegerent. To Muhammad (ﷺ), 'Ali (؏) was all of these and more. This relationship was expressed by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) himself during the famous event of Dawat Dhul-'Ashirah, in which he invited his relatives to a banquet in order to invite them towards Islam and introduced 'Ali (؏) as follows:
He put his hand on the back of my neck and said, “This is my brother (akhi), my agent (wasi), and my successor (khalifati) among you, so listen to him and obey him.” They rose up laughing and saying to Abu Talib, “He has commanded you to listen to your son and to obey him!”
History of al-Tabari v. 6, Muhammad at Mecca, page 90-91
The words khalifati (my successor) and akhi (my brother) used in this hadith find explicit parallel in the Quranic language used to describe the relationship between Moses (؏) and Aaron (؏).
And We made an appointment with Moses for thirty nights and perfected them by [the addition of] ten; so the term of his Lord was completed as forty nights. And Moses said to his brother (akhihi) Aaron, "Take my place (akhlufni) among my people, do right [by them], and do not follow the way of the corrupters."
Both khalifati and akhlufni come from the same root word referring to khilafa or a khalifa, a successor or vicegerent. Furthermore, we find this comparison made explicitly by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself before he departed for Tabuk. 'Ali (؏) was left in charge of the people just as Aaron (؏) had been, and the Prophet (ﷺ) is reported to have said:
Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas reported that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) left 'Ali b. Abi Talib behind him (as he proceeded) to the expedition of Tabuk, whereupon he ('Ali) said: Allah's Messenger, are you leaving me behind amongst women and children? Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Aren't you satisfied with being unto me what Aaron was unto Moses but with this exception that there would be no prophet after me?
This hadith, known as Hadith Manzila, is extremely well-attested and mass-transmitted (see here for additional chains and reports). Some apologists have claimed that this hadith only refers to a temporary position of authority, relevant only to the period of time in which the Prophet (ﷺ) was away from Medina during the expedition of Tabuk. However, the hadith itself refutes such an interpretation, as its words of "there will be no prophet after me" are rendered totally irrelevant if this kind of relationship did not continue even after the Prophet's (ﷺ) death. Additionally, the specific exception made indicates that the comparison exists in all other ways except that there would be no prophet after him. Therefore this is not just a comparison in that both were left in charge of their people in a specific incident, but it is describing a parallel in relationships that extends in almost every way.
Let us look at some of these additional likenesses. In the Torah, Numbers 3 opens with, “These are the descendants of Moses and Aaron…” but only lists Aaron’s four sons. It is through Aaron (؏), therefore, that the lineage of Moses (؏) continues, as it is only through the line of Aaron that priesthood is transferred. In the case of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), his three sons all died in infancy. His lineage continued through the marriage of his daughter Fatima (؏) with 'Ali (؏), as is proven from the Qur'an itself when it says that the Prophet (ﷺ) will not be abtar (have his lineage cut off) - see Qur'an 108:3 - and in the incident of Mubahila, for which the following verse was revealed:
Then whoever argues with you about it after [this] knowledge has come to you - say, "Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then supplicate earnestly [together] and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars [among us]."
Who did the Prophet choose to come with him?
Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas narrates: "Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) called 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain and said: O Allah, they are my family."
In the same way that the High Priest of Israel must come from the lineage of Aaron (؏) - see Leviticus 21 - so too must the Imam, or the political and spiritual leader of the Muslims, come from the lineage of 'Ali (؏). Just as Aaron (؏) was the first high priest, 'Ali (؏) was the first Imam.
Another incredible parallel can be found in the names of 'Ali (؏) and Aaron (؏) themselves. The name Aaron, or in Hebrew Aharon (אַהֲרֹן), is thought to derive from a Hebrew root meaning "exalted." 'Ali has the same meaning in Arabic, "exalted" or "high." That is not where the similarity ends, however. In ancient Egyptian, it is thought that Aaron meant "warrior lion." In the battle of Khaybar, during his famous duel with Marhab, we learn of another name of 'Ali b. Abi Talib (؏):
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) gave him the banner (and 'Ali went to meet Marhab in a single combat). The latter advanced chanting: Khaibar knows certainly that I am Marhab, A fully armed and well-tried valorous warrior (hero) When war comes spreading its flames. 'Ali chanted in reply: I am the one whose mother named him Haidar, (And am) like a lion of the forest with a terror-striking countenance. I give my opponents the measure of sandara in exchange for sa' (i. e. return their attack with one that is much more fierce). The narrator said: 'Ali struck at the head of Marhab and killed him, so the victory (capture of Khaibar) was due to him. This long tradition has also been handed down Through a different chain of transmitters.
Haidar means none other than a warrior lion. Now, these similarities may be dismissed as sheer coincidence, but when coupled with the other evidences there is an unmistakable parallel between the figures.
Let us return, now, to Qur'an 7:142 and the narrative of Moses (؏) going up the mountain. The Qur'anic narrative follows that of Exodus:
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
Note that although Hur is mentioned here in conjunction with Aaron (؏), when Moses (؏) comes down the mountain in Exodus 32, it is only Aaron he blames for failing to keep the Israelites from sin, indicating that Aaron alone had ultimate authority.
Similarly, before the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) left his people in death, he appointed 'Ali (؏) as his vicegerent:
Narrated Abu Sarihah, or Zaid bin Arqam - Shu'bah had doubt: from the Prophet (ﷺ): "For whomever I am his Mawla (master) then 'Ali is his Mawla."
The similarity between the situations upon the death of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the departure of Moses (؏) from his people for the mountain was even perceived by the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) during the chaos immediately after his death:
When the Messenger of God died, 'Umar b. al-Khattab stood up saying, "Some of the hypocrites allege that the Messenger of God is dead. By God, he is not dead, but has gone to his Lord as Moses son of Amram went and remained hidden from his people for forty days...By God, the Messenger of God will [also] return..." When Abu Bakr saw that he would not listen, he went forward to the people [speaking]..."O people, those who worshipped Muhammad, [must know that] Muhammad is dead; those who worshipped God, [must know that] God is alive [and] immortal."
The History of at-Tabari, Volume 9
The Golden Calf
After Moses (؏) went up to the mountain, his people turned away from his commands and began to worship the golden calf:
[Allāh] said, "But indeed, We have tried your people after you [departed], and the Sāmirī has led them astray."
So Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved. He said, "O my people, did your Lord not make you a good promise? Then, was the time [of its fulfillment] too long for you, or did you wish that wrath from your Lord descend upon you, so you broke your promise [of obedience] to me?"
They said, "We did not break our promise to you by our will, but we were made to carry burdens from the ornaments of the people [of Pharaoh], so we threw them [into the fire], and thus did the Sāmirī throw."
And he extracted for them [the statue of] a calf which had a lowing sound, and they said, "This is your god and the god of Moses, but he forgot."
Did they not see that it could not return to them any speech [i.e., response] and that it did not possess for them any harm or benefit?
And Aaron had already told them before [the return of Moses], "O my people, you are only being tested by it, and indeed, your Lord is the Most Merciful, so follow me and obey my order."
They said, "We will never cease being devoted to it [i.e., the calf] until Moses returns to us."
[Moses] said, "O Aaron, what prevented you, when you saw them going astray,
From following me? Then have you disobeyed my order?"
[Aaron] said, "O son of my mother, do not seize [me] by my beard or by my head. Indeed, I feared that you would say, 'You caused division among the Children of Israel, and you did not observe [or await] my word.'"
And when Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said, "How wretched is that by which you have replaced me after [my departure]. Were you impatient over the matter of your Lord?" And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by [the hair of] his head, pulling him toward him. [Aaron] said, "O son of my mother, indeed the people overpowered me and were about to kill me, so let not the enemies rejoice over me1 and do not place me among the wrongdoing people."
19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”
22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil..."
Just as Samiri misguided the Israelites into worshipping the calf and turning away from Aaron, Moses's vicegerent, so too did the same happen to the Muslim community upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The caliphate was usurped from 'Ali (؏) by Abu Bakr and 'Umar b. al-Khattab, who upon the death of the Prophet (ﷺ) rushed to a place known as Saqifa in order to seize power for themselves. It was 'Umar who got people to give allegiance to Abu Bakr and therefore he was responsible for the misguidance of the Muslims, just as Samiri had done before him to the Jews and Paul had done to the Christians. This comparison is made explicitly in the hadith, by both the Imams themselves as well as companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) who were witness to the events such as Salman al-Farsi:
Abu al-Hasan (Imam Musa al-Kadhim) said: O Ishaq, the first (i.e. Abu Bakr) is like unto the calf and the second (i.e. 'Umar) is like unto Samiri...
Salman said: Surely the people were in the position after the [passing of the] Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) like that of Aaron and his followers, and the calf and its followers. So 'Ali was like Aaron and 'Atiq (Abu Bakr) was like the calf, and 'Umar like Samiri.
That his people would follow in the footsteps of the Israelites and the Christians in being deceived by an imposter and abandoning their prophet's vicegerent was predicted by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) himself, who said:
Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah's Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words) "those before you"? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "You will follow the wrong ways, of your predecessors so completely and literally that if they should go into the hole of a mastigure, you too will go there." We said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! Do you mean the Jews and the Christians?" He replied, "Whom else?" (Meaning, of course, the Jews and the Christians.)
However, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) went further so as to describe specifically the way in which the Muslims would go astray. Rather than going astray in polytheism, as the Israelites did, the Muslims would go astray due to love of this world:
Narrated `Uqba bin 'Amir:
Once the Prophet (ﷺ) went out and offered the funeral prayers for the martyrs of Uhud, and then went to the pulpit and said, "I am a predecessor for you and I am a witness for you: and by Allah, I am looking at my Fount just now, and the keys of the treasures of the earth (or the keys of the earth) have been given to me: and by Allah, I am not afraid that you will worship others besides Allah after me, but I am afraid that you will strive and struggle against each other over these treasures of the world."
Ka'b bin 'Iyad narrated that the Prophet (s.a.w) said:
"Indeed there is a fitnah (trial) for every Ummah, and the Fitnah for my Ummah is wealth."
This is precisely what occured, as Abu Bakr and 'Umar, and later 'Uthman, and Muawiyah usurped the caliphate from the vicegerent of the Prophet (ﷺ) out of love for wealth and power. This prophecy was not fulfilled according to the beliefs of any sect other than the Shi'a, as only according to the Shi'a did the Muslim nation go astray right after the absence of their prophet, due to love of the world. Therefore, just as the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) resembles the Prophet Moses (؏), so too do the actions of his people resemble those of the Israelites.
'Ali (؏) and Joshua (؏): The Legatee
One may raise the objection that there is a fundamental difference between 'Ali (؏) and Aaron (؏), namely that Aaron (؏) died before his brother Moses (؏) and therefore was not his wasi, or legatee, as the Shi'a claim 'Ali (؏) was for Muhammad (ﷺ). However, just as there are similarities between 'Ali (؏) and Aaron (؏) in their roles as vicegerents of Muhammad (ﷺ) and Moses (؏), respectively, there is also a remarkable similarity between 'Ali (؏) and Joshua (؏). While Aaron (؏) was the brother and khalifa of Moses (؏), he predeceased him and was therefore not his wasi, or legatee. That role instead went to Joshua (؏). In the case of Muhammad (ﷺ), these roles are combined in 'Ali (؏), as was expressed in Dawat Dhul-'Ashirah as previously quoted:
He put his hand on the back of my neck and said, “This is my brother (akhi), my agent (wasi), and my successor (khalifati) among you, so listen to him and obey him.” They rose up laughing and saying to Abu Talib, “He has commanded you to listen to your son and to obey him!”
History of al-Tabari v. 6, Muhammad at Mecca, page 90-91
The word translated here as agent, wasi, refers to one who is entrusted or bequeathed with authority to carry out one's will, and it is for that reason that I have chosen the translation "legatee."
Before his death, Moses (؏) is told by God that He has appointed Joshua the son of Nun (؏) as his successor as leader over the Israelites, and that Moses is to announce this before the people:
18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership,[a] and lay your hand on him. 19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”
22 Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
In a strikingly similar chain of events, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is ordered by God to announce before the people that he is going to pass away soon, and that he must declare before the people that his successor will be 'Ali (؏):
O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allāh will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allāh does not guide the disbelieving people.
Qur'an 5:67 (See a detailed analysis of this verse here)
It is then that he stops the Muslims at a place called Ghadir Khumm, gathering them before him in an assembly before declaring:
Narrated Abu Sarihah, or Zaid bin Arqam - Shu'bah had doubt: from the Prophet (ﷺ): "For whomever I am his Mawla (master) then 'Ali is his Mawla."
[The Messenger of God] said: "Behold! To whomsoever I am a Mawla (master) then Ali is also his Mawla"...and he took Ali by the hand and raised it with his own hand until their armpits became visible, then he said: "O Allah – be a guardian to whomever takes him to be a guardian, and be an enemy to whomever takes him to be an enemy, aid the one who aids him and abandon the one who abandons him."
In both cases, Moses (؏) and Muhammad (ﷺ) respectively receive revelation that they are to die and must therefore announce their successor, whom God has chosen. Both prophets gather the people in an assembly before laying their hand on their heir and publicly appointing them. These are not where the parallels end between these two figures, however.
One of the most famous miracles performed by Joshua (؏) is the stopping of the sun:
12 On the day that the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel:
“O sun, stand still over Gibeon,
O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance
upon its enemies.
In the Islamic tradition, reported by both the Sunnis and the Shi'a, a similar miracle is said to have occurred for the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and Imam 'Ali (؏):
The sun returned for him, upon him be peace, twice: once in the lifetime of the Prophet (ﷺ), and another time after his death. And the report of the sun returning for him the first time, from what reaches us as narrated by Asma bint Umays, Umm Salama the wife of the Prophet (ﷺ), Jabair b. 'Abdullah al-Ansari, and Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, from among the companions (of the Prophet): that the Prophet (ﷺ) was in his house one day, and 'Ali (؏) was in front of him, when Gabriel (؏) came bringing revelation from Allah, the Exalted. So when the revelation came over him (the Prophet), he laid down on the thigh of the Commander of the Faithful ('Ali) and did not raise his head until the sun had set. So the Commander of the Faithful was forced to perform the 'Asr prayer sitting down, giving a nod (with his head) for his bowing and prostration. When he (the Prophet) awoke from his trance, he said to the Commander of the Faithful: “Have you missed the afternoon prayer?” “I could not pray it standing because of your position, O Messenger of Allah, and the circumstances of hearing inspiration which I was in,” he answered. “Ask Allah to send the sun back for you so that you may pray it standing at its proper time just as (it was) when you missed being able to do it,” he told him. “Allah, the Exalted, will answer you because of your obedience to Allah and to His Messenger.” The Commander of the Faithful (؏) asked Allah to send back the sun. It was sent back for him so that it came into its position in the sky at the time for the afternoon prayer. The Commander of the Faithful (؏) prayed the afternoon prayer at its proper time. Then it set. [Asmā’ reported:] By Allāh we heard it at its setting, screeching like the screech of the saw in wood.
Its being sent back for him after the Prophet (ﷺ) [had passed] was when he (Imam 'Ali) wanted to cross the Euphrates at Babylon. Many of his followers were occupied in taking their animals and baggage across. He (؏) prayed the afternoon prayer himself with a group who were with him. The people did not finish their crossing and many of them missed the time of the prayer. The people recalled the merit of being together for that (prayer) and they spoke about that. When he heard their talk about it, he asked Allah to send back the sun so that all his followers might be together to perform the afternoon prayer at its proper time. Allah, the Exalted, answered him by sending back the sun for him. The horizons became such as they are for the time of the afternoon prayer. When the people had said the final greeting (at the end of the prayer), the sun disappeared and a violent throbbing was heard from it which terrified the people. They became profuse in their glorification of Allah, in their declarations of His uniqueness, and in seeking forgiveness from him, and in praising Allah for the favour which he had shown to them.
Kitab al-Irshad of Shaykh al-Mufid
...That the Prophet (ﷺ) was receiving revelation while his head was in 'Ali's lap, so he ('Ali) did not pray 'Asr until the sun had set. So the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) asked, "Have you prayed, O 'Ali?" He replied, "No." Then the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "O Allah, surely he was in obedience to You and obedience to Your Messenger, so return the sun for him." Asma (bint Umays) said, "I saw it set, and then I saw it rise over the mountains and the earth after it had set, and that was in al-Sahba in Khaybar. al-Tahawi said, "And these two reports are proven, and their narrators are trustworthy.
And there are other reports of the same reported in both the books of the Sunnis and the Shi'a. This same miracle is not reported for any other prophet or saint, and is a unique distinction that again indicates the closeness in relationship between these figures.
Another parallel between the prophets Moses (؏) and Muhammad (ﷺ), as well as between the Muslim nation and those nations which preceded them (the Jews and the Christians), can be found in the number twelve. Certain numbers hold special meaning in the Abrahamic faiths, and appear again and again as recurring motifs. One such number is the number 40. The flood of Noah (؏) lasted for 40 days, Moses (؏) was on the mountain for 40 days, the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus (؏) spent 40 days fasting in the desert, and Muhammad (ﷺ) was 40 years old when he received his first revelation, to mention some of its occurrences. Similarly, other numbers such as 7 and, as we will be focusing on in particular in this section, the number 12, also have significance.
Both the Qur'an and the Bible mention that the Prophet Moses (؏) appointed twelve chiefs from the Children of Israel:
13 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”
3 So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. 4 These are their names...
Surely Allah took a covenant with the Children of Israel, and We raised up from them twelve of their leaders, and Allah said: 'Behold, I am with you; if you establish Prayer and pay Zakah and believe in My Prophets and help them, and lend Allah a good loan, I will certainly efface from you your evil deeds, and will surely cause you to enter the Gardens beneath which rivers flow. Whosoever of you disbelieves thereafter has indeed gone astray from the right way.
Similarly, we find that the Prophet Jesus (؏) appointed 12 disciples.:
13 Jesus went up on a mountainside. He called for certain people to come to him, and they came. 14 He appointed 12 of them so that they would be with him. He would also send them out to preach. 15 And he gave them authority to drive out demons.
16 So Jesus appointed the 12 disciples.
In the same manner, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) also informed his community of 12 leaders after him:
A man went to see Abdullah ibn Mas'ood and asked him, "O Aba Abdul Rahman! Has your Prophet told you how many successors he will have after him?’" He replied, “Yes. No one had asked me this question before. You asked it although you are the youngest of them all. The Prophet (ﷺ) has said, ‘There will be twelve successors after me - as many as the Israelite chiefs after Moses.'"
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani writes regarding this report as narrated in Sunni sources:
...and what happened with Abu Dawud is supported by that which Ahmad (ibn Hanbal) and al-Bazzar narrated of a hadith by (Abdullah) Ibn Mas'ood with a good (hasan) chain, that he was asked how many caliphs this nation (ummah) would have and he answered, "We asked this to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he said, 'Twelve, like the number of chieftains of the children of Israel.'" Ibn al-Jawzi said in (his book) Kashf al-Mushkil: I searched for a long time for the meaning of this hadith and asked about it, but I could not find out what was meant by it...
We find that not only does the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) say that there will be 12 caliphs after him, but he specifically links this number to the number of Israelite chieftains appointed by Moses (؏). This parallel falls apart in the Sunni understanding, however, in which these 12 cannot even be identified so as to confirm the prophecy or for it to mean anything. Ibn Jawzi acknowledges this in Kashf al-Mushkil, as quoted by Ibn Hajar, stating that he could not figure out the meaning of it. It's meaning is only clear according to the beliefs of the Shi'a, who identify these 12 caliphs as the 12 Imams appointed by Allah and announced by the Messenger of Allah. This is also the only way in which the parallel holds, as the 12 chieftains were divinely appointed while according to the Sunni belief, the caliphs were not.
This specific description of 12 leaders also matches and fulfills the covenantal promise given to Ishmael (؏) that there would be "twelve princes" from his lineage (see Genesis 17:20), as previously discussed. Note that this idea of divinely appointed princes or Imams coming from the lineage of Abraham (؏) is mentioned in the Qur'an as well:
And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: "I will make thee an Imam to the Nations." He pleaded: "And also (Imams) from my offspring!" He answered: "But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers."
In summary, we find that the promise of God to send to the Israelites a prophet like Moses from among their brethren was fulfilled in the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) among the Ishmaelites. Just as Moses (؏) was aided by his faithful brother and vizier Aaron (؏), so too was Muhammad (ﷺ) aided by 'Ali (؏). And, just as the Israelites were deceived by Samiri into turning away from Aaron (؏) and worshipping the golden calf when Moses (؏) left for the mountain, so too did the Muslim community turn away from 'Ali (؏) upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), being deceived by the Samiri and the calf of their time. In this manner, the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) that his people would follow in the footsteps of the Jews and Christians who came before them was fulfilled.
This prophecy can only be explained as having been fulfilled by Islam, specifically Shi'a Islam. From a Sunni perspective, one would have to dismiss all of these similarities as mere coincidence. The similarity of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) to the Prophet Moses (؏) would be only a partial and superficial one, with the prophets themselves resembling each other but not their successors or their communities (although this understanding is contradicted by hadith).
The beautiful fulfillment of this prophecy, delivered to the Prophet Moses (؏) thousands of years ago, can be seen in the lives of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and the Imams after him.
The following thread was an invaluable resource for several parts of this article and is an excellent source of further information on this subject: