The Ordinary can be Extraordinary: Prophet Musa's Staff
Prophet Musa (as) carried a staff while shepherding his flock of animals in Madyan. At the time, Pharaoh and the oppressive system of governance he espoused divided people along the lines of race and socioeconomic status. The Children of Israel (Musa’s people) were considered the lowest rung on the prestige ladder. They were oppressed, enslaved, and killed for no reason.
On top of that, the job of shepherd was considered one of the lowliest positions of all (in the eyes of Pharaoh and his people). So the staff that Musa owned was a mark of his “lowly” status.
When Allah (swt) spoke to Musa for the first time, He asked Musa:
In this beautiful story most of us know, Musa threw the staff down and it transformed into a snake. This was one of the miracles that Musa would take to Pharaoh and his people.
When Musa gathered the courage to go to Pharaoh to preach the message of Allah (swt), Pharaoh hurled many accusations at him. Finally, to upstage and humiliate Musa, Pharaoh invited the best magicians in his land, promised them a great reward, and lined them up to face Musa. Some scholars say there were 70 magicians present, while some say their number was much greater. All at once, they threw their instruments down and it appeared to the audience that these instruments began to move and take the form of a large amount of snakes.
There was a sense of alarm that gripped Musa (as) because he feared that the people would be deceived by this show. But Allah (swt) revealed to him, "Fear not. Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is” (20:68-69).
Musa threw down his staff – the same staff that he used to herd his sheep – and it transformed into a serpent, devouring all the magicians’ instruments. The magicians immediately fell down in prostration saying, “We have believed in the Lord of Harun and Musa” (20:70).
These were magicians – they built their very careers on deceiving and tricking people. One would assume that their hearts would’ve become so hard and deceptive that they wouldn’t recognize the truth. But, not only did they recognize the truth – they accepted it without question, and they were willing to literally die for it. Pharaoh put them to death because they believed without first asking him for “permission.”
Ibn Abbas said, "At the beginning of the day they were magicians and at the end of the day they were outstanding witnesses of faith.''
(As an aside, this story should make us stop and ask ourselves: when truth comes to us, do we accept it, practice it, and then stand our ground? Or do we reject the truth because we don’t want to admit that we’re wrong, or sacrifice our lifestyle?)
Later on in the story, Allah (swt) commands Musa to escape with the Children of Israel under the cover of night. When the Children of Israel come to a large body of water, they see the army of Pharaoh pursuing them from behind. At this point they become despondent, saying “Indeed we are to be overtaken.”
Musa replies to them with confidence, saying: “No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.”
“Then We inspired to Moses, ‘Strike with your staff the sea,’ and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.” (26:62-63)
Musa struck the sea with his staff—again, the same staff he used for herding sheep—and his people were saved while Pharaoh and his army were drowned.
In commemoration of this significant and awe-inspiring event, Muslims continue to fast on the day of Ashura in the month of Muharram. Fasting on this day expiates one’s previous year of sins.
Musa’s staff transformed into a serpent and caused the magicians to embrace the truth. His staff also struck the sea and caused it to split in two—all with the permission of Allah (swt). And yet in the eyes of others, the staff was something awfully ordinary at best, and a marker of a shepherd’s lowly status at worst. Even then, Allah (swt) caused two extraordinary miracles to manifest through this ordinary staff.
We live in a world where we’re all competing for status. The competition is fierce, and usually only those with incredible talents are able to gain notoriety and fame. It’s no longer enough to just be “good” at what we do—we have to be the best. It’s not enough to be a good painter, or a good writer, or a good businessperson. In a world obsessed with super versions of everything, we have to be “super” at something. Being ordinary is no longer enough. Those who rise to the top have to have something extraordinary to offer the world—no matter how “shallow” that extraordinary thing may be.
But the thing is, Musa’s staff was an ordinary item, and it had no inherent power or goodness. It was a regular piece of wood that he used for ten years to earn an income for his family, without thinking it would ever be something more.
Sometimes Allah (swt) brings forward good from the most ordinary parts of us—and perhaps even the parts of us that others have looked down upon in the past. What we see as something insignificant or lowly, Allah can bring from it great benefit.
Allah (swt) created each of us as we are meant to be. Our languages, ethnic backgrounds, personal characteristics, occupations, and abilities are distinctive from one another. Unfortunately, we often waste chunks of our lives trying to be different than how Allah (swt) created us.
In search of the extraordinary thing that will set us apart from others, we lose sight of the beauty (and sometimes power) found in the ordinary.
There is beauty in investing time into your ordinary life: your family and home, your education and personal development, and your relationship with your Creator.
It’s not through your abilities that you accomplish anything. It’s through your sincerity to God, your principles, and your genuine compassion for others that ordinary things about you transform into something extraordinary.
“O Allah! Enable me to see the Truth as Truth and give me the ability to follow it. And enable me to see the falsehood as false and give me the ability to refrain from it.”