The Qur'an and the Event of Worship to the Golden Calf

Sam Shamoun

This paper will address the response of two Muslims trying to reconcile S. 7:149-150 with S. 20:91. Asif Iqbal, a member of MENJ’s Bismikaallahuma team, attempts to rebut our short article "The Event of Worship to the Golden Calf".

(I)   Before or After?

After quoting the passages in question, the author gives this response:

Even a brief look at them is sufficient for a diligent render for the identification of the fallacy in the reasoning of the author of the above-cited quote: his misapprehension of the factor, the occurrence of which caused the Israelites to repent.

That factor, after whose occurrence Moses'(P) people repented, is specified in the verse 7:149 as their realization of their having gone astray:

"But when they fell on their hands, and they saw that they had gone astray, they said:..."

Does this verse, or the verse 7:150, or any other verse in this context, say that the Israelites realized they had gone astray at a point in time before Moses'(P) return? Or, in other words, does the verse 7:149 or 7:150 tell us that the Israelites realized their error before Moses'(P) return?


Quick answer: YES! For our detailed response demonstrating why we say yes, please see below. Mr. Iqbal, however, continues by claiming the opposite:

No. What the verse 7:149 describes as the factor, which caused the Israelites to repent, was their realization of their error (i.e., "when they stumbled/ repented").

No information is given in these verses as to whether they stumbled/ repented BEFORE or AFTER Moses'(P) return. Just because the verse 7:150 begins with the words:

"When Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved ..."

does not imply that the stumbling/repenting of the Israelites was sequentially earlier than Moses'(P) return to them. In short, the only factor, which the verse 7:149 actually mentions as having caused the Israelites to repent, was their realization of their having gone astray, which is independent of Moses'(P) return.

On the other hand, since the (above-cited) other Qur'ânic verse 20:91 clearly makes the Israelites say that they would not abandon the golden calf until Moses'(P) return, therefore, this additional information leads us to conclude that the realization by the Israelites of their having gone astray, when Moses(P) told them that they had grievously sinned, is what caused them to repent, and which occurred only after Moses'(P) return.

Therefore, the verses 7:149-50 and 20:91 are complementary, and not contradictory.


Here are the passages again in order to see if whether they provide any evidence that Israel repented before Moses returned:

And the people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, a calf - a lifeless body, producing a lowing sound. Did they not see that it spoke not to them, nor guided them to any way? They took it for worship and they were transgressors. AND WHEN they were smitten with remorse and saw that they had indeed gone astray, they said, ‘If our Lord have not mercy on us and forgive us, we shall surely be of the losers.’ AND WHEN Moses returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said, ‘Evil is that which you did in my place in my absence. Did you hasten to devise a way for yourselves without waiting for the command of your Lord?’ And he put down the tablet and seized his brother by the head, dragging him towards himself. Aaron said, ‘Son of my mother, the people indeed deemed me weak, and were about to kill me. Therefore make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune and place me not with the unjust people.’ S. 7:148-150 Sher Ali

It is quite obvious from the context that the Israelites repented before Moses returned to them. We know this from the fact that the events in the passage are clearly sequential, contrary to Iqbal’s assertions. They obviously follow a chronological order. For instance, the following points are clearly obvious from the context:

  1. First, the Israelites fashion a golden calf which they then worshiped.
  2. They then come to their senses and regret what they did.
  3. It is therefore obvious that the context is following a sequence which means that Moses’ return is also sequential, i.e. Moses returned after the Israelites started feeling remorseful.

Iqbal assumes, without any proof, that Moses’ return is independent of the Israelites’ repentence. But for Iqbal to be consistent he must also assume that 7:148 is also independent from what follows. In other words, Iqbal must assume that 7:148 (not just 150) does not have any chronological connection with 149. But just as anyone reading these passages can see that the event of fashioning the calf precedes the regret of the Israelites in worshiping it, it is equally obvious from the context that the regret of the Israelites also preceded Moses’ return to them.

In order for Iqbal’s proposed solution to work we would need to actually rearrange the verses so that they read in this manner:

And the people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, a calf - a lifeless body, producing a lowing sound. Did they not see that it spoke not to them, nor guided them to any way? They took it for worship and they were transgressors. And when Moses returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said, ‘Evil is that which you did in my place in my absence. Did you hasten to devise a way for yourselves without waiting for the command of your Lord?’ And he put down the tablet and seized his brother by the head, dragging him towards himself. Aaron said, ‘Son of my mother, the people indeed deemed me weak, and were about to kill me. Therefore make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune and place me not with the unjust people.’ And when they were smitten with remorse and saw that they had indeed gone astray, they said, ‘If our Lord have not mercy on us and forgive us, we shall surely be of the losers.’

But since this is not what the author of the Quran wrote, Iqbal’s proposed solution does not adequately deal with the problem.

Iqbal further assumes (again without any proof) that 7:149-150 and 20:91 are complementary, which is based on his presupposition that the Quran is free of any contradictions. Iqbal is clearly working under a lot of unproven assumptions:

  1. He assumes that the Quran is the word of God.
  2. He assumes that since the Quran is the word of God it is therefore free of any errors.
  3. Based on these prior assumptions, he then assumes that 7:149-150 and 20:91 must be complementary.

Iqbal can’t simply assume that the Quran is the word of God. He needs to first prove that it is, and thus far the Muslims haven’t produced any good evidence showing that it is God’s word.

On the other hand, if these passages are not complementary then his assumption regarding the Quran being the word of God is obviously false. And the fact of the matter is that 7:149-150 are plainly contradicting, not complementing, what is stated in 20:91. A careful reading of 7:148-150 shows that the passage is obviously following a chronological order. More on this below.

Iqbal also assumes that the expression, "And when", in 7:149 doesn’t necessarily imply sequence. This leads us to Muslim Randy Desmond’s response. Mr. Desmond wrote:

As for the sequence of Moses returning and the Children of Israel repenting, there is no conflict. In Surah 7, verses 149 and 150 both start with the Arabic "wa lammaa" which means "and when(at the time of)" or "as for when". This is not denoting sequence in time according to the Arabic. (Source)

The following Quranic references demonstrate that the expression wa lammaa can - and often does - refer to time sequence:

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 hearken (to the Law)": They said:" We hear, and we disobey:" And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their Faithlessness. Say: "Vile indeed are the behests of your Faith if ye have any faith!" And when (wa lammaa) there came to them an apostle from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if (it had been something) they did not know! S. 2:100-101

So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allah's permission, and Allah is with the patient. And when (wa lammaa) they went out against Jalut and his forces they said: Our Lord, pour down upon us patience, and make our steps firm and assist us against the unbelieving people. S. 2:49-250 Shakir

So We sent against them the flood and the locusts and the vermin and the frogs and the blood - a succession of clear signs. But they were arrogant and became a guilty folk. And when (wa lammaa) the terror fell on them they cried: O Moses! Pray for us unto thy Lord, because He hath a covenant with thee. If thou removest the terror from us we verily will trust thee and will let the Children of Israel go with thee But when (fa lammaa) We did remove from them the terror for a term which they must reach, behold! they broke their covenant. S. 7:133-135 Pickthall

And when (wa lammaa) Moses came to Our appointed tryst and his Lord had spoken unto him, he said: My Lord! Show me (Thy Self), that I may gaze upon Thee. He said: Thou wilt not see Me, but gaze upon the mountain! If it stand still in its place, then thou wilt see Me. And when (fa lammaa) his Lord revealed (His) glory to the mountain He sent it crashing down. And Moses fell down senseless. And when (fa lammaa) he woke he said: Glory unto Thee! I turn unto Thee repentant, and I am the first of (true) believers. S. 7:143 Pickthall

And when (wa lammaa) Moses' wrath calmed down he took the tables, in the inscription of which was guidance and mercy for those who dread their Lord. And Moses chose from his people seventy men for our appointment; and when (fa lammaa) the earthquake took them he said, 'O my Lord! hadst Thou willed, Thou hadst destroyed them before and me. Wilt Thou destroy us for what the fools amongst us have done? This is naught but Thy trial, wherewith Thou dost lead astray whom Thou pleasest and guidest whom Thou pleasest; Thou art our patron! forgive us and have mercy on us, for Thou art the best of those who do forgive! S. 7:154-155 Palmer

We see from the above that both wa and fa are used interchangeably with lammaa to denote chronology and sequence. In fact, the word fa is often used with lammaa to denote time sequence:

And remember the time when Abraham said to his father, Azar, `Dost thou take idols for gods? Surely, I see thee and thy people in manifest error.' And thus did we show Abraham the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he should have full knowledge and that he might be of those who possess certainty of faith. And when (fa lammaa) the night darkened upon him, he saw a star. He said, `Can this be my Lord?' But when it set, he said, I like not those that set.' And when (fa lammaa) he saw the moon rise with spreading light, he said, `Can this be my lord?' But when it set, he said, `If my Lord guide me not, I shall surely be of the people who go astray.' And when (fa lammaa) he saw the sun rise with spreading light, he said, `Can this be my Lord? This is the greatest.' But when it also set, he said, `O my people! surely I am quit of that which you associate with God; I have turned my face toward HIM WHO created the heavens and the earth, being ever inclined to ALLAH, and I am not of those who associate gods with HIM.' S. 6:74-79 Sher Ali

When he saw a fire and said unto his folk: Lo! Wait! I see a fire afar off. Peradventure I may bring you a brand therefrom or may find guidance at the fire. And when (fa lammaa) he reached it, he was called by name: O Moses! S. 20:10-11 Pickthall

In the above passages the phrase lammaa does clearly point to sequence in time. Furthermore, the immediate context itself shows that wa lammaa can only refer to sequence. Note once again the passage:

(148) And the people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, a calf - a lifeless body, producing a lowing sound. Did they not see that it spoke not to them, nor guided them to any way? They took it for worship and they were transgressors. (149) AND WHEN (wa lammaa) they were smitten with remorse and saw that they had indeed gone astray, they said, ‘If our Lord have not mercy on us and forgive us, we shall surely be of the losers.' (150) AND WHEN (wa lammaa) Moses returned to his people…' S. 7:148-150 Sher Ali

The expression, wa lammaa, in verse 149 refers to what happened AFTER the Israelites fashioned and worshiped the golden calf. It is therefore quite evident that the two usages of wa lammaa within the very same context clearly denotes chronology, explicitly referring to a sequence of events in time.

This means that, much like Iqbal above, it is purely Randy Desmond’s a priori assumption that the Quran is the word of God which leads him to conclude that wa lammaa in S. 7:149-150 "is not denoting a sequence in time." Being a devout Muslim (at least at the time of his response), how could Desmond state otherwise?

The foregoing factors conclusively show that the use of wa lamma in the context can only be understood sequentially. Even the plain reading of the Arabic of 7:149-150 implies that the Israelites had already repented before Moses returned to them and therefore contradicts what is stated in 20:91, bringing both Desmond and Iqbal back to square one.

{Note: Just in case the readers misunderstand our position, we are not saying that the word lammaa cannot ever mean what Randy Desmond proposes. We are simply arguing that the word can also imply time sequence, as our preceding examples showed, and that there is nothing in the context of S. 7:148-149 to suggest that the phrase does not imply a sequence in time in this case. The plain reading of the context strongly argues for a chronological understanding of the passages.}

(II)   Did He or Didn’t He? Aaron and the Making of the Golden Calf

In response to our assertion that the Quran holds Aaron indirectly responsible for the making of the golden calf, Desmond wrote:

In no place does Aaron (Peace be upon him) admit to idol making and/or worshipping. In fact the people go near to slaying him! (Surah 7:150). Aaron (pbuh) is only guilty of not wanting to split up the Children of Israel.

In a similar manner, Iqbal states:

Allâh told Moses(P) that his people were being tested in his absence. That test was in the form of Samiri's fraud. By definition, those submitted to a test can either pass or fail it depending upon their training and capability. So, the reason why Moses(P) upon return reprimanded Aaron(P) was not that he was holding the latter responsible for leading his people astray. On the contrary, the reason why Moses(P) rebuked Aaron(P) was that he had been made the man in-charge in his absence by Moses(P) (see 7:142) and was therefore expected by Moses(P) to have rescued his people by dint of his leadership, which he had been unable to do.

In contrast to Exodus 32, at no place in the Qur'ân is Aaron(P) blamed for the sin of the Israelites. In 7:151, Moses(P) prays for forgiveness, not just for Aaron(P), but for himself as well - not because they were responsible for making the Israelites sin, but because they were unable to stop them from sinning.

We have thus used the traditional method of Qur'ânic exegesis, i.e., al-Qur'ân yufassiru ba'duhu ba'dan (different parts of the Qur'ân explain each other). What is given in a general way in one place is discussed in detail in some other place in the Qur'ân. What is dealt with briefly at one place is expanded in some other place.


Several responses are in order. First, the Quran presumes that the previous Scriptures are authentic and completely trustworthy, a fact which we have fully documented here:

The Quran further points to the Scriptures as a criterion to be used as a means to judge whether Muhammad’s claims are true:

So, if thou art in doubt regarding what We have sent down to thee, ask those who recite the Book before thee. The truth has come to thee from thy Lord; so be not of the doubters, nor be of those who cry lies to God's signs so as to be of the losers. S. 10:94 A.J. Arberry

The Quran also directs Muslims to the Israelites regarding any information concerning their own history, specifically information dealing with the events of the Exodus:

And certainly WE gave Moses nine manifest Signs. So ask then the Children of Israel. When he came to them, Pharaoh said to him, ‘I do think thee, O Moses, to be a victim of deception.’ S. 17:101 Sher Ali

Please make sure to always keep this fact in mind. The Quran appeals to the Holy Bible for verification, the Holy Bible doesn’t appeal to the Quran. Therefore, whenever the Quran disagrees with the previous Scriptures then the Quran is in error, not the other way around.

This means that if Iqbal and Desmond are correct regarding the Quran not holding Aaron responsible for assisting in fashioning the golden calf, then they have managed to introduce an additional error within their own scriptures. The Quran contradicts the true, pure Word of God regarding Aaron’s role and is therefore wrong.

The only way around it is to admit that Surah 7:150 does indirectly affirm Aaron’s responsibility in the making of the calf, and therefore perfectly agrees with the Holy Scriptures. In fact, a comparison of the passages from the Holy Bible and the Quran bears this out:

"He said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’ ‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, "Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." So I told them, "Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off." Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’ Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him." Exodus 32:21-26

"Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made, and burned it in the fire. Then I crushed it and ground it to powder as fine as dust and threw the dust into a stream that flowed down the mountain." Deuteronomy 9:18-21


And when Moses returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said, ‘Evil is that which you did in my place in my absence. Did you hasten to devise a way for yourselves without waiting for the command of your Lord?’ And he put down the tablet and seized his brother by the head, dragging him towards himself. Aaron said, ‘Son of my mother, the people indeed deemed me weak, and were about to kill me. Therefore make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune and place me not with the unjust people.’ Moses said, ‘My Lord, forgive me and my brother, and admit us to Thy mercy and Thou art the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.’ Surah 7:150-151

Moses said, ‘O Aaron, what prevented thee, when thou didst see them gone astray From following me? Didst thou then disobey my command?’ Aaron answered, ‘Son of my mother, seize me not by my beard, nor by the hair of my head. I feared lest thou shouldst say: 'Thou hast caused a division among the Children of Israel, and didst not wait for my word.'’ S. 20:92-94 Sher Ali

Note that both accounts speak of Moses confronting Aaron, that Aaron feared reprisal from the people, and that Moses prayed for Aaron’s forgiveness. The main thing missing is an explicit statement from the Quran regarding Aaron’s involvement in the calf. Yet, there is nothing in the context of Surah 7 which conclusively denies Aaron’s role in making the calf. Now the authors may point to 20:90 where Aaron discourages the Israelites from worshiping their idol. But even this doesn’t prove their case, since one can say that even though Aaron tried discouraging them from worshiping the calf he still assisted in fashioning it out of fear that he might have been killed if he didn’t, precisely what 7:150 implies. In essence, the text only asserts that Aaron didn’t worship the calf, but it doesn’t deny that Aaron helped to fashion it.

The authors’ assertion that Aaron nowhere confesses to making or worshiping the calf, or that the Quran nowhere puts the blame on Aaron, is nothing more than an argument from silence. One can just as well argue that since the story was so well known the author of the Quran assumed that his readers would have already been aware of Aaron’s involvement and therefore didn’t need to emphasize it again. If anything, this only shows that the Quran lacks essential details, requiring a person to consult the previous revelation in order to fill in the blanks.

Furthermore, the Muslim gentlemen seem to be assuming that since the Quran puts the blame on as-Samiri and mentions that Moses also prayed for himself, this somehow absolves Aaron from any responsibility. But this again introduces more problems than solutions. For instance, the Quran says that the Scripture of Moses is complete:

Again, We gave the Scripture unto Moses, complete for him who would do good, an explanation of all things, a guidance and a mercy, that they might believe in the meeting with their Lord. S. 6:154 Pickthall

In light of the foregoing, we need to ask why is it that the Holy Bible makes no mention of either as-Samiri or Moses’ prayer for himself? How can the Book of Moses be complete when it lacks such important details? The answer? Because there was no as-Samiri and no prayer which Moses made for his sins in connection with Aaron and the calf. The Torah doesn’t mention them since these things never happened.

What the author of the Quran has seemingly done is conflate two biblical accounts together. The Holy Bible mentions an incident which occurred centuries after Moses:

"Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? They are from Israel! This calf-a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria. They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up. Israel is swallowed up; now she is among the nations like a worthless thing. For they have gone up to Assyria like a wild donkey wandering alone. Ephraim has sold herself to lovers. Although they have sold themselves among the nations, I will now gather them together. They will begin to waste away under the oppression of the mighty king. Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning. I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien. They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat, but the LORD is not pleased with them. Now he will remember their wickedness and punish their sins: They will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns. But I will send fire upon their cities that will consume their fortresses." Hosea 8:5-14

Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, also called Ephraim, which Jeroboam ruled:

"Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel. Jeroboam thought to himself, ‘The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.’ After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings." 1 Kings 12:25-33

It appears that the author of the Quran confused the calf-making story of the Exodus with the above story of Jeroboam.

Finally, the authors’ vehement denial of Aaron’s role in the making of the calf stems from their a prior assumption that God’s prophets and messengers do not commit atrocious sins. But this assumption is not just contrary to God’s true Word, the Holy Bible; it is also contrary to the teachings of the Quran and the Islamic traditions as the following articles demonstrate:

Therefore, since both Scriptures teach that even the best of prophets and messengers were still fallible men prone to committing sins, there really is no reason why a Muslim cannot accept Aaron’s part in the making of the idol.

Iqbal concludes by attacking the Holy Bible:

It is further interesting to note that the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament on the matter of blaming Aaron(P). Exodus 32 squarely puts the responsibility of making the calf on Aaron:

"HE (Aaron) took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf."(Exodus 32:4)

Compare this with Stephen's speech in the Acts of the Apostles, which clearly shifts the blame on the Israelite people themselves by employing the plural number:

"At that time THEY made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands." (Acts 7:41)

And only God knows best.


Iqbal’s criticism of the Holy Bible indicates that he hasn’t carefully studied or understood the historical and cultural context of the Holy Bible.

In the time of the biblical writers there was something known as agency. Agency refers to individuals who acted as agents for someone. As such, they spoke with the authority of the person(s) which sent them since an agent stood in the place of the person being represented. Note for instance the following citations:

"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me." Matthew 10:40

"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." Luke 10:16

"I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." John 13:20

Here are some examples of persons acting through their agents:

"After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, AND BAPTIZED. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan-the one you testified about-well, HE IS BAPTIZING, and everyone is going to him.’" John 3:22-26

"The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact IT WAS NOT JESUS WHO BAPTIZED, but his disciples." John 4:1-2

The people could say that Jesus baptized individuals even though it was really his Apostles who performed the baptism. Again:

"I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me." Romans 15:15

"I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord." Romans 16:22

Paul takes credit for writing Romans, even though he used a scribe. Finally:

"The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. YOU KILLED the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this." Acts 3:13-15

Peter could say that the Jews killed Jesus, even though he also says within the same context that the Jews handed Christ over to Pilate to be killed. In other words, the Jews killed Christ by instigating his death at the hands of the Romans.

In light of the foregoing, it is quite easy to see what Stephen was saying. Stephen blamed the Israelites for fashioning the calf since they were the ones who asked Aaron to make it. This is precisely what Stephen himself said:

"THEY TOLD AARON, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt - we don't know what has happened to him!’ that was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf." Acts 7:40-41

Now compare this with Exodus:

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, THEY gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.’ Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then THEY said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.’ So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." Exodus 32:1-6

Iqbal conveniently left out verse 40 of Acts 7 where Stephen specifically mentioned Aaron by name. Did Iqbal really assume that he could get away with misquoting the Scriptures without anyone exposing him?

Furthermore, even if Iqbal was ignorant of the concept of agency, why would he assume that the "THEY" in Acts 7:41 has to exclude Aaron? Does he want to argue that Aaron is not an Israelite, or on what grounds would he be sure that Aaron is not included in the number of people referred to by the pronoun "they"? If he is an active part of them, where is the contradiction? Iqbal's construction is rather forced and illogical, and in any case, the issue is settled by reading verse 40 along with verse 41. [See also: Who Fashioned The Golden Calf?]

What about the Quran?

Now let us turn the tables on the author. The Quran says that it was the Israelites who fashioned the calf:

The people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, the image of calf, (for worship): it seemed to low: did they not see that it could neither speak to them, nor show them the way? They took it for worship and they did wrong. When Moses came back to his people, angry and grieved, he said: "Evil it is that ye have done in my place in my absence: did ye make haste to bring on the judgment of your Lord?" He put down the tablets, seized his brother by (the hair of) his head, and dragged him to him. Aaron said: "Son of my mother! the people did indeed reckon me as naught, and went near to slaying me! Make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune, nor count thou me amongst the people of sin." S. 7:148-149 Y. Ali

In another surah, however, the Quran puts the blame on as-Samiri:

Then Moses went back unto his folk, angry and sad. He said: O my people! Hath not your Lord promised you a fair promise? Did the time appointed then appear too long for you, or did ye wish that wrath from your Lord should come upon you, that ye broke tryst with me? They said: We broke not tryst with thee of our own will, but we were laden with burdens of ornaments of the folk, then cast them (in the fire), for thus As-Samiri proposed. Then HE produced for them a calf, of saffron hue, which gave forth a lowing sound. And they cried: This is your god and the god of Moses, but he hath forgotten. S. 20:86-88 Pickthall

Note: S. 7:148 has the plural (THEY, the people of Moses [i.e., the Israelites]) and S. 20:88 has the singular (HE, as-Samiri). This is the same kind of configuration which Iqbal claims to be a contradiction in the Bible!

The difference between the Bible and the Quran is, that in the Biblical passages the responsibility of both Aaron and the Israelites is mentioned. The situation is clear, they BOTH contributed to the making of the calf. In the Quran, on the other hand, there is no mention of as-Samiri at all in Surah 7. In Surah 7 the story seems to be parallel to the Biblical one, in Surah 20 as-Samiri is suddenly the main culprit.

But it isn’t over yet. The Quran implies that God is actually the one responsible for the golden calf:

He said: So surely We have tried your people after you, and the Samiri has led them astray. S. 20:85 Shakir

Please recall that Surahs 7:148 and 20:88 say that the calf made a sound. Putting all these facts together one can legitimately conclude that it was God who made the idol as a way of testing his people.

In fact, when Moses allegedly confronts as-Samiri the latter says something interesting:

(Moses) said: And what hast thou to say, O Samiri? He said: I perceived what they perceive not, so I seized a handful from the footsteps of the messenger, and then threw it in. Thus my soul commended to me. S. 20:95-96 Pickthall

Some good questions to ask would be, who or what made the calf low? And what was it that as-Samiri grabbed a handful of, and what messenger was he supposedly referring to? Since the Quran doesn’t tell us, we need to go outside the Quran for the details. And here is what we find:

The account returns to that of al-Suddi. Then Gabriel came to take Moses to God. He approached on a horse, and al-Samiri saw him but did not know him. It is said that it was the horse of life. [Al-Samiri] said when he saw him, "Verily this is something momentous!" So he took some of the dust from the hoof of the horse. Then Moses set out, making Aaron his vice-regent over the Children of Israel, and promised to meet them in thirty nights, but God added to them ten. Aaron said to them: "O Children of Israel! Spoils are not permitted to you, and the ornaments of the Egyptians are spoils, so gather all of them together and dig a pit for them, burying all of them in it. When Moses returns, if he permits them for you, then you may take them. Otherwise, they are things you may not consume." They assembled all the ornaments in that pit, and al-Samiri brought the handful of dust. He threw it [upon the pit] AND GOD BROUGHT FORTH FROM THE ORNAMENTS a corporeal calf of saffron color, and it gave forth a lowing sound.

The Israelites had counted the appointed time of Moses, they counted each night a day, and each day a day. When it was the twentieth day, the calf came forth. When they saw it, al-Samiri said to them: "This is your God and the God of Moses, but he has forgotten." He said: "Moses left his God here and went looking for Him." So they clung to the calf and worshiped it, for it could bellow and walk. Aaron said to them: "O Children of Israel! You are only being seduced with it" - meaning, you are only being tested with it, that is, the calf - "For lo! Your Lord is the Beneficent." Aaron and those Israelites who were with him continued not to fight them, while Moses was off speaking with his God. When He spoke with him, He said: "What made you hasten from your people, O Moses!" He said: "They follow close upon my track. I hastened to You, my Lord, that You might be pleased." He said: "Lo! We have tested your people in your absence, and al-Samiri has misled them."

When He had related their tale to him, Moses, said, "O Lord! This al-Samiri ordered them to adopt the calf. Tell me, who breathed the soul into it?" The Lord said: "I DID." Moses said: "Then, my Lord, YOU MISLED THEM." (The History of Al-Tabari: The Children of Israel, translated by William M. Brinner [State University of New York Press (SUNY), 1991], Volume III, pp. 72-73; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The foregoing quote shows that even Muslims realized that God was responsible for making the golden calf and went so far as to blame Allah for causing it to low! So we now have three contradictory stories:

  1. According to Surah 7 it was the Israelites who made the golden calf.
  2. This is contradicted by Surah 20 which says that it was as-Samiri who made it by tossing in whatever he had in his hand.
  3. This is further contradicted by both Surahs 7 and 20 (implicitly) and the Islamic traditions (explicitly) which point to God as the one who tested Israel by actually creating the idol and making it low. God made the calf from the ornaments and what was in as-Samiri’s hand.

Now if Iqbal rejects al-Tabari’s statement, then we challenge him to please explain to us from the Quran alone what does it mean that Allah tested Israel and what made the calf to low. In fact, al-Tabari wasn’t alone in saying that Allah caused the calf to low. Ibn Kathir, in his notes on 7:148, stated:

Allah describes the misguidance of those who worshipped the calf that As-Samiri made for them from the ornaments they borrowed from the Copts. He made the shape of a calf with these ornaments and threw in it a handful of dust from the trace of the horse that the Angel Jibril was riding, and the calf seemed to moo. This occurred after Musa went for the appointed term with his Lord, where Allah told him about what happened when he was on Mount Tur. Allah said about His Honorable Self ...

<(Allah) said: "Verily, We have tried your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray"> [20:85]. The scholars of Tafsir have different views over the calf, whether it actually became alive and mooing, or if it remained made of gold, but the air entering it made it appear to be mooing. These are two opinions. Allah knows best. It was reported that when the statue mooed, the Jews started dancing around it and fell into misguidance because they adored it. They said that this, the calf, is your god and the god of Musa, but Musa forgot it! ... (Source)

According to Ibn Kathir, there were scholars who believed that the calf came to life and started to moo which means that Allah must have given it life! So al-Tabari wasn’t the only one. And the fact that there were two conflicting opinions regarding the nature of the calf, i.e. whether it came to life or not, only supports our claim regarding the Quran’s incoherence and incompleteness.

We further challenge Iqbal to show us from only the Quran what messenger was as-Samiri referring to, and what exactly did he have in his hand. If he cannot answer these questions from the Quran alone and is therefore forced to consult other sources, then on what grounds can he reject al-Tabari’s statement (assuming of course that he would even question our quote from al-Tabari)?

But Iqbal may wish to say that these stories are not contradictory since they can easily be harmonized. Iqbal may say that Allah tested the Israelites by using as-Samiri to move them to fashion and worship the calf, which essentially means that Allah used as-Samiri as his agent to accomplish his purpose!

If Iqbal does adopt this conciliatory approach to the Quran, then we ask him to consistently apply his approach and extend the same courtesy to the Holy Bible. Unlike the Quran, the Holy Bible has no real errors.

In conclusion, we must state that instead of solving the problem the Muslim responses only compounded the issue. The Muslims’ rebuttals helped to produce additional errors within the Quran.

For further reading, please consult the following articles:

Responses to Bismikaallahuma
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page