The meaning of Pharaoh dividing people into 'factions' [Quran 28:4]
Fatwa No: 278422

  • Fatwa Date:23-12-2014 - Rabee' Al-Awwal 2, 1436
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Question

Salaam Alaikum. I have a question about 28:4. It states: "Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters." What does it mean that Pharaoh "made its people into factions"? Does this mean that before he came to power the people of Egypt were not in factions, and he changed this by unjustly dividing them and oppressing some while treating others well? Or were they in factions already? If that is the case, why is it written that Pharaoh made them into factions? Thank you and God bless you.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His Slave and Messenger.

Tafseer scholars stated that Pharaoh divided the people of Egypt into factions. They clarified the meaning of dividing according to two scholarly opinions in this regard:

The first opinion is that Pharaoh divided them by killing one group and sparing another, torturing another, and enslaving another group. This opinion was cited by At-Tabari on the authority of Qataadah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  them.

The second opinion is that Pharaoh divided them in terms of service and subjugation by making the Children of Israel do all the menial work, unlike the Copts and their slaves. This opinion was narrated by At-Tabari on the authority of As-Suddi and was chosen by most of the Tafseer scholars such as Al-Baghawi, Ibn ‘Atiyyah, and Ibn Katheer  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  them.

Al-Baghawi said in his Tafseer: “Allaah, The Exalted, says: {Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself…}, this means that Pharaoh was tyrannical and haughty; {in the land...} means in Egypt; {and made its people into factions...} means that he divided the people of Egypt into groups in terms of service and subjugation.” [Tafseer Al-Baghawi]

Ibn Katheer said in his Tafseer: “He exalted himself in the land; he was an arrogant oppressor and tyrant. He made his people into different factions with each doing whatever he wanted them to do of the affairs of his state.” [Tafseer Ibn Katheer]

This indicates that the verse means that Pharaoh was the one who divided the Children of Israel into factions and oppressed them in the way mentioned above.

Allaah Knows best.

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