(Deeds) after the manner of the people
of Fir'awn and those before them: They treated as
false the Signs of their Lord: so We destroyed them
for their crimes, and We drowned the people of Fir'awn:
for they were all oppressors and wrong-doers. (Surat
Ancient Egyptian Civilisation,
along with other city states established in Mesopotamia
at the same time, is known to be one of the oldest civilisations
in the world and it is recognised to have been an organised
state with the most advanced social order of its age. The
facts that they discovered writing around the 3rd millennium
BC and used it, that they made use of the river Nile and
were protected against dangers abroad on account of the
natural setting of the country, greatly contributed to the
Egyptians improving their civilisation.
But this "civilised" society was one in which
"the reign of pharaohs" prevailed, which is the
system of denial mentioned in the clearest and most straightforward
way in the Qur'an. They puffed up with pride, turned aside
and blasphemed. In the end, neither their advanced civilisations,
their social and political orders, nor their military successes
could save them from being destroyed.
The Authority of the Pharaohs
The Egyptian civilisation was based on the fertility of
the River Nile. Egyptians had settled in the Nile valley
due to the abundant water of this river, and because they
could cultivate the land with the water supplied by the
river without being dependent on rainy seasons.
The historian Ernst H. Gombrich states in his writing
that Africa is very hot and sometimes it does not rain
there at all for months. For this reason, many areas in
this huge continent are extremely dry. Those parts of
the continent are covered with vast desert. Both sides
of the River Nile are also covered with deserts, and it
hardly rains in Egypt. But in this country, rain is not
needed so much, because the River Nile runs right down
the middle of the whole country. 1
So, whoever has control of the River Nile, which is of
such great importance, is also able to control Egypt's biggest
source of commerce and agriculture. The pharaohs were able
to establish their dominance over Egypt in this way.
The narrow and vertical form of the Nile valley did not
allow residential units situated around the river to expand
much, and therefore Egyptians formed a civilisation made
up of small-scaled towns and villages instead of big cities.
This factor also fortified the dominance of the pharaohs
over their people.
King Menes is known to be the first Egyptian Pharaoh who
united the whole of ancient Egypt, for the first time in
history, in a united state around the 3rd millennium BC.
In fact, the term "pharaoh" originally referred
to the palace where the Egyptian king lived, but in time,
it became the title of Egyptian kings. This is why the kings,
who were rulers of Old Egypt started to be called "pharaohs".
Being owners, administrators and rulers of the whole state
and its lands, these pharaohs were accepted as reflections
of the biggest god in the distorted polytheistic religion
of old Egypt. The administration of Egyptian lands, their
division, their income, in short, all the estates, services
and production within the country's borders were managed
on behalf of the pharaoh.
The absolutism in the regime had furnished the pharaoh ruling
the country with such a power that he could have anything
he wished. Right at the establishment of the first dynasty,
at the time of Menes who became the first King of Egypt
by uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, the River Nile started
to be delivered to the public through canals. Beside that,
production was taken under control and the entire production
of goods and services were assigned to the king. The king
distributed and shared these goods and services in the proportions
his people needed. It was not hard for the kings, who had
established such a power in the region, to reduce the people
The King of Egypt, or with his future name, the pharaoh,
was looked upon as a holy being who held great power and
met all the needs of his people: and he was transformed
into a god. The Pharaohs definitely believed in time that
they were indeed gods.
Some of the words the pharaoh mentioned in the Qur'an used
during his conversation with Musa prove that they held this
belief. He tried to intimidate Musa by saying "If thou
dost put forward any god other than me, I will certainly
put thee in prison!" (Surat ash-Shuara: 29), and he
said to the people around him "no god do I know for
you but myself" (Surat al-Qasas: 38). He said all this
because he regarded himself as a god.
religious beliefs of the Egyptians were mainly based
on serving their gods. The "intermediaries"
between these gods and people were the priests who
were among the leaders of the society. Dealing with
magic and witchcraft at the same time, the priests
made an important class whom the Pharaohs used in
order to keep the people in submission.
According to the historian Herodotus, the Ancient Egyptians
were the most "devout" people in the world. However,
their religion was not the religion of Truth, but a perverse
polytheistic one and they could not abandon their perverse
religion because of their extreme conservatism.
The Ancient Egyptians were largely influenced by the natural
environment in which they lived. The natural geography of
Egypt protected the country against external attacks perfectly.
Egypt was surrounded by deserts, mountainous lands and seas
on all sides. Attacks likely to be made on the country had
two possible routes and it was very simple for the Egyptians
to defend those routes. The Egyptians remained isolated
from the external world thanks to these natural factors.
But passing centuries transformed this isolation into a
dark bigotry. Thus the Egyptians acquired a viewpoint which
was locked against new developments and novelties, and which
was extremely conservative about their religion. The "religion
of their ancestors" mentioned frequently in the Qur'an
became their most important value.
This is why Fir'awn and his close circle turned their backs
on Musa and Harun when they announced the Religion of Truth
to them, by saying: "Hast thou come to us to turn us
away from the ways we found our fathers following - in order
that thou and thy brother may have greatness in the land?
But not we shall believe in you!" (Surah Yunus: 78)
The religion of Ancient Egypt was divided into branches,
the most important of which were the official religion of
the state, the beliefs of the people and belief in life
According to the state's official religion, the pharaoh
was a holy being. He was a reflection of the people's gods
on earth and his purpose was to dispense justice and protect
them on earth.
The beliefs widespread among people were extremely complicated,
and the elements in item which clashed with the state's
official religion were oppressed by the reigns of the Pharaohs.
Basically, they believed in many gods, and these gods were
usually depicted as having animal heads on human bodies.
But it was also possible to meet with local traditions which
differed from region to region.
after death made up the most important part of Egyptian
belief. They believed that the soul went on living after
the body died. According to this, the souls of the dead
were brought by particular angels to the God who was a Judge
and forty-two other witness judges, a scale was set in the
middle and the heart of the soul was weighed in this scale.
Those with more goodness passed on to a beautiful setting
and lived in happiness, those with more wickedness were
sent to a place where they were subject to great torments.
There, they were tormented throughout eternity by a strange
creature called the "The Dead Eater".
The belief of the Egyptians in the Hereafter clearly shows
a parallelism with the monotheistic belief and the religion
of Truth. Even their belief in the hereafter alone proves
that the religion of truth and the message had reached ancient
Egyptian civilisation, but that this religion was later
corrupted, and monotheism was turned into polytheism. It
is already known that warners calling people to the unity
of Allah and summoning them to be His slaves were sent in
Egypt from time to time, as they were to all the earth's
peoples at one time or another. One of these was the prophet
Yusuf whose life is told in detail in the Qur'an. The history
of Yusuf is also extremely important because it includes
the arrival of the Children of Israel in Egypt and their
On the other hand, in the historical resources, there are
references to some Egyptians who invited people to monotheistic
religions even before Musa. One of them is the most interesting
pharaoh in the history of Egypt, that is, Amenhotep IV .
The Monotheistic Pharaoh Amenhotep IV
The Egyptian pharaohs were generally brutal, oppressive,
belligerent and ruthless people. In general, they adopted
the polytheistic religion of Egypt and deified themselves
through this religion.
But there is a pharaoh in Egyptian history who is very
different from the others. This pharaoh defended belief
in a single Creator and was subjected to great resistance
by the priests of Ammon, who profited from the polytheistic
religion, and some soldiers who supported them, and so he
was finally killed. This pharaoh was Amenhotep IV who rose
to power in the 14th Century BC.
When Amenhotep IV was enthroned in 1375 BC, he came across
a conservatism and traditionalism which had been lingering
for centuries. Until then, the structure of the society
and the relations of the public with the royal palace had
carried on without any change. The society kept all its
doors firmly shut to all external events and religious innovations.
This extreme conservatism, also remarked by ancient Greek
travellers, was caused by the natural geographical conditions
of Egypt as we have explained above.
Imposed on people by the pharaohs, the official religion
required an unconditional faith in everything old and traditional.
But Amenhotep IV did not adopt the official religion. The
historian Ernst Gombrich writes;
He (Amenhotep IV) broke with many of the customs hallowed
by an age-old tradition. He did not wish to pay homage
to the many strangely shaped gods of his people. For him
only one god was supreme, Aton, whom he worshipped and
whom he had represented in the shape of the sun. He called
himself Akhenaton, after his god, and he moved his court
out of reach of the priests of the other gods, to a place
which is now called El-Amarna2
After the death of his father, young Amenhotep IV was subjected
to great pressure. This oppression was caused by the fact
that he developed a religion based on monotheism by changing
the traditional polytheistic religion of Egypt, and attempting
to make radical changes in all fields. But the leaders of
Thebes did not allow him to convey the message of this religion.
Amenhotep IV and his folk moved away from the city of Thebes
and settled in Tell-El-Amarna. Here, they established a
new and modern city named "Akh-et-aton". Amenhotep
IV changed his name which meant "Contentment of Amon"
to Akh-en-aton, which meant "Submitting to Aton".
Amon was the name given to the greatest totem in Egyptian
polytheism. According to Amenhotep, Aton is the "creator
of the heavens and the earth", his equating the name
Disturbed by these developments, the priests of Ammon wanted
to snatch Akhenaton's power by profiting from an economic
crisis in the country. Akhenaton was finally killed by being
poisoned by conspirators. Succeeding pharaohs were careful
to stay under the influence of the priests.
After Akhenaton, pharaohs with a military background came
to power. These again caused the old traditional polytheism
to become widespread and spent a considerable effort to
return to the past. Nearly a century later, Ramses II, who
was to have the longest rule in the history of Egypt, came
to the throne. According to many historians, Ramses was
the pharaoh tormenting the Children of Israel and fighting