So We revealed to Moses, ‘Strike the sea with your staff.’ And it split in two, each part like a towering cliff. (Surat Ash-Shu’ara’, 63)
The Egyptian monarchs known as the pharaohs regarded themselves as divine in the polytheistic, superstitious religion of ancient Egypt. Allah sent the Prophet Moses (pbuh) as an envoy to the people of Egypt at a time when they preferred their own superstitious beliefs to the true faith and when they had enslaved the Israelites. However, despite the Prophet Moses (pbuh)’s invitation to the true faith, the ancient Egyptians and Pharaoh and his court in particular, refused to abandon their pagan beliefs. The Prophet Moses (pbuh) told Pharaoh and his court the things they ought to avoid and warned them of the wrath of Allah. But they rebelled and falsely accused the Prophet Moses (pbuh) of madness, sorcery and mendacity. Although various tribulations were inflicted on Pharaoh and his people, they still did not submit to Allah; they refused to accept Allah as the one and only God. They even held the Prophet Moses (pbuh) responsible for what had befallen them and sought to exile him from Egypt. At this, Allah told the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and those with him to leave where they were:
We revealed to Moses: ‘Travel with Our slaves by night. You will certainly be pursued.’ Pharaoh sent marshals into the cities: ‘These people are a small group and we find them irritating and we constitute a vigilant majority.’ We expelled them from gardens and springs, from treasures and a splendid situation. So it was! And We bequeathed them to the tribe of Israel. So they pursued them towards the east. (Surat Ash-Shu’ara’, 52-60)
As revealed in the Qur’an, when the two peoples came together at the end of this chase, Allah rescued the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the believers with him by parting the sea, while destroying Pharaoh and his people. Allah’s assistance to the believers is revealed as follows in the Qur’an:
So We revealed to Moses, ‘Strike the sea with your staff.’ And it split in two, each part like a towering cliff. And We brought the others right up to it. We rescued Moses and all those who were with him. Then We drowned the rest. There is certainly a Sign in that yet most of them are not believers. Truly your Lord is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. (Surat Ash-Shu’ara’, 63-68)
The Arabic word “idrib,” translated as “strike” in verse 63 of Surat ash-Shuara, also means “to open, divide or separate.” In the light of this expression and what happened subsequently, the verse may be a reference to the formation of tsunami waves. (Allah knows best.) Since tsunami waves cause large amounts of water to shift and thus give way to the emergence of earth on shallow grounds. In the time of the Prophet Moses (pbuh), as with the tsunami waves the waters might have pulled back some hundreds of meters and this might have caused the parting of the sea. (Allah knows best.)
In addition, the waters are compared to mountains in the above verse. The waters collected in a tsunami form a giant peak1 and resemble a mountain seen from below. As with mountains, the base of the tsunami is very broad and strong. In tsunamis, the depth of the water declines while the mass of the wave expands and rises in height. Tsunamis may be up to 30m high.2 It is therefore very significant how the waters are likened to a mountain.
Tsunamis are very different to the waves we are familiar with, and are a movement of the entire depth of water. This is not generally restricted to the surface, and may stretch for several kilometers. They thus possess high levels of energy and move very fast.3 Scientific statements say this about tsunamis:
In fact the tsunami crest is just the very tip of a vast mass of water in motion…Wind-driven waves and swells are confined to a shallow layer near the ocean surface, a tsunami extends thousands of feet deep into the ocean…. Survivors of tsunami attacks describe them as dark “walls” of water. Impelled by the mass of water behind them, the waves bulldoze onto the shore and inundate the coast…
… The contours of the seafloor and coastline have a profound influence on the height of the waves — sometimes with surprising and dangerous results. During the 1993 tsunami attack on Okushiri, Japan, the wave “run up” on the coast averaged about 15 to 20 meters (50 – 65 feet). But in one particular spot, the waves pushed into a V-shaped valley open to the sea, concentrating the water in a tighter and tighter space. In the end, the water ran up to 32 meters (90 feet) above sea level, about the height of an 8-story office building. 4
The way that the past events described in the Qur’an are in complete agreement with present-day historic evidence and scientific advances, is without doubt one of the great miracles of the Qur’an. The way the waters parted when the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and his companions needed to cross and how they closed again over the heads of Pharaoh and his army are clear instances of the way Allah assists believers. Indeed, the Prophet Moses (pbuh) displayed an excellent example of proper moral values by trusting in Allah in that most difficult moment:
And when the two hosts came into sight of one another Moses’s companions said, ‘We will surely be overtaken!’ He said, ‘Never! My Lord is with me and He will guide me.’ (Surat Ash-Shu’ara’, 61-62)
The force applied to the sea floor causes mountainous waves to form by causing the water to rise up vertically.
Stage 1—Beginning: If the tsunami acts like an earthquake, the sea floor is moved up or down. As a result the mass of water moves up or down.
Stage 2 —Separation: Within a few minutes, the tsunami that starts to form divides in two, one part moving toward the depths of the ocean, the other reaching the coast.
Stage 3—Elevation: The tsunami wave reaching the shore rises up like a huge wave when it reaches the land.
Stage 4- Wave impact: The leading wave becomes pointed and appears to rise even higher. The first part of the wave to hit the land is convex in shape, which is why the water initially seems to be pulling away from the land.