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The Quranic Terminology: Egyptian Prison


The Quranic Terminology: Egyptian Prison


Was published in Arabic in October 19, 2015

Translated by Ahmed Fathy





1- An innocent who has been incarcerated in an Egyptian prison shall still be haunted with memories of prison all his life even after he ha ben set free. We, Dr. Mansour, are still carrying within me memories of both types of Egyptian prisons: the ordinary prison (in Torrah Farm Area, Cairo) and the terrible prison (within premises of the former National Security Apparatus, under the Mubarak regime, at that time in Lazoghly District in Cairo).

2- Of course, there have been other innocent Egyptians in prison whose suffering has been harsher and harder, and they have been tortured during their detention periods. We, ourselves, have never been tortured during our incarceration; our only source of torture that remains until this very moment engraved in our memory is the feelings of insult. These feelings we carry within our psyche until now. We always remember being handcuffed. Our hand never committed any crime; but to some people, its only crime has been writing to advocate peaceful reformation to conditions of Egyptian people. We are still wondering how the criminal (Mubarak regime) men dared to imprison an innocent man within cells that housed criminals; our only crime was saying what God tells us in the Quran. We have never imposed our ideas, by force or otherwise, on anyone, and we have never competed with anyone in politics or in seeking wealth. We have never asked anyone for any sort of remuneration for our endeavors. We have been just a faint voice within the loud den of falsehoods; yet, these criminal men who have persecuted us could not bear the existence of such a faint voice, because this voice has been stronger than all their falsehoods, myths, slanders, power, authority, and injustices! That is why we had to be incarcerated in Egyptian prisons.

3- Perhaps there are now prisons worldwide that are more terrible in comparison to Egyptian prisons, but the Egyptian prison is the only one mentioned in the Quranic text. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Egyptian state has been the most ancient central state of tyranny in human history. This is confirmed by the fact that alongside with the rise and fall of other civilizations, empires, and states in ancient history, middle-ages history, and modern history, the Egyptian State has retained its major features and its prisons. Let us here try to know the features of Egyptian prisons mentioned in the Quran.


Firstly: The Egyptian prison during the era of Moses' Pharaoh:


1- The Egyptian prison has been mentioned in the Quran in the context of the repartee between Moses and Pharaoh in their first encounter after Moses' return to Egypt. Pharaoh said to Moses: "He said, "Did we not raise you among us as a child, and you stayed among us for many of your years? And you committed that deed you committed, and you were ungrateful.""(26:18-19). Moses confessed and justified his fear: "He said, "I did it then, when I was of those astray. And I fled from you when I feared you; but my Lord gave me wisdom, and made me one of the messengers."(26:20-21). When Pharaoh reminded Moses of his people who are salves of the Egyptians, Moses told him: "Is that the favor you taunt me with, although you have enslaved the Children of Israel?""(26:22). Then Pharaoh asked Moses: "Pharaoh said, "And what is the Lord of the Worlds?""(26:23). Moses answered while addressing Pharaoh and his retinue: "He said, "The Lord of the heavens and the earth, and everything between them, if you are aware.""(26:24). Pharaoh feared that his retinue might be convinced; he wanted to enjoy the privilege of being deified by all his people. That is why Pharaoh resorted to mocking; mocking is a second nature in original Egyptians: "He said to those around him, "Do you not hear?""(26:25). Moses answered in earnest: "He said, "Your Lord and the Lord of your ancestors of old.""(26:26). Pharaoh's sarcasm and mocking of Moses was evident in his addressing the retinue: "He said, "This messenger of yours, who is sent to you, is crazy.""(26:27). Moses responded by citing the origin of existence: There is no deity except God/Allah. Moses said to the retinue: "He said, "Lord of the East and the West, and everything between them, if you understand.""(26:28). When Pharaoh felt defeated, he threatened Moses with prison: "He said, "This messenger of yours, who is sent to you, is crazy.""(26:29).

2- The threat of incarceration was the utmost thing in the means and resources of Pharaoh. Moses, who feared the Pharaonic prison, promptly turned the attention of Pharaoh and his retinue to miracles that God gave him: "He said, "What if I bring you something convincing?" He said, "Bring it, if you are being truthful." So he cast his staff; and it was a serpent, plain to see. And he pulled his hand; and it was white, for all to see."(26:30-33). Hence, Moses avoided the threat of incarceration by making Pharaoh afraid of what he saw. Pharaoh feared that his retinue might turn favorably toward Moses, and so, as a tyrant, he promptly said the following: "He said to the dignitaries around him, "This is a skilled magician. He intends to drive you out of your land with his magic, so what do you recommend?""(26:34-35).

3- We draw the conclusion that prison in the time of Moses' Pharaoh was the punishment that is related to the savageness of Pharaoh: he used to slaughter the offspring of the Israelites, and he ordered the cutting off of the legs and arms of the magicians, as well as their crucifixion, because they believed in the message of Moses and His God without taking permission form Pharaoh! It is left to our imagination to try to perceive how can be the conditions in the prison of such a brutal, savage Pharaoh.


Secondly: The Egyptian prison of the Hyksos king in the story of Joseph:


 The Hyksos king in the story of joseph differed from the Pharaoh in the story of Moses. Both regimes are different as well; we have written in detail about this in our book published here on our website titled "Egypt in the Quran". Let us focus now on the Hyksos prison within the story/chapter of Joseph.

1- This prison was linked to painful torture; the Potiphar's wife told her cuckold of a husband: "…What is the penalty for him who desired to dishonor your wife, except imprisonment or a painful punishment?" (12:25).

2- This prison was linked to humiliation; the Potiphar's wife threatened Joseph in public before the rich women: "…But if he does not do what I tell him to do, he will be imprisoned, and will be one of the despised."(12:32).

3- We can conclude then the Hyksos prison was under the service of whims of the powerful who had authority in the Hyksos society. That is why the Potiphar's wife threatened Joseph to imprison him if he would not commit sin with her. Joseph, sticking to his chastity, chose to be imprisoned instead of falling into sin. "He said, "My Lord, prison is more desirable to me than what they call me to. Unless You turn their scheming away from me, I may yield to them, and become one of the ignorant.""(12:33).

4- Imprisonment could be temporary or forever in the Hyksos times; Joseph was imprisoned under the orders of the Potiphar's wife temporarily in order to make people forget the scandal of this wife, but joseph was forgotten in the prison for years. "Then it occurred to them, after they had seen the signs, to imprison him for a while"(12:35). When the Hyksos king saw a dream and tried to find its interpretations, a former inmate of Joseph, who worked in the Palace, told the king about him and so joseph was released. See 12:42-50.

5- The released inmate became the wine-cup-bearer of the Hyksos king because he had connections in the palace; the proof of this is that he went directly to his post inside the palace once he was released. The other inmate who was crucified was the poor bread-maker in whom no body was interested. There was not even any sort of court rulings: just the royal order to imprison and kill people, as well as the order – sometimes – to release inmates.

6- Joseph entered this Hyksos prison in Egypt, and he was still haunted with memories of incarceration even in the moments of his glory, when Jacob and his family came to Egypt: "And he elevated his parents on the throne, and they fell prostrate before him. He said, "Father, this is the fulfillment of my vision of long ago. My Lord has made it come true. He has blessed me, when he released me from prison, and brought you out of the wilderness, after the devil had sown conflict between me and my brothers. My Lord is Most Kind towards whomever He wills. He is the All-knowing, the Most Wise."" (12:100). Joseph was released from the Egyptian Hyksos prison, but he was haunted by memories of it!


1- Imprisonment is not a punishment ordained in the Quranic sharia, because it is a grave injustice to the family of the imprisoned person. The Islamic sharia in the Quran asserts that any punishment is personal, it should not include one's family: "And whoever earns a sin, earns it against himself. God is Aware and Wise"(4:111), "… and no soul bears the burdens of another…"(6:164)."Whoever is guided-is guided for his own good. And whoever goes astray-goes astray to his detriment. No burdened soul carries the burdens of another…"(17:15), "No burdened soul can carry the burden of another. Even if one weighted down calls for help with its burden, nothing can be lifted from it, even if they were related. You are to warn those who fear their Lord inwardly, and perform the prayer. He who purifies himself purifies himself for his own good. To God is the ultimate return."(35:18), "…No bearer of burden can bear the burden of another. Then to your Lord is your return…" (39:7), "That no soul bears the burdens of another soul. And that the human being attains only what he strives for. And that his efforts will be witnessed."(53:38-40).

2- Even wives who have been accused of adultery by other witnesses are to be kept in their houses, not prisons: " Those of your women, who commit lewdness, you must have four witnesses against them, from among you. If they testify, confine them to the homes until death claims them, or God makes a way for them."(4:15). This confinement in houses is a type of reformation and discipline; like in institutions built to take care of the elderly. The same applies to taking care of a divorced wife: "Once they have reached their term, either retain them honorably, or separate from them honorably" (65:2) and "When you divorce women, and they have reached their term, either retain them amicably, or release them amicably. But do not retain them to hurt them and commit aggression. Whoever does that has wronged himself. And do not take God's revelations for a joke. And remember God's favor to you, and that He revealed to you the Scripture and Wisdom to teach you. And fear God, and know that God is aware of everything." (2:231). Even a POW in battles should be treated kindly by a Muslim believer: "And if anyone of the polytheists asks you for protection, give him protection so that he may hear the Word of God; then escort him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know."(9:6). God says nothing but the Truth            

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