Difference Between Magic and Miracle
When the political chieftains as well as the religious leaders of Pharaoh's Court witnessed the miracle at the hands of Prophet Musa-AS they exclaimed that he was a magician par excellence. They acknowledged that they had never witnessed anything like that before at the hands of any magician. Their hearts had been blackened and hardened to an extent that they lost the ability to accept the truth. Otherwise the supremacy of Prophet Musa-AS's miracles over the magicians had been well established. Besides, there are many ways in which a miracle differs from magic. First of all both involve people different in kind. A sorcerer is associated with Satan and, therefore, is evil, impure and vicious, whereas a Prophet-AS is connected to Allah-SWT , the Almighty and is pure in his beliefs and actions. Secondly, magic is practiced to establish one's own superiority or beliefs, whereas a miracle is manifested to establish the superiority of Allaah-SWT and His-SWT Word. Thirdly, magic cannot alter the originality of a substance but can only cast a spell over the eyes of the beholders, whereas a miracle alters the reality of a substance and that which is witnessed is indeed real. Same is the criterion to differentiate between the Karamah of a Wali and the tricks of a sorcerer. The former is, in fact, a miracle of the Prophet-AS depicted at the hands of a Wali due to his ardent adherence to the Prophet-AS The Pharaoh's Courtiers asserted that it appeared as if Prophet Musa-AS wanted to seize the throne and the country from the Pharaoh and is demonstrating his excellence for this purpose. So to counter this, they invited suggestion from the entire Court.
Magic Need Not be Feared
The Court unanimously decided that the Pharaoh must give respite to Prophet Musa-AS and make him-compete with the renowned magicians of his kingdom, so that he may be defeated and disposed off forever. Everyone hailed this suggestion as they were confident of the skills of their magicians. It was, therefore, decided to send couriers inviting them to the Royal Court.
As a result hundreds of magicians began to pour into the capital. According to some accounts hundreds of camels laden with ropes, cords, and staffs accompanied the magicians, who on arrival in the Court, announced that they expected to be rewarded heavily by the Pharaoh on winning the contest. According to Tafsir-e-Kabir this desire of the magicians proved that if magic could really do wonders, the magicians would not be asking the Pharaoh for a reward. They could simply convert soil into solid gold or become the rulers of the world. But magic is only a sensory illusion which by no means can alter the reality of a substance. Therefore, it is unwise to be afraid of a magician. The magicians knew fully well that the Pharaoh himself was scared and in need of help; that was why he had summoned them, but still they adopted a beggar's attitude. The Pharaoh promised them that if they succeeded, he will not only duly reward them but will also allow them to be amongst his close confidants.
Thus both the sides arrived in the arena on schedule for the contest. One side was well equipped with resources, pomp and show as well as supporting spectators. On the other stood the Prophet-AS of Allah-SWT, clad in a woolen blanket with leather slippers in his feet and a staff in his hand, accompanied only by his brother and, of course, the Divine Support.
The Reward for Respect
The magicians were unacquainted with the concept of Divinity or Prophethood but they were convinced of the eminence of Prophet Musa-AS. They took him as a man of excellence for sure, who had been able to effectively worry the Pharaoh. So they displayed respect and asked him if he would begin or permit them to perform first. 'Allama Ibn-e-Kathrin argues that since the magicians had shown respect to Allah-SWT's Prophet-AS He-SWT blessed them with guidance, while the Pharaoh displayed arrogance and was deprived of the right path. It may also be noted that those who defied the Holy Prophet-SW and even fought against Islam but never showed disrespect to him-SW in any form were rewarded with the capacity to repent. And those who were impudent and abusive remained deprived and died amidst regret and desperation. The same rule applies to the Aulia that the respectful benefits while the arrogant is at a loss.
However, the magicians after seeking permission from Prophet Musa-AS flung their staffs and ropes on the floor and cast a spell on the spectators. They also psychologically subdued them by announcing that everyone would be responsible for his own safety, as reported in Tafsir-e-Kabir. Thus they displayed a great feat of magic by firstly mesmerizing the people and secondly by harassing them, as a perplexed and frightened person can be easily influenced and because of his disturbed state of mind fails to defend himself.
Allah-SWT identifies it as a mighty spell which proves that the reality of the substance remained unaltered, the spectators saw only what the magicians wanted them to sec. For example, if a magician transforms a human being into a donkey, he will not actually become one but to the people he will appear as a donkey and even to his own self. He might begin to even act like onebutif he dies in this condition, his reckoning will be as a human being and not as a donkey.
Now when the magicians were at the peak of their performance, with serpents and pythons hissing around and they trying to control them while cautioning the spectators to be careful, Allaah-SWT inspired Prophet Musa-AS to throw his rod amidst this hustle and bustle. No sooner he did it, the staff became a gigantic python, big enough to swallow all. It is natural with the snakes to devour their smaller kind, so within no time the arena hitherto hissing with millions of reptiles was cleared off and Prophet Musa-AS's python was still snorting for more!
This was indeed a great victory for the truth and for the Prophet-AS. The overawed spectators immediately realized that the magicians had no power; so not only were they defeated but also lost respect. But the magicians fell in Sajdah and proclaimed that they believed in the Rabb-SWT of the worlds, the Rabb-SWT of Prophets Musa-AS and Harun-AS .The Pharaoh and all his subjects also witnessed the miracle but the honour to embrace the faith was blessed only to the magicians. This was Allah-SWT's Reward for showing respect to a Prophet-AS. And when the magicians announced their conversion, majority of the people were influenced and declared that the truth was with Prophet Musa-AS.
The Pharaoh now made a clever move declaring that it was a conspiracy against the country. He told the magicians that they had connived with Prophet Musa-AS to frighten the masses in order to seize power. They had conspired to eventually oust his (Pharaoh's) folk in exile and replace them with his own impoverished people. Mark the resemblance with today’s politicians. Whatever is against their wishes, they declare it to be a threat to national security. The pioneer of this psyche was Pharaoh. The performance by the magicians, followed by the miracle of Prophet Musa-AS and as a result the acceptance of faith by the magicians, a great miracle in itself, all this was dubbed as a political conspiracy! The Pharaoh indeed wanted to subdue the influence of these events over his people. He played yet another card by announcing severe punishment for the magicians whereby their hands and feet would be amputated on the opposite sides and they would be crucified.
Highest Source of Attaining Knowledge
The knowledge pertaining to the Hereafter and the Divine Attributes cannot be acquired by the brain but by the Qalb. The seeker has only to establish a link with the Prophet-AS's Qalb, and this knowledge, in its pristine purity, begins to flow into his Qalb without using any conventional means. The magicians, who had been non believers a few moments ago, with all their hopes pinned on Pharaoh, became believers. The depth of their knowledge and their longing for Shahadah displayed by their readiness to be crucified in the Cause of Allaah-SWT was incredible. In short, they had not only attained cognition of Divine Magnificence but had also become aware of the life after death. Association with an accomplished Shaikh has a similar effect. The heart is rekindled and attains true knowledge.
The magicians proclaimed that if believing in Allaah-SWT was a crime liable to punishment it did not worry them at all, because life is meant to be sacrificed for His-SWT Cause. Moreover, they were well aware of their own humbleness and begged Allaah-SWT for perseverance and patience to bear the atrocities of the oppressor, so as to embarrass him by not giving out a single cry of pain. They prayed for a believers' death. Praise be to Allaah-SWT ! The love for Islam outweighed every other love! Those whom the rising sun had seen as Royal Magicians saw them as Shuhada, at dust.