23. And when he arrived at the well in Madyan, he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: “What is the matter with you?” They said: “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take back (their flocks): And our father is an old man.” (1)
24. So he watered (their flocks) for them; then he turned back to the shade, and said: “O my Lord! Truly am I in (desperate) need of any good that you may give me!” (2)
25. Afterwards one of the (girls) came (back) to him, walking bashfully. She said: “My father invites you so that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us.” So when he came to him and narrated the story, he said: “Do not fear: (well) you have been saved from unjust people.” (3)
26. One of the (girls) said: “O my (dear) father! Employ him: truly the best of men for you to employ is the (man) who is strong and trustworthy”….
27. He said: “I intend to wed one of my daughters to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years; but if you complete ten years, it will be (grace) from you. But I intend not to place you under any difficulty: you will find me, indeed, if Allah wills, one of the righteous.” (4)
28. He said: “Let that be the agreement between me and you: whichever of the two terms I fulfil, let there be no ill-will to me. Allah is a witness to what we say.”
This is a wonderful story that teaches us how to meet the stranger, showing kindness to the other, placing trust in Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى, the modesty of young women and voluntary work, among other lessons.
(1) These two young women were standing to one side with their flock waiting for the shepherds to take away their flocks. It is thought that they were standing separately so as not to mix with the men. Musa عليه السلام asks them what the matter is. He is concerned for them, and wants to help them. When they tell him their difficulty, he immediately sets on the task of watering their flock. He does the work competently and quickly. He then makes an earnest appeal to God, “O my Lord! Truly am I in (desperate) need of any good that you may give me!” For seven days he had been travelling and did not have a proper meal; he had been living on leaves and herbs.
(2) The Quran describes the girls walking ‘modestly’ and with ‘shyness’ and a sense of shame. Herein lies the real beauty of religious women – modesty.
(3) The girls told their father Shoaib عليه السلام, a prophet of God, who may have been eagerly waiting for Musa عليه السلام. He sends one of them to fetch him. The question often asked here is how could Musa عليه السلام accept the invitation of a strange woman? Imam Razi replies, “There’s no problem walking with a woman with caution and piety.” Another question arises here; Musa عليه السلام had performed a voluntary act for the pleasure of Allah, so why would he seek a wage for it? It appears that Musa عليه السلام agrees to go to see the old man for blessings, not to be paid. In fact, when Shoaib عليه السلام presents him the meal, Musa عليه السلام refuses, saying he does not take wage for voluntary work. Shoaib عليه السلام tells him it is not wage: it’s our hospitality.
Another related question is posed: how could Shoaib عليه السلام send his young daughter to fetch a strange young man? Razi says, “Necessity makes the forbidden things permissible”. This is why his daughters looked after the flock and had to water them.
(4) Shoaib عليه السلام invited Musa عليه السلام to stay with him and at an appropriate time made this amazing offer to him. Here we see the patriarch, the leader of the family, making an important decision that was accepted happily.