Design a site like this with
Get started

Qur’an 20:85: a Samaritan in the time of Moses?

Bismillah i-Rahman i-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful)

The Wise Qur’an identifies the one who built the Jews’ golden calf as “as-samiri”:

(Allah) said: “We have tested thy people in thy absence: the Samiri has led them astray.” 20:85

Missionaries, on the assumption that Samiri exclusively means “Samaritan”, accuse the Qur’an of erring, since the Samaritan sect did not emerge until centuries after the time of Musa (as). First off we have to investigate this underlying assumption.


Samiri actually comes from the masculine name Samir, which means “an entertaining companion at night” (as in Noble Qur’an 23:67).1 As-Samiri may have been an Egyptian* who joined the exodus and who would entertain the Israelites in the evening with stories and/or magic tricks, eventually leading to the building and worship of the calf.1

Alternatively, given a possible link with the Hebrew term Shamar (“guard/watch/preserve”), he may have been a security guard who was specially appointed by Musa (as) in the latter’s forty-day absence.1

Even if As-Samiri does mean Samaritan, moreover, this could be a typological allusion to biblical Samaria, who also worshipped a calf centuries after the Exodus. As Taha Soomra argues in a footnote:

…It seems probable, given the similarity to the biblical Samaria, that the Qurʾān is alluding to the future calf worship of the Northern Kingdom. This is fitting, given that the Qurʾānic as-Sāmiri’s sin is also calf worship. Thus, the title is typological. (Emphasis mine)


Maududi speculated that Samiri’s name was also Harun (Aaron), in which case the two became conflated via centuries of oral tradition.

wallahu ‘alim (and Allah knows best).

*Samiri may also be related to the Hebrew word Shemer (“stranger/foreigner”), which is consistent with this possibility.


Published by Khaled Colwill

Author of "Book of Signs: The Case for the Qur'an's divine origin" and "Messenger of God: The Case for Muhammad's Prophethood". Both available at Amazon

One thought on “Qur’an 20:85: a Samaritan in the time of Moses?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: