Verses from Surah Hud (41-49)

[41] So he (Nuh) said (to his followers), ‘Embark therein. In Allah’s name is its sailing and its anchoring. Verily, my Lord is Very Forgiving, Very Kind.’ [42] It was sailing with them amidst mountain-like waves.51 And Nuh called out to his son – who was in another place – ‘My son. Embark with us and be not among the infidels.’

Commentary

51. This is no exaggeration. In modern times, the tallest recorded waves have measured 112 feet (Random House Encyclopedia, 1990 ed., p. 226).

[43] He replied, ‘I shall take refuge on a mountain. That will save me from the water.’ Said (Nuh), ‘There is no savior this day from Allah’s decree, except for him whom He shows mercy.’ And a wave came in between the two and (lo, the next moment) he was of the drowned. [44] It was said, ‘O earth, swallow your water, and O heavens withhold.’52 So the water abated, the affair ended, and it berthed on Judiyy.53 And it was said, ‘Away with a wrongdoing people.’

 

Commentary

52. The earth had been ordered to throw out its underground water and the sky was ordered to empty itself. A verse in another part of the Qur’an says (54: 11,12), “Then We opened up the doors of heaven with water and we caused the earth to gush forth with torrents” (Shawkani).

53. There is nothing in the hadith literature – neither Sahih nor Da‘if – identifying Judiyy. Therefore, opinions have varied among the classical commentators, with each opinion as indeterminate as another (Au.).

Although what the so-called modern research concludes is as inconclusive, we may note what Asad has to say in view of general interest, “This mountain, known in ancient times as Qardu, is situated in the regions of Lake Van, almost twenty-five miles north-east of the town of Jazirat Ibn ‘Umar, capital of the modern Syrian district of Al-Jazirah. It ‘owes its fame to the Mesopotamian tradition which identifies it, and not Mount Ararat, with the mountain on which Noah’s ark rested…This localization of the ark’s resting place … is certainly based on Babylonian tradition’ (Encyclopedia of Islam I, 1059). We should, however, remember that the designation Ararat (the Assyrian Uratu) at one time included the whole area to the south of Lake Van, in which Jabal Judi is situated: this might explain the Biblical statement that ‘the ark rested … upon the mountains of Ararat’ (Genesis, viii, 4).”

[45] And Nuh cried out to his Lord saying, ‘O my Lord! My son is of my family and surely, Your promise is true. However, You are the Most Just of the judges.’ [46] He said, ‘O Nuh! Surely, he is not of your family.54 He is an unrighteous deed.55 Therefore, ask me not for that about which you have no knowledge. I admonish you not to be of the ignorant.’56

Commentary

54. Moved by the words, “He is not of your family,” and “He is an unrighteous deed”, and the words in Surah al-Tahrim (66: 10), “the two of them were dishonest to their husbands,” some of the earliest commentators have expressed the opinion that the son mentioned here was not truly Nuh’s progeny, rather his wife’s son, born out of adultery. It could be a report of Israeli birth. Ibn ‘Abbas, Sa‘id b. Jubayr, Mujahid, ‘Ikrimah, Dahhak, Maymun b. Mahran, and many others have strongly opposed this opinion. They have said that no Prophet’s wife ever committed adultery. Ibn ‘Abbas has explained the words “He is an unrighteous deed,” as meaning, he was different from his father in deeds and intentions. As for the words, “he is not of your family” the meaning is, “he is not of those of your family that We had promised to rescue from the punishment” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

We might at this point remember what the Prophet said to Salman al-Farsi, when he asked the Prophet whom did he belong to? That is, to which tribe should he be considered as aligned to? The Prophet answered, “You are of the ahl al-bayt.” It is apparent from a few other such reports as centered around use of the terms ahl al-bayt, that not everyone belonging to a Prophet’s household was one of the ahl al-bayt. Many scholars believe that the pious ones of all times are of the ahl al-bayt, a house built on piety (Au.).

55. A second opinion that has come down from Ibn ‘Abbas that the words [“that indeed is an unrighteous deed”] are those of Allah. They are to be translated as, “that indeed is an unrighteous deed,” meaning, “Your request that We save your son from drowning, although you are aware that he is an unbeliever, is not a righteous deed.” Mujahid was also of this opinion (Ibn Jarir).

56. It is reasonable to believe that Nuh (asws) was not too sure of his son, whether he was a believer or not, either because the son had not opened up with his father, as it happens in many father-son relationships, or, the son acted hypocritically all the time to leave the father in doubt (Au.).

[47] He said, ‘My Lord. I seek Your refuge that I should ask for that about which I have no knowledge. And, unless You forgive me and show me mercy, surely, I will be of the losers.’ [48] It was said, ‘O Nuh. Disembark in peace from Us, and blessings be on you and on the people with you,57 and nations whom We shall grant provision for a while and then a painful chastisement shall strike them (if they similarly disbelieve).’58

Commentary

57. The construction of the phrase allows for the meaning that peace will be upon those who were with Nuh in the boat, as well as that it will reside with their progeny. Ka‘b al-Qurazi, Ibn Jurayj, Ibn Zayd and others were inclined to this meaning, as preferred by Ibn Jarir.

58. In view of this verse, there was general agreement among the earliest commentators that today’s mankind is entirely the progeny of those who were with Nuh on the boat. This view is supported by another verse (69: 11), “When the waters rose We took you into the boat.” Ibn ‘Abbas in fact is reported to have said (Qurtubi) that Nuh was Junior Adam. This implies that the flood was universal, drowning everyone except those in the boat. If the flood was local, how does one account for mountain like waves? That is only possible if a boat is set adrift in high seas. As regards the difficulties in accepting the universality of the flood, the following might be noted.

First, the period of Nuh’s advent is unknown. It could have been millions of years ago. Scientific evidences are now emerging which suggest that man might have inhabited the earth as early as ten million years ago. Although there is no reason why man shouldn’t have been there prior to that time. Lack of evidence does not rule out the possibility. In fact, hard evidences are impossible to obtain beyond a million years. The earth destroys everything. If fossil evidences of other life-forms many million years older are available, it could be because those life-forms were very common then. Out of millions, a few fossils survived: a tooth, a finger-tip bone, etc. In contrast, early humans couldn’t have been but a few thousand in numbers. Secondly, it is possible that the humankind occupied only a specific area of the total land mass then above water, a larger part being under water. In fact, it is possible that all continents were then one land mass. (The scientists believe that it was some 200 million years ago that the continents started to split from a single land mass. [The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, art., Evolution of Continents] It is another thing there is no firm, undeniable evidence yet to turn the theory into a fact. However, if the land mass was one, then the flood became universal. Thirdly, with regard to the question as to what was the sin of the rest of the world to be destroyed by a universal flood?, the commentators have said that if Allah wished He could destroy everyone on the earth whether falling in Nuh’s jurisdiction or not. Why can’t one who creates, destroy his creation at will? In addition, it is quite possible that the people whom Nuh (asws) did not address directly, were as criminally disposed to truth, or more, as Nuh’s own nation was. Finally, as to the question, about where did all the water come from?

The answer is as follows. Firstly, the earth could have had lot more water at the time than what it has now. It has been losing water molecules into space throughout its history. Although an infinitesimally tiny amount every year, but how much has it lost over thousands of millions of years is beyond any estimate now. If that water is brought back to the earth, surely, the ocean levels will rise high above the present level and submerge much of the land. In fact, scientists believe that millions of years ago, when all the waters were in the skies, it used to rain continuously for hundreds of years at a stretch (Asimov’s New Guide to Science, p. 229).

Secondly, there is no evidence to believe that the north and south poles were as icy as now. If the snow at the two poles were to melt, as it is melting now, it would add to the water inundating the earth. Finally, the present depth of the oceans varies from 3.7 km. (average) to 11 km. (maximum).  In comparison, the land surface is only about less than a kilometer above the sea-level. How and when did the land under the sea sink to the present level? If the depth of the oceans was not always the same as now, but less deeper, then the land mass above the waters would have been much less. In that case several weeks of heavy down-pour, plus the bursting out of water from below due to geological turmoil, and the melted waters of the two poles would have brought enough water on to the surface to sink the entire land mass except the mountains over one of which the boat anchored. Having said that, we might also point out that there is no consensus of opinion among the Muslim scholars over the issue of universality of the flood. That is because, although asserted by the Bible, the Qur’an does not state it in categorical terms. We have presented a few points only to demonstrate that if it happened, it could have been possible in view of several possibilities. While Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abduh believed that the floods were universal, and Rashid Rida said that the land mass must have been one, Alusi was inclined to believe that the floods were not universal, and that Nuh was ordered to carry with him just those animals in the boat that he and his followers would have needed for immediate survival after leaving the boat. Allah knows best (Au.).

[49] These are the tidings of the Unseen that We reveal unto you (O Muhammad). You did not know about it, nor your people, before this.59 So be patient. Surely the (good) end is for the righteous.

Commentary

59. Asad notes: “Although the story of Noah had been vaguely known to the Arabs even before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, they – and the Prophet with them – were entirely unaware of the details as narrated in the preceding Qur’anic account (Razi)…In this connection it should be remembered – and it cannot be stressed too often – that ‘narrative’ as such is never the purpose of the Qur’an. Whenever it relates the stories of the earlier prophets, or alludes to ancient legends or historical events that took place before the advent of Islam or during the lifetime of the Prophet, the aim is, invariably, a moral lesson; and since one and the same event, or even legend, has usually many facets revealing as many moral implications, the Qur’an reverts again and again to the same stories, but every time with a slight variation of stress on this or that aspect of the fundamental truths underlying the Qur’anic revelation as a whole.”