History of the Prophets
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
In chronological order the history of Noah may be taken next. Though Noah is referred to in the Holy Quran repeatedly, a detailed account of his preaching is contained in the short chapter entitled Noah, and devoted entirely to his life-work, one of the earliest Makka [Makkah] revelations, in 11:25–49, 26:105–121 and 54:8–15, another early revelation, other references being very brief. A few quotations are given below, as showing how strenuously Noah worked to establish the truth and how stubborn his people were in rejecting it, and how they were finally destroyed by a deluge:
“Surely We sent Noah to his people, saying: Warn thy people before there come upon them a painful chastisement.
He said: O my people, I am a plain warner to you:
That you should serve Allah and keep your duty to Him and obey me….
He said: O my Lord, I have called my people night and day; but my call has only made them flee the more.
And whenever I have called them that Thou mayest forgive them, they thrust their fingers in their ears and cover themselves with their garments, and persist (in their evil ways) and are big with pride.
Then surely I have called to them aloud,
Then spoken to them in public and spoken to them in private,
So I have said, Ask forgiveness of your Lord, surely He is ever Forgiving:
He will send down upon you the rain, pouring in abundance,
And help you with wealth and sons, and make for you gardens, and make for you rivers.
What is the matter with you that you hope not for greatness from Allah.” (The Holy Quran, 71:1–13)
“And certainly We sent Noah to his people: Surely I am a plain warner to you,
To serve none but Allah. Verily I fear for you the chastisement of a painful day.
But the chiefs of his people who disbelieved said: We see thee not but a mortal like us and we see not that any follow thee but those who are the meanest of us at first thought. Nor do we see in you any superiority over us; nay, we deem you liars.
He said: O my people, see you if I have with me clear proof from my Lord, and He has granted me mercy from Himself and it has been made obscure to you. Can we compel you to (accept) it while you are averse to it?
And, O my people, I ask you not for wealth (in return) for it.” (The Holy Quran, 11:25–29)
The Bible is silent about Noah’s preachings to his people and his great struggle to bring about their reformation. It tells us only that there was wickedness in the whole of the earth while only
“Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations,”
and that God told Noah to make an ark for himself and his family as He was going to destroy the earth and all on it.
There is another marked difference in the story of Noah as related in the Quran and as related in the Bible. According to the Bible, the deluge covered the whole earth and its result was destruction of all flesh on the surface of the earth:
“And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl and of cattle, and of beast, and of everything that creepeth upon the earth, and every man.” (Genesis 7:21)
According to the Holy Quran, the deluge was a punishment only for the particular people who persisted in their evil ways and rejected the truth, who refused to bow before God. The Holy Book speaks again and again of Noah being sent to a particular people and only of their destruction by the deluge, because they not only would not give up their wicked ways but even planned to destroy the righteous:
“Noah said: My Lord, surely they disobey me and follow him whose wealth and children have increased him in naught but loss.
And they have planned a mighty plan…
And indeed they have led many astray. And increase Thou the wrongdoers in naught but perdition.
Because of their wrongs they were drowned, then made to enter Fire, so they found no helpers besides Allah.” (The Holy Quran, 71:21–25)
“My Lord, my people give me the lie. So judge Thou between me and them openly and, deliver me and the believers who are with me.
So We delivered him and those with him in the laden ark. Then We drowned the rest afterwards.” (The Holy Quran, 26:117–120)
“But they rejected him, so We delivered him and those with him in the ark, and We made them rulers and drowned those who rejected Our messages.” (The Holy Quran, 10:73)
Thus according to the Holy Quran, the Divine purpose was the destruction of evil and injustice, not the destruction of flesh. It was only the unjust people who would not give up their evil ways and who planned to bring about the destruction of the preachers of righteousness that were destroyed. There is no mention at all in the Holy Quran of the deluge covering the whole face of the earth.
Another difference is that while according to the Bible only Noah and his family were saved, according to the Quran there were other people who believed in Noah, and they too were saved, as the above quotations show. That the aim was destruction of evil is further emphasized by speaking of a son of Noah who was among those who were drowned, because he too persisted in evil, but of this there is no mention in the Bible:
“… And Noah called out to his son, and he was aloof: O my son, embark with us and be not with the disbelievers… And a wave intervened between them, so he was among the drowned.” (The Holy Quran, 11:42, 43)
There is thus this essential difference between the two stories. All the righteous are saved, not only Noah and his family, and all the wicked are destroyed, including even a member of Noah’s family, according to the Quran.
The Bible also speaks of a son of Noah but the difference is remarkable. It makes Noah first drunken to such an extent that he became naked:
“And he drank of the wine and was drunken and he was uncovered within his tent” (Genesis 9:21).
One of his sons, Ham, saw him in this condition, and when Noah awoke from his wine, he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham, and condemned him to be
“a servant of servants”
to his brethren. The story in all its details is entirely repugnant to moral laws. Canaan suffers for the fault of his father, but the fault was really Noah’s own. Moreover, it ascribes the sin of getting drunk to a prophet of God. The story as narrated in the Holy Quran has a moral purpose beneath it, but as related in the Bible it shocks the very sense of morality.
There is generally a misunderstanding about the origin of the deluge due to a wrong interpretation of word tannur which occurs in the following verse:
“At length when Our command came and water gushed forth from the valley, We said: Carry in it two of all things, a pair, and thine own family—except those against whom the word has already gone forth—and those who believe.” (The Holy Quran, 11:40)
The deluge was the result of an exceptionally heavy rain, a severe cloud-burst:
“Then We opened the gates of heaven with water pouring down, and made water to flow forth in the land in springs, so the water gathered together according to a measure already ordained.” (The Holy Quran, 54:11–12)
It should also be noted that in the language of the Quran, the words all things of which pairs were to be taken mean not all animals existing on the earth, to gather together which was a physical impossibility for Noah, but all things needed for the sustenance of those in the ark. The same words occur elsewhere:
“I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given of everything.” (The Holy Quran, 27:23)
Here too by all things are meant all things needed for her pomp and glory.
A very short notice of Noah contained in 29:14, 15 [The Holy Quran], adds that he remained among his people for 950 years, which may refer either to his own span of life or to the duration of his law. In 66:10 [The Holy Quran], his wife is mentioned along with Lot’s wife, and it is stated that both of them acted treacherously towards their righteous husbands. Further, according to the Holy Quran, Noah’s ark was left as a sign for the coming generations, while there is no such mention in the Bible.
“And We bore him on that which was made of planks and nails, floating on, before Our eyes—a reward for him who was denied. And certainly We left it as a sign, but is there any that will mind?” (The Holy Quran, 54:13–15)