Sūrah Nuh

Sūrah Nuh


Qur'ānic Exegesis

Central Theme and Relationship with the Previous Sūrah

In Sūrah Ma'ārij, the previous sūrah, readers have seen that the Prophet (sws) was urged to exercise patience at the attitude of those who were demanding to hasten the promised punishment. In this sūrah, the tale of prophet Noah's phases of preaching, his protracted period of waiting and exercising patience during it and finally his people facing punishment is comprehensively narrated. The purpose is to show to the Prophet (sws) and his people that in order to reach his final destination how many arduous and grueling periods of waiting and perseverance a messenger of God must pass through. Moreover, the purpose is to show his people that in spite of the hastiness of the hurried and in spite of their scorn and allegations, the Almighty does give a long respite to people; however, He finally seizes them and when He does seize them, then such is His grasp that no one can rescue those whom He grasps.

Analysis of the Discourse

The sequence of the topics covered in the sūrah is very evident. For this reason, no analysis is required. The various phases of the preaching mission of the Prophet Noah (sws) are mentioned in the whole sūrah, as referred to earlier. Some verses have come in between this discourse as on the spot insertions (tadmīn). During the course of the tafsīr, their nature shall inshāllāh be explained.

Text and Translation

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ أَنْ أَنذِرْ قَوْمَكَ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (1) قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ (2) أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَطِيعُونِ (3) يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرْكُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى إِنَّ أَجَلَ اللَّهِ إِذَا جَاء لَا يُؤَخَّرُ لَوْ كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (4) قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُ قَوْمِي لَيْلًا وَنَهَارًا (5) فَلَمْ يَزِدْهُمْ دُعَائِي إِلَّا فِرَارًا (6) وَإِنِّي كُلَّمَا دَعَوْتُهُمْ لِتَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ جَعَلُوا أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ وَاسْتَغْشَوْا ثِيَابَهُمْ وَأَصَرُّوا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا اسْتِكْبَارًا (7) ثُمَّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُهُمْ جِهَارًا (8) ثُمَّ إِنِّي أَعْلَنتُ لَهُمْ وَأَسْرَرْتُ لَهُمْ إِسْرَارًا (9) فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا (10) يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاء عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا (11) وَيُمْدِدْكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ أَنْهَارًا (12) مَّا لَكُمْ لَا تَرْجُونَ لِلَّهِ وَقَارًا (13) وَقَدْ خَلَقَكُمْ أَطْوَارًا (14) أَلَمْ تَرَوْا كَيْفَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا (15) وَجَعَلَ الْقَمَرَ فِيهِنَّ نُورًا وَجَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ سِرَاجًا (16) وَاللَّهُ أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا (17) ثُمَّ يُعِيدُكُمْ فِيهَا وَيُخْرِجُكُمْ إِخْرَاجًا (18) وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ بِسَاطًا (19) لِتَسْلُكُوا مِنْهَا سُبُلًا فِجَاجًا (20) قَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ إِنَّهُمْ عَصَوْنِي وَاتَّبَعُوا مَن لَّمْ يَزِدْهُ مَالُهُ وَوَلَدُهُ إِلَّا خَسَارًا (21) وَمَكَرُوا مَكْرًا كُبَّارًا (22) وَقَالُوا لَا تَذَرُنَّ آلِهَتَكُمْ وَلَا تَذَرُنَّ وَدًّا وَلَا سُوَاعًا وَلَا يَغُوثَ وَيَعُوقَ وَنَسْرًا (23) وَقَدْ أَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَلَا تَزِدِ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا ضَلَالًا (24) مِمَّا خَطِيئَاتِهِمْ أُغْرِقُوا فَأُدْخِلُوا نَارًا فَلَمْ يَجِدُوا لَهُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَنصَارًا (25) وَقَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ لَا تَذَرْ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ دَيَّارًا (26) إِنَّكَ إِن تَذَرْهُمْ يُضِلُّوا عِبَادَكَ وَلَا يَلِدُوا إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًا (27) رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيَّ وَلِمَن دَخَلَ بَيْتِيَ مُؤْمِنًا وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَلَا تَزِدِ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا تَبَارًا (28)

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

We sent forth Nūh as a rasūl to his people that: "Warn your people before there comes to them a grievous torment." He called: "O my People! I am to you a clear warner that worship God and remain within the limits set by Him and obey me. The Almighty shall forgive your [previous] sins, and shall give you respite till an appointed time. Indeed, when the time appointed by God comes, it cannot be deferred. Would that you knew!" (1-4)

Noah prayed: "O Lord! Day and night I have called my people but my calls have only added to their aversion. And whenever I called upon them to repent so that You may forgive them, they thrust their fingers in their ears, drew their cloaks over them, persisted in their stubbornness and expressed conceit. Then I openly called them; then also appealed to them in public and also beseeched them in private." I said: "Seek forgiveness from your Lord; indeed, He is ever Forgiving; He shall send down on you abundant rain from the heavens and shall strengthen you with wealth and children and shall make for you gardens and shall bring forth for you springs of water." (5-12)

What has come upon you that you do not expect the majesty of your Lord to materialize even though He made you pass through various phases of creation. Have you not seen how He has made seven heavens one above the other and made the moon a light therein and the sun a lamp and it is He Who has grown you from the earth in such an elaborate way. Then to the earth He returns you and will bring you forth from it without any hindrance. And Allah has levelled out the earth for you so that you may walk in its wide tracks. (13-20)

Nūhsaid: "O Lord! They have disobeyed me and followed those whose wealth and children only added to their ruin and they contrived great schemes and said: "Abandon not these gods of yours whatsoever and abandon not Wadd nor Suwā'; and neither Yaghūth nor Ya'ūq nor Nasr." And they misled many. And only increase these wrongdoers in further error." (21-24)

Because of their misdeeds they were drowned; then were cast into a great Fire. Then they found none to help them against Allah. (25)

And Nūh said: "O Lord! Leave not one of these disbelievers in the land. If You spare them, they will mislead Your servants and will beget none but sinners and disbelievers. Forgive me, Lord, and forgive my parents and everyone who enters my house as a believer and forgive all believing men and believing women and increase these wrongdoers only in ruin." (26-28)

Explanation

إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ أَنْ أَنذِرْ قَوْمَكَ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (1)[1]

This verse mentions an established practice of God which is elaborated in the Qur'ān at a number of places: when the moral misconduct of a nation reaches such an extent that it becomes worthy of God's decisive punishment, it is not punished by Him unless a Messenger is sent by Him to deliver the truth to them in such an ultimate manner that they are left with no excuse to remain in error. According to this very practice, the Almighty before punishing the nation of Noah (sws) sent to them Noah(sws) as His Messenger. He told them that the punishment of God was at hand; if they wanted to protect themselves from it, they should mend their ways and follow the guidance brought by him; otherwise they should remember that no one will be able to escape the wrath of God.

قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ (2)[2]

The expression نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ has already been explained earlier in this tafsīr.[3]Noah (sws), in compliance with the Almighty's directive, informed his people that just as a naked warner in the ancient Arabia would inform his people of an enemy attack, he too is an open warner to them and that God has sent him to them to warn them of the imminent punishment looming above them.

أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَطِيعُونِ (3)[4]

This is the detail of the warning referred to in the previous verse. The implication of the words أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ (that worship God) is that they should stop worshipping their self-created deities (whose details are mentioned later in the sūrah) and worship the one and only real God. None except Him is worthy of worship.

The implication of the word وَاتَّقُوهُ is that they should abide by the limits prescribed for them for their guidance by the Almighty if they have to save themselves from the wrath of God. The real meaning of taqwā, as has been explained at various places in this tafsīr, is that one should fully respect and abide by the limits set by the Almighty through His sharī'ah in various spheres of human life and should fear crossing these limits. Those who break these limits without any hesitation end up facing the wrath of God.

The word وَأَطِيعُونِ refers to the fact that people should stop following their mischievous leaders and follow Noah (sws).

Further down in this sūrah, these mischievous leaders are mentioned. Noah (sws) had also informed his people that their leaders were escorting them to the punishment of God and if they wanted to save themselves from it, they must stop following them and adopt the guidance he has brought.

The three basic tenets of Noah's call are mentioned in this verse: tawhīd, abiding by the sharī'ah of God and obedience to the prophet. It is these three tenets on which the call of all the prophets of God is based. On their strength depends the strength of religion. As long as a nation abides by these, it remains on the right path. As soon as it deviates from these tenets, it deviates from the right path and ultimately wanders so far away from it that no chance remains of its return. Then it rejects the advice and counsel of the best of its well-wishers and ends up facing divine punishment.

يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرْكُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى إِنَّ أَجَلَ اللَّهِ إِذَا جَاء لَا يُؤَخَّرُ لَوْ كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (4)[5]

The implication of this verse is that if his people accept these three tenets of Noah's call the Almighty will forgive their crimes which made them worthy of punishment and let them live in this world till a specific period of time.

Some people regard the مِنْ in يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ to be superfluous (zā'idah) and some others regard it to be equivalent in meaning to عَنْ. Both these opinions are against linguistic principles of Arabic. No word in the Qur'ān is superfluous. If at some places, a word does seem to be redundant at those places too it comes to fill a vacuum which in itself is a common linguistic principle. Such letters are also specific. Not every letter can be regarded to serve this function without any proof. There is no example in the Qur'ān or in classical Arabic of the letter مِنْ used in the superfluous sense.

Similarly, regarding it to be equivalent in meaning to عَنْalso has no proof. In the first place, there is no reliable example of it being used in this meaning. Even if there is, the verb غَفَرَ is never used with the preposition عَنْ. One invokes the Almighty with the words: رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْلَنَا ذُنُوْبَنَا and not by saying رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْلَنَا عَنْ ذُنُوْبِنِا. In such a case, one will have to interpret the words by regarding the verb غَفَرَ to encompass (mutadammin) the verb صَفَحَ in it or to encompass some other verb which is used with the preposition عَنْ. Without this consideration using غَفَرَ with عَنْwould be against linguistic principles of Arabic.

In my opinion, the verb is in its conventional connotation of tab'īd(partialness). The whole discourse would be something to the effect: يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ ([if you accept these tenets of my call], the Almighty will forgive all your past sins). Here because of contextual indication these implied words are suppressed. Thus it is known and is also very logical that once a person enters in the state of belief from disbelief his sins committed in the state of disbelief are forgiven. As far as those sins are concerned which a person commits once he becomes a believer, they are forgiven on the basis of a specific principle stated in the following verse of Sūrah Nisā':

إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوَءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَكَانَ اللّهُ عَلِيماً حَكِيماً (4: 17-18)

It is incumbent upon God to forgive those who commit a sin while being overwhelmed with emotions and then quickly repent. It is they who are forgiven by God. God is all-knowing and wise. (4:17-18)

I have already explained this principle while writing the tafsīr of the above-quoted verse.

In the verse under discussion, the word مِنْ is thus used to express the fact that if the people of Noah (sws) accept his call and embrace faith, the Almighty shall forgive all their sins committed in the state of disbelief. If the word مِنْ was not present in this verse, then the verse could also have meant that all their past and future sins will be forgiven. This of course is not true because embracing faith after disbelief erases only the pervious sins and not the future ones.

The expression وَيُؤَخِّرْكُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى refers to the fact that if his people accept all the three tenets presented by Noah (sws), the punishment of the Almighty from which Noah (sws) is threatening them with will be deferred by the Almighty and they will be granted a specific period of time to live in this world.

The condition أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى (specific time period) shows that no time granted in this world is unlimited. Everything of this world is transient and temporary. Even if a person spends his life as a practicing believer, he is not granted an infinite life span; one day, he has to die. The only difference is that he is not destroyed by some punishment of the Almighty; he is granted the respite to live his full life. Similarly, if a nation embraces faith, fears the limits set by the Almighty and remains obedient to his prophet, the Almighty allows it to flourish as long as it adheres to faith and remains fearful of God. As soon as it deviates from this path, it begins to plunge from the height it had attained and when its moral decadence reaches its lowest limit its span of life reaches its end, and it is destroyed in its capacity of a nation. Similar is the case of this whole world as well. Its life span is also fixed. A day will come when this place of test will be disbanded and a new world – called the Hereafter – with new laws and regulations will come into being.

Noah (sws) has pointed to this temporary nature of the life of this world and that of its components. Both the pious and the impious should always keep this in mind. Only those who keep this in mind, will benefit from the time granted in this life and those who are indifferent to this will face great loss because of what they did in this world.

The secret of real success in life depends on understanding what is said above. However, as the expression لَوْ كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (would that you knew!) says, very few people understand this secret. Thus Noah (sws) has expressed this yearning.

The established practice of God referred to in this verse has also been mentioned in the following verses:

وَلَوْ يُؤَاخِذُ اللّهُ النَّاسَ بِظُلْمِهِم مَّا تَرَكَ عَلَيْهَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ وَلَكِن يُؤَخِّرُهُمْ إلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى فَإِذَا جَاء أَجَلُهُمْ لاَ يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً وَلاَ يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ (61:16)

If God punished men for their sins, not one creature would be left alive. He reprieves them till a time ordained; when their time arrives, not for one moment shall they stay behind nor can they go before it. (16:61)

قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُ قَوْمِي لَيْلًا وَنَهَارًا (5) فَلَمْ يَزِدْهُمْ دُعَائِي إِلَّا فِرَارًا (6)[6]

From here begins the second phase of Noah's preaching mission. It is in this phase that he beseeched the Almighty that all his preaching efforts which he expended day and night for his people have borne no fruit. It needs to be kept in mind that the extent of time Noah (sws) spent in his preaching mission is unrivalled. The Qur'ān says:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ فَلَبِثَ فِيهِمْ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ إِلَّا خَمْسِينَ عَامًا فَأَخَذَهُمُ الطُّوفَانُ وَهُمْ ظَالِمُونَ (14:29)

And We send forth Noah to his people, and he dwelt among them for a thousand years less fifty. Then in their sinfulness the Flood overwhelmed them. (29:14)

Obviously, the words دَعَوْتُ قَوْمِي لَيْلًا وَنَهَارًا (day and night I have called my people) cannot have a trace of exaggeration in them. A rasūl decides the fate of his nation in this world. Upon accepting or rejecting him depends their life or death. For this reason, though every rasūl day and night called his people to the right path and expended every drop of his energy for this purpose but as pointed out earlier, the lengthy span of time Noah (sws) spent in trying to stir and awaken people from their slumber stands unmatched. However, in spite of this extended effort, the result, in his own words, was: فَلَمْ يَزِدْهُمْ دُعَائِي إِلَّا فِرَارًا (but my calls have only added to their aversion). This aversion obviously was not because the message preached by Noah (sws) was against the dictates of human intellect and reason or that his people doubted his sincerity or uprightness. The propriety of his message with sense and reason was evident to everyone and everyone also acknowledged his veracity in his heart. However, since this message was against their base desires and its acceptance would also have bitten the arrogance of their leaders, for this reason the more Noah (sws) went after them, the more they ran away from him. They felt that they had no answer to the message preached by Noah (sws) and it was also difficult for them to change their lifestyle; so they preferred this escapist policy so that they could protect their criminal conscience from the pangs of compunction. This was indeed an improper scheme adopted by them; but then what better scheme can be adopted by those who want to run away from the truth.

وَإِنِّي كُلَّمَا دَعَوْتُهُمْ لِتَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ جَعَلُوا أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ وَاسْتَغْشَوْا ثِيَابَهُمْ وَأَصَرُّوا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا اسْتِكْبَارًا (7)[7]

This verse portrays the evasion and arrogance of Noah's people.

Because of eloquence a part of the discourse is suppressed in دَعَوْتُهُمْ لِتَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ. If this suppression is unveiled, the whole discourse would be something like this: "Whenever I called upon them to seek forgiveness so that they could become worthy of Your forgiveness, they thrust their fingers in their ears." However, instead of saying these words, Noah (sws) uttered a sentence in which the consequence of an action (forgiveness) was placed in place of the action (seeking forgiveness) so that the wretchedness and misfortune of his people becomes fully evident. In other words, the implication of the verse is that Noah (sws) tried his best that his people should become worthy of God's forgiveness, but so worthless were they that they did not care to even listen to him.

The words وَاسْتَغْشَوْا ثِيَابَهُمْ depict the arrogance and haughtiness of the leaders of the nation: as soon as they heard Noah's call, they flung their shawls over themselves with great distaste and walked off from that place.

In the expression وَأَصَرُّوا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا اسْتِكْبَارًا, a verbal noun is suppressed after the verb أَصَرُّواie. إِصْرَاراًوَأَصَرُّوا.This is because of the existence of a verbal noun in its parallel construction. Noah (sws), in other words, is lamenting that instead of accepting his calls of seeking forgiveness from the Almighty, his people have become adamant on their polytheism and disobedience. Verse twenty further explains this.

The word اسْتِكْبَارًا means to deliberately oppose the truth and to display rebelliousness before it. Whether small or big, truths are dear to God. For this reason, it is essential that a person submits to it even though it might be hard on him. If a person rejects the truth, then he is the follower of the practice instituted by Satan, and will end up as his accomplice.

The word اسْتِكْبَارًا is mentioned as the real reason for their attitude. In other words, it was because of اسْتِكْبَارًا that they thrust their fingers in their ears, drew their cloaks over themselves and became adamant on their polytheism.

ثُمَّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُهُمْ جِهَارًا (8) ثُمَّ إِنِّي أَعْلَنتُ لَهُمْ وَأَسْرَرْتُ لَهُمْ إِسْرَارًا (9)[8]

In these very eloquent words, Noah (sws) has alluded to the third phase of his preaching mission. When he saw that his people had thrust their fingers in their ears and had drawn their cloaks over them, he augmented his preaching efforts. A look at the preaching missions of the prophets of God shows that this has remained a common feature of their mission. The more their people became averse to them, the more they enhanced their efforts; their pitch amplified and they became even more fervent in rousing and stirring their people. This is the nature of the truth and its upholders. The severity of opposition highlights the majesty of the truth and instead of discouraging its advocates fuels them.

The implication of verse ثُمَّ إِنِّي أَعْلَنتُ لَهُمْ وَأَسْرَرْتُ لَهُمْ إِسْرَارًا is that where it was needed that the message be presented in the open in a forceful manner, Noah (sws) did so without any hesitation so that even the deaf were able to hear his call; similarly, when he would see that there was an opportunity to present his message in an intimate way, he went ahead with this too. The objective was to stir those who still had some ability left in them to accept the truth so that if they want to contemplate their fate before the decisive moment arrives they have the chance. In other words, Noah (sws) tried to approach his people in all these ways and in any opportunity he got so that not the slightest bit remained in discharging his responsibility of preaching.

A verbal noun is suppressed after أَعْلَنتُ لَهُمْ just as it is after the verb أَصَرُّوا.[9]

فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا (10) يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاء عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا (11)[10]

In these verses, Noah (sws) has explained the message he emotively and lovingly preached to his people.

Concealed in the words إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا is also the fact that in order to earn forgiveness from Him, merely turning to Him is enough; the intercession of their alleged deities is not at all required. He is extremely forgiving. Without an intercession from anyone, He turns in mercy to all those who sincerely seek repentance from Him.

It may be noted that the polytheists of every period have remained in the misconception that since so exalted is the Almighty and as a result so beyond is He from their reach that unless there are some interceders it is not possible to make Him accept a prayer or a wish. The following verse of Sūrah Zumar reflects this very notion of theirs: مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلَّا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَى (3:39) (We serve them only that they may bring us nearer to God, (39:3)). The Qur'ān has refuted this false notion of theirs from various angles. In the verse under discussion, the part إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارً also refutes this notion. In other words, when He Himself is the most forgiving of all, how can anyone be more forgiving than Him.

The word السَّمَاء in the verse يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاء عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا refers to clouds, as has been explained earlier in this tafsīr. The word مِدْرَارًا means clouds which produce a lot of rain. It is used equally in the masculine and feminine gender. The implication is that their repentance will stir the mercy of the Almighty and He will bless them with a lot of wealth and offspring and abundant resources of life.

The polytheists were under the false notion that it was their deities who would send down rain and it was as a result of their favour that they were blessed with children. For this reason, they were very afraid to hear or say even a single word against them. It is alluded to by the Qur'ān at several places that one reason because of which they had opposed their Messengers was that these messengers degraded their deities; they thought that as a result of this degrading attitude these deities would be displeased and would deprive human beings of all their blessings and favours. So much so, in the times of a Messenger of God, if they faced trials and tribulations they would attribute it to the misfortune brought, God forbid, by the Messenger and his followers. They would reckon that they had displeased their deities because of which they were facing some trial. Noah (sws) has rebutted this false notion of theirs. He has informed them that it is not their deities who are in charge of giving people wealth and children or causing rain so that if these people forsake these deities they will deprive them of such favours. All these favours are in the hands of God and His mercy is elicited through repentance. So if they repent, they will see how He blesses them with abundant rain. In verse 52 of Sūrah Hūd, this topic has also been discussed. Those interested may look it up.

Here an important point regarding the philosophy of religion is worth noting. It is actually attributed to 'Umar (rta). It is mentioned in various narratives that once while praying the istisqā' prayer[11]he only sought repentance from the Almighty, and never mentioned rain in his supplication. When people asked him the reason for this lack of mention he replied in the light of these very verses of Sūrah Nūhthat the key to the mercy of God is repentance, and this is what he had done while leading Muslims in this prayer. In other words, he meant that seeking forgiveness from God will invoke His mercy and He knows their needs better than they themselves.

وَيُمْدِدْكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ أَنْهَارًا (12)[12]

This is just a further elaboration of what is discussed in the previous verses: It is only God Who grants wealth, children, orchards and canals. If they please Him by repenting before Him, they will receive all these things. None of these things is granted to them by their deities. So they need not be apprehensive of the displeasure of these deities that they might snatch these favours from them.

Connoisseursof the Arabic language know that the repetition of the verb يَجْعَل in the above verse has emphasized the great value and attractiveness these favours have.

مَا لَكُمْ لَا تَرْجُونَ لِلَّهِ وَقَارًا (13)[13]

These words of Noah (sws) express amazement at the foolishness of his people. Noah says that why is it that they are evading his calls when he is so fondly calling them to seek forgiveness; do they think that they will remain engrossed in their evil practices and the anger of God – who gave them all these favours – will not manifest on them; the implication is that if this is their conception of God, it means that they have no idea of His majesty and anger. God forbid, they regard Him to be absolutely insensitive and devoid of any sense of honour. They think that whatever highhandedness they may exhibit in this world will not be taken notice of by God's majesty and honour. Sūrah Infitār discusses this subject in the following words: يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنسَانُ مَا غَرَّكَ بِرَبِّكَ الْكَرِيمِ (6:82) (O man! What evil has enticed you from your gracious Lord, (82:6)). The message of this verse is that when man receives abundant favours from God and also observes that he can do whatever he wants to and still God does not seize him, he gradually becomes stubborn and indifferent to the accountability of God. In reality, had he deeply reflected on all this, he could have easily understood that the Almighty has not been so munificent to him so that he spread such mischief in the land; on the other hand, it is a requisite of these favours that he remain grateful to God and also realize that one day he will be held accountable for these favours and on that day no one will be able to save himself from His gasp.

The word تَرْجُونَ here means "to expect and to hope" and the word وَقَارًا means "glory, grandeur and fury". Besides the attributes of grandeur, the Almighty also has attributes of fury which manifest themselves on people who disobey and reject His Messengers. In order to remain on the right path, it is essential that a person keep alive in himself a comprehension of both these type of attributes. An imbalance in these two types will result in an imbalance in the overall attributes of God. As a result, he loses balance in every sphere of life. Since in this sūrah the addressees are the arrogant, only attributes of wrath are referred to.

وَقَدْ خَلَقَكُمْ أَطْوَارًا (14)[14]

Expressed in this verse is the argument on the basis of which no one should regard the day on which the Almighty's mercy will manifest itself to be improbable or impossible. The implication of the verse is that if a person reflects merely on all the phases of his creation, he can easily understand that the Almighty Who has shown such creativity can have no difficulty in re-creating man after he dies and becomes dust; when this happens, people will see from their very eyes how His wrath will manifest itself and punish these criminals and these arrogant people. This argument with precisely the same context has been expressed at various other places in the Qur'ān in order to substantiate the Day of Judgement. In Sūrah Hajj, the words are:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاء إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّى وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَى أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاء اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْحَقُّ وَأَنَّهُ يُحْيِي الْمَوْتَى وَأَنَّهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ (22: 5-6)

People! If you doubt being recreated after death, then reflect that We first created you from dust, then from a living germ, then from a clot of blood, and then from a lump of flesh – some complete and some incomplete – We have shown you these majesties to manifest to you Our power. And We cause to remain in the womb whatever We please for an appointed term. Then We bring you forth as infants and give you time that you may reach your prime. Some die young, and some live on to abject old age when all that they once knew they know no more. And you see the earth dry and barren: but no sooner do We send the water down upon it than it begins to stir and swell putting forth various kinds of growth. That is because God is the real Lord: He brings to life the dead and has power over all things. (22:5-6)

This subject has also been discussed in verses 14-16 of Sūrah Mu'minūn. Those who want to know the details, can look it up.

أَلَمْ تَرَوْا كَيْفَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا (15) وَجَعَلَ الْقَمَرَ فِيهِنَّ نُورًا وَجَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ سِرَاجًا (16) وَاللَّهُ أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا (17) ثُمَّ يُعِيدُكُمْ فِيهَا وَيُخْرِجُكُمْ إِخْرَاجًا (18) وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ بِسَاطًا (19) لِتَسْلُكُوا مِنْهَا سُبُلًا فِجَاجًا (20)[15]

These six verses can be regarded as part of Noah's speech; however, it seems to me that these are insertions from the Almighty in order to complete Noah's speech. Several examples of such insertions can be seen in previous sūrahs. A strong indication that these verses are insertions is that the remaining portion of Noah's speech which occurs in verse twenty one begins with the words: قَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ (Noah said: O Lord! …). If verses 15-20 were also part of Noah's speech, then there was no need to repeat the words قَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ. This repetition indicates that the above verses are insertions from the Almighty. In order to connect the subsequent part with the prayer of Noah (sws), it was indicated that it was part of his speech.

In the verse: أَلَمْ تَرَوْا كَيْفَ خَلَقَ اللَّهُ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقًا the Almighty has directed man's attention to the most prominent sign of His universe: the seven heavens. The implication is that how can the Almighty Who has the power to create seven heavens one above the other be unable to create man again. Precisely this same argument is found in the following verse of Sūrah Nāzi'āt: (79: 27) أَأَنْتُمْ أَشَدُّ خَلْقًا أَمْ السَّمَاءُ بَنَاهَا(is it more difficult to create you or the heavens? He made it, (79:27)). In a slightly different style, this argument can also be seen in 70:40-41.

The word طِبَاقٌ means "multi-layered / one above the other". This does not necessarily mean that like the folds of a cloth, the sky has seven consecutive folds; the purpose is to say that there are seven distinct worlds raised high and each has seven heavens. Such facts mentioned in the Qur'ān are meant to present a picture of God's infinite power. It is enough to believe in them in the broad sense. The reality will manifest on the Day the Almighty will unveil it. No one except God can unveil it. Science has a very limited access and however much it has been able to unfold has only increased man's bewilderment instead of having knowledge of this reality, which will only be unveiled in the Hereafter.

After directing man's attention to the heavens, the next verse: وَجَعَلَ الْقَمَرَ فِيهِنَّ نُورًا وَجَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ سِرَاجًا directs his attention to the great signs they contain: It is the Almighty Who has made the moon a light therein and the sun a lamp in order to illuminate them. This also is a reference to God's great wisdom and universal providence besides His power. Thus had this arrangement not been made, this world would have remained plunged in darkness. If even after these obvious signs, there are people who do regard the Hereafter to be an impossibility, then there is nothing which can open their eyes. It needs to be kept in consideration here that all the signs of God's mercy and providence in this world necessitate a Day of accountability. This argument has been discussed at various places in this tafsīr.

After directing man's attention to the heavens and its signs, in the subsequent verses: وَاللَّهُ أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا ثُمَّ يُعِيدُكُمْ فِيهَا وَيُخْرِجُكُمْ إِخْرَاجًا (17-18) attention is directed at the signs of the earth. First of all, the most noble of the earth's creatures: human beings are presented. It is said that the Almighty has grown them from the earth and later to the earth He returns them and then He will bring them forth from it one day.

The inimitability of the eloquence of the Qur'ān is evident from this verse as well. The claim made in them itself constitutes a very clear argument. If all this is unfolded, the overall discourse will be something to the effect: Just as vegetation sprouts from the earth, the Almighty has grown man from it, and just as everything that sprouts from the earth dies and is brought back to it, in a similar manner man will also become the dust of the earth; then just as man witnesses that whenever the Almighty wants, He enlivens dead vegetation, in a similar manner, whenever He wants, He will bring man back to life without any bother.

The verbal nouns نَبَاتًاand إِخْرَاجًا are meant to emphasize their respective verbs. The aspects through which verbs are emphasized are different and for this reason it is difficult to translate such expressions in Urdu.[16]Thus, for example, the expression أَنبَتَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا can also mean "you were grown from the earth with great might and wisdom," and it can also mean "you were grown from this earth with great ease," and it can also mean "you were grown from this earth in an elaborate manner". I have preferred the translation which reflects the elaborate manner in which man was created as well as the might and wisdom with which he was created because parallel verses of the Qur'ān reinforce this interpretation. I have explained this in detail under وَقَدْ خَلَقَكُمْ أَطْوَارًا earlier. In the translation of وَيُخْرِجُكُمْ إِخْرَاجًا, I have preferred the meaning of ease for similar reasons; however, other interpretations are also possible. I am unable to find a style that can encompass all the aspects of this translation.

In the verses: وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ بِسَاطًا لِتَسْلُكُوا مِنْهَا سُبُلًا فِجَاجًا attention is directed at the earth itself – a manifest sign which also attests to the great power and wisdom of the Almighty as well as to His infinite mercy and favours. It is said that the earth has been spread out beneath man's feet and to keep it firm and to maintain its balance mountains have been nailed into it; within these mountains paths and passes have been made so that man is not trapped behind these great walls and is able to go from one place to another.

It should be kept in mind that in order to make the earth a flooring, it is essential that it be balanced. Thus the Qur'ān has specially pointed out that for this purpose the Almighty has set firm mountains on it. In Sūrah Nahl, it is said: وَأَلْقَى فِي الأَرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَن تَمِيدَ بِكُمْ (15:16) (He set firm mountains upon the earth lest it should move away with you, (16:15). In Sūrah Nabā', the words are: (78: 6-7)وَالْجِبَالَ أَوْتَادًامِهَادًاأَلَمْ نَجْعَلْ الْأَرْضَ (have We not made the earth a cradle and made the mountains pegs? (78:6-7). Similarly, there are other verses in the Qur'ān also which point out this aspect. A further favour of the Almighty was that when He set mountains on the earth, He set them in a manner that man could go across these mountains through various naturally built passes between them. The word فِجَاجًا is the plural of فَجٌّ. This word is not used for general paths; it is used for passes and paths between mountains. I have already explained this in Sūrah Hajj under the expression: فَجٌّ عَمِيْقٌ

قَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ إِنَّهُمْ عَصَوْنِي وَاتَّبَعُوا مَن لَّمْ يَزِدْهُ مَالُهُ وَوَلَدُهُ إِلَّا خَسَارًا (21)[17]

After the insertion verses ended on the previous verse, the discourse now links to Noah's supplication. Thus the words قَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ have come to specify that Noah's supplication is commencing.

Here Noah (sws) is mentioning the reaction of his people which occurred in the third and last phase of his preaching mission. In this phase, Noah had completely communicated the truth to his people and they had been left with no excuse to deny it; instead of following him, they defied him and continued to follow their leaders – leaders whose wealth and affluence only added to their ruin. The implication is that instead of being grateful for these favours, they became even more arrogant and became stubborn on their ways and were not inclined to hear a single word of Noah's call. In verses fourteen and fifteen of Sūrah Qalam, it is said that since the Quraysh have abundant wealth and children so when they are asked to have fear of the evil fate they will meet for denying their prophet and when the tales of previous nations who had also denied their respective prophets are recounted before them, they reply with great conceit that these are fables of the ancients and that they will not be over-awed by them.

وَمَكَرُوا مَكْرًا كُبَّارًا (22)[18]

The word كُبَّارٌ is an exaggerated form of كَبِيْرٌ. In other words, they contrived great schemes to defeat the preaching mission of Noah (sws), to make the masses disgruntled from his calls and to incite them against him. The details of these machinations are not mentioned here; however, it is not difficult to comprehend them. The arrogant people of every era try to contrive various schemes to lead their people away from the truth. One can easily imagine from these schemes what Noah's people would have contrived against him.

وَقَالُوا لَا تَذَرُنَّ آلِهَتَكُمْ وَلَا تَذَرُنَّ وَدًّا وَلَا سُوَاعًا وَلَا يَغُوثَ وَيَعُوقَ وَنَسْرًا (23)[19]

This is the detail of the stubbornness and obduracy of the leaders of Noah's people referred to in the previous verse. Mentioned in this verse are their great idols. They were regarded to be deities by their masses in every sense of the word. For this reason, they called out their names and called upon their masses to fully adhere to them. They are told that if they show compromise in the slightest sense, their ancestral religion might face grave danger.

It is clearly evident from the names of these idols that they are Arabic names. Noah's people inhabited the north of Hijāz; so it is not improbable that their language was Arabic. The tenacity of these idols is remarkable as the deluge had destroyed every sign of Noah's people yet these idols were still worshipped. It is evident from history that later on they were once again worshipped by various Arab tribes. Thus the Banū Kalb, a branch of the Qudā'ah tribe, worshipped the idol of Wadd. Suwā' was worshipped by the Hudhayl tribe and Yagūth was worshipped by some branches of the Tay tribe. Similarly, Ya'ūq was worshipped by one branch of the Hamdān tribe and Nasr was worshipped by one branch of the Himyar tribe. The sequence in which these idols are mentioned here shows their ranks and status in descending order. In other words, Wadd and Suwā' occupied a higher status than Yagūth, Ya'ūq and Nasr.

وَقَدْ أَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَلَا تَزِدِ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا ضَلَالًا (24)[20]

In this verse, Noah (sws) has expressed sorrow at the attitude of the leaders of his people. Simultaneously, he prayed to the Almighty to increase these wrongdoers in further error so that they can swiftly become worthy of divine punishment and the earth is cleansed of their stink.

The Almighty has not created man in this world to become a burden on it. He has been created to struggle for success in life.

وَقَالَ مُوسَى رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ آتَيْتَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلأهُ زِينَةً وَأَمْوَالاً فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا رَبَّنَا لِيُضِلُّواْ عَن سَبِيلِكَ رَبَّنَا اطْمِسْ عَلَى أَمْوَالِهِمْ وَاشْدُدْ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ فَلاَ يُؤْمِنُواْ حَتَّى يَرَوُاْ الْعَذَابَ الأَلِيمَ (88:10)

And "Lord," said Moses, "You have bestowed on Pharaoh and his nobles splendour and riches in this life, so that they may stray from Your path. Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts, so that they shall persist in disbelief until they face the woeful scourge." (10:88)

مِمَّا خَطِيئَاتِهِمْ أُغْرِقُوا فَأُدْخِلُوا نَارًا فَلَمْ يَجِدُوا لَهُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَنصَارًا (25)[21]

These words do not form part of Noah's prayer. They are insertions (tadmīn) from the Almighty just as there were insertions from Him earlier on. They show that Noah (sws) had prayed at the right time and for the right purpose. So as soon as he had uttered the first sentence of this prayer, it was accepted by the Almighty. If these glad tidings had been placed at the end of Noah's prayer, their acceptance would not have been highlighted. Thus it was placed right after the first sentence of the prayer. Examples of such insertions can be seen in earlier sūrahs also.

The verse says that it was because of God's wrath that these people were faced with the torments of both fire and water: in this world they were drowned and on the Day of Judgement, they will be cast into the fire of Hell.

The implication of the part of the verse فَلَمْ يَجِدُوا لَهُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَنصَارًا is that when they were warned about the punishment they would show conceit on the basis of their worldly power and alleged deities; however, when the punishment of God would come, they will find no one to help them.

وَقَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ لَا تَذَرْ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ دَيَّارًا (26) إِنَّكَ إِن تَذَرْهُمْ يُضِلُّوا عِبَادَكَ وَلَا يَلِدُوا إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًا (27)[22]

After the insertion verses, the prayer of Noah (sws) resumes from this verse. Thus the words وَقَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ clearly indicate this resumption. Had the insertion verses not been present, there was no need to repeat these words; they have been repeated to dispel any confusion.

If it is said in Arabic ما في الدّار ديار it would mean that there is no one in the house. This prayer is said in such sweeping words because of reasons cited earlier. A rasūl decides the fate of his nation in this world because he communicates the truth to his people to the extent that they are left with no excuse to deny it; after this, they become worthy of punishment. In this verse, Noah (sws) has implored to the Almighty that if He spares any of them, they will only beget disbelievers and the wretched. It should remain clear that though each child is born with the true nature endowed to him by God, his parents, his environment and the society play the greatest role in his instruction and training. If his surroundings are good, it is hoped that he will be raised on true faith and if these surroundings are replete with disbelief then as is evident from a narrative,[23]the child will be fully influenced by them. Noah (sws) had fully evaluated his people and seen that not the slightest trace of piety and faith remained in them; for this reason he said that these people will only beget sinners and disbelievers; they will not produce a single pious soul.

رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيَّ وَلِمَن دَخَلَ بَيْتِيَ مُؤْمِنًا وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَلَا تَزِدِ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا تَبَارًا (28)[24]

Here at the end, Noah (sws) has sought forgiveness for himself, his parents, those who will seek refuge in his house as believers as well as for all believing men and women. He has ended his prayer on inviting doom for those who remained adamant on their polytheism and disbelief and thereby called for this fate.

It is evident from Noah's seeking forgiveness for his parents that the parents have a great right on their children, as has been emphasized in several places in the Qur'ān. Some people are of the opinion that his parents were believers; however, there is no indication for this in the Qur'ān. It is possible that they had died before Noah (sws) began his preaching mission or before he completed it. In both these cases, praying for their forgiveness was to fulfill this right they had on him. It is evident that the Almighty also had not stopped him from this prayer in these phases.

It is evident from the words that in the last phase Noah (sws) had announced among his people that those who want to seek refuge from the punishment should seek shelter in his house.

By the grace of God, I come to the end of this sūrah's tafsīr.

و آخر دعوانا أن الحمد لله رب العلمين (and our last word is that all gratitude is for God, the Lord of the universe).

Rahmānābād,

19th Septemeber 1978 AD

15th Shawwāl 1398 AH




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