Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord


Disappointment in “Noah”: They Didn’t Need to Change One Jot or Tittle

In the Name of God: the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful Beloved Lord

Well, I saw the movie “Noah.”

And…I was quite disappointed. Even though I did say that I do not look to Hollywood to teach me my sacred history, nevertheless, if you are going to make a movie called “Noah” and make that movie about the Prophet Noah, then it should be pretty close to the actual story of Noah.

And the thing is: the actual story of Noah would make a fantastic movie. It is full of intrigue, conflict, betrayal, a battle between good and evil, hope, courage, and victory in the face of enormous odds. Well, it is thus in the Islamic tradition, at least.

The Qur’an has numerous references to the story of the Prophet Noah. The Qur’an describes Noah as God’s “chosen” (3:33) and as being “guided” by God (6:84). He is one of the five mightiest Prophets of God according to Islamic tradition, along with Abraham, Jesus, Moses, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbut). He was sent to his people with this mission by God: “Warn thy people before a grievous suffering befalls them!” (71:1). And so, the Prophet Noah did just that:

[And Noah] said: “O my people! I am but a plain warner to you, [sent to tell you] that you should worship God [alone] and be conscious of Him. Now do pay heed unto me, so that He may forgive you some of your sins and grant you respite until a term known [to Him alone, i.e., death]: but behold, when the term appointed by God does come, it can never be put back – if you but knew it!” (71:2-4)

He preached to them “night and day” (71:5), “in public and in private” (71:9). He said to his people:

ask your Lord to forgive you your sins, for verily He is All-Forgiving. He will shower upon you heavenly blessings abundant and will aid you with worldly goods and children and will bestow upon you gardens and running waters. (71:10-12)

But his people refused to listen to him. His preaching to them caused them to “flee further and further away [from God]” (71:6). In fact, whenever he would preach to them, they would “put their fingers in their ears and [wrap] themselves in their garments” (71:7).

The chiefs of his people would say to him:

We do not see in you anything but a mortal man like ourselves, and only the most abject amongst us are the ones that follow you. We do not see that you could be superior to us in any way. On the contrary, we think you are one of the liars! (11:27)

In fact, they hinted that, were Noah to rid himself of these “abject ones,” they might consider listening to him, to which Noah replied:

O my people, no benefit do I ask of you for this [message]: my reward rests with none but God. And I shall not repulse [any of] those who have attained to faith. Verily, they [know that they] are destined to meet their Lord, whereas in you, I see people without any awareness [of right and wrong]. And, O my people, who would shield me from God were I to repulse them? Will you not, then, keep this in mind? (11:28,30)

And his preaching continued on for years and years. Hundreds of years, in fact. Yet, his people did not lend him an ear. His people persisted in their rejection of the right path and continuing in their wickedness. In fact, they finally said to him:

O Noah! You have contended with us in argument and have [needlessly] prolonged our controversy: bring upon us, therefore, that with which you threaten us [i.e., God's punishment], if you are a man of truth! (11:32)

At this point, the Lord told Noah:

Never will any of thy people believe except those who have already attained to faith. Be not, then, distressed by anything that they may do. Build, under Our eyes and according to Our inspiration, the ark [that shall save thee and those who follow thee], and do not appeal to Me on behalf of those who are bent on evildoing for, behold, they are destined to be drowned! (11:36-37)

And so, he built the ark as the Lord had commanded. In fact, he started building the ark, according to Islamic tradition, in an area far away from any body of water. And his people, consequently, mocked him severely:

And [so Noah] set himself to building the ark, and every time the great ones of his people passed by him, they scoffed at him. [Thereupon] he said: ‘If you are scoffing at us, behold, we are scoffing at you [and your ignorance] just as you are scoffing at us (11:38)

Yet, Noah continued building the ark, for he knew of the Scourge that was to come. Moreover, due to the obstinate rejection of his people, he actually supplicated to God against them:

And Noah prayed: “O my Lord! Leave not on earth any of those who deny the truth: for, behold, if You do leave them, they will [always try to] lead astray those who worship You and will give birth to nothing but wickedness and stubborn ingratitude.” (71:26-27)

After a while, the appointed time had come:

[And so it went on] until, when Our judgment came to pass, and waters gushed forth in torrents over the face of the earth, We said [unto Noah]: “Place on board of this [ark] one pair of each [kind of animal] of either sex, as well as they family – except those on whom [Our] sentence has already been passed – and all [others] who have attained to faith!” for, only a few of [Noah's people] shared his faith.  So he said [unto his followers]: “Embark in this [ship]! In the name of God be it run and its riding at anchor! Behold, my Lord is indeed much-forgiving and a dispenser of grace!” (11:40-41)

The Qur’an also confirms that the flood was caused by both rain and springs gushing forth:

And so We caused the gates of Heaven to open with water pouring down in torrents and caused the earth to burst forth with springs, so that the waters met for a purpose pre-ordained. (54:11-12)

At this point, it would seem that all is well, and Noah and his family were saved from the Flood and Scourge of God. Not quite, however:

And it moved on with them into waves that were like mountains. At that [moment] Noah cried out to a son of his, who had kept himself aloof [from the others]: “O my dear son! Embark with us and remain not with those who deny the truth!” [But the son] answered: “I shall betake myself to a mountain that will protect me from the waters.” Said [Noah]: “Today there is no protection [for anyone] from God’s judgment, save [for] those who have earned [His] mercy!” And a wave rose up between them, and [the son] was among those who were drowned. (11:42-43)

Having lost a child, I know the terrible pain that the Prophet Noah must have felt. And it seemed that God didn’t keep His promise of saving Noah and his family from the Deluge. What’s more, the Qur’an also states that Noah’s wife also betrayed him (spiritually) and was drowned in the flood:

For those who are bent on denying the truth God has propounded a parable in [the stories of] Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife: they were wedded to two of Our righteous servants, and each one betrayed her husband [spiritually], and neither of the two [husbands] will be of any avail to these two women when they are told [on Judgment Day]: “Enter the fire with all those [other sinners] who enter it!” (66:10)

How terrible it must have been for the noble Prophet of God, Noah. After a time, the Flood finally came to an end:

And the word was spoken: “O earth, swallow up they waters! And, O sky, cease [thy rain]!” And the waters sank into the earth, and the will [of God] was done, and the ark came to rest on Mount Judi. And the word was spoken: “Away with these evildoing folk!” (11:44)

Mount Judi, according to Qur’anic commentator Muhammad Asad, was:

known in ancient Syraic as Qardu [and] is situated in the region 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…We should, however, remember that the designation Ararat (the Assyrian Urartu) 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 8:4)

And now the believers are safe, and life will begin anew on earth. Yet, Noah was still grieved at the loss of his son among the evildoing folk. And so, he cried out to the Lord:

And Noah called out to his Lord and said: “O my Lord! Verily, my son was of my family, and, verily, Your promise always comes true, and You are the most just of all judges!” (11:45)

The Lord answered Noah and explained why his son was not saved:

[God] answered: “O Noah, behold, he was not of they family for, verily, he was unrighteous in his conduct. And you shall not ask of Me anything whereof you can not have any knowledge: thus, behold, do I admonish you lest you become of those who are unaware [of what is right].” (11:46)

To which Noah replied:

“O my Lord! Verily, I seek refuge in You from [ever again] asking of You anything whereof I cannot have any knowledge! For unless You grant me forgiveness and bestow Your mercy upon me, I shall be among the lost!” (11:47)

Then the Lord said to Noah:

“O Noah! Disembark in peace from Us and with [Our] blessings upon you as well as upon the people [who are with you, and the righteous ones that will spring from you and] from those who are with you. But [as for the unrighteous] folk [that will spring from you] – We shall allow them to enjoy life [for a little while], and then there will befall them grievous suffering from Us.” (11:48)

This is the story of Noah in the Islamic tradition. It is a truly amazing story, worthy of a blockbuster feature film. This is the story with which I was raised, and whenever I think of Noah, it is this story that comes to mind. As a result, no matter how much the filmmakers of the current movie “Noah” told me to disregard this story when watching the film, I could do so. Hence my disappointment.

But, given that the actual story of Noah (from the Islamic point of view) is so amazing, I am still baffled at why they had to change it so radically. They didn’t need to change one jot or tittle of the story for it to be a blockbuster. It is truly too bad.



  • Omer

    Salam Hesham, very nice post.

    Thanks.

    Regarding Mount Al-Judi mentioned as the resting place of the Qur’an, there is great historical and archeological evidence that is indeed the mountain on which Noah’s Ark landed. That mountain is known as Cudi Dagh in Turkish. “C” in Turkish is actually pronounced as a “J” and “Dagh” means mountain in Turkish

    Please see the excellent talk on this issue at
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cp0sUCKKj74

  • Pingback: A Muslim's Disappointment in Noah: The Film, not the Prophet

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