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.

A Muslim’s Mixed Feelings About “Noah”

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

I must admit: I really, really want to see “Noah.” As a Muslim, I was raised with this epic story of one of God’s greatest Prophets of all time:

[LONG] BEFORE those [who now deny resurrec­tion] did Noah’s people call it a lie; and they gave the lie to Our servant and said, “Mad is he!” – and he was repulsed. Thereupon he called out to his Lord, “Verily, I am defeated; come Thou, then, to my aid!” 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: but him We bore on that [vessel] made of [mere] planks and nails and it floated under Our eyes: a recom­pense for him who had been rejected with ingratitude. (54:9-14)

Indeed, I have every intention to see the film, and I have been fascinated by the controversy surrounding it in some evangelical Christian circles. In addition, the film has been banned in some Muslim countries. They base this objection on the fact that it is improper to depict any Prophet of God. Indeed, there was a movie, “The Message,” that was about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but the late director Moustapha Akkad took great pains to not depict the Prophet Muhammad in any way, shape, or form.

Still, I really, really want to see “Noah.” Before I even heard of the controversy, I could have told you that the screenwriters and director of the film would have taken liberties with the literal Biblical text (although, in truth, I do not understand why). Yet, I do understand the discomfort with any film depicting a Prophet of God.

From the Muslim perspective, these men are the best of humanity, the holiest of the human community. All of them – from Adam all the way to Muhammad – deserve nothing but the utmost respect and reverence. In fact, I do not accept the less than glamorous stories about some of them that are present in the Old Testament (such as King David). And it makes me nervous when any filmmaker wants to depict any of them in a film, because any negative portrayal would be a show of great disrespect.

For instance, my absolute favorite film of all time, about which I wrote in the book Taking Back Islam, is the “Ten Commandments.” I always try to watch it every year. But, I am very uncomfortable with the film’s depiction of Moses’ love story with Nefertari. As a devout Muslim, I do not accept that a Prophet of God would engage in such immoral behavior, even if it was before he was commissioned as Prophet.

When the story of Moses was remade into a TV film in 2006, I couldn’t even finish watching it. The way Moses was depicted was so distasteful to me, as a Muslim who loves and reveres all the Prophets of God, that it was not worth my time. And herein lies my discomfort with depicting Prophets of God in film and television.

Yet, I do not advocate banning the film in the United States or reacting violently to its release and distribution. If you do not believe you should see the film, then simply do not see the film. But I do urge those in the movie business should take utmost care to treat the sacred with respect and reverence. The Prophet Noah is a man sacred to all three Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The same goes with Moses, Jesus, and Joseph, all of whom have been depicted in film and on stage.

Still, despite my slight discomfort, I still really, really want to see “Noah.” I do not want to see the film so I can learn about the story of Noah: the Quran has done that quite marvelously for me. But, I do want to get a sense – just a sense – of what it may have been like at the time of Noah, a holy man who – had I been alive at the time – I pray I would have followed. I hope I am not disappointed.

Why This Muslim Appreciates Ash Wednesday

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

The most important period of the Christian calendar has now begun: Lent, which began with the Imposition of the Ashes on Ash Wednesday. All throughout the world, Christians had the mark of the cross placed on their forehead with this passage of scripture read:

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return (Genesis 3:19)

While not partaking in this religious ceremony and season, I can – as a devout Muslim – nonetheless appreciate the message. The Qur’an has the very same passage, in fact. It is in the 20th chapter, in the midst of a dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh (emphasis added):

Said [Pharaoh]: “And what of all the past generations?”[Moses] answered: “Knowledge thereof rests with my Lord [alone, and is laid down] in His decree; my Lord does not err, and neither does He forget.” He it is who has made the earth a cradle for you, and has traced out for you ways [of livelihood] thereon, and [who] sends down waters from the sky: and by this means We bring forth various kinds of plants. Eat, [then, of this produce of the soil,] and pasture your cattle [thereon]. In all this, behold, there are messages indeed for those who are endowed with reason: out of this [earth] have We created you, and into it shall We return you, and out of it shall We bring you forth once again. (20:51-55)

To me, this shows even further that our traditions are so very similar; much more similar, in fact, than they are different. Of course, our differences over the nature of Jesus Christ are huge, but that does not mean that we cannot see past our differences and focus on what we believe in common.

Both of our traditions worship the God of Abraham; both of our traditions love and honor Jesus Christ; both of our traditions teach that we shall be resurrected from dust to face judgment for our actions.  Both of our traditions include periods of fasting and reflection: the Christians have Lent, and we Muslims have Ramadan (which will start June 27 this year). Both Lent and Ramadan include rituals of sacrifice on the part of the believer in order to attain a greater spiritual strength and closeness to God.

That’s why this Muslim can appreciate Ash Wednesday while not partaking in its rituals. Would that more Muslims and Christians around the world learn to appreciate each other’s traditions and see them for their commonalities. Our world would be a much better place.

What “Allahu Akbar” Really Means

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

It is a very common Islamophobe claim that the phrase, “Allahu Akbar” is the “Muslim battle cry.” They base this claim on the fact that many Muslim extremists yell out “Allahu Akbar” before their acts of barbarism. Indeed, that does happen. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the word “Allahu Akbar” means “God is the Greatest.” It was not the “Muslim battle cry” at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), although it is almost certain that many Muslims have used the phrase in that manner. In fact, in many of the protests of the Arab Spring, the peaceful, unarmed protesters yelled out that very phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” while being shot at by security forces.

Yet, “Allahu Akbar” is more than just a phrase; it is a way of life. It means that God is Greater than anything else on earth: whether it be a vicious tyrant shooting and killing his own people or from one’s own evil whims and temptations.

Before the Muslim enters the ritual prayer, she must utter “Allahu Akbar” out loud. Once she does that, she enters into the Divine Presence. That is because, at that moment, she leaves the entire world behind in order to offer the ritual prayer. Thus, “God is the Greatest.” In the course of a day, Muslims will utter this phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” at least seventeen times, one for each ritual prayer cycle. Yet, there are many Muslims who utter with their mouths “God is the Greatest,” and their actions belie those sacred words.

Take the barbarian extremists who kill in the name of God. If they yell “God is the Greatest” in celebration of an attack that kills innocent human beings, they lie in the worst manner. Their act of murder precisely declares that God is not the greatest to them. For, if God was truly the greatest, they would not harm any innocent life. If a Muslim merchant prays five times a day and utters “Allahu Akbar” seventeen times, yet cheats his customers, then God is truly not the greatest to that merchant. If a Muslim citizen cheats on his income tax return, then God is truly not the greatest to that citizen.

In fact, the ritual acts of worship are connected directly to the character of the believer. Take this Prophetic report (reported in Muslim):

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, asked, “Do you know who the bankrupt are?” They said, “The one without money or goods is bankrupt.” So the Prophet said, “The bankrupt are those from my nation who come on the Day of Resurrection with prayer, fasting, and charity, but comes also insulting, slandering, consuming wealth, shedding blood, and beating others. They will each be given from his good deeds; if his good deeds run out before the score is settled, their bad deeds will be cast upon him, then he will be thrown into the Hellfire.

All those good works, done in gratitude to God for His undying and unending love for us, will mean nothing on Judgment Day if they are not accompanied by good character. For, if God was truly the greatest to someone, then he would not treat God’s creations – humanity, animals, and the natural world – with contempt and brutality. It can be difficult sometimes, to do the right thing. Yet, that is the true meaning of Jihad: the struggle to overcome our own temptations and whims in order to do what God wants of us. But we do that precisely because “Allahu Akbar”: God is the Greatest.

 

 

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