The Greatest Flood in Human History
After almost a millennium of trying to spread the message of Allah, Nuh AS was entrusted with the final task of building an ark – one of a size never seen by mankind previously. The instructions on the structure and dimensions were divinely inspired by Allah – in short, Nuh AS had no idea what he was building and why, but he obeyed the commandment of Allah.
The construction of the ark by Nuh AS gave the disbelievers additional fodder to jeer and ridicule him. It was unfeasible to the disbelievers that a vessel, much less of such gigantic proportions, would have been of any use to anyone. Meanwhile, as irrational as it seemed to build a ship on dry land, Nuh AS knew that the qadr of Allah was coming, and against all opposition and mockery, continued to build it in line with the specifications commanded by Allah. He did not know what was coming, but he only obeyed the commands of Allah.
Part of the opposition came from his own household. His wife, who was also the mother of his children, sided with the disbelievers in making fun of him. His own son was also a disbeliever, although some reports mention that he kept his disbelief secret until the time came to board the ark. Emotionally, these could not have been easy times for Nuh AS, to be rejected and reviled by his own community and close family, especially when his only alleged crime was to lead people away from falsehood and towards the path of righteousness.
Nuh AS told the disbelievers: "If you ridicule us now, we shall jeer you likewise." (Al Qur'an 11:38), meaning that while the disbelievers laughed at Nuh AS for expecting a flood of such magnitude, it would be Nuh AS and the believers who would have the last laugh when the ark carried them to safety.
The ark was designed to survive the battering of the mighty flood that would soon be unleashed upon Nuh's AS community. Made of planks and tar, it had three decks. The lowest deck was designated for animals and cattle, the middle for humans, and the upper deck for birds.
When the time came, Nuh AS loaded the ark with a pair of every kind of animal, male and female, so that the species would survive. Also to board the ark were the smattering of believers, which included members of Nuh's AS family. All but one (and in some reports, two, including his wife) of Nuh's AS family, boarded the ship.
A Double Betrayal
Soon, the world was drowning. Quite literally, as boiling and steaming water gushed from the earth while the sky opened, lashing down rain. The level of the water rose swiftly, flooding everything in sight. Waves crashed thunderously and swept away anything that was not anchored firmly to the ground. The downpour caused devastation of a magnitude never witnessed on earth before or since. This was no ordinary rain, but a manifestation of the wrath of Allah.
Even in the face of such bedlam, panic and catastrophe, the disbelievers refused to accept that the anger and punishment of Allah had descended upon them. Even as the tips of the trees disappeared under the angry roar of water and currents swept people to their watery graves, they still stubbornly refused to seek repentance, arrogantly announcing that they could find shelter in higher plains. Their stubbornness was bigger than the churning waves, which were as high as mountains. They were too arrogant to realize that no altitude could protect them against Allah's imminent punishment.
The ark was a representation of physical and spiritual safety, hence it was ordained that there was no place for the disbelievers in it. One such disbeliever was Nuh's AS son. The only safe passage would have been to join his father in the protection of the ark, but in his spiritual arrogance and blindness, he renounced everything that Nuh AS stood for, and united with the community of disbelievers towards their own destruction.
And Nuh called up to his son who had kept himself at a distance: 'O my son! Embark with us, and do not be with the disbelievers.' His son said: 'I will betake myself to the mountain that will protect me from the water.' Nuh said: 'There is no protector today from Allah's punishment, except that He should have mercy.' And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned." (Al Qur'an 11:42 – 11:43)
We can only imagine Nuh's AS horror as he watched his own child choose death and disbelief over life and salvation. We can only visualise the distress and grief that Nuh AS must have felt as he saw his son, forever out of reach in this life and the hereafter, for the last time.
As parental instinct would naturally dictate, Nuh AS urgently appealed to Allah not to drown his son. After all, Allah had promised him that He will save his family, and surely his son was one of his family?
"And Nuh called to his Lord and said, 'My Lord, indeed my son is of my family; and indeed, Your promise is true; and You are the most just of judges!" He [Allah] said, "O Nuh, indeed he is not of your family; indeed, he is [one whose] work was other than righteous, so ask Me not for that about which you have no knowledge. Indeed, I advise you, lest you be among the ignorant." (Al Qur'an 11:45-11:46)
Allah's decision was final, and given its unequivocal terms, Nuh AS had no option but to accept His decree.
Also among the betrayers was Nuh's AS own wife. She did not betray him through adultery - wives of Prophets and Messengers are divinely protected from committing adultery. The betrayal was of another kind – betrayal of the faith of Allah, and the disloyalty to her husband when he attempted to establish the message of Allah. She perished in the flood together with the other disbelievers, all of whom are cursed by Allah and doomed for eternity.
A New Generation
The rain continued until the last of the disbelievers drowned. "And then it was said: 'O earth! Swallow your water, and O sky! Cease your rain.' And the water abated and the Command was fulfilled, and the ark came to rest upon Mount Judi, and it was said: 'Away with those who do wrong!'" (Al Qur'an 11:44)
The survivors set foot on dry land and a new generation of humankind was born. All of them believers, for all the non-believers of that time had been totally obliterated. Led by our father Nabi Nuh AS, who, like any other human being, had experienced grief and sorrow intimately, and who, despite being one of the most honoured Prophets and Messengers that walked on this earth, understood the pain of loss and betrayal from his closest family
Lesson for us – We Cannot Guide Who We Want
The manner of Allah's punishment used a simple element – water. We have become arrogant, thinking that we are capable of reining in the forces of nature, but as the story demonstrates, the elements can be used as Allah's tools of retribution. If that happens, no human being can prevent the inevitable catastrophe that follows. Until today, when there is a natural disaster, we see people, homeless, destroyed and bewildered that their technological advancements were powerless to halt the forces of Allah. Do we want to be like the people of Nuh AS, who trusted the heights of the mountains to save them instead of the might of Allah?
Another lesson is that while we have to educate our children in the Islamic path, the outcome is not in our hands. Allah will determine the destiny of individuals, for everybody has been created differently for a wisdom that only Allah knows. The same seed can generate opposite personalities – we have observed this from Habeel and Qabeel.
It is the duty of the parents to create the correct environment and Islamic education, to feed them in the halal way, and to generate role models for their children to learn from. However, once that duty has been fulfilled, the job is done. Nuh AS carried out his duty, but despite being one of the greatest Messengers on earth, he was powerless to prevent his own wife and son from becoming of the disbelievers. This was his trial, as is the trial of many among us whose family members and friends stray from Islam. Our duty is to try our best, but if our efforts are futile, we have to march on and continue our own personal journey to Allah, without letting our misplaced emotional ties to them hold us back. The journey can be a lonely one, as it is done on a wholly individual level. After all, we will die alone and we will face Allah alone.
Can we tell Allah that we did not complete our journey to Him because we were waiting for our family to join us?
Do we imagine that Nuh AS was immune from hurt when his son became a disbeliever and when Allah told him that his son was among the people of jahannam (hellfire)? Do we think our situation is unique or that our ability to persuade our loved ones is greater than Nuh's AS ability to persuade his?
When we try to invite our spouses, family and friends towards Allah, we have to accept that Allah is the only one who can open their hearts to the truth and determine their spiritual outcome, to whom He wants and in the manner He wants. We cannot break down the doors to their closed hearts, for only Allah has the key.
As demonstrated, Nuh AS felt natural fatherly love for his son, yet, the true family structure in Islam is not based on the bond of blood, but on the bond of faith in Allah. Because his son disbelieved, he could not be considered as being of Nuh's AS family.
Families of Prophets and Messengers are not automatically Muslim, the message has to be accepted by them individually. It is not always the case that their entire families follow the message, and similarly, it is not always the case that our families will all be believers. If, despite our efforts to persuade and guide them, they are stuck in their disbelief and erroneous ways, don't be stuck with them. Don't wait for them, and don't let them hold you back from your journey towards Allah or fulfilling your covenant with Allah.
Guidance is from Allah - our husbands, wives, children and family are an amanah (trust), and while we can try to lead and educate, we cannot change hearts. We cannot inherit, buy or give Allah's guidance to those we love, even if we wanted to. Don't underestimate the Sunnah and wisdom of Allah.
Finally, the exact nature of Nuh's AS wife's betrayal is not conclusively documented, but it is also hinted that she had revealed the private details of their household. But the lesson is that whatever goes on within the sanctity of the family home should not be spread to anyone else. Both husband and wife are prohibited from relaying private details of the household to anyone, unless there is an urgent need, for example, to prevent a crime.
We end with a chilling reminder:
"Allah presents an example of those who disbelieved: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of Our righteous servants but betrayed them, so those prophets did not avail them from Allah at all, and it was said, 'Enter the Fire with those who enter.'" (Al Qur'an 66:10)
Before long, deviation occurred again, some say in the community of giants. Click here to read more.