Noah’s Ark by (Late) Jehangir Merchant

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

When the much talked and anticipated Hollywood movie “Noah” hit theatres in North America on March 28, 2014, there was widespread criticism of the movie by numerous Muslim and Christian religious groups. Movie goers had mixed reactions, rating it as high as “A” and “B” and as low as “D”. Google’s numbers indicate that 68% liked the movies. The UK Guardian gave it 3 stars out of 5. A number of Muslim countries including Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population numbering some 231 million (2021) banned the movie for its depiction of Noah. The BBC noted that a number of Arab States including UAE, Qatar and Bahrain were among Middle Eastern countries that banned Noah as it broke Islam’s taboo of depicting a prophet. “There are scenes that contradict Islam and the Bible, so we decided not to show it,” said Juma Al-Leem of Juma Al-Leem UAE’s National Media Centre. Mary Fairchild writing for About.com hinted that the movie would be replete with inaccuracies, and suggested reading the “authentic” story in the Bible.

Simerg has a version of the story from the Qur’an, presented by the well-known late Ismaili Muslim teacher, missionary and writer (Alwaez) Rai Jehangir A. Merchant (December 13, 1928 – May 27, 2018), who dedicated his life to the service of his community for more than 60 years, both in professional and honorary capacities. He passed away on May 27, 2018, exactly 4 years ago, and this popular piece, that has received more than 80,000 views over the years, is being shared by Jehangir’s son Malik, the editor of this website who along with Alwaez’s family members fondly remember him on the 4th anniversary of his passing.

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Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’an

A Mughal miniature of Noah's Ark in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
A Mughal miniature of Noah’s Ark in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

[This is a revised version of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant’s original article which was published in Ilm magazine, July 1976, under his pen name Jami. He edited and wrote extensively for the flagship UK Ismaili magazine — Ed.]

By LATE JEHANGIR A. MERCHANT
(1928-2018)

Prophets are the messengers of Allah who came from time to time to guide mankind to the way of Allah, the path of righteousness. Amongst the many who came as guides and warners to the people, Prophet Noah (Alaihisalam) [1] was one of them. He lived long before the time of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (Salallahu alaihi wasalam), the last of the prophets. [2]

God appointed Noah as the prophet for his people, so as to guide them to the right path and turn them away from their evil ways. The Holy Qur’an tells us the story of Prophet Noah and his people in a number of suras [3], namely sura 71 (Nuh), sura 11 (Hud), and sura 23 (al-Mu’minun), and many ayats [4] therein. It tells us of the strong faith which the Prophet had in Almighty God and about the final destruction of those who ignored the Divine Message.

Commanding Prophet Noah to warn his people, God said:

“Warn your people before there comes upon them a grievous penalty.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:1

Obeying the command of God, Prophet Noah went to his people and said:

“I have come to you with a clear warning that you worship none but God. Verily I fear for you the penalty of a grievous day.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:25-26

The chiefs fearing they would lose their power and authority over the people they ruled, did not approve of what Prophet Noah was preaching and sought to detract the people from the True Path. They argued with the Prophet saying:

“We see nothing special in you except as a man like ourselves. Nor do we see any who have followed you but those who are the meanest amongst us and immature in judgment. Nor do we see in you any excellence over us; in fact we think you are a liar.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:27

Prophet Noah was not perturbed by their derogatory remarks and continued his divine mission purposefully. He called upon his people in a very polite and loving manner to mend their ways. He also warned them of the grievous consequences which would follow if they continued to worship the false gods and lead an immoral life. Assuring them that he was not seeking any wealth or power or favours from them, he said:

“And O my people! I ask you for no wealth in return: my reward is from none but God.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:29

But the chiefs continued to hinder Prophet Noah in his mission by instigating doubts about Noah. They would say to the people:

“He is no more than a man like yourselves. His wish is to assert superiority over you. If God had wished (to send messengers), He could have sent down Angels. Never did we hear such a thing (as he says), among our ancestors of old.” — Holy Qur’an, 23:24. [5]

The chiefs would then turn in anger towards the Prophet and challenge him arrogantly:

“O Noah! Indeed you have disputed with us and you have prolonged the dispute: now bring upon us what you have threatened us with, if you are of the Truthful Ones.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:32

Prophet Noah would then remind them that it was not in his but God’s power to punish them for their evil ways.

“Truly God will bring it on you if He wills, — and then, you will not be able to frustrate it.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:33

But all his warnings, his good advices and counsels seemed to fall on deaf ears. Except for a very few who had followed his guidance, others continued to worship the idols of stone with different names as attested in the following verse:

“And they have said (to each other) ‘Abandon not your gods: abandon neither Wadd nor Suwa, neither Yaguth nor Yauq, nor Nasr.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:23

Prophet Noah re-doubled his efforts but all to no avail. He would then cry out to his Lord:

“O my Lord! I have called to my people by night and by day, but my call only (increases their) flight (from the True Path). And every time I have called to them, that You may forgive them, they have thrust their fingers into their ears, covered themselves up with their garments, grown obstinate and given themselves up to arrogance. So, I have called to them aloud: further I have spoken to them in public and secretly in private.” — Holy Qur’an, 71:5-9

As the people became more obstinate and refused to accept God’s message accusing Prophet Noah of falsehood, God decided to bring down His punishment upon the unbelievers. To Prophet Noah, God commanded:

“Construct the Ark within Our sight and under Our guidance. Then when comes Our command, and the fountains of the earth gush forth, take on board pairs of every species, male and female, and your people except those of them against whom the Word has already been issued: and address Me not in respect of those who are unjust; for verily they shall be drowned (in the flood).” — Holy Qur’an, 23:27

Miniature from Hafiz-i Abru’s Majma al-tawarikh. “Noah’s Ark”, Herat 1425. Leaf: 42.3 × 32.6 cm. The scene on the stormy sea is quite dramatic, with the fluttering sail, the ark breaking out of the picture frame, and the swollen bodies. The animals that are to populate the earth are rendered both humorously and fairly realistically. Photo: The David Collection, Denmark.
Miniature from Hafiz-i Abru’s Majma al-tawarikh. “Noah’s Ark”, Herat 1425. Leaf: 42.3 × 32.6 cm. The scene on the stormy sea is quite dramatic, with the fluttering sail, the ark breaking out of the picture frame, and the swollen bodies. The animals that are to populate the earth are rendered both humorously and fairly realistically. Photo: The David Collection, Denmark.

As commanded, Prophet Noah now set upon the task of building the Ark with the help of the small group of believers. The sight of Prophet Noah and his men constructing the Ark seemed to amuse the chiefs and unbelievers. They did not realise the seriousness of the situation but only laughed and jeered.

“Whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they mocked at him…” — Holy Qur’an, 11:38

Prophet Noah would now answer back to their mocking comments in a very bold and straight-forward manner:

“…If you ridicule us now, verily we too shall mock at you, even as you mock (at us). But soon will you know who it is on whom will descend a penalty which will cover them with shame and upon whom will fall a lasting penalty.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:38-39

When the Ark was completed, Prophet Noah took with him his family and the believers, and a pair of every creature that was found on the land around him. Now God’s warning to the people that He would send floods upon them came to pass.

“At length, behold! there came our Command, and the fountains of the earth gushed forth.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:40

The flood waters began to rise. Believers who had so far suffered at the hands of the chiefs and idol worshippers found themselves safe in Noah’s Ark. They offered their prayers and prostration to Almighty God as thanksgiving for the Mercy He had bestowed upon them. The unbelievers who had ignored God’s guidance were in a grievous state. All was lost to them. The heavy downpour of rain, the strong winds, the deafening thunder and the blinding lightning created confusion in their minds and fear in their hearts. They ran helter-skelter in search for safety. They climbed the roof-tops and the trees but nothing could save them now as the waters rose higher and higher.

Amongst the unbelievers was Prophet Noah’s own son, and he too was desperately trying to save himself from the flood waters. Prophet Noah’s Ark with all aboard was sailing safely on the waters and just when the Prophet saw his son he called out to him and said:

‘O my son! embark with us and be not with the unbelievers’. The son replied: ‘I will betake myself to some mountain, it will save me from the flood’. And Noah said: ‘This day nothing can save you from what God has decreed, for only those on whom He has Mercy will be saved’. And the waves came between them and the son was among the drowned ones.” — Holy Qur’an, 11:42-43

Finally, when all the unbelievers were drowned in the flood, God commanded:

“O Earth! swallow up your water, and O Sky! withhold your rain! and the water abated and the matter was ended. The Ark rested on Mount Judi.” [6] — Holy Qur’an, 11:44

A mausoleum dedicated to Prophet Noah in Azerbaijan. Photo: Wikipedia.
A mausoleum dedicated to Prophet Noah in Azerbaijan. Photo: Wikipedia.

As the ark rested on Mount Judi, Prophet Noah prayed:

“O my Lord! enable me to disembark with Your Blessings, for You are the Best of all to enable us to disembark.” — Holy Qur’an, 23:29

This story from the Holy Qur’an is as a sign from God to the whole of humanity living in different times. It reminds us of the great powers of God. This is not to say that God only possesses the powers to destroy and punish; more so, it tells us of God’s Infinite Love, Care and Mercy He has for all mankind, for it is He Who sends His Guidance to every race and every people.

“And there never was a people, without a Warner, having lived among them.” — Holy Qur’an, Sura Al-Fatir, 35:24.

Date posted: May 27, 2022.

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Notes:

[1] Alaihisalam (abbreviation AS) means ‘Peace be upon him’. Salallahu alaihi wasalam (abbreviation SAWS or SAS) means ‘God’s blessings and peace be upon him’.

[2] Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) was the last in the line of the Prophets. There will be no prophet after him and he is therefore called Khatam al-nabiyyin – the Seal of the Prophets. The Holy Qur’an says: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men but he is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets, and God has full knowledge of all things’ (33:40, Sura Al-Ahzab).

[3] Sura means ‘Chapter’. There are 114 chapters in the Holy Qur’an.

[4] Ayat means ‘Verse’. Each Quranic chapter contains a number of verses. The total number of verses in the Holy Qur’an is 6240, or including the 113 ‘Bismillahi-r-Rahmanir-Rahim’ with which the chapters open, 6353. Every chapter except the ninth opens with the ‘Bismillah’. There also exists a slight difference in the numbering of verses. Kufah readers count them 6329, Basrah 6204, Syria 6225, Mecca 6219, Medina 6211. But this is a difference of computation only, some readers marking the end of a verse where others do not.

[5] The wrong doers who never wanted to desist from evil and give up their false worship always questioned as to why Angels were not sent to them as Messengers. They would ask: “What sort of an apostle is this, who eats food and walks though the streets’? Why has not an angel been sent down to give admonition with him’? (Holy Qur’an, 25:7, Sura Al-Furqan).

The Arabs during the time of Prophet Muhammad brought forward the same argument and God commanded our Holy Prophet to answer: “If there were settled on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent for them an Angel for an apostle down from the heavens” (17:95, Sura Bani-Israel).

Because men inhabit this earth it is only natural that Prophets who bring God’s message to Mankind are also men and not angels.

[6] Jabal (Mount) Judi is situated in the modern Turkish district of Bohtan. The great mountain mass of the Ararat Plateau dominates the district. This mountain system “is unique in the Old World in containing great sheets of water that are bitter lakes without outlets, Lake Van and Lake Urumiya being the chief.” (Encyclopaedia Brittanica). Such would be the very region for a stupendous deluge if the usual scanty rainfall were to be changed into a very heavy downpour. The region has many local traditions connected with Noah and the flood.

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A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mawlana Hazar Imam and Jehangir Merchant
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan listens intently as Alwaez Jehangir explains the material used to impart religious education to Ismaili youth in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), while Ismaili leaders look on. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Alwaez Jehangir (d. May 27, 2018, age 89) and his wife Alwaeza Maleksultan (d. January 21, 2021, age 89) served the Ismailia Association (now the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ITREB) in Mozambique, Tanzania and the UK from 1954 until 1992, and continued to serve Ismaili institutions on an honorary basis until the last years of their lives. Jehangir A. Merchant passed away in May 2018 at the age of 89. Please see Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) 

For articles by Alwaez Jehangir on this Website please click:

  1. I Wish I’d Been There: Ghadir-Khumm and the Two Weighty Matters
  2. An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj
  3. The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate
  4. The Parable of Moses and Khidr in the Holy Qur’an
  5. Jehangir Merchant’s Thank You Letter to Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi
  6. Text and Explanation of “Eji Shah Islamshah Amne Maliya”
  7. A Translation and Brief Commentary of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan “Jem Jem Jugatsu Preet Kareva”
  8. The Frontispiece of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Mashhad, Iran

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a fewPlease also visit our sister website Barakah, dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and our photo blog Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box which appears at the bottom of this page or click LEAVE A COMMENT. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

3 thoughts on “Noah’s Ark by (Late) Jehangir Merchant

  1. I have printed this article and will read it out to my grandchildren. Thank you for the post.

  2. Malik, an amazing piece from yet another great Alwaez of our times – Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant, your father and a good friend of mine for many decades during his life long service to the Jamat and to Mawlana Hazar Imam. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

    I will post this very knowledgeable and interesting write up on my Facebook and email them to my family and friends around the world. This will ensure that it reaches out to the maximum number of people. Inshallah. Best wishes and prayers for your health and continuation of your admirable service.

    Kamrudin A. Rashid from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
    May 27th 2022.

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