Noah and his son

(Remember) Noah, when he cried (to Us) aforetime:
We listened to his (prayer) and delivered
him and his family from great distress.
-- Sura 21:76

So the Ark floated with them on the waves (towering) like mountains,
and Noah called out to his son, who had separated himself (from the rest):
"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 water."
Noah said: "This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah,
any but those on whom He hath mercy!" And the waves came between them,
and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood.
-- Sura 11:42-43

One of Noah's sons dies in the Flood in contradiction to 21:76 which states that Allah saved him and his family. Now, this contradiction is "solved" in the Qur'an itself. When we read on in Sura 11 up to verse 46 we find Allah replying to Noah in regard to exactly this complaint that he has not saved his son: "O Noah! He is not of thy family: For his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of Me that of which though Hast no knowledge!"

So, we see that this problem is solved by "divine exclusion" and the Qur'an even admits that this can be something rather difficult to comprehend for normal human beings, even for the prophet of God, Noah.

It is certainly possible to disinherit sons or otherwise to deny them the legal status of a son, but it is impossible even for God that a biological son looses the property of being the seed of his father. As such, the formulation in Sura 37:77 "And made his seed the survivors" (of the Flood), is still difficult to reconcile with Allah's answer in Sura 11:46.

A further question might be raised from Sura 11:27 in regard to the identity of those saved and those drowned in the flood.

But the chiefs of the Unbelievers among his people said [in response to Noah]:
"We see (in) thee nothing but a man like ourselves:
Nor do we see that any follow thee but the meanest among us,
in judgment immature: Nor do we see in you (all) any merit above us:
in fact we think ye are liars!"

It is clear that Noah found some who believed his message and followed him. That the unbelievers call the believers "mean" and "immature" is to be expected and angry rethorics. But it cannot be denied that he had some followers, apart from his immediate family (which would not create this reaction, given that it is expected that the family follows the head of the family). This is again hinted at in Sura 7:64 stating:

But they rejected him, and We delivered him, and those with him, in the Ark:
but We overwhelmed in the flood those who rejected Our signs.
They were indeed a blind people!

Those "in the Ark" are contrasted with (i.e. are the opposite of) those "who rejected", i.e. they are those who believed. It is not as clear as 11:27, but it is pointing in the same direction.

Two issues arise here:

1. This contradicts the Torah where it is clear that only his family and all of his family are saved (eight people, Noah, and his wife and the three sons and their wives).

2. Given that the Qur'an speaks of further people who believe him, why were those who followed him outside his family not saved as well? Again, it says: "And made his seed the survivors" (37:77).

The inclusion / exclusion dynamics are rather complex in this story. In Sura 66:10, Noah's wife is assigned to Hell, and Yusuf Ali's commentary implies she perished in the flood. In Sura 11:40, we find the command for embarking on the Ark:

At length, behold! there came Our command,
and the fountains of the earth gushed forth!
We said: "Embark therein, of each kind two, male and female,
and your family - except those against whom the word has already gone forth,-
and the Believers." but only a few believed with him.

Here again, we read of "a few believed with him", but why are they seemingly not saved according to Sura 37:77? And looking again at 11:42-43 (above), Noah calls out to his son to embark the Ark. So, he was not one "against whom the word has already gone forth" since then Noah would not have called him in disobedience to Allah's command. Clearly he was not forewarned about the perishing of this son as his prayer to Allah shows:

And Noah called upon his Lord, and said:
"O my Lord! surely my son is of my family!
and Thy promise is true,
and Thou art the justest of Judges!"
-- Sura 11:45

Allah's answer is:

He said: "O Noah! He is not of thy family:
For his conduct is unrighteous.
So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge!
I give thee counsel, lest thou act like the ignorant!"
-- Sura 11:46

Those Allah excluded beforehand are still called "your family" in 11:40, but in regard to the son, of whose exclusion Noah had no knowledge (until Allah's response in 11:46), it is said that he is not of his family.

This is a substantial inclusion-exclusion confusion.

A potential reason for these differences to the Bible is discussed in the article, I am ALL the Prophets.

Furthermore, there is a completely different, scientific problem. This whole conversation in 11:42-43 is impossible in the way it is reported. If you ever have been at sea when the waves are towering like mountains then you know how loud it is. Conversation, even when shouting is absolutely impossible. Note, it does not say that the water was already as deep as a mountain is high (but with a calm surface), it specifically speaks of waves, which means that there have to be strong winds to produce these waves. And that is always very loud. Also, the Ark, a big ship was already afloat, i.e. "out on the water", while Noah's son seems during this conversation to be standing on the dry land in a distance allowing conversation (even if there were no noise around), and not swimming in the water and struggling with the waves. This is physically impossible for any normal landscape imaginable. After all this was not in a haven build for regular docking of ships.

Muhammad was a son of the desert, not aquainted very well with large amounts of water as is found, for example, at the shore of an ocean. That might explain why this story is narrated in such an unrealistic way.

Jochen Katz

Contradictions in the Qur'an
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