Son of Prophet Noah (a)
The Son of Noah, better known as Canʿān, was the son of Prophet Noah (a) who did not believe in his father and was drowned in the Flood of Noah together with other unbelievers. The Qur'an has referred to the story of the Son of Noah in verses 40 to 47 of Qur'an 11. Many exegetes of the Qur'an hold that these verses appear to show that Noah (a) was not aware of his son's disbelief and this was the reason why he called his son to board on the ship.
The Story of the Son of Noah
Noah (a) had four sons: Shem, Ham, Japheth, and Can'an. Can'an was the only son of Noah (a) who ignored his father's preaching and did not believe in him. Eventually, he and other unbelievers were drowned in the flood that was sent down as a divine punishment. There is a dispute over the name of the fourth son of Noah (a). Many people hold that his name was "Can'an", but others believe that his name was "Yam". The story of the son of Noah (a) is cited in the Qur'an similarly to other Qur'anic stories. Thus, the details of the story and the characteristics of the son of Noah (a) are not provided therein.
The only characterization of the son of Noah (a) in the Qur'an is concerned with the moment when the storm had begun and the son of Noah (a) was outside the ship. According to the Qur'an, Noah (a) sees his son at this time and tells him:
- "O my son! 'Board with us, and do not be with the faithless!." He [Can'an] said: "I shall take refuge on a mountain; it will protect me from the flood." He [Noah (a)] said: "There is none today who can protect from Allah’s edict, except someone upon whom He has mercy." Then the waves came between them, and he was among those who were drowned.
At the end of the story of the son of Noah (a) in the Qur'an, there are verses whose interpretation is a matter of dispute among the exegetes. In verses 45 to 48 of Qur'an 11, the story ends like this:
- "Noah called out to his Lord, and said, 'My Lord! My son is indeed from my family. Your promise is indeed true, and You are the fairest of all judges.’" Said He, 'O Noah! Indeed, He is not of your family. Indeed, he is [personification of] unrighteous conduct. So do not ask Me [something] of which you have no knowledge. I advise you lest you should be among the ignorant.’" He said, 'My Lord! I seek Your protection lest I should ask You something of which I have no knowledge. If You do not forgive me and have mercy upon me I shall be among the losers.’ It was said, 'O Noah! Disembark in peace from Us and with [Our] blessings upon you and upon nations [to descend] from those who are with you, and nations whom We shall provide for, then a painful punishment from Us shall befall them.
Doubts about Can'an Being Noah's (a) Son
The verse 46 of Qur'an 11, "O Noah, indeed he is not of your family", led some exegetes to doubt about Can'an being Noah's (a) son. According to Tafsir al-Qurtubi, the son who was drowned was not Noah's (a) son; rather he was an illegitimate son of Noah's (a) wife, since in verse 46 of Qur'an 11, God says: "O Noah! Indeed, He is not of your family. Indeed, he is [personification of] unrighteous conduct.". Attributing to this verse as well as the verse 10 of Qur'an 66, in which Noah's (a) wife is characterized as a betrayer. some have mentioned that the drowned son was not Noah's (a) son.
However, many Shiite and Sunni exegetes have appealed to hadiths interpreting verses 45 and 46 of Qur'an 11 to show that this remark is unfounded. They believe that the phrase "betrayed them"  in the Qur'an does not imply that Noah's (a) wife was an adulterer and the "Son of Noah (a)" was her illegitimate child.
'Allama Tabataba'i maintains that the son of Noah (a), who was drowned in the storm, was Noah's (a) true and legitimate son. This can be inferred from an address in the verse 42 of Qur'an 11: "O my son! Board with us", since such an address implies the addresser's kindness and passion—Noah (a) wanted to convey to his son that he loved him and wanted the best for him. Thus, when God says about the son that "O Noah!(a) Indeed, He is not of your family. Indeed, he is [personification of] unrighteous conduct", it means that he is not among people whom God had promised to rescue from the storm as in the verse "Carry in it a pair of every kind [of animal], along with your family", because only the righteous members of Noah's (a) family were promised to survive. So, although the son was Noah's (a) son and family, he was not the family of Noah (a) who could survive. The view that the "Son of Noah (a)" was Noah's (a) true son is also accepted in Tafsir-i nimuna, Majma' al-bayan, and Tafsir al-Tabari.
Noah's Ignorance of His Son's Disbelief
Many exegetes of the Qur'an believe that Noah (a) did not know that his son was an unbeliever; and this was the reason why he called him to go on the ship. For if Noah (a) knew by certainty that his son was an unbeliever, he would not call him to go aboard and would not ask God to let him get on the ship, because Noah (a) himself had already cursed the unbelievers and asked God not to leave any unbelievers on the Earth. And it is not plausible to say that he had excluded his son from this request.
Some exegetes appeal to the way Noah's (a) conversation with his son is narrated in the Qur'an as evidence that Noah (a) was unaware of his son's disbelief. They say that if Noah (a) knew about his son's disbelief, then instead of saying: "Do not be with the faithless!", he would say: "Do not be a faithless". The former sentence—which appears in the Qur'an—implies mere companionship with unbelievers; thus, it shows that Noah (a) was unaware of his son's disbelief. 'Allama Tabataba'i believes that Qur'anic verses appear to imply that God had promised Noah (a) to save his family from the storm, and since Noah (a) was not aware of his son's disbelief, he appeals to God's promise in the verse 45 of Qur'an 11, and in fact he wants to say: "Oh my Lord! My son is my family and Your promise is true, so You will not punish him as You punish the disbelievers and You will not drown him. However, the verdict is up to You and You are the best of all judges".
- Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa l-nihāya, vol. 1, p. 113; Maqdisī, Āfarīnish wa tārīkh, vol. 1, p. 442.
- Bayyūmī Mahrām, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ al-Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 70.
- And it sailed along with them amid waves [rising] like mountains. Noah called out to his son, who stood aloof, 'O my son! 'Board with us, and do not be with the faithless!’ Qur'an11:42,43, Translation by Qara'i
- Bayyūmī Mahrām, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ al-Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 17.
- Allah draws an example for the faithless: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of our righteous servants, yet they betrayed them. So they did not avail them in any way against Allah, and it was said [to them] 'Enter the Fire, along with those who enter [it].’ Qur'an 66:10
- Qur'an 66:10
- Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 12, p. 69; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 117; Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī, vol. 6, p. 266; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, vol. 12, p. 32.
- What really means "my son" is "Ibni" (إبنی) in Arabic. Hence, the phrase "Bunayya" (بُنَیَّ) does not exactly imply "my son"; rather -in addition to "my son"- it conveys a sense of affection and fondness for the addressee.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 346.
- Qur'an 11:40
- Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 12, p. 68; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 117; Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī, vol. 6, p. 266.
- Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 12, p. 61; Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī, vol. 6, p. 266; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 350.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 350.
- Qur'an 11:42.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 346; Jawādī Āmulī, Sīra-yi payāmbarān dar Qurʾān, p. 273.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 10, p. 350-351.
- Ālūsī, Maḥmūd b. ʿAbd Allāh al-. Rūḥ al-maʿānī fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyya, 1415 AH.
- Bayyūmī Mahrām, Muḥammad. Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān. Translated to Farsi by Masʿūd Anṣārī. Tehran: Shirkat-i Intishārāt-i ʿIlmī wa Farhangī, 1383 Sh.
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