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Flood of Nuh (a)

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Flood of Nūḥ was a divine punishment that people of Nuh (a) (Noah (a)) the prophet underwent as a result of their idolatry. Nuh (a) called his people to worship God for 950 years, but nobody believed in him except for a small number of people. Thus, Nuh (a) cursed them and then God sent down a storm to punish them. There is a disagreement over whether the Flood was local or global and how long it lasted.

The story of the Flood of Nuh (a) is commonly believed by different nations and people and is cited in old sources. The oldest source of the story is the Sumer story. The details of the story are narrated in these sources with differences.

In the Qur'an

According to the Qur'an, the Flood of Nuh (a) was a divine punishment to wipe out the polytheist people of Nuh (a).[1] According to Quranic verses, these people were idolaters, worshiping idols called "Wudd", "Suwa'", "Yaghuth", "Ya'uq", and "Nasr".[2] According to the Qur'an, Nuh (a) made a great deal of efforts to guide these people to the right path, but he failed to guide them,[3] and after a long time, only a few people believed in Nuh (a).[4] The Qur'an reports that Nuh's (a) people called him a liar, making excuses for refusing his prophethood, such as him only being a human being like themselves, the number of his followers being fewer than them, and him not having a superiority over them in familial terms.[5] On the Qur'anic account, Nuh (a) called his people to worshiping one God for 950 years, without asking God to punish them all this time.[6]

When God revealed to Nuh (a) that his people will never come to believe him,[7] Nuh (a) cursed his people and said, "O Lord! Do not leave any unbelieving person on the face of the Earth!"[8] According to al-Tabrisi in his Majma' al-bayan, as a result of his curse, men and women became sterile and for 40 years, no child was born and starvation was widespread such that they ran out of all supplies and became miserable.[9] At this time, Nuh (a) told them, "ask God for forgiveness; He is forgiving",[10] but his people did not listen to him and recommended one another not to forget their own idols.[11] After this, God wiped out all polytheists with a great Flood, thus responding to Nuh's (a) request.[12]

The Flood of Nuh (a) is mentioned in the Qur'an 12 times. The Qur'anic approach to the story of the Flood of Nuh (a) is like other Qur'anic stories, for no details are provided although the story is reiterated several times.[13] Some scholars believe that in sources of hadith and history, different details are added to the story of Nuh's (a) Flood, many of which are fabricated.[14]

Extent of the Flood

Some exegetes maintain that although there is no explicit Quranic text regarding the Flood of Nuh (a) being local or global, many verses of the Qur'an seem to imply that the Flood was not local; rather it occurred throughout the whole Earth.[15] This is because the word, "ard" (Earth), in Quranic verses concerning the Flood of Nuh (a) is used without any qualification or restriction to a certain region.[16] They also believe that the context of verses in which Nuh (a) picked instances of animals to carry on his ark supports the thesis that the Flood was global.[17]

'Allama Tabataba'i maintains in his al-Mizan that since Nuh's (a) call was global, his flood was global as well. To demonstrate this, he appeals to the verse 43 of Qur'an 11, the verse 26 of Qur'an 71, and the verse 77 of Qur'an 37. He and other exegetes reject the view of the author of al-Minar according to which Nuh's (a) Flood was local. Tabataba'i believes that geological researches also show that the Flood of Nuh (a) was global.[18]

Makarim Shirazi maintains that in addition to the apparent meanings of some Quranic verses, many historical sources also imply that the Flood of Nuh (a) was global. This is why they trace all current races of human beings to the three sons of Nuh (a) who survived after him: Ham, Sam (Shem), and Yafith (Japheth). He also believes that there is a period in the natural history known as the period of flood rains which can be identified with the Flood of Nuh (a) if we do not date it back to the period prior to the genesis of animals.[19] However, Makarim holds that all this evidence is also compatible with the locality of the Flood of Nuh (a), because the word, "ard" (Earth), in the Qur'an can refer to a large area rather than the whole globe, and the animals were carried in order to prevent the extinction of species in that large area.

Bayyumi believes that the Flood of Nuh (a) was not global. He brings arguments for his view in volume 4 of his historical investigation of Quranic stories, adding that the examination of old stone tablets, such as the Sumerian, Babylon, and Jewish ones, demonstrates that the Flood of Nuh (a) was not global.[20] There are contrary views as well. For example, Muhammad Rashid Rida believes that the Flood of Nuh (a) was global, and even if it was only sent down to the people of Nuh (a), it means that there were no other people on Earth at the time.

Condition of the Ka'ba

There are different accounts of the condition of the Ka'ba during the Flood of Nuh (a). Some exegetes believe that the Ka'ba did not go under the water in the Flood.[21] Others believe that Jabra'il carried the Ka'ba to the fourth sky at the command of God.[22] Some exegetes have pointed out that the Ka'ba is called "Bayt al-'Atiq" because it was protected against the Flood of Nuh (a),[23] but since they believe that the Ka'ba did not exist in the period of Nuh (a), they say that the ground on which the Ka'ba was constructed by Ibrahim (a) (Abraham) was protected against the Flood, that is, it did not go under the water. In the exegesis of the verse 26 of Sura al-Hajj, "And when we designated for Ibrahim the site of the House", Makarim Shirazi believes that God designated for Ibrahim (a) the site of the Ka'ba which was constructed in the period of Adam (a) and was destroyed in the Flood of Nuh (a), and then Ibrahim (a) and his son, Isma'il (a), reconstructed the Ka'ba. Bayumi takes all these views to be Isra'iliyyat, for he believes that the Ka'ba was built by Ibrahim (a) and Isma'il (a) after the Flood of Nuh (a). However, 'Allama Tabataba'i cites strange hadiths regarding the construction of the Ka'ba and then comments that most of these hadiths are Khabar al-Wahid, and so their contents cannot be relied on, and even the cumulation of these hadiths does not demonstrate anything, but since they are similar to other hadiths in the doctrines of Ahl al-Bayt (a), they cannot be totally rejected. Therefore, even if we cannot accept the contents of these hadiths, we cannot reject them completely or doubt their issuance from, or attribution to, the Imams (a), because such hadiths count as divine doctrines, and their proof or rejection cannot be done on the basis of natural and social sciences.

In Old Sources

The story of the Flood of Nuh (a) is a story that was common to various nations and people around the world, including the Near East, India, Myanmar, China, Maldive, Australia, islands of the Pacific Ocean, and Indian communities (native Americans), though each of them has its own version of the story. In the Sumerian story which is deemed to be the oldest source of the story of the Flood, it is said to talk about God's warning and then the Flood is mentioned, "hurricanes and flood rains were sent down the Earth for 7 days and nights; the roar of the water plundered the Earth, and the sky stepped on the roaring water". In the Babylon story which is known as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is said that the whole human race and all living beings are destroyed by gods via the Flood. In the Jewish story of the Flood of Nuh (a), it is reported that when the wrong-doings of the human beings increased, God was saddened and decided to wipe out everything on Earth, excluding Nuh (a), because he was a perfect, righteous man.[24]

Differences between the Quranic Version and Older Versions

According to Bayumi's account of the Quranic version and the versions of old tablets, the main differences between them are as follows:

  1. The Qur'an refers to Nuh (a) as the prophet, but old tablets do not mention Nuh (a).
  2. The Qur'an restricts the survivors of the Flood of Nuh (a) to people who believed in Nuh (a), but other accounts restrict them to the household of Nuh (a).
  3. In the Quranic version, Nuh's (a) wife and son did not survive, while in the tablets, it is reported that they survived.
  4. There is no contradiction in the Quranic story, unlike other versions.
  5. The Quranic version is pure from material elements, unlike other versions of the story.
  6. The Quranic version exalts God from regretting the Flood, unlike other versions.[25]

Beginning of the Flood

On the Quranic account, the Flood began from the Earth and the sky by the overflow of an oven: "until when Our command came and the oven overflowed".[26] Muslim historians and exegetes disagree over what is meant by the "oven" here and to what place it refers. Some people maintain that it refers to "wells of the Earth", that is, water sprang from the Earth such that water even came from ovens that were centers of fire. Others believe that the oven is the oven for baking bread—a stone over possessed by Eve and inherited by Nuh (a). Some others take the oven to be the current location of the Mosque of Kufa. Still others take it to be the light of the dawn.[27] After citing the latter view which is attributed to Imam 'Ali (a), Bayumi said that although Ibn Kathir considers the view to be odd, it is the most plausible account of the oven. Moreover, this is consistent with more ancient texts as well.[28]

'Allama Tabataba'i holds that "the oven overflowed" means that the water sprang from the oven. According to some hadiths, the first place from which water overflowed in the Flood of Nuh (a) was an oven. It is also probable that the overflow of the oven is used metaphorically here, referring to the intensity of God's anger. 'Allama Tabataba'i takes views according to which the oven refers to wells, the light of the dawn, or the highest place of the earth to be implausible.[29] In his exegesis of the Qur'an, Makarim Shirazi believes that the oven in the verse should be taken literally. There is a disagreement about the location of the oven as well: some people take it to be in India, others take it to be in Kufa, and some others to be in Arabian Peninsula.

Time and Length

On the Biblical account, the Flood of Nuh (a) occurred on the 7th day of the second month of 600th year of Nuh's (a) life. It lasted for 40 days on Earth such that the water rised up to 15 meters, and it took 150 years for the water to go down.[30] In Islamic hadiths, different times are specified for the occurrence of the Flood of Nuh (a) and its length. Some people believe that it occurred when Nuh (a) was 1900 years old,[31] for others, he was 600 years old then, and according to others, he was 1200 years old when the Flood occurred. Also, according to Mukhtasar al-duwal (an Islamic historical book), the Flood occurred 2,226 years and 23 days after the creation of Adam. Some people take the Flood to have occurred on Rajab 10[32] and others on Rajab 2.[33] Many Muslim historians maintain that the Flood of Nuh (a) lasted for 40 days in which water flowed from the Earth and fell from the sky consistently.[34] Others believe that the Flood lasted for 6 months[35] or 150 days, or 5 months, or 13 months, or 27 days.[36] In his book, Tarikh-i payambaran (history of the prophets), 'Allama Majlisi cites a reliable hadith according to which Nuh (a) and his people stayed in the ark for 7 days and nights.[37] According to to Tarikh al-Ya'qubi, the Flood began on Iyar 17 and ended on Tishrei 13, so it lasted for 5 months.

There is also a disagreement over the extent to which the water rose. The Quranic account according to which there was no safe place for unbelievers even on the highest mountains implies that the water rose so much that it covered the highest mountains as well.[38] Thus, some people concluded that the water rose up to 15 cubits, and others take it to be 80 cubits in order for it to be able to cover all mountains of the Earth.[39]

See Also


  1. Qurʾān, 7:64; 11:40-41; 21:71; 71:25.
  2. Qurʾān, 71:25
  3. Qurʾān, 71:5
  4. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 16.
  5. Qurʾān, 11:27.
  6. Qurʾān, 29:14.
  7. Qurʾān, 11:36.
  8. Qurʾān, 71:26.
  9. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 9, p. 144-145.
  10. Qurʾān, 71:10.
  11. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 9, p. 144-145.
  12. Qurʾān, 11:25-49; 71:1-25.
  13. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 70.
  14. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 70.
  15. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 78; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 103.
  16. Qurʾān, 11:44; 71:26.
  17. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 103.
  18. Ṭabāṭabāyī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i al-mīzān, vol. 10, p. 296.
  19. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 103.
  20. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 78-91.
  21. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 74-76.
  22. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 74-76.
  23. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 2, p. 56.
  24. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 91-95.
  25. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 91-95.
  26. Qurʾān, 11:40.
  27. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 72; Ṭabāṭabāyī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i al-mīzān, vol. 10, p. 340.
  28. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 72.
  29. Ṭabāṭabāyī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i al-mīzān, vol. 10, p. 340.
  30. Bayyūmī Mihrān, Barrasī-yi tārīkhī-yi qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 45-46.
  31. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn, p. 117.
  32. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh-i Ṭabarī, vol. 1, p. 132-133.
  33. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, p. 26.
  34. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 1, p. 13.
  35. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh-i Ṭabarī, vol. 1, p. 132; Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, p. 26.
  36. Ibn Kathīr, Qiṣaṣ al-anīyāʾ, p. 111-112.
  37. Majlisī, Tārīkh-i payāmbarān, vol. 1, p. 273.
  38. Qurʾān, 11:43.
  39. Ibn Kathīr, Qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ, p. 80.


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