Was Noah a ... Muslim? Robert Spencer's 'Blogging the Qur'an': Sura 11, 'Hud'

After reading Sura 11, you might need to hit the hair dye aisle at the Wal-Mart.

Sura 11, "Hud," dates (like Sura 10) from late in the Meccan period, the first part of Muhammad's prophetic career. Its name comes from verses 50-60, which tell the story of the prophet Hud, who according to Islamic tradition was sent to the Ad people of Arabia around 2400 BC.

Sura 11 repeats -- in stronger terms -- the warnings of Sura 10 concerning Allah's judgment.

Allah's judgment, according to a hadith, caused Muhammad anxiety. Once one of his leading followers, Abu Bakr, said to him, "O Messenger of Allah, verily your hair has turned gray." Muhammad replied that Sura 11, along with suras 56, 77, 78, and 81, all of which deal with judgment day, "have turned my hair gray."

Allah begins this hair-graying Sura (verses 1-24) with a recapitulation of many themes touched on in Sura 10, including the wisdom of the Qur'an itself (v. 1). Mujahid, Qatadah, and Ibn Jarir, among others, explained this verse as meaning that the Qur'an is "perfect in its wording, detailed in its meaning. Thus, it is complete in its form and its meaning." For, says Ibn Kathir, "this Qur'an descended, perfect and detailed, with the purpose of Allah's worship alone, without any partners."

The Qur'an is also inimitable: Allah repeats his challenge to produce a Sura like it in v. 13. He stresses some familiar themes: the necessity to worship only Allah (v. 2) and the dependence of all creatures upon him (v. 6); the worthlessness of idols (v. 14); the deceptive glamour of this life (v. 15); the dreadful punishment (vv. 16, 22) that awaits those who "invent a lie against Allah" (v. 18), and the delightful gardens that await the blessed (v. 23).

Allah makes a strange statement in v. 5: "Unquestionably, when they cover themselves in their clothing, Allah knows what they conceal and what they declare."

What would covering themselves with clothing have to do with Allah knowing them? Well, it appears that some people wore clothes to conceal themselves from Allah, particularly during intimate moments: Ibn Abbas explains that "there were people who used to be shy to remove their clothes while answering the call of nature in an open space and thus be naked exposed to the sky. They were also ashamed of having sexual relations with their women due to fear of being exposed towards the sky. Thus, this was revealed concerning them."

Then follow the stories of various prophets, all revolving around their rejection by perverse and obstinate unbelievers.

Allah tells the story of Noah and the ark, with a significant difference from the Biblical story (vv. 25-49). In Genesis 6-9, Noah has nothing to do with the unbelievers at all; God tells him, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Genesis 6:13), and tells him to build the ark, but he doesn't tell him to go warn the people about the flood. But in the Qur'an, Noah comes to his people with a "clear warning" (v. 25) that they should "serve none but Allah" (v. 26). So the corruption and violence of which the people are guilty in the Biblical account in the Qur'an become simply idolatry, or more precisely, shirk, the association of partners with Allah.

Of course, Muhammad came to his people with a clear warning (14:52) that they should serve none but Allah (3:64), and so in this account Noah is kind of a proto-Muhammad, preaching a message identical to his. And that is, indeed, how Islam views all the Biblical prophetsThey, like Muhammad, taught Islam -- it was their followers who corrupted their teachings to create modern Judaism and Christianity.