Sam Shamoun

An area of criticism applied by Muslim apologists against the Holy Bible and in support of the Quran is the issue of Noah's flood. Following the example set by Dr. Maurice Bucaille in his book, The Bible, the Qur'an & Science, Muslims assert that whereas the Holy Bible wrongly teaches a universal flood the Quran however, in agreement with both modern science and archeology, affirms that the flood during Noah's time was a local event. The Quran clearly teaches that the flood only affected the people of Noah and did not stretch across the entire globe.

Unfortunately, many who are not familiar with the Quran or the early Islamic writings are left with the impression that the Quran inarguably teaches that the flood of Noah's day was merely a local event. The problem with this is that the Muslim apologists who make such statements must often read into the text something not explicitly stated and/or ignore the early Muslim exegetes and their interpretation of Quranic passages dealing with the flood.

For example, the Quran never says that the flood affected only the people living within close proximity to Noah and his family. The only reason why the Quran singles out the people of Noah is simply due to the fact that the Islamic scripture is recording the message Noah proclaimed to his contemporaries. It has absolutely nothing to do with the extent of the flood since it would be impossible for the Quran to include all the peoples of the world in these passages seeing that they had never heard Noah's preaching.

Furthermore, there are passages in the Quran where a universal flood is clearly implied, if not explicitly stated. In fact, these very same passages are appealed to by Muslim writers, such as al-Tabari, to support the fact that the flood was universal. Before proceeding to the Muslim writings, let us first examine the Quranic witness to the universality of Noah's flood:

"At length, behold! There came Our Command, and the fountains of the earth gushed forth! We said: `Embark therein, of each 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." S. 11:40

"Then the word went forth: `O earth! Swallow up thy water, and O sky! withhold (thy rain)! And the water abated, and the matter was ended. The Ark rested on Mount Judi, and the word went forth: `Away with those who do wrong!'" S. 11:44

These verses state that the earth gushed forth with water, implying that the flood was universal. It does not say that only the land where Noah lived gushed forth with flood waters.

"So We inspired him (with this message): `Construct the Ark within Our sight and under Our guidance: then when comes Our command, and the oven gushes forth, take thou on board pairs of every species, male and female, and thy family- except those of whom the Word has already gone forth: and address Me not in favour of the wrong-doers: for they shall be drowned (in the Flood)." S. 23:27

One might ask that if the flood was merely local, why the need to take two kinds of every species seeing that a local flood would not wipe out the entire animal life globally? This again implicitly affirms the universality of Noah's flood.

"So We opened the gates of heaven, with water pouring forth. And we caused the earth to gush forth with springs. So the waters met (and rose) to the extent decreed. But We bore him on an (Ark) made of broad planks and caulked with palm-fibre: She floats under Our eyes (and care): a recompense to one who had been rejected (with scorn)!" S. 54:11-14

Again, heaven pouring forth and the earth gushing springs seem to imply a universal event.

"And Noah said: `O my Lord! Leave not of the Unbelievers, a single one on earth! For if Thou dost leave (any of them), they will but mislead Thy devotees, and they will breed none but wicked ungrateful ones.'" S. 71:26-27

Noah's plea does not fit in well with a local flood since his request was that no evildoer be left on the earth, not just locally within close proximity of his land. A local flood would entail the fact that not only did evildoers survive but that they also possibly had offspring who were "wicked ungrateful ones," something Noah prayed against. Clearly, this passage fits in better with a global event.

Someone might argue that these verses do not convincingly prove that the Quran teaches a universal flood since these passages are open to interpretation. The only problem with this assertion is that the Quran never explicitly states that the flood was only local. Yet, this fact does not stop Muslims from making the inference that the flood was a local event.

Furthermore, the evidence from historians such as al-Tabari is that the flood was viewed as a global event, wiping out all life with the exception of those in the Ark. The following citations are taken from the book, The History of al-Tabari, vol. 1, General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, as translated by Franz Rosenthal:

According to Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Ibn Isahq- al-Hassan b. Dinar- Ali b. Zayd- Yusuf b. Mihran- Ibn Abbas: I [Yusuf b. Mihran] heard him [Ibn Abbas] say: ... The water increased wildly, and, as is assumed by the people of the Torah, rose fifteen cubits over the mountain tops. All creatures on the face the earth, every inspirited being or tree, disappeared. No creature remained except Noah and those with him in the boat, as well as Og b. Anak, as is assumed by the people of the Book. The time between God's sending the Flood and the receding of the water in six months and ten nights. (History of al-Tabari [State University of New York Press; Albany, NY 1989], pp. 360-361)

According to al-Harith- Ibn Sa'd- Hisham- his father- Abu Salih- Ibn Abbas: God sent rain for forty days and forty nights. When the rain hit them, the wild animals, the domestic animals, and the birds all went to Noah and were subjected (to labor) for him. As commanded by God, he carried along `pair(s), two of each kind.' He also carried along Adam's corpse, making it a barrier between women and men. They boarded the ark on the tenth day of Rajab, and they left it on the Ashura Day, (the tenth day) of al-Muharram; therefore, all those people fast on the Ashura Day. The water was brought forth in two equal parts. This is (meant by) God's word: `And We opened for water munhamirin'- that is, musabbin pouring- `and We fajjarna'- that is, shaqqaqna split- `the earth for springs (to gush forth). The water (from above and below) met for a matter (pre)determined.' Thus, (because of the word `meeting' that is used in the verse, it appears that) the water came in two equal parts, one from heaven, and the other from the earth. It rose fifteen cubits above the highest mountain on earth.
    The ark carried them around the entire earth in six months. It did not come to rest anywhere until it came to the Sacred Territory (of Mecca and Medina). However, it did not enter the Sacred Territory but circled around for a week. The House built by Adam was lifted up- lifted up, so as not to be submerged- `the inhabited House' with the Black Stone- on Abu Qubays. After the ark had circled around the Sacred Territory, it traveled with (those aboard) over the earth and eventually reached al-Judi... When it had come to rest upon al-Judi, `it was said: Earth, swallow your water!'- meaning, absorb your water that came forth from you- `and Heaven, hold back!'- meaning, restrain your water- `and the water disappeared in the ground'- that is, the earth absorbed it. The water that came down from heaven became the oceans that are seen on earth today... (Ibid., pp. 362-363)

This tradition affirms that the ark traveled across the entire globe and even alludes to some of the very Quranic passages we cited in support of a universal flood.

Abu Ja'far (al-Tabari) says: (Noah) and his family became (muslims), whereupon God revealed to him that he would never bring another Flood to the earth. (Ibid., p. 367)

This cannot be speaking of a local flood since these types of floods are common even till this day. Yet, a universal flood has not occurred since.

Ibn Ishaq, in turn, as we are told by Ibn Humayd- Salamah (- Ibn Ishaq), said... They said: Those who were with him in the boat were people who believed in him and followed him. However, they disappeared and perished, and no descendants of theirs survived. In this world today, the children of Adam are the direct offspring of Noah and of no other descendants of Adam, as God says: `And We made his offspring the survivors.' (Ibid., p. 368)

If it were merely a local flood, then this statement that only Noah's seed survived and that we are all his descendants would simply be untrue. In fact, the belief that the flood was only local was a view held by the Persian Magians, a belief contested by Muslims:

The Magians have no knowledge of the Flood. They say: Our rule continued uninterrupted since the age of Jayumart- who they say is identical with Adam. It was inherited by consecutive rulers to the time of Feroz b. Yazdjard b. Shahriyar. They (also) say: If (the story of the Flood) were sound, the pedigrees of the people would have been disrupted and their rule dissolved. Some of them acknowledge the Flood and assume that it took place in the clime of Babil, and nearby regions, whereas the descendants of Jayumart had their dwellings in the East, and the Flood did not reach them.

Abu Ja'far (al-Tabari) says: The information given by God concerning the Flood contradicts their statement, and what He says is the truth: `Noah called upon Us- and surely, good are those who respond! We delivered him and his family from the great distress and made his offspring the survivors.' God thus indicates that Noah's offspring are the survivors, and nobody else... (Ibid., p. 369)

Continuing a little further:

According to Ibn Bashshar- Ibn `Athmah- Sa'id b. Bashir- Qatadah- al-Hasan- Samurah b. Jundub- the Prophet, in connection with commenting on God's word: `And We made his offspring the survivors': Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ibid, p. 369)

Muhammad believed that only Noah and his immediate family survived the flood. This could only be so if the flood were indeed universal, wiping out all flesh.

According to Bishr (b. Mu'adh)- Yazd (b. Zuray')- Sa'id (b. Abi `Arubah)- Qatadah, commenting on God's word: `And We made his offspring the survivors,' as follows: All human beings are the offspring of Noah. (Ibid, pp. 369-370)

And this final comment from Islam's premiere Muslim commentator, Ibn Abbas:

According to Ali b. Dawud- Abu Salih (`Abdallah b. Salih)- Mu'awiyah (b. Salih)- `Ali (b. Abi Talhah)- Ibn Abbas commenting on God's word: `And We made offspring the survivors,' as follows: Only the offspring of Noah remains. (Ibid, p. 370 all bold emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir concurs:

"... When Allah caused the people of the EARTH to drown, except those who believed in Nuh and accompanied him in the ark, Allah made THE OFFSPRING OF NUH THE DWELLERS OF THE EARTH THEREAFTER. Ever since this occurred, THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH WERE AND STILL ARE THE DESCENDANTS OF NUH ..." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged Volume 3, Parts 6, 7 & 8, Surat An-Nisa, Verse 148 to the end of Surat Al-An'am, Abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors; Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore, first edition January 2000], p. 399; bold and capital emphasis ours)


"(And Nuh's people, when they denied the Messengers,) although Allah sent only Nuh to them, and he stayed among them for 950 years, calling them to Allah and warning them of His punishment, ... (And none believed with him, except a few) (11:40). For this reason Allah drowned them all and left no one among the sons of Adam alive on earth apart from those who boarded the boat, ... (and We made them a sign for mankind.) meaning a lesson to be learned."(Tafsir Ibn Kathir on S. 25:40; source 1, 2; bold underlined emphasis ours)

Also, commenting on the following Quranic passage:

"In the days of old), Noah cried to Us, and We are the best to hear prayer. And We delivered him and his people from the Great Calamity, And made his progeny to endure (on this earth); S. 37:75-77

Ibn Kathir writes:

<And, his progeny, them We made the survivors> 'Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn 'Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, "There was no one left apart from the offspring of Nuh, peace be upon him." Sa'id bin Abi 'Arubah said, narrating from Qatadah ...

"All people descended from the offspring of Nuh, peace be upon him." At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Jarir and Ibn Abi Hatim narrated from Samurah, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet ... said concerning the Ayah ...

<And, his progeny, them We made the survivors> ...

((Sam, Ham and Yafith.))

Imam Ahmad recorded from Samurah, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah ... said ...

((Sam was the father of the Arabs, Ham was the father of the Ethiopians and Yafith was the father of the Romans.)) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir Abridged, Volume 8, Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 51 to the end of Surat Ad-Dukhan, First edition: September 2000, pp. 262-263; bold emphasis ours)

All these traditions taken from men such as Ibn Kathir, Ibn Abbas, and even Muhammad himself, clearly refute the modern Islamic position that the Quran teaches a local flood.

A final argument needs to be addressed before concluding this study. Muslims often assert that the Holy Bible wrongly states that the ark landed on Mt. Ararat in present day Turkey (cf. Gen. 8:4). The Quran, on the other hand, correctly states that the ark landed on Mt. Judi (cf. S. 11:44).

First, it must be pointed out that the Bible does not say that the ark landed on Mt. Ararat, but rather in "the mountains of Ararat." Biblical Ararat is ancient Urartu. Secondly, the notion of the ark landing on Mt. Judi was something well known before Islam. These points are conceded by both Christian and Muslim scholars:

The NIV Study Bible's note on Genesis 8:4 states,

"mountains. The word is plural and refers to a range of mountains. Ararat. The name is related to Assyrian Urartu, which became an extensive and mountainous kingdom (see Jer 51:27; see also Isa 37:38), including much of the territory north of Mesopotamia and east of modern Turkey. The ark's landfall was probably in southern Urartu." (bold emphasis ours)

Muhammad Asad in his The Message of the Qur'an, makes the following comments in regard to Mt. Judi,

"This mountain, known in ancient Syriac as Qardu, is situated in the region of Lake Van, almost twenty-five miles north-east of the town Jazirat Ibn Umar, capital of the modern Syrian district of Al-Jazirah. It `owes its fame to the Mesopotamian tradition which identifies it, and not Mt. Ararat, with the mountains on which Noah's ark rested... This localization of the ark's resting place... is certainly based on Babylonian tradition' (Encyclopedia of Islam I, 1059). We should, however, remember that the designation Ararat (the Assyrian Urartu) at one time included the whole area to the south of Lake Van, in which Jabal Judi is situated: this might explain the Biblical statement that `the ark rested... upon the mountains of Ararat' (Genesis viii, 4)." (Asad, The Message of the Qur'an [Dar al-Andalus Limited; 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar, 1984], p.320, f. 66 bold emphasis ours)

The fact that the Quranic statement that the ark had come to rest at Mt. Judi was a well known tradition during Muhammad's time, and was therefore nothing new, is also admitted by A. Yusuf Ali himself:

"Let us get a little idea of the geography of the place. The letters J, B and K are philologically interchangeable, and Judi, Gudi, Kudi are sounds that can pass into each other. There is no doubt that the name is connected with the name `Kurd', in which the letter r is a later interpolation, for the oldest Sumerian records name a people called Kuti or Gutu as holding the middle Tigris region not later than 2000 B.C. (see E. B., Kurdistan). That region comprises the modern Turkish district of Bohtan, in which Jabal Judi is situated (near the frontiers of modern Turkey, modern Iraq, and modern Syria), and the town of Jazirat ibn `Umar, (on the present Turco-Syrian frontier), and it extends into Iraq and Persia. The great mountain mass of the Ararat plateau dominates this district. The 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 chief' (E. B., Asia). Such would be the very region of a stupendous Deluge if the usual scanty rainfall were to be changed into a very heavy downpour. A glacier damming of Lake Van in the Ice Age would produce the same result. The region has many local traditions connected with Noah and the Flood. The Biblical legend of Mount Ararat being the resting place of Noah's Ark is hardly plausible, seeing that the highest peak of Ararat is over 16,000 feet high. If it means one of the lower peaks of the Ararat system, it agrees with Muslim tradition about Mount Judi (or Gudi), and this is in accordance with the oldest and best local traditions. These traditions are accepted by Josephus, by the Nestorian Christians, and indeed by all the Eastern Christians and Jews, and they are the best in touch with local traditions. See (Viscount) J. Bryce, `Transcaucasia and Ararat,' 4th ed., 1896, p. 216." (Ali, The Holy Qur'an, f. 1539, p. 525)

Besides Ali's blunder on the Holy Bible teaching that the ark landed at Mount Ararat as opposed to "the mountains of Ararat", his statements are noteworthy in establishing the origin for the Quran's Mt. Judi story. Ali establishes the case that this tradition precedes Muhammad's birth by centuries, going back to at least the time of Christ. Hence, the Qur'an really provides nothing new since most of its stories were already known by the locals of Arabia.


In our study, we have taken into account certain Quranic references that seem to strongly imply that Noah's flood was a universal event. We have also seen how Muslims such as Ibn Abbas, as well as Muhammad, believed in a universal flood. Taking all these factors into account, we are left to conclude that the assertions of modern Muslim apologists that the Quran teaches a local flood is one devoid of evidence, and are inconsistent with the facts given within the Quran and the earliest historians of Islam.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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