Prophet Nooh (Noah) was one of the prominent Prophets whom Allah Almighty sent to guide people to His Path – that of Monotheism. Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that Prophet Muhammad said: “The period between Adam and Noah was ten centuries.” [Al-Bukhari]
Noah was therefore born some one thousand years after Adam’s creation, or after he left the Garden of Eden. For many generations, the people of Nooh had been worshipping statues that they called gods. They believed that these gods would bring them good, protect them from evil, and provide all their needs. They gave their idols names such as Wadd, Suwaa’, Yaghooth, Ya’ooq, and Nasr.
Allah Almighty revealed in the Noble Quran (what means): “And [the idolaters] said: ‘Never leave your gods and never leave Wadd, nor Suwaa’ or Yaghooth and Ya’ooq and Nasr [i.e., the names of their idols].” [Quran: 71:23] Originally, these were the names of good people who had lived among them. After their deaths, statues of them were erected to keep their memories alive. After some time, however, people began to worship these statues. Later generations did not even know why they had been erected; they only knew their parents had prayed to them. That is how idol worshipping developed. Since they had no understanding of Allah Almighty who would punish them for their evil deeds, they became cruel and immoral.
Ibn ‘Abbas explained: “Following the death of those righteous men, Satan inspired their people to erect statues in the places where they used to sit. They did this, but these statues were not worshiped until the coming generations deviated from the right way of life. Then they worshipped them as their idols.”
In his description of this story, Imam Ibn Jareer narrated: “There were righteous people who lived in the period between Adam and Nooh, may Allah exalt their mention, and who had followers who held them as models. After their death, their friends who used to emulate them said: ‘If we make statues of them, it will be more pleasing to us in our worship and will remind us of them.’ So they built statues of them and, after they had died and others came after them, Iblees (Satan) crept into their minds saying: ‘Your forefathers used to worship them, and through that worship they got rain.’ So they worshipped them.”
Imam Ibn Abu Hatim related the following story: “Wadd was a righteous man who was loved by his people. When he died, they withdrew to his grave in the land of Babylonia and were overwhelmed by sadness. When Iblees saw their sorrow caused by his death, he disguised himself in the form of a man saying: ‘I have seen your sorrow because of this man’s death; can I make a statue like him which could be put in your meeting place to make you remember him?’ They said: ‘Yes.’ So he made the statue like him. They put it in their meeting place in order to be reminded of him. When Iblees saw their interest in remembering him, he said: ‘Can I build a statue of him in the home of each one of you so that he would be in everyone’s house and you could thereby remember him?’ They agreed. Their children learned about and saw what they were doing. They also learned about their remembrance of him instead of Allah. So the first to be worshipped instead of Allah was Wadd, the idol which they named thus.”
The essence of this point is that every idol from those earlier mentioned was worshipped by a certain group of people. It was mentioned that people made pictures and, as the ages passed, they made these pictures into statues, so that their forms could be fully recognized; afterward, they were worshipped instead of Allah.
It was narrated that Umm Salamah and Umm Habeebah who were two of the wives of the Prophet informed him about the church named ‘Maria’ that they had seen in the land of Abyssinia. They described its beauty and the pictures therein. He said: “Those are the people who build places of worship on the grave of every dead man who was righteous and then make therein those pictures. Those are the worst of creation in the sight of Allah.” [Al-Bukhari]
Worshipping anything other than Allah is a tragedy that results not only in the loss of freedom; its serious effect reaches man’s mind and destroys it as well. Almighty Allah created man and his mind with its purpose set on achieving knowledge, the most important of which is that Allah alone is the Creator and all the rest are worshippers (slaves). Therefore, disbelief in Allah, or polytheism, results in the loss of freedom, the destruction of the mind, and the absence of a noble target in life. By worshipping anything other than Allah, man becomes enslaved to Satan, who is himself a creature and becomes harnessed to his own baser qualities.
In that environment, Allah sent Nooh with His message to his people. Nooh was the only intellectual not caught in the whirlpool of man’s destruction which was caused by polytheism.
Allah, out of His Mercy, sent His messenger Nooh to guide his people. Nooh was an excellent speaker and a very patient man. He pointed out to his people the mysteries of life and the wonders of the universe. He pointed out how the night is regularly followed by the day and that the balance between these opposites was designed by Allah Almighty for our good. The night gives coolness and rests while the day gives warmth and awakens activity. The sun encourages growth, keeping all plants and animals alive, while the moon and stars assist in the reckoning of time, direction, and seasons. He pointed out that the ownership of the heavens and the earth belongs only to the Divine Creator.
Therefore, he explained to these people, there cannot have been more than one deity. He clarified to them how the devil had deceived them for so long and that the time had come for this deceit to stop. Nooh spoke to them of Allah’s glorification of man, how He had created him, and provided him with sustenance and the blessings of the mind. He told them that idol worshipping was a suffocating injustice to the mind. He warned them not to worship anyone but Allah and described the terrible punishment Allah would mete out if they continued in their evil ways.
The people listened to him in silence. His words were a shock to their stagnating minds as it is a shock to a person who is asleep under a wall that is about to fall and who is vigorously awakened. This person may be alarmed and may even become angry, although the aim was only to save him.
The people of Nooh were divided into two groups after his warning. His words touched the hearts of the weak, the poor, and the miserable, and soothed their wounds with its mercy. As for the rich, the strong, the mighty, and the rulers, they looked upon the warning with cold distrust. They believed they would be better off if things stayed as they were. Therefore, they started their war of words against Nooh .
First, they accused Nooh of being a mere human, just like themselves, as the verse states (what means): “So the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said: ‘We do not see you but as a man like ourselves’….” [Quran: 11:27]
He, however, had never said anything other than that. He asserted that, indeed, he was only a human being; Allah had sent a human messenger because the earth was inhabited by humans. If it had been inhabited by angels, Allah would have sent an angelic messenger.
The contest between the polytheists and Nooh continued. The rulers had thought at first that Nooh’s call would soon fade on its own. When they found that his call attracted the poor, the helpless and common laborers, they started to verbally attack and taunt him: ‘You are only followed by the poor, the meek and the worthless.’
Allah the Almighty tells us in the Quran (what means): “And We had certainly sent Nooh to his people, [saying]: ‘Indeed, I am to you a clear warner. That you do not worship except Allah. Indeed, I fear for you the punishment of a painful day.’ So the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said: ‘We do not see you but as a man like ourselves, and we do not see you followed except by those who are the lowest of us [and] at first suggestion. And we do not see in you over us any merit; rather, we think you are a liar.'” [Quran: 11:25-27]
Thus, the conflict between Nooh and the heads of his people intensified. The disbelievers tried to bargain: “Listen Nooh! If you want us to believe in you, then dismiss your believers. They are meek and poor, while we are elite and rich; no faith can include us both.” Nooh listened to the heathens of his community and realized they were obstinate. However, he was gentle in his response. He explained to his people that he could not dismiss the believers as they were not his guests but Allah’s.
Nooh appealed to them saying (what means): “O my people! I ask not of you for it any wealth. My reward is not but from Allah. And I am not one to drive away those who have believed. Indeed, they will meet their Lord, but I see that you are a people behaving ignorantly. And O my people! Who would protect me from Allah if I drove them away? Then will you not be reminded? And I do not tell you that I have the depositories [containing the provision] of Allah or that I know the unseen, nor do I tell you that I am an angel, nor do I say of those upon whom your eyes look down that Allah will never grant them any good. Allah is most knowing of what is within their souls. Indeed, I would then be among the wrongdoers [i.e., the unjust].'” [Quran: 11:29-31]
Nooh refuted the arguments of the disbelievers with the noble knowledge of the prophets. It is the logic of intellect that rids itself of personal pride and interests.