Lessons from the supplications of Prophet Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām)
Supplications of the Prophets as mentioned in the Qur’ān give us a unique insight into the lives of the Prophets. The Qur’ān only mentions that which is significant suggesting the duʿā’s mentioned possess significant lessons which we can extract. The Prophets (ʿalayhim al-Salām) were the chosen ones of their respective times and their actions serve as an example to us and remind us that even the most beloved people to Allāh are tested. Prophet Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is mentioned 40 times in the Qur’ān. He is the first messenger that Allāh sent to Mankind. He has been described as on of the strong-willed Prophets who strove to save his people for 950 years. Some of his supplications were mentioned in context of travel, his family and his people.
“[Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām)] said, ‘My Lord, I seek refuge in You from asking that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have mercy upon me, I will be among the losers.”
Understanding the context of this supplication will help us to appreciate the strength of the words used, as well as how to use this duʿā’ in our own lives. In the verses preceding this, Allāh mentions how Nūḥ strove to make his people aware and encouraged them to atone for the error of their ways. They had left the lofty purpose of life, which is to live how Allāh wanted them to live, to become people solely concerned in fulfilling their desires. After 950 years, they were not even willing to listen to Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām). Each generation taught the next generation to cover their eyes and ears from Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām), so that no dialogue was possible.
Allāh informs Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) that no more from his people will accept the faith. In the following verse, Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is instructed not to enquire about his people as they are to be drowned.
Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is ordered to build an ark; to which he obeys despite his people mocking him. The floods then come rising from the ground and rain falls from the sky. Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) assembles his few followers onto the ark. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) then orders him to take into the ark a pair from every species along with his family and those who have believed to be saved from the flood. As the floods came, the people of Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) began to panic, scrambling to save themselves and seeking the highest landmarks for refuge.
Amongst those who sought to save himself was Nūḥ’s (ʿalayhi al-Salām) son. Allāh mentions the dialogue between the loving father and his disobedient son. Allāh describes that the ark was travelling amongst waves that were like mountains. Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) sees his son in an isolated place trying to save himself. He calls out,
“O my child, come on board with us, and do not be in the company of the disbelievers.”
The son replies,“I shall take shelter on a mountain which will save me from the water.”
Ibn Kathīr, in his analysis of this exchange, states that at this point his son has opposed Nūḥ both in action and intention. Nūḥ replies,
“There is no saviour today from the command of Allāh, except the one to whom He shows mercy.”
Following this, the waves rose between the two and the son was amongst those who were drowned. The death of a loved one is difficult for anyone and the natural course of things suggests a father dies before the son. However, in this case Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām), the father, witnessed the death of his own son.
After Allāh ordered the Earth to swallow the water and the skies to withhold the rain, the ark eventually landed on Mount Judi. Here Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) calls upon his Lord, saying
“My Lord, my son is a part of my family, and surely Your promise is true, and You are the greatest of all judges.”
Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) supplicates thus as Allāh had made a promise to save his family. And yet, Allāh had also informed him that this would not include those against whom the Word has already been pronounced. The salvation of these people was not to be requested from Allāh. To this Allāh replies,
“O Nūḥ, indeed, he is not a part of your family. Indeed, he is (a man of) bad deeds. So do not ask Me something of which you have no knowledge. I exhort you not to be among the ignorant.”
The greatness of Nūḥ’s immediate reply and supplication is made clear in the following verse. He says,
“My Lord, I seek refuge with You that I should ask You something of which I have no knowledge. If You do not forgive me and do not show mercy to me, I shall be among the losers.”
The losers are those who have lost themselves by preventing themselves from doing deeds that please Allāh.
We are then shown the immediate regret of Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and his firm repentance. His mistake was in asking for that which was inappropriate for him to ask for. He first seeks refuge from ever asking something that is inappropriate for him to ask for, acknowledging that it is only Allāh who has the power to prevent his heart from asking about his son in this context. This is the highest possible level of submission to Allāh.
Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was unaware that he had been prohibited from asking for his son to be saved. He did not realised that his son was to be included in the order: ‘Do not speak to me about those who have wronged themselves, verily they are to be drowned’. Instead he considered his son to be included in his family and so the two matters were in conflict for him. However, after Allāh’s response, it became clear to him that his son was included in the prohibition of those he could not make supplication for. At this, he asks for forgiveness and mercy, recognising that without it a slave cannot save himself from being of the losers.
There are many lessons we can take from this supplication. Among them is that even the Prophets cannot benefit their families unless they too accept faith and hold the obedience and worship of Allāh as the prime purpose in their lives. Once the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) warned his daughter,
‘O Fāṭima, daughter of Muḥammad, by Allāh, I cannot avert anything from Allāh to you.’
Allāh’s reward is based on one’s own intention and deeds.
The danger of parental love in affecting our judgement is well-documented. But it is also something that we need to check within our lives to ensure that are we doing this relationship justice and utilising it in the way Allāh wants us to. Have we encouraged our children to pray by 7? What are we inspiring them with at this age? Do our children pray by the age of 10? What do we reward our kids for? What are the priorities that we have practically set them? These are all profound and difficult questions that every parent needs to ask themselves.
If a great person was rebuked for asking something inappropriate with regards to his son, then what about us? Do we have double standards with regard to our children?
 Al-Qur’ān, 11:47