Answered by Ustadh Faraz A. Khan
Question: Regarding the ark of Prophet Nuh, there are so many thousands of species of animals in the world that the ark would have to have been impossibly large to accommodate them. How were these species stored in the ark? Also, I do not understand how Allah, who is Most Merciful, would kill all of his Creation simply because mankind had failed. Why would he kill millions of creatures because of man’s mistakes?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this reaches you in the best of health and faith.
Your question is a very interesting one; perhaps the answer lies in understanding the nature of prophetic miracles.
The Arabic word for a prophetic miracle is mu`jiza, which literally means “that which incapacitates” or “that which renders others incapable of producing the like thereof.” The basic idea is that the miracle breaks the standard norm in a way that cannot be replicated, so as to prove without a doubt that the prophet at whose hands it occurs is in fact a true prophet sent from Allah and not an impostor. The miracle, therefore, is akin to Allah Himself saying, “My servant is truthful in what he conveys from Me.” [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid]
If we reflect on prophetic miracles, then, we can appreciate that their very basis is to break what we know to be the laws of nature, such that we are rendered incapable of not only producing the like, but even of understanding their modality, that is, “how” they occur. The principles of natural science that govern our day-to-day lives, as humans and as societies, will often prove useless in explaining the miracle. For example, how can a staff striking a sea cause the huge body of water to literally split in two parts, seemingly as if walls of water are erected on each side of the newly-formed pathway? Or how can a staff actually transform into a serpent? How can water spring forth from human fingers?
The answer, then, is simply as the Qur’an states, “This is the creation of Allah” (31:11). The only explanation our minds can access is that Allah creates certain miracles as such, and we affirm all that has been transmitted of them in the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunna.
Understanding Sweeping Punishment
With regards to the second part of your question, our Mother Aisha (Allah be well pleased with her) asked our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) a very similar question when he once informed her of an event that would occur in the future. He told her that an army would one day set out for Mecca, yet on the way the earth would swallow the entire army up, from their first to last. She asked, “How will the entire group be swallowed, when among them were merchants and others who were not fighting? [i.e., non-combatants with no intent on attacking Mecca]” Our Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) responded, “The entire group, from their first to last, will be swallowed; however, they will be resurrected based on their intentions.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
The Sunna of Allah, i.e., the way He deals with creation, was that with respect to disobedient peoples of past prophets, He would send sweeping punishments that would destroy the entire populace, which would often include innocent people and believers in the prophets. However, we know that life does not end in this world, but rather there is an everlasting afterlife in which intentions, hearts and actions will be taken to account. We cannot understand the wisdom of Allah’s punishment in this world, but we know wholeheartedly that He does nothing in vain, and that everything will be set aright on the Day of Resurrection.
The Qur’an specifically acknowledges this Divine sunna when it warns us to “Fear a punishment that will not afflict solely the oppressors among you” (8:25). As some exegetes mention, one of the lessons believers can take from this verse is that they must be ever-vigilant in opposing oppression, as slackness therein could result in a sweeping punishment that does not single out the oppressors. [Tafsir Abu Su`ud]
Difference of Opinion
On a final note, it is worth mentioning that there is difference of opinion among scholars with respect to both issues you bring up regarding the flood. Imam Alusi, the eminent Iraqi exegete of the 19th century, inclined towards the opinion that the flood was localized and restricted to just the people of Nuh [peace and blessings be upon him] rather than worldwide. He was also of the opinion that not all animals were taken on the ark, yet only those creatures that would be needed by the believers upon being saved from the flood. He does acknowledge, nevertheless, that if the flood was worldwide, then it is not beyond Allah’s limitless power to allow for all types of animals on board the ark, or to create again the like of those animals that drowned after the flood. [Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani] We ask Allah Most High for complete well-being and safety in both this life and the next, and that He make us among those who strive against all forms of oppression, beginning with our own selves. Amin.
And Allah alone gives success.
Faraz A. Khan
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani
Faraz A. Khan has lived in Amman, Jordan, for several years studying and teaching traditional Islamic sciences, with a focus on Hanafi jurisprudence, hadith studies, theology, logic, and Arabic grammar. He translated and annotated the classical Hanafi primer “Ascent to Felicity” (Maraqi ‘l-Sa`adat) by Imam Shurunbulali, recently published by White Thread Press.