God’s Response Regarding Noah’s Son (11:46)

Prior to the flood, Noah was informed by God that anyone who didn’t believe up until that point was not going to believe and therefore should be considered as part of the ones who were destined to be drowned.

[11:36] Noah was inspired: “No more of your people are going to believe, beyond those who already believe. Do not be saddened by their actions.

Despite this Noah still attempted to convince his son to join him on the watercraft, even though his son’s destiny was already determined by God.

[11:42] As it sailed with them in waves like hills, Noah called his son, who was isolated: “O my son, come ride with us; do not be with the disbelievers.” [11:43] He said, “I will take refuge on top of a hill, to protect me from the water.” He said, “Nothing can protect anyone today from GOD’s judgment; only those worthy of His mercy (will be saved).” The waves separated them, and he was among those who drowned.

Even though there was nothing Noah could do to alter the situation as the outcome was already determined by God, Noah still implored God for forgiveness for his son after he perished with the disbelievers.

[11:45] Noah implored his Lord: “My Lord, my son is a member of my family, and Your promise is the truth. You are the wisest of the wise.”

Then in return God gave Noah the following response in 11:46:

قَالَ يَانُوحُ إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ أَهْلِكَ إِنَّهُ عَمَلٌ غَيْرُ صَالِحٍ فَلَا تَسْأَلْنِ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنِّي أَعِظُكَ أَنْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

The response that God gave Noah in 11:46, showed that God identified someone was at fault from this request, but when we read most translations, it appears the translators believe that this fault rested with Noah’s son as opposed to Noah who made the request.

Yusuf Ali: [11:46] He said: “O Noah! He is not of thy family: For his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge! I give thee counsel, lest thou act like the ignorant!”

Pickthal: [11:46] He said: O Noah! Lo! he is not of thy household; lo! he is of evil conduct, so ask not of Me that whereof thou hast no knowledge. I admonish thee lest thou be among the ignorant.

Shakir: [11:46] He said: O Nuh! surely he is not of your family; surely he is (the doer of) other than good deeds, therefore ask not of Me that of which you have no knowledge; surely I admonish you lest you may be of the ignorant

Sher Ali: [11:46] Allah said, `O Noah, he is surely not of thy family; he is indeed a man of unrighteous conduct. So do not ask of ME that, of which thou hast no knowledge, I admonish thee lest thou be one of the ignorant.’

The way the translators above according 11:46 believe that God reprimanded Noah because his son was not righteous, but let’s look at the Arabic to see if this is correct.

The expression that is in question is the following:

إِنَّهُ عَمَلٌ غَيْرُ صَالِحٍ

This can be understood one of two ways. The first way is “Indeed his work/deed is other than righteous” where إِنَّهُ can be in reference to Noah’s son as the translators above have described. But the challenge with this understanding is that the word for deed/work “عَمَلٌ” is singular and not plural.

Therefore, God is reprimanding a single deed in this verse, which would better correspond with the original supplication of Noah when he asked God to forgive his son.

Additionally, this understanding makes more sense as the following sentence God tells Noah:

فَلَا تَسْأَلْنِ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنِّي أَعِظُكَ أَنْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ

Which translates to:

Therefore a better translation for 11:46 would be:

[11:46] He said, “O Noah, he is not of your family. It is unrighteous to ask Me for something you do not know. I enlighten you, lest you be like the ignorant.”

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