Allah has said in the Qur’an: “He (Prophet Noah) said, ‘My Lord! Indeed I have summoned my people night and day, but my call only increases their evasion. Indeed whenever I have summoned them so that You might forgive them, they would put their fingers into their ears and draw their cloaks over their heads, and they were persistent [in their unfaith], and disdainful in [their] arrogance. Again I summoned them aloud, and again appealed to them publicly and confided with them privately…”
“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Malcolm Forbes
Despite the fact that every prophet sent by God went through physical and mental mistreatment from the ignorant and sometimes obstinate masses, there are few prophets in the history of humanity who have had as many challenges as Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, and even fewer nations that had dire outcomes – a grand deluge – such as his.
Out of the 25 prophets mentioned by name in the Qur’an, Noah, peace be upon him, is one of the few with a chapter named after him. The 71st surah of the Qur’an is devoted to this man of God, and its 28 verses shed light on one facet of his exceptionally long life – the education and propagation of the message he was entrusted with.
Islamic sources declare that he lived for close to 2,500 years – of which 950 years were spent teaching and propagating the message. In his quest to educate the masses and open the people’s minds, Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, utilized various means at his disposal. In introducing “religion”, he instituted three distinct, yet cohesive divisions of the path towards God which we see in verse 3: “That you should serve Allah [Islamic Jurisprudence – Fiqh]; and be careful of (your duty to) Him [Islamic Morality and Ethics – Akhlaaq]; and obey me [Islamic Beliefs – Aqaaid].” In fact, his division of ‘religion’ into these three categories holds true even today.
He promised the people that if they followed his code of life that they would be showered with special favours from God, however as history has shown, “outsiders” and even those from amongst their own community end up mocking and ridiculing the propagators and educators of the faith. In Noah’s, peace be upon him, example this was carried out in three different ways: they would plug their ears; cover themselves with their clothing; and eventually run away from him!
His invitation in the “open” – en masse and in “seclusion” – on a one-to-one basis, added nothing but an aversion to the truth in their hearts and ultimately, his hundreds of years of efforts resulted in just a handful of followers.
We would never say that Prophet Noah, peace be upon him, was unsuccessful in his mission – his “job”, just as the job of all Prophets and even our own responsibility is to convey the message – whether people accept it or not is not on our shoulders. However what we do learn from his example is that as believers, we need to use whatever tools are at our disposal to convey the message and must never tire in the path of education and enlightenment.
Coming to the contemporary relevance of his story and our responsibility as Muslims: One thing is certain which is that we have not been commanded to become “missionaries” or “propagators” of the religion as is seen in other faiths and perhaps even in some sects in Islam where they are required to travel for up to 40 consecutive days in ‘tabligh’ – going door to door and inviting people to the faith of Islam. Rather as Muslims, we are reminded to be continuous and conscious educators of the faith of Islam in every instance of our lives – at work, school, in the malls, parks, etc… keeping in mind that this role as an active educator also entails a subtle ‘invitation’ to the faith of Islam through our conduct.
In fact, there is a grave misunderstanding within certain segments of the community which feel that it is only the “officially trained” scholars of the faith who have the authority or jurisdiction to “teach” and “propagate” Islam – however this can be no further from the truth! HOWEVER, it must be known that those who wish to call others to Islam and the ways of the Ahlul Bayt and are interested in teaching Muslim and non-Muslim alike MUST possess sound and factual knowledge on Islam and must have the Islamic etiquette of teaching and guiding: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way.” (16:125)
Consider the following tradition from the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him and his family, in which he highlights the reward given to those who actively work to promote and educate the faith: “God shall grant a status and esteem to a person who, upon hearing my teachings, pays heed to them, retains them in (his) memory and conveys them to those who have not heard them.” al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 403; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 2, pg. 14
When speaking to His chosen servant, Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, God said: “If you were to return someone to me who had run away from My door or (you were to guide) someone who had gone astray from My threshold, it would be more excellent for you than if you were to worship Me for a hundred years spending its days in a state of fast and its nights in worship and prayers.” Munyatul al-Mureed, pg. 116; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 2, pg. 4
Practically speaking, the concept of “Each One, Teach One” can be put into practice through various ways – and in actuality, there is not really one ‘way’ to guidance – it takes place through the ways and means of the era and region in which one is living. In addition, the responsibility of dissemination of the teachings of Islam has to follow different approaches according to whether it is done among non-Muslims or Muslims (as Muslims we have the foundational belief of ‘Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil’ which must be practiced amongst the believers – this too becomes a form of “propagation” and “invitation” to the truth.)
Whatever way we decide upon, the rewards are tremendous and according to the traditions, the outcome is almost guaranteed – as we see in a beautiful tradition from the 8th Imam, Ali b. Musa al-Ridha, peace be upon him, when he spoke to Abdus Salam b. Salih al-Hirawi and gave him the following light of guidance: “May God have mercy on one who revives our mission!” I said to the Imam: “How can one revive your mission?” The Imam replied: “He should learn our teachings and impart them to the people for if the people become aware of the beauty of our teachings, they would have no other choice but to follow us!” Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg. 180; ‘Uyun al-Akhbar al-Ridha, vol, 1, pg. 307