Did the Prophet Nuh (Noah) use nails in his ship?

The Details of the Question

- It seems that nails were not used in the Prophet Noah’s time; it seems that the nail was invented much later according to excavations; does it have an aspect opposite to Islam?
- I think the nail mentioned in the verse is translated in a different way. I have not seen any sound hadiths mentioning what Noah’s ark was made of and I want to ask you.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

First of all, we should state that information outside of divine revelation depends on people’s experiences and historical records. Evaluations can be made based on them to the extent that those records are available.

Therefore, the information obtained about when civilizations based on paper, writing, iron, etc. started should be expressed as the first time of use that historians and researchers could reach because there is no evidence yet that it was not used at any time and period before it. As a matter of fact, historical information is constantly renewed with other information obtained later, and it can be stated that something was used in earlier times.

In that case, if there is no concordance between an issue revealed to us by Allah and the knowledge attained by science, it is due to two things:

- The interpretation of the scholar who interpreted the divine revelation is wrong.

- Or, science has not reached the information given by the divine revelation yet.

It is necessary to act accordingly.  

It should never be forgotten that both the owner of the revelation and the owner of the universe is Allah. “The one who does knows; doubtlessly, the one who knows speaks.” So, there is definitely no mistake in the information given by the creator of the universe. What matters is whether we interpret that information correctly or not.

That evaluation is the duty of not only the scholars who are engaged in religious sciences but also the scientists who are engaged in exact sciences. Otherwise, what they call reality is nothing but what their knowledge can reach.

As for the issue in the question after this introduction:

The Quran informs us that wood and iron were used in the construction of the ship:

“And We carried him on a [construction of] planks and nails.” (1)

Various interpretations were made about the words “alwah and dusur” in the verse:

Muqatil (d. 150/767) states that the ship was made from metal sheets and wooden planks and interprets the word “dusur” as nails made of iron. (2)

Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144) defines the word “dusur” as “nails fastening the planks together”. (3)

Zajjaj (d. 311/923) states that what is meant by “dusur” is ‘nails’. (4)

Tabari (d. 310/923) reports that the word “dusur” in the verse was translated as “nails” by Qatada (d. 117/735), Ibn Zayd and Abdullah b. Abbas (d. 68/687). (5)

Qurtubi (d. 671/1273) states that nails made of iron were used to join the planks of the ship. (6)

Suyuti (d. 911/1505) reports that the ship was made of a tree called “Saj. (7)

Razi (d. 606/1210) states that the word “dusur” means ‘nails, rivets’. (8)

Ibn Arabi (d. 638/1240) likens the words “dusur and lawh” mentioned in the chapters of al-Qamar and Hud as the materials used in the construction of the ship to the characteristics of the Prophet Nuh and makes the following interpretation: “He obtains a shari’ah from the planks of righteous deeds and from the planks of knowledge that deeds use to arrange and strengthen.” (9)

Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) states that Allah ordered him to build the ship from the tree of saj (black, hard wood for furniture). (10)

Elmalılı’s (d. 1942) view regarding the issue is as follows: “Alwah” is the plural form of the word ‘lawh’. ‘Lawh’ is the name given to any flat sheet like wood. ‘Dusur’ is the plural form of the word ’disar’. ‘Disar’ is the name given to the clamp, clasp, rivet (nail) or rope used to fasten the planks of the ship. (11)

Sabuni (d. 2015) defines the word “dusur” as nails and claims that the Prophet Nuh built a ship from broad wooden planks fastened with nails.” (12)

As it is seen, the general view for the material from which the ship was built was timber and planks from the tree of saj and iron nails to fasten them.

Another thing that we think can help those interpretations is the following verses of the chapter of al-Hadid:

“We sent aforetime our messengers with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice; and We sent down Iron, in which is (material for) mighty war, as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help, Unseen, Him and His messengers: For Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might (and able to enforce His Will).” (13)

“And We sent Noah and Abraham, and established in their line Prophethood and Revelation: and some of them were on right guidance. But many of them became rebellious transgressors.” (14)

According to the harmony in those verses, it is stated in the first verse that the use of iron was taught to the prophets and then in the second verse, the Prophet Noah is mentioned, which leads us to make an interpretation that iron was used in the era when he lived. (15)

To sum up, it can be said that there is nothing to prevent the Prophet Noah from using iron nails in the construction of the ship.   

Footnotes:

1) al-Qamar, 54/13.
2) Abul Hasan Muqatil b. Sulayman, Tafsiru Kabir, thq. A. Farid, Darul Kutubil Ilmiyya, Beirut-2003, I, 117
3) Zamakhshari, Abul Qasim Muhammad b. Umar, al-Kashshaf an Haqaiqit-Tanzil wa Uyunul-Aqawil fi Wujuhit-Tawil, II-IW, Darul Kitabul Arabiyya, Beirut, 1986, IV, 435
4) Zajjaj, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Sari, Maanil Quran wa I’rabuhu, thq. Abduljalil Abduh Shalabi, III, Alamul Kutub, Beirut, 1988., III, 51.
5) Abu Jafar Muhammad b. Jarir at-Tabari, Taberi Tefsiri, trnsl. K. Aytekin-H. Karakaya, Hisar Yay., Istanbul-1996, VIII, 69.
6) Qurtubi, Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jamiul Ahkamil Quran, trnsl. M. Beşir Eryarsoy, IX, Buruç Yay., Istanbul, 2014, IX, 59.
7) Jalaladdin Abul Fadl Abdurrahman b. Muhammad as-Suyuti, Ad-Durrul Mansur Fit-Tafsir Bil-Masur, trnsl. Hasan Yıldız, Ocak Yayıncılık, Istanbul-2012, VIII, 57.
8) Razi, Abu Abdillah Fakhruddin Muhammad, Tafsiru Kabir Mafatihul-Ghayb, Akçağ Yay., Ankara, 1995, XX, 609.
9) Razi, ibid, XIII, 18.
10) Ibn Kathir, Muhyiddin, Tafsiru Kabir Tawilat, trnsl. Vahdettin İnce, I, Kitsan Yay., Istanbul, 2008, VIII, 3924.
11) Yazır, M. Hamdi, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, Simplified by Ass. Prof. İsmail Karaçam et al, II-VIII, Azim Dağıtım, Istanbul, nd. II, 112.
12) Sabuni, Muhammad Ali, Safwatut-Tafasir, trnsl. Sadrettin Gümüş-Nedim Yılmaz, VI, İz Yay., Istanbul, 2003, VI, 247.
13) al-Hadid, 57/25.
14) al-Hadid, 57/26.
15) See Yahya Atik, Dînî kaynaklar ve bilimsel bulgular ışığında Nuh Tufanı, Necmettin Erbakan Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Konya, 2018.

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