For all previous messengers where we have been provided details, the aim of their dawa was seeking power and authority to organise society by revelation, thereby changing its trajectory.
Unlike societies prophets (anbiya) were sent to, where they organised social life in accordance to revelation with some aspects of revelation having become distorted or lost, messengers (rusul) were sent to societies that totally rejected revelation as the basis for social organisation.
Power was the main target of their dawa as it enables them to enhance Allah's trajectory in the society. All of the conversations Messengers (as) had show their main aim was the political domination and establishing the deen of Allah by transferring power to the messenger so that he could establish his deen.
This is also evident in Nuh's (as) call to his nation (qawm), resisted by the elites and influentials.
Political Call of Nuh (as)
Adam (as) was the head and origin of humanity, there is no dispute on this. After him, the first Messenger (rasool), rather than nabi, who came with a new shari'ah was Nuh (as). The Qur'an doesn't detail how many supported him or agreed with him, but it narrates some stories illustrating how he approached his dawa, intended for us to learn and apply in our contexts.
For example, Allah says his nation resisted his call because they saw only the weak following him, having believed him.
لَقَدۡ اَرۡسَلۡنَا نُوۡحًا اِلٰى قَوۡمِهٖ فَقَالَ يٰقَوۡمِ اعۡبُدُوا اللّٰهَ مَا لَـكُمۡ مِّنۡ اِلٰهٍ غَيۡرُهٗ ؕ اِنِّىۡۤ اَخَافُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ عَذَابَ يَوۡمٍ عَظِيۡمٍ
"We had certainly sent Nuh to his nation, and he said, "O my people, serve Allah; you have no deity other than Him. Indeed, I fear for you the punishment of a tremendous Day.
The elites among his people, "Indeed, we see you in clear error."" (Qur'an 7:60-61)
The elites (mala'un) who disbelieved spoke out saying:
فَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ مَا نَرَاكَ إِلَّا بَشَرًا مِثْلَنَا وَمَا نَرَاكَ اتَّبَعَكَ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ هُمْ أَرَاذِلُنَا بَادِيَ الرَّأْيِ
'We do not see you but as a man like ourselves, and we do not see you followed except by those who are the lowest of us (and) at first suggestion.' (Qur'an 11:27)
Their response also included disparaging references to those of lower rank who were inclined to agree with Nuh's public call:
قَالُوۡۤا اَنُؤۡمِنُ لَكَ وَاتَّبَعَكَ الۡاَرۡذَلُوۡنَؕ
"Shall we accept you even though it is the lowest of people who follow you?" (26:111)
Their objections that his followers were the downtrodden and weak, the lower and less powerful social classes, suggests they were elites, influentials and people of power. They also said the converts were أَرَاذِلُنَا (our weak parties), which suggests they wielded authority over them or they belonged to them in terms of authority, implying they were the elites, influentials and leaders. (Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzeel, Vol. 4, p. 85)
The fourth-century mufassir and theologian al-Matrudi came to a similar conclusion:
هُمْ - أَعَنِْي : الرُّؤَسَاءُ مِنْهُمْ وَالْقَادَةَ
"They are the political heads and leaders." (Matrudi, Ta'wilaat Ahl al-Sunnah, Vol. 7, p. 463)
The verse is not saying Nuh (as) targeted the weak, a common misconception about the Prophet (saw) too, rather it means they were the only people who converted indirectly, from hearing about the dawa akin to the early companions of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) all of whom enquired after hearing rumours of his discussions with the Quraysh elites.
The recipients of his dawa also objected that he was claiming to be better than them, above them and superior to them. Allah responded by saying:
مَا هَذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ يُرِيدُ أَنْ يَتَفَضَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ
"This is not but a man like yourselves who wishes to take superiority over you." (Qur'an 23:24)
This means he sought to be above them in power to implement revelation - otherwise he was a man not unlike themselves. A Messenger, who would wield power and authority over the current elites and leaders, must be given a position over and above them, one that is superior to their position. The third-century mufassir Imam Tabari concurs:
يُرِيدُ أَنْ يُصَيِّرَ لَهُ الْفَضْلُ عَلَيكُمْ ، فَيَكُونُ متبوعَا وَأَنْتُمْ لَهُ تَبِعَ
"He wants to have the precedence over you by being the followed and you are his followers." (Tabari, Jami al-Bayan, Vol. 19, P. 25)
(It is similarly argued by other mufassirs I reviewed: al-Wahidi, al-Tafseer al-Waseet, Vol. 3, p. 288, al-Wajeez, p. 745; Baghawi, Ma'alim al-Tanzeel, Vol. 5, p. 415; Qurtubi, al-Jami Li-Ahzam al-Qur'an, Vol. 12, 118; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzeel, Vol. 4, p. 85; Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzeel, Vol. 2, p. 465 and Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer, Vol. 3, p. 569.)
The meaning of political leadership was stated clearly by the famous mufassir Zamakshari:
أَنْ يَطْلُبَ الْفَضْلُ عَلَيكُمْ وَيَرْأَسُكُمْ
"He wants superiority over you and leads you (yar'asukum)." (Zamakshari, al-Kashaf, Vol. 3, p. 183)
Likewise the third-century mufassir and theologian Razi:
وَلَكِنَّهُ أَحَبَّ الرِّيَاسَةَ وَالْمَتْبُوعِيَّةَ
"(People argued) he loved the leadership (riyasah) and to let people follow him." (Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, Vol. 23, p. 271)
The contemporary mufassir Abu Zahrah also argued the same:
يَطْلُبُ الْفَضْلُ عَلَيكُمْ بالرياسة وَالسُّلْطَانَ
"He wants superiority over you with leadership and authority." (Abu Zahrah, Safwat al-Tafaseer, Vol. 10, p. 5064)
The elites were unable to deter Nuh (as) from his call that was polarising society so they threatened penal punishments:
قَالُوۡا لَـئِنۡ لَّمۡ تَنۡتَهِ يٰـنُوۡحُ لَـتَكُوۡنَنَّ مِنَ الۡمَرۡجُوۡمِيۡنَؕ
They said: "O Noah! If you do not desist, you will certainly become one of the accursed." (26:116)
An important point is also found at the end of the story of Nuh (as), noting whilst he was supported by a number of followers, he stated his people/nation had rejected him:
قَالَ رَبِّ إِنَّ قَوْمِي كَذَّبُونِ
"My Lord, indeed my people have rejected me." (Qur'an 26: 117)
Those who denied him, as shown above, were the elites and leaders of the society, and their supporters, not all of his people. It leaves us with the impression that it was this group who was the main target of his dawa and he achieved no success with them.
So, a new step was introduced to establish the deen; namely by removing people who rejected the deen by the flood and Nuh (as) would lead the rest who would live by the deen and trajectory Allah ordained.
The aim of Messenger Nuh's (as) dawa, as well as that of all Messengers, was political power and authority so that they could establish the deen of Allah thereby organising the society they were sent to in accordance with revelation.
Matrudi, Ta'wilaat Ahl al-Sunnah
Tabari, Jami al-Bayan
Wahidi, al-Tafseer al-Waseet
Baghawi, Ma'alim al-Tanzeel
Qurtubi, al-Jami Li-Ahkam al-Qur'an
Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzeel
Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzeel
Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb
Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer
Abu Zahrah, Safwat al-Tafaseer
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