Is the Atlantic Slavery Mentioned In the Quran?

Such a defining event in world history and the Quran is silent on it. This would be a reason enough for those who were captured and their descendants to question whether the Quran was indeed relevant to them and their experience. The case is not being made that every event in world history must be mentioned in the Quran for it to be relevant, no. In most cases the events such as a wars and empires rising and falling, may or may not, be mentioned.

The event of the Atlantic slave trade was so unique in world history not just in its barbarity, brutality and length but in its effect on the victims whom were ripped from their land, homes and families. The victims were stripped of their identities, their languages and had foreign languages and an alien religion forced upon them. They could not practice or continue their own traditions and customs. Anything that would have linked them to their past was stripped away. There have been no people who have suffered to such a degree and suffered such profound and long-lasting psychological, mental, social and generational damage. The only other people whom have suffered in a similar way are the native peoples of the Americas and Australia. They did not suffer slavery or a loss of identity, language or history but they were brutalised. They do suffer intergenerational psychological and social consequences of colonisation without doubt. But, with their history, language and traditions all intact the damage is repairable because ultimately, they have knowledge of self and can reach back into the past to re-ignite their collective strength. It is in no way to reduce the suffering these noble people have suffered at the hands of the foreign evil that came to their peaceful lands and committed evil, barbarous oppression. The pain and suffering of these peoples are recognised, alongside the other peoples whom have been oppressed and violated by Gog and Magog (western Europeans). We only make mention to demonstrate that others have suffered but that the Atlantic slave trade in its brutality and consequence upon its victims were so profound and irreversible that it stood out in human history against the other atrocities committed against human beings.

The Atlantic slave trade was the biggest movement of human beings in history, by force, and the biggest injustice done to a people in human history. This long running unprecedented injustice was so unique and its consequences so devastating that those who were the victims may never recover from the injustices they suffered. They will never regain the familial identity and know exactly what languages they spoke or know exactly their lineages. These consequences are permanent and irreversible and therefore can never be humanly restored nor compensated. If there was ever an event that was worthy of remarking because of its magnitude and injustice the Atlantic slave trade would certainly be among those events that a book such as the Quran would highlight and forewarn about.

Such irreparable loss and damage to a people which could not be reversed or compensated for by human means would be an ideal candidate to be mentioned and also to offer a way of giving those so affected a way to heal themselves and find their way back. If indeed the Quran was silent on this tragedy and never mentioned such an event then, potentially you would have a people Allah knew would be dislocated because of the evil of others and they would never have a way back. The consequences would be so final that it would mean those affected would only have recourse to the divine to repair such a biblical calamity if it was indeed able to be repaired at all.

Does the Quran or the Prophet predict or forewarn of the Atlantic Slave trade?

We cannot embark on such an enquiry without first tackling the issue of tafseers and exegetes of the Quran and the effect they have upon the minds of Muslims when reading the Quran. Different sects will see the verses through the prism of their particular understanding or theology. This fact cannot be avoided unless one is willing to go beyond the tafseers in an academic way and be more cerebral rather than devotional or dogmatic to a particular group of exegetes or scholars. The Muslims have raised the tafseers to a level beyond which they were never intended to occupy. The scholars of tafseer wrote their interpretation of the ayahs of the Quran with the best intentions, not meaning to do anything besides help others to understand better the Quran. What they did not do is write their tafseers with the intention that their understanding would be the final word on a particular ayah and that any other understandings which were carried in the ayah would be invalid. The Quran has layers of meaning and messages and to restrict the Quran to the collective knowledge of a few men, besides the blessed prophet, is not befitting of the majesty of the Quran itself. Those learned men would, without reserve, reject this very silly idea. They would have been limited in their knowledge and experience which would have coloured their view of the Quran in terms exegesis. They certainly would not have had the benefit of the exact unfolding of future events and how they would have impacted their understanding of the text. So, it is not to say they are wrong but that they expended effort in their present environment and time which would have limited their view and scope. Just as any view in any time period would be limited to the information and circumstances, except that the present scholars would have had access to the previous history and knowledge that came before them. Any fair-minded objective person would not in any way be offended by this. Those whom have a sectarian or ideological agenda will be less willing to cede such ground because to do so would be to accept that their side does not have all the answers, which would be completely too dangerous an admission to make.

Here we look at ayahs in a different way that do not contradict the Quran nor do they cause an internal conflict within the message of the Quran but it may contradict with the theology or ideology of particular groups, for this no apology is made. Truth is the highest goal not acceptance.

Does the Quran mention the trafficking of Humans in ships?

وَءَايَةٌ لَّهُمْ أَنَّا حَمَلْنَا ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ فِى ٱلْفُلْكِ ٱلْمَشْحُونِوَخَلَقْنَا لَهُم مِّن مِّثْلِهِۦ مَا يَرْكَبُونَوَإِن نَّشَأْ نُغْرِقْهُمْ فَلَا صَرِيخَ لَهُمْ وَلَا هُمْ يُنقَذُونَإِلَّا رَحْمَةً مِّنَّا وَمَتَـٰعًا إِلَىٰ حِينٍوَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ ٱتَّقُوا۟ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَمَا خَلْفَكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَوَمَا تَأْتِيهِم مِّنْ ءَايَةٍ مِّنْ ءَايَـٰتِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَّا كَانُوا۟ عَنْهَا مُعْرِضِينَ

“And a sign for them is that we carried their descendants in a laden ship. And we created for them of its like they are not driving. And, if we desire we will drown them then there is no scream for help for them and they will not be rescued except for a mercy from us and is an enjoyment for a time. And, when it will be said to them fear what is in front of you and what is behind you so that you may receive mercy. And no sign comes to them from the signs of their Lord except that they are from it turning away.”

Surah Yasin 41- 45

These four ayahs are addressing a people but speaking about another and their descendants. The exegetes have claimed that these passages are referring to Noah and his family on the boat that he built. When the ayah is read within the context of the other ayahs around it, giving more detail of the circumstances, it seems to become more difficult to maintain such a reading. If this is a sign for someone who is a contemporary of the revelation then it would be chronologically impossible for the ayah to be speaking about Noah as Noah would predate them and therefore could not be their descendants. This would obviously apply to anyone who came after the revelation. Also, conceptually it would be just as difficult to make the case that this was referring to Noah as the context speaks of the boat having the potential of being capsized and the people in the boat crying out for help and them not being saved except only as a mercy. This would be in direct contrast to the story of Noah, mentioned in the Quran, which makes the case that the boat was the guaranteed place of safety and would carry everyone on the boat to safety. If there were a possibility of the boat capsizing and the people being drowned then Noah would have misrepresented to his people the safety he was guaranteeing thus making his message untrue.

وٱصْنَعِ ٱلْفُلْكَ بِأَعْيُنِنَا وَوَحْيِنَا وَلَا تُخَـٰطِبْنِى فِى ٱلَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّهُم مُّغْرَقُونَ

“And build the Ark under Our Eyes and directions, and do not plead with Me for those who have done wrong, for they will surely be drowned.”

Surah Hud 37

وَقَالَ ٱرْكَبُوا۟ فِيهَا بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ مَجْر۪ىٰهَا وَمُرْسَىٰهَآ ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّى لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“And he said, “Ride it! In the Name of Allah it will sail and cast anchor. Surely my Lord is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Surah Hud 41

وَهِىَ تَجْرِى بِهِمْ فِى مَوْجٍ كَٱلْجِبَالِ وَنَادَىٰ نُوحٌ ٱبْنَهُۥ وَكَانَ فِى مَعْزِلٍ يَـٰبُنَىَّ ٱرْكَب مَّعَنَا وَلَا تَكُن مَّعَ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ

“And it sailed with them through waves like mountains, and Noah called to his son who was apart [from them], “O my son, come ride with us and be not with the disbelievers.”

Surah Hud 42

قَالُوا۟ لَئِن لَّمْ تَنتَهِ يَـٰنُوحُ لَتَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْمَرْجُومِينَقَالَ رَبِّ إِنَّ قَوْمِى كَذَّبُونِفَٱفْتَحْ بَيْنِى وَبَيْنَهُمْ فَتْحًا وَنَجِّنِى وَمَن مَّعِىَ مِنَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَفَأَنجَيْنَـٰهُ وَمَن مَّعَهُۥ فِى ٱلْفُلْكِٱلْمَشْحُونِثُمَّ أَغْرَقْنَا بَعْدُ ٱلْبَاقِينَ

“They threatened, “If you do not desist, O Noah, you will surely be stoned ˹to death˺.He said My Lord! My people have truly rejected me then judge between me and them decisively, and save me and the believers with me.So We saved him and those with him in the fully loaded Ark.Then afterwards We drowned the rest.”

Surah Shu’araa 114 – 120

Another potential problem with understanding that it is referring to Noah is the pronouns used in Yasin and the tenses of the verbs. Virtually all the tenses in the passages referring to Noah are in the singular masculine as well as the pronouns. In Ayah 41 in Yasin the pronoun is in the masculine plural when referring to the descendants. The exegetes give the impression that this is referring to Noah and his family which would account for the plural instead of singular. They try to avoid the obvious problem above with this theory but it still runs into logical problems. The masculine plural pronoun used as the object, in ayah 41, is referring to those whom this is a sign to, it cannot be referring to the same people who are their descendants. The ayah, by using this construction, is making it clear to the reader that the descendants and the people who this is a sign to are not one and the same and therefore the problem still exists you can’t be you and your descendants at the same time.  If the ayah spoke of Noah in the singular then it would be an easier case to make but it does not do that and just adds emphasis to fact that they are not the same. There is no other place in the Quran that uses this suggested construction of including the progenitor and the offspring within the single use of the word descendants. In every other use of the word, in the Quran, it never suggests that it includes the progenitor. It is only in this ayah that such a suggestion is made in order to get around the obvious illogical conclusion.  

Who are the objects of the sentence? Who are “them” for which this is a sign? If the whole ayah is referring to the past, before the revelation of the Quran, then it potentially could be any time in history prior to the revelation. If it is referring to a time prior to the Quran then we do not have a reference of an incident that this could be referring to that fits the parameters that are set within ayah 41 or the other ayahs connected. If on the other hand the objects are in existence at the time of the revelation of the Quran in order to benefit from the reminder then their descendants would come after the revelation and after them. The significance of this scenario is that the incident spoken about would be still to come in relation to the revelation. The problem we have with that is there have been no reported incidents which are spoken about in the Quran or the sunnah or the prophetic seerah that mentions an incident that relates to this ayah at the time of the revelation or immediately after the revelation.  How could an incident that never took place at the time of the revelation be a sign for a people at that time? The sign would operate in three possible ways: firstly, it happens at the time of the people so the sign and the people are contemporaries; secondly, it happened prior to them and they were being reminded or; thirdly, the sign was yet to happen and the ayahs were talking about a future event that will be a sign for them.

We have already ruled out the first possibility through simple lack of any evidence confirming that the event happened at all at the time of the revelation and the logical problems that creates. The second possibility would also fall fowl of the logical possibilities because it would mean that those being reminded of the incident that was supposed to happen to their descendants who would obviously come after them. This is such an absurd and illogical way to understand this ayah and would leave the Quran open to unfair criticism.

An Alternative Understanding

It is understandable why the classical exegetes would have assumed that these ayahs were talking about Noah as this is the only reference that is known that speaks of a people being carried in a boat. It is the other details of both narratives that make it incredibly difficult to come to the conclusion that it is referring to Noah and his family. Once the exegetes decided it was Noah it seems that the other details and interpretation informed the way the other ayahs were interpreted. Looking now with fresh eyes and not making any assumptions but allowing the ayahs and allowing them to speak for themselves in a natural way without forcing any theme upon them or theology.

Ayah forty-one begins with stating that it is a sign for them and then goes on to state that the sign is their descendants being carried in a ship laden. Unlike the strained reading above we will take the natural understanding of the word descendants and not try to include the progenitor within the word. As this construction does not appear anywhere else within the Quran. Why this construction is suddenly used as a tool of understanding this word and ayah may be more to do with the decision to attribute this to Noah rather than admitting that it did not fit. The exegetes had no way of knowing of events that were to come so they were left with trying to understand it within the information they already possessed although it did not fit the parameters of the ayahs.

There is a construction that would fit ayah 41 that would not offend chronological logic nor the theme.

How could the descendants of a people be a sign to a people that came before them?

This chronological conundrum, once solved, could act as evidence of the people this ayah is actually addressing.  The ayah claims the incident is a sign to the objects of the ayah who are the ancestors of the descendants carried in the ship. We discussed the possibilities of how this would work and whether there was a recorded incident of people at the time of the revelation or before who were carried on a boat according to the thematic parameters within these ayahs. There is no such recorded incident so, we can exclude this addressing anyone at the time or before. The exegetes themselves did not offer any incident at the time or an alternative incident that could possibly be the reference of the ayah beside Noah and his family. This leaves one other option; the incident the ayah is referring to may not have happened yet and was to happen in the future. The rhetoric of the Quran does accommodate for future prophecies that are expressed in past tense. As a rhetorical device this is used to give emphasis to the fact that it is a certainty to happen, it is not proof that the ayah is binding any incident referred to, to a past event. Evidence that suggests it is a future event is found within the following ayahs.  

If the incident referred to is a future event, then one of the two critical objections could possibly fall away that being the thematic problem. If the event is in the future, then when it happens it will no doubt fit the prophesy with no need to overlook other details as being problematic. The boat in the Noah narrative was one of certain salvation as promised by Allah but the boat narrative in ayah 41 is not salvation at all. Ayah 43 Allah gives the impression that there is a possibility that those being carried could be drowned by Allah and would not be saved.

The chronological objection remains to be solved but it must be understood within a context. One generation could definitely see the next generation, their sons or daughters or, possibly the generation after, their grandchildren, this is definitely a possibility. But, just as above, no incident that fits within the thematic restrictions at the time of the revelation or prior to it fits, so we are only left with the option of a future event. If we accept that it is a sign for that first generation only then we must ask why it was a sign for them only as indicated in ayah 41. There does not seem to be any reason why it would only be a sign for that generation and there is nothing that eludes within the context of the ayahs that it would be a sign for that generation alone. Even if the object generation was still yet to come, to restrict it just to one generation would need more evidence to support that context. There does not seem to be within the other ayahs, including ayah 41, any indication that it was speaking to that specific generation exclusively. In ayahs 45 and 47 the future conditional particle is used indicating that those conditions were still to be met. If it was a past event then the past particle would have been used indicating that the condition had already been exercised and the ayah was just expressing an historical event.

The other more likely option is that it isn’t talking to a particular generation but to the whole people as if they were one over a number of generations. The object of ayah 41 is the whole people who come at the time of the incident and those thereafter. This is also to accept that, as any ayah, it is a sign for those reading the Quran as well who we can call the secondary objects as the incident is a sign to them too.

Does Allah treat a people whom existed in ancient times and who existed at the time of the revelation and possibly after the revelation as one people? Does Allah refer to different generations of the same people as if they were the same generation? There are incidents in the Quran where Allah does address a generation within the same people as if they were the other generation literally. When Allah addresses the Children of Israel in one generation he does so as if they were exactly the generation he is referring to. Here are some examples of the dialogue.

وَإِذْ نَجَّيْنَـٰكُم مِّنْ ءَالِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوٓءَ ٱلْعَذَابِ يُذَبِّحُونَ أَبْنَآءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَآءَكُمْ ۚ وَفِى ذَٰلِكُم بَلَآءٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌوَإِذْ فَرَقْنَا بِكُمُ ٱلْبَحْرَ فَأَنجَيْنَـٰكُمْ وَأَغْرَقْنَآ ءَالَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَأَنتُمْ تَنظُرُونَ

“Remember˺ how We delivered you from the people of Pharaoh, who afflicted you with dreadful torment, slaughtering your sons and keeping your women. That was a severe test from your Lord.And ˹remember˺ when We parted the sea, rescued you, and drowned Pharaoh’s people before your very eyes.”

Surah Baqara 49-50

In these ayahs above Allah is addressing the Children of Israel in Medina directly. What seems strange is that none of the generation being addressed would have been alive during the incidents that are being referred to yet Allah is addressing them as if those incidents were done to them directly. If Allah had so chosen, he could have said we did those things to your ancestors or to your forefathers as he has said in other places in the Quran to other people about other people, this would have been more accurate on its face.  When Allah addresses the Children of Israel concerning their prophets and ancestors they are indeed referred to as their forefathers. It may seem that there is a deeper understanding being conveyed when using this intergenerational rhetorical device.

وَكَذَٰلِكَ يَجْتَبِيكَ رَبُّكَ وَيُعَلِّمُكَ مِن تَأْوِيلِ ٱلْأَحَادِيثِ وَيُتِمُّ نِعْمَتَهُۥ عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَىٰٓ ءَالِ يَعْقُوبَ كَمَآ أَتَمَّهَا عَلَىٰٓ أَبَوَيْكَ مِن قَبْلُ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ وَإِسْحَـٰقَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

“And so will your Lord choose you, and teach you the interpretation of speech, and perfect His favour upon you and the descendants of Jacob—˹just˺ as He once perfected it upon your forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. Surely your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”

Surah Yusuf 6

So, we can see that the Quran does use a construction that treats the same tribe or nation as if they are the same entity referring to them in one generation as if they were exactly the other generation. As well as referring to their forefathers in other places referring to their progenitors and ancestors. This construction is quite unique and could help to understand the objects chronology conundrum within ayah 41 of surah Yasin. If, as we see here, ayah 41 is referring to them as being one and the same as the whole people then the contradiction falls away. The them referred to is all of them as a people. Therefore, a sign ‘for them’ and them being all of the people (nation) will not fall foul of the chronological problem because although it will happen in the future to the later generations it is those later generations and those who come after it will be a sign to.

“The identity of “Them””

Who could them be referring to, now that we can suggest firmly that ayah 41 is more than likely not referring to Noah and his immediate family?

As explored above there is no incident referred to or given at the time of the revelation of the Quran or prior that refers to a people being carried by boat that fits the thematic parameters of ayahs 41 to 45. None of the classical exegetes give another possible alternative incident either at the time of the Quran’s revelation or before, beside Noah. This leads us to suggest that the incident has not happened yet in regards the point of revelation and it is actually a prophesy of an incident to come after the Quranic revelation. There is no other recorded incident in history of a people being carried away by boat being laden with human beings except the Atlantic slave trade where tribes in west and central Africa were taken in ships to western Europe and the Americas. This happened approximately nine hundred years after the Quran was revealed. The western Europeans conspired to steal and Kidnap millions of people using ships to transport them to the Americas and Europe. It is well documented in history that the people kidnapped were transported in the ships like cargo being shackled, bound and arranged within the hull in the most efficient to carry as many as possible. There was no consideration for their humanity or dignity, the only consideration they enjoyed was the care a commercial bailee has for the goods of the bailor.

Ayahs 42 and 43 make it abundantly clear that it is speaking about a future event which is agreed upon by the exegetes in relation to ayah 41.

Cargo or Passengers?

In ayah 42 Allah declares:

وَخَلَقْنَا لَهُم مِّن مِّثْلِهِۦ مَا يَرْكَبُونَ

“And we created for them, the like of it, ………………….”

Ya Sin 42

The remainder of the ayah is not translated because it is the subject of the following discussion. The more classical exegetes have understood the ayah in the context of the decision to attribute the ayah to Noah. As a result, they have come to the conclusion how they understand this ayah. Examples of how it has been translated:

and created for them similar things to ride in.

Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

“And We created for them from the likes of it that which they ride.”

Saheeh International

In the traditional tafseers there is no consensus as to the meaning of the ayah but a range of different understandings are given. In Tabari three of the different views are given, ibn Abbas says that “they are the ships that are made after Noah’s ship which are similar to it.” Abu Malik said that it meant the small ships. Sadiy speaking concerning Ibn Malik agreed with him. Dhahaak said that this was referring to the ships that were taken after Noah’s ship. There were also others who said that this was referring to camels who were considered the ships of the land. Tabari has listed Ibn Abbas as also saying this and Ikrimah, Abdullah ibn Shadad.  Mujahid opined that it was cattle. Al Mawardi, quoted in Qurtubi, saying that Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, that the descendants in the laden ships were sperm in the stomachs of women who were created to be ridden by their husbands. It is clear that there is nothing like a consensus concerning its meaning of that which will be ridden in the future, Ibn Abbas and Ali, may Allah be please with them both, disagree concerning what the vessels will be.

There is some agreement between most of the exegetes that the vessels are ships as the word is expressly used. But as the exegetes have made the assumption that it is speaking about Noah and not considering whether it is speaking about a future event they have tried to manufacture the understanding of ayah 42 to fit the descendants riding or driving the ships themselves. They have done this by understanding that the article (ما) used before the last verb to be operating to explain the first part of the sentence that came before it. As they have not considered any other possible events, including a future event, it has coloured their interpretation of the article used. This has resulted in a very strained and illogical interpretation, no matter how seductive as discussed above. It is suggested here that the article can be seen in another more fitting light if the two ayahs are not squeezed into the paradigm of Noah.

If the article is given a more natural understanding, it then changes the whole interpretation of ayah 42 and thus changing the paradigm of both ayah 41 and 42.  It is suggested that the article is a negation rather than one of explanation. Thus, it would read like this:

“And we created for them the likes of it (laden ship) they will not ride. “

When we look at this understanding it says something completely different about the ayahs. It still agrees with the basic theme that it will be a sign to a people and their descendants will be carried by Allah in a ship or ships. Where it differs is that it makes the point that the descendants will not be passengers nor in charge of the boats but will be the cargo. They will be carried and will be things that will be laden and stored in the ships. When the Quran has used the verb rakiba (to ride) it has indicated that those who are subjects of the sentence are in some way in control by either driving the vessel or are passengers voluntarily. Here are some examples:

فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا رَكِبَا فِىٱلسَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَا ۖ قَالَ أَخَرَقْتَهَا لِتُغْرِقَ أَهْلَهَا لَقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْـًٔا إِمْرًا

“So they set out, but after they had boarded a ship, the man made a hole in it. Moses protested, “Have you done this to drown its people? You have certainly done a terrible thing!”

Surah Kahf 71

وَٱلْخَيْلَ وَٱلْبِغَالَ وَٱلْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

“horses, mules, and donkeys for your transportation and adornment. And He creates what you do not know.”

Surah Nahl 8

فَإِذَا رَكِبُوا۟ فِى ٱلْفُلْكِ دَعَوُا۟ ٱللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّىٰهُمْ إِلَى ٱلْبَرِّ إِذَا هُمْ يُشْرِكُونَ

“If they happen to be aboard a ship ˹caught in a storm˺, they cry out to Allah ˹alone˺ in sincere devotion. But as soon as He delivers them ˹safely˺ to shore, they associate ˹others with Him once again”

Surah Ankabut 65

In all of the ayahs above the verb rakiba is used meaning the one doing this verb is in control in some way whether that be as a passenger who has instructed the actual driver or is themselves the direct driver. This verb applies to both ships and animals as demonstrated in the ayahs above. The Arab lexicons define the verb as meaning that someone is placed on the back of an animal or the back/deck of the ship. Musa and Khidr were passengers being carried and they were free to move around on the ship. In the second ayah, in surah Ankabut, this was also referring to the passengers and the direct controllers of the ship. In ayah 42 it makes a negation of the verb and therefore alludes to the descendants who Allah is carrying on the boat are themselves not in control or exercising any control whatsoever but in fact are the ones being carried and are themselves laden on the ship as cargo. They are on the ship but are not passengers of any kind whether driving or being driven. It is suggested that as the ship which is described as being laden or full and the descendants being carried are not the passengers or the drivers of the ship then they are the ones the ship is laden with. This would draw contrast with the other ayahs that mention Noah and his family who were passengers on the ship and the drivers/sailors.

وَهِىَ تَجْرِى بِهِمْ فِى مَوْجٍ كَٱلْجِبَالِ وَنَادَىٰ نُوحٌ ٱبْنَهُۥ وَكَانَ فِى مَعْزِلٍ يَـٰبُنَىَّ ٱرْكَب مَّعَنَا وَلَا تَكُن مَّعَ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ

“And ˹so˺ the Ark sailed with them through waves like mountains. Noah called out to his son, who stood apart, “O my dear son! Come aboard with us and do not be with the disbelievers.”

Surah Hud 42

It is clear that Noah was riding the ship (sailing) as he clearly makes this statement to his son who remained outside the ship. In the light of ayah 42 Ya Sin those being carried on the ship will not be riding or sailing on the ship but they will be on the ship but the capacity will be cargo. Virtually all the exegetes agree that when the phrase laden ship is used it does and can mean people as well as animals or goods.

It is believed that the correct translation of ayahs 41 and 42 is:

“And a sign for them is that we carried their descendants in a laden ship and we created for them of the likes of it they will not be sailing”

Its meaning: and a sign for them will be that we will carry their descendants in the fully laden ship and we created its like, they will be the cargo.

It is suggested that the similar language used in ayah 41 and 42 Ya Sin to that of Shu’araa 119 concerning the fully laden ship is referring to Noah because it is drawing on the fact that both vessels were laden with beings. In the case of Noah’s ship it would have been laden with animals and some humans but they all, except his family, rejected his message and did not go on board the ship. While in the case of the ships being foretold in ayahs 41 and 42 would be laden but not with animals but with humans. It is perfectly understandable that with such nuance required and without the benefit of knowing the future the classical exegetes came to an incorrect conclusion based upon what they knew at the time and said ayah 41 was referring to Noah.

Conclusion

It cannot be said with absolute certainty that ayahs 41 to 48 is predicting the Atlantic slave trade but it is suggested that all the ayahs taken together do not allow for the conclusion that it is referring to Noah to stand. There are just too many problems with this idea from the chronology to the logical problem of a sign within the descendants being for their ancestors. Also the concept of a progenitor included in his own descendants being used to get around the clear problem of the wording of the ayah. It is easy to understand why the exegetes tried to make such a conclusion fit but in doing so it created internal contradictions.

The suggestions put forward hopefully do not present any such problems and collectively builds a case that can offer an understanding that sheds new light and elucidation on the passages. This is written with the luxury of the future that the classical exegetes had no access to.

The Atlantic slave trade is heavily documented and the methods used to transport the kidnapped people by ships from Africa to the West is well known. The people were put into the ships’ hulls where they were chained up and stored there like goods with little regard for their humanity. This was a unique event in history and was not replicated before or after. The overwhelming majority of the tribes taken were of Hebrew origin which is now well established with DNA technology as well as the oral historical testimony of these tribes. The identity of the tribes would fit with the rhetorical device used in the Quran that sees Allah speaking to one generation of the Children of Israel as if they are one and the same as another generation. This then allows the wording in ayah 41 to have a much easier understanding without having to twist the meaning of the particular words to be used in ways that are unconventional and self-contradictory and not supported by the Quran itself. Therefore, it is with great ease that it can be understood that the kidnapping and being taken into slavery in ships would be a sign for the Children of Israel of their disobedient state to Allah in its own time and to all those who came after.

وَقَطَّعْنَـٰهُمْ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ أُمَمًا ۖ مِّنْهُمُ ٱلصَّـٰلِحُونَ وَمِنْهُمْ دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ ۖ وَبَلَوْنَـٰهُم بِٱلْحَسَنَـٰتِ وَٱلسَّيِّـَٔاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

“And We divided them throughout the earth into nations. Of them some were righteous, and of them some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience].”

Surah Al Araf 168

This would be a reminder to them to return back to Allah as they would have strayed away from obedience to Him and their covenant. This is exactly reflected in the Torah where Allah warned the Children of Israel of this very outcome if they continued to be disobedient and abandon their covenant:

סוֶֽהֱשִֽׁיבְךָ֙ יְהֹוָ֥ה | מִצְרַ֘יִם֘ בָּֽאֳנִיּוֹת֒ בַּדֶּ֨רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֣רְתִּי לְךָ֔ לֹֽא־תֹסִ֥יף ע֖וֹד לִרְאֹתָ֑הּ וְהִתְמַכַּרְתֶּ֨ם שָׁ֧ם לְאֹֽיְבֶ֛יךָ לַֽעֲבָדִ֥ים וְלִשְׁפָח֖וֹת וְאֵ֥ין קֹנֶֽה:

“And the Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, through the way about which I had said to you, You will never see it again. And there, you will seek to be sold to your enemies for slaves and handmaids, but there will be no buyer.”

Devarim 28:68

The verse in the Torah says expressly that the Children of Israel will be sent back to Egypt, a euphemism for slavery, in ships not as passengers or sailors but as captives against their will as slaves. As slaves they would be stored in the ship’s hull as cargo and transported to other parts of the world as actually happened in the Atlantic slave trade.

The theme of the remaining ayahs can now be read in harmony with the narrative of a disobedient people rather than with that of Noah and his family. In ayah 43 the narrative is describing a people who are disobedient and therefore are deserving of being drowned and not saved. But as ayah 44 alludes to it is only Allah’s mercy that will prevent that from happening if and when He decides. As mentioned above this in no way fits with the express promises that were made to Noah and his family. This is almost certainly the one point that cannot be explained away or reconciled. Ayah 43 and 44 are written in present tense indicating that these events were indeed to happen in the future, and without any other article indicating that the narrative was being quoted from the past, we have to assume that it is in the future from the perspective of the revelation. This fact alone precludes the theory that the ayahs are referring to Noah and his family. Even if it was suggested that ayah 41 was alluding to Noah and his family it would still be very difficult to reconcile as ayah 43 is referring to the future. The difference in time between the revelation of the Quran and Noah is measured in thousands of years therefore it would have been impossible for anyone on the ship with Noah to be alive at the time of an incident that hadn’t even happened at the time of the revelation of the Quran.

It is argued here that all the ayahs taken together describe the identity of the people referred to and the future events. The people are the Children of Israel post revelation of the Quran and the incident it describes is the Atlantic slavery. With this understanding none of the ayahs or the words of the ayahs have to be stretched or strained or made to mean something beyond their meanings in order to accommodate the understanding, it will fit within the possible meanings of the words as well as not causing a contradiction between the ayahs and the themes. The concepts used to understand the ayahs are ones which already exist within the Quran such as the intergenerational address to the children of Israel.