Faith, pure and unshakeable, humility, sweet and subtle and an iron will that withstood a storm that ravaged and destroyed nearly all life on this planet, this is what it took to build this gigantic ship, the first of its kind and the only vessel to have endured it all and docked its crew to a safe harbour. The Ark of Nuh (AS), a sign among many for hearts that comprehend and souls that stir in reflection and hope. Where the great flood was the ultimate sign of total destruction for the arrogant, disbelieving ones, it was also the only beacon of hope for the believers who were oppressed and disheartened. For them, the flood was not a destructive force but one that rescued them and steered them to a safe refuge.
Prophet Nuh (AS) tirelessly called the people to the right path over the longest period in recorded history, precisely nine hundred and fifty years as mentioned in the Quran. In 950 years he only managed to garner a mere following of 80 people according to most narrations and these were the ones that undertook the journey in the ark putting their complete faith in Allah and were thus guided to safety. These fortunate 80 were also the poorest and the least popular amongst the people, the ones deemed downtrodden and unwanted in the eyes of all except for Allah and His Prophet.
Nuh (AS’s) patience and unwavering faith serve as a strong reminder to anyone on the path of preaching to never get disheartened in their journey. He invited his people to believe in the Oneness of Allah and to leave the worship of false deities. He invited them to the path of truth, humility and justice but they were determined to follow the footsteps of their forefathers without questioning the truth of their erring ways. The people paid no heed to Nuh (AS’s) constant reminders, his appeals to their intellect or his gentle admonishment. Their arrogance and pride never gave them a chance to comprehend the beauty of true faith. They were lost in their maze of vanities and self-deceit.
Nuh (AS) always prayed to Allah to guide them but the people stubbornly persisted in their disbelief. They were tired of Nuh (AS’s) preaching and said “O Noah, you have disputed with us and much have you prolonged the dispute with us, now bring upon us what you threaten us with, if you are of the truthful”. (Surah Hud 11:32) Prophet Nuh (AS) was disheartened by their repeated insults and their unwillingness to come to the right path. When Allah revealed to the prophet that no one else would heed his call and they would continue in their arrogant ways, then Nuh (AS) said, “My Lord, leave not one of the disbelievers on the earth, since they will mislead Your slaves and beget none but wicked disbelievers.” (Surah Nuh 26-27) This prayer wasn’t a result of anger or contempt but because he knew that there was no hope for any reform in them and their wickedness was growing exponentially.
Allah then commanded the prophet to build a huge ark under His guidance and inspiration. When the people found Nuh (AS) building the ark they mocked him ceaselessly, they asked him why he was building a ship in a desert and if he had taken a fancy to carpentry instead of preaching. Isn’t this always the case when someone undertakes a difficult challenge or goal? We find people mocking their ability and questioning their aspirations but if one has complete faith and diligently strives towards that goal then success is inevitable. Nuh (AS) completed this massive undertaking with Allah’s help and when the heavens started pouring torrential rain and water started gushing from the earth, he boarded the ark with the believers and set off to ride the storm. The flood that engulfed the land was huge in proportions that none could have imagined. When the waters receded finally Allah steered the boarders of the ark to a safe and blessed landing. The ark still rests on Mount Judi, fossilized and evident for all to see. It is most definitely a reminder and a clear sign that the stories from the Quran are indeed true.
This massive vessel wasn’t put together by one trained and skilled for the job but by a prophet who had only his faith in Allah to help him. It was the first ship to be ever built without any model to refer to. Nuh (AS) had never seen a ship because they did not live near an ocean and neither was the world so densely populated so as to have trade routes across the seas. His crew members probably knew nothing about navigation and neither were they a seafaring community but they undertook this journey in humility and hope and survived the flood.
There are innumerable lessons to be learned from this story if we patiently ponder over it and try to grasp with an open mind. I pray that Allah guides us all and hope that we are not led astray by our ignorance and pride. And I pray that when we seek answers, we seek with the intention to learn the truth and increase our understanding and not with derision and a motive to invalidate the obvious.
Let us talk about another ship now that exclusively rode most popularity charts before and after its short life-span, the R.M.S Titanic. I am drawing an analogy here between the two because it strikes me to be one that provides deeper insight and makes us reflect on divine intervention, faith and human folly.
The R.M.S Titanic was the most expensive and foremost in sophisticated nautical design and technology. It took 26 months and a workforce of over 3000 skilled people to build this magnificent, luxurious, one of its kind ocean liner. It embarked on its maiden vogage and was launched into the water amid great fanfare and a mere 4 days later and just 7 seconds worth of scraping by an underwater spur of ice caused enough damage to have this entire vessel come undone.
The Titanic had a double-plated bottom and sixteen watertight compartments on the hull of the ship with doors that were designed to close in case water entered them thus allowing the ship to stay afloat. This was one of the reasons that the ship was deemed unsinkable. In fact a crew member was reported to have said to an embarking passenger, Mrs. Sylvia Caldwell, “God himself could not sink this ship!” When the ship had the fatal glancing collision with the iceberg the hull buckled inwards and it was 5 of these very 16 watertight compartments that opened up to the sea thereby drawing water in.
How atrociously pompous is that statement that “God couldn’t sink the ship”. How could anyone presume that the one who created us and inspired us to think and build such massive vessels had no power over it? This probably wasn’t an idle comment by one crew member but the collective opinion of the over confident builders and financiers of this ship, how else can one explain the major potholes in the safety measures and slack in emergency procedures for the Titanic. They had already touted it as “The safest ship ever built”, and hence overlooked key safety features. Sometimes we tend to get fooled by our achievements and the structures that we labor over, we think we are self-made and let our false egos and pride take over the clear sense of reasoning that we have been blessed with. How deeply do we then afflict ourselves and wrong our souls.
There is enough research out there to fill a presumptuous labyrinth of possible reasons that might have led to this terrible disaster, yet it is just that; a maze of probabilities that make the investigator’s head spin. What was it, human error, the force of nature, preordained destiny, sheer arrogance or a culminating spiral of all this that led to this eventual tragedy?
When you read the detailed accounts of what went on board the Titanic that fateful day it churns up such an emotional turmoil within; the countless lives lost, the dreams, the hopes and aspirations that drowned with them and the shattered lives of the families and loved ones they left behind.
Why does our species then continually disregard the obvious and flock together in confused societies armed with nothing more than our haughty egos? Why are we so sceptical when we see the signs that our creator has scattered around the world in His creation? The entire natural world in all its diversity and uniqueness bears the stamp of but one architect. Our life, our struggles, our relationships, our efforts to strive towards goodness and our challenges would have no meaning if death would indeed be the final curtain call to our existence and there is no accountability and no hereafter. There is a creator that we are accountable to, life is a gift that we have to live to the best of our ability and it is a test that we will be judged for. We need to open our hearts and believe in the oneness of Allah and stay humble and grateful for everything in life. We all need to board the vessels that Allah propels us towards with faith and resolution and indeed then we shall get steered towards success and fulfilment.