On One Ship
Those abiding by Allah’s Laws in comparison to those who violate them are like people who drew lots for their seats on a ship. Some of them got seats on the upper deck and some on the lower. When the ones below needed water, they had to go to the upper deck to get it (which troubled those on the upper deck), so they said, “Let us make a hole in our part of the ship to get water and save those above us from trouble.” If the people on the upper deck allow them to do what they have suggested, everyone on the ship will drown; but if they prevent them, all the people will be safe.1
The whole community, as the Prophet (pbuh) depicts it, is this one ship on board which are the good and the evil, the heedful and the heedless, and it is carrying them all towards one destination. Its safety and stability amid the restless waves are bound by the awareness of every person to their own and others’ duties and the consequences of their own and others’ actions.
Most people forget this reality… the ship of life or community. They imagine that they stand firm on a stable land that nothing can shake or cause them to perish, and therefore they sin and transgress.
The Prophet (pbuh), fully aware of their heedlessness, warns them using this analogy of a ship that is affected by its passengers, who must pay attention to every step taken on board for their own safety and the safety of others.
Everything one does as an individual affects the whole. An individual is not just one person free to do as they please without legal or moral authority – just a drop in the ocean – for a drop of poison can cause the death of the body. 2
The upper deck passengers, the righteous who live within the bounds of Allah’s Law, will go down with the lower deck passengers, the sinners who violate Allah’s Law, if they sit passively by while they are being violated. That is, if they allow them to make a hole in the integrity of their society and do not prevent it. The ship with a hole will drown them all.
And fear a trial which will not strike those of you who do wrong exclusively (but it may afflict all – the good and the bad), and know that Allah is Severe in punishment
(Al-Anfal 8: 25)
The law of the Prophet’s new righteous world forbids passivity and inaction. Evil is to be resisted; injustice is to be removed; and truth is to be spoken. “Anyone of you who sees something evil, let them change it with their hand (by taking action); if they cannot, then with their tongue (by speaking out); and if they cannot, then with their heart (by hating it and feeling that it is wrong); and that is the weakest of faith.”3 Anything less is no faith.
“By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, you will enjoin righteousness and forbid evil, or Allah is on the verge of sending a punishment upon you from Him, then you will supplicate to Him, but He will not answer your supplication.”4
- Narrated by An-Nu‘man bin Bashir: Sahih Al-Bukhary, Book of Partnership, Hadith no. 2313; similar versions of the Hadith are also reported by Al-Bukhary (2489), At-Tirmidhy (2099), and Ahmad (17638, 17647, 17653, 17685).
- Adapted from Muhammad Qutb, Qabasat min Ar-Rasul (Gleams from the Messenger r), chapter of Ship of Community, Dar Al-Shorouk.
- Narrated by Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri: Sahih Muslim, Book of Iman, Hadith no. 70.
- Hudhaifah bin Al-Yaman: Sunnan At-Tirmidhy, Book of Al-Fitan (Trials).