According to Nu'man bin Bashir, Muhammad told this story:
"The example of the person abiding by God's order and restrictions in comparison to those who violate them is like the example of those persons who drew lots for their seats in a boat. Some of them got seats in the upper part, and the others in the lower. When the latter needed water, they had to go up to bring water (and that troubled the upper deck passengers), so they said, 'Let us make a hole in our share of the ship (and get water) so that we do not trouble the upper deck passengers.' If the people in the upper part left the lower deck passengers to do what they had suggested; then all the people of the ship would be destroyed, but if they had prevented them, then both parties would be safe."
I would like to expand on this story and bring it up to date. I will assume a large modern boat with lifeboats, as is standard now. And I will assume that it is in a large lake. To make the story realistic, assume that something went wrong with the plumbing on the lower decks so that fresh water isn't available there.
My guess is that when Muhammad told this story, he imagined all Muslim passengers. In this case, his story makes perfect sense. But what if there are passengers of other religion? As long as these other religions are reasonable, the story still makes sense. But what if some passengers are from unreasonable religions/cultures so that they cannot be reasoned with?
The obvious example is modern culture. Superficially, members of modern culture seem reasonable. But discuss anything of substance and you will discover otherwise. In this story, some members of modern culture on the lower decks began drilling holes in the boat to get water. They considered this to be a progressive innovation. They considered the fact that only those in the upper deck had easy access to water to be a form of discrimination against those in the lower decks, so drilling holes in the boat is a moral good to eliminate discrimination. Sensible people argued with them saying that it is a well known fact that making holes in boats is bad. The modern people responded that this old folk tale is just outdated morality that no longer applies. Sensible people replied that there is abundant historical evidence that boats with holes sink. Modern people responded that many of these stories are nothing but myths and the historical evidence for the rest is weak. And in any case, these old boats were different from modern boats, so the historical evidence doesn't apply. Sensible people tried to argue based on physics saying that if the ship filled with water then its average weight would be greater than water's, so it would sink. Modern people responded that modern boats are equipped with systems that pump out excess water so this would never happen. In effect, modern boats can never sink, so there is nothing to worry about. Then the more sensible people remembered the Titanic and stopped arguing, realizing that there is no way to talk sense into a member of modern culture.
So now what? If those who want to drill holes are a small minority, then the solution is simple. Put them on lifeboats and get rid of them. Then if they drill holes in the lifeboat, they only drown themselves. But what if those who want to drill holes are the majority? In this case, there is no way to prevent the boat from sinking, so sensible people will get in lifeboats themselves, and leave the sinking ship.
To tie this story back to reality, America and the rest of Western culture is a sinking ship, and sane religious communities are lifeboats on this ship. I currently know of three types of lifeboats - mosques, orthodox synagogues, and traditional Anabaptist churches. Now back to the story.
When this boat started its voyage, it had onboard some Muslims, Jews, and Mennonites (Anabaptists). The Mennonites were the first to leave. They left even before people started drilling holes. They recognized that when the plumbing problems started, the people reacted unreasonably. The Mennonites are quick to detect evil and they want no part of it. So they politely asked for exactly the number of lifeboats that they needed and they left the ship. The Mennonites are practical and hardworking, so they soon became expert fishermen and occasionally they returned to the ship to trade fish for other goods. But they had no idea what was really happening on the ship.
The Jews were intelligent people and they immediately recognized the risk of drilling holes in the ship. So the rabbis went to the deck and bribed the crew to give them exactly as many lifeboats as were needed for the Jews on the ship. At the same time, jewish businessmen started businesses to drill holes in the ship for those who wanted this service. Finding this business profitable, they began a marketing campaign advocating hole drilling and supporting the arguments of modern culture. Some people argued that this would destroy the ship and that this marketing campaign should be stopped. So the jewish businessmen labeled these complainers as anti-semites and said that criticism of hole drilling is hate speech that should not be tolerated. By the time the ship was about to sink, the jewish businessmen had acquired most of the wealth onboard and they loaded this onto their lifeboats and safely left the sinking ship.
Most of the Muslims on the ship were oblivious to what was happening. But some of the Muslim leaders understood and began preparations. They secured as many lifeboats as possible, more than was needed just for Muslims, so that anyone who understood the truth of the situation could escape. These leaders began to preach about the situation to the Muslims onboard. The Muslims were not as efficient as the Mennonites or Jews because they wasted time arguing about religious issues like how to determine in which direction to pray when on a lifeboat. But in the end, the Muslims saved the most people from the sinking ship.
Those few sensible people who were not Mennonites, Jews, or Muslims simply had no other choice but to board the Muslim lifeboats. The Mennonites had already left and the Jews refused all non-Jews. So the Muslim lifeboats were the only option.
I neglected to tell the story of two other groups that sank with the ship - the post-modernists and the white nationalists.
Earlier, when the sensible people were arguing with the modern people, some of the sensible people thought that since they couldn't reason with average modern people, they should try reasoning with the modern intelligentsia. And there were a number of academics aboard from the humanities. Naturally they were all post-modernists. When the sensible people told the post-modernists that drilling holes would sink the ship, the post-modernists replied that truth is subjective, so whether or not the ship would sink is nothing more than a subjective opinion, and that the "sensible" people were free to believe their truth while the modern people were free to believe their truth. The sensible people replied that regardless of belief, a decision had to be made about whether or not it should be allowed for holes to drilled in the ship. The post-modernists replied that such issues are simply a question of power and that naturally the most powerful side will prevail, whichever it is. The sensible people then asked the post-modernists about their opinion, who did the post-modernists side with? The post-modernists said that they sided with those on the lower decks who wanted to drill holes because they were the oppressed class so their view deserves the most sympathy. The post-modernists drowned with the ship. In some sense, the post-modernists are right about power prevailing, but what they miss is that what is powerful in the short term isn't necessarily powerful in the long term. In the short term, ignorant people can have power. But in the long term, the most powerful side is always God which is why the ignorant people drowned.
When the hole drilling started, the white nationalists immediately blamed all other races for the problem. The white nationalists correctly pointed out that percentage-wise fewer whites drilled holes than other races. The white nationalists also correctly pointed out that most of the technology used on the ship had been developed by whites. They therefore concluded that all non-whites should leave the ship. So the white nationalists spent their time trying to convince other whites to join them in an effort to rid the ship of other races. The white nationalists continued with this effort until the ship sank and they drowned. The white nationalists never considered leaving on a lifeboat because they considered the ship to be theirs, and the idea of abandoning ship seemed treasonous to them. And even in the unlikely event that they could have succeeded in ridding the ship of other races, the unreasonable whites still would have drilled holes, so the ship still would have sank, just more slowly. The white nationalists didn't drowned because they are racist. After all, the jews (that follow judaism) are just as racist and they didn't drowned. The white nationalists drowned because they are lacking in common sense.
Now to finish the story. The Jews and Muslims lowered their lifeboats into the water and rowed away. The Mennonite lifeboats could be seen in the distance. Those who stayed on the ship went to the side to watch the spectacle. They thought "How backward and ridiculous are these religious lunatics to prefer a primitive lifeboat over a sophisticated modern ship. We are so obviously superior to them." Life was good on the ship. Many holes had been drilled, so continuously running water fountains were widely available. The bottom of the ship began to fill with water, but no one cared. The ship sank slowly so no one noticed. The people enjoyed themselves and thanked their progressive modern thinking for their superior comforts. It was only near the end that the people realized to their horror that they were doomed. But the horror was brief because by then the ship sank quickly and pulled the people under with it, thereby ending their terror.
I hope I haven't abused Muhammad's story too much in my expanded version, but I wanted to cover the relevant groups from my time.
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