As the titanic waves engulfed and threatened the Ark, an unseen “hand” guided and protected it; until its final destination to safety. The old cliché, “history repeats itself,” embedded in my mind. I felt this event recurs in different forms and contexts in our daily lives; and perhaps in the continual “rising and falling” epochs of human history.
Over the millennia, Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood has been documented in several revelations and scriptures and related across a myriad of cultures and civilizations more or less in the same form. Every major creed, every race or civilization will have something to say about “The Great Flood.” The re-iteration of such an overwhelming event over thousands of years of history seems to convey a timeless message, as well as certain codes of universal moral conduct.
Many aspects from the world of matter are reflected as sublime meanings in the spiritual or metaphysical realm. If the Ark is likened to a spiritual and social sanctuary, then the great flood symbolizes not only a physical destruction of Earth but also a destruction of the spiritual and moral aspects of humanity. The surging of flood waters and the sinking feeling are analogous to the spiritual drowning of a lost individual in the ocean of life. Overwhelmed and burdened by a heavy weight on their shoulders, they are unable to carry on their journey in safety. Although the soul constantly seeks and yearns for continuous safety and security where it can let go of the heavy burdens of daily life and take a deep breath, it usually turns towards many false sanctuaries or havens. Not having adequate protection, the great floods of spiritual turmoil eventually drown and suffocate it.
The Ark as a representation of faith
Just like the physical need for air, water and food, the human soul similarly needs its own nourishment to survive. Without this food, it gradually decays and dies, wherein the heart becomes hardened, and a loss of sensitivity towards its environment begins. This apathy is the slow death of the human soul. In this context, the great miracle of Noah’s Ark, a significant event in the common history of humankind, represents the true spiritual sanctuary of faith that can guard humanity from drowning in the tumultuous ocean of life.
In fact, true concern for and connection with others can only be found in faith. One can even say that the greatest spiritual sanctuary and satisfaction for the human soul is faith. It enables the human soul to “let go” of those burdens that pull it down and drown it in materialism. It illuminates the heart and mind to truly feel and see beyond the prism of material life. The false perception that this fleeting world is the only goal of our life will not and cannot satisfy the innate need of the human soul for permanence and perfection. Neither comfort, wealth, nor a high social status (including other attractive but destructive desires like the love of fame) will satisfy these needs, as they are just means to a great end, not an end in themselves.
Faith is both light and power.1 Only the attainment of true faith can enable one to overcome any confronting challenges. The great enduring quality of the Ark resonates with the great qualities generated from a deep, certain faith. These attributes include perseverance and patience in doing good both in times of prosperity and in adversity, where it is especially difficult to do good in times of hardship, and even more so in times when advocating good is deemed dubious.
The Ark: A representation of common universal values
The great dangers surrounding and threatening our existence are not just in the visible world around us, but also within us: arrogance, pride, selfishness, greed, oblivion to the suffering or needs of others and many other such traits. We can certainly say that all these dangers, whether apparent or dormant, represent a “Great Flood” and, if correct precautions are not taken, they are bound to crush us – either physically or spiritually or perhaps both.
“The Ark” on the other hand can represent the common universal values that humanity at large shares. When the core human virtues, such as, being trustworthy, honest, loyal, sincere, and patient, are applied correctly and appropriately, they will be a means to protect us from the threat of the imposing “Great Flood.”
One can even say that the force of “The Flood” is so enormous that a protective sanctuary of an “Ark” with the ability to withstand such a destructive force is inevitable. This Ark must be established through the co-operation and dialogue of cultures, where the common universal values of humanity are realized and brought forth again. It will be these shared values of humanity that will serve as a protective shield against the debasing forces of “the Flood,” the real threat to our existence.
The common universal values of humanity are the moral pillars that will and can move each individual to take action for the sake of all and for the betterment of all because in essence these values are based upon recognizing the great, common needs we share rather than our apparent differences. Hence, for the sake of our common needs, it is pertinent to make every effort to co-operate and prevent animosities to the best of our abilities.
The application of these values requires the alleviation of misconceptions and misunderstandings of the great systems that formed civilizations, as well as pro-active dialogue between cultures, communities and individuals. Becoming increasingly more relevant in a constantly developing “global village” such as our contemporary society, these values will be founded and driven by respect, appreciation for the differences of cultures and their contributions to world history. As each individual is a masterpiece of the Creator of the Universe, then their freedom or right to belief, expression and travel should not be violated, for each individual has an inviolable dignity and honor.
The contemporary “social sanctuaries” or “Arks”
Existence is based upon the creation of opposites. Just as the darkest hour of the night happens before dawn; so too the Ark provided much needed solace and sanctuary as the “Great Flood” engulfed all. Similarly, the contemporary “social Ark” will serve to rectify and protect humanity from the social torment and tumults of our current times. Indeed, a great characteristic of a contemporary “social sanctuary” is that it will receive its energy and passion from deep faith and an ultimate sense of responsibility for its actions aiming to reinstate the common values of humanity first within itself and then with others. Each individual (moving as part of a collective whole) of this society will be a kind of “devotee and advocate of love” to provide selfless, altruistic service, consciously reaching out to help the community they come across and to overcome their problems at the expense of their own worldly desires. Being aware of their unremitting duty of gratitude and obligation towards the Creator, their philosophy will be to give without expecting anything in return, seeking only His approval. They will suffer great distress, but in this process they will set forth a great example of tolerance, respect, understanding and generosity. Over the last three decades, millions of individuals have been moved in this way through the inspiration of a great thinker and leader, Fethullah Gulen. 2, 3
One of the greatest diseases of our current times is prejudice and discrimination. Millions of people have suffered and still continue to suffer great anguish as a result of this crippling psychological and social disorder. The contemporary “social Ark” will take upon itself to help cure this disease by consciously drawing attention against the mentality which disregards the myriad of similarities and great common needs of humanity but instead focuses on small but unique differences of individuals or communities, thereby sowing the seeds of hatred. In contrast, they will actively teach what a great act of justice it is to focus on what brings humanity together rather than what seems to divide them. To further demonstrate this reality with example, they will recruit all their personal resources within their reach to melt the icebergs in hearts and bring together communities. Their actions will serve to blow out the fires of hatred and jealousy, fostering what has been neglected for centuries.
As they do so, they will learn and demonstrate how to hate hatred (which is easy to do) and love the act of caring (which is difficult to do). They will establish platforms where people can find common ground to work together to solve the current chaotic problems of our times. Social justice will be born when individuals begin to realize that each person is a unique master-piece that reflects (like a mirror) the most beautiful attributes of its Creator in various ways. When individuals will not be judged by their differences, but when their differences will be viewed as enrichment and a contribution, true global peace will arise. At that point humanity will board the final Ark of social justice and find solace and comfort in appreciating each other.
- Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. The Words, Twenty-third word, Third point, The Risale-i Nur Collection.
- Mücahit Bilici. “The Fethullah Gulen Movement and Its Politics of Representation in Turkey,” The Muslim World, volume 96, Issue 1, pgs. 1-20.
- Serif Ali Tekalan. “A movement of Volunteers.” Paper presented at the conference “Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gulen Movement in Thought and Practice,” Rice University, Nov. 12-13, 2005.