Sailboats in the Koran
With images of our self-built wooden boat at the Lake Matano.
Sailboats have a special status in Islam although it is seldom recognized, most probably because only very few Muslims are sailing nowadays. They are mentioned as a sign for mankind; a sign of his mercy to the steadfast and grateful; and as a means of making one's faith upright.
Water is an element in which we are quite helpless as we have no firm ground under our feet. While sailing with a boat on the ocean, we experience things, which we hardly can experience on land with such intensity. If there are favourable winds, we experience a feeling of happiness and freedom while floating over the vastness of the ocean. We become aware of the magnificence of creation and our humble place in it.
But when the wind ceases or is blowing from the wrong direction, the feeling of happiness passes quickly. And when the wind develops to a storm and high waves are tossing us around, then any feeling of pride disappears and we turn uprightly to God. In hardly any other situation we are more at God’s mercy than on a sailing boat on an open ocean during a storm.
(I may note here that I became Muslim while sailing on a little dugout on the Indian Ocean.)
On a sailing boat no fixed planning is possible, as we never know when we will reach our destination, or if we get even blown somewhere else. We become more Ibn al-Waqt, the son of the moment; we live more in the here and now; and realize more easily that at the end Allah is the creator of everything and that we have to surrender to Him and accept our fate. Abu Ali al-Rudhbari said that the Sufis of old never met to an appointed date because they never planned, which allowed God to guide them in their actions.
At the time of global lockdown, a sailing boat might be one of the few means left to uphold freedom.
And He it is Who hath constrained the sea to be of service.
And thou seest the ships ploughing it that ye [mankind]
may seek of His bounty and that haply ye may give thanks.
Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth
and maketh the ships to be of service unto you,
that they may run upon the sea at His command.
[O mankind], your Lord is He Who driveth for you the ship upon the sea
that ye may seek of His bounty. Lo! He was ever Merciful toward you.
Hast thou not seen how Allah hath made all that is in the earth subservient unto you?
And the ship runneth upon the sea by His command.
Lo! Allah is, for mankind, Full of Pity, Merciful.
And when they mount upon the ships they pray to Allah, making their faith pure for Him only.
And of His signs is this: He sendeth herald winds to make you taste His mercy,
and that the ships may sail at His command,
and that ye may seek his favour, and that haply ye may be thankful.
Hast thou not seen how the ships glide on the sea by Allah's grace, that He may show you of His wonders?
Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful [heart].
And of His portents are the ships, like banners on the sea; If He will He calmeth the wind so that they keep still upon its surface -
Lo! herein verily are signs for every steadfast grateful [heart]. -
Or He causeth them to perish on account of that which they have earned - And He forgiveth much -
And We carried him upon a thing of planks and nails, That ran [upon the waters] in Our sight,
as a reward for him who was rejected. And verily We left it as a token; but is there any that remembereth?
Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth,
and the ships which run upon the sea with that which is of use to men are signs
[of Allah's Sovereignty] for people who have sense.