Water, the mainstay of human civilisation, is indispensable to life on earth. The Qur’an contains countless references to this vital resource, which is referred to on many occasions as the basis of life. Water is critical to the survival and functioning of all living beings. It is also one of the signs of our Creator, a blessing and a gift which humanity must be thankful for:
Have those who disbelieve not seen by the knowledge they acquire that the heavens and the earth were conjoined as one mass, then We separated them – and that We have made every living thing therein from water? (Al-Anbiyaa:30)
Three-quarter’s of the earth’s surface is covered with water, of this, 94% is in the form of salt water and 6% can be found in rivers, springs, wetlands, underground aquifers and glaciers. Water is not available as a constant deposit – it is circulated in various forms such as rain, snow, hail and mist. Neither does it occur in equal abundance. In tropical environments, rainfall is very high while some arid lands can experience years without rain. The wise management of this vital resource is of critical importance.
In the life of a Muslim, water is held in high regard: as a gift of the Sustainer; as a purifying agent, preparing her for prayer and other forms of worship, and as an integral part of the earth’s ecological system. Muslim thinkers and jurists have exerted themselves to derive a deep understanding of the value, use, and allocation of water resources. Here, I will highlight some aspects related to the position of water in the Qur’an.
Water is regarded as a sign of the Creator, an ayah, which humankind should contemplate and which alerts us to the Majesty and Might of the Creator. Many Qur’anic verses invite humankind to reflect upon and observe natural phenomena, including water, in a quest for meaning. It urges the human spirit to look to nature and to observe its perfection and order and from there, to deduce the Oneness of God:
He alone is the One who sends down, from the sky, water for you, from which there is a drink you require, and from which plants grow, wherein you must pasture your herds.
Thereby, He alone causes to grow for you all types of crops – and olive trees and date palms and grapevines and fruit of every kind.
Indeed, in all this there is a sure sign for a people who would reflect on the diversity of creation and the Oneness of the Creator. (An-Nahl:10-11)
Water, a key element in the growth of all life, human, plant and animal, is a gift and humankind is called towards gratitude for this blessing sent in a sweet, drinkable form to nourish, sustain and promote life. Every drop we drink, each cup we empty to purify our limbs, and every bucket we pour to cleanse our bodies is a priceless gift from the Sustainer of All the Worlds – Allah (SWT), Most High.
Have you considered the water that you drink?
Did you yourselves bring it down from the clouds?
Or is it We who send it down?
If We so will, We shall at once cause it to become acrid.
Will you not, then, give thanks? (Al-Waaqi’ah:68-70)
Despite the value of this bounty, we seldom express our gratitude but rather take it for granted and monopolise, pollute and waste this precious resource. A critical aspect of thankfulness is using the favours of Allah (SWT) in the best and most beneficial way. In the case of water resources, vital to all life on earth, we must endeavour to use this blessing for the good of all.
Water is an essential component of the ecological system on earth, created in measure by Allah (SWT). With the evolution of scientific and ecological knowledge, many natural phenomena mentioned in Qur’anic verses are being read and understood in the light of contemporary scientific understanding. This also applies to water. For instance, the Qur’an mentions stages of the water cycle, for example the formation of rain clouds, and the existence of a barrier between sweet and salty waters – to mention but a few. The ecological processes described in these verses concur broadly with what scientists know about these systems today:
By the sky ever returning water to the earth in rain. (At-Taariq:11)
Have you not seen that God drives the clouds on, then joins them together, then piles them up in heaps, then you see rainfall issuing from their midst?
Moreoever, He sends down from the heaven mountainous clouds in which there is hail. (An-Nur:43)
And He is the One who has merged together the flow of the two great waters:
This one sweet, fresh to the taste; and that one salty; acrid.
Yet He placed between them a seamless divide;
a barrier that bars their intermingling. (Al-Furqan 25:53)
In the life of a Muslim, water also has a socio-religious function in that it is used for ritual purification. When water is not available for either the ritual ablution or bath, or when its use for purification will compromise its use for drinking purposes, Muslims are allowed to use clean earth for purification. Wastage of water, even in ritual purification, is strongly discouraged.
Not only in the life of this world, but in the Hereafter, water is prized as one of the special bounties of Allah (SWT) and is mentioned, in the form of rivers, as one of the gifts of Paradise:
Consider the wondrous state of the Garden of Paradise, which is promised to the God-fearing. Therein are rivers of water, ever-fresh… (Muhammad:15)
Muslims continue to draw upon the Qur’anic message to make life and lifestyle decisions. It impacts upon our beliefs, worldviews and attitudes. With close to one billion people without safe, clean water, the world is facing unimaginable challenges in securing equitable access to water resources. Muslims need to revive the Qur’anic message to care for and use natural resources carefully, equitably and without excess, and to express gratitude for this blessing by using it for the purpose it was created – to sustain all life on earth.
Najma Mohamed is an environmental researcher and writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled for her PhD in Islam and Environmental Education.