In this modern day and age when the word global warming is spoken of, you see people instantly blanking out, turning their faces away or you get people like Donald Trump who say “climate change is a hoax and humans are not causing it because it’s not true.” It is amazing that despite the human race advancing towards new innovations and technologies, we still do not understand the importance of climate change. In Islam the notion of eco-theology is significant; eco-theology is the idea that humans and the world of nature are an interrelated system, something that is expressed in religious teachings. It is when these religious scriptures and doctrines are used as a guide that we learn how best to treat and preserve the environment. Water is possibly the single most important factor that is constantly mentioned in the Quran and now, more than ever, we need to undertake what the Quran mentions about its management.
Water scarcity has been a global issue in recent times and it continues to be so. Nearly a fifth of the global population lacks access to potable water and more than half of the people across the world live in water-stressed areas. Also, the annual global economic losses from water shortages are conservatively estimated to be at £174.27. Nevertheless, Islam is one of the biggest religions to have raised awareness on water scarcity and it’s important that we understand water management as best as we can.
The importance of water in the Quran
Water is the single most natural environmental factor that is expressed throughout the Quran. The Arabic word for water is ‘ma’ and it is mentioned sixty-three times in the Quran. For example, “And have you seen the water that you drink? Is it you who brought it down from the clouds, or is it We who bring it down? If We willed, We could make it bitter, so why are you not grateful?” [Qur’an 56: 58-70]. This is one of the various verses which mentions water is an important element in the environment for Muslims to preserve and maintain. Other notions of water are also mentioned in the Quran many times such as, the sea, rivers, rain and fountains. The verses that use these connotations express the mercies of Allah (swt) that has been bestowed upon us. It gives Muslims another opportunity to reflect on His miracles, grace and mercy.
Another verse that explains the importance of water management is, “And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water.” [Quran 25:48] This reflects how Allah (swt) has created the Earth and the way we conduct ourselves while on it is a test from Allah (swt) therefore, human beings will be held accountable for the way we choose to live our lives.
The Quran is not the only Islamic doctrine that mentions water, as Hadith sources also do the same. Such as, “Muslims have common share in three (things). Grass, water and fire.” (Dawood, Abu. 2009:3470). This shows Islam does not only address water management as an important element to preserve, it also says water should be managed in the globe as a whole. It is an element that must be preserved by all nations and not just individuals alone. This shows that water management needs to be conserved around the globe because it affects all, it gives life and everything in life is made out of water. For example, “We made from water every living thing.” (Faruqui, Naser. 2001:1) People must keep three natural resources intact, especially if it has a social importance for everyone.
Water management in the Sunnah
Similarly, water management and water regulation is seen as part of Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Many examples and exercises have been expressed in the Sunnah of the way Muslims should deal with water so there would be no scarcity or problems. There are statements by the Prophet around the amount of water one is allowed to take for use. An important incident from the Prophet was narrated. The Prophet observed a man called Saad doing ablution for prayer; while the Prophet watched him he said, “Do not waste water even if you are on a running river.” This shows a significant lesson because Saad was not wasting water purposely and there were plentiful amounts of water however, the Prophet still exemplified the importance and sanctity of water, showing that it should be respected for its own right, even when found in abundance.
The Sunnah demonstrations how people should manage water carefully so as to ensure that it isn’t wasted. It’s interesting to see how Islam provides the steps of water management, even though there was no water scarcity at the time of the incident. It emphasises how water scarcity can happen if people are not careful on using the substances on Earth and to demonstrate that Islam is an all-encompassing religion.
Another element for why water is held sacred is because of its role in ritual ablution and ghusl (bathing). Ablution and bathing are important as they are precursors for salah (prayer), which makes up one of the main five pillars of Islam. The Prophet described how ablution is a useful element for Muslims in a hadith that states, “The similitude of five prayers is like an overflowing river passing by the gate of one of you in which he washes five times daily.” (Muslim, Sahih: 211) This shows how water is sacred as it is used for cleanliness and it plays a vital part in prayer. Furthermore, Islam also offers a practical alternative to ablution, should there ever be a shortage of water called ‘Tayammum’, which is to turn to clean earth, sand or soil to perform purification. (Al-Bukhari, Sahih: 334) This again shows that the religion of Islam recognises how human beings have the ability to waste and destroy environmental materials, thus offering alternative means to make use of environmental resources during an ecological crisis. It further shows that water is not the only resource that must be sustained, but rather that other Earthly materials must also be looked after such as sand and soil.
Other religious significances of water in Islam
There is a spiritual aspect to the sanctity of water in Islam; bad water is mentioned as a tool of punishment in hell, as well as good water being used as a source of reward in heaven. For example, Abdullah ibn `Abbas reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Oh children of Adam! Eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” (Surah 7:31) This suggests that there should be no waste of anything that includes water, because it is a powerful source in this world and the hereafter. The Prophet has also stated “three people Allah will ignore on the day of resurrection are a man [who] possessed superfluous water on a way and he withheld it from the travellers.” (Faruqui, Naser. 2001:2) Due to the religious symbolism that water has in faith, it should push and encourage us to focus on water management and more.
Another important note on water is that it is seen as being the best kind of charity; “The best form of charity is giving water (to drink).” (Fiqh-us-Sunnah: 4.88) This sends powerful messages to Muslims because it gives another opportunity to preserve water as the rewards it entails are greater than the action of wasting. It gives us the need to want to keep it safe, untainted and even share it. Plenty of religious charities are an example of this such as, Islamic Relief, Who Is Hussain or Muslim Aid, which all run water irrigation and distribution projects across the globe. They use religious passages to encourage people to give money. The theological language that is used in Islamic doctrines produces positives attitudes in environmental maintenance of water. It pushes individuals to place water as a significant natural element in their lives and to distribute it because of its religious value, as well as the moral value.
Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have water continuously flourishing whenever we like and with this comfort and the knowledge of countries with less opportunities, now is the time for us to utilise our Islamic teachings keep the world materials preserved and available to all. Our holy passages remind us of how crucial the Earthly elements are and how, as human beings, we tend to destroy that which we have in abundance. Water is now a natural element that is in crisis and the more silent and disinfected by it we are, the more we are disregarding not just our role as a humans, but also as our roles as Muslims too.
“And do not walk on the earth with arrogance. You can neither pierce the earth, Nor can you match the mountains in height”. [Quran:17:37]
by Tasnim Rahman