In recent times nothing has attracted our attention as much as the water crises that we are currently experiencing in the Cape. We have never before been as conscious about water, this basic commodity that surrounds us with two oceans; water, water everywhere yet not enough to drink. What is pre-occupying our collective attention is our concern about the availability of fresh water.
Why the Crises?
There is undoubtedly a drought in the Western Cape, and there are many reasons bandied through public discourse as to why we are in the drastic situation we find ourselves. We acknowledge that there has been population growth in Cape Town and thus an unprecedented increase in the demand for water. This is exacerbated by unreported agricultural use, industrial abuse, public wastage … and definitely poor planning and mismanagement of the water supply system, in addition to a lack of foresight by the authorities in water storage and water accessing as well as in the development of new water sources.
Beyond our shores, recent UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) indicates …
- Over one billion people lack a reliable supply of water
- 4 billion people – or just under half the world’s population – have no adequate water supply for daily needs.
- Human pollution is one of the main factors seriously undermining the quality and availability of freshwater, says the report. About 2 million tons of waste are dumped every day into rivers, lakes and streams. One gallon of wastewater pollutes about eight gallons of freshwater.
- More than 2.2 million people die each year from diseases owing to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation.
- Everyday around 6,000 people, mainly children under the age of five, die from water-related diseases.
The World Resources Institute predicts that by 2025, at least 3.5 billion people, or nearly 60 percent of the world’s population, will face water scarcity.
As people of faith and as people of conscience we have the responsibility of contributing to the alleviation of this dire situation; the immediate crises locally and the long term crises globally.
The human being, in the Islamic world-view [al-Baqarah 2:30] is considered a khalifah / vicegerent of Allah in the world. In the capacity as a vicegerent/khalifah, the human being is perceived as the trustee of the earth; is not supposed to cause corruption in any form on earth (i.e. the environment) وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ [Qasas 28:77] nor disruption of natural order. To use resources that is not for exclusive human use and never to be abused. Resources such as water is an amaanah/trust, requiring awareness of accountability.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلاَئِفَ الأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“It is He Who has made you (His) vicegerents, inheritors of the earth: He has raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may test you in the gifts He has given you: for your Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” [al-An’am 6:165]
With that test comes an amaanah أَمَانَةَ trust and the need to fulfill responsibility. With such responsibility comes the recognition of an organic connection between creation and function, between proper knowledge and right behavior, between political authority and public duty, between finding solution and avoiding pollution, between awareness and responsibility, between usage and avoiding wastage. This brings us to the notion of mas’uliyyah مسئولية human accountability and ri’aayah رعايةof stewardship. That we are indeed fully accountable كلكم راع وكلكم مسئول عن رعيته each accountable for whatever is under our care. [Bukhari]
This responsibility, this accountability in relation to our present crises begins with our profound appreciation of water.
Respect for Water
The deen of Islam ascribes the most revered qualities to water as a purifying resource as well as a life-giving, lif-sustaining source.
- As a matter of fact, the very word shari`ah is closely related to water and is included in early Arab dictionaries and originally meant “the place from which one descends to water.” Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, the shari`ah was, in fact, a series of rules about water use: the shir`at al-maa’ were the permits that gave right to drinking water.
- More than that …water is the origin of all life on earth, the substance from which Creator created humankind. The Qur’an emphasizes the centrality of water to life and living itself مِنَ الْمَاء كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ وَجَعَلْنَا from which every living thing is created [Anbiya 21:30]
- Not only are things created from water but also all living things are constituted of water; 90% of plants and over 60% of human body. We drink water, we eat things containing water while we ourselves are essentially made of water.
- There are consistent reference in the Qur’an and numerous verses referring to bahr/nahār/áyn rivers, seas, wells and rain [Rum 30:24] [Furqaan 25:48] [al-Baqarah 2:164]. The Qur’anic metaphors in which water is used to symbolize Paradise, righteousness, and Allah’s mercy are quite frequent. From the numerous Qur’anic references to cooling “… rivers, rain,springs and fountains of drinking water in Paradise” [Muhammad 47:15] [Ghashiyah 88:8-12], We can deduce that water is an essential component not only of life and living on this earth but also of the landscape of the gardens of Paradise.
- Beyond that, water is the primary element that existed even before the heavens and the earth did:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَق السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ وَكَانَ عَرْشُهُ عَلَى الْمَاء
“And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and His throne was upon water“. [Qur’an 11:7].
Water is unique…
- Water is not an ordinary substance despite its abundance on earth. Water is a liquid at room temperature, and is the only substance which naturally occurs in all three states of matter on; liquid (water), solid (ice) and gas (water vapour).
- Water is so common and so familiar that it seems mundane but in actual fact is extra-ordinary: every day we drink it, touch it, wash with it, wet things, we boil it, freeze it and swim in it.
- Water is taahir/pure and mutahhar/purifying; not corrupt itself but corrupted (polluted) by outside forces.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ الرِّيَاحَ بُشْرًا بَيْنَ يَدَيْ رَحْمَتِهِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء طَهُور لِنُحْيِيَ بِهِ بَلْدَةً مَّيْتًا وَنُسْقِيَهُ مِمَّا خَلَقْنَا أَنْعَامًا وَأَنَاسِيَّ كَثِيرًا ً…
And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water [Q25:48]
The water cycle evaporates water, polluted or clean (vaporization); and as it re-transforms from gas state to liquid state through condensation; (like a process of tazkiyah) it returns pure in precipitation as (drizzle, rain, snow) barakah, manfa’ah (blessing and benefit) to everything on earth.
- Water as charity
Sa’d ibn Ubadah reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, my mother has died. Shall I give charity on her behalf?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Yes.”
فَأَيُّ الصَّدَقَةِ أَفْضَلُ قَالَ سَقْيُ الْمَاءِ ~ سنن النسائي
I said, “Which charity is best?” The Prophet said, “Provide drinking water.” [Sunan al-Nasā’ī] Offering water is thus considered a great act of “sadaqah jariyah” (continuous charity) whether through availing water or digging a well; to bring this critical source of life to those who have water supply problems. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whosoever digs a well will receive reward for that from Allah on the Day of Judgment when anyone amongst jinn, men and birds drinks from it [Al- Bukhari and Muslim]. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Among the good deeds that will reach a believer after his death are …availing source of water.” [Ibn Maajah]
Reported Ibn `Abbas, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Every kindly word is a charity; help rendered by a person to another is charity; a drink of water given to someone is charity; and the removal of harmful objects from the road is charity.” [Al-Bukhari]
- Water as expiation for sin
The Prophet said “Allah had once forgiven a lady of ill-repute who had passed by a dog panting near a well. Seeing that thirst had nearly killed him, she took off her shoe, tied it to her scarf, and drew up some water. Allah forgave her for that.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim].
- Water as cleanser
The oft-repeated words of the Prophet الطهور شطر الإيمان “cleanliness is half of faith,” [Muslim] reveal not only the central importance of purity and cleanliness, but also the essential role water plays in Islam as a key to prayer which is the key to paradise.
Water ~ simple yet essential
That is water … tasteless, colourless, odourless and neutral; however, its unassuming looks belie just how crucial it is to life on earth. It’s mind-boggling range of benefits from its all important life-giving properties and vital importance to the mechanics of the human body, including every cell and organ function that makes up our anatomy, is but the tip of the iceberg. Water calms, relaxes, revitalizes, purifies and quenches thirst… water sustains life… it is the liquid of life.
Water thus permeates the life of a Muslim; biologically, physically and spiritually. So, as people of faith, use water to the extent of need without abuse or wastage. Allah advises,
كلوا واشربوا من رزق الله ولا تعثوا في الأرض مفسدين
Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, neither commit abuse on the earth, nor spread corruption. [Q 2:60]
It is related that the Prophet once passed by his companion Sa’d who was washing for prayer, and said “What is this wastage, O Sa’d?” The companion asked, “Is there wastage even in washing for prayer?” and the Prophet responded,
نعم، وان كنت على نهر جار
“Yes, even if you are (using water) by a flowing river!”
May Allah grant us the wisdom to imbue the excellent qualities of water, which benefits all things, yet remains in a humble place, cool in temperament and calming.
Reflect as vicegerents
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مِن مَّاء فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الأرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ دَآبَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخِّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاء وَالأَرْضِ لآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
“Surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed on the sea with what is useful to humans: and in the waters which Allah causes to pour from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and facilitating all manner of living creatures to sustain themselves and multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason.” [Qur’an 2:164]
Let’s use engage our reason, let us properly exercise our khilafah, be Allah-conscious and environmentally cognizant. We conclude with the Prophetic advice …
إِنَّ الدُّنْيَا حُلْوَةٌ خَضِرَةٌ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مُسْتَخْلِفُكُمْ فِيهَا فَيَنْظُرُ كَيْفَ تَعْمَلُونَ
the world is delightful and green. Allah has put you in charge of the world and is observing carefully how you deal with it [Muslim]