Reviving the Spirit of Water Conservation in Islam
by Muhammad Shafeeque
"And the earth he has put down (laid) for creatures, there are fruits and date palms producing sheathed fruit-stalks (enclosing dates) in it " [Qur'an, Sura 55:10-11, Al-Rahman]. This verse describes some of God's blessings upon all creatures, especially for humankind. These are ways to attain food, a basic necessity of human life. For our survival, water is an inevitable factor. Beyond doubt, all creatures seek water for their satisfaction. There are creatures in the earth that rely only on water for long periods. Fundamentally, if water plays a major role in a person's life, it further serves as a foundation to attain such basic amenities as food, shelter and purity. For a believer, water is crucial for ritual purposes like ablution, personal cleansing, etc. From such a context, we can conclude that human life relies totally upon water.
"Water is life" is not a figurative description. It is a proclamation of reality. God, having created the earth for human existence, has filled three-fourths with water. About 97 percent is salt water. Of the remainder about 77 percent is snow. The latter part is the only source for fresh water on the world's surface. Also, the earth has some resources of water for maintaining itself and for use by humans as needed. This is known as groundwater. Approximately, 23.4 million square kilometres of groundwater is under human control. This water is held through modern innovations like tube-wells. Commonly, the egotistic minds of humankind try to exploit this gift in a negative manner. It is a fact that a single drop of water gone astray cannot be regained. Now the world has received the shocking news that the next generation will face a shortage by 40 percent of water as compared to the present availability of water. This creates more apprehension as the usage of water will double in the next generation. Within this context, the teachings of Islam, a religion which works for the safeguarding of nature, have great relevancy in the present.
The Holy Qur'an recalls this principle in two verses. "Then tell me about the water that you drink". "Is it you who cause it from the rain clouds to come down, or we who are the cause of it to come down?" [Sura 56:68-9, Al-Waqi'ah]. "Say (oh Muhammad) 'tell me! If (all) your water was to sink away, who then can supply you with flowing (spring) water?'" [Sura 67:30, Al-Mulk]. There are certain commands between these verses. Allah orders us to use water carefully, not to make it a reason for arrogance as it is entirely a mercy from God and should be used in a sustainable manner that the next generation may flourish.
An Islamic Perspective on Water and Its Conservation:
Allah introduces water by giving it the name "blessed" in Sura 50, Qaf (verse 9.) Water is mentioned 63 times in Qur'an. There are also words which possess the same meaning as water. There are many instances in the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, that express the nobility of preserving water and elucidate how to safeguard it.
Qur'an is rich when it defines Allah as the giver of water. Humankind is really powerless in the process of creating water. Allah has allowed using it without any extravagance. Sometimes he may test us by granting much water without any exertion. It is the choice of Allah to grant water for someone and to decree drought for someone else. Allah will calculate how patiently a person faces drought and how he exploits water at the time of ease of use. Moreover, our life is a continuous affliction. The world is a hall for examinations and we are only students. Allah says "He may test you which of you is best in deed" [Sura 67:2, Al-Mulk]. Thus we must obey divine instruction. "My well," "my water," etc. are only phrases. Water is for all. No one can be barred from its usage. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said "no one can usurp things which have an equal partnership of community like water, fire and salt. Those who ignore the need of the people to drink water while it as available will have a severe punishment in the afterlife".
Water is not only a blessing for humanity. It is narrated that The Prophet, peace be upon him, condemned a woman to hell who starved a cat by depriving it of water. Extravagance is the main reason for the devastation of water. Do you ever think how much water is wasted while brushing your teeth from a tap? Also just think about the water employed uselessly while pouring it over your head. You need only a cup of water to wash your hands. We are losing too much water which cannot be regained. It's obvious that Islam takes a strong stand against extravagance. The Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade extravagance as it destroys human life and the greenery of the earth. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once corrected one of his companions, Sa'ad, when he used too much water for ablutions. The Prophet asked, "Sa'ad, what is this? What an extravagance!" By misinterpreting that water can be used excessively for ablution, Sa'ad asked, "is extravagance permitted for ablution?" Our great Prophet replied "no, Sa'ad, even if you are performing ablutions from sea water, please avoid extravagance" Whether it is from a well or the sea we are not allowed to use more than three handfuls of water. Here the religion acts as a barrier for preserving water.
In banning extravagance The Prophet, peace be upon him, had also explored it in his life. With just one mudh (approximately 800 grams) he performed ablution. He took four mudh (approximately 3200 gm) for a bath. This is a standing precedent against anyone who misuses water. It is a curse of the present world that people put waste in ponds and rivers. Here people are trying to purify their lands by putting filth on others' land. Our religion strongly opposes these kinds of activities. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "be careful of three curses that fall on those who excrete in public rest houses and near water sources."
In addition to preserving water, Allah also instructed us to donate water for the use of the people. Finally, water is a boon from the lord. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "digging wells and chopping ponds are some good activities which will also help you after your eternal silence". Once when Sa'ad asked about an activity that he may do for the betterment of his mother's life in the hereafter, The Prophet told him to dig a well. In sum, Islam has a clear vision about water preservation, and its jurisprudence elucidates principles its development.
Muhammad Shafeeque is enrolled in a special intensive program in classical Islamic studies from Madeenathunnoor College of Islamic Science, Kozhikode, Kerala, India. His areas of interest are Quranic science, translation, theology, jurisprudence, and contemporary Islamic thought.