Islam and Water Rights in Egypt Today
The body of laws and rules given by Allah to Muslims in the Holy Quran is called the Shariah. This word, Shariah, predates the arrival of Islam in Arabia, and was a set of regulations regarding water use. For example, the set of rules defining the permits to drinking water was called the “shurat al maa,” or water rules. With the arrival of Islam and the Holy Scriptures, the Shariah evolved into a more comprehensive set of rules for the entire life of the believer. Water, likewise, received more detailed attention to guide the Muslim community to a more fair and equal distribution system.
Islam teaches that water is one of three gifts from Allah which He alone provides, and that every human is entitled to; the other two gifts are pasturage for animals and fire. There are two fundamental principles controlling the rights to water in the Shariah. The first is the universal right for humans and animals to satisfy their thirst, and the second is the right of irrigation, which gives all humans the right to water their farmlands.
Islam is highly critical of waste in any shape or form. The Prophet Muhammad, God’s Peace be upon him, is recorded as saying, “those who waste are the brothers (siblings) of Satan.” Wasting of water can be considered from two perspectives, as also recorded in the Hadith, or collections of the sayings of the Prophet. The first form of water waste is in overuse, as the Prophet recommended that while making the ritual cleansing in preparation for prayer, one must not use too much water, even if he is washing from a river. The second form of waste is in refusing to share, as in hoarding the resource, or preventing it from reaching others. There is a Hadith recorded that Allah will refuse attention, on the Day of Resurrection, to “the man who, having water in excess of his needs, refuses it to a traveler . . .” (Abu Dawud and authenticated by Al-Albani).
Before indoor plumbing became more common around the world, water was drawn from wells, cisterns, and fountains. In the Islamic world, water has a special importance due to the need to ritually cleanse with water prior to prayer. Praying five times a day makes the presence of water more than just a convenience, it becomes a necessity to ensure a steady, clean supply for the community. During the Ottoman Empire, drinking water fountains in Egypt became commonly installed for the public, usually as a charity offered by the wealthier citizens of the community. Known as “sabils,” these fountains often formed the hub around which sprang up mosques, schools and libraries.
In Egypt still today the practice of offering water by making it freely available to the public is in evidence everywhere. From the smallest village to the largest city, water is amply available on the streets and roads. It may be as simple as a metal rack holding clay drinking vessels filled with water, or a stainless steel refrigerated water dispenser with several faucets. Even on the busy highways, it is not uncommon to see a car, taxi, or microbus stopped at one of these stainless steel units on the side of the road, with the driver or a passenger busy refilling a plastic water bottle kept in the vehicle for this use.
A refreshing, cold drink of water to quench the thirst while traveling on a hot, dry Egyptian road is definitely something to give thanks to God for!
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