As a universal religion born initially in the harsh deserts of Arabia to complete the message of former prophets and convey the divine revelation in its last testament (Qur’an), Islam ascribes the most sacred qualities to water as a life-giving, sustaining, and purifying resource. It is the origin of all life on earth, the substance from which God created man (Qur’an 25:54). The Qur’an emphasizes its centrality: "We made from water every living thing"(Qur’an 21:30). Water is the primary element that existed even before the heavens and the earth did: "And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and his Throne was upon water". (Qur’an 11:7).
The water of rain, rivers, and fountains runs through the pages of the Qur’an to symbolize God’s benevolence: "He sends down saving rain for them when they have lost all hope and spreads abroad His mercy" (Qur’an 25:48). At the same time, the believers are constantly reminded that it is God Who gives sweet water to the people, and that He can just as easily withhold it:"Consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter" (Qur’an 56:68-70). In this verse the believers are warned that they are only the guardians of God’s creation on earth; they must not take His law into their own hands.
In Islam major importance is placed upon purity and cleanliness, but also the essential role water plays in Islam. Purification through ablution is an obligatory component of the Islamic prayer ritual; prayers carried out in an impure state are not valid. This means Muslims are obliged to carry out ritual ablution before each of the five daily prayers. In addition, a more thorough ritual is required on specific occasions. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) urged moderation and thriftiness in the use of water during ablution.
The harsh desert climate of Arabia, the Near East, and Saharan North Africa makes water a highly valuable and precious resource. Islamic Law goes into great detail on the subject of water to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of water within the community.
The Arabic word for Islamic Law "Shari`ah" itself is closely related to water. It 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. The term later was technically developed to include the body of laws and rules given by God.
Water is a gift from God. It is one of the three things that every human is entitled to: grass (pasture for cattle), water, and fire. Water should be freely available to all, and any Muslim who withholds unneeded water sins against God: “No one can refuse surplus water without sinning against God and against man.” The Prophetic Traditions say that among the three people God will ignore on the Day of Resurrection there will be “the man who, having water in excess of his needs refuses it to a traveler.” (Reported by Bukhari)
Water in Images of Islamic Paradise
The Qur’anic metaphors in which water is used to symbolize Paradise, righteousness, and God’s mercy are quite frequent. From the numerous Qur’anic references to cooling rivers, fresh rain, and fountains of flavored drinking water in Paradise, we can deduce that water is the essence of the gardens of Paradise. It flows beneath and through them, bringing coolness and greenery, and quenching thirst. The believers will be rewarded for their piety by "rivers of unstagnant water; and rivers of milk unchanging in taste, and rivers of wine, delicious to the drinkers, and rivers of honey purified". (Qur’an 47:15). The water in Paradise is never stagnant; it flows, rushes, unlike the festering waters of Hell. The Qur’an also equates the waters of Paradise with moral uprightness: "In the garden is no idle talk; there is a gushing fountain". (Qur’an 88:11-12).
The many specific statements about the topography of Paradise in the Qur’an led to many attempts to map Paradise. Throughout history, Muslim rulers from Moorish Spain to Persia sought to reproduce the image of Paradise in the design of their palace gardens, creating elaborate water features, pools, and fountains. The gardens of the Alhambra in Spanish Granada, the Bagh-é-Tarikhi in Iran’s Kashan, and the gardens of the imperial palaces in Morocco’s Marrakesh all testify to this desire to emulate Qur’anic Paradise on earth. All are designed around water features and fountains that have been subtly woven into the layout of the beautiful parks, hence combining water and the beauty of natural landscape to fill the human soul with faith, joy, and happiness.