Water and Sanitation in Islam

Water and Sanitation in Islam

 Every day, the body excretes two to three litres of water: 1.4 litres through the kidneys, about 0.8 of a litre through the skin, 0.8 of a litre through the lungs and a very small amount through the intestines. This loss is compensated for by the fluid intake in food and drink.

1. Introduction

Water and Sanitation in IslamWater is one of the most essential needs for life. Without it man cannot survive for more than a few days. God has made every living thing dependent on water for its very existence. It constitutes two-thirds of body cell matter and 90% of all body fluids, including the blood as well as the lymphatic and spinal fluids. It is necessary for all biological processes, which have no place without the body. Furthermore, it contributes to the regulation of body temperature through perspiration.

Every day, the body excretes two to three litres of water: 1.4 litres through the kidneys, about 0.8 of a litre through the skin, 0.8 of a litre through the lungs and a very small amount through the intestines. This loss is compensated for by the fluid intake in food and drink.

Water is also essential for ablution, bathing and personal cleanliness: It is He who sends down water upon you from heaven with which to purify you (8:11). Water is also necessary for the cleaning of one’s home and personal effects, as well as for general hygiene. It is indispensable to agriculture and industry: He it is who sends down water from the sky. With it, We bring forth plants of every kind (6:99).

All the fresh water we find on earth is of salty origin, as it comes from sea water, which covers three-quarters of the surface of the earth. From this salt water, God distills the fresh water required by humans, animals and plants by means of an absolutely unique mechanism. Heated by the blazing rays of the sun, water evaporates and the vapour is carried by the winds through the atmosphere, where it is condensed into clouds in the cool upper atmosphere. Winds then carry the clouds to wherever God wishes rain to fall. Streams and rivers then flow bringing fertility and bloom to the land. Part of the water evaporates, another part seeps away into the soil and the rest returns to the sea. From the sea, up to the air and back to earth, water passes through a continuous, preordained cycle on which life on earth depends. It goes on without interruption and ends only by the will of God at whose divine command it started. God it is who sends the winds with which to blow the clouds along. We drive them on to a dead land and revive the earth by means of them after it has been dead. Such is the resurrection (35:9). Surely in the creation of Heaven and Earth and the alternation of night and day, and in the ships which plough the sea carrying what is of benefit to mankind, and in the water which God sends down from the sky with which to revive the earth after it has been dead and to scatter every kind of animal throughout it, and in directing the winds and clouds which are driven along between the sky and the earth, there are signs for people who use their reason (2:164).

There are three types of fresh water: atmospheric, surface and deep or underground water.

The term “atmospheric water” covers all that falls on earth in the form of rain, hail and the like. Having been distilled, it enjoys a high standard of purity: We have sent down from the sky purifying water (25:48). However, it may, while falling, become mildy or extensively polluted by dust, gases and dirt carried in the air. This may happen particularly at the start of a rainfall or in the first fall of the season. Rainwater collected after the first fall and the first few minutes of each rainfall is completely pure, through poor in salts.

“Surface water” refers to water found on the surface of the earth which may be flowing, as in streams and rivers, or still, as in lakes. Running water sweeps away with it whatever substances it can carry, such as dead plants, pieces of plants and animals, dust and metal particles as well as germs: He sends down water from the sky so that river valleys flow according to their measure. The current carries along a swelling scum (13:17). Hence, surface water is polluted, although it may become pure by one of the following processes: (1) sedimentation, in which the solid bodies and suspended particles settle to the bottom. This happens particularly if water runs for a long distance through barren land; (2) the effect of the sun and the air, both of which kill surface germs; (3) the biological action of some germs that break down organic substances and prevent the growth of other bacteria; (4) dilution as happens when a tributary that has run a long distance falls into a main river; (5) by means of some acquatic animals and water plants, like ducks, geese and fish which absorb some of the dirt found in the water and feed on it.

“Underground water” is water which has seeped down through porous soil: We send down from the sky water in measure and We allow it to settle deep into the earth (23:18). This water, having penetrated through the soil, meets an impermeable layer, i.e. one through which it cannot pass. This may be of rock or clay. There it collects, constituting an underground water body. Such water may find for itself either an upward outlet by the side of a valley, gushing out in the form of a spring or fountain-head, or it may find a downward path, penetrating deeper below the first impermeable layer in the ground, until it reaches another, non-porous layer, over which it accumulates. This constitutes deep underground water. The filtration of the water through the pores of the soil and rock increases its clarity and purity in different measures.

In either case, water may either flow freely out of the ground in the form of a fountain-head, or may be extracted by man through a well: Do you not see how God sends down water from the sky and causes it to penetrate into the earth where it gathers into springs (39:21). There are some stones from which rivers gush out and there are others which split open and water comes out from them (2:74).

Springs are of two types. A real spring is that where deep underground water gushes forth at the surface. Its water is of almost constant quantity and temperature and is not directly affected either by the amount of rain that falls over the basin from where it draws its water, or by the temperature of the surface of the earth. This is due to the fact that its water has collected deep in the ground, and the process of filtration through the ground is slow.

The other type of spring is directly affected by the amount of rainfall. It increases considerably in the rainy season and decreases, and slows down or even dries up in other seasons. Its temperature also varies according to season. Being close to the surface of the earth, water from this type of spring cannot safely be regarded as pure, since it may contain some impurities.

Wells are also of two types. Ordinary wells are bored into the earth until the underground water is reached. Water is extracted from such wells by buckets or by manual or electric pumps. There are also artesian wells, from which water flows upwards to the surface through internal pressure, due to the fact that the surface of the water is at a higher level, within a hill or mountain, than the mouth of the well.

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