A FEW relaxing days spent in the picturesque countryside of the Western Cape got me to thinking about our biggest current crisis, a crippling drought that could see Cape Town and its environs becoming the first major centre in the world to run out of water by April 2018.
The powder-dry vistas, in which most of the vegetation has turned a lifeless grey, were a sobering reminder of the value of water. Even more sobering was the sight of informal settlements, most without running water, already grovelling in the dust blown up by summer’s witheringly hot Berg winds.
Many of these people, having been forced to leave farms, or who have lost seasonal work due to the drought, would be the worst affected if, Allah forbid, the dams run dry and the taps are turned off.
However, this blog is not about the criminally poor planning by our brain-boiled local authorities – who were warned decades ago about the looming crisis. No, rather it is about the value of humanity, charity and understanding on issues of water, so essential to life on this planet.
If anything, the drought has encouraged me to comprehend the significance of so many things. For instance, I’d always been amazed that the Prophet [saw] had been able to perform wudu, the ablution for prayer, with a cup of water. In 2018 in Cape Town, I now realise just how insightful this action was.
For us, wudu with a cupful of water is a reality – and by the way – easy once you get the hang of it. I can remember in Niger, during a famine caused by a drought, taking wudu water from a small kettle. In the sandy Sahel, just south of the Sahara, I was taught that water can’t ever be taken for granted.
The value of water has also forced me to think about the first recorded instances of Islamic charity, which centered on water in a region where its weight was worth gold. This was when Sayyidina ‘Uthman, a wealthy Companion, bought a well from a Jewess who was charging money for its waters, and made it into a public facility – the first waqf in Madinah.
It is not widely known that Sayyidina ‘Uthman’s generosity prompted the woman to embrace Islam. Another question arising out of Sayyidina ‘Uthman creating a public trust out of his well is that the privatisation of water sources (embraced by so many municipal administrations today) is an abominable practice, as it weighs heavily against the poor.
Water shortages might not seem to have much to do with actual Zakah, but the way things are going, humanitarian organisations – such as SANZAF – are most certainly going to be burdened by its consequences. Surely it is just a matter of time before the monthly food parcels, which give such solace to our under privileged, will have to include bottled water as well?
Already, I have been witness to the poor in under-privileged areas – already cut off by the city authorities – resorting to stealing water, so desperate are they to survive.
That water is a precious resource – only about 4% of our water on earth is fresh – goes without saying. Potable water has always been at a premium, especially in water-stressed places such as South Africa, where historically we experience regular dry periods or climatic cycles, made even more unpredictable and extreme by human triggered climate change.
There is such a profound message in this: we can drown in the oceans, which cover 70% of the surface of our planet, but we can’t drink a drop without gagging. Nor can we irrigate crops with seawater as its high salt content kills off terrestrial plant life. It is ironic that the oceans, which surround us and feed us, are an integral part of the eco system that manufactures rain.
The products of our soil, refreshed and nourished by what falls from moisture-laden clouds, are our wealth – a divine inheritance, as it were. The Qur’an has told us this, but with the proviso that we have to respect the bounties of the One who created them. The institution of Zakah, which cleanses wealth, is also a reminder for us to respect our wealth, from where it came and who ultimately granted it to us.