Let us wonder at the marvel of water this Ramadan
During Ramadan of last year, I wrote two columns here trying to emphasize the importance of reflection (tafakkur) during the holy month. Ramadan fasting, if done right, has a number of objectives and benefits, including healthiness, social prosperity, spiritual blessings and moral, behavioral and intellectual insights. When they fast in the best of ways, people improve themselves physically and mentally, increase their social conscience (especially with regards to the poor and the downtrodden), raise their awareness of nature (God’s creation) and rise spiritually, getting closer to God. I know a number of non-Muslims who fast partially or fully during Ramadan, as they have realized that they gain lots of benefits from that.
In last year’s columns, I insisted that, in addition to the physical fasting and — as preachers often remind us — the moral fasting (abstaining from gossip, disputes and all bad acts), we must add to our worship a dimension from nature: Reflecting on and wondering in the amazing phenomena that nature and the cosmos is replete with.
In the same spirit, I would like to invite you now to reflect on the wonder that water constitutes both in nature and in our lives. Ramadan is the perfect reminder of how important water is for us and all living creatures — on Earth and, we believe, everywhere in the cosmos (assuming some forms of life exist elsewhere, whether primitive or advanced).
Water is essential for life: Almost all living organisms get their nutrients through water. Out of the millions of living species that exist on Earth, whether plants or animals, we have found only one plant that manages to get its nutrients directly from dirt or ground, without the help of water. Everything else relies on water.
Ramadan is the perfect reminder of how important water is for us and all living creatures — on Earth and, we believe, everywhere in the cosmos
When we search for life in space, we first look for water. Indeed, NASA’s motto in this is: “Follow the water.”
Hence the Qur’anic verse (21:30), “And we have made from water every living thing,” immediately followed by the lesson to be drawn out of that reflection: “Will they not then believe?”
Why is water so beneficial to life?
Water has wonderful properties. First, as a liquid it is the best solvent: It breaks down bonds between molecules and allows them to move freely and interact with other molecules, often making bigger, more complex molecules, which are necessary for life. Secondly, water absorbs heat well and regulates both temperature and acidity remarkably, something that is also essential for living organisms (to be protected from wild variations in temperature or acidity).
Moreover, our bodies need large quantities of water on a daily basis to move nutrients to various organs, thus allowing all bodily functions to proceed in an optimal and stable manner.
And that is why fasting is difficult, or at least challenging, without water. But through this hard way of fasting we are constantly reminded about the importance of water in our lives, and we recall the hardships that millions of people endure every day around the world because water is scarce and limited for them, for drinking and/or other uses in life.
We then recall the Islamic principles of preservation of water. For instance, Prophet Muhammad told his companions to use only small amounts of water when performing ablutions (washing for prayers) “even if you are at a flowing river.”
We cannot live without water; that much is clear. The British poet W. H. Auden put it eloquently: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
Ramadan comes to remind us how our bodies get wrecked when we miss water even for a few hours. We should also be mindful of the scarcity of drinkable water around the world — this “white gold” as it is sometimes known — and thus make every effort to preserve it and use it wisely and efficiently. In fact, we should wonder at the marvel that this simple molecule, H2O, constitutes both in nature and in our bodies. Let Ramadan be an opportunity for us to recall all these lessons.
- Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. His is the author of the recently published “The Young Muslim’s Guide to Modern Science” (Beacon Books, UK). Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum