Muzaffar Iqbal

Water is mentioned in the Qurʾān 63 times using the term ʾ (from the root m-w-h) in six distinct contexts.

Six Contexts

  1. Priority in order of Creation
  2. A Life-giving and life-supporting substance
  3. As a sign of Divine Wisdom, Power, and Mercy
  4. As a purifier
  5. As an instrument of punishment
  6. In Metaphors and Parables


Priority in order of Creation: And He is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days—and His Throne was over water—that He might test you as to who among you is best in deed. But if you say, “Indeed, you are resurrected after death,” those who disbelieve will surely say, “This is not but obvious magic” (Q 11: 7).

“There was Allah and nothing else before Him and His Throne was over water, and then He created the Heavens and the Earth and wrote everything in the Book.”

A Life-giving and life-supporting substance

essential ingredient for all of living creation: Q 21:30, We created every living thing from water… and Q 24:45: Allah has created every [living] creature from water

  • two terms containing the noun water, denote bodily fluids—māʾ mahīn (Q 77:20) and māʾ dāfiq (Q 86:6)—which are instrumental in child birth, thus a means of passing life from one generation to another;
  • as an instrument of the revival of the earth after it has become barren (Q 2:74, 164; 7:57; 16:65; 20:53; 22:5, 63; 30:24; Q 32:27. For instance, in Q 32:27: Have they not seen that We drive the water to the barren land and produce thereby crops of which their cattle and they themselves eat? Will they not then see?
  • vital for growth of vegetation (Q 6:99), fruits and vegetables of various kinds and colors (Q 13:4; 14:32; 31:10) and other food (Q 2:22): Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky and makes it flow as springs [and rivers] in the earth; then He produces thereby crops of varying colors… (Q 39:21).

As a sign of Divine Wisdom, Power, and Mercy (Q 13:4, 17; 23:18; 43:11; 54:11-12; 56: 68-70; 67:30). For instance,

  • Q 23:18: And We have sent down water from the sky in a measured amount and settled it in the earth. And indeed, We are able to take it away;
  • Q 24:43: Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain (al-wadaq) emerge from within it
  • Q 25:48-49: And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water. That We may bring to life thereby a dead land and give it as drink to those We created of numerous livestock and humans.
  • Q 67:30: Say, “Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?
  • Q 77:27: And We placed therein lofty, firmly set mountains and have given you to drink sweet water.

As a purifier

  • purifier from the sky (Q 25:48);
  • in ritual purification and ablution (Q 8:11)

As an instrument of punishment

  • The Deluge that drowned the People of Nuh, upon him peace (Q 11:42-44; 25:37; Sura Nuh, Q 71);
  • Drowning of Pharaoh and his army (Q 20:78 and other references)
  • Water of Hell (Q 14:16; 18:29; 47:15)

In Metaphors and Parables

  • As metaphor for the life of this world (Q 10:24; 18:45);
  • In a simile for Resurrection (Q 43:11): And Who sends down rain from the sky in measured amounts, and We revive thereby the barren land - thus will you be brought forth.
  • In a simile for the deeds of the disbelievers: Q 24:39: As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage upon a desert plain which a thirsty man supposes is water, till when he comes upon it, he does not find it to be anything, but finds God there. He will then pay him his reckoning in full, and God is swift in reckoning.


Associated Qurʾānic Terms

Associated Qurʾānic Terms

  1. Rain (maṭar, wadq, ghayth, ṣayyib, māʾ): graphic references of water coming down from the sky leading to the revival of the dead earth, joy of the farmers, emergence of hope after despair, parched earth becoming lush green; rain as a sign of Divine Mercy and Benevolence (e.g., Q 24:43: Do you not see that Allah drives clouds? Then He brings them together, then He makes them into a mass, and you see the rain emerge from within it. And He sends down from the sky, mountains [of clouds] within which is hail, and He strikes with it whom He wills and averts it from whom He wills. The flash of its lightening almost takes away the eyesight and Q 30:48: Allah is He Who sends the winds, and they stir the clouds and spread them in the sky however He wills, and He makes them fragments so you see the rain emerge from within them. And when He causes it to fall upon whom He wills of His servants, immediately they rejoice; Q 42:28: And it is He who sends down the rain after they had despaired and spreads His mercy. And He is the Protector, the Praiseworthy); in the context of how to pray during a battle (Q 4:102: But there is no blame upon you, if you are troubled by rain or are ill, for putting down your arms ….. Also rain of stones as Divine punishment of nation that rejected Prophet Lūṭ, upon him peace (Q 7: 84; 25:40; 26:173; 27:58).
  2. Clouds are mentioned in the Qurʾān with six terms which variously emphasize their different aspects:
    • ghamām (Q 2:57, 210; 7:160; 25:25), highlighting their veiling of sunlight;
    •  saḥāb (Q 2:164; 7:57; 13:12; 24:40, 43; 27:88; 30:48; 35:9; 52:44), highlighting their being subjected to the Divine will;
    • muzn (Q 56:69);
    • ṣayyib (Q 2:19);
    • muʿṣirāt (Q 78:14), specifically referring to rain-bearing clouds;
    • ʿāriḍ (Q 46:24, x2), a dark cloud, specifically when seen on the horizon, but signifying punishment and destruction.

3. Reservoirs of water (rivers, seas, and wells) denoted by four terms:

baḥr (river/sea, 41 occurrences) in different contexts:

Human beings have limited capacities to fully comprehend an Infinite God Who is unlike anything that exists:

Say, “Were all the sea ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like thereof to replenish it.” (Q 18:109)

And if all the trees on the earth were pens, and the seas [were ink]—replenished with seven more seas—the Words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (Q 31:27)

Oceans and rivers are beneficial reservoirs of water, containing food, pearls and other ornaments, carrying ships for commerce and travels (e.g, Q 2:164: Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason; and Q 30:46: And of His signs is that He sends the winds as bringers of good tidings and to let you taste His mercy and so the ships may sail at His command and so you may seek of His bounty, and perhaps you will be grateful).

Oceans as markers of Divine Power:

  • Q 25:54: And it is He who has released the two seas, one fresh and sweet and one salty and bitter, and He placed between them a barrier and prohibiting partition.
  • Q 27:61: Or, Who made the earth a resting place, and made in it rivers, and raised on it mountains and placed between the two seas a barrier. Is there a god with Allah? Nay! most of them do not know.
  • Q 55:19-20: He released the two seas, meeting [side by side]; between them is a barrier [so] neither of them transgresses.
  • Q 35:12: And not alike are the two bodies of water. One is fresh and sweet, palatable for drinking, and one is salty and bitter. And from each you eat tender meat and extract ornaments which you wear, and you see the ships plowing through [them] that you might seek of His bounty; and perhaps you will be grateful.
  • Q 56:68-70: Have you seen the water that you drink? Is it you who brought it down from the clouds or is it We who bring it down? If We willed, we could have made it bitter, so why aren’t you grateful?

nahr (including its plural, anhār; river/rivers, 54 occurrences; mostly in reference to the gardens of Paradise under which flow rivers); the river Kawthar  according to one explanation of the word Kawthar in Q 108;

yamm (river, sea), seven times in the chronicle of Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace (Q 7:136; 20:39x2, 78; 28:7, 40; 51:40), and once in reference to the scattering of the remains of the Calf of Children of Israel (Q 20:97);

bi’r (well), used once (Q 22:45) in reference to Divine Justice regarding the city of the wrongdoers.

In Chronicles

Qurʾānic Chronicles in which water appears include:

  • Water in the chronicles about Prophet Nūḥ, upon him peace
  • The story of baby Mūsā, when his mother put him onto the river
  • Meeting point for Mūsā, upon him peace, and Khidr
  • Parting of the sea and drowning of Firʿawn (Pharaoh)
  • Twelve streams coming from the rock for the twelve tribes of Children of Israel
  • Story of Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace: seven years of drought followed by a year in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press [olives and grapes] (Q 12:49)
  • Story of Prophet Yūnus, upon him peace
  • Queen of Saba: Q 27:44: She was told, “Enter the palace.” But when she saw it, she thought it was a pool of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, “Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass.” She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Sulayman to Allah, Lord of the worlds.”
  • In the story of Ṭalūt, Q 2: 249: Then when Talut (Saul) set out with the army, he said: “Verily! Allah will test you by a river. So whoever drinks thereof, he is not of me, and whoever tastes it not, he is of me, except him who takes (thereof) in the hollow of his hand.” Yet, they drank thereof, all, except a few of them. So when he had crossed it (the river), he and those who believed with him, they said: “We have no power this day against Jalut (Goliath) and his hosts.” But those who knew with certainty that they were to meet their Lord, said: “How often a small group overcame a mighty host by Allah's Leave?” And Allah is with the patient.”


In Prophetic Teachings

Prophetic Supplications involving water

Prayer for rain during drought and other Supplications

Anas ibn Malik reported: A man came to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, on Friday while he was delivering a sermon in Medina. The man said, “There is no rain, so please call upon your Lord to bless us with rain.” The Prophet looked at the sky when there were no clouds and he called upon Allah for rain. Clouds started gathering together and it rained until the valleys of Medina were flowing with water. It continued raining until the following Friday. Then, another man stood up while the Prophet was delivering a sermon and he said, “We are drowning, so please call upon your Lord to withhold it from us.” The Prophet smiled and he said three times, “O Allah, let it rain around us and not upon us.” The clouds started dispersing over Medina to the right and left, and it rained around Medina and not upon Medina. Allah showed them the miracle of his Prophet and his response to his supplication.

Hadith on the Ḥawḍ:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, my fountain is wider than the distance between Aylah and Eden. Its water is whiter than ice, sweeter than honey and milk. Its cups are more numerous than the stars. Verily, I will block some people from it, just as a man blocks camels from his fountain.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, will you recognize us on that Day?” The Prophet said, “Yes, you will have marks which no one among people will have but you. You will come to me with a blazing forehead and bright hands and feet from the traces of ablution.”

Prophetic supplications regarding Zamzam

The Zamzam well would have been a flowing spring

Ibn Abbas reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “May Allah have mercy upon the mother of Ismāʿīl. If she had not hastened to take water, the Zamzam well would have become a flowing spring.”

Water in the Prophet’s supplication for the deceased

Awf ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, performed the funeral prayer and I memorized his supplication, “O Allah, forgive him, have mercy on him, make him well, and pardon him. Dignify his residence and make his resting place spacious. Cleanse him with water, snow, and ice. Purify him from sins just as a white garment is purified from dirt. Offer him a home better than his home, people better than his people, and a wife better than his wife. Admit him into Paradise and save him from the punishment of the grave and the Hellfire.”

Awf said, “The Prophet continued supplicating until I wished that I had been that dead person.”

See also

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