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Water is the source of life and an important mythical and symbolic element in many cultures, including in Shia culture. Water is a clear, tasteless, and odorless liquid that is critical to the survival of almost all living creatures. Along with earth, air, and fire, it is one of the four classical elements to which different symbolic and mythological meanings have been attributed in various cultures. Specifically, water is said to be: (1) the foundation of the universe, (2) a symbol of life, genesis, and eternity, and (3) a symbol of purity and purification. Apart from the structure of cultural generalities associated with it, water always precedes every role and form in rituals is the means and support for any creation.

In Mythology[edit | edit source]

In Egyptian mythology, the world was originally an ocean of water. In Mesopotamian myths and Assyrian narratives, all creations come from the mixing of freshwater (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamt). In Greek mythology, Narcissus, the son of the river god Cephissus and the goddess Liriope, is the manifestation of water. The ancient Greeks also had rituals and celebrations concerning water and praying for rain, including ritual sacrifices, in which horses were thrown into waves as gifts for sea gods. In Indian mythology, water is the origin of everything and has significant healing properties. In the traditions of European nations, water and its rituals have a long history; such as healing springs in France (such as the Lourdes water in the Sanctuary of Lady of Lourdes).

In ancient Iran, water was highly respected as a holy element (following fire). The Avesta repeatedly refers to the sacred, life-giving, and creative aspects of water in the creation of the universe. In Persian mythology, Anahita is the goddess of water and a sacred woman who "raises the numbers of flocks, herds, kingdoms, possessions, and lands." Persians also had various water related rituals, such as splashing water (the Tirgan Festival) and praying for rain. In Iranian culture, water symbolizes the beginning of material life, fertility and genesis, and is a sign of awareness, enlightenment, and purity. Hence, the "fountain of youth" is sought in the darkness and passing over water is a metaphor for passing a test (or "Var") and a stage (or "Khan").

In Religions[edit | edit source]

Water also holds an important place in the Abrahamic religions and scriptures. In the Torah, water praises the divine essence. According to narrations, the universe was first submerged in water, and God created the sky to separate the waters [above the sky] from waters [below] (Genesis 1:1). The Essenes, a Jewish sect living in the Dead Sea in the first and second century BCE that later largely converted to Christianity, bathed several times a day and had built several large pools for this purpose. Running water is highly important for Mandaean Christians, who usually live by the river in order to perform their religious ritual ablution. In Christian theology, water is the first station of the Holy Spirit and the creator of life. The Gospel of John states, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born and their birthplace is water and the Spirit" (3:5). Baptism is the most well known water related ritual in Christianity.

In Islam, water is of great value as one of the means of purification. In Quran, the Arabic word for water (Ma') and its derivatives have been used 63 times. It has been introduced as the source of life (21:30) and the means of human welfare and survival (67:30) on which the divine throne is built (11:7). Moreover, both revelation and rain are sent down by God and are both described as mercies and sources of life.

Some Hadith sources recommend seeking intercession and asking for blessing from rainwater. Beyond this, there is a special communal prayer for rain that has been periodically performed from the early times to today. In both Sunni and Shia jurisprudential sources there are entries for types of water rituals, including the book Tahaarah under entries: tathir (purification), wudhu (ablution), ghusl, and so on. In mystical and Sufi culture, water is used extensively as a symbol, metonymy, and allegory. For example, it has been interpreted as divine knowledge and wisdom, and as a metaphor for prophets and divine personages, the perfect human, and the realm of meaning and theological discourse (revelation and inspiration). Ismaili Shiites believe water is the sign of "science of Imamah and al-Ḥujjah".

In Islamic History[edit | edit source]

Water has played a prominent role in some major events in Islamic history. Water has often been a scarce resource in Muslim populated areas. This scarcity has occasionally been taken advantage of in wars and battles. Some of the well-known examples include the siege of Uthman, the Battle of Siffin, and, most importantly, the Battle of Karbala. According to historical sources, in 35 A.H, a group of opponents to Uthman ibn Affan—the Third Caliph—surrounded him in his house, cutting off the water supply. In the Battle of Siffin, Muawiya blocked off the access of Ali ibn Abi Talib's army to water wells. In contrast to Muawiya, Ali did not take reciprocal measures once his army regained access to water.

In Battel of Karbala[edit | edit source]

According to the Maqatel sources of Ashura, Obayd-Allah ibn Ziad ordered Omar ibn Sa'd, to block Hussain ibn Ali and his companions from accessing water in a letter. On the 7th of Muharram of the year 61 AH, Omar ibn Sa'd commissioned Amro ibn al-Hajjaj al-Zubaydi and 500 cavalry soldiers to guard the Alghameh river—a branch of the Euphrates—to prevent Imam Hussain's army from accessing the water. Sa'd's troops rejoiced in pointing this out during their saber rattling as a means of psychological pressure. For example, 'Abd Allah b. Abi l-Hussain al-Azdi said to Hussain: "Do you see this water that is as clear as the heart of the sky? You shall not taste a drop of it until you die of thirst." Hussain and his companions made a few efforts to break the siege with partial success in a few cases prior to the actual Day of Ashura. The most famous of these attempts was on the evening of Ashura by Abbas ibn Ali, which led to his martyrdom. Because of these events, water holds a prominent symbolical link to Ashura. Water and thirst are widely used in Ashura related literature, elegy, and noha (lamentation). In many lamentations, the thirst of Imam Hussain, his companions, and their wives and children is constantly repeated as a common theme of the tragedy. Thirst is particularly emphasized in the mourning for the martyrdom of Al-Hussain's youngest child Ali al-Asqar and Abbas ibn Ali, the Saqqa (water carrier) of the Thirsty.

Remembering Hussain ibn Ali while Drinking Water[edit | edit source]

Through successive chain of transmitters, Ja’far bin Qawlawayh relates with his chain of authorities from Dawood Raqqi, who says that once I was in the presence of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq when he asked for water to drink. When he drank it, grief overtook him and his eyes became full of tears. Then he said,

“O Dawood! May Allah’s curse be upon the murderers of Imam Hussain. There is no servant (of Allah) who drinks water and remembers Hussain and curses his enemies, except that Allah writes one lac (100,000) virtues in his record, and forgives one lac sins of his, and elevates his position one lac times. It is as if he has freed one lac slaves, and on the day of Qiyamah he shall arise satiated.”

Hadith on Water of Euphrates[edit | edit source]

Imam Ali said: “Euphrates is the best of waters in this world and the hereafter.”[1]

Ibn Qowlowaih has narrated: “Imam Ali ibn Al-Hussain said: “Every night an angel comes to earth along with three ounces of musk from Heaven, and places them in the Euphrates, and there is neither a river in the east or west with greater blessings than it.”[2]

Another narration that has reached us in respect of the Euphrates River had been narrated from Imam Hussain, as he said: “Heavenly drops fall into the Euphrates daily.”[3]

In Shia Popular Culture[edit | edit source]

Water also plays a prominent role in mourning rituals, such as the Sagha'i ritual. Saqqakhanas in Iranian urban culture are sacred places inspired by Ashura, particularly Abbas ibn Ali's role as the provider of water. Water and water sources are widely used in various forms in nadhr (charity donation) and waqf (trust) for Hussain ibn Ali and Abbas ibn Ali. In the mystical interpretations of Ashura, the thirst of Hussain ibn Ali and his companions is construed as the thirst of a lover for the fountain of youth, (martyrdom and rejoining the Divine). In popular culture, there are various links between the belief in the sanctity of water in ancient Iran and the value of water in Shiite history and culture. This includes a deep respect for springs and rivers, naming them after religious figures and Imams such as Cheshmeh Ali (Ali Spring), belief in their healing properties, giving out nadhr offerings such as Ash-e Baran (rain soup) , and rituals such as Qalishuyan rituals of Mashhad-e Ardehal. Additionally, water and water related concepts and terms are extensively used in Persian proverbs and metonymy. Also, in Iranian Shi'a popular culture, water is known as the dowry of Fatima Zahra, the Holy Prophet's daughter, and it is customary to say "peace be upon Hussain" and "Curse on Yazid" after drinking water.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Source[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wasaa'il al Shia, Volume 14, Chapter 34, Page 407, Hadith: 19472.
  2. Mustadrak al Wasa'il, Volume 17, Chapter 19, Page 22, Hadith: 2.
  3. Kaamil al Ziyaraat, Chapter 13, Page 48, Hadith: 8.