BISMILLAH AL RAHMAN AL RAHEEM
SYMBOLISM OF WATER
“As Above, so below”. Whatever exists in the Macrocosm and Microcosm is but a “mirror” that reflects a higher truth. A most splendid mean of this mirroring is Nature. Another no less splendid mean is Language. Language is far of course from being just “words”! Rather, in its full dimension, it is Divine translation of Realities into humanly coherent expressions. As such, images, dreams, signs, movements, vibrations, and smells are all languages. Scriptures use their own peculiar language, that of “symbols”. Symbols spring at the “Barzakhi” origin of the word, that interface of Light where a Reality with a thousand shades is translated into a thousand words, and speak louder than words. The Quran tells of the Pen, the Tablet, the Throne, skies and stars, wine, milk, honey and water, all “symbols” whose true meanings, often, have become lost to us.
Water, particularly, stands as a prominent symbol that prevails in all scriptures. In the Quran, AllaH tells us that He Has established His Throne on water: “And it is He Who has created the heavens and the earth in six Days and His Throne was on the water…” (Quran: 11:7). Gnostics speak of getting lost and found in His “Ocean” of Power. Muslims long to quench their thirst at the “Basin” of The Prophet (SAWS), whose Water flows from the Kawthar River, that “River” AllaH Has Gifted His Beloved (SAWS) in Paradise. Paradise itself is depicted as “gardens under which rivers run”. Through the different religions, Water bids its special encounter with prophets. To escape death at the hands of Pharaoh, Moses (ra) was cast in a “river”. AllaH granted him victory by enabling his staff to split the “sea”. “Thirsty” for more knowledge, Moses resolved to walk until he would meet the beholder of a higher knowledge than his, and he met him indeed, in the person of Khidr (ra), at the ”junction of the two seas”, where the “fish” he was carrying sprang “back” into “life” and escaped into the “water”. Khidr himself is said to have attained immortality by drinking at the “Fountain of Life”, another parable for water. Issa (Jesus) (ra) described himself as “the one who gives eternal water”. The hadith abounds with Water anecdotes. Our Beloved Prophet (SAWS) reported twice the washing of His Heart by Angel Gabriel (ra) with a “special water”. Among His recorded miracles (SAWS) is water flowing from His Blessed Fingers ”like from a fountain”. Wudu, the compulsory purification before prayer in Islam, requires water. In Islam as well, those who die drowned in water are said to go to Heaven regardless of their sins. One of the striking “karamat” of established saints is their ability, like Jesus (ra), to walk on water. In India, the “Ganges” is considered “Sacred Water”. It is thus evident that Water is a most important symbol in all scriptures.
But what is a symbol? A “symbol” is the manifestation in the lower worlds of a higher Reality that it mirrors. AllaH Himself elected the symbols of the Scriptures, hence they all are “perfect” symbols: their appearance, function, secret and Reality wholly and exactly parallel between Higher and lower worlds. A symbol appears as an “image”, one that embodies its strength and effect, for “seeing is believing”, and “an image is better than a thousand words”. It functions as a reverse “bucket”, one that draws from the wells of man’s higher consciousness truths his soul knows, but his veiled intellect cannot contemplate without repeated exposure. Its “secret” is in its deeper, transcendent meaning that embraces the full scale of being, and thus, although concise in reference, it is expansive in content. As such, it is the most appropriate “language” for the Quran, for the Quran is the ultimate All Encompassing Book, covering everything from “innermost state” to “outermost natural order”. The appearance, function, and secret of a symbol together point to the “Reality” it mirrors. What then could be that Reality for which “water” would be a suitable mirror?
There are two ways indeed to answer such a question. The first is to approach the matter with an alchemist mind, reflect deeply on the characteristics of water, and search for the Reality that has the same characteristics. This way is the lesser way, as it relies on subjective interpretation of scientific findings, and its answer is only valid to the measure it is confirmed by the Quran and the hadith. The second way is to humbly ask the question, and patiently wait for Divine Light (SAWS), as He Wills and when He Wills, to infuse the answer. The answer obtained this way will infiltrate like “Water”, and will explain both the Quran and the hadith. In our pursuit of the correct answer, we will Insha’Allah, to the extent AllaH permits, address here both ways.
Water is a unique substance, with unique characteristics. To start with, Water is the only substance to exist in nature in all states of matter (gas, liquid, solid), encompassing all forms, confirming its hegemony over matter. Water is one of the “Four Elements” (water, fire, air and earth), affecting all others, as it extinguishes fire, vaporizes as air, and infiltrates earth, shaping it (much like AllaH “perfected” Adam (ra) after creating him), and quickening it from barren to fertile. Water can be deduced as being the “Source”, or “Origin” of the other three Elements, in that its different forms grant or deprive them of Existence. In this perspective, “Fire” becomes but the “Antonym” that brings Water into “perceptibility” in this world of duality/contrast (forms). This is our first hint that water might symbolize the “Essence”, and it explains why AllaH Manifested as Fire to Moses (ra) in the episode of the burning bush, when He Spoke to him within the “mirror” of worlds in the “mirror language” of words (Quran 20:10-14) and (Exodus 3:1-4:23).
Water has several other singular properties. When transforming from liquid to solid state, unlike other substances, it “expands” instead of “shrinking”, while also changing its color from “transparent” to “white”. This characteristic perfectly “mirrors” the flow from Unity to phenomenal plurality and from the “Invisible” to the “visible”. Scientifically, Water is known as “the” Universal Solvent, for it dissolves most substances, vanishing within the traits of the substance it is dissolving, although, from the “background”, it is what enables this other substance to be. For example, Water is the main component in wine, honey, and milk, (incidentally, the “waters” of the other three branches of the Kawthar River), substances thought to exist independently of water, that, however, would not exist without it. Not only is Water the Universal Solvent, but indeed it is also the “Universal Form”, for it is able to take any form and color. This is probably best expressed by Junayd’s (ra) famous statement: “The color of the water is the color of the glass”, which depicts how the Essence, in the phenomenal worlds, always appears veiled in an array of forms and colors. Regardless of its appearance, however, The Essence always remains “Whole”, and so does Water, Its symbol in the worlds of mirrors.
Water is a mandatory component in everything alive. Without water there is no life. Further, and in severe contrast to man’s existence on earth characterized by transience and an ongoing rhythm of birth and death, Water never goes away, it but changes form, undergoing a constant cycle of evaporation and condensation, evaporating from oceans and lakes, traveling in clouds, then condensing and falling back as rain thousands of miles away. Water, thus, is always One and the same, not only through space (the universe), but also through time, for this cycle of Water has always prevailed, since Creation, across Existence, in both Macrocosm and Microcosm. The drops of water you use today might come from water MuHaMMaD (SAWS) or Jesus (ra) have touched milleniums ago! The above striking characteristics grant Water its symbolic appearance, function, and secret, loudly hinting to the Reality it symbolizes. To summarize them, as far as “form” is concerned, Water is the “Universal Form” and “flows” its elusive form throughout both space and time. As far as “function” is concerned, Water is the “Universal Solvent”, a property through which it not only dissolves, but also defines other substances. As far as its “secret” is concerned, Water stands as the “Source” of all elements, as the “One” from which the many derive, as the “Whole” that defines the parts, and as the “Perpetual” amidst the transient. Water is the Source of Life, but, subtly, it is also a Source of death, for too much of it results in death, as in drowning, unveiling a bright new meaning for what we humans call “death”. Thus in short, Water is the perfect enactment of AllaH’s Names, it enacts all the Names, and it does so in the most “fluid” of forms, through both higher and lower worlds, confirming that “AllaH’s Throne is upon Water”. While we have neither the time nor place to contemplate here how Water enacts each individual Divine Name, the characteristics we have mentioned above illustrate well how Water enacts the Names of Al Wahid (The One), Al Hayy (The Living), Al Qayyoum (The Sustainer), Al Muhyi (The Giver of Life), and Al RaHMaN (The All Merciful). These are Names that belong exclusively to The Essence, and this leads us to conclude that the Reality Symbolized by Water is The Divine Essence.
The Essence of course is beyond any comparison: “And there is nothing like Him” (Quran 42:11). But, just the way The Essence’s First Manifestation is Light (AllaH is The Light of the heavens and earth; Quran 24:35), Its “Symbol” in the physical worlds is “Water”. A manifestation only “manifests” and a symbol only “mirrors” the Reality they represent, but neither contains or equals it.
Through Time, Water has been recognized as a symbol for “Life”, “Knowledge”, “Mercy”, and the “Ocean of Realities” as a whole. There is no doubt that its symbolism encompasses all of these Realities, but it is also obvious that it overlaps and overflows them all, when an accurately pinpointed symbol owes it to the Reality it symbolizes to be precise and exact in reference. Truth is Water, rather than symbolizing all these realities (each in itself so vast), symbolizes The One Reality from which they all outflow, their One common Source, The Divine Essence.
Some argue that Fire, not Water, is what best symbolizes The Divine Essence. Indeed, there is a Divine “Sparkle” without which nothing can exist. But a Sparkle is also that that its name states it is, the ignition of something already in existence, a twinkle that renders the invisible visible, the result of “Kun fa yakun”, the “onset of flow” of The Essence. In the infinite circle of Existence, highly polar Water is the transparent Reality behind visible Fire.
Do our observations about Water stand up to the ultimate criterion of the Quran and the hadith? Indeed, centuries before Science began to unravel the properties of Water, the Quran had already informed us that all water is “One”: “And in the land are neighboring plots and gardens of grapevines and plants and palm trees, growing in clusters or standing alone, watered with ONE WATER.” (Quran 13:4). The Quran had disclosed the cycle of evaporation and condensation of Water: “And it is He Who Sends the winds as a Sign of His Mercy, until when they have carried heavy rainclouds, We drive them to a dead land and We send down rain therein and bring forth thereby [some] of all the fruits. Thus will We bring forth the dead; perhaps you may be reminded.” (Quran 7: 57). The Quran had unveiled Water as the source of life: “And We have made of water every living thing, will they not believe?” (Quran 21:30); in fact, the Quran had equated Water with Life: “Verily this lower life is but as water which We have “descended” from the “sky” (Quran 10:24)”. The Quran had in fact gone further and distinguished between “lower, worldly life” and “Real life”: “Verily this worldly life is but distraction and past time, and the Abode of the Hereafter, that indeed is Real Life, if only they knew! (Quran 29:64). By doing so, the Quran had automatically implied the concept of a “higher Water” (or Real Water, in parallel with “Real life”) and water as we know it, or “lower water”, and confirmed Water as “the” Source of Life in both worlds: “ And We have made of Water every living thing” (Quran 21:30). The Quran also unveiled that, at the “Meeting of the two Seas” (the two waters) there is a Barzakh (barrier) that none can transgress (Quran 55:19-20).
This concept of a “higher” Water is quite needed to explain how all individual oceans, seas and rivers on earth are made of “One Water”, as these different water bodies lay totally separated from one another, some being salty while others are sweet! “And in the land are neighboring plots and gardens of grapevines and plants and palm trees, growing in clusters or standing alone, watered with ONE WATER.” (Quran 13:4). Their “One Water” is thus not their physical water, but, rather, their “Higher Water”, their very Source.
A “Higher” Water is also much needed to explain two different hadiths that at priori sound quite contradictory. The Quran and the first hadith tell us that “AllaH established His Throne on water”. The second hadith tells us that Satan also established his throne on water. The two hadiths of course refer to the two different types of waters. AllaH’s Throne is on the Higher Water, while Satan’s throne is on the “lower” physical water.
To understand the Reality of the “Higher” Water implied by the Quran, we should search for the meaning of “Water” in the “sky”, and not in the physical world. This “Essential” meaning is unveiled to us by the Hadith, (that Divine Exegesis of the Quran), as it speaks of “Ma’ Al Hayat”, or “the Water of Life”. The Water of Life refers to the “Divine Outpouring” that manifested Existence from Non Existence: flowed “Being” into “life” (the very meaning of “Water from the Sky”), manifested the Primordial World of Azal, the Qalam (Pen), the Lawh (Tablet), the Arshi (Throne), all the Essential Precursors of what we humans call Life, from which then manifested the 18,000 worlds of phenomenal plurality. The “Essential” meaning of “Water” is that of “Outpouring”, as in “outpouring” of The Essence.
There are indeed two such initial “outpourings” of The Essence that should be mentioned. The First Outpouring took place when AllaH SWT “Loved” to be “Known”, and Manifested “All He Is”, Essence and Attributes, in His First Absolute Tajalli, the Haqiqa MuHaMMaDiya of MuHaMMaD (SAWS), also known as Ahadiyat Al Jam’ Al Awwal (SAWS). Although there was no “outside projection” here, for it all happened by, for, and within The Essence, it is still however called an “outpouring”, in the sense of AllaH’s Love and the Manifestation of His Greatest Name. The Second Outpouring then took place from Al Haqiqa Al MuHaMMaDiyya Itself, as an “outpouring” of “Ayn Al-Haqiqah Al-Muhammadiya” into specific images”/a’yun of the Muhammadan Dzat, resulting in “Ahadiya al-JaM’ al-Thani” (the highest Maqam MuHaMMaDan awliya can reach). Notice that the “Intermediary” for both Outpourings, however, is One and The Same: it is The RuH, RuH AllaH Manifesting and Manifested as The RuH of The Prophet (SAWS). Notice also that these outpourings are not a “creation”, but rather a “manifestation”. These two Divine Outpourings grant “Al Fayd Al Muqaddas” (The Holy Outpouring) Its First, Essential meaning, and perfectly illustrate the way The RuH (SAWS) “Flows”, Permeating and Forming, Granting both self (inner/batin) and shape (outer/zahir), manifesting everything in Existence. Recall as well that “Ma’ Al Hayat” (the Water of Life) and “Malik Al Hayat” (The King of Life) are both Names of our Master Muhammad (SAWS).
In Christianity, the First Outpouring is often referred to as “The Holy Spirit”, subtly acknowledging that there is a “Holy Intermediary” between God and Jesus (ra), Which Is nothing else than The RuH (SAWS).
It is from the Singular Reality of The RuH (SAWS), The Reality of realities (Haqiqatu al haqaiq) that all realities “overflow”, that worlds appear and exist as but a “manifestation” of AllaH Most High. The RuH belongs to AllaH, and through It AllaH Infuses with His Presence everything into “being”, bringing “being” into Existence. Being and Existence are not the same. Being is True Wujud, free of contingencies, while Existence is Al Wujud Al Munbasit, life within the world of contingencies. In truth there is only One Being, Infinite and Eternal, Present through an ever changing whirlpool of manifestations, throughout the epochs of Time. From the Reality of The RuH (SAWS) the Pen, the Tablet, the Arshi manifested, from these flowed the Invisible World, and from the Invisible World flowed the phenomenal worlds. Everything everywhere is but an Intense, Splendid, Most Humbling Manifestation of AllaH. The Singular RuH (SAWS) belongs to the Divine World, but Its shadow, The (One) Universal Soul (Nafs) appears in the created worlds. Note that the Quran speaks of “One Nafs” just as it speaks of “One Water”, while conferring not this “Oneness” to anything else but AllaH, thus confirming that “Water” is the symbol of The Essence. It is because The RuH (SAWS) is The Undifferentiated Intermediary That gives rise to all Realities, substances and shapes, that Water, Its symbol in the phenomenal worlds, is the Universal Form and Universal Solvent. It is because The RuH (SAWS) eternally Praises AllaH, through subtle Tajwid Nuni, that, in parallel, Water praises AllaH, without words as in the Ocean’s tide but, deeper and further, through its characteristics echoing the Attributes of The Divine Essence. It is because The RuH (SAWS) is the Perfect Image that Water exhibits the ability of perfect reflection.
Theological and scientific arguments duly disclosed, it is always however on the personal, intimate level that the Reality of Water is best confirmed, through the unique experience of Al Fayd Al Muqaddas. Al Fayd Al Muqaddas is the Blessed Fayd of The Blessed Prophet (SAWS), and there is no coincidence of course in It being named a “Fayd” (an “outpouring”). At the Sole Will of The Master of Existence (SAWS), and through His Most Blessed Fayd, one first experiences, in one’s own heart, the manifestation of a Sublime Light, followed, if so He (SAWS) Wills, by the emergence of the Purest Water, Water and Water That just Flows and Flows, without waves or shore, without form or sand, Bahr Al Qudra erupting in one’s own humble heart. This Water perfuses the Sirr with all The Names, washes away veils, gradually changes one’s constitution from clay to Light, and by simple permeation, “infuses” deep Mercy and Knowledge, in this exact sequence as unveiled in the Quran about Khidr (ra). One first witnesses the “Manifestation” (Tajalli): Light, and, later, when one’s constitution becomes able to bear it, one is walked to taste the “Secret” of “The Reality” Manifested as Light: Water. Light is the Shape of Water. Water is the Reality of Light. Water is the “Reality” of the Essence in Its “Outpouring” (Form) and it flows “Light Upon Light”.
In Arabic, the word “Water” is “ماء “, and it spells Meem-Alif-Hamza. SubhanAllaH! This is as eloquent a spelling as it can be when it comes to the symbolism of Water. The word “ماء “ starts with Meem, the Heart of The Divine in all worlds, carrying on with Alif, The Divine in His Ahadiyya, and ending with Hamza, the mirror image of The Divine in the worlds of dust. Meem and Alif are connected, indicating that the First Outpouring happened “within” The Essence. Hamza stands alone, indicating the “outward” nature of the Second Outpouring. Hamza pronounces like and has the same Abjad value as Alif (1), but it writes like an abbreviated letter “Ayn”, hinting to both the Essence, (“Ayn” in Arabic), and to the A’yun derived from The Prophet’s Dzat (SAWS). Through mere spelling, “ماء” acknowledges that Alif and Meem are One Essence.
“The Abjad Kabir of “ماء “ is: 40 +1 +1= 42, highlighting again “Meem”’s (40) connection to the two first outpourings (40 + 2), as well as the emergence of “duality” (2) following Meem. The Abjad Saghir of 42 is 4 + 2 = 6. “6” is the Abjad value of the letter “Waw”, the second letter in “Huwa”, and hints to the phenomenal manifestation of “Hu”, the created worlds. All of Creation flows from the Essential meaning, or Reality, of Water. ‘و’ writes as a ”Meem” with a downward, incomplete tail that curves to reflect the Infinite Circle above it, although incompletely, for Meem is Pure Essence while the Universe is made of the dust of the Essence. The Quran informs us that “Creation” took place in “6” days: “It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days” (Quran 57:4). No coincidence of course here.
Further, the word “water” appears 125 times in the Quran. The Abjad Saghir of 125 is 8, and 8 refers to the pillars of the Arshi. “And He it is Who has created the heavens and the earth in six Days and His Throne was on the water, that He might try you, which of you is best in deeds” (Quran 11:7). It is important to note that in “His Throne WAS on Water”, it is the “past” tense that is used, inferring that AllaH’s Throne and the Reality of Water ALREADY existed before the onset of Creation. The hadith informs us that when AllaH Had Manifested Nur MuHaMMaD (SAWS), He divided The Blessed Light (SAWS) into Four Parts: from the first part, He Created The Pen (Qalam). From the second part, He Created The Tablet (Lawh). From the third part, He Created The Arshi (Throne). He then divided the fourth part again into 4 parts for further creation. Nothing came to be before these Realities, except for The Manifested RuH (SAWS). Thus “Water”, already existing upon the creation of The Throne could only have been The Essence “flowing” as the RuH of The Prophet (SAWS).
With the knowledge that Water symbolizes The Essence, we would like now to ponder on several ahadiths and religious anecdotes, and try to grasp the meaning of their “Water”. The “Essence” is the Source of all Abundance, or Kawthar in Arabic, and thus when we are told that AllaH SWT Has Gifted His Beloved (SAWS) “Al Kawthar”, we have to understand that the Real Gift of AllaH to His Beloved (SAWS) is The Essence. From His Essence AllaH SWT Manfested Nur MuHaMMaD (SAWS), and from Nur MuHaMMaD (SAWS) all the worlds were then manifested. Oceans, Seas and Rivers are but qualitative/quantitative expressions of The Essence “In Flow”. Oceans are larger than seas, and seas are bigger than Rivers. The First, Primordial, and Greatest Manifestation of The Essence is Bahr Al Qudra, the Ocean of Power, the “KunHi Dzat” Manifested by “Kun”, wherein Pure Undifferentiated Essence carries the seed of everything to come. This Ocean of Power gives rise to several smaller Oceans. Each Ocean represents a Reality, a Reality being the manifestation of one (or more) Divine Names. Note that there are 5 Oceans in the physical world, relating to 5 different modes of Being, symbolized by the 5 members of the Original Ahl Al Bayt (radiya AllaH ‘anhum ajma’in). These Oceans give rise to “seas”, a “sea” being smaller in magnitude than an Ocean, and having two distinct shores, one shore with an Ocean of Water, and another shore with a land of clay. There are 7 Seas on earth, relating to the 7 stages of the Soul. In truth History itself is written by the timely appearance of these individual oceans and seas, each with its characteristic powers/Name reflection. That the newest Ocean is the Indian Ocean loudly hints to where the next stage of action is going to be. Rivers flow from the seas through the land, and, through their “Water”, shape the landscape of the earth.
Paradise is defined as “there under which rivers run”, but we are also told that there are rivers within it. The rivers “under” are rivers with clay banks, and the rivers “within” are celestial rivers. The “Kawthar River”, or flow of Abundance, is the prototype for all the rivers of Paradise. The rivers “within” are described in several places of the Quran, with Verse 47:15 perhaps offering the best summary: “ A Parable of the Garden that the righteous have been promised: in it are rivers of incorruptible water; rivers of milk whose taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of purified honey. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits; and Grace from their Lord”. Surat Al Rahman (55) gives a more detailed description of these rivers, mentioning a total of Four branches, two above and two below, that flow through Paradise and divide it into Four Gardens. The first or highest of these branches flows “Water” in the Garden of the Essence, and symbolizes The RuH (SAWS). The second branch flows “Milk”, in the Garden of the Spirit, and symbolizes Knowledge. The third branch flows “Wine”, in the Garden of the Heart, and symbolizes Love. The last branch flows Honey, in the Garden of the Soul, and symbolizes the awakening of one’s soul. As was previously discussed, however, Milk, Wine, and Honey are all made from Water, which symbolizes the Essence of our Beloved Prophet (SAWS), The “One Intermediary of Divine Outpouring in all contingencies”. These Four Celestial Rivers also depict the Four phases of the Path, with the first two streams (Shari’a and Tariqa) watering “Masjid al Haram”, and the last two streams (Ma’rifa and Haqiqa), emerging later on the Path to water Masjid Al Aqsa. The full Path is best depicted by the itinerary of the Isra and Mi’raj, with its apex lying under the Blessed Feet of The RuH (SAWS), the very station of a MuHaMMaDan Wali. And hence, during the Night of His Ascension, our Beloved Prophet (SAWS) was first transported from Masjid Al Haram to Masjid Al Aqsa, then from there to Sidrat Al Muntaha where He (SAWS) witnessed all these rivers flow “under Him” (SAWS), and was informed by Jibreel (ra) that they all flow down to His Own Pond, Hawd Al Kawthar.
From this perspective, the “Basin” of The Prophet (SAWS) becomes that “reservoir” of Water that flows from the Kawthar River. The hadith tells us that this basin lies just below Paradise, and that, on the Day of Resurrection, after crossing the Bridge of Sirat, believers will have to “drink” from its water in order to enter Paradise. Its Water is described as being “whiter than milk and sweeter than honey”, its soil as being “of fragrant musk”, and its cups as “shiny and numbering the stars of the sky”. Whoever will drink from it will enter Paradise and will never be thirsty again. (Sahih Bukhari, 6579; 6581). It’s a no brainer of course that its Water is “whiter than milk”, as it belongs to The Prophet (SAWS), The Single Intermediary for both Essence (Water) and Knowledge (Milk). It is of course “sweeter than honey”, for its Sweetness is that of The Original Soul (SAWS), The One Nafs That Fathered all souls, and at Which (SAWS) all souls must “drink” before entering Paradise. Its “soil is of fragrant Musk”, for Musk is the Unequivocal Perfume of The Beloved (SAWS), the “Scent” that lingered behind Him (SAWS) wherever He (SAWS) went during His life on earth, the Scent that still seals His Blessed Visits (SAWS) to His slaves. As to the cups of this basin, what could these cups be, except vessels filled with MuHaMMaDan Essence (SAWS), the MuHaMMaDan Awliya’ that The Prophet (SAWS), through His Fayd Al Muqqaddas, infuses with Light, making them shine through His Blessed Light like stars in the sky? Did The Prophet (SAWS) not say: “My companions are like stars, if you follow any of them, you will be guided”? Is not The Prophet (SAWS) the Only Piercing Star? Know my friend that, for each appointed Wali, an actual physical star is created, shining The Divine Light of The Divine Name it reflects most. Incidentally, Science has just discovered that the only way “Water” is added into this material world is through the formation of a new star!
Now that we understand The Reality symbolized by Water, it becomes no surprise that on several occasions Water flowed from The Prophet’s fingers (SAWS) “like from a fountain”. Does the symbol of The Essence not flow from The Essence? How not to be stunned by the fact that on the day of Hudaybiyya, Water flowed so abundantly from The Prophet’s Fingers (SAWS) that it was actually enough to quench the thirst and allow the Wudu of thousands of His followers! And yet what is most remarkable in this event is not that water flowed “like from a fountain”, but rather that it did not flow “like all oceans combined”! The Greatest and Most Humble of men (Salawat wa Salam AllaH ‘Alayka Ya RasulAllaH) must have issued a strict order for restrain!
The hadith tells us that, while still a toddler living in the desert with His Nanny (ra), Angel Jibreel (ra) came to The Prophet (SAWS), opened His Chest, washed It with ZamZam Water, removed a clot from It, and sealed It back. Thus The Prophet (SAWS) grew up as a Spirit rather than a Soul, the clot in His Heart duly removed. On the Night of the “Isra and Mi’raj”, Angel Jibreel (ra) repeated the same operation, this time with Water from the Kawthar River… an allegory to the fact that MuHaMMaD (SAWS) IS The RuH. Note that on a more human scale, “Water” is “The” Single Instrument for both Prophethood and Sainthood, and no one approaches The Essence but through The Essence. Soul and Spirit must both first be crystal clear in order to fully flow The Light.
Through its mere presence or absence, the Essence “defines”, and as such, It defines Heaven from hell, and believers from unbelievers. The Quran defines Heaven as “Gardens under which flow rivers”, and hell as that place that is devoid of “Cool” Water. Hell does however harbor boiling water, “water on fire”, for it does exist, so the “sparkle of existence” and “fire of spirit” must be in it. Men and stones are the “fuel of fire” “O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones”(Quran 66:6). Quite strange the cohabitation of men and stones in Hell? Not if we juxtapose this Aya with another Quranic Aya: “Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. For indeed, there are stones from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open and water comes out, and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.”(Quran 2:74). Stones symbolize here bodies devoid of Water, like in hearts of stones devoid of Mercy, but AllaH Flows rivers wherever He Wills.
When it flows from skies to earth in the form of “rain”, Water alludes to Divine Mercy and Guidance: “We were with Allah’s Messenger (SAWS) when rain started falling, and we witnessed Him (SAWS) take off His clothes, so rain could hit Him (SAWS) uncovered. We asked: “Why did you do this?” He (SAWS) answered: “Because it is recent from Its Lord, may He Be Exalted” (Muslim 9:2 446 # 898). Physical rain is Fayd to the physical worlds, falling by Divine Order, directly and not “Light upon Light”, the usual way Mercy descends. The Prophet (SAWS) addressed the symbolism of “Rain” when He (SAWS) described “spiritual rain” with the following analogy: “The example of guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the earth” (Volume 1, Book 3, Number 79). As Shaykh Al Akbar (ra) pointed, “That” which like rain “has recently been with Its Lord” has the ability to transform and mold on all planes.
It is in “Water” that the Reality of “Tasbih”, a form of Muslim Dhikr in which glorifications of AllaH are repeatedly uttered, finds its source. The word “Tasbih” is from “Sabbaha” which means to swim fast. “Sabbaha” spells Sin-Ba-Ha, and points to Ahadiyyat, “Ha”, establishing Its “Bahr Al Qudra” “Ba” within the Sirr “Sin”. When you are doing TasbiH you are swimming, fast, at the accelerated speed of “damma”, from dunya to Bahr Al Qudra. The fixed gaze/attention of the worshipper is the other “ba” implied by the damma in the word “Sabahha”.
The broad symbolism of Water becomes most evident in “Wudu”, the compulsory purification before prayer in Islam, without which prayer is not valid. “Wudu” is a “ritual”, a set of actions with symbolic value. It involves washing symbolic areas of the body in a specific sequence, three times each, for their significance in three different worlds. The areas are washed with water, the “symbol” of The Essence in the created worlds, and by washing one’s parts with the symbol of the Essence, one is enabled to stand in Presence of The Essence (Prayer). “Ablution is Light”, used to say our Beloved Prophet (SAWS), hinting to the shape of Water before the mirror of the worlds.
Noah’s Flood was, in reality, the “Wudu” of Earth. It might have seemed as a calamity, but it cleaned earth of all the idolatry and disbelief it carried. Earth’s dust was cleaned with the symbol of the Essence, Water, paving the way for the Light Messages of Musa (ra), Issa (ra) and MuHaMMaD (SAWS).
In the Christian religion, “Baptism” is another such ritual. The practice of Baptism was initiated by John the Baptist (ra), the son of Prophet Zachariya (ra), who used to baptize people by submerging them in the waters of the Jordan River, hence his nickname. In Islam, John the Baptist is known as Prophet Yahya, whose name, literally, means “the one who brings to life”. Yahya (ra) is the “cousin” of Jesus (ra), the Spirit of God, and, with Jesus (ra) he greeted Prophet MuHaMMaD (SAWS) during His Blessed Mi’raj at the Second stage of Heaven. Yahya represents the “soul”, the intermediary that lifts one from “lower” to “Real” life, and whose own Baptism is Wujud through Spirit, and Jesus of course is the Spirit of God (note that Spirit is NOT The RuH). Spirit and soul are “cousins” from different worlds, the world of Light and the world of dust. Hence the Quran mentions both of them within the same Sura and with exactly the same mention, except that in the case of Prophet Issa (ra), mention is made in the “first” (Spirit) person: “And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.” (Quran 19:33), while in the case of Prophet Yahya (ra), it is made in the third (soul) person: “And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive” (Quran 19:15). It is humbling that both mentions are contained within Surat Maryam, Surat # 19, with “19” being the number where “1” (Ahadiyya) is followed by “9” (The Divine Manifestation in all worlds). A further comment can be made on the specific verse number for each mention.
In Islam, “The one who drowns is a shaheed.” (Hadith, both Muslim (1915) and Bukhari (2739/2829)). When one is drowning, one breathes water and fills with water, resulting in rapid loss of consciousness and momentary death. While it might be argued that the forgiveness granted to those who drown is secondary to their dying in an unconscious state, this lack of consciousness surely does not cover all past sins. Rather, the secret of being absolved through drowning relies on the investment of Water, during its tenure on earth as Symbol of The Divine Essence, with a Power of Essence, that of “absolving”. The Reality that Water symbolizes “absolves” and hence Water “cleans”, washes off dust and sins, purifies back to Essence. This effect is most omnipresent when Water is “Breathed”, as in drowning, or during the aspiration of Water in Wudu, in other words, when the act of formation of Spirit from The Essence is “internalized”. We thus totally agree with Shaykh Al Akbar (ra) that Pharaoh, by drowning, was fully absolved!
Prophet Yunus (Jonah) (ra) was a prophet sent to Nineveh (Iraq). He preached and preached and preached to his people, but nobody listened. Angry, he left on a ship, but the ship wrecked and prophet Yunus was swallowed by a whale. A “whale” is the biggest fish in the ocean, and symbolizes the Highest Spirit. Prophet Yunus spent THREE days in the body of the whale, referring to THREE different levels of spiritual achievement, but he survived, by AllaH, and returned to his people to preach them again, with the understanding that he was only an intermediary of Light. Notice that after this experience, prophet Yunus’s name was changed from Yunus (One Nun) to Dhul Nun (which contains two Nuns), reflecting his own transformation: he now had two lights instead of one.
The story goes that Jesus, (ra), on his way to Galilee, (Arabic: Al Jalil, “The Majestic”), sat down to rest by a well. And there a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink. Surprised, for Jews at the time did not talk or interact with Samaritans, she asks: “How is this?” to which Jesus answered :“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus (ra) thus described himself as “the one who gives living water”. Notice that Jesus, the Spirit of God, did not say he “is” living water, but rather that he “gives” it, therein subtly highlighting the difference between “spirit” and Holy Spirit (The RuH). Jesus “gives”, meaning he “leads to”. The differences between RuH, Spirit and Soul, as well as their respective symbols, are sublimely alluded to in the Verse of Light (Quran 24:35).
One of the striking Karamat of saints is their ability to “walk on Water”. Not all saints exhibit this ability, it is, rather, a trait of the “Issawiyun”, those saints that follow on the footsteps of Jesus (ra), and have been granted the Secret of his Self-Constitution. Notorious examples of such Saints include Ghawth Al “A’zam Abdul Qadir Al Gilani (ra), (may his blessed foot stand on our heads, necks and hearts), and Shaykh Junayd Al Baghdadi (ra). In the tradition of Jesus, these saints live in the Spiritual Dimension, the dimension of Light, their Reality is Spirit, and hence as Spirit does, they escape the effects of gravity and simply “walk” on Water. The “Mussawi” saints, on the other hand, are those who follow on the footsteps of prophet Musa (ra) and have inherited his Self-Constitution. They carry the Light of Shari’a, the Light of the physical worlds, one that can both blind and light the way, and radiate Light like the physical Sun. Surat Taha relates how Prophet Musa’s hand radiated like the physical sun (Quran 20:40). An example of these saints is Shaykh Abu Yaaza, (ra), whose face radiated such an intense light that it actually rendered his disciple, Shaykh Abu Madyan, (ra), blind, until the Shaykh cured the blindness by rubbing his hands on his disciple’s eyes. In addition to these two types of karamat, a true MuHaMMaDaN Wali is also granted the ability to “fly” in the physical worlds, as our Beloved Prophet (SAWS) did during His Mi’raj. In “flying”, not only does one escape the effect of gravity (like Spirit), but one is also propelled by a “Heavenly Wind”, The Holy Spirit. An example of such saints is again Ghawth Al A’zam Abdul Qadir Al Gilani (ra). The Reality of such Saints relates to “Empowered Essence”. AllaHuMMa Grant us, in Your Infinite Mercy, the Reality of such Karamat, whose Single Secret relates to Nur-Sirr-Dzat MuHaMMaD (SAWS).
Most of us of course know the story of Hajar (ra). Left by Abraham (ra) in the desert with her son Ismael (ra), Hajar frantically ran between the hills of Al Safa and Al Marwa, desperately searching for the water they needed to survive. When she lost hope, she sat down and cried, and it’s at that very moment that Angel Gabriel (ra) appeared, hit the earth with his foot, and Water gushed forth from the very point he “touched”. One must reflect on the deeper meanings and ample symbolism of this famous scriptural story. It was indeed none other than HAJAR, a lady whose name derives from the word “Hijra” (to indicate that she was on “the path”) who was brought away from dunya and alone (with AllaH) in the desert! AllaH purposely Named the two HILLS she ran between Al Safa (Purity) and Al Marwa (from Muruwwa: exertion of goodness), thus Divinely hinting to the nature of the path. Hajar ran seven times between these two hills, as solemnized by the Hajj ritual, once for each of the seven stages of the soul. Having reached the limits of the soul, she then gave up and “surrendered”. When she had thus become consciously and wholly dependent on Divine Help, Angel Gabriel (ra) appeared to walk her further. Gabriel (whose other name is “Al RuH Al Amin”), hit the earth with his foot, and at the very point he “touched”, Water surged, (Water gushing from Light’s touch, Light as the Reality of Water), granting Hajar and Ismael a new Life. Hajar of course symbolizes the soul that walks the path. Note that Ismael (ra) fed on Zamzam Water, the Water of the Ka’aba, that Epicenter of The RuH on earth, and grew to become a prophet.
Perhaps the most famous allegory to Water in the Quran lies within the story of Prophet Musa (ra). Shaykh Al Akbar (ra) mentioned that the name “Musa” is the combination in Coptic language of “Mū” which means water, and “Sa” which means tree. Thus Musa came from the “Water” of a “Tree”, of course non-other than the Muhammadan Tree of prophets. The Quran tells us that, as a child, his mother cast him into the Sea: “Throw (the child) into the chest, and throw (the chest) into the river: the river will cast him up on the bank, and he will be taken up by one who is an enemy to Me and an enemy to him´: (Quran: 20:39). Thus, Musa was first cast in a “chest” (much like a soul/nafs is cast into a body of clay) and then, to escape Pharaoh (the nafs by excellence), he was thrown into a river. The word specifically used to name the river Musa was thrown in is “Al Yamm”, which spells “Ya Meem Damma”, and stands for “knowledge of the two Meems (or the two “Seas”) of Muhammad (SAWS). The first Sea Musa (ra) was cast in had a “bank” of sand, made of the dust of Dunya, and referred to the Sea of Existence, that of Al Wujud Al Munbasit and its exoteric knowledge. It is within this “Sea” that Musa murdered an Egyptian, fled to Madyan, married Prophet Shuayb’s daughter (ra), received his staff from Shuayb (ra) (himself a prophet), and finally engaged in his own prophetic mission, at the top of Mount Tur, in the episode of the burning bush. Yet Musa (ra) was still to encounter another “Sea”. When Musa started to think that he had become the most knowledgeable man on earth, AllaH informed him that although he was a prophet, there were “SLAVES” of AllaH who were much more knowledgeable than him. Musa begged to meet one, and AllaH advised him to carry a “fish” and travel to the “merging point of the two seas”, where, at the exact location his dead fish would spring back into life, he would come across one. Musa the Prophet (ra) decided to take a disciple with him on this trip, a “fata” whose name was “Yusha Bin Nun”, (a “son of Light” (Bin Nun) “in Shuhud” (Shin) of “Divine Knowledge” (Ya)). Musa and Yusha Bin Nun traveled together until they found a “rock”, a barrier of physicality, at the “Meeting of the two Seas, between which there is a “Barzakh” that no one can transgress”, (Quran 55:19-20). “Barzakh” is the luminous threshold to the Spiritual world, no one can trespass it except with help from Above, and it is completely bypassed only after death, or in this story, after the “rock”. It is at this “junction” that the two suddenly felt tired and laid their heads on the “rock”, acknowledging the limit of their bodies and human intellect, falling asleep, surrendering like Hajar. On the contrary however, the dead fish they were carrying, being a “fish”, a creature that “senses” Water and is alive only in Water, splurged back to “Life” at the “smell” of (Eternal) Water, jumping out of its basket and escaping through a “tunnel” into the Sea. This was a different Sea however, a Sea of Sweet Water where no salt or rock dwell, the Sea of “Being” as compared to that of “Existence”, the Real Wujud of the First Meem of MuHaMMaD (SAWS).
But who was Khidr (ra)? The Quran describes him (ra) as “one of our SLAVES to whom We have granted Mercy and Ladunni Knowledge from Us” (Quran 18:65). Thus Khidr (ra) is primarily a SLAVE of AllaH who receives direct illumination without the usual intermediary of a human guide. Khidr (ra) not only traveled with Prophet Musa (ra), but, twenty one centuries later, also showed up at Prophet MuHaMMaD’s Funeral (SAWS), although only Abu Bakr (ra) and Ali (ra) recognized him then, indicating that it was only for the likes of these two to recognize him on earth. The story goes that Khidr has achieved immortality by accidentally drinking at the “Fountain of Life”. The “Fountain of Life” is of course a parable for the “RuH”, hence Khidr (ra) is also referred to as “RuH Idafi”. It is in this aspect that he is the Primordial Watad in both Prophetic and saintly spheres, and hence the initiator of both prophets and saints. Ibn Arabi received his khirqa from him, and many saints reported meeting with him eg: AbdulQadir Al Jilani (ra) and Abdul Aziz Al Dabbagh (ra). He appears to Afrad who need no physical trainer (rabita) and are trained by him as the Manifestation of the Muhammadi Dzat (SAWS). He is The Primordial Watad in both Prophetic and Saintly Spheres. He is called “Al Khidr” because whatever he touches turns “Green”, springs with Life, like Musa’s fish at the location of their meeting, a connotation of the fact that all outpouring originates from The RuH (SAWS). Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) has said that every year Khidr (ra) spends Ramadan with Elijah (ra) in Jerusalem (Al Quds: understand: with The Holy Spirit). Some, however, are not trained by Khidr (ra), but have the Ultimate Honor of being trained by The Prophet Himself (SAWS), Who Appears to them in His Physical Appearance and Instructs them directly. These include Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al Gilani (ra) and Shaykh Ahmad Al Tijani (ra). AllaHuMMa grant us by Your Infinite Grace to be among these!
Is there, then, anything stronger or higher than Water? Yes, there is. It is “Wind, per the hadith: “When Allah SWT created the Earth it began to oscillate, then AllaH created the Mountains and positioned them onto it, and the Earth stabilized. The angels marveled at the strength of the Mountains and asked their Lord whether there was anything in His creation stronger than the Mountains, to which The Lord replied that Iron is stronger. They then asked Him if anything in His creation was stronger than Iron, and He replied that Fire is. Again they asked if anything was stronger than Fire, and He replied that Water is. Finally they asked if anything is stronger than Water, and The Lord replied that Wind is.” What is “Wind”? It is Water without mass, Pure Divine Will, the Qudra in Bahr Al Qudra.
We humbly dedicate this writing to “Mae Al Hayat” and “Malik Al Hayat”, The Beloved Chieftain of Existence, our Sublime Master and Guide, MuHaMMaD RasulAllaH (SAWS), with humble prayers that He Accepts it in spite of the very poor rendering of His Light. Allahumma salli wa salim wa barik da’iman abadan ‘ala Ruhi-l Haqiqati-l Wujud, wa ‘ala Alihi wa Ashabihi Ajma’in.
Monday 27th of Rajab 1438
April 24th 2017
2 thoughts on “SYMBOLISM OF WATER”
Indeed a very well written piece! I encourage you to write more.
We are taught in college books that basically the cosmos was dead, big purpose-less explosion that cooled off and matter formed and water is just another substance like any other. Then life appeared in the water accidentally.
Cosmos was fashioned for the sake of life and living, for life to flourish beyond bounds and one very important form of life is related to water as we know of life on this planet.
Cosmos had purpose, life has purpose, water has purpose.
There are water molecules positioned with the receptors in the retina, which allow for the passage of the information about the light detection to the brain. Without that molecule of water in the retina no creature could see.
So light and water are linked, seeing and water are linked.
When we say water, our mind conjures oceans, or rain or lake. Water in our cells should be conjured. But in most biology books they never draw the water molecules in the cells which afford it all its functionality.
Our thoughts are not possible without the inter-cellular water in our neuronal brains! Our thoughts and water are linked as well.
Our thoughts have purpose the water has purpose.
We know most of living beings on the planet are mostly comprised of water.
We think of water based life forms, as organisms like our bodies or animals or plants or microbes.
Past decade or so, we are finding clues that cloud and fog and snow and hail and frost are all life forms!
While our bodies are Organisms, cloud and fog and Disorgnisms. Orgnism as boundary and compactness, Disorgonism is as alive but has no boundaries not compact.
At the core of hail there is a microbe. They nucleate water, for a purpose, and they transport downwards in precipitation and upwards in fog and cloud form.
Their transports are not random, have purpose.
When we put all these together, we see water as an exotic substance, a sacred sanctified substance that is the foundation of most advanced life-forms in cosmos.
However we also now know that Water molecules form wires and networks, they allow for communications, for example from the Rhodopsin molecules in your retina to your brain!
Water also let us communicate with Allah! Perhaps the meaning of ITs Throne on water!
As Muslims and as Sufis we need to study water by all means possible and learn from it.
Thanks Sidi Dara!
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