Last week it was 43 degrees, that meant staying in mostly, keeping out of the sun and sleeping on the bottom floor of the Riad to avoid using the air conditioning. Thankfully its a bit less hot now and we don’t have to cold shower the dog! But it’s also Ramadan – meaning the opportunity to cool down with a glass of water in the day is taken away.
I’m not a Muslim but I do go along with Ramadan in Marrakech for many reasons really; firstly cultural empathy – its not a great feeling if you are stuffing your face on the street or in a restaurant while those around you are hungry and thirsty which is a lesson in awareness. Secondly – intrigue, why did the prophet Mohammed so many centuries ago communicate the benefits of fasting? How does it relate to today? I’m told by my husband who is muslim that its partly to clear the dead cells that your body needs to get rid of, but also obviously to concentrate the mind on other things and more spiritual pursuits. Fasting has become the thing to do if you are seeking a healthier balance and to manage your weight in the West – but it’s something Muslims do regularly, not just during Ramadan as part of a culture of cleansing.
The third reason is to explore the concept of abstinence and sacrifice, which during Ramadan is not just limited to no water or food (before sun-down) but also other daily distractions including sex which many limit for the whole 40 day period. There is a focus on self discipline, prayer and also the giving of alms. This has two effects; it does make you think, and you notice the lack of things you normally have to make your life more comfortable and sustain you.
I started to imagine how much water must be saved during Ramadan during these hours of not drinking, but I also remembered that in Islam water that is used to cleanse as part of the prayer ritual and a kind of purification, so does that make up for the water that would have been drunk?. It just gets you a lot more focussed on water overall – it’s the one thing you can’t wait to have at sundown, just waiting for the Imam to sing, and it makes you realise how difficult it is to even spend 1 day without water.
My husband believes I’m a one woman threat to the environment and he’s right, having grown up in rainy lush England where fresh and delicious Welsh valley water was piped to our Birmingham home, I took water for granted, only a hot Summer and hosepipe ban one year highlighted a potential shortage, but even then we still could drink water freely and have a shallow bath or a shower even if our cars were a bit dusty and gardens baked. I’m pretty bad with water, I confess that I still leave the water running while I clean my teeth out of habit, I have the shower on all the time when I’m in it rather than stopping it when cleaning with soap and showering after or in between, I like to run the water during washing up rather than soaping the dishes then swilling them all at once. These are ingrained habits and a lack of consciousness on my part.
In the countryside here in Morocco, and of course in the desert, water is still at a premium, you don’t have pipes to get rid of washing up water, you have a bucket, you don’t have a running shower you have a bucket Hammam outside or inside, and it’s not always warm. When you put this against lives in the developed world where one of the latest trends in Essex where I was last living was the garden Jacuzzi to supplement your walk in power shower – it hits home how vastly different our world is from one person’s experience to the next.
In the Quran there is lots written about water, there was a belief, now scientifically proven, that everything sprang from water, “And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills; for verily God has power over all things (Quran, 24-45)”
Today we know that as babies we are 75% water and as we grow older the body of an adult human being is made of approximately 60% water. Animals contain on average 60% water while vegetables up to 75%. Human brain is composed of 90% water. This means that humans talk, think, do, write and invent on the basis of water – and it might explain why I’ve been less able to concentrate for long periods.
So I will spend my Ramadan being thankful for water, and trying to become more conscious, people here see water as sacred, water in Islam is considered as a gift belonging to all equally, which has to be managed and distributed with equity among all living beings, humans, animals and plant life. There is even an Islamic law or right concerning water named Safa after the place where Abraham (Ibrahim) and his wife and baby son set down on a search for water and were eventually saved by the Zamzam well (great name!) which magically sprang up at baby Ishmaels feet.
Climate change will challenge us all, to think differently, part of this is not just a technical challenge for innovators, but a behavioural challenge for us all – maybe non muslims need a kind of secular Ramadan to reflect on this from time to time and appreciate the value of the simple things.
To learn more about water and culture you can visit The Water Museum in Marrakech.