Wells, Wudu, and Fasting Thirst—My Water Story
South Brunswick, NJ
2021, High School, Creative Writing
It is hard for me to imagine life without water. It is hard to fathom the idea of waking up before sunrise each day and walking several miles to a water source, only to carry it on my head or on a shoulder pole. It’s a world that most people do not know and aren’t accustomed to. However, for 10% of the world population, this lack of access to water is their life. You and I should be grateful—we are the other 90%. We do not have to worry about finding a water source or the fact that the water we do have—contaminated with pathogens, herbicides, and detergents—can ruin our health. I have personally felt the impact or importance of water in my life on four different occasions that originate from my Muslim Indian culture and traditions—visiting Mecca’s Zamzam Well, practicing the ritual purification of Wudu, celebrating Ramadan, and joining with my extended family in their village in Kerala, India.
In the summer of 2014, on our family’s Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, before we walked around the Black Stone, we visited the Zamzam Well located in the area of Masjid-al-Haram. Founded in c. 2400 BCE, the well is extremely close to the Ka’bah, one of the holiest sites for Muslims. As a 7-year-old, I walked in wonder through the modernized mosque next to the well, full of ancient and sacred relics on display. Wearing my traditional headdress and white thobe, I joined with dozens of tourists and pilgrims to circle the well, only 20 meters from the Ka’bah, to drink holy water. Curious and reverent, I sipped from my plastic cup. Zamzam water is the purest form of well water in the whole world. No contamination or bacteria has been found in it so far by any scientific testing. The water itself, colorless and odorless, is rich in minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium. The well’s water is believed to have been flowing for 5,000 years and is linked to scripture. Islamic tradition states that when Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) had to leave his son Ismail with his mother Hajar in the desert, she traveled between two hills, Safa and Marwah, looking for water for her infant son. Miraculously, when Ismail’s feet touched the ground, water started to rise. My own mother, dressed in her traditional black thobe and carrying my little brother, could have been Hajar and Ismail at the well.
When I was nine years old, I was introduced to Wudu, the Islamic procedure for cleansing parts of the body with water. At my Sunday School in my mosque in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, I learned how to ritually purify myself by properly washing my face, arms, hair, and feet with water according to Islamic law. Before my prayers five times each day, I would perform Wudu to cleanse myself with water, but also to metaphorically cleanse my soul. As I perform Wudu to this day at my house or at the mosque, I can feel the water on my hands and arms not just inject new life into my skin, but also impart a greater awareness of myself as a spiritual being in the world.
As practicing Muslims, my family celebrates Ramadan—the month in which the Qu’ran was revealed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad—as a month of sacrifice and prayer. Obligated to fast, we are not allowed to drink water from dawn to dusk. I’ve fasted in Ramadan since the age of 13. Putting my hunger and thirst aside, I make this a time for spiritual reflection and growth, for helping those in need, and for spending time with loved ones. Ramadan teaches me to be grateful for the important natural resources in our lives such as food and water, which I have too often wasted. For 30 straight days, I am allowed to drink water only after sunset until the sunrise of the next morning. Ramadan teaches me to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate. Not everyone in the world has access to
food and water like I do. Not everyone has loved ones with them at all times. Ramadan not only gives me time to reflect, but it also gives me time out from my worldly desires. What has once appeared important is suddenly less important, and vice versa. At sunset during Ramadan, hours after playing varsity tennis, I have never appreciated a bottle of Poland Spring water so much.
At the age of 14, I had a hand-blistering and back-aching lesson on the importance of water access. Two years ago, I traveled to visit extended family for the first time in the coastal city of Kerala in southern India. The temperature was 105 degrees in the shade, baking in the dry season, unsparing. In the countryside east of the city, the only available water well is a two-mile journey by foot from our ancestral family home. The day after I arrived, I woke up before sunrise to help my relatives in their daily journey for water collection. I followed my family members walking single-file down a narrow dirt path through lush greenery. Carrying my two buckets and a shoulder stick, my hands were blistered and hurt even before I reached the well, which was 200 feet deep. At the well, I hoisted my buckets by the rope, one bucket at a time. To think that my own family members did this every day, twice a day, broke my heart. This farming family of eight people had no time for relaxation or rest. Before sunrise, they had to wake up to collect water and cook breakfast of rice cakes and eggs. After that, they went back to collect more water and started to prepare lunch and dinner made with their crops of okra and potatoes. Two large cisterns, one in the kitchen and the other in a laundry room, held the collected water, doled out with ladles. For safety, all water—both for drinking and washing—had to be boiled first before use. Using this clean water, we would do the ritual purification of Wudu before starting our daily five prayers each day. Near the end of our visit, when we stayed in a hotel in the city, I turned the faucet and watched the water flow with new eyes.
I began my life in briny water, floating in embryonic fluid. Through the years, water has represented new beginnings for me and has connected me to my Muslim Indian traditions and cultural heritage. Collecting water not only provided opportunities for me to bond with my family, but also helped me to realize the needs of those with water scarcity. Each of us has a water story, and this is mine.
For my water story, I chose to interweave the theme of rising water with my unique Muslim Indian culture and traditions. As a young child, I learned much about my Indian roots and Islamic religion that involves the use of water. Writing about water touches on the most essential parts of my identity. Through personal narrative, I have sought to explore times across my life in which I became more aware of the importance of water. I can show my love and appreciation for water by revisiting my memories of Saudi Arabia’s Zamzam Well, practicing the ritual purification of Wudu, fasting during Ramadan, and collecting well water with my extended family in their village in Kerala, India. Much still needs to be accomplished for those who experience water scarcity like my extended family. Though many of us may be able to pour potable water from our tap everyday and grab a Poland Spring bottle of water from our garage, some people in the world have to travel miles for water on foot and have the calluses to show for their effort. What better way to illustrate the power of rising water than with a well? Honoring my traditions and family, I “bookend” my essay by writing of the two wells in my life.