Without Water, No Life:
Musings on the Realities of Water for a Somali Women's Spirituality

In Water by Sun Sheikh Hussein

What I mean, when I say I am drowning

“[…] Like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with waves topped by waves, topped by clouds: depths of darkness, one above another: if a man stretches out his hand, he will not see it! If Allah does not give light to a person he will not have light!”

Quran: the Light, 24:40

My favourite spot in Toronto rests in between Lakeshore and the horizon. There lies a pit of emptiness that always holds my gaze. I am enchanted by the way the seas kiss the sky. Its image washes my concerns over. The amble sounds of tides gently rising offer reminders that water and all its forms are only ripples for our search of God. It is here I reflect on how water shows up for me, in both stillness and in rage.  It is here I drift in thought and memory.  

On the 16th of June 2020 I write:  

“I am on the outskirts of ‘sauga with Nimca. We watch the river glisten and birds dip in and dip out.  I stare to where the water stretches out to eternity. We paint with watercolor and I spill everything over the salmon-pink color boardwalk.

Still enough, the waters are still present, breaths between 3.5’s rocking towards their unmarked edges  ‘it’s canoeing, come help me take it out’ her t’s muffled by the smoke as we furrow our brows. The water is catching up and uncertainty is pressed.  It does not care if you are ready or not, only hoping that we could accept the reality while being picked alive in between our pauses.”

I think about how water washes over and replenishes the body, mind and soul yet the truth and traditions that followed any expansive forms of water were not easy to take in. I take time out to watch the waves, to read bismillah into my cup of water, and to focus on its miniature pools in my palm over my body during Wuudu and Ghusl.

It is an instant relief. Rejuvenation. There are other stories, however, where the seas are filled with song, mischief and delusion. Sometimes at night, being near large bodies of water, I think of the tales of Jinni and the last of days where imagined waters would rise, anything that people spew at the opaque face of uncertainty.

Large bodies of water and the stretch of seemingly endless sky can show up as realms, barriers and spaces within their own right. I ask people—what are you more afraid of, the deep sea or outer space? They have similar natures as they drive our innate curiosities to the edge, just lightly tapping the void. The more I questioned, the more I delved into something bigger than my own humanity, seeking the ins and outs and the in-betweens of an ultimate reality I cannot see or let it run by my fingers, like water out of a running sink over my feet as I rush for salah. And sometimes, on some of my hardest days, I let the bathwater run me; submerging me into new imagined places on what it means to feel safe, to put out any and of my own fires, and to bring me closer to life as much as in death and grief. 

Water permits such an abundant cycle, yet its depths are just as haunting as they are giving; in both its absence and its terror. And in its smaller forms, its wispy reminders to cool down and recharge can be found in Islamic tradition And my personal journey with healing. I choose water and I’d like to think that it chooses me too. 

Nimac and I needed to be just right outside of ‘sauga that weekend. The summer that had passed was a long and uneasy one. We needed to be by the water, even if it was just for a moment. In search of clarity and purity, water holds that. But it also overflows. It destroys. It can mislead, contain the unseen, or cause you to sink.

I believe that the Islamic perspective reminds us that water is both literally and figuratively a reflection. I used to have a fire in me because I was the type of kid to run first, ask later. I was awfully reactionary but it happens when you’ve only been surrounded by reactionary people. The people would say, traditionally and hinted on the Prophet (SAW)’s sunnah, maybe this child was closer to her Shaytaan than she knew. The idea was: when you’re too angry, douse yourself in wudu and pure intention. Put yourself out by divine means. And then water instantly became a new reality. Ironically, water is clear and holds no color (other than what you give it). I remember the first time I’ve sat in Quran Saar or Ruqyah known as the Islamic exorcism.

I was encircled by loved ones and sheikhs who promised that they would help the angsty 12-year-old in front of them. They read the appropriate verses, drank the water just a tad, and lightly spat into my direction. I’ve ducked and dashed from any sort of religious activity since then. Until I was swayed by Duas made during rainfall and Quran frequenting the halls at night, I’ve been absent and absentminded. I’ve also been grieving—Constantly almost. It’s almost as if I’m forcing water to soothe over what cannot be helped. And I return to traditions to make some sense out of the voids that gouge and stifle aspects of my life that were never meant to be endless.

I reached out to my parents. We watched a docuseries together on Malcolm X. My Mother points out, “There is water coming out of his grave, he’s a saint,” and I turned over to her as if I was lost in my own home. She says generally, “Without water, no life,” and it opens up the question of death and the things that cannot be helped.

I think about the open-endedness of water. When I ask my mother about rainfall, she tells me “remember Allah,” and it dawns on me how expressive this interaction really means. In Sufi cosmology, when one remembers Allah, they are in between the realms. My mother’s eyes widen when she discusses Allah getting closer and the heavens expanding, almost inviting, all due to invocation and remembrance. The planet Neptune in Somali is Docay, mimicking familiar words translated to prayed or blessed. A planet associated with the unseen, as it was the first planet that was not detected by the naked eye, she is known in both astrology and astronomy as the dreamy planet of mystifying waters, of distortions yet harsh truths—and anything concealed. I find it almost funny that even in the traces of the Somali language, it feels as intentional as making Wuudu itself. 

Within remembering, re-centering and returning, (Somali) Islamic traditions aim towards truth, healing, and coping with hardship. I have been shrouded by my own existentialism; an inner fire on what it means to be safe, sound and perceived. Sometimes I was too quick, only responding in ways I knew how. Other times, it guarded me or flashed my curiosity within Islam. It wasn’t until I revisited the implications of water, both serene and ghastly, that I understood how Cyclic the element appears for me—on earth and elsewhere (perhaps a word with God or myself). It stirs me as much as it accompanies me with glad tidings. But its waves are an answer; as simple yet layered facets of a balance beam between life and death. 

Water operates a lot like the truth that I have to allow, from primordial soul and timeless tales of apocalyptic floods, distantly preparing for rebirth. There is just not much to do but ‘llow it. Besides heal.

“Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the Earth were meshed together then We ripped them apart? And then We made of water everything living? Would they still not believe?”

Quran, the Prophets, 21:30