Flowing Through History: Water Management in Muslim Civilization

by Marwan Haddad Published on: 12th March 2024

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This paper delves into the rich tapestry of Muslim heritage and civilization, exploring the multifaceted contributions related to water management that have shaped cultures, sciences, arts, and societies across time and geography. This study aims to illuminate the interconnectedness of various Muslim water management practices and experiences and their lasting impact on global history. By tracing the threads of knowledge exchange, artistic expression, scientific inquiry, and social innovation, we uncover the remarkable narrative of how Muslim heritage has woven itself into the fabric of human progress. This paper highlights the pivotal role of Muslim scholars, thinkers, artisans, and leaders in nurturing a legacy that continues to resonate in our modern world. From architectural marvels like the Alhambra to foundational scientific works that preserved ancient knowledge, we unravel the layers of Muslim civilization that have left an indelible mark on our shared human story. Through this exploration, we not only gain a deeper understanding of the past but also recognize the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the diverse cultural contributions that have enriched our global heritage."

Figure 1. Article Image banner by Jemo (©MidJourney CC BY-NC 4.0)

1. Introduction

Water, the essence of life, has held a profound significance throughout human history[1]. In the tapestry of civilizations, few threads weave a narrative as intricate and vital as the story of water management. Nowhere is this tale more nuanced and impactful than in the annals of Muslim civilization[2].

As the Muslim ummah flourished across diverse landscapes, geography, and time periods, from the arid deserts of the Arabian Peninsula to the fertile valleys of Andalusia, the water became the linchpin of prosperity and progress[3]. The pages of the history of this civilization resonate with the echoes of ingenious water management systems, reflecting not only technological prowess but also the deeply ingrained respect for nature embedded in Islamic teachings[4].

Water management refers to the process of planning, implementing, and regulating various activities related to the successful sourcing and extraction, sustainable use, distribution, conservation, and treatment of water resources. It involves a comprehensive approach to ensuring the availability of clean water for various purposes, including drinking, agriculture, industry, sanitation, and environmental preservation[5]. Effective water management seeks to balance the needs of different sectors while considering the long-term health of ecosystems and the well-being of communities. This can include practices such as water allocation, infrastructure development, pollution control, resource optimization, and formulation to ensure equitable access to water while safeguarding its quality and availability for current and future generations. Some current water management practices include irrigation techniques, rainwater harvesting, desalination, water conservation programs, wastewater treatment, river basin management, water pricing and tariffs, water quality monitoring, flood control and management, groundwater management,, integrated water resource management (iwrm), water-efficient technologies, water policy and regulation, and erosion and sediment control.  Drawing on historical accounts this article aims to illuminate the multifaceted facets of water management in Muslim civilization[6,7].

Water has held profound significance in the Muslim world throughout history, playing a pivotal role in sustaining life, supporting agriculture, nourishing communities, and nurturing cultures. The management and utilization of water resources have been integral to Muslim civilization, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of hydrology, engineering, and communal organization.

Water management was a critical aspect of Muslim civilization’s progress, as many of these Muslim societies were situated in arid or semi-arid regions where water scarcity was a significant challenge. To overcome this challenge, they developed sophisticated methods and technologies to harness and utilize available water resources effectively. Water resources management is an important aspect of Islamic teachings and practices. In Islam, water is considered a precious resource and a gift from Allah, and its proper management is a religious duty.   Allah tells Muslims and non-Muslims that the book he sent them, Qura’n, includes all needed management particulars, rules, and aspects of their life and related activities (Qur’an 6:155, 11:1, 14:1, 18,49, 38:29, 41:3, and 57:22).

The Sunnah (the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad ) provide guidance on how water should be used and conserved. Prophet Mohammad set the path for proper water management including conservation, equitable use, protection, access, and joint work and cooperation. This work embarks on a journey through time and space, tracing the contours of water management practices that shaped the Muslim world. It navigates the channels of ancient aqueducts, explores the architectural marvels of public fountains and hammams, and delves into the intricate legal frameworks governing water rights6. Also, it covers key elements of water management in Muslim civilization including qanats and irrigation systems, water storage: agricultural innovation, aqueducts and channels, water endowment, urban planning and hygiene, water law and regulation,  water clocks and technologies. From the wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad to the hydraulic innovations of the Golden Age, the narrative unfolds, revealing the symbiotic relationship between Muslims and their most precious resource[8-12].

In Islam, human beings are considered as the stewards of the Earth and have been given the responsibility to protect and preserve natural resources including water. the Islamic approach to water management is based on a holistic view of the earth including water resources, society, and the economy. It emphasizes the importance of balancing economic growth with water resources development and use and social responsibility, and it encourages individuals and communities to take action to preserve and protect the Earth including water resources for future generations[13].

By delving into the historical evolution and geographic diversity of water management within Muslim civilization over time and geography, this article aims to shed light on the dynamic interplay between Islamic values, technological advancements, and environmental adaptation. It underscores the vital role that water has played in shaping the growth, prosperity, and cultural richness of Muslim societies across centuries.

2. History of Water Management in Muslim Civilization

Five time periods throughout Muslim civilization will be covered: the Prophet (610-632 CE), the four Rashidun Caliphs period (632-661CE), the Umayads (661-750 CE), the Abbasids (750-1258 CE), Al- Andalus period (711-1492 CE), and the Ottoman period (1517-1923 CE). In addition and for each period, the following water management aspects, as practiced during the specific period, will be presented and discussed : 

  1. Water Systems and Services
  2. Agricultural Water Advancements
  3. Water Management Law and Regulation
  4. Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management
  5. Water management knowledge development

2.1. The Prophet Period

2.1.1 Water Systems and Services 

The fair distribution of water is emphasized in Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 41, Hadith 554, where the Prophet guides against monopolizing water resources.

Hadiths also highlight instances where the Prophet ensured fair distribution of water during periods of scarcity.

Prophet Muhammad said:

“People are partners in three: water, pasture (meaning food) and fire (meaning energy)” (Narrated by Ibn Majah).

 The Prophet Muhammad  prohibited water wastage, he said in this regard:

“Do not waste water even if you are at a running stream.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

Prophet Muhammad emphasized the importance of water conservation. An example can be found in Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 3, Hadith 85, where the Prophet warned against wasting water even when taking ablution.

The protection of wells and springs from contamination is discussed in Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 1, Hadith 187, where the Prophet instructs not to urinate in stagnant water.

The Prophet’s guidance on the conservative use of water during ablution is evident in various Hadiths, including Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 4, Hadith 187.

The emphasis is on using a minimal amount of water while ensuring cleanliness. 

The importance of rainwater is underscored in various Hadiths. Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 17, Hadith 133, mentions the Prophet praying for rain during a drought.

The Prophet’s encouragement to utilize rainwater for agricultural purposes is part of broader principles found in Islamic teachings. 

In regards to digging of water wells:

  • The Prophet’s involvement in digging wells for charitable purposes is exemplified in Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 9, Hadith 57.
  • The digging of wells was considered a virtuous act, aligning with the Prophet’s teachings on providing access to clean water.
  • Seven will be rewarded to the ’Muslim after his death, while he is in his grave: whoever teaches knowledge, or irrigates a river, or digs a well, or plants a palm tree, or builds a mosque, or inherits a Qur’an, or leaves a child to seek forgiveness for him after his death (Narrated by Anas Ibn Malek in Sahih Al-Targib page 73 (2/181).

During the era of Prophet Muhammad, public baths, known as Hammams, played a minor or modest role in the community. However, it’s important to note that references to specific details about public baths during the Prophet’s era are limited due to the historical context and the primary focus on religious, social, and legal aspects in available sources. Islamic teachings encourage cleanliness and personal hygiene, and public baths were established in response to these principles [14-16].

Although was not like modern water fountains, early mosques in Islam were equipped with either a water basin or fountain for cleaning and ablution.[17] . As for Medina, the emergence of fountains and water supply there was associated with the beginning of Islamic history [18]. 

2.1.2 Agricultural Water Advancements

Sustainable agricultural practices have roots dating back to the early days of Islam. The teachings of Prophet Muhammad emphasized the importance of responsible land use, soil preservation, and water management. The concept of “Hima,” which designated protected areas to conserve natural resources, including water, reflects the early understanding of sustainable land and water management[19]. Under Hima, protected land areas were set aside to allow vegetation to grow and to protect water sources, ensuring sustainable grazing and safeguarding water availability[20].

Crop diversification has historical roots in the Muslim civilization, evident in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad encouraging diversity in agriculture. The Prophet advocated for growing a variety of crops to ensure food security and sustainable agricultural practices[21,22].

The Prophet Muhammad  valued agriculture and food production, he said:

“Whoever plants a tree and it bears fruit, whoever cultivates land and derives benefit from it, whoever digs a well or a spring and benefits from it, then it is an act of charity (sadaqah) for him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

Islamic gardens have a rich history dating back to the time of Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. The Prophet himself was known to appreciate, encourage, and cultivate gardens, setting an example for his followers[23].

Three important food production-related approaches were adopted during the Prophet Muhammad :

  • The Prophet Muhammad started a specific Islamic practice for enhancing agriculture and food production by granting vast land from between the Red Sea and mountain/rock formations to Bilal-Al-Muzni. Many of the Prophet companions worked in agriculture, and Medina was famous for its farms and orchards, and the Prophet, , granted many of his companions vast lands to build, cultivate and invest in them, and among these: Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, and Omar bin Al-Khattab, who was given precious land in Khyber, and including Rabia Al-Aslami. [24].
  • The first Muslims during the Prophet’s time practiced the cultivation of land under an agreement called Muzara’ah. For example, a Muslim cultivates the land of another Muslim with the condition that the cultivator provides seeds, irrigation, and care to land and crops and at the end of the season gives the landowner one-third or one-fourth of the harvest [25,26].
  • A person was designated named ‘Amil ‘ala sūqor Muhatsib(like a Health and Safety Officer) to regulate marketplaces (the sūq) and other commercial activities in Mecca and Medina [27]. The first Muhtasib in Islam was Sa`id ibn Sa`id ibn Al-`Aas. He was appointed by the Prophet after the conquest of Mecca.  The post of Muhtasib was novel as it existed during the jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic) period[28]. Muhtasib’s duties were market observation and ensuring orderliness in the running of the market (consumer protection and fairness, and producing equity and quality) and dispensing justice and accountability according to the Shari‘ah in case of any infringement or disagreement or complaints [29]. The Muhatsibpost became so important that the appointee was chosen by political power (i.e caliph, or sultan). The official position of Muhtasib for towns continued for most periods in the nineteenth century[30].

2.1.3 Water Management Law and Regulation

During the Prophet period many water management systems, including irrigation projects and water infrastructure, were supported by waqf (endowment) funds and served both agricultural and community needs. The governance of these projects was often overseen by local waqf authorities[31].

Also, legal norms emphasized the duty to provide water to travellers and those in need.

In this regard, Prophet Muhammad encouraged the digging of wells for public welfare (Al-Bukhari, M. (Sahih Al-Bukhari), Book 23, Hadith 2).

 Instances where the Prophet addressed disputes over water rights can be found in various Hadiths. Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 43, Hadith 632, discusses a dispute over a water source resolved by the Prophet.

2.1.4 Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management 

In a time of distress before being appointed as Caliph, ‘Uthmān Ibn ‘Affān bought the well of Romah and made it an endowment for the sake of Allah, for people to drink from and fulfil their water needs free of charge, a well which still runs and continued to serve until the present time[32,33].

The well of Romah is located in the northwest of the city of Medinah, and is about five kilometres away from the Prophet’s Mosque.  Othman bought this well and bequeathed for Muslims to drink from it for free. This endowment has continued to this day [34]. 

2.1.5 Water Management Knowledge Development 

There were no water management books were found during the prophet period. However, water management in the early Islamic period was rooted in a comprehensive understanding of the Quran and Hadith, where equitable water distribution and responsible usage were emphasized [35]. 

2.2 The Four Rashidoun Caliphs 

2.2.1 Water Systems and Services

The Rightly-Guided Caliphs urged people to rationalize the use of water, by following the Sunnah of the Prophet in rationalizing water consumption, and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs sought after the conquest of the country to many transformations, including digging wells, building canals, establishing irrigation canals, repairing agricultural lands, providing water for drinking and other uses.

The Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khatab ordered the building of special dams in Egypt to store and supply water to Egyptian cities. Historians have placed the number of employees involved in the construction of water dams and canals in Egypt at 120,000. ork was on a daily basis all year round to get water supply to the cities. The expenses and worker’s salaries were all paid by the State [36].

When the people of Basra complained to Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab. Caliph Omar about water shortages he took action to address these water shortages in Basra, to that he ordered Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, the governor of Basra at that time, to “dig a river/canal from Tigris river to Basra. So he dug the Abla River or canal” [37]. 

The pilgrims’ route between Makkah and Medina was certainly a very busy one. The distance between the two cities is about 210 miles. The Caliph ordered the building of shades and wells in all the rest places along the 210-mile route. In addition, all existing wells had to be cleaned up and purified. Rest houses that already had wells but the wells did not have enough water in them had new wells dug up [38].

The Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab heard that there used to be a gulf of water between the River Nile and the Red Sea which then connected mainland Egypt with the Arabian Peninsula. He was told that the Romans had neglected that gulf and it no longer existed. He ordered his governor Amr ibn Al-As to reconstruct the gulf. This was done and once again a waterway between the then-Egyptian Capital of Fustat (in modern-day Cairo) and the Arabian Peninsula was made. This canal was about 69 miles long and it took about 6 months to complete. Trade and food transport flourished with the construction of this canal. Amr called it “the Gulf of the Commander of the Faithful” or in Arabic “Khaleej Ameer al Mo’mineen” [39,40].  

2.2.2 Agricultural Water Advancements 

Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab used the following measures to enhance agriculture and consequently food production [41]:

  • Granting land to people to be reclaimed and developed [42],
  • Employing abscess (agricultural taxes) money in developing agriculture [43],
  • Benefiting from Zakat funds in developing agriculture [44],
  • Establishment of the flour bank (home) to have strategic storage and equal distribution of it in the times of crisis [45],
  • Sought help and assistance from the states of the country with ample food production such as Iraq and Egypt (He wrote to Abu Musa Al-Ashari in Al Basra and Omar Ibn Al-As in Egypt for help) [46],

After consulting with the poor, Omar established the Bayt al-mal, a welfare institution for the Muslim and non-Muslim poor, needy, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled [47].

2.2.3 Water Management Law and Regulation

During the Rashidun Caliphate specific details about formal water management laws and regulations are not extensively documented and therefore, the documentation of specific water management laws during the Rashidun era is limited.

Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab established early water regulations in areas like the city of Madinah using the principles of water distribution and access need to be governed and based on justice and fairness [48,49].

Islamic teachings were applied and provided legal and ethical frameworks and guidelines for water usage. The caliphs applied these guidelines to resolve disputes related to water distribution and usage among the growing Muslim community [50].

The governance structure during the Rashidun era emphasized the importance of community cooperation and consultation (Shura). Decisions related to resource management, including water, would likely involve the consensus of the community leaders[51].

The broader principle of maslahah, which focuses on public welfare, would be applicable to water management. This includes ensuring equitable access to water resources and preventing actions that could harm the community’s well-being [52].

2.2.4  Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management 

The establishment of water management endowments (waqf) during the Rashidun era is not extensively documented. However, the concept of waqf as a charitable endowment to benefit the community was present in early Islamic society[53,54].

Waqf endowments during this era were charity and helping the community and were often directed toward mosques, educational institutions, and public facilities including needed water-related projects [55,56].

2.2.5 Water Management Knowledge Development

During the Rashidun Caliphate, there was an emphasis on various water management aspects, reflecting the Islamic teachings on cleanliness, hygiene, and conservation.  However, the time since the start of Islamic civilization was not enough yet passed to allow many achievements. Additionally, the primary focus of historical accounts from this era may not be solely on water management, but rather on the broader aspects of the Islamic state and community development such as the following examples:

  • Construction of Water Infrastructure: The Rashidun caliphs undertook various initiatives to develop water infrastructure, including wells, canals, and reservoirs. Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, for instance, is renowned for his establishment of wells and the construction of channels to ensure water accessibility [57].
  • Water Conservation Practices: The early Muslim community practiced water conservation, aligning with Islamic principles. Efforts were made to avoid wastage, and guidelines were established for the equitable distribution of water resources [58].
  • Agricultural Innovation: Water management was crucial for agriculture. Innovations in irrigation techniques were introduced to optimize agricultural productivity, demonstrating an understanding of water’s role in sustaining communities [59].
  • The Rashidun era witnessed an emphasis on documentation and record-keeping related to water resources, ensuring transparency and accountability in their usage [60].

Figure 5. World Water Day

2.3 The Umayyads Caliphate (661-750 CE)

2.3.1 Water Systems and Services

Umayyads built dams on rivers and valleys, and constructed water diversion canals and networks. Also, they cleaned canals seasonally and built archways over rivers to ease the movement of passengers and goods, and to enhance the flow of water[61,62]. hey built water wheels or mills to raise water to the top of the water channel for water supply to agriculture and domestic purposes water [63].

Landowners excavated wells and ʿuyūn (running springs), and used an underground channel to bring water from a distant aquifer (qanāt). [64,65].  Irrigation channels as well as dams being constructed. [66,67]. Caliph Muʿāwiya Ibn Sufian’s land manager, Ibn Mīnā, constructed a water channel to bring water to his master’s lands near al-Sunḥ.[68].

During the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, they built dams and water reservoirs in Kufa and used the Sea of Najaf for this purpose to alleviate the burden of floods, and Caliph Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan sought to count the amounts of rain with the limited resources available to them at that time [69,70].

During Caliph Hisham bin Abd al-Malik’s time, Long-distance irrigation canal extension projects began including large storage reservoirs. Larger Morocco (extending from Tunisia to Morocco) had not witnessed such projects before the Umayyad era. [71].

Water supply has always been a problem for cultivation throughout the Ḥijāz, and the lack of rain has ensured that any cultivated land has been in areas with sufficient groundwater [72]. To get or reach the water was not easy, deep wells were needed. Dams were ordered to be built in Hijaz by the caliph Muʿāwiya Ibn Sufian: one of these is more than two hundred miles south of Medina, near al-Ṭāʾif, and is dated to 58/677–678; the other [73], was found on one of two extant dams in the Wādī Al-Khanaq, approximately six-to-ten miles southeast of Medina.[74]. A third dam was constructed across the course of a wādī in one of the volcanic tracts to the northeast of Medina [75].

There were several wells and ponds in Mecca in that era, including the well of Ikrimah, the well of partners, the well of ruby, the well of Omar, the well of clay, the well of merchants, and the pool of the hole, as well as wells in Medina, in the caliphate of Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz, drilling wells in them, including the well of the Hafir, and the water was good[76,77].

Three dams in the region around Khaybar – about ninety miles north of Medina – two were early Islamic [78]. In Fayd, two hundred and fifty miles northeast of Medina in Najd (late second century), several water retention and utilization structures have been built, including wells, dams, reservoirs and qanāts [79].

The primary aim of building the dams was presumably to prevent flash-flooding in the wādīs, but storing water for use in agriculture or pasturing would have been an obvious secondary benefit. Dates were mostly produced on the cultivated lands, although other fruits and wheat were probably grown where possible [80]. 

The oldest Arab-Islamic public bath in the Levant is the Qasr Amra bath which dates back to the Umayyad period. There are architectural traces of ancient baths that were attached to the Umayyad palaces in Syria, such as the Western Hayr Palace bath, built by the Umayyad caliph Hisham bin Abd al-Malik [81,82]. Public baths or hammams during the Umayyads were generally single-sex, with men and women having separate bathhouses or bathing times and used for cleanliness and therapeutic purposes[83,84].

It was found that studies on the urban development of Umayyad cities often included water-related features, including public water fountains. Umayyad rulers were known for their architectural endeavours, which included the incorporation of water elements [85].

Descriptions of Umayyad palaces and gardens may provide insights into the presence and significance of water fountains as part of the architectural and landscape design [86].

Archaeological research in areas associated with the Umayyad rule may unearth evidence of public water fountains and their roles in urban planning [87,88]. 

2.3.2 Agricultural Water Advancements

The Umayyad era was one of agricultural development. For example, in their time in Taif, there were seventy water dams designated and used for irrigation and cultivation of lands [89].In the Umayyad era, governors were instructed to survey the agricultural land to collect tax and zakat. They built and maintained water canals, repaired the sewers, and encouraged farmers to cultivate and develop the wasteland. The cultivation of grain, cotton, and sugar cane increased, as did the planting of fruits such as grapes, olives, and palms. During that period, we note the creation of gardens and orchards [90-98].

Umayyads built dams on rivers and valleys, and constructed water canals and networks. Also, they cleaned canals seasonally and built the archways over rivers to ease the movement of passengers and goods, and to enhance the flow of water [99,100]. They built water mills for water supply to agriculture and domestic purposes water [101]. They reclaimed and planted land by the banks of the Nile River, along the Euphrates and Tigress rivers, and Ghouta in Damascus. Also, one of the famous lands reclaimed and cultivated by the Umayyads is the land of the dead in the Levant, which Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan cultivated and made into blossoming orchards [102-106]. Also, buffalo was brought from India to Iraq.[107]. 

During the reign of Caliph Hisham Ibn-Abdel Malik, a water supply problem occurred. He instructed his governor, in the city of Mosul to build a huge water channel to alleviate the problem. This channel cost 3 million dirhams to construct and took a total of 13 years [108]. In addition, dams were built on the river Tigris and several more channels were created. Furthermore, the Caliph’s brother Masalamah Ibn-Abdel Malik, constructed a huge dam on the Euphrates Island on the River Blikh which helped increase the agricultural production in the area.

One of the most important dams built by the Umayyad is the Kharbaka Dam with a huge reservoir for storing, collecting and distributing water. This dam and reservoir were located on the road leading from Damascus to the city of Palmyra. The matter is that Umayyad used ceramic channels and a stone irrigation network to distribute water [109,110].

2.3.3 Water Management Law and Regulation

While there is limited historical documentation specifically focused on water management law and regulation during the Umayyad Caliphate, the following general practices and experiences can be inferred from broader historical and scholarly sources:

  • The Umayyads, like their predecessors, relied on qanats—underground tunnels for water transport and distribution—to manage water resources efficiently [111].
  • Umayyad rulers used the waqf system to endow water-related structures, ensuring their maintenance and accessibility [112].
  • Local communities and tribal structures were involved in the organization and regulation of water usage, emphasizing communal responsibility [113]. General Islamic legal principles related to water usage and distribution, derived from Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), were practiced and would have influenced water management practices[114].
  • Umayyad rulers issued administrative decrees (siyar) concerning water rights and distribution, incorporating principles from Islamic law [115].
  • Provincial or local governors (Walis) likely played a key role in overseeing local water management, ensuring adherence to established regulations [116]. Judicial bodies or qadis would have been responsible for resolving disputes related to water usage through the application of Islamic legal principles [117]. 

2.3.4 Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management 

This era witnessed the emergence of several water projects and facilities, to provide water in Mecca, Medina and other Muslim cities and countries, including, what was known as the ten Ain (fountain) of the Caliph Muawiyah, which are set as endowment water springs, and each Ain had a legislator/controller. Among the most prominent Uyoun (fountains) endowed during the Umayyads the blue Ain of the city, conducted in the Hijri century [118]. 

In Jerusalem, Ain Silwan, is known and still in service until present, as well as the channel through which water flows from the spring to a water cistern or pond. This Ain witnessed special attention (upgrading and maintenance) during the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.[119]. 

2.3.5 Water Management Knowledge Development

The availability of specific books and manuals directly related to Water Management Law and Regulation during the Umayyad Caliphate is limited due to the historical context and preservation challenges. However, several broader sources and references provide insights into the general practices and legal aspects of water management during the Umayyads Islamic era. 

2.4 The Abbasids (750-1258 CE),

2.4.1 Water Systems and Services 

Abbasids worked on agricultural expansion to cultivate all the available space in Iraq and to supply water to major cities. For this purpose, they [120-124]:

  • constructed dams on the Euphrates River to control its water, and then distribute it using streams and channels to achieve maximum benefit and cover a wider area. As a result, they were able to cultivate and irrigate all the lands extending from the north of Western Sahara to the mountainous region in northern Mesopotamia and all the way to the shores of the Arabian Gulf in the south.
  • built two dams in north-western Baghdad to create two distribution rivers, (1) the Dujail River, which they made canals for it in the streets and paths to deliver water to it in summer and winter [125] and (2) the Karkhaya River to irrigate the orchards on the outskirts of Baghdad.
  • set up two dams to control the water of the Qulaain and Bazazzin rivers, which were implemented. In order to irrigate the orchards of this capital [126],
  • also built a dam on the Issa River and worked on it another dam to branch off from the Al-Sarat River, passing through the Akkarquf depression, then they built another dam to wrap the river of Khair, known today as Nahr al-Khair.
  • dug and connected a dense canal network with the Nahrawan canal system from Tigris River and they built a dam for it at the eastern side of the Tigris River south of the town of Mosul, so that the river would extend 150 miles north of Baghdad, then extend from Baghdad to the south for a distance of 100 miles up to the north of Wasit [127],
  • Built a water canal in Damascus starting from the Minin River at the foot of Mount Qassioun to Deir Maran [128].

Muslims in the third century (about 950 CE) were the first to introduce water networks/systems using water pipes made of lead or zinc into homes, bathrooms and mosques. The book “Industries of the Arabs” included drawings and maps of water networks in some Islamic capitals [129, 130]. 

Al-Attar [131] explained in his book the foundations of the science of distributing the Barada River water in Damascus in the sixth century AH to every street, alley and house in Damascus and its surroundings (Ghouta). The water flow was continuous throughout the year for homes, animal drinking, and irrigating plants and gardens. The distribution was based on the science of assumptions/statistics and arithmetic and other auxiliary sciences. The water allocation took in consideration land ownership as well as other factors in allocating water for each point. Al-Muhtasib, an Islamic governmental cleric, was responsible for checking the water volumes allocated and the proper water uses. Water along the way was allocated also to public baths, public fountains (sabeels), schools, hospitals and mosques. Al-Attar showed the manner in which the Damascene people calculated the inclinations and slopes for the distribution of channels, and the knowledge of timing in order to calculate the time and volumes allocated for distributing water [132].

In the ninth century, the water level of the Tigris in Samarra was, and still is, much lower than the adjacent area, even at the time when the water level reached the flood level in Baghdad. The first step, the founder of Samarra took to solve this problem was to build an extensive irrigation system to bring water from the river. This was accomplished by digging huge underground canals some 40 km upstream. At the same time, they used the Noria (waterwheel) technology to raise (pump) the water to smaller sub-canals, which in their turn flowed to almost every garden and pond in the city, and the rest of the water, if any were left, would end its journey in the river again [133].

In the Abbasid Caliphate (8th-13th centuries), and as an example of high sanitary and hygienic level, its capital city of Baghdad (Iraq) had 65,000 public baths, along with a sewer system.[134,135]. The Abbasids built schools, universities, hospitals and public baths in major cities, and the historian Ibn Jubayr stated that the city of Damascus alone contained more than a hundred public baths [136]. 

Published sources state that Mosul was contained before its fall by the Mongols in 1260 AD (200) public baths for men, and 200 public baths for women. The people of Mosul are known for their interest in cleanliness to a large extent, as they have been keen throughout their history to clean, coordinate and maintain their city [137].

Urban Development and Water Architecture: Studies on the urban development of Abbasid cities often touch upon water-related features, including fountains. Abbasid rulers were known for their contributions to architecture and city planning, which likely included the incorporation of water elements such as sabeels [138].

Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, was a centre of learning and culture. Descriptions of the city may offer insights into the presence and significance of water fountains as part of the urban landscape [139,140]. Primary sources and historical chronicles from the Abbasid era offer glimpses into the presence of water fountains in cities and public spaces [141,142].

Archaeological Studies: Archaeological research in areas associated with Abbasid rule may unearth evidence of water fountains and their roles in urban planning. 

2.4.2 Agricultural Water Advancements 

The caliphs of the first Abbasid era considered agriculture as a priority. They were active in digging and developing water canals and drains and building bridges and arches for waterworks. The lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were among the most fertile parts of the Abbasid state [143,144]. The Abbasids studied plant types and the viability of the soil for cultivation, and they used different fertilizers for plant types. They had a policy of not to overburden farmers with taxes. In fact, the Abbasid caliphs reduced taxes on farmers. [145].

The Abbasid era was the first to use knowledge tools and methods of agriculture and farming. They adopted and learned from the farming methods of Babylon, the Levant, and Egypt and applied them skillfully.[146]. There was a great interest in experimental scientific cultivation [147]. The development of agriculture led to the development of horticulture. The crops of Iraq were barley, rice, wheat, dates, cotton, sesame, and flax. The production of fruit was pursued as a science and several new fruits were introduced in varying climates [148].

From 8th to the 15th century, the ‘Islamic corridor’ between Europe and Asia improved agricultural practices across Spain, North Africa, and South Asia. The Abbasids took sugarcane from India and spread its cultivation to other parts of the world. They introduced coffee wherever they went. They popularized the use of the Iranian water wheel that uses the strength of draught animals to irrigate farms.[149]. However, the Arabs’ actual interest in planting and botany began in the early Abbasid era, when Muslim scholars translated the Greek literature on planting and botany. The main period of translation was during the Abbasid rule. The 2nd Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur founded the great library with texts containing Greek Classical texts. Al-Mansur ordered this rich fund of world literature translated into Arabic. Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid invited Scholars from India, and Iran, and arranged for the translation of numerous works into Arabic. He established the legendary library of Bayt al-Hikma “House of Wisdom” [150,151].

During the Abbasids successful cultivation of cotton, sugar cane, and berries were observed in some parts of Andalusia and Sicily. Andalusia was famous for growing wheat, barley, corn, and fruits such as oranges, pears, apples, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and peaches, which were frequently cultivated in the plains, and Bananas that are frequently cultivated in the valleys of the Mediterranean, as well as the cultivation of rice, sugar cane and olives. The people of Andalusia cultivated linen and cotton to make clothes, and berries to raise silkworms [152,153].

The irrigation schemes and waterworks and networks built during Abbasid’s Islamic Caliph rule still impress modern water engineers [154]. Basra had increased production of crops, such as wheat, barley, rice, dates, sesame, and cotton, as well as vegetables, fruits, and various types of flowers. During the Abbasid Caliphate, Basra became one of the most important ports of food trade [155].

Crops such as wheat, corn, olives, vines, sugar cane, fruit trees, and vegetables were brought from different parts of the world. The state’s wealth (Kharaj tax) from agriculture had reached about three hundred and ninety million in the era of Al-Mamun. This is a clear indication of the sufficiency of food and food production during the Abbasid era [156].

There were several water-supplying canals in Baghdad which ’passed through the streets, side streets, and suburbs, flowing without any interruption in summer and winter [157]. Among them were four major canals leading to the general vicinity of Baghdad, They were — – Nahr Isa, Nahr al-Malik, Nahr Sarsar and Nahr Sarat [158].

Under the Abbasid Caliphate, the Nahrawan Canal in the town of Jisr al-Nahrawan near Baghdad was a major irrigation system, along the eastern banks of the Tigris and the lower course of the Diyala River. [159].

By 950 CE water power using waterwheel was used in Baghdad not only in the water supply but also in industrial processing. This practice expanded west to Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and eventually to Muslim Spain [160]. 

2.4.3  Water Management Law and Regulation 

With the expansion of the water reservoirs and dams, Abbasids created a bureau for water management, which they called the Diwan of al-Aqrah (meaning the Department of Water) [161]. 

2.4.4 Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management 

Interest in water endowments increased in the era of the Abbasid Caliphate, and one of the most important watering services (Siqaya) in this era, the watering of Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, which was located in Mecca between the well of Zamzam from the east and the Kaaba, has lived in the Abbasid Mahdi caliphate (158-169 AH), as happened to it many repairs, renovations and maintenance later[162,163].

Ain Zubaydah, which is located at the base of the Hijaz Mountains east of Makkah, was built during the Abbasid Caliphate Harun Al-Rashid era (about 1200 years ago) as an example of the ingenuity of Islamic architecture. Ain Zubaydah, which is attributed to Zubaydah bint Abi Jaafar al-Mansur, wife of Harun al-Rashid, the most prominent Abbasid caliph, was a unique model of Islamic engineering at that time. Al-Ain descends from Wadi Numan, below the Hejaz Mountains, through water channels up to a depth of 40 meters underground and built of perforated stone, and the channels have been constructed in a precise way so that they reach the holy sites in of Makkah on the surface of the earth and from which the pilgrims can quench directly. It took 10 years to build the system and it includes 51 underground water tanks. [164,165]. 

In 355 AH / 965 CE, when the Nile River receded from that area, causing hardship to the people at the time, the minister Ja’far ibn al-Furat built the seven public waters fountains to provide the inhabitants of Fustat (Qairo) with the necessary water [166]. 

2.4.5 Water Management Knowledge Development

In the Abbasids era (750–1258 CE), caliphs and based on their understanding of the value of knowledge in Islam, ordered the collection and translation of previous knowledge and experiences from the Romans, Greek, Indians, and others to learn and apply what was achieved and to build on and develop new experiences and knowledge [167]. Later passed on what they learned and developed to the Western World, i.e., the Europeans. Muslims in a concise manner either in publications of books and manuals, by direct application and demonstration, by missions, and other means had passed what they know to the world. The lesson here is the importance of knowledge and experience sharing and spreading to other nations: to learn from previous and other nations and further develop it and build on for solving present as well as future challenges in the sector. 

2.5 The golden age of Andalusia (711-1492 CE), 

2.5.1 Water Systems and Services 

During the tenth century CE, the golden age of Umayyad power in the peninsula, many small dams were built on the 150-mile-long River Turia, which flows into the Mediterranean at Valencia. Eight of these dams are spread over six miles of river in Valencia and serve the local irrigation system. Some of the canals carry water much further, particularly to the Valencian rice fields. These, of course, were established by the Muslims, and continue to be one of the most important rice-producing centres in Europe. Because of their safe design and method of construction, and because they were provided with deep and very firm foundations, the Turia dams have been able to survive the dangerous flood conditions for 1000 years[168].

In the steppe regions, the Middle Age Arabs showed technical expertise in runoff water harvesting and storage. Many small diversion dams built at Oued Meguellil tributaries, the famous Aghlabides Basins were realised in 862, covering an area of 11000 m2 and having a full capacity of 63000 m3 [169,170].

The construction of dams built on rivers by the Arab Muslims in Andalusia left a great impact and created an agricultural boom in Spain. Hill noted that some water dams built by Arab Muslims in Spain may seem small, now, but – they have proven to be very practical in light of the desired goal, as they have continued, to provide irrigation and drinking water needs. An example of such systems exists in the region of Valencia, up to the present day. In Spain, there are a number of dams that illustrate the skill of Muslims in construction methods, including the Cordoba Dam, the Segura River Dam, the Turia River Dam, and others. In which they introduced the techniques for building dams including water level control gates, and channels that drain silt or ud from the bottom of the dam, and these can only be described at their time as “Islamic innovations.” [171][1]

Dam construction in Muslim Spain was prolific. In the city of Cordoba, on the river Guadalquivir can be found what is probably the oldest surviving Islamic dam in the country.[172] . According to the twelfth-century geographer al-Idrisi, it was built of ibtiyya stone and incorporated marble pillars.[173].  The dam follows a zig­zag course across the river, a shape which indicates that the builders were aiming at a long crest in order to increase its overflow capacity.

The engineer Abdullah bin Yunus between 484 and 546 Hijri created a new water system for drawing water from groundwater wells drilled in remote high in elevation places to the city of Marrakesh using underground channels. The water flowed in the channels by gravity. This channel system was called Al-Khatara. The subterranean canal system numbering about three hundred and fifty canals in number and each was about five kilometres in length remains recently in the city of Marrakesh. [174].

During the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 15th centuries), public baths or hammams proliferated in all major Islamic cities in Andalusia, showcasing advancements in personal cleanliness, hygiene, therapeutic treatment, architecture, and engineering[175,176] . In addition, hammams featured specific architectural elements such as domes, vaulted ceilings, and segregated sections for men and women.

Not only in major cities, the Spanish historian Americo Castro stated that the map of the villages in Spain with public baths is the strongest indication that the land was shaped by Muslim civilization. He further pointed to positive hygienic influences by evidencing that public baths in the thirteenth century were managed by municipal regulations which lay down as a rule that the owner of the public bath must provide those who enter it with hot water, soap, and towels [177-180].

There are currently 114 public water fountains (sabeel) in the city of Fez, Morocco in addition to those located within mosques. The history of the construction of public water fountains in Fez goes back to the 13th century during the Marinid era when the construction of water supply was active so historical sources mentioned that Sultan Aba Al-Hassan Al-Marini broke the record for building and equipping Morocco with watering. The fountains are used for getting drinking water by the public in the streets and by surrounding houses. Among the most famous of those are the fountains of the saffron, the carpenters (Al-Najjarin), the villagers (Al-Qaraweein), Andalusia, the henna market (Souq Al-Henna), and the fountain of jasmine (Al-Yasameen). The public water fountains undergo a regular restoration process to restore them to their first image and revive their roles in quenching the thirst of thirst [181].

The sophisticated water gardens of Alhambra and the Alcázar of Seville showcased the fusion of aesthetics and functionality, reflecting the Islamic reverence for water as a source of life and beauty[182].

The Banu Musa brothers also produced fascinating machines such as the hydraulic organ, wudu’ (ablution) water machine, the self-changing fountain, and a drinking device for animals[183].

In Palermo Plain in Spain, areas under a scarcity of surface water, the inhabitants were forced to use groundwater for both irrigation and domestic usage. This was done through the complex but sustainable hydraulic system. Vertical and horizontal wells convey water towards gardens and public fountains making the Arabic Bal ‘harmPalermo) a flourishing town.[184,185].

2.5.2 Agricultural Water Advancements 

The Muslims gained control of Spain in the year  711 CE during the reign of Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid Ibn Abdul-Malik and their rule ended in 1492 CE [186]. They had a huge impact on Spanish agriculture, including the restoration of Roman aqueducts and irrigation channels, as well as the introduction of new irrigation technologies such as the acequias (qanats or water channels originated in Persia), the sakia (animal-powered irrigation water wheel), and the qanat, a subterranean water channelling system. In Spain and Sicily, they introduced crops and foodstuffs from Mesopotamia, Persia and India such as rice, sugarcane, oranges, lemons, bananas, saffron, carrots, apricots, and eggplants, as well as restoring cultivation of olives and pomegranates from Greco-Roman times [187].

Muslim civilization in Al-Andalus and the Middle East developed sophisticated irrigation systems and canals for agriculture. These systems were often community-managed, ensuring that water was allocated equitably among farmers and cultivators [188].

Al-Andalus witnessed remarkable advancements in agriculture and water management during the Islamic Golden Age. The region benefited from an intricate irrigation network consisting of canals (acequias) and water wheels (Norias). These technologies enabled the distribution of water for agricultural use, facilitating the cultivation of crops like oranges, olives, and rice. Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex in Granada, is a notable example showcasing the fusion of water management and agriculture through its intricate garden systems featuring an intricate system of water channels, fountains, ornamental water features, and pools [189-191].

Muslim scientists in Al-Andalus and elsewhere contributed written knowledge on agriculture including food production methods, planting techniques, grafting techniques for plants and trees, new irrigation systems, land granting schemes, agricultural calendar planting rotation, various soil types and treatment, land reclamation methods, and enhancement of botany starting it as a science. Among these scientists are: Ibn Baṣṣāl [192], Ibn al-‘Awwam [193,194],  Ibn Hajjaj al-Ashbili [195], Ibn Hawqal, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad bin Ali [196,197] ʿArīb b. Saʿīd al-Kātib al-Qurṭubī[198], Ibn Washiyah, Abu Bakr[199,200], Abu’l Abbas an Nabati (Ibn Rumiyya) d. 636 AH/1239 CE[201], Al-Dinuri Abu Hanifa [202], Ibn Al-Bannāʾ, Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad[203], and many others. According to several European scholars, the agricultural system of Muslim Spain, in particular, was: “the most complex, the most scientific, the most perfect, ever devised by the ingenuity of man” [204,205].

During the period of Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), the use of Aljibe cisterns was prevalent. Aljibes were underground cisterns designed to collect and store rainwater for agricultural use. This technique allowed for the efficient storage and distribution of water, enabling farmers to irrigate their crops even during dry periods. The strategic placement of Aljibes highlights the advanced understanding of water management and the use of innovative techniques to maximize water utilization [206].

The production sources of wheat in Andalusia were given high priority to wheat methods of cultivation, watering, harvesting, and storing. Wheat remained for centuries as a primary commodity trade in the Mediterranean basin [207]. Scientists believe that wheat and barley were the first crops Muslims grew when they came to Andalusia [208]. Also of interest is the importance given by Andalusia to quality control. They devised means of controlling wheat quality and monitoring fraud and contamination [209].

The early stages of Muslim migration into the Iberian Peninsula seem strictly related to the appearance of irrigated agricultural terrace systems, one of the most emblematic anthropogenic trademarks of the west Mediterranean landscape. Andalusian people selected the most convenient areas to convert the originally poor soils into soils that could support intensive cultivation. In this way, they set the foundation for establishing some of the longer-lasting agricultural strategies in southern Europe. As a result, the largest irrigated terrace systems presently in use within the Iberian Peninsula are still among the most productive in semi-arid areas [210].

Building procedures of irrigated terraces is a complex matter. The Andalusian terrace building technique used at Ricote implies a quick and intense transformation of the pre-existing environment. The terrain was cleared of vegetation by burning, and local oils were used to fill the terraces, possibly to invert the original soil horizons. Nevertheless, the construction of broad terraces was intended to gain as much cultivable space as possible, but it involves bringing to the terrace location considerable volumes of soil and sediment to build them [211,212]. Muslim contributions to the development of Spanish agriculture, included the introduction of new crops, more intensive use of irrigation, soil management, and scholarly efforts in farming innovation [213]. Andalusian Agronomic School (10th-15th centuries) was innovative at its time and helped in developing the agricultural sector in Al-Andalus and neighbouring countries. An example of the school’s agronomist authors was: Arib ben Said, Ibn Wafid, Ibn Hajjaj, Abu l-Jayr, Ibn Bassal, al-Tignari, Ibn al-Awwam, and Ibn Lujun.[214]. Agricultural production varied in quantity and quality from one state to another, depending on different geographical conditions, degree of exploitation, and pattern [215].

Crop rotation, a practice where different crops are planted in a planned sequence over the same piece of land in subsequent seasons, has had a significant and positive impact on water management within the Muslim civilization throughout history. This practice involves growing a variety of crops with different water needs, which helps optimize water usage, enhance soil fertility, and reduce soil erosion. The practice was especially prevalent during the Islamic Golden Age, when scholars and farmers actively exchanged agricultural knowledge and implemented advanced techniques to enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability [216,217]. Crop rotation also had socioeconomic implications on water distribution within the Muslim civilization[218].

The Aljama system in Al-Andalus was a form of cooperative farming, and it often incorporated crop rotation. This system ensured the effective utilization of arable land and water resources. Farmers under the Aljama system would rotate their crops to prevent soil depletion and maximize water efficiency. By alternating water-intensive and drought-resistant crops, farmers were able to optimize the use of water resources and maintain the fertility of the soil[219].

Throughout the Islamic civilization’s history, various agricultural tools have been used to manage water effectively from simple to more sophisticated tools such as water wheels, pumps, and irrigation canals were developed, significantly impacting water management[220]. For example, the Noria Water Wheel was widely used in Al-Andalus for irrigation purposes [221]. The development and implementation of agricultural tools of irrigation channels, like qanats, canals, water wheels and manual pumps have revolutionized water distribution and irrigation practices and allowed for precise water distribution across fields water distribution and irrigation practices [222]. Another example is the use of drip irrigation which allows for precise and efficient water distribution directly to plant roots, minimizing water wastage[223].

In Al-Andalus, particularly in cities like Cordoba and Granada, sophisticated irrigation systems were developed, showcasing early applications of sand and gravel filtration. These systems incorporated sand and gravel layers to filter water before distribution to farms and gardens, improving water quality for agricultural purposes. These systems during the same period were implemented in the city of Baghdad[224,225]. 

Thabet 2019 [226] documented that Al-Faggara, are considered the main organ for life in the desert, in southern Algeria. Al-Faggara in Algeria would have been introduced in the 11th and 12th centuries by El Malik El Mansur, who dug the first foggara 15 km from Adrar at a place called Tamantit [227,228]. 

2.5.3 Water Management Law and Regulation

One of the distinctive examples in Islamic history in Spain with regard to regulating water use is the establishment of a specialized water court by order of Abd al-Rahman Nasir in the year 318 AH, which created the function of the Sakia agency, which is a representative who represents the lands that are irrigated from a particular water wheel as a judge in the Water Court. The most important features of the Andalusia Water Court were the following [229,230]:

  • Simplicity: The supervisor, the injured party, or the accused can raise his case to the official, and bring evidence and witnesses without formalities, formalities and legal formulas.
  • Verbal: All stages of the trial were oral, and it included submitting a complaint, interrogation (to clarify, explain or justify the facts, with the intervention of the president and officials who are questioning the parties) and issuing judgments.
  • Speed: The court hears every week, and deals with the infringements that have occurred since the previous Thursday. Cases cannot be postponed for more than 21 days, in the event that they do not come to the court, exclusively.
  • Economy: No procedural fees are imposed at the trial. Also, officials do not receive salaries or expenses. The accused has to pay the transportation expenses of the supervisor or the court report, noting that compensation for damages is not considered among the procedural fees.

In addition, Muslims in Al-Andalus have brought many sophisticated water management practices and experiences which contributed to agricultural prosperity and reflected the integration of Islamic legal principles in the governance of water resources such as:

  • Acequias, or irrigation canals, were meticulously designed to distribute water for agriculture [231].
  • Building underground tunnels or qanats for groundwater extraction which played a role in sustaining agriculture [232].
  • Islamic legal principles were applied and influenced water governance and the construction of water legal doctrines [233].
  • Al-Andalus introduced innovative crops and cultivation techniques, along with other agricultural practices, with a water management decree at the core [234].
  • As a norm, local communities actively participated in maintaining and managing aqueducts, wells, and other water infrastructure [235].
  • Legal frameworks addressed water use and property rights, and courts adjudicated disputes related to water [236].
  • Islamic principles were closely applied to encourage environmental stewardship, emphasizing water conservation and preventing misuse[237].
  • In Al-Andalus, Muslim engineers and scholars made significant contributions to refining distillation techniques. Distillation was employed not only for obtaining fresh water but also for producing essential oils and medicinal substances, reflecting the versatility of this method during this period [238,239].

2.5 4 Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management

The application of Water Endowment (Waqf) during the Islamic rule of Al-Andalus was a vital aspect of the societal and economic structure.

General Waqf Principles: Waqf was a well-established practice in Al-Andalus, with endowments dedicated to various charitable causes, including water-related projects. These endowments were typically managed by local authorities or individuals [240].

In Al-Andalus, many waqf arrangements supported agricultural development, which often involved irrigation projects. Water endowments played a crucial role in ensuring a sustainable water supply for agricultural activities [241].

Some waqf endowments were likely dedicated to the maintenance and construction of wells, aqueducts, and other water infrastructure to provide access to clean water for the community [242].

Waqf in Al-Andalus extended to various aspects of community welfare, and water-related projects were integral to ensuring the well-being of the population [243].

The legal framework governing waqf in Al-Andalus was influenced by Islamic law (Sharia), and specific regulations were likely in place to manage water endowments and their usage [244].

2.5.5 Water Management Knowledge Development

During the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization (7th to 14th centuries), the Muslim world witnessed unprecedented advancements in water engineering and knowledge development. Scholars and engineers like Al-Jazari, Al-Moradi, Al-Kindi, Al-Biruni, Banu-Musa, Ibn Wahshiyah, A-Kharaji, Ibn al-‘Awwam, Ibn Bassal, and others [245]. Muslims in Al-Andalus were developers of new, creative, and innovative water management knowledge.  They made significant contributions to water technology, designing sophisticated water-raising devices, and simulating the principle of the balance (windmills and waterwheels, steel mill, bridge mill, double-twin acting principle water pumps, camshaft, crankshaft, and crank-sliders) aimed to bring water supply directly to local people in cities and enhance irrigation to improve the framing capacity. These innovations significantly impacted water management, enhancing agricultural productivity and urban development across the Islamic caliphate [246]. The following is an example and a brief of such knowledge development:

  • Automatic crank: The non-manual crank appears in several of the hydraulic devices described by the Banū Mūsā brothers in their Book of Ingenious Devices. These automatically operated cranks appear in several devices, two of which contain an action that approximates to that of a crankshaft, anticipating Al-Jazari‘s invention by several centuries and its first appearance in Europe by over five centuries. However, the automatic crank described by the Banu Musa would not have allowed a full rotation, but only a small modification was required to convert it to a crankshaft.[247,248].
  • Perhaps one of the earliest books in this science is the book “The Ills of Water and How to Extract it and Its Placement in the Two Unknown Lands,” which was written by Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Ali, known as Ibn Wahshiyya, from the Hundred Thirty Hijri [249].
  • There is also the book “Inbat Hidden Water” by Muhammad Ibn al-Hassab al-Karaji, who died in the fifth century AH. It is a valuable book that is an encyclopaedia of art in the study of “hidden” groundwater [250].
  • Al-Karaji(c. 953–1029) advanced knowledge of groundwater during the 10th century, he wrote among others two books: (a) The Extraction of Hidden Waters, which presented ground-breaking ideas and descriptions of hydrological and hydrogeological perceptions such as components of the hydrological cycle, groundwater quality, and driving factors of groundwater flow. He also gave an early description of a water filtration process [251], and (b) Inbat al-miyah al-khafiya is an excellent manual on the supplies of hydraulic water. Besides its main interest in hydrology, it contains a discussion of many topics related to the geography of the globe, various remarks on soil types and nature, as well as paying great attention to surveying techniques[252].
  • The Well”, a book written by Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ziyad al-Arabi. This book describes the parts and types of the groundwater well, the names of each type, the types of water coming out of it, and the machines needed for extracting water from the wells.
  • The book “Ayn al-Hayat in the Science of Devising Water” by Abu al-Abbas Ahmad Ibn Abd al-Mun’im al-Damanhouri, who died in 1182 AH,
  • The book “The Science of Running Water in the City of Damascus or a Treatise on the Science of Water” by Sheikh Muhammad Husayn al-Attar.

Ibn al-‘Awwam, an Andalusian agriculturist and botanist, wrote the monumental “Kitab al-Filaha” during the 12th century. This agricultural manual provided comprehensive insights into agriculture, including irrigation methods and water management practices. It emphasized the efficient utilization of water resources, showcasing the author’s understanding of sustainable agricultural practices during that era [253].

  • Ibn Sina laid the foundations of modern medicine and public health through his book “The Law in Medicine,” which was responsible for introducing the first description of bacterial and viral organisms, and the spread of diseases through water and soil. [254].

Figure 8. Overland Hajj Route Darb Zubayda by Wijdan Fareeq Enad

2.6 The Ottoman period (1517-1923 CE).

2.6.1 Water Systems and Services

During the Ottoman Caliphate rule, water supply was given good care, dams, reservoirs, wells, cisterns, and pools were built to collect water; waterways, channels, aqueducts, and water scales were built to transport the water; pipelines and water reservoirs on the waterways were built to distribute the water; and fountains, waterfalls, floodplains, and baths were made as facilities where the water could be used [255].

Baba et al 2018 [256] reported that during the Ottoman period (13th-20th century) some dams were built. In the period of 1620 to 1839, the Kırkçeşme system is supported by four dams (along with 33 aqueducts, and 7 water intakes and sedimentation tanks), the Taksim system by three dams, with heights up to 17m and crest lengths up to 104m [257,258]. All these dams, Kırkçeşme and Taksim systems as well as the Taşlımüsellim-Edirne system are for the large part still in operation. The Elmalı I dam, constructed in 1893 on the Asian side of Istanbul, is also still in operation; Şamlar in Istanbul, Maden near Adapazarı, and Semalı near Amasya are other interesting dams of the Ottoman period. [259]. Ottoman dams were formed by two masonry walls with an impervious fill between them. Spillways did not exist on dams. The crest and the downstream of dams were lined with marble. [260]. 

  • The hydro-agricultural complex of Sidi Bouathmane (12th century-40 km north of Marrakesh) Almohad erected a hydraulic and agricultural complex to capture runoff water and channel it to large reservoirs. The complex was made up of dams, settling ponds and nine tanks with a total capacity of 3,254 m3 [261].

The Irara Dam in Tafilalet (near Rissani about 200 km northeast of Marrakesh) The Irara Dam was built in the 17th century on the Wadi Ziz. 1701 m long and 10 m high, it was built in steps with buttresses and lime masonry. Work monumental, it is a masterpiece of flood hydraulics for which the Tafilalet region was the cradle[262]. 

The Ottomans adopted older techniques of water qanat, reintroducing large-scale aqueducts to supply their emerging towns with adequate water for religious and social purposes as well as drinking. Experience and knowledge of Muslim ancestors could still play an important role in sustainable water supply both in developed and developing countries, either presently or in the future. Aqueducts or qanats technologies are characterized by their durability and sustainability and are still in use in several parts of the world. It should be noted that the qanat system is called aqueduct in Europe, qanat in Iran, faggora in Algeria, khattara in Morocco, kariga in Tunisia, sahreej in Yemen, falaj in the Arab Emirates and Oman, and Kariz in central Asia. [263-265].

Ottoman cities like Istanbul implemented sand and gravel filtration beds in their water supply systems, significantly improving water quality. These filtration systems were a testament to the caliphate’s dedication to providing clean and safe drinking water to its population [266].

Ottoman engineers and architects incorporated settling basins and reservoirs into their water infrastructure to facilitate sedimentation. This practice was fundamental in ensuring that water supplied to households and communities was as clear and clean as possible [267].

The Ottoman Caliphate widely adopted the use of clay pots for water storage. In urban and rural areas alike, people stored water in clay pots to ensure a readily available and cool water supply [268].

Water supply was so indispensable to Muslims that during the Ottoman period, (ca. 1669–1898) in addition to water supply for homes, there was a water tap in every mosque. Public baths or Hamams, which are also referred to as Turkish baths, played an important role in Ottoman culture and served as places of social gathering and ritual cleansing etc [269]. Ottoman hammams, prominent in the Ottoman Caliphate, feature grand entrances, large domes, and rich decoration, reflecting the opulence of the era [270].

Hammams in the Ottoman era were very widespread. The most important baths in the Ottoman era are [271]:

(1) Fathi’s bath: in the locality or quarter of Al-Maydan.
(2) Hammam al-Rifai: in the locality or quarter of Al-Maydan.
(3) Al-Qashani bath: in the silk market, but unfortunately it turned many years ago into a commercial market, although it retained its general plan and the tile panels that covered its wall and façade.
(4) The Tailors’ Market Bath: Unfortunately, it has also been transformed into a textile factory, and sources suggest that it was contemporary in its construction of the adjacent khan, Khan al-Jukhiya.

During the Ottoman rule of Mosul, public baths were taken care of after they were destroyed by the Mongols. Published sources mention the establishment and presence in operation of between 17-36 public baths for men and women during the Ottoman era [272]. Hammams served as vital social spaces, promoting cleanliness, ritual purity, and community interaction [273].

Sabeels were built at crossroads and outside mosques throughout the Ottoman caliphate to provide drinking water for travelers and enable ritual purification before prayer. The construction of many sabeels was considered the hallmark of a beneficent ruler. There are about 17 Sabils (fountains) in the al-Aqsa compound [274]. The Fountain of Ahmed III, next to Topkapı Palace and the Hagia Sophia, is one of the most famous and elaborate examples [275,276]. 

2.6.2 Agricultural Water Advancements

Food and industrial self-sufficiency were achieved for the inhabitants of all Ottoman provinces. Therefore, the Ottoman-controlled provinces enjoyed self-sufficiency in daily food necessities during the period from the middle of the sixteenth century to the second half of the eighteenth century [277].

The Ottoman caliphate, with its vast agricultural territories, employed various irrigation methods to enhance agricultural output. They utilized a combination of surface irrigation, drip irrigation, and aqueducts to deliver water to farmlands. The “sübyan” system, which involved the equitable distribution of water to farmers, showcased their efforts to ensure fair access to this essential resource [278, 279].

2.6.5 Water Management Law and Regulation

The Ottoman Caliphate established and practiced sophisticated legal and regulatory frameworks concerning water management, reflecting a combination of Islamic principles, local governance, and imperial decrees including:

Here are specific practices and experiences related to water management law and regulation during the Ottoman caliphate:

  • The Ottomans established the Kanun system, which included regulations governing water rights and usage [280]. A set of laws addressed issues related to water allocation, usage, and distribution [281].
  • Local Ottoman administrators known as Aghas were responsible for managing water resources and ensuring equitable distribution [282].
  • The Ottomans used Waqf to endow water-related infrastructure, ensuring perpetual maintenance and accessibility of water resources [283].
  • Local communities actively participated in the maintenance and regulation of water systems, fostering a sense of collective responsibility[284].
  • Details: Many imperial decrees promulgated addressed water-management-related issues, emphasizing the importance of sustainable practices[285].
  • Specialized courts (Dār al-‘Ādil) were established to deal with water-management-related disputes, applying legal principles to resolve conflicts [286].

In addition, the Ottomans established a centralized system of water governance, creating institutions such as the “Su Vakıfları” responsible for water regulation and maintenance [287]. 

2.6.6 Waqf (Endowment) for Water Management 

Islamic endowments (waqf) have historically been used in the Ottoman era, as well as others, to fund and maintain water infrastructure, such as wells, canals, and fountains, ensuring sustainable water access for communities. Waqf funds were allocated to support the maintenance and development of water resources [288].

This era witnessed the construction of many fountains (water endowments), whether in the city where the seat of the caliphate, or in the states belonging to it, so much real estate was initiated and endowed so that the spendings were spent and taken care of [289].

The matter increased interest during the reign of Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (926 AH – 974 AH), where he renewed and rehabilitated many of them in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, such as Suleiman Pond, the Sabeel Canal, the Sultan’s Pool, and the well of Azbek, and the reconstruction of many of the ways, such as the path of the valley road, the renewal and rehabilitation of the path of the Lions Gate, and the way of the chain gate, as well as the Sultan and those who followed him from tuberculosis [290].    

In Iraq: The oldest water endowment fountains date back to the Ottoman era, including, for example: the path of Al-Rawdah Al-Husseiniya in Karbala, which was ordered to be built by the mother of Sultan Abdul Majeed Al-Othmani, in the year (1282 AH), the Abbasid Rawda Road, and the Bab Al-Shuhada Road [291].

In Egypt: In the Ottoman era, the good people of Cairo competed in the construction of many fountains with the intention of providing water prepared for drinking all year round at a time when modern means of water supply were not known [292]. At that time seventy public fountains were constructed and endowed [293].

In Mecca: The Mina Way, which was built in the year (1340 AH – 1921 CE), and is one of the distinguished and unique architectural examples, it was characterized by an independent and unprecedented architectural body, next to the prominent entrance block, and its construction with the famous stone, and it also contained vocabulary and architectural elements, very beautiful, such as basins and knotted entrances, hexagon supports, and the columns integrated into the corners, and the balconies that crown the façade of the sabil, and this path is considered one of the last endowments in the Ottoman era in Mecca [294, 285].

2.6.7 Water Management Knowledge Development

The Ottoman caliphate had a rich history of water management characterized by sophisticated infrastructure and innovations. Here are some specific inputs of Ottoman scholars  on water management knowledge development during the Ottoman era with references:

  • “Ottoman Water Management: Cultivating the Sultan’s Garden” by Water Thompson [296]. This chapter/book explores the Ottoman approach to water management, emphasizing the importance of gardens and agricultural practices.
  • “Water Architecture in the Balkans: Ottoman Valide Sultan Complexes and Cultural Conceptions of Water” by Ahmet Ersoy [297]. In this book, the author delves into Ottoman water architecture, focusing on the Valide Sultan complexes and the cultural significance of water in Ottoman society.
  • “Water Management in Ottoman Istanbul” by Donald Quataert [298]. This chapter/book provides insights into the complexities of water management in Istanbul, addressing issues such as water sources, distribution, and the impact on daily life.
  • “Urban Water Management in Ottoman Aleppo (16th–17th centuries)” by: Francesca De Chatel [299]. The chapter explores water management practices in Ottoman Aleppo during the 16th and 17th centuries, shedding light on urban water systems.
  • “Engineering and Contracting in Ottoman Public Works: Capital Formation, Labour and Nature Management” by Ebru Boyar [300]. This work discusses Ottoman public works, including water-related projects, and their impact on capital, labour, and nature management.

Historical records suggest that the Ottomans used solar stills, a form of distillation, to obtain fresh water from seawater or brackish water in coastal areas. This method was a practical solution to the scarcity of freshwater in these regions [301].

3. Concluding Remarks

Based on the above presentation, the following concluding remarks were observed:

  • Since its inception and over more than fourteen centuries, Islamic civilization has been full of experiences, practices and achievements in the field of water management in all its aspects.
  • The Prophet and the Muslim caliphs after him were keen to ensure equality in the availability, access, and distribution of water to all members of the Muslim communities and they built and developed all needed water systems and infrastructures to achieve that goal and for all purposes.
  • The development of agriculture and irrigation from technical, technological and knowledge aspects by Muslims over time has contributed to a high degree in securing food for Muslim peoples and helped non-Muslims to develop this important sector.
  • The use of the Islamic Waqf in providing water supply, digging wells, building water channels for various purposes, public water fountains, and others has proven effective mean in serving the public and in improving water management throughout history and to the present day.
  • Water law, known as Qanun al-Miyah, throughout Muslim civilization regulated water usage, distribution, and rights, and resolved disputes. The principles of water management were based on justice and fairness inspired by Islamic legal principals as stated in the  Qur’an and Sunnah (sayings and traditions of the Prophet).
  • The responsibilities of digging, operating, and maintaining of water systems such as wells and canals were often given to the Muslim community. 

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[1] [171] Ahed Fadel , (2020). European capital continues to drink water from the hands of the Arabs. Published by Al Arabiya.net: https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/last-page/2020/04/30/. Posted on: April 30, 2020. Accessed December 11, 2020.

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