In Egypt, and the Islamic world in general, water has a special importance due to the need to ritually cleanse with water prior to prayer. Praying five times a day makes the presence of water more than just a convenience, it becomes a necessity to ensure a steady, clean supply for the community. Before indoor plumbing became more common around the world, water was drawn from cisterns, wells and fountains. It was during the Ottoman Empire that drinking water fountains in Egypt became commonly installed for the public, usually as a charity offered by the wealthier citizens of the community. These public water fountains often formed the hub around which sprang up mosques, schools, libraries and hospitals.
In Egypt still today the practice of offering water by making it freely available to the public is in evidence everywhere. From the smallest village to the largest city, clean cool drinking water is amply available on every street and road. It may be as simple as a metal rack holding clay drinking vessels filled with water, a plastic water cooler like we might use while camping, or even a huge stainless steel refrigerated water dispenser with several faucets. There is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad recorded that Allah will refuse attention, on the Day of Resurrection, to “the man who, having water in excess of his needs, refuses it to a traveler…” (Abu Dawud and authenticated by Al-Albani).
Everywhere imaginable you will find free, fresh drinking water available. In the street markets, there are water stations supplied by shop merchants in front of their stores. On random narrow alleys you will find interesting clay jugs filled with fresh water every morning in front of colorfully painted residential buildings.
Even on the busy highways, it is not uncommon to see a car, taxi or microbus stopped at one of these rustic shrines to the Merciful God of Free Drinking Water. The driver of a loaded microbus, or maybe one of his passengers, will be busy refilling a plastic water bottle kept in the vehicle for this use. It often gets shared communally around the microbus, refilling as necessary, until everyone is satisfied.
A refreshing, cold drink of water to quench the thirst on a hot, dry Egyptian day is definitely something to give thanks to God for!