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Islam and Spiritualism ( 11 Jul 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Historical Account of the Islamic Prayer or Namaz in Islam (Part 13): Purification, Ablution and Tayammum

By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam

12 July 2014

If the worshipper is unclean or impure (i.e. he is without ablution), his prayer will not be acceptable in Islam, because cleanliness and ablution are the keys to an Islamic prayer. Cleanliness in Islam implies the purification of body, dress and place of worship. The Islamic practice of Wuzu (partial ablution) should be performed in complete conformity with the Qur’anic edicts and hadith rulings which say that: “Allah, the Almighty does not accept the prayer of a worshipper without ablution” (1).

It has been reported in the hadith books that “there is no prayer without an ablution” (2) and that “cleanliness is a part of faith” (3). All these traditions make it clear that cleanliness (taharah) is an essential obligation for a Muslim without which he/she cannot perform the Salah. This ruling has been unanimously agreed upon by all the four Islamic schools of jurisprudence, namely Hanafi, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali.

The rulings of cleanliness have different connotations and meanings that vary from people to people, and faith to faith. However, all religions unanimously endorse the notion that a prayer cannot be accepted as long as the worshipper is physically impure or place of worship is unclean. As regards the covering the private parts, nearly all religions make it incumbent upon the worshippers. In Judaism, for instance, the prayer cannot be accepted if the worshipper has not covered his/her private parts completely during the prayer. So is the case with Islam (4).

The holy Quran recommends Ghusl (full-body ablution) as a mandatory practice before the performance of a prayer. The act of Ghusl is achieved by purifying the whole body from janabat or impurity. The Quran says: “O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janabah, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]. And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving” (5).

The terminologies of the Islamic Shriah like Najasat, Tuhar and Taharah are the Arabic words which were commonly used in the pre-Islamic era of Jahiliyah (ignorance). However, we don’t properly know whether the real connotations of these words were the same as defined by the Islamic Shariah. In other words, it is not clearly known if the people of Jahiliyah had determined their meanings by making certain rules and conditions for achieving Taharah (cleanliness) and removing Najasat (impurity). Some of them considered the death as a Najasat and, therefore, recommended to give full ablution (Ghusl) to the dead body. Later, Islam also approved of this practice. Similarly, people of Jahiliyah used to consider the menstrual cycle of a woman as Najasat and determined the period after its completion as al-Ithar (period of purity) (6).

Janabat (a ritual impurity caused by the discharge of semen or by sexual intercourse) was considered a kind of Najasat in the pre-Islamic Arabia. Islam also endorsed it. The people of Jahiliyah would perform the Tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba seven times, in a counterclockwise direction) only after they had performed the Ghusl of Janabat by washing and cleansing the whole body of all ritual impurities (8).

There was an age-old tradition in the pre-Islamic Arabia and Semitic communities as well. People used to perform Ghusl (full-body ablution) with a view to free their bodies from the evil souls. They believed Taharah kept the evil souls away from their bodies (9).

 The act of Wudu or partial ablution should be performed in accordance with the rules and rituals stated in the Surah al-Maidah, which was revealed in Medina. Allah Almighty says: “O ye who believe! When ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If ye are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that ye may be grateful” (10).

The above Quranic mandate about the Islamic ablution is quite identical to the afore-mentioned verse from Surah Nisa, but it is more detailed with regard to Wudu. In both the Quranic verses, rulings on the Ghusl (full-body ablution), Wudu (partial ablution) and Tayammum (dry ablution) have been clearly outlined.

We find numerous narrations in the hadith books telling us how the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to perform Wudu. The Prophet’s way of ablution is indeed the best way for Muslims to follow, as he was given the status of Shaar’-e-Islam (Sharia-maker). It was the Prophet (pbuh) who taught Muslims the rules and rituals of Wudu (11).

Generally, Muslims don’t have any grave controversies or differences over the method of Wudu. They only differ on some minor issues like washing both the feet once up to and including the ankles, performing masah of one-fourth of the head, washing both the arms including the elbows once etc. But such minor differences don’t affect the base of Wudu as enshrined in the holy Quran or hadith texts.

Since the Qur’anic mandate for Wudu came in a Medinite Surah, Ibn-e-Hazm argued that the injunction of Wudu was revealed in Medina, as it is clear from a verse in the holy Quran (12). Nevertheless, the books of Sirah and Hadith denote that the commandment of Wudu was revealed along with that of the Salah. They tell us that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) performed the first prayer with ablution. It is mentioned that Prophet (pbuh) was taught the mode of performing Wudu by Allah through Angel Jibril (a.s) (13).

Based on reports like the above-mentioned one, in which Angel Jibril (a.s) is reported to have thought the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) mode of performing Salah, the renowned author of the book “al-Sirah al-Halbiyah” retorted the argument of Ibn-e-Hazm and stated that Wudu was made obligatory in Mecca along with Salah. Thus, the Quranic verse of the Wudu is Meccan in terms of its practical obligation and Medinite in terms of recitation. This view is corroborated by the Maliki school of thought which propounds that “the performance of Wudu was Mustahab (virtuous) before Hijrah (Prophet’s migration to Medina) and later it became mandatory after the Surah Maidah was revealed in Medina” (14).

In refutation of the Ibn-e-Hazm’s view, the author of the book “al-Sirah al-Halbiyah further writes that: “The major reason behind the revelation of Surah Maida was to state that those who could not perform Wudu or Ghusl due to illness or unavailability of water should perform Tayammum. It implies that the obligation of Wudu and Ghusl was declared before the revelation of this verse. Moreover, this opinion is supported by Hazrat Aisha’s (r.a) explanation to this verse in which she said that “Allah revealed the verse of Tayammum”. She did not say “the verse of Wudu” because ablution had been enjoined upon Muslims before this verse was revealed.

A group of Ulema held the view that Wudu was made obligatory a year before the Prophet’s migration to Medina when the Salah was ordained, while others opine that both Wudu and Ghusl were ordained in the night of Isr’a 16.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to perform partial ablution for each and every prayer. While some of the Prophet’s companions followed him in doing so, others would offer the Salah with only one-time Wudu unless it was invalidated. It is reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) performed all the five prayers with one Wudu on the day when he conquered Makkah. When Hazrat Umar (r.a) asked the Prophet (pbuh) about it, he said that he did it purposefully so that he could indicate to the legality of performing all the five prayers with only one Wudu (17). This is one of the distinct personality traits of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).       


The Quranic mandate for Tayammum or dry ablution was revealed in Medina, in Surah al-Nisa and al-Maidah (21). The verses in these Surahs mention the mode of Tayammum and the situations in which it becomes permissible.

According to a hadith mentioned in Sahih Muslim, Hazrat A'isha reported: “We went with the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) on one of his journeys and when we reached the place Baida' or Dhat al-jaish, my necklace was broken (and fell somewhere). The Messenger of Allah (way peace be upon him) along with other people stayed there for searching it. There was neither any water at that place nor was there any water with them (the Companions of the Holy Prophet). Some persons came to my father Abu Bakr and said: Do you see what 'A'isha has done? She has detained the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and persons accompanying him, and there is neither any water here or with them. So Abu Bakr came there and the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was sleeping with his head on my thigh. He (Abu Bakr) said: You have detained the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and other persons and there is neither water here nor with them. She ('A'isha) said: Abu Bakr scolded me and uttered what Allah wanted him to utter and nudged my hips with his hand. And there was nothing to prevent me from stirring but for the fact that the messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was lying upon my thigh. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) slept till it was dawn at a waterless place. So Allah revealed the verses pertaining to tayammum and they (the Holy Prophet and his Companions) performed tayammum.”

The above-mentioned hadith makes it clear that the commandment of Tayammum was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) after his migration to Medina.

The practice of Tayammum was ordained when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) returned from the battle of Bani Mustalaq (23), at a time when the Prophet’s wife Hazrat Aisha’s necklace was lost (24). According to Ibn al-Qyyim al-Jawziyah, this incident took place in the fifth year of the Hijrah (25), while Imam Tibri mentions that it happened in the sixth year of the Hijrah (26).

In the Jewish Shariah, Tayammum is a popular practice which is permissible if water is unavailable (27). It is also mentioned that Christians used to perform Taymmum if they did not find water easily (28).

The Zoroastrianism also enjoined Tayammum upon its followers as an obligatory practice to be done whenever they woke up from their sleepy. It is, therefore, mandatory for a Zoroastrian to wash his/her face, hands and feet three times each. Afterwards, he/she has to rub these particular parts of body with the Kehurin (a kind of liquid made up of fruits juice). For Zoroastrians, Tayammum is an act of dry ablution using sand or dust, which may be performed in place of ritual washing, if no clean water is readily available. Natural surfaces such as rock, sand and dust are free of najaasat (unclean elements), because they are found in remote areas without being trampled down (29).

The Zoroastrians perform Ghusl (full-body ablution) beginning with the right parts of body. They wash their right hands and right feet first, both in full-body ablution or partial ablution (Wudu). In Zoroastrianism, right foot is always given preference over the left, even in case of putting on shoes. The same holds true for the Jewish Shariah (30).  


1 - Sahih Muslim 140/1.

2 - Sahih Muslim 140/1.

3 - Sahih Muslim 140/1.

4 - Mischna, Be 'rahhoth, 3, 5, Mittwoch, S., 15.

5 - Surah al-Nisa: 43.

6 - Taj al-Uroos, 362/3.

7 – Please see the book "Wulhuzn" on the remains of idolatry in Arabia. Also, go through the article “al-Taharah wal Wudu” published in the “Risaalah” magazine (Part 640, 8 October 1945, page: 1083).

8 – al-Sirah  al-halbiyah: 299/1۔.

9 - Shorter Ency. of Islam, P., 635.

10 –The holy Quran, Chapter: 5, Verse: 6

11 – Sahih Muslim  141/1۔.

12 - al-Sirah  al-Halbiyah: 300/1, "al-maktaba al-tijariyah".

13 - Sirah Ibn Hisham 155/1, al-Sirah al-Halbiyah 251/1.

14 - al-Sirah  al-Halbiyah 300/1, al-maktaba al-tijariyah".

15 - al-Sirah  al-Halbiyah 300/1, al-maktaba al-tijariyah.

16 - al-Sirah al-Halbiyah 299/1.

17 - al-Sirah  al-Halbiyah 301/1, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Zaad-ul-Ma’ad fi Huda Khair al-Ibad,  48/1, Egypt 1950.

18 - al-Sirah al-Halbiyah 300/1, al-maktaba al-tijariyah.

19 - al-Sirah al-Halbiyah 300/1, al-maktaba al-tijariyah.

20 – al-Rauz al-Anaf 11/2.

21 - Surah al-Nisa, verse: 43, al-Maidah, verse: 6

22 - Sahih Muslim, 191/1, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 506/1, Asbaab al-Nuzul 113.

23 – al-Miqrizi, Imtaa al-Asmaa  197/1۔

24 - Imtaa al-Asmaa  206/1

25 - Zaad al-Ma'aad 112/2۔

26 - History 604/2, Imtaa al-Asmaa  195/1.

27 - Berakot fol. 15a, Shorter Ency. of Islam, P. 589.

28 - Cedrenus, Annals, ed. Hylander, basle 1566, P., 206 Shorter Ency. of Islam. P. 589.

29 - Saddar C. 50. 74, Vend. 18, 21, The Old Persian Religion, P., 120.

30 - The Old Persian Religion, P., 129