We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Ablutions - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Ablutions

By:
Gabriele Tecchiato, Mark Sedgwick
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women What is This? A single source for accurate overview articles covering the major topics of scholarly interest within the study of women and Islam.

Related Content

Ablutions

The state of ritual purity (ṭahārah) that is an essential condition for the fulfillment of many religious practices in Islam is attained through ablutions, washing or alternative actions. Ritual purity is a prerequisite for the performance of such major acts of worship as the ritual prayer and the pilgrimage, and, according to some schools of legal thought, for other religious performances such as reciting the Qurʾān or even for teaching. The absence of the state of purity makes such acts invalid though not necessarily forbidden: a person in a state of impurity may recite the Qurʾān for comfort or protection. Ablutions are normally performed at least five times a day by a practicing Muslim and may be performed more frequently, either as a preliminary to acts such as reciting the Qurʾān or because the Muslim in question follows the practice of remaining in a state of ritual purity at all times, which many more pious Muslims regard as desirable though not obligatory. Ablutions are thus a major part of the daily life of the practicing adult Muslim.

Historically, concepts of purity and impurity and thus of ablutions are common in the religious context of the Semitic world, practiced by Jews and Samaritans, although through different procedures. The presence of purifying rites based on ablution is evident as well in epigraphic documentation of pre-Islamic South Arabian cultures.

A distinction is made between minor ablutions (wuḍūʾ) and major ablutions or bathing (ghusl), depending on the level of impurity. Minor ablutions are necessary to remove minor impurities (al-ḥadath al-aṣghar) produced, for example, as a result of physiological functions such as passing urine, excrement, gas, blood, or vomit; as a result of loss of consciousness through deep sleep or fainting; or—according to some—as a result of touching one's own genitals or a person of the opposite sex, or by certain other forms of contact. Major ablutions are necessary to remove major impurities (al-ḥadath al-akbar; also janābah) produced by sexual intercourse, ejaculation, the menstrual period, and childbirth. It should be noted that, among the causes of impurity, only the menstrual period and childbirth are specific to women, whereas only ejaculation is specific to men. These specificities vanish, however, under the general principle that impurity is produced by the emission of any liquid whatsoever, other than tears, from a fixed position in the body (with sweat not falling under this category).

As well as being necessary to remove major impurities, major ablutions are also recommended before the Friday prayer and on certain other major ritual occasions such as beginning the pilgrimage. Furthermore, they are required while preparing the corpse of a deceased Muslim for the funeral prayer and subsequent burial. This form of major ablution—the washing of the corpse—is not required for the burial of martyrs, who are buried as they were when they died.

The basic procedure for minor ablutions consists of washing the hands, rinsing the mouth and nose, washing the face, washing the forearms up to the elbows, rubbing the head with the damp hand, washing the ears, and washing the feet up to the ankles. Each part of this procedure, save the rubbing of the head and the washing of the ears, is performed three times. The procedure for major ablutions consists of washing every part of the body, including hair and the scalp. In both types of ablution, priority is always given to the right side of the body.

The washing must be done with a purifying liquid. Rainwater is regarded as the perfect purifying element. Water may lose its ability to purify or even become impure itself as a result of the addition of other substances, however. Coca-cola, for example, is not purifying. Water containing urine is not only not purifying, it is also not pure: contact with it produces impurity. In exceptional cases, such as either the total unavailability of water or the unavailability of water at a reasonable price—circumstances that may arise in desert conditions even in the twenty-first century—a type of dry ablution (tayammun) using sand or another solid material, such as dust or stone, is permitted.

As for other religious practices, there are differences within and between the major Sunnī schools of legal thought, as well as between Sunnīs and Shīʿīs. Many of these concern which varieties of water are pure and/or purifying, or which elements in the basic procedure for ablutions described above may or may not be omitted without invalidating the ablutions and thus also the act of worship performed after them. There is general agreement that the water in a muddy puddle is not purifying, for example, and that the water in a broad and fast-flowing stream is purifying, but much discussion has arisen over types of water in between these extremes, such as what minimum volume of non-running water may be assumed to be purifying. In practice, it is nowadays generally assumed that water produced by a faucet or tap is purifying, but issues surrounding the purity of water can still arise in areas lacking the reliable provision of piped water.

Significant differences also exist with regard to what produces ritual impurity in the first place. As is often the case, there is general agreement on the basic points given above, but disagreement on some details. Within Sunnī Islam, for example, all save the Mālikīs consider ablutions necessary after contact with a dog. Differences also abound regarding contact between the sexes. The Shāfiʿīs hold ablutions to be necessary after any kind of contact, even a handshake, whereas the Ḥanafīs believe ablutions are not needed unless the contact was accompanied by lustful desires.

Bibliography

  • Badawi, Jamal A. Aṭ-ṭahārah: Purity and State of Undefilement. Plainfield, Ind.: Islamic Teaching Center, 1979.
  • Burton, John. “The Qurʾān and the Islamic Practice of wuḍūʾ.” In The Koran: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies, edited by Colin Turner, pp. 111–159. Vol. 2: Themes and Doctrines. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.
  • Jazīrī, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-. Kitāb al-fiqh ʿalá al-madhāhib al-arbaʿah. Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2012.
  • Katz, Marion H. “The Study of Islamic Ritual and the Meaning of wuḍūʾ.  ” Der Islam 82 (2005): 106–145.
  • Kuşçular, Remzi. Cleanliness in Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Tahara. Somerset, N.J.: The Light, 2007.
  • Sābiq, Sayyid. Fiqh us-sunnah: At-tahara and as-salah. Indianapolis, IN: American Trust Publications, 1991.
  • Subḥānī, Ayatollah Jaʿfar. Doctrines of Shīʿī Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. Translated and edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi. London: I. B. Tauris, 2001. See especially pp. 185–187.
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2019. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice