(ghusl, wuḍūʾ, tayammum)

Zacharia al-Khatib

Ablution, defined as ritual purification, requires washing of the whole body (ghusl), or parts of it (wuḍūʾ) with water or in its absence with dust, sand, or other non-combustibles (tayammum). This article is meant to provide an overview of the topic; for specific acts of ablution, fiqh manuals should be consulted with the help of qualified jurists. All three categories of ablution are covered in the following sections: I. Major Ablution (Ghusl); II. Minor Ablution (Wuḍūʾ); III. Dry Ablution (Tayammum).

I. Major Ablution (Ghusl)

Major ritual ablution, or ghusl, refers to the complete washing of the body, either as a purification necessary to perform certain acts of ritual worship (see Ritual Purity and Impurity) or as a supererogatory means of spiritual preparation and rejuvenation.

This section comprises the following parts: i. Definition and Usage; ii. Actions Comprising Ghusl; iii. Chronology of the Enjoining of Ghusl; iv. Acts Requiring Ghusl; v. Times at which Ghusl is Recommended; vi. Spiritual Dimensions.

Definition and Usage (Ghusl)

According to Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004), the root gh-s-l denotes “cleaning something and purifying it”, its noun form being ghasl (Maqāyīs). The root takes a number of declensions in the Qurʾān; thus al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) notes the word ghasl is used for when water is poured over a thing to purify it, as Allah says wash (fa-ghsilū) your faces (Q 5:6); ightisāl refers to washing the entire body, as when Allah says until you take a purifying bath (taghtasilū) (Q 4:43); mughtasal can refer either to the place where one washes or the water with which one washes, depending on context, an example of the latter usage being here is a cool spring, by which to wash and drink (Q 38:42). Another derivative is the noun ghislīn, denoting that which is washed off and mentioned in Q 69:36 as the fare of the condemned: Nor shall he have food, save from ghislīn (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-s-l). Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) interpreted ghislīn to refer here to discharge from the bodies of those tortured in Hell (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 69:36). Ibn al-Athīr (d. 606/1210) mentions another usage of ghasala as referring to sexual intercourse, which al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1790) explains as a euphemism by metonymy (respectively, Nihāya and Taj).

The verb taṭahhara, stemming from the root ṭ-h-r, is also used to refer to ghusl in Q 2:222 and Q 5:6. According to Ibn Fāris, this root carries the meaning of purification and removal of filth (Maqāyīs, sub gh-s-l). In its Qurʾānic usage, it can be used to refer to purification of the body, the soul, or both (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṭ-h-r). Its use in Q 2:222 (but when they have purified themselves, you may approach them) indicates, according to al-Aṣfahānī, that “intercourse is impermissible until the wife has attained purity [from her menses] and has purified herself (i.e., by ghusl)”—an interpretation strengthened by the readings of Shuʿba, Ḥamza, Kisāʾī, and Khalaf, in which it is read as yaṭṭaharna (form V) meaning “thoroughly cleanse themselves,” implying a more complete cleansing than the other recitations, in whose reading it is yaṭhurna (form I) meaning “become pure”, implying purification merely through the cessation of menses (see Canonical Readings) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-s-l).

Regarding Q 5:6, if you are ritually impure (junuban), then thoroughly purify yourselves (fa-ṭṭahharū), al-Rāghib states decisively that it refers to “using water, or what takes its place when there is none (i.e., earth; see section III of this entry below) for purification.” Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) indicates that the root of the word is fa-taṭahharū but that the first ta has been elided to lighten its pronunciation, a practice common in classical Arabic when a prefix t immediately precedes a root . Here he follows al-Ṭabarī, who, though he is not explicit about the morphological phenomenon, explains the word by stating: “This means to thoroughly purify (fa-taṭahharū), which means to bathe fully (fa-ghtasilū) before performing the prayer that you have been ordered to do” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Al-Rāzī further relates the verse to a preceding one: “this purification is bathing (ightisāl) (lustration), as mentioned in the verse nor enter [the places of prayer] when ritually impure except as passers-by, until you take a purifying bath (taghtasilū) (Q 4:43)” (Tafsīr, sub Q 5:6).

Actions Comprising Ghusl

Major ablution requires that one wash the entire body, after cleaning it of filth, with the intention of undertaking ritual purification (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, bāb ṣifāt al-ghusl). As with other ritual acts, scholars differ as to some of the particulars of ghusl: for instance, whether intention is necessary (the majority affirming it, the Ḥanafī school not requiring it; cf. Section II below for an analogous discussion of the status of intention in wuḍūʾ) and whether additional elements are necessary (such as washing the mouth and nose (maḍmaḍa wa istinshāq), which the Ḥanafīs and Ḥanbalis require, or rubbing while washing (dalk), which the Mālikīs require). Jurisprudential texts dealing with the differences between major schools, such as Ibn Qudāma’s (d. 620/1223) al-Mughnī or Ibn Rushd’s (d. 595/1198) Bidāyat al-mujtahid, delve into these debates and discuss the evidence associated with other scholars’ opinions, though they are not held as primary references for the established positions of the schools of fiqh.

The ghusl of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is described in numerous authentic hadiths, for example the narration by the Prophet’s wife ʿĀʾisha, may Allah be pleased with her: “Whenever the Prophet took a bath after being ritually impure he started by washing his hands, and then performed ablution (see section II below) like that for the prayer. After that he would put his fingers in water and rub the roots of his hair; then he would pour three handfuls of water over his head; and then he would pour water all over his body” (Bukhārī, Ghusl, al-wuḍūʾ qabl al-ghusl; Muslim, Ḥayḍ, ṣifat ghusl al-janāba). In another hadith, the Prophet’s wife Maymūna, may Allah be pleased with her, described the Prophetic ghusl by saying: “Allah’s Messenger performed ablution like that for the prayer but did not [immediately] wash his feet. He also washed off his private parts and any impurity on his body. After that, he poured water over his body. He withdrew his feet from that place (i.e., the place where he took the bath) and then washed them. And that was his way of taking the bath of janāba” (see discussion of janāba below) (Bukhārī, Ghusl, al-wudūʾ qabl al-ghusl; Muslim, Ḥayḍ, ṣifat ghusl al-janāba).

Chronology of the Enjoining of Ghusl

ʿĀlāʾ al-Dīn al-Ḥaṣkafī (1025-1077/1616-1666) states that “there is consensus among the scholars of Prophetic biography (sīra) that wuḍūʾ and ghusl were made obligatory in Makka with the injunction of prayer… moreover, this was the law of those who came before us (that is, the People of the Book), as evidenced by the hadith ‘This is my wuḍūʾ, and the wuḍūʾ of the Prophets who came before me’ (Dāraqutnī, Sunan, Ṭahāra, wuḍūʾ Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam)” (Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār, Ṭahāra, bāb al-wuḍūʾ). Muslims likely already had a practice of ritual bathing upon entering Islam, or for touching the text of the Qurʾān, as the hadith about ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s (d. 23/644) conversion indicates. When he asked his sister, Fāṭima bint al-Khaṭṭāb, to see the parchment from which she was reciting the Qurʾān, she replied “‘My brother, you are impure because of your idolatry, and none can touch this save one who is purified,’ so Umar rose and bathed (ightasala)” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Sabab islām ʿUmar). The use of the noun here could indicate either full bathing or merely washing, though the context implies the former. 

Acts Requiring Ghusl

The two cases in which washing the entire body becomes legally incumbent occur when one enters a condition of major ritual impurity (janāba) as per Q 5:6: if you are impure, then purify yourselves (by ghusl); and at the cessation of menses as per Q 2:222: and do not approach (your wives) until they are pure—then, if they purify themselves (i.e., by ghusl) then go to them from whence Allah has commanded you.

The term janāba is derived from j-n-b, a root that stems from the word janb, originally referring to the side of the body and derivatively to area and distance (Rāghib, Mufradāt). One of the root’s declensions is ijtanaba, meaning to abstain completely (Q 4:31; 5:9; 22:30; 39:17), for abstinence involves imposing distance between oneself and something. Al-Rāghib links the term janāba to this latter spatial connotation, stating that it has that meaning because a person in that state is cut off from performing ritual acts of worship and must therefore abstain from them (Mufradāt). Ibn Fāris offers a slightly variant interpretation, suggesting that janāba distances one from worship in that one must first perform ghusl before engaging therein (Maqāyīs, sub j-n-b). Neither of these conditions means that the junub individual is him- or herself intrinsically impure or able to convey impurity to anything else (along the model of contagion sometimes found in other ritual practices); rather, all that janāba entails is an impediment to his or her partaking in certain forms of worship, an impediment that may be corrected by ghusl (or by tayammum if water is not available, see Section III below). The eminent Companion Abū Hurayra (d. 57/681) narrates that one day he encountered the Prophet, peace be upon him, in the streets of Madina, but, being junub, felt that it was inappropriate to remain in the Prophet’s company. He discreetly left to bathe, returning once he had finished. When asked where he had gone, Abū Hurayra replied, “I was impure (junub), and I did not like to sit with you while I was impure”—to which the Prophet, peace be upon him, replied, “Glory be to Allah! A Muslim never becomes defiled (najis)” (Bukhārī, Ghusl, ʿaraq al-junub; Muslim, Ḥayḍ, al-muslim lā yanjus). Thus there is no social stigma upon junub individuals, nor upon women in menstruation, though there are limitations regarding the acts of worship each may perform.

Jurists of all schools concur, based on hadith evidence, that one enters a state of janāba by (i) vaginal penetration by the penis, (ii) the ejaculation of semen or female ejaculate, or (iii) at the commencement of menses (ḥayḍ), or (iv) post-natal bleeding (nifās). One must perform ghusl after the cessation of these events prior to performing some forms of ritual worship, such as prayer, circumambulation (see Kaʿba), and recitation of the Qurʾān—but not others, such as supplication and the recitation of litanies (see Remembrance and Reminder of Allah) (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, faṣl yataʿallaqu bi-qiraʾāt al-junub wal-ḥāʾid wal-muḥdith adhkārahum). Death, although not considered to enter one into a state of janāba, also obliges ghusl (unless the deceased was killed in battle, see Martyrdom and Martyrs), which becomes the duty of the community (farḍ kifāya). Shafiʿī scholars also hold that childbirth necessitates ghusl, in that it constitutes the final discharge of what were once male and female sexual fluids (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, bāb mā yūjib al-ghusl).

Times at which Ghusl is Recommended

While ghusl is mandatory only under the above conditions, it is highly recommended in many other circumstances. Al-Nawawī (631-676/1234-1277) lists some of these, including when a person newly enters Islam (some scholars hold that ghusl is then obligatory); after washing a dead body and preparing it for burial; before entering a state of pilgrim-sanctity (iḥrām) for the Hajj ; during many stages of Hajj itself; and before the two Eid prayers, the eclipse prayers, and the Friday congregational prayer. In general, says al-Nawawī, it is recommended to perform ghusl before any occasion when large numbers of people will be gathered (al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, bāb ṣifāt al-ghusl). The individual afflicted with the “evil eye” (see Healing and Cure; Jealousy; Magic) is recommended to make ghusl with the ablution water of the one who is thought to have cast it upon him: ʿĀʾisha, Allah be pleased with her, mentioned that “The one who had cast the evil eye would be ordered [by the Prophet] to make minor ablutions (see wuḍūʾ below), and the one who had been afflicted therewith would then bathe (yaghtasil) in [the water from the ablution]” (Abu Dawūd, Ṭibb, mā jāʾ fī-l-ʿayn).

Many of these times at which ghusl is required or recommended can broadly be categorized as either related to reproductive acts (intercourse, menses, childbirth) or to major events of transition and rebirth (entering Islam, Hajj, death). Both categories relate to milestones on the physical and spiritual journey, and ghusl, as a more intense form of purification, is a means of preparation for these transitions.

Spiritual Dimensions (Ghusl)

Ghusl encompasses both physical and spiritual purification, the one being a condition for the other; this is the import of the final part of Q 2:222: truly, Allah loves those who turn often to Him [in repentance], and who seek to purify themselves. According to al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273), “those who turn in repentance” refers to sinners who seek Allah’s forgiveness , and “those who seek to purify themselves” refers to those who use water to wash away major impurity/janāba (by making ghusl) or minor impurity/ḥadath (by making wuḍūʾ, see below) (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:222). Al-Qurṭubī adds that Allah mentions the repentant before the outwardly clean to prevent the latter from feeling pride (ʿujb) at their outward state (see Pride, Arrogance, and Boastfulness); for while outward cleanliness is essential, inward purity is even more important.

Remarking on the inner dimensions of ghusl after intercourse, al-ʿĀmilī (911-965/1505-1558) says: “Because of the body’s distance from high stations, due to its submersion in lower pleasures, to wash it completely is one of the most important requirements of the Sacred Law, so that the individual is prepared to face the honored direction (i.e., the Qibla), enter into lofty worship, and separate himself from carnal drives and base desires” (Asrār al-ṣalāt, al-faṣl al-awwal fī-l-ṭahāra).

II. Minor Ablution (Wuḍūʾ)

Wuḍūʾ, or minor ablution, denotes the ritual washing that Muslims must perform as a means of purification before certain ritual devotions, most importantly prayer, and is considered to be meritorious in its own right. Though the word wuḍūʾ itself is not used anywhere in the Qurʾān, the ritual is described, in very brief form, in Q 5:6.

This section of the article comprises the following parts: i. Definition and Usage; ii. The Verse of Wuḍūʾ and its Occasion of Revelation; iii. Status and Time of Wuḍūʾ; iv. Obligatory Actions of Wuḍūʾ; v. Supererogatory Actions of Wuḍūʾ; vi. Wiping over Footgear as a Substitute for Washing the Feet; vii. Nullifiers of Wuḍūʾ; viii. Acts Requiring Wuḍūʾ; ix. Spiritual Dimensions.

Definition and Usage (wuḍūʾ)

Stemming from the root w-ḍ-ʾ, which contains the meanings of “beauty” and “cleanliness”, wuḍūʾ thus connotes the ‘beautification’ of the limbs as they are washed (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs). The same infinitive, when vowelled with a short ‘a’ (fatḥa, thus waḍūʾ) on the first consonant rather than a short ‘u’, follows a common morphological pattern in primarily denoting the thing by which the action is performed (here, water used for ablution), but in a lesser known dialect refers to ritual purification itself (Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs). In Islamic legal idiom, wuḍūʾ entails washing the face, hands and arms, wiping the head, and washing the feet for the purpose of purification.

Muslim jurists differ as to whether the Muslim forms of ablution are unique or were previously practiced. Ḥanafī scholars maintain that the ablutions taught by the Prophet, peace be upon him, were those of previous communities, on the basis of the hadith “This is my wuḍūʾ and the wuḍūʾ of the Prophets who came before me” (Dāraqutnī, Sunan, Ṭahāra, wuḍūʾ Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayh wa sallam) (Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-Muḥtār, Ṭahāra, al-wuḍūʾ). On the other hand, the Mālikī arch-jurist (mujtahid) Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071) states, “previous religious communities (umam, sing. umma) (see Community) did not perform ablutions as we [Muslims] do: washing the face, then hands, then feet” (al-Maghrāwī, Fatḥ al-Barr, Ṭahāra, al-wuḍūʾ). This position implies, by extension, that the idiomatic usage of the word wuḍūʾ only arose with the advent of Islam. Ibn al-Athīr notes that in hadiths the term sometimes denotes not ritual purification—a usage he describes as “common and well-known”—but also merely “washing some limbs”. He cites as an example the Prophetic injunction to “perform wuḍūʾ from what fire has touched” (i.e., after eating cooked food), wuḍūʾ here meaning to “wash the hands”, suggesting that he believes the term was coined for ritual ablutions during the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and this usage then became predominant (Nihāya). 

The Verse of Wuḍūʾ and its Occasion of Revelation

The “verse of wuḍūʾ” (āyat al-wuḍūʾ) (Q 5:6), as it is termed by commentators, states: O you who believe, when you rise to prayer then wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe [part] of your heads, and [wash] your feet to the ankles; and if you are ritually unclean (i.e., junub), then take a purifying bath. And if you are sick or on a journey, or one of you comes from having relieved himself or touches (or: has intimate relations with) women, and you do not find water, then take clean earth and rub your faces and hands therewith. Allah does not want to burden you, but rather He wants to purify you and complete His favor upon you, so that you may be grateful. (Unless otherwise noted, exegetical references in this part of the article are to commentary on this verse.) Al-Qurṭubī observes that this verse continues the theme with which the chapter opens, namely upholding the rulings of the Sacred Law (sharīʿa) and reflecting on the perfection of Allah’s blessings upon the Muslim community (Tafsīr).

Most scholars, amongst them al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870), consider this verse to have been revealed on the return from the Battle of Muraysīʿ, in the fifth or sixth year after Migration (see Hijra) (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). ʿĀʾisha narrates that she had lost a necklace that she had borrowed from her sister Asmāʾ, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, delayed the army’s return to Madina in order to look for it. The time of prayer entered while the army was without sufficient water to perform ablutions, causing some to be upset with ʿĀʾisha. Shortly thereafter, however, the verse containing the dispensation for dry ablution (tayammum, see Section III below) was revealed. The loss of the necklace, which was found when ʿĀʾisha’s camel arose, was thus a blessing in disguise; as the Companion Usayd b. Ḥudayr (d. 20/641) remarked, “Nor is this the first of your blessings, O family of Abū Bakr!” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, tafsīr Sūrat al-Māʾida).

Scholarly disagreement as to which verse was revealed on this particular occasion stems from the fact that two verses of the Qurʾān contain instructions for dry ablution (Q 4:43, 5:6). It is possible, in fact, that both were revealed on the same occasion.

Given the verse’s chronologically late revelation, Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. ca.542/1147) notes that “wuḍūʾ was already common practice amongst the Muslims, and its Qurʾānic mention did not increase them in anything other than its recitation” (Muḥarrar). This opinion is supported by the emergence of the term far earlier in hadith literature, as well as by the scholarly consensus that ritual washing was taught alongside the prayer itself (see al-Ḥaṣkafī’s comment in “Chronology of Ghusl” above). Moreover, as the occasion of revelation indicates, the immediate reason for the verse’s revelation was the lack of sufficient water for the army to perform the ritual ablutions. The Divine wisdom, then, behind “the revelation of the verse of wuḍūʾ, though it was already acted upon, was that its obligatory nature should be recited as part of the revelation” (Muḥarrar); that is, as a means of preserving the injunction for the believers and indicating its high status by including it in the Qurʾān. 

Status and Time of Wuḍūʾ

Because of the wording of the verse in question, there is disagreement as to how often the ritual ablutions must be performed; this difference stems from the injunction to wash when you rise to prayer. The linguistic import of the phrase suggests that one should therefore perform wuḍūʾ whenever intending to pray; however, the vast majority of scholars (and the four extant Sunni legal schools) hold that this injunction is to be understood in the light of the hadith of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb who saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, perform all of his prayers with a single wuḍūʾ (Muslim, Ṭahāra, jawāz al-ṣalawāt kullihā bi-wuḍūʾ wāḥid), indicating that one need only repeat minor ablution if one has done something to nullify it. Though some sources report that the Ẓāhirī school clung to the most literal possible interpretation of the verse and maintained that one must perform ablution for every prayer, Ibn ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1972) observes that this attribution is suspect, as it is only found in the tafsir of al-Ṭabarsī (d. 548/1153) and is not in Ibn Ḥazm’s manual of Ẓāhirī law itself (Tafsīr), which explicitly states that one need not wash for every prayer but only needs ritual purity as a prerequisite for prayer in general (al-Muḥallā, Ṭahāra, Masʾala 112). Most Companions, and the great majority of exegetes and jurists, regarded ablution for every prayer as a supererogatory devotion (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr), explaining variously that (i) the obligation for all prayers was abrogated (see Abrogation) by the previously cited hadith; (ii) the obligation was specific to the Prophet, peace be upon him, but was abrogated; (iii) the command was not abrogated, but rather means that if one rises to prayer while in a state of ritual impurity then one must wash, while for those in a state of ritual purity it is recommended to do so; or (iv) what is meant by “when you rise to prayer” means doing so after sleeping; and, since sleep nullifies minor ablution, one must perform ablution. This last opinion, as Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) rightly observes, amounts to maintaining that wuḍūʾ is only invalidated by one of its nullifiers, and need not be repeated for each prayer (Tafsīr).

Obligatory Actions of Wuḍūʾ

The components of minor ablution are broadly divided into obligatory and supererogatory actions. Some differences of opinion arose regarding whether particular actions were obligatory or supererogatory, stemming from varying interpretations of the Qurʾānic verse based on implicit indications derived from the semantics of the Arabic language and other ordinances derived from hadith sources. Thus, while all authorities agree on the four things explicitly mentioned in the versewashing the face, hands, feet, and wiping the head (see Body)they differ regarding the importance of other actions.

An example of scholarly differences in analyzing the text is reflected in the disagreement as to whether the intention (niyya) to perform ablution is an integral act of wuḍūʾ or is merely superorogatory. Jurists of all schools hold that one must make an intention to undertake ritual worship, because of the well-known and rigorously authenticated saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him, “Actions are but by intentions, and each person will have only what they intended” (Bukhārī, ʿIlm, kayfa badʾ al-waḥī; Muslim, Imāra, qawluh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam Innamā l-aʿmāl bil-niyyāt). The Ḥanafī school, however, does not consider intention an absolute essential of wuḍūʾ, drawing an analogy between ablution and the washing of a garment from filth in that it can be effected whether intended or otherwise. Hence, in their understanding, an individual who washes the parts mentioned in the verse becomes purified, whether they intend specifically to perform wuḍūʾ or not. However, Hanafī jurists do hold that the intention is necessary for one to gain the reward for wudūʾ itself (Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-muḥtar, Ṭahāra, maṭlab al-farq bayn al-ṭāʿa wal-niyya wal-ʿibāda; for a discussion of the difference of opinion, see Ibn Daqīq al-ʿĪd, Iḥkām al-aḥkām, Ṭahāra, hadith 2). The other schools, however, contend that minor ablution is itself a form of worship and requires a specific intention, especially as numerous hadiths show that wuḍūʾ removes sins and that repeating wuḍūʾ (but not ghusl) for each prayer even when already ritually pure is considered a supererogatory devotion (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, yustaḥabb tajdīd al-wuḍūʾ wa lā yustaḥabb tajdīd al-ghusl); they also necessarily hold the corollary opinion regarding the status of impurity (ḥadath), namely that it does not have to do with physical or empirically observable filth.

Those who argue that intention is obligatory for wuḍūʾ specify its time on the basis of a linguistic argument. According to Shāfiʿīs, the intention should minimally be made in conjunction with the first obligatory action of the ritual, namely washing the face. They derive this ruling from the fact that the word for intention (niyya) occurring in the aforementioned hadith means “determination to do something, when conjoined with its action,” as opposed to mere determination (ʿazm), which occurs before the action itself begins (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, niyyat al-wuḍūʾ). In their view, determination to do a righteous action is praiseworthy, but what is essential is that one have the intention to do so at the actual time of performance. Thus, scholastic differences occur not only because of supplementary texts, but also because of varying analyses of the verse itself.

Differences of legal opinion regarding wuḍūʾ also arose as a result of variant readings of the Qurʾān (qiraʾāt) (see Canonical Readings). For instance, the word “feet” is inflected with a short ‘i’ (kasra) in some transmitted recitations, meaning that the word is conjoined with the preceding preposition min: and then wipe your heads and your feet. However, other readings have “feet” inflected with a short ‘a’ (fatḥa), which would mean that the feet must be washed: and wipe your heads, and [wash] your feet (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Exegetes and scholars from the Companions onwards understood the verse in that latter sense; Ibn Kathīr, in particular, includes an entire sub-chapter in his Tafsīr surveying the narrations that explicitly or implicitly call for washing, not wiping, the feet. Ibn ʿĀshūr states that there has been general consensus ever since the time of the Followers of the Companions (tābiʿūn) that the feet must be washed, and that the only group who differed from this opinion were the Twelver Shīʿites and al-Ṭabarī, the latter of whom held that one may choose between wiping and washing (Tafsīr). However, Ibn al-Mundhir’s (d. 270/884) statement in his collection of points of consensus leaves room for dissent: “The overwhelming majority of people of knowledge concur that washing the feet is necessary…” (al-Ijmāʿ, consensus 24; emphasis added). Though Ibn Kathīr attempted to reconcile al-Ṭabarī’s view with that of the Sunni mainstream, his interpretation of al-Ṭabarī’s words seems forced (see both their Tafsīrs).

The reading with the inflection of kasra is variously interpreted by Sunni jurists (1) as being restricted by the more specific recitation of washing, (2) as indicating the permissibility of wiping over footgear, or (3) as having that inflection by virtue of its proximity to the kasra that precedes it (jarr bil-jiwār), which precludes the meaning of wiping (a grammatical concession found in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and prose) (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Another strong indication taken from this recitation was that it called for rubbing the feet with the hands while pouring the water, implying the requirement of a higher level of washing for added cleanliness (al-Biqāʿī, Naẓm al-durar). Others contend that the word for “wipe” (masḥ) in Arabic can actually mean “wash”, an interpretation considered very weak by linguists and grammarians (see Ālūsī, Rūḥ). Ibn ʿĀshūr suggested that the recitation according to which the feet may be wiped was correct but was abrogated by hadiths calling for washing (Tafsīr); this hypothesis too is weak, given the sufficiency of the previous interpretations and the fact that the revelation of the verse came after the Prophetic traditions had already established the rite. Finally, al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) mentions another explanation, in which he interprets the genitive state metonymically: “If you say: ‘what interpretation do you give the recitation in [which “feet” is in] the genitive?’ I reply: ‘Feet are amongst the three limbs that must be washed, and since water must be poured over them [unlike the other two limbs], it is more likely that water will be wasted [during this particular step], a condemnable sinful matter. Thus, it was conjoined to [wiping the head] not to mean they should actually be wiped, but rather to make clear the need for moderation in washing them’” (Kashshāf).

It should be noted that although exegetes disagree upon the precise interpretation of the linguistic and grammatical appropriations of the verse, they do not advance general legal arguments against washing. The focus of their discussion was not the correctness or otherwise of this ruling, but whether it could be directly derived from the Book of Allah. Ibn ʿĀshūr preferred the narration of the Companion Anas b. Malik (d. 93/712), found in al-Ṭabarī’s Tafsīr, that “the Qurʾān came with wiping, while the Sunna [came] with washing” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr), stating that “this is the best interpretation of what has been mentioned”, for the Sunna is the foremost clarification (bayān) of the application of the Qurʾān (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, Introduction): We have sent down the Book to you [O Muḥammad] only so that you may explain to them those things in which they differ, and that it may be a guide and mercy to people who believe (Q 16:64). 

Supererogatory Actions of Wuḍūʾ

The Prophet exemplified how the Divine injunction was to be implemented: numerous hadiths detail the Prophetic ablution, such as the one narrated by Ḥumrān (d. 71/691), the slave of ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān (d. 35/656), in which he mentions that he “saw ʿUthmān, may Allah be pleased with him, call for water for purification (waḍūʾ), which he poured from the vessel onto his hands, washing them three times; he then entered his right hand into the vessel (scooping water out); then he rinsed his mouth and nose out three times; then he washed his face three times; then he washed his hands and arms to the elbows, three times; then he wiped his head; then he washed each foot thrice, after which he (ʿUthmān) said: ‘I saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, perform wuḍūʾ just like this wuḍūʾ of mine, and he (the Prophet) said: ‘Whoever performs wuḍūʾ like this wuḍūʾ of mine, then prays two units of prayer (rakʿatayn) in which he does not converse with himself, Allah will forgive him his past sins’” (Bukhārī, Wuḍūʾ, al-maḍmaḍa fī-l-wuḍūʾ).

Jurists derived numerous supererogatory actions for wuḍū taken from other narrations (see, for instance, Ibn Taymiyya, Muntaqā al-akhbār, Ṭahāra, abwāb ṣifat al-wuḍūʾ farḍih wa sunanih); on the other hand, narrations from other Companions indicate that the Prophet, peace be upon him, at times washed each limb twice, or once, and left out certain things, though never those basic matters mentioned in the verse of the Qurʾān. The elements considered “supererogatory” by scholars include: saying “with the name of Allah” (bismi-Llāh) (see Basmala) at the beginning of ablutions; washing each limb thrice; washing out the mouth and nose; wiping the ear; reciting the testimony of faith after ablutions; and other matters. Other acts, such as washing the hands before entering them into the water-vessel, and rubbing the limbs while washing, are variously considered to be either obligatory or supererogatory (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, ṣifat al-wuḍūʾ). 

Wiping over Footgear as a Substitute for Washing the Feet

The permissibility of wiping over footgear as a substitute for washing the feet is a well-known dispensation, narrated in so many different traditions by so many different Companions—al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) mentioned that he had heard it from seventy of them (al-Zaylaʿī, Naṣb al-rāyah, al-Tahāra, bāb al-masḥ ʿalā al-khuffayn)—that it is considered an unequivocal, “mass-transmitted” report (naṣṣ mutawātir), the highest level of textual authenticity, and one that necessitates certainty (al-Rāzī, al-Maḥṣūl, al-kalām fī-l-akhbār, al-bāb al-awwal fī-l-tawātur, al-masʾala al-thāniyya fī anna al-tawātur yufīd al-ʿilm). As a result, there is unanimous consensus amongst Sunni scholars that such wiping is permissible (Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Ijmāʿ, consensus 25). Al-Nawawī notes that this agreement was recorded in early books detailing the legal issues upon which there was consensus, and that the only groups who had ever disputed it were the Kharijites (Khawārij) and Shīʿites (al-Majmūʿ 1:500). This single legal issue metonymically represents the validity of all the narrations of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, given that so many of them reported and affirmed it. Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/921) thus includes in his famous credal text al-ʿAqīda al-Ṭaḥāwiyya the statement “We consider valid the dispensation of wiping over foot-coverings, in travel and residence, as narrated in authentic reports” (§76) which indicates that the matter is established dogma, and its outright denial removes one from the faith, a position clearly expressed in the statement “I fear a state of disbelief for anyone who denies the permissibility of wiping over footgear, for the traditions passed down (āthār) in this regard have reached the level of indisputability (tawātur)” variously attributed to Abu Ḥanīfa (d. 150/767) and al-Karkhī al-Ḥanafī (d. 340/952) (Ibn al-Humām, Sharh Fatḥ al-qadīr, al-Tahāra, bāb al-masḥ ʿalā al-khuffayn; al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-mafātīḥ, Ṭahāra, bāb al-masḥ ʿalā al-khuffayn). 

Nullifiers of Wuḍūʾ

Though the Qurʾān does not explicitly state everything that invalidates minor ablutions, jurists were unanimous in declaring that urination and defecation, passing wind, ejaculation, and any type of loss of consciousness nullifies wuḍūʾ (Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Ijmāʿ, point 3). The first two of these are understood as being referred to in Q 4:43 and Q 5:6, where Allah says and if any of you come from having answered the call of nature, while there is a well-known difference of opinion as to whether or if you touch women in the same verses refers to mere contact or sexual intercourse, which would imply the third above-mentioned nullifier (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:6). Other matters are disputed, for instance the flow of blood or pus from a cut or from the nose, vomiting, eating meat (particularly camel), or touching a marriageable person of the opposite sex. Still other things are held to have been nullifiers of wuḍūʾ previously, until that ruling was abrogated; for instance, eating cooked meat (see al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, Ṭahāra, bāb al-aḥdath allatī tanqud al-wuḍūʾ). 

Acts Requiring Wuḍūʾ

The Qurʾān mentions wuḍūʾ specifically in the context of prayer (ṣalāt). The ritual prayer is therefore the only form of worship requiring ablutions (or, in absence of water, tayammum) according to absolute consensus (Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Ijmāʿ, point 1)—to the extent that al-Akhḍarī (d. 983/1575) included in his Mālikī legal primer the statement that “whoever prays deliberately without wuḍūʾ (or tayammum) is an unbeliever”—meaning anyone who believes that it is permissible to do so (Mukhtaṣar, Ṭahāra, lā yajūz li-ghayr al-mutawaḍḍiʾ).

Scholars differ as to whether the indefinite particle in the verse None touch it save the purified (Q 56:79) refers to the Qurʾān itself or the Preserved Tablet (al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ); those who take the former opinion (al-Qurṭubī cites Qatāda (d. 118/736) and others, and he himself adopts this position as the “more apparent”) infer from the verse, as from Prophetic narrations, that touching the written Qurʾān (muṣḥaf) is forbidden unless one is ritually pure (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 56:79). While others did not infer this stance from this verse, the only group who disagreed that ritual purity was a precondition for touching the Qurʾān were the Ẓāhirīs, who ruled that being in ritual purity was commendable but not essential (Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā, Masʾala 116: wa qirāʾat al-Qurʾān wal-sujūd fīh)—a ruling considered by other jurists as anomalous (shādhdh) and erroneous.

Finally, the Shāfiʿī, Mālikī, and Ḥanbalī schools specify that circumambulation (ṭawāf) of the Kaʿba requires ritual purity, whereas in the Ḥanafī school it is recommended (al-Nawawī, al-Majmūʿ, al-Ḥajj, bāb al-ṭawāf; Ibn Rushd, Bidāyat al-mujtahid, Ḥajj, bāb al-qawl fī shurūṭih; al-Bahūtī, al-Rawḍ al-muqniʾ, al-Manāsik, bāb dhikr dukhūl Makka wa mā yataʿallaq bil-ṭawāf wal-saʿī).

Spiritual Dimensions ( wuḍūʾ)

Like certain other passages of the Qurʾān, the verse of wuḍūʾ begins with specific legal injunctions and ends with a summary of the ultimate purpose of such laws: Allah does not want to burden you, but rather He wants to purify you and complete His favor upon you, so that you may be grateful (Q 5:6). Thus the primary goal of ablution is purification, something that is clearly not limited to the external washing of the limbs, as commentators old and new have mentioned. The verse, then, “points to the wisdom behind ablution, which is to purify oneself externally, through physically cleaning the body, and also to purify oneself internally, a characteristic that Allah gave it when He made it a form of worship—for truly all forms of worship contain numerous hidden aspects” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:6). The Prophet, peace be upon him, himself informed his Companions of some of these inward benefits, saying for instance that “Whoever performs wuḍūʾ like this will have his previous sins forgiven, and his prayer and walking to the masjid are counted as additional [reward]” (Muslim, Ṭahāra, faḍl al-wuḍūʾ wal-ṣalat ʿaqibahu).

The Prophet, peace be upon him, also mentioned that ablutions repel Satanic influences, specifically anger: “Anger is from Satan, and Satan was created from fire, and fire is put out by water. So anyone who feels angry should make wuḍūʾ” (Abū Dāwūd, Awwal al-adab, mā yuqāl ʿind al-ghaḍab). Similarly, ablution has also been cited as a means of averting the “evil eye” (al-ʿayn): ʿĀʾisha, may Allah be pleased with her, reported that “The one who had cast the evil eye would be ordered [by the Prophet] to make wuḍūʾ, and the one who had been afflicted therewith would then bathe (yaghtasil—see section I on Ghusl above) in [the water used in that ablution]” (Abu Dawūd, Ṭibb, mā jāʾ fī-l-ʿayn).

Moreover, wuḍūʾ is mentioned as a means by which the inhabitants of Paradise increase in physical beauty, just as they are spiritually purified in this life. There is a hadith regarding ʿUmar’s prophesized rewards in Paradise, according to which the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “I saw a lady making wuḍūʾ beside his palace” (Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-Ṣaḥāba, faḍāʾil ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb). Commenting on this, Imam Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Qurṭubī (578-656/1182-1258), one of the teachers of the exegete Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Qurṭubī, noted that “This lady only performed wuḍūʾ so that she might increase in beauty, there being no filth [to wash off] in paradise.” This shows that while in the present world ablution affects both spiritual beauty and physical cleanliness (see “Spiritual Dimensions” in Section I above), in the next life it will only enhance the first (al-Mufhim, Faḍāʾil al-Ṣaḥāba, bāb faḍāʾil ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb).

Al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) understands ablution as having several levels, of which the physical process of washing is the most basic: “So be cognizant, O people of insight, [when considering] these outward acts, that the most important matter is to purify the Inward! (…) Purification is on four levels. The first level is purification of the outer form from ritual impurity, filth, and suchlike. The second is to purify the limbs from committing sins and evil deeds. The third is to purify the heart of blameworthy character and vulgarity. The fourth is to purify the soul of [concern for] anything other than Allah, and this is the level of purification of the Prophets, Allah’s blessings and peace be upon them” (Ghazālī, Ihyāʾ, Asrār al-ṭahāra). The mystical inner significance of the rite is not considered by al-Ghazālī to take precedence over its outward aspect, which he discusses at length; the inner element is occasioned by the physical rite and inseparable from it.

Al-Ghazālī also recommends numerous formulae of remembrance (dhikr, pl. adhkār) to be uttered simultaneously with the successive actions of wuḍūʾ, most being allusions to passages of the Qurʾān. Al-Nawawī says in his al-Adhkār (“Book of Invocations”—references in parentheses below added by the author of this article): “As for the remembrances associated with the limbs in the minor ablution, nothing has been transmitted from the Prophet, peace be upon him. Nonetheless, some jurists state that it is encouraged to say certain devotions transmitted from the early generations (salaf), as follows.

  • After saying “Bismi-Llāh” one says: “All praise is for Allah, Who made water a source of purification” (see Q 25:48);
  • At the time of rinsing the mouth one says: “Oh Allah, grant me a drink from the pool of Your Messenger (in Paradise—a reference to a mass-transmitted hadith, see Bukhārī, Riqāq, fī-l-ḥawḍ) after which I shall never thirst again”;
  • Rinsing the nose: “Oh Allah, do not forbid me the beautiful fragrances of Paradise”;
  • Washing the face: “Oh Allah, make my face illuminated on the day when [some] faces are illumined and others are darkened” (Q 3:106);
  • Washing the arms: “Oh Allah, give me my book [of deeds] in my right [hand], and do not give it to me in my left” (see for example Q 69:19-37);
  • Wiping the head: “Oh Allah, forbid the Fire my hair and scalp (Q 70:16), and keep me in the shade of Your Throne on the Day when there will be no other shade” (see Bukhārī, Adhān, man jalasa fī-l-masjid yantaẓir al-salāt wa faḍl al-masājid);
  • Wiping the ears: “Oh Allah, make me of those who listen to what is said and follow the best of it” (Q 39:18);
  • Washing the feet: “Oh Allah, make firm my steps on the Bridge (ṣīrāṭ).”                (al-Adhkār, Adʿiyat aʿḍāʾ al-wuḍūʾ)

It is moreover by their wuḍūʾ that the believers will be recognized in the Hereafter: “On the Day of Resurrection,” said the Prophet, peace be upon him, “my Community will be called ‘those with shining faces and limbs’ (al-ghurr al-muḥajjalīn) because of the effects of wuḍūʾ. So whoever of you can increase the extent of his luminosity (i.e., by such ablutions) should do so’” (Bukhārī, Ṭahāra, bāb al-wuḍūʾ).

In reflecting upon the component parts of wuḍūʾ and their significance and symbolism, the devotee concentrates on and prepares for both the imminent meeting with Allah—that is, in prayer—and the stages and states through which he or she will pass on the Day of Judgment, outward and inward purification being the first and most important step on the worldly and after-worldly journey to Allah.

III. Dry Ablution (Tayyamum)

Dry ablution (tayammum) refers to the wiping the face and hands with soil or a derivative thereof when water is not available or its use is impracticable. The practice is established in Q 4:43 and Q 5:6.

This section of the article comprises the following parts: i. Definition and Usage; ii. Revelation of the Verse of Tayammum; iii. Preconditions of Tayammum; iv. Actions Comprising Tayammum; v. Spiritual Dimensions.

Definition and Usage (Tayammum)

Tayammum is derived from the root y-m-m, meaning “to seek out”. Its literal use is exemplified in the famous hadith of Kaʿb b. Mālik (d. 51/671) regarding his repentance after failing to participate in the expedition to Tabūk, in which he says “I threw it (i.e., a letter he had received) into the fire” (fa-tayammamt bihā al-tannūr, lit. “I sought out the fire with it”) (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, ḥadīth Kaʿb bin Mālik; Muslim, Tawba, ḥadīth Kaʿb b. Mālik wa ṣāḥibayh). In the Qurʾān this verb is used in two contexts: first, regarding charity, in Q 2:267: And do not seek out the vile of it (your wealth) to give away, meaning “do not give away the lowliest of your goods, such that your charity serves merely to dispose of belongings that you already dislike” (see Almsgiving); second, regarding dry ablution, in both Q 4:43 and Q 5:6: then seek out (fa-tayammamū) pure earth (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub y-m-m). The linguist Zayn al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 666/1268) cites Ibn al-Sikkīt (d. 244/858) as noting that after its Qurʾānic appearance the primary meaning of the word tayammum became the ritual act of dry ablution itself (Mukhtār). 

Revelation of the Verse of Tayammum

Al-Qurṭubī favors the opinion that the dispensation allowing dry ablution, though universal, was first revealed regarding the Companion ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf during an illness (Tafsīr, sub Q 4:43). Others, such as Ibn Saʿd (d. 230/844) (Ṭabaqāt 2:65), Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 354/965) (al-Thiqāt 1:264), and Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071) (al-Maghrawi, Fatḥ al-Barr, Ṭahāra, bāb al-tayammum), are convinced that it was revealed during the campaign of Banū Musṭaliq, also known as the Muraysīʿ campaign (mentioned above in Section II on wuḍūʾ). In any case, Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223) states that there is scholarly consensus as to the general permissibility of tayammum for both major and minor ablution when its conditions are fulfilled (Mughnī, bāb al-tayammum). 

Preconditions of Tayammum

Q 4:43 begins in the conditional: If you are ill, or upon a journey, or you come from having relieved yourself, or have had intimate relations, and can find no water, then seek out pure earth, and wipe therewith your face and handsTayammum is thus permissible by necessity, whether because of illness or lack of water. When these conditions are met, tayammum can substitute for both wuḍūʾ and ghusl, as the verse mentions the acts by which they are made incumbent: relieving oneself, which necessitates wuḍūʾ, and intimate sexual relations, which necessitate ghusl.

Al-Qurṭubī qualifies the word “illness” in this verse as referring to severe cases in which one fears that using water to perform ablution would cause extreme duress, including cases in which one is not ill but fears that using water will cause severe illness (such as when the water or environment is very cold). A well-known example is the case of a Companion of the Prophet who while out on an expedition sustained severe injuries to the head and later had a wet dream—requiring him to perform ghusl (see above) before he could pray. He asked other soldiers on the expedition if he could perform tayammum, given the state of his wound, but they replied that since there was water available he had no dispensation to do so. He performed ghusl and died as a result. Hearing of this, the Prophet, peace be upon him, angrily exclaimed, “They have killed him, may Allah confound them! Why did they not ask, if they did not know? Truly the only cure for ignorance is to ask” (Abū Dawūd, Tayammum, al-majdūr yatayammam). The report also highlights the gravity of giving legal opinions without sufficient knowledge, the danger of seeking religious knowledge from unqualified sources, and the responsibility to seek it from those who are trustworthy and reliable. On another occasion, the Companion ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ performed tayammum in lieu of ghusl while on an expedition, as it was very cold and he feared becoming ill were he to bathe. Upon his return to Madina he was asked by the Prophet, peace be upon him, about the incident; he replied that “Allah says Do not kill yourselves, Allah is truly merciful to you” (Q 4:29). The Prophet is reported to have smiled, approving of his reasoning (Abu Dāwūd, Tayammum, idhā khāf al-junub ʿalā nafsih al-maraḍ aw al-mawt aw khāf al-aṭash tayammam). Mild illness, al-Qurṭubī continues, does not permit tayammum, unless one fears that using water might exacerbate the illness. He adds that any travel—whether long or short—permits tayammum if water is not available, or if the water carried along is needed for oneself or one’s animals to drink (Tafsīr, sub Q 4:43).

Aside from these preconditions, jurists concur that for tayammum to be valid it must be performed after the beginning of the time of the prayer, since the verse begins If you rise to prayer (Q 5:6); moreover, one must have made efforts to seek out water, searching within a reasonable distance, as is clear from the phrase and if you do not find water (Q 4:43, 5:6) (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, bāb al-tayammum).

Actions Comprising Tayammum

While the Qurʾān mentions the legal basis for tayammum and its integral elements, it is the practice of the Prophet, peace be upon him, that delineates its precise method. According to a well-known hadith, a man came to the Companion ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, asking him about the performance of tayammum. ʿAmmār b. Yāsir (d. 37/657), who was nearby, remarked, “Do you remember that you and I [became ritually impure while we] were together on a journey? You did not pray, but I rolled on the ground and then prayed. I informed the Prophet, peace be upon him, about it and he said, ‘It would have been enough for you to do this’—whereupon he, peace be upon him, wiped his hands upon the earth, then blew off the dust [from them], then passed his hands over his face and hands” (Bukhārī, Tayammum, al-tayammum hal yunfakh fī-himā; Muslim, Ḥayḍ, al-tayammum).


Jurists differ regarding both what may be used for tayammum as well as its method. The verse reads seek out pure earth, and in a famous hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “The earth has been made for me a place of prayer (masjid) and a source of purification” (Bukhārī, Tayammum, bāb). Again, while Shāfiʿīs hold that only pure soil can be used for tayammum, Mālikīs and Ḥanafīs permit the use of anything that comes from the earth and bears dust, such as stones or even cement (Ibn Rushd, Bidāyat al-mujtahid, Ṭahāra, bab al-tayammum). Moreover, opinions vary on two other questions: (i) whether tayammum should be performed by rubbing the hands upon the earth once, then using the dust remaining on one’s palms to wipe both the face and hands, or by rubbing one’s hands upon the earth again a second time between wiping the face and hands; and (ii) whether the arms should be wiped up to the elbows or whether it is sufficient to merely wipe the hands up to the wrists, since yad can mean “arm,” “forearm,” or “hand” (Ibn Rushd, Bidāyat al-mujtahid, Ṭahāra, bab al-tayammum; see also Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, Ṭahāra, bāb al-tayammum). 

Spiritual Dimensions (Tayammum)

Tayammum, according to Ibn ʿĀshūr, is a sign of Allah’s infinite power, in that He is capable of taking the basest of substances, normally associated with filth, and making it a means to purification: “All forms of worship contain numerous hidden aspects. (…) So when there is no water available, [purification with water] can be replaced with dry ablutions (tayammum). If Allah had desired to impose a burden, He would have made it obligatory to find water, even if it meant purchasing it, or leaving prayer until one found it and then making up everything that had been missed. Tayammum does not contain the physical element of purification, but it has the [same] spiritual element as wuḍūʾ” (Tafsīr, sub Q 5:6). Besides being a sign of Divine omnipotence, dry ablutions fall under the general purport of the verse Allah desires ease for you, and does not desire hardship (Q 2:185), thus reminding the believer of Allah’s mercy in facilitating obedience to Him.

Moreover, the Prophetic dictum that “This earth has been made for me a place of prayer and a source of purification” (Bukhārī, Tayammum, bāb) demonstrates the sanctity of the Earth as a creation of Allah: the whole world is a place of prayer, which in turn implies a responsibility to care for the earth as we would all sacred spaces. Finally, just as purification with water evokes man’s base origins, in that Allah says And We have created from water every living thing (Q 24:45), tayammum carries a similar reminder: by physically connecting with the earth, the believer is reminded of his or her humble beginnings, eventual resting place, and final return: From it [the earth] have We created you, and to it We shall return you, and from it We shall bring you forth once again (Q 20:55).


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See also

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