Manners of Purification        


What are the types of manners of purification? What are the types of cleanliness in islam?

“A Muslim’s soul, body, home, and environment should always be clean as if the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) might come to visit at any time.”

Islam persistently expresses the significance and necessity of cleanliness. Allah the Almighty praises the believers, who pay attention to material and spiritual purity, in the Qur’an saying:

“Truly Allah loves those who turn unto Him, and loves those who have a care for cleanness.” (al-Baqara 2; 222) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) invited his followers to observe the manners of purification not just through his exemplary actions but also by his sayings and advices such as: “Cleanliness is half of faith” (Muslim, Tahara, 1) “Allah is pure and He loves purity” (Tirmidhi, Adab, 41) “purification is the key of prayer” (Abu Dawud, Salat, 73).

Material cleanliness means to get cleansed from the visible filth and the things which are accepted as legally impure. Spiritual cleanliness, on the other hand, means to avoid eating illicit food, backbiting, lying. In addition it means to purify the heart from spiritual diseases like grudge, pride, bragging, greed, etc. In short, spiritual cleanliness means to purify the heart from everything other than Allah. In fact material cleanliness aims to achieve spiritual purification; for nothing but a pure heart will save people in the Hereafter. This is stated in the Qur’an as follows:

“The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, But only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart.” (al-Shu’ara 26; 88-89)

In this chapter we will basically deal with material purification.

1. Purification from Hadath or Spiritual Impurity

Purification from hadath means cleansing impurities which are not visible but its existence is known and accepted by law. This type of purification can be achieved by either minor or major ablution depending upon the impurity. Even though this type of purification consists of some benefits, such as cleansing the body from material filth, it is also an act of worship in itself and is considered as a preparation for other acts of worship. Allah the Almighty explains under what circumstances believers need to perform major and minor ablution as follows:

“O you who believe when you 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 you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bath your whole body. But if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes from offices of nature, or you have been in contact with women, and you find no water, then take for yourselves clean sands or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favor to you, that you may be grateful.” (al-Maidah 5; 6)

As it is understood from the verse, it is obligatory for a believer to perform minor ablution when getting ready for prayer, to perform major ablution when it is needed, and to perform dry ablution in the absence of water. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also stated that Allah will not accept prayers without performing minor ablution first. (Muslim, Taharah, 1)

Such are the basic principles that every Muslim must learn. At the end of the above mentioned verse Allah the Almighty states that the action which He orders is not meant to be a burden upon believers but to cleanse them from spiritual and material impurities and sins. Indeed purification which is necessary for every human being is turned into an act of worship in Islam; thus while cleansing oneself, one can feel the joy of worshipping, too.

2. Purification from Material Impurity

Purification from material impurities can be achieved by purifying the body, clothes, and the place of worship from all kinds of dirt. One should especially pay attention to the manners in the bathroom. In this context some of the principles of manners existing in the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) are as follows:

  1. When going to the bathroom, one should take off ornaments, on which have some sacred inscriptions, like the name of Allah or name of the Prophet (pbuh); because when the Prophet (pbuh) entered the privy, he removed his ring, on which kalimat al-tawhid was written. (Abu Dawud, Taharah, 10)
  2. Based on the recommendations of the Prophet (pbuh) when entering the privy, one should say:

“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from wicked and noxious things.” (Muslim, Haid, 122)

And when getting out, one should make the following supplication:

“Praises be to Allah, who relieved me from this burden and bestowed wellness upon me.” (Ibn Majah, Taharah, 10)

  1. One should not turn towards the qiblah when easing oneself or urinating. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) made the following warning in this regard: “When one of you goes to the bathroom, he/she should not face the qiblah at the time of easing or urinating.” (Bukhari, Wudu, 10)
  2. One should not relieve oneself standing; for such an act can cause drops of urine to spatter on one’s body or clothes. Aisha (r.anha) stated that Allah’s Messenger had never relieved himself standing. Ibn Abbas (r. anhuma) reported:

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) happened to pass by two graves and said:

“Both of them are being tormented, but they are not tormented for a grievous sin. One of them carried people’s words against each other and the other did not keep himself safe from being defiled by urine.”

He then called for a fresh twig and split it into two parts, and planted them on each grave and then said:

“Perhaps, their punishment be lessened as long as these twigs remain fresh.” (Muslim, Taharah, 111)

It is also a fact that relieving oneself standing may also cause health problems such as some kidney problems.[1]

  1. One should not hold their private parts with their right hand when relieving themselves, and should clean themselves with their left hand afterwards. This is stated in a prophetic saying: “Whenever anyone of you makes water he should not hold or clean his private parts with his right hand.” (Bukhari, Wudu, 19)
  2. If it is possible, after relieving oneself the cleaning should be done with water. This was what the Prophet (pbuh) preferred. (Bukhari, Wudu, 15-17) We see that the people of the city of Quba are praised by Allah the Almighty in the Qur’an. According to the narration, when the verse: “In it are men who love to be purified; and Allah loves those who make themselves pure.” (al-Tawbah 9; 108) was revealed, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) went to the residents of Quba and asked:

“O people of Ansar! Allah the Almighty praises your purification. How do you cleanse yourselves?” They replied:

“We perform minor ablution before prayer, we perform major ablution, when we are in a state of canonical impurity, we perform major ablution and we cleanse ourselves after urinating with water.” Upon this Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) told them:

“This is why you are praised. Continue to do this.” (Ibn Majah, Taharah, 28)

Allah the Almighty’s praises for the people of Quba in this verse, and the encouraging words of the Prophet (pbuh) clearly show that performing purification is among the Islamic manners of purification. Using paper or other materials are not enough to perform a proper cleansing. Wiping down after cleansing with water is also a nice thing to do.

  1. Not to talk or not to show private parts to others are also among the manners. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated that Allah, the Great and Majestic, becomes wrathful at those who are not careful about these actions. (Abu Dawud, Taharah, 7)
  2. Also, among the manner for males is not to perform ablution right after urinating and to wait for a while; because this makes sure that nothing is left in the urinary bladder. Thus, minor ablution will not be damaged. (Ibn Majah, Taharah, 19) In this context, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also advised men to hold their penis and squeeze it from back to front three times after relieving themselves. (Ibn Maja, Taharah, 19; Ibn Hanbal, IV, 347)
  3. Those who are at open places should avoid relieving themselves on roads, under the shades, at picnic places, in stagnant waters, and on animal and insect nests. Abu Huraira (r.a.) reported:

 “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Be on your guard against two things which provoke Divine cursing.”

The companions present there said:

“O Messenger of Allah, what are those things which provoke cursing?” He said:

“Easing on the thoroughfares or under the shades where they take shelter and rest.” (Muslim, Taharah, 68)

Jabir (r.a.) said that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) forbade urinating in stagnant water. (Muslim, Taharah, 94)

Abdullah ibn Sarjis stated that the Prophet (pbuh) prohibited urinating in animal and insect holes. (Abu Dawud, Taharah, 16)

3. Cleaning the Body from Various Secretions

In addition to the above mentioned spiritual and material impurities, cleansing the body from filth, smells, and everything that causes them is also among the customs of the Prophet (pbuh). It is also specifically suggested by the Prophet (pbuh) that every Muslim should take a bath at least once a week, preferably on Fridays. Some narrations related to this matter are as follows:

“Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said, “Anyone of you attending the Friday (prayers) should take a bath.” (Bukhari, Jum’a, 2)

“Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said, “Any person who takes a bath on Friday like the bath of Janaba (canonical impurity) and then goes for the prayer in the first hour gains spiritual rewards as if he had sacrificed a camel in Allah’s cause; …” (Bukhari, Jum’a, 4)

When we examine these sayings, we see that taking a bath on Fridays is not obligatory but going to Friday prayer after performing major ablution helps to perform the prayer with a peaceful mind and also leads to gaining spiritual rewards. Performing major ablution close to the time of Friday prayer helps the mind and body to get ready to go to the mosque. However, one can realize the tradition of performing major ablution on Fridays by taking a bath at an earlier hour.

In addition to performing minor ablution before the five daily prayers, washing hands before and after every meal are among the manners of purification. (Tirmidhi, At’imah, 39) Similarly, cutting one’s nails, shortening one’s beard and moustache, and brushing one’s teeth are among some of the teachings of the Prophet. According to the narration of Abu Huraira (r.a.) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Five practices are among the customs of the prophets: circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, cutting the moustaches short, clipping the nails, and depilating the hair of the armpits.” (Bukhari, Libas, 63-64)

In another report these five issues, which can be considered among the natural requirements of being a human, are seen to be increased to ten. (Muslim, Taharah, 56) By considering these two reports we can enumerate the actions, which are mentioned as the characteristics of human nature as follows:

Circumcision (Hitan): It is one of the signs of being a Muslim. The time of circumcision begins on the seventh day after birth and continues till puberty. However, the most appropriate time is to do it after the child becomes aware of being circumcised.

In addition to be a natural necessity, circumcision is also healthy and beneficial because it helps to balance sexual feelings. Today the benefits of circumcision are known better and the number of circumcised males for health reasons is increasing in Christian countries.

Clipping fingernails: Fingernails should be shortened to the extent that will not hurt the fingers. Since there is no specific time for cutting fingernails, they can be shortened whenever it is needed. There is no such day that clipping fingernails is prohibited. However, there are reports that the Prophet (pbuh) liked to cut his fingernails on Fridays. (Haythami, II, 170; Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, III, 244)

One should be careful while cutting one’s nails and should not leave pieces of their nails around.

Today some women prolong their fingernails for different reasons. It is obvious that such an action is against the Islamic manners. Filth may gather under the nails, which is really dangerous for the human health. It is especially not a nice situation for those women who cook in the kitchen.

Abu Wasil narrated:

“I met Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. We shook hands. When he saw that I had long finger nails, he told me that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had said:

“There are those among you who are interested in the news of the heavens, whereas their fingernails are as long as the nails of the birds that filth and impurities infested under them.” (Ibn Hanbal, V, 427)

  1. Shaving armpits: Cleansing the armpit hairs can be done either by shaving, plucking, or using different chemicals to remove the hairs. It is appropriate to begin with the right armpit.
  2. Shaving pubic hair (Istihdad): Shaving pubic hair is also among the characteristics of human nature. Intentionally neglecting to perform the bodily cleansing is not an appropriate behavior for it causes one to quit the teachings of the Prophet.
  3. Shortening the moustache: It is a nice habit to shorten the moustache so that the upper lip appears and to shorten it starting with the right side. It is not an approved behavior to prolong the moustache so that it covers the mouth and goes down from the sides of the lips; also one should be careful not to smudge food or drink to his moustache.
  4. Prolonging the beard: Shaving the entire beard is not seen as an appropriate action for Muslim men. If the beard gets too long and presents an ugly appearance, there is a consensus that it can be shortened from length and width. Actually trimming what is more than a fistful of the beard is considered as the tradition of the Prophet (pbuh).
  5. Cleaning teeth with miswak: Miswak is the name of soft branches of the Arak tree. The word siwak is also used in the traditions of the Prophet in the same meaning. The term siwak is also used as verb meaning to brush the teeth. Advices of the Prophet (pbuh) related to the brushing teeth are very meaningful for Muslims. Some of them are as follows:

“If I had not found it hard for my followers or the people, I would have ordered them to clean their teeth with the siwak before every prayer.” (Bukhari, Jum’a, 8)

“Using the siwak is a reason to keep the mouth clean and to attain Lord’s pleasure.” (Ibn Majah, Taharah, 7)

Aisha (r. anha) said that:

“We would prepare the Prophet’s miswak and ablution water at night. Allah would wake him up in the middle of the night. As soon as he wakes up, he would brush his teeth, perform his ablution and pray.” (Muslim, Musafirun, 139)

Miqdam b. Shuraih narrated it from his father who said:

“I asked Aisha what Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) did first when he entered his house, and she replied: first of all he would use a siwak.” (Muslim, Taharah, 43-44)

Evaluation of the traditions related to this matter shows that brushing his teeth occupied a very important place in the Prophet’s life. These traditions need to be understood as cleansing the mouth and teeth. In other words, the miswak is not mandatory to use to cleanse the mouth. However, if one has a miswak they should use it because it has many benefits. Those who cannot find one may achieve the same purification by using a toothbrush and toothpaste. They may even use their fingers for a temporary cleansing.

  1. Inhaling water into nostrils (istinshaq): Cleansing the nostrils by inhaling water into it is another prophetic custom. Since this is one of the obligatory actions of major ablution, it should not be forgotten during its performance.
  2. Washing between the knuckles: It is among the customs of the Prophet (pbuh) to cleanse places like between knuckles and earlap, which may hold filth.
  3. Rinsing mouth (madmamdah): In addition to brushing the teeth, rinsing the mouth with water was a custom of the Prophet (pbuh).

4.        Cleaning the Environment

Just as showing great care to his/her personal hygiene and purification, a Muslim should pay the utmost attention to cleanliness of his/her home, neighborhood, and the entire environment in general. A Muslim’s home should be clean and tidy as if the Prophet (pbuh) was going to come for a visit. Everything should be placed in its appropriate place and should not cause any disturbance.

Displaying unpleasant scenes, which are not befitting to a believer, especially at the gates of the great Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina should not be allowed to happen. Especially those Muslims who are there for pilgrimage must be careful in this respect.

There are many advices of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) about environmental sanitation. For instance, Malik b. Anas (r.a.) reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) saw spittle on the wall that faced towards the qibla, and he personally scratched it away. The signs of his anger could be seen in his face. (Muslim, Masajid, 52; Baihaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, I, 255) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) wanted his followers to be polite, nice, and clean and to stay away from manifesting acts contrary to this. Therefore, a believer should especially stay away from disgusting acts like spitting around on places. In another saying, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“The deeds of my people, good and bad, were presented before me, and I found the removal of something objectionable from the road among their good deeds, and the spit left unburied in the mosque among their evil deeds.” (Muslim, Masajid, 58)[2]

This narration discusses spitting in the mosques which were done by people. Mosques are not just places where believers worship Allah but they are also gathering places. Believers who pay attention to cleanliness of these places will also pay the utmost attention to cleanliness on roads, streets, and the environment; for keeping such places clean is also among the commands of Islam. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) specifically mentioned this in his sayings and characterized the removal of what is injurious from a path as a branch of faith. (Muslim, Iman, 58) From this point of view, not just spitting around on places but also all kinds of disturbing actions such as littering, parking cars in wrong places, leaving materials that would block people’s passages should all be avoided.

[1] According to expert statements, when one relieves oneself in a squatting position, the urinary bladder completely relaxes and releases everything in it together with urine. Whereas, since relieving oneself standing strains the bladder and it causes some of the material to block the urinary tracts which causes infections.

[2] At that time there were no carpets in the mosques, but the ground was covered with sand. This is why people spitting in the mosques were seen from time to time.

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality