Wudu

Wudu (الوضوء‎ al-wuḍūʼ ) is the Islamic procedure for cleansing parts of the body, a type of ritual purification, or ablution. Wudu consists of washing the face, arms, then wiping the head and finally washing the feet with water.

Wudu is an important part of ritual purity in Islam. It is governed by fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), which specifies rules concerning hygiene and defines the rituals that constitute it.

It is typically performed in preparation for formal prayers (salah or salat), particularly before handling and reading the Quran. Activities that invalidate wudu include urination, defecation, flatulence, deep sleep, light bleeding and sexual intercourse.

Wudu is often translated as ‘partial ablution’, as opposed to ghusl (‘full ablution’) where the whole body is washed. It also contrasts with tayammum (‘dry ablution’), which uses sand or dust in place of water, principally due to water scarcity or other harmful effects on the person. Purification of the body and clothes is called taharah.

Turkey Istanbul Mosque Islam Prayer Islamic Woman

A woman taking a wudu – ablution before praying. Istanbul

Basis in Quran and Hadith

The Qur’an says

“For God loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” [2:222]

In regard to Muslims being required to be clean when handling and reading the Qur’an, the Qur’an says,

“Which none shall touch but those who are clean.” [56:79]

The Islamic prophet Muhammad said that

“Cleanliness is half of faith.”

Description in Hadith

Wudu in Hadith Abu Hurairah, in reference to the Day of Resurrection, reported that Muhammad, when asked if he would be able to recognise Muslims, said,

“Yes, you would have a mark which other people will not have. You would come to me with a white blaze on your foreheads and white marks on your feet because of the traces of ablution.”

Abu Hurayra said,

“I have heard prophet (may peace be upon him) say. In a believer adornment would reach the places where ablution reaches.”

Uthman stated that Muhammad, said,

“He who performed ablution well, his sins would come out from his body, even coming out from under his nails.”

Umar reported that Muhammad said, “No one among you does wuḍūʾ and does wuḍūʾ thoroughly – or adequately – and then testifies, ‘There is no god but Allah Alone with no partner and I testify that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger’, without the eight doors of the Garden being opened to him so that he can enter by whichever of them he wishes.”

Ablution in the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Iran

Ablution in the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Iran

Performing Wudu from Large Bodies of Water

It is mentioned in numerous Hadiths by Ja’far al-Sadiq that it is permissible to make wudu with water that is not overwhelmed with the smell of dead animals. If there is a dead animal, it is recommended to take wudu from the opposite side of the location of the animal. He also said it is permissible to take wudu from the ponds between Mecca and Medina in which people perform ghusl, dogs and beasts drink, and animals die so long as the water level is at least up to the knees.

Performing Wudu from a Well

It has been narrated by Ali al-Ridha that if a drop of urine, blood or animal feces falls into a well, one must remove about ten buckets from it before performing wudu. If the feces has disintegrated into the water, forty to fifty buckets must be removed. Ja’far al-Sadiq has also mentioned that if an animal falls into the well, and has not disintegrated in it, remove five to seven buckets of water from it or until the smell or taste of the water changes. However, If the animal is bleeding or has an open wound, one must draw out thirty to forty buckets before it becomes purified for wudu. If a camel dies in the well or wine is poured into the well, all the water must be drained.

Water requirements

Permitted water types

  • Spring, sea or river water
  • Water of melting snow or hail
  • Water of a big tank or pond
  • Well water

Prohibited water types

  • Unclean or impure water
  • Water extracted from fruit and trees
  • Water that has changed its colour, taste and smell and has become thick because something was soaked in it
  • Small quantity of water in which something unclean has fallen, e.g. urine, blood, stool or wine or some animal had died after falling into it
  • Water left over after drinking by haram animals (e.g. pigs or predatory animals)
  • Used water of wuḍūʾ or ghusl (according to the Hanbali School)

There are other acts that are performed during wuḍūʾ and the detailed acts of the wuḍūʾ can be classed into 3 types:

Farā’id according to Sunni Muslims

According to Sunni Muslims, the Qur’anic mandate for wudu comes in the sixth ayat of sura 5. The ayat has been translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Rashad Khalifa, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Pickthal and Maulana Muhammad Ali as follows. Note that these scholars’ translation refer to washing the feet.

O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of janabah, then purify yourselves. But 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 do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and hands with it. Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favor upon you that you may be grateful.

— Al-Ma’ida, Sura 5, Ayah 6

Referencing the above verse, the Sunni schools of thought have consensus that the following four actions are obligatory in wudu, i.e. necessary for wudu to be valid:

  1. Washing the face
  2. Washing both arms from the tips of the fingers up to and including the elbows
  3. Wiping the head. However, there is a difference of opinion on the sufficient portion.
  4. Washing both the feet up to and including the ankles.

The obligation of the following actions is debated among the schools of thought, though if not deemed obligatory they are considered recommended:

  • Intention, i.e. resolving the heart that one is performing wudu as an act of worship rather than an ordinary cleaning activity. This is obligatory in the Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali schools.
  • Performing Wudu in consecutive actions, i.e. there should not be a prolonged pauses during the ritual. This is considered obligatory in the Maliki and Hanbali schools.
  • Performing the actions of wudu order, i.e. washing the face then arms the wiping the face and finally washing the feet.This is obligatory in the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools.
  • Rubbing the washed organs while washing. This is obligatory in the Maliki school.

It is not sufficient for one to pass wet hand over the feet. Under certain conditions masah can be done over leather footgear known as khuffs. This is confirmed in several

  1. Narrated by Abd-Allah ibn Amr: “…we were just passing wet hands over our feet (not washing them thoroughly) so he addressed us in a loud voice saying twice or 3x, ‘Save your heels from the fire.’.”
  2. Narrated by ‘Ubaid Ibn Juraij: “…and he used to perform ablution while wearing the shoes (i.e. wash his feet and then put on the shoes).”[13]
  3. Narrated by Yahya Al-Mazini: ” ‘Can you show me how Allah’s Apostle used to perform ablution?’ …and washed his feet (up to the ankles).”
  4. Narrated by ‘Amr: “…and then he washed his feet up to the ankles.”
  5. Narrated by Humran: “…and washed his feet up to the ankles…”
  6. Narrated by ‘Amr bin Yahya: “…and washed his feet up to the ankles…”
  7. Narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Zaid: “…and washed his feet (up to the ankles).”

Farā’id according to Shia Muslims

According to Shia Muslims the Qur’anic mandate for wuḍūʾ comes in the sixth ayat of sura 5. The ayat has been translated by Muhammad Habib Shakir as follows. Note this scholar’s translation refers to wiping the feet.

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 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.

— Al-Ma’ida, Sura 5, Ayah 6
  • Washing the face once or twice with your right hand.
  • Washing both the arms including the elbows once or twice(left hand washed the right arm and then right hand washes the left arm).
  • Wiping one fourth of the head with the water left on your right hand.
  • Wiping both the feet once up to and including the ankles once with the water remaining on both hands(right hand , right foot. left hand, left foot).

Mustahabbāt (recommended acts)

A handful of mustahabb (recommended) acts that are considered to make the wuḍūʾ better. If one of these acts is omitted, the wuḍūʾ is still considered valid.

  • Reciting the shahadah after the ablution.
  • During wuḍūʾ one should not engage in worldly talk.
  • Choosing a clean place for ablution.
  • Not wasting water in ablution.
  • Starting from the right side and then the left.

Alternatives

Stone of Tayammum

Stone of Tayammum

Muslims who are unable to perform the prevailing form of ablution, due to skin disease, a disability or lack of clean water, etc. are recommended to perform tayammum, sometimes called ‘dry ablution’, using sand or dust instead of water. Such an alternative form of ritual purity may also be accepted in cases where one fears hypothermia in cold weather.

Tayammum is also to be performed when one is defiled (on janabah) and could not perform ghusl, and is authorised under specific circumstances.

Performance

Sunni Islam

Sunni Muslims perform the following:

  • Start by making niyyah (intention) to perform wuḍūʾ and cleanse the self of impurities.
  • Recite bismillah.
  • Wash the right hand up to the wrist (and between the fingers) three times, then similarly for the left hand.
  • Next, rinse the mouth and spit out the water three times and rub the teeth with a miswak. If a miswak is not available then one should use the finger;
  • Some water should be taken in the right hand and sniffed into the nostrils thrice and then blown out. The left hand should be used for cleaning the nose.
  • Wash the face (from the hairline on the forehead to where facial hair begins and ear to ear). This is to be performed three times.
  • Wash the entire right arm, including the hand, up to and including the elbow three times; then the left arm three times. Pass fingers of one hand between the fingers of the other hand. If wearing a ring it should be moved freely to allow water to pass under it.
  • Then perform masah. Wet hands should be passed all over the head; then the first finger of the right and left hand should be moved in the right and left ears respectively and in the same operation thumbs should be passed around the ears; then pass the backs of the hands over the hind part of the neck only. Hands should not be passed around the fore-neck as it is prohibited. This is only done once. One may not make masah over a Muslim head cap.
  • Starting with the right foot, wash both feet from the toes up to and including the ankles thrice. The little finger of the left hand should be passed between the toes of both the feet beginning from the little toe of the right foot and ending with the little toe of the left foot.
  • After wudu one should recite Durood then by seeing toward the sky read shahadah

“Ash-hadu-Allah-illaha-illahah wa-ash-hadu ann-muhamaddan ab-duhu wa rasuluhu” And then recite this Dua after wudu: “allahummaz aal-ni minttwwabi-n waz-aal-ni minal mu-ta-tahhirin”

  • Offer two-rak’at prayer.
  • Make sure all parts of the body to be washed for wudu should completely be wet before the other is washed until the wudu is completed.

Invalidation

Theoretically, one can perform one wuḍūʾ for salat and this wudu would be considered valid for the rest of the day, unless you nullify it by certain means. Muslims believe that certain acts invalidate the wudu (often referred to as ‘breaking wudu’ and ‘losing wudu’) and these can be stated generically thus, although the Qur’an does not explain most of these.

According to Sunni Muslims

According to Sunni Islam, the following invalidate wudu:

  • Defecation or urination
  • Odorous or audible emissions of flatulence
  • Emission of semen (ghusl is required)
  • Slow-wave sleep while reclining
  • Vomiting – Mouthful vomiting contains water or pus or blood or food invalidates the wudu, vomiting contains cough does not break the wudu.
  • Sleeping with the help of support – sleeping while standing or sitting without taking any kind of support does not break wudu.[24]
  • Loss of senses
  • Fainting
  • Touching the private parts with the bare hands (not according to Hanafi Madhhab)
  • Blood or pus leaving the body so that it leaves the point of exit (however if the blood or pus exits from the private parts then any amount breaks wuḍūʾ). Note that bleeding except private parts does not invalidate wuḍūʾ according to Shafi’i Madhhab.

According to Shia Muslims

In Shia theology, wudhu is invalidated when waste or matter exits the lower most extremities of the body, the anus and urethra, as either feces, urine, semen or gas. For wudhu to be invalid through flatulence, one must actually hear or smell the passing, otherwise it is not considered void. In addition, wudhu is considered void when someone falls into a deep sleep in which they have no alert consciousness.

Belching and vomiting do not invalidate wudhu, however it is strongly recommended that the individual rinses his or her mouth following the latter. Bleeding is not considered to invalidate wudhu either, as Ja’far al-Sadiq made it clear in Hadith that a bad wound is not cause to repeat wudhu. This concept further extends to parasites that may exit the body through the two extremities. Cutting one’s hair or nails does not invalidate wudhu but he or she should wipe the area with water.

Impact on health

  • Microbes are removed from the skin
  • Protects the mouth and throat from inflammation and the gums from supporation (pyorrhoea)
  • Keeps the nostrils free of inflammation and germs
  • Cleans the skin of the fatty substance secreted by skin glands[25]

See also

  • Wudu: A Prescription for Good Health
  • Sebil (fountain), public water fountain in Islamic countries or near mosques.
  • Shadirvan, a typical Ottoman fountain usually built in the yard or at the entrance of religious buildings (mosques, khanqahs, madrasas) and caravanserais
  • Chōzuya, a Shinto water ablution pavilion
  • Fard, an Islamic religious duty
  • Mustahabb, an Islamic term referring to recommended, favoured or virtuous actions

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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