Fascinating aspects of Islam: (2) Prayer (Part 2) – Wudhu or ablution

(2) Wudhu – the Islamic ablution

The Islamic daily prayer is a formal way of worshipping God. The prayer is performed five times a day, each at a specified period. Each of the prayer comprises three segments: the azan or prayer call; the wudhu or the ablution; and the solat or the prayer itself.

The azan (prayer call) has already been dealt with in Prayer (Part 1), and this Prayer (Part 2) deals with the wudhu (ablution).

One may ask:  What is the purpose of the ablution?  Why is it compulsory for Muslims to wash themselves before they perform their prayers, and how is the ablution carried out?

Prophet Muhammad said (in a Hadith):

  • “Purify yourself because Islam is a religion of purity.”
  • “The key of the solat is purification (through the wudhu).”
  • “The key to Paradise is the solat and that to the solat is ablution.”

 (Note that the Qur’an comprises God’s Words while the Hadith, a separate book, contains Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds.  This process, right from day one of Islam, ensures that the Words of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad and recited by him and recorded in his presence and authenticated by him, and the words and deeds of the Prophet as reported and written by his Companions but not seen by him are not mixed up in the same volume.) 

Islam puts great emphasis on the purity and cleanliness of the body, clothes, home, the environment (physical aspects) and in all other facets of living as Islam is a deen   – an entire way of righteous living and not a mere religion focusing on spiritual aspects only.

Keeping oneself spiritually pure at all times is also very important.  God says: “Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” (Quran, 2:222)

It can be seen from this verse that God urges Muslims not only to “turn to Him constantly” (that is, in prayer) but also to “keep themselves pure and clean” in moral, physical and spiritual aspects. Thus, when the time comes for a Muslim to perform his prayer (the five obligatory prayers of the day and even any other voluntary prayer) a time to be with God formally, the physical (one’s body in this case) and moral and spiritual cleanliness become even more essential.  Thus, a Muslim will take the ablution first as instructed by God. God says: “O you who believe, when you rise up for your prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and rub your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body.” (Qur’an, 5:7)

“…in a state of ceremonial impurity…” in the above verse means if one has had conjugal relationship, one needs to take a full bath before performing the prayer (solat).

In Islam, ablution (purification before prayer) is part of worship. The Prophet said: “The key of prayer is purification (through ablution).” He also said: “If a person purifies himself for prayer, he expiates all of his sins and his prayer is considered an extra reward for him.”

The wudhu (ablution) is not peculiar to Muslims only.  According to Wikipedia, “Ritual purification is a feature of many religions.  The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity.”  It adds: “In Christianity, both baptism and footwashing are forms of ablution.”

But, in Islam, the ablution is substantiated, specific and standardized.  Thus, the wudhu has a set of ways of undertaking it, starting by saying “Bismillah…” (“In the name of Allah…).

For his ablution, the Muslim uses clean water. In a set and fixed sequence, he washes his hands up to the wrists, his mouth, nostrils and face. He then washes his arms up to the elbows, wets his head above the forehead and cleans the ears and all around the neck. Finally he washes his feet up to the ankle. He washes all these parts of the anatomy three times consecutively for thoroughness, but at the same time, he uses the water sparingly to minimize wastage. (This prescribed sequence for taking the ablution was taught by the Prophet himself.)

The Prophet said: “He who performs his wudhu well purifies his soul.”

Thus, when approaching God (for prayer), a Muslim is already in the best state of purity – morally, physically and spiritually – having been bodily cleansed and having ceremonially removed all traces of sins gathered, if any, through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, vocal and smell, from the time of the last prayer up to the end of the current prayer.  He hopes to maintain his wudhu status till the next prayer and subsequent prayers in continuity daily.

He would not talk anything impolite or undesirable or backbite.   Any lapse in this preparedness, even a sudden urge to go to the toilet, would nullify his state of wudhu and he would need to take the wudhu again.

The wudhu also has hygienic and therapeutic values. It cleans and soothes the vital areas of the body such as the face, arms and legs.   Done five times a day, it softens these parts of the body and refreshes the person.

Islam teaches Muslims to be always hygienic, clean and tidy. Even the clothes one wears during prayers should be clean. God says: “Wear your clean apparel at every time and place of prayer.” (Qur’an, 7:31)

When a person appears for a job or interview, he tidies himself to look smart and presentable and uses courteous and nice words. In the same way, Muslims make themselves presentable and clean when in communication with God as the Islamic prayer (solat) is a planned regular action, not impromptu or one that is uttered in the spur of the moment when faced with danger or difficulty. (The prayer or supplication uttered in time of sudden want or emergency or even after each solat is not called solat but doa. He opens the palms of both his hands at chest-level when making his doa.)

Wudhu, solat, consuming halal food among other virtues are all part and parcel of purification of the body and soul daily and continuously.  It’s an aspect of the Islamic way of God-conscious way of life.

In Islam, a person should always be pure in mind, body and soul: “God loves those who make themselves pure.” (Qur’an, 9:108)  God has given His Guidance, therefore, the choice is on the individual as he alone will face the consequences of his actions (good or bad) on earth.

[Prayer (Part 3) – Solat or the prayer itself will be presented in the next article.]

 By:  Shaik Kadir

(Note:  We hear of groups of people in countries like Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan torturing and killing ordinary people in the name of Islam.   In fact, they are not following Islam at all.  They, manipulated by their deluded leaders, are actually abusing the Islamic tenets for their own misguided purposes.)


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