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TAHARA (Cleanliness or Purification)

  1. The Purity of Water
  2. Types of Impurities 
  3. The Ways of Purification 
  4. Useful Points 
  5. Acts That Correspond to Human Nature 
  6. Menstruation and Post-childbirth Bleeding
  7. Istihadha (Non-menstrual Vaginal Bleeding)
  8. Ghusl (Major Ablution)
  9. Tayammum (Ablution with Clean Soil)
  10. Wudu' (Ablution)

Islam is based on five pillars: Bearing witness to God's Existence and Oneness and the Messengership of Muhammad, praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan, paying zakat (the prescribed purifying alms), and hajj or pilgrimage. The first pillar includes all essentials of belief, which were discussed in other parts of the site.

Tahara (Cleanliness or Purification)
Islam requires physical and spiritual cleanliness. On the physical side, Islam requires Muslims to clean their bodies, clothes, houses, and community, and they are rewarded by God for doing so. While people generally consider cleanliness desirable, Islam insists upon it and makes it an indispensable fundamental of religious life. In fact, books on Islamic jurisprudence often contain a whole chapter on this very requirement.

Prophet Muhammad, upon him be God’s blessings and peace, advised Muslims to appear neat and tidy in private and in public. Once when returning home from battle he advised his army: “Soon you will meet your brothers, so tidy your saddles and clothes” (Abu Dawud, “Libas,” 25). On another occasion he said: “If I had not been afraid of overburdening my community, I would have ordered them to use a miswaq (to brush and clean their teeth) for every prayer” (Bukhari, “Iman,” 26).

Moral hygiene also was emphasized, for the Prophet, upon him be God’s blessings and peace, encouraged Muslims to make a special prayer upon seeing themselves in the mirror: “God, You have endowed me with a good form; like-wise bless me with an immaculate character ” (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 1:34, 6:155). He advised modest clothing, for men as well as for women, on the grounds that it helps one maintain purity of thought.

Being charitable is a way of purifying one’s wealth. A Muslim who does not give charity (sadaqa) and pay the required annual zakat (the prescribed purifying alms), contaminates his or her wealth by hoarding that which rightfully belongs to others: Of their wealth take alms so that you may purify them (9:103).

All the laws and injunctions given by God and His Prophet, upon him be God’s blessings and peace, are pure. Any law established by Divine guidance is just and pure.

The Purity of Water
Pure water is used essentially in matters of purification or wudu’ (minor ablution) and ghusl (major ablution). Hence the necessity to investigate water’s purity. Water has four essential attributes: smell, color, taste, and fluidity. Any pure and purifying water is judged according to whether it retains these attributes or not. As a result, water is classified into two categories: mutlaq and muqayyad water.

Mutlaq water is “natural” water, such as that which comes from rain water, snow, hail, sea water, and water from the Zamzam well.

It is subdivided as follows:

  • Water that is both pure and purifying (e.g., rain water, snow, hail, sea water, and water from the Zamzam well).
  • Water that drips from a person after he or she has performed the minor or major ablution, and therefore is considered “used.” It is considered pure, but cannot be used for another minor and major ablution.
  • Water that is both pure and purifying, but whose usage is disliked (makruh) (e.g., water left in a container after a cat, bird, or another “allowed” animal has drunk from it).
  • Water mixed with impure elements. Water whose taste, color, or smell has been altered by an impure substance cannot be used for purification. However, if the liquid is still considered water, meaning that the impure substance has not altered its taste, color, or smell, it can be used for purification.
  • Water that is pure but may or may not be purifying. One example of this type of water is the water that remains in a pot after a donkey or a mule has drunk from it.

Muqayyad water includes naturally muqayyad water, such as fruit juices and water that has been mixed with various substances (e.g., soap, saffron, flowers) or objects that the Shari‘a considers pure. Such water is considered pure until, due to being mixed with other substances, one can no longer call it water. In this case, the water is still considered pure, but it cannot be used for purification (minor and major ablution).


Types of Impurities
Najasa refers to impure substances that Muslims must avoid and wash off after coming into contact with them. God says: Purify your raiment (74:4) and: God loves those who repent and who purify themselves (2:222).

  • Animals that died naturally (e.g., not killed in the Islamic manner) are impure, as is anything cut off a live animal. However, dead sea animals and those that have no flowing blood (e.g., bees and ants) are not impure. The bones, horns, claws, fur, feathers, and skin of dead animals, except for pigs, are pure.
  • Any blood that flows from a person’s or an animal’s body (e.g., blood from a killed animal or menstrual blood) is impure. However, blood that remains in the veins is permissible. Also, any blood that remains in edible meat, livers, hearts, and spleens is not impure, provided that the animal was sacrificed in the Islamic way.
  • A person’s vomit, urine, excrement, wadi (a thick white secretion discharged after urination), mazi (a white sticky fluid that flows from the sexual organs when thinking about sexual intercourse, foreplay, and so on), prostatic fluid, and sperm is impure. However, according to some, sperm is not impure but should be washed off if it is still wet, and scratched off if it is dry. Any part of human flesh is impure.
  • The urine, saliva, and blood of all animals whose meat is prohibited, and the excrement of all animals except birds whose meat is allowable, are impure.
  • The excrement of poultry (i.e., geese, hens, ducks) is impure.
  • Pig and alcohol are impure.
  • Dogs are considered impure. Any container that a dog has licked must be completely washed and sterilized. If a dog licks a pot that has dry food in it, what it touched and what surrounds it must be thrown away. The remainder may be kept, as it is still pure. A dog’s hair is considered pure.
  • The impurities mentioned are considered “gross impurity” (najasat al-ghaliza). Any amount of them contaminates whatever it touches. However, if it is on person’s body or clothes when he or she is praying, or on the ground or mat where he or she is praying, its amount is taken into consideration. Any solid filth weighing more than 3 grams, and any liquid more than the amount that spreads over a person’s palm, invalidates the prayer.
  • The urine of horses and domestic or wild animals whose meat is allowed to eat is weak impurity (najasat al-khafifa). When more than one-fourth of a limb or one-fourth of one’s clothes are smeared with it, the prayer is in-validated.

The Ways of Purification
Purifying the body and clothes. If these are contaminated, they must be washed with water until no impurity remains. This is especially so if the impurity is visible, such as blood. If some stains remain after washing, such as those that would be extremely difficult to remove, they can be overlooked. If the impurity is not visible, such as urine, wash and wring whatever it has contaminated three times.

Purifying the ground. Purify the ground by pouring water over it. If the impurity is solid, the ground will become pure only by its removal or decay.

Purifying contaminated butter and similar substances
. If a dead animal has fallen into a solid matter but has not swollen or disintegrated, whatever the corpse touches and what is around it must be thrown away, provided that one can make sure that it did not touch the rest of the matter. If it fell into a liquid substance, the majority say that the entire liquid becomes impure.

Purifying a dead animal’s skin. Tanning purifies a dead animal’s skin and fur. The Prophet said: “If the animal’s skin is tanned, it is purified” (Muslim, “Hayz,” 105).

Purifying mirrors and similar objects
. Mirrors, knives, swords, nails, bones, glass, painted pots, and other smooth surfaces that have no pores are purified by removing the impurity.

Useful Points

  • If an unknown liquid falls on a person, there is no need to ask about it or to wash one’s clothes.
  • If a person finds something moist on his or her body or clothes at night and does not know what it is, he or she does not need to smell it in order to identify it.
  • Clothes that have street mud on them do not have to be washed.
  • If a person finishes praying and sees some previously unseen impurity on his or her clothes or body, or was aware of but forgot about them, his or her prayer does not have to be repeated.
  • If a person cannot determine what part of his or her clothes contains the impurity, the whole garment should be washed, for “if an obligation can be fulfilled only by performing another related act, that act also becomes obligatory.”
  • If a person mixes pure clothes with impure clothes (and cannot tell them apart), he or she should investigate the matter and pray once in one of the clothes.
  • It is not proper to carry something that has God’s Name upon it while going to the bathroom, unless he or she is afraid of losing it or having it stolen.
  • One should not talk in the bathroom, respond to a greeting, or repeat what the muezzin is saying. One may speak if there is some necessity. In the event of sneezing, one should praise God silently by moving his or her lips.
  • One should neither face nor turn his or her back on the qibla while answering a call of nature, especially if in an open area.
  • One should seek a soft and low piece of ground to protect against any impurity. The Prophet said: “When one of you urinates, he should choose the proper place to do so.”
  • One should avoid shaded places and places where people walk and gather.
  • One should not answer a call of nature in bathing places or in still or running water.
  • One should not urinate while standing, though some allow it.
  • One must remove any impurities from one’s clothes and body after relieving oneself.
  • One should not clean himself or herself with the right hand.
  • One should remove any bad smell from one’s hands after answering a call of nature.
  • One should enter the bathroom with the left foot, saying: “I seek refuge in God from noxious male and female beings (devils),” and exit with one’s right foot, saying: “O God, I seek your forgiveness.”
  • After a man has relieved himself, he should wait until the urine stops completely and make sure that none of it has fallen onto his clothes. This is called istibra (seeking full purification). Ibn ‘Abbas related that the Messenger of God, upon him be God’s blessings and peace, passed by two graves and said: “They are being punished, but not for a great matter (on their part). One of them did not clean himself from urine, and the other used to spread slander.” (Tirmidhi, “Tahara,” 53) To erase all doubt, the person should sprinkle his penis and underwear with water.

Acts That Correspond to Human Nature
God has chosen certain acts for all of His Prophets and their followers to perform. These acts, are known as sunan al-fitra (acts required by human nature), are as follows:

Circumcision. This prevents dirt from getting on one’s penis and also makes it easy to keep clean. The Shafi‘i scholars maintain that it should be done on the seventh day, although it is permissible to do it later.

Shaving pubic hairs and pulling out underarm hairs. Doing so is sunna. However, it is enough to trim or pull it out.

Clipping fingernails, trimming and shaving the moustache, and keeping the beard tidy.
Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of God, upon whom be God’s blessings and peace, said, “Five things are part of one’s fitra: Shaving the pubic hair, circumcision, trimming the moustache, removing any underarm hair, and trimming the nails.” (Muslim, “Tahara,” 49) A moustache should not be so long that food particles, drink, and dirt accumulate in it. If one grows a beard, it should not be untidy.

Honoring and combing one’s hair.
Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: “Whoever has hair should honor it” (Abu Dawud, “Tarajjul,” 3:4163). Cutting one’s hair off is permissible, and so is letting it grow if one honors it.

Leaving gray hairs in place.This applies to both men and women. ‘Amr ibn Shu‘ayb related, on the authority of his father from his grandfather, that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “Do not pluck the gray hairs, as they are a Muslim’s light. A Muslim never grows gray in Islam except that God writes for him, due to that, a good deed, raises him a degree, and erases for him, due to that, one of his sins” (Ibn Hanbal, 2:179; Tirmidhi, “Adab,” 56).

Dyeing one’s gray hair.According to the accepted opinion, dyeing one’s gray hair by using henna, red dye, yellow dye, and so on is permissible, provided that the dyes are religiously allowable.

Using perfume. Using musk and other perfumes that are free of alcohol and similar forbidden things is highly advisable, for they are pleasing to the soul and beautify the atmosphere.

Menstruation and Post-childbirth Bleeding
Menstruation is a natural type of blood that flows at regular intervals from a woman’s uterus after puberty. God has laid down certain rules in connection with this, as a concession to the woman, in consideration of her condition.

Menstruation usually lasts 3 to 10 days and nights, varying from woman to woman. Most women have a regular number of days for their monthly menstrual period. The number of days may fluctuate and the period might come a little early or a little late. So when a woman sees menstrual blood, she should consider herself to be menstruating. When it stops, she should consider herself clean. If more blood appears after her menstrual period has ended, but does not have the same color as menstrual blood, it should not be considered as menstruation

Post-childbirth bleeding is the blood that comes during and after childbirth. It may begin to come 2 or 3 days before delivery and be accompanied by labor pains. There is no minimum limit as to how long a woman will bleed, but generally the upper limit is within 40 days.

Women are prohibited from performing certain acts while they are in this condition, such as follows:

  • She cannot pray (salat) after she begins to bleed and does not have to make up any missed prayers.
  • She cannot observe any obligatory (Ramadan) or supererogatory fasts. She must make up the obligatory fasting days after regaining her ritual cleanliness. If bleeding begins during a supererogatory fasting day upon which she had intended to fast, she must make it up.
  • She can do all pilgrimage rites except circumambulating the Ka‘ba (tawaf).
  • She should avoid mosques or places of worship, and cannot touch the Qur’an, whether the original or in translation. She cannot recite it from memory, but can read the verses of prayer and supplication with the intention of praying. (She cannot perform salat but can supplicate and recite the prayers mentioned in the Qur’an with the intention of saying prayers or making supplications.)
  • A man cannot have sexual intercourse with his wife while she has post-childbirth bleeding, for she is not allowed to make herself available to him. However, he can kiss, hug, or touch her anywhere besides the pubic region. It is better and highly advisable to avoid the area between the navel and the knees.

    When a menstruating woman stops bleeding, she must perform a complete ghusl (major ablution). After this, she must resume praying and fasting, can enter the mosque, make tawaf, recite the Qur’an, and engage in allowable sexual intercourse. She must make up the fasting days that she missed during Ramadan, but not the prayers. The same rules apply to women in post-childbirth bleeding.

Istihadha (Non-menstrual Vaginal Bleeding)
In some women, bleeding never stops; in others, it continues for longer than normal. This blood is called istihadha. Likewise, any blood coming before puberty and after menopause is also considered istihadha.

A woman with this condition should calculate when her period would normally end, and then stop praying during the days of her calculated period and follow all of the other menstruation-related rules. For the rest of the days, her bleeding should be treated as istihadha. If she does not have a regular period or does not remember when it used to occur, but can distinguish between the two kinds of blood based on color, thickness, and smell (i.e., menstrual blood is dark, thick, and has a strong odor, while istihadha is bright red, thin, and less disagreeable in smell), she must act accordingly. If she does not have a regular period and cannot distinguish between the two types of blood, she must consider the blood coming for 3 to 10 days every month as menstruation and calculate it from the time she first noticed her vaginal bleeding.

There is no difference between a woman beset by istihadha and one who has a complete cessation of menstrual flow, except as follows:

  • If the first woman wants to perform wudu’ (ritual ablution), she should wash the blood from her vaginal area and then apply a menstrual pad or wrap the area with a clean rag on top of a wad of cotton to catch the blood. Any blood coming out after that is of no account.
  • She must perform wudu’ for every obligatory prayer.


Ghusl (Major Ablution)
Ghusl means major canonical ablution or a complete washing of the body. It becomes obligatory after sexual intercourse, even if only the head of the penis disappears into the vagina. Any discharge of semen, and the completion of menses and post-childbirth bleeding.

Taking ghusl every Friday before the congregational prayer is highly advisable, for the Prophet always did so. Before beginning ghusl, one should make the intention to perform it and, if one will pray after performing it, also the prayer.

Things Forbidden to a Ritually Impure Person
People who are in this state cannot pray, circumambulate the Ka'ba (tawaf), enter a mosque or place of worship unless necessary, or touch the Qur'an or any of its verses except with a clean cloth or something similar.

What Makes One's Ghusl Valid?

  • Rinsing the mouth thoroughly so that all of its parts are cleaned properly.
  • Rinsing the nose right up to the nasal bone.
  • Washing all bodily parts thoroughly, including the hair.

The best way to perform ghusl is as follows:

  • Having the intention (niyyat) to cleanse the body from (ritual) impurity while washing oneself.
  • Washing the hands up to the wrists three times.
  • Washing the private parts thoroughly.
  • Removing all filth from all bodily parts.
  • Performing ablution.
  • Washing all bodily parts three times, including the hair thoroughly. No part, even the size of a pinpoint, is allowed to remain dry. Rubbing and pressing the body is not obligatory.

Tayammum (Ablution with Clean Soil)
When a person is too sick to use water or none is around when it is time to pray, he or she can perform tayammum in place of wudu’ and ghusl. The requirements are as follows:

  • Intending to perform tayammum to remove any impurity.
  • Striking the pure soil lightly with the palms of both hands and passing the palms over the face one time.
  • Striking the pure soil again with one’s palms and rubbing the right and left arms alternately from the fingertips to the elbows.

Tayammum is nullified as soon as the cause for performing it is removed (i.e., the sick person recovers or pure water is found). If a person performs tayammum and then prays, he or she does not have to repeat the prayer if the conditions for it are removed before the time for that particular prayer ends.

Wudu’ (Ablution)
Wudu’ involves washing with water at least once the usually exposed bodily parts, namely, the face, hands and arms up to (and including) the elbows, and feet, and wiping one-quarter of the head. It is obligatory for any obligatory or supererogatory prayer, circumambulating the Ka‘ba, and touching the Qur’an with bare hands.

Wudu’
is performed in the following manner:

  • Ensure that the water to be used is pure.
  • Intend to perform wudu’ to offer prayer, if you plan to pray after taking it.
  • Recite: “Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim” (i.e., in the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate).
  • Wash the hands up to the wrists three times, and do not miss the parts between the fingers.
  • Clean your mouth with a brush or a finger, and gargle with water three times.
  • Rinse the nostrils with water three times.
  • Wash the face from the forehead to the chin and from ear to ear three times.
  • Wash the right arm followed by the left up to the elbows three times.
  • Wipe at least a quarter of the head with wet hands, pass the wet tips of the little fingers inside and the wet tips of the thumbs outside the ears, and pass the palms over the nape and sides of the neck.
  • Finally, wash the feet up to (and including) the ankles, the right foot first and then the left, taking care to wash in between the toes, each three times. The obligatory acts are as follows:
  • Washing the face.
  • Washing both arms up to and including the elbows.
  • Wiping a quarter of the head with wet hands.
  • Washing both feet up to and including the ankles. The following acts nullify wudu’:
  • Whatever comes out from the two private parts (front and back): waste matter, urine, wind, wadi (a thick white secretion discharged after urination), mazi (a white sticky fluid that flows from the sexual organs when thinking about sexual intercourse or foreplay, and so on), and prostatic fluid. Semen, menstrual blood, and post-childbirth blood require ghusl.
  • Emission of blood, pus, or yellow matter from a wound, boil, pimple, or something similar to such an extent that it flows beyond the wound’s mouth.
  • Vomiting a mouthful of matter.
  • Physical contact for pleasure between men and women without any obstacle (e.g., clothes). If the head of one’s penis disappears into a woman’s vagina, ghusl is required.
  • Loss of consciousness through sleep, drowsiness, and so on.
  • Temporary insanity, fainting, hysteria, or intoxication.
  • Audible laughter during prayer.

Wiping over Clean, Indoor Boots (Khuffayn)
While performing wudu’, one can wipe over (the top of) their clean, indoor boots once with wet hands instead of washing the feet.

  • Boots should be waterproof and cover the whole foot up to (and including) the ankles. They must have no holes wider than three fingers in width. It does not matter if their mouths are so wide that the feet can be seen when looking down at them.
  • They must be fit, strong, and tough enough so that the feet would not come out of them, and they should not fall down when walked in for 3 miles.
  • They cannot be made out of wood, glass, or metal.
  • One must put on the boots after washing one’s feet while performing ablution. One can wear it for a whole day if one is resident. If traveling, one can wear it for 3 consecutive days.

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Recommended Reading:

The Balance Between the Physical and the Spiritual

Khuluq (Good Nature)

Last Updated on December 15, 2004

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