What Must Be Known About Islamic Concept of Taharat?

on Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH), while emphasizing the importance of cleanliness, underlined: “The key to paradise is prayer and the key to prayer is cleanliness.” (Tirmidhi)

In religious terms, Taharat is defined as purity and cleanliness achieved by ablutions and spiritual cleansing (A concise encyclopedia of Islam). Taharat technically means cleaning oneself after any najasat (impurity) is found to be present on the body. Taharat may be characterized by different acts, such as wud’hu (ablution before prayer), ghusa’l (bath after nocturnal discharge and sexual intercourse)—both of which are compulsory acts under the said conditions—and using Miswak to clean the teeth, which is not compulsory, but Musnoon (a practice of the Holy Prophet  (PBUH) we must follow).

The key form of cleanliness is wud’hu or ablution, the method of which is specified in the Qur’an thus:

“O you who believe! When you intend to offer As-Salat (the prayer), wash your faces and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to ankles. If you are in a state of Janaba (i.e. after a sexual discharge), purify yourselves (bathe your whole body). But if you are ill or on a journey, or any of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (i.e. sexual intercourse), and you find no water, then perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands. Allah does not want to place you in difficulty, but He wants to purify you, and to complete His Favor to you that you may be thankful.” (Al-Maeda 05:06)

This verse highlights the obligatory acts during Wud’hu, which are:

  1. Cleaning and pouring water over the face. Hadith texts confirm that this must be done for the region between the two earlobes, and also the region between the forehead and the chin.
  2. Washing the hands up to the elbows.
  3. Washing the feet up to the ankles.
  4. Rubbing clean one-fourth of the head with water. This is called Mas’ah.

Another aspect to be noted is that Muslims cannot offer the Salat while they are in an impure state. This is highlighted by the following Qur’anic verse:

“O you who believe!  Do not come near As-Salat (the prayer) when you are in a state of being drunk unless and until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state of Janaba ,(i.e. in a state of sexual impurity) except when travelling on the road till you wash your whole body. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (have sexual intercourse) and you find no water (to cleanse yourself), perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands. Truly, Allah is ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving.” (Surah An-Nisa 04:43)

As mentioned in the start, the most sublime form of worship is Salat. It is the epitome of worship, and must be performed in the cleanest state possible. As a consequence, many acts, such as relieving oneself, or having legal relations with women (in terms of sexual intercourse), although natural, leave one in an impure state, during which Salat cannot be offered. Technically speaking, these acts are characterized on different basis, and can be summarized as below:

  1. After relieving oneself (of urine or stools) one is required to wash the area with water, so that no trace of the impurity (excrement) remains. Even after doing this, a complete state of cleanliness is only reached by performing Wud’hu, after which a Muslim can be entitled to offer Salat or recite the Holy Quran.
  2. After nocturnal discharge and sexual intercourse (when one is in a state of Janabah), one is not only required to clean the private parts with water (or with clean dust, in case water is not available) and to cleanse the clothes, but also required to perform Ghusa’l. This consists of the below mentioned obligatory acts:
    1. Cleaning the nose thoroughly
    2. Gargling
    3. Pouring water over the entire body (from head to toe). Care should be taken to the extent that not even a single hair remains dry.
    4. If one falls unconscious, or if pus or blood flows from the body, then one’s Wud’hu is broken and should be renewed.
    5. Women must purify themselves by taking the obligatory bath (ghusa’l) as soon their menstrual cycle is over. Before taking a bath, they cannot offer their prayers, or even have relations with their husbands, in accordance with the Qur’anic verse (2:222). After childbirth, the mother must perform Ghusa’l before she can offer Salat.
    6. One cannot offer the Salat after flatulence. After passing flatus through the anus, one is required to perform the Wud’hu again.
    7.  It must be noted that in any of these states, one can perform routine acts like eating, drinking etc. However one cannot perform acts of worship like Salat, Recitation etc.
    8. In case of fasting, the fast is not broken by relieving oneself. It, however, is broken by sexual intercourse, in accordance with the Qur’anic verse (2:187).

The wud’hu must be performed not only before performing Salat, but also before Tawaf of the Holy Kaabah, and before reciting (and/or touching) the Holy Qur’an.

Linked to this concept of Taharat is the concept of Najasat (impurity). There are different types of Najasat, and a detailed exposition of them is offered here:

1. Visible Impurities (Haqeeqi): These are further classified as those which are light (in terms of weight) and those which are dense:

a. Light Impurities: These include urine of Halal (permissible) animals and the excrement of haram (not permissible) birds.

b. Dense impurities: These include urine and stools of humans, seminal discharges, pus, menstrual blood, wine, excrement of Halal birds etc.

2. Invisible impurities (Hukmi): These include breaking of bath or Wud’hu due to some cause.

As for the two types, Najasat-e-ghaleezah and najasat-e-khafeefah, there are different rules concerning them. In case of najasat-e-ghaleezah, the body parts as well as clothing items must be washed. In case of najasat-e-khafeefah, the body parts and clothing must be washed only if it is to the extent of 1/4th.

To facilitate wayfarers and people who are hydrophobic or cannot use water due to some ailment, Tayammum is allowed. In this case, the hands are covered with dust, which is then blown off and the hands are passed over those parts which are specified for Wud’hu.

Indeed by adhering to these Taharat rules, we can lead a better life. In addition to these forms of physical cleanliness, spiritual cleanliness is also required. This is when the mind is free from any doubts concerning the Almighty Allah, hypocrisy, and evil thoughts.

Islam loves cleanliness and demands its followers to be in a state of purity rather impurity which cultivates an unhygienic atmosphere. It is very important to restate that this perfect most religion pays highest level of stress on cleanliness not only in terms of personal hygiene but also in terms of spiritual purity. Therefore, without any tinge of exaggeration or doubt it is evident that by following immutable principles of Islam which have stood the test of time we can lead us towards our eternal goal of success (Paradise).

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