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Ablution is a spiritual purification not of the body parts

God teaches us that His guidance is the true guidance (2:120, 3:73 and 6:71) and the best way to understand His guidanceis to study the Quran thoroughly (4:82 and 47:24) that leads to the straight path (6:126) and brings good news for the believers (17:9) while the best way to remember Him is to observe salat to nourish our souls (29:45, 62:9). He has ordered us to seek refuge in Him from the Satan when we study the Quran (16:98) while He has decreed for us 4-step ablution when we observe salat (5:6).

Salat to remember God at a glance

There are 83 occurrences of ‘Salat’ in 78 verses among 31 suras of the Quran. Out of 83 instances, 67 occurrences of it found in 63 verses across 28 suras are precisely commandments from God for the believers to observe Salat to nourish their souls. Even, the commandment of observing Salat has mathematically been confirmed including the instances that define ablution and the circumstances that nullify it (5:6, 4:43):

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Ablution (wudu in Arabic)

God has decreed ablution to observe Salat, which is very simple and easy for us. He has described its steps and conditionsin the Quran to make it clear for us to avoid any misconception or controversy about it in the following two verses (5:6, 4:43):

[5:6] O you who believe, when you stand for the Contact Prayer (al-salati), then you shall wash (fa-igh’siloo):(1) your faces and (2) your hands to the elbows, whileyou shall wipe (wa-im’sahoo):(3) your heads and (4) your feet to the ankles, but if you are impure for sexual contact (junuban), then you shall purify yourselves (fa-ittahharoo). And if you are ill or on a journey or anyone of you who has excretedor you have had contacted the women, and you do not find water, then you shall purify with clean soil (fa-tayammamoo sa’eedan tayyiban), and you shall wipe(fa-im’sahoo):(1) your faces and (2) your hands with it. Goddoes not want to make any hardship on you, but He wants to purify you(liyutahhirakum) and to provide His favor upon you so that you may be appreciative.
Note: The commandment in the verse is a ritual for the believers to attend the Contact Prayer, which is a precondition and can be met with any of the following: (a) going through 4 steps – washing of (1) faces and (2) hands to the elbows as well as wiping of (3) heads and (4) feet to the ankles, (b) taking shower or bathing who are impure due to sexual relation, (c) purifying with clean soil – wiping of (1) faces and (2) hands who have not found water but have sexual relation or are ill or on a journey or came from the toilet; and (d) follow God’s commandment whatever you can do for your purification but do not be deprive of God’s blessing for missing the prayer.

[4:43] O you who believe, do not attend the Contact Prayer (Salat) while you are intoxicated, until you know what you are saying nor while you are impure for sexual contact (junuban) until you have bathed (hattaa taghsiloo), except you are on the road. And if you are ill or on a journey or anyone of you who has excreted or you have had contacted the women, and you do not find water, then you shall purify with clean soil (fa-tayammamoo sa’eedan tayyiban), and you shall wipe (fa-im’sahoo): (1) your faces and (2) your hands with it. Indeed, God is Pardoning, Forgiving.
Note: This verse reiterates the ritual of ablutionespecially the exceptional part of it focusing on observing the Contact Prayer being reverent to God as well as meeting the preconditions. The preconditions that need to be met are: (a) not to be intoxicated, (b) taking shower or bathing for sexual contact if not on the road, (c) purifying with clean soil – wiping of (1) faces and (2) hands who have not find water but have sexual relation or are ill or on a journey or came from the toilet. God is pardoning and forgiving Who has given us alternative so that we can fulfill our obligation at any of our circumstances.

It is clear from the above verses that God has defined 4 stepsof ablution with water through washing of (1) faces, (2) hands up to the elbows while wiping of (3) heads and (4) feet up to the ankles, and 2 steps of dry ablution with clean soilthrough wiping of (1) faces and (2) hands when water is not available, which is broken for having sex as well as intestinal and urinary excretions. In fact, ablution is the spiritual purification not the physical part of the body through washing process. If it was meant to clean the person physically, God would have ordered us to take a bath before every one of the five prayers. However, ordering to purify with the clean soil known as dry ablution (tayammum) is a direct proof that God did not mean it to be the purpose of physical cleaning as some of us claim. The physical cleaning part of the ablution is a very secondary gain that should not be considered the main goal of it.

The ritual of ablution is a symbolic cleaning process instituted by God, which mentally helps in the preparation of the prayer. He has decreed four steps as adequate for this ritual. It is not how much more physically clean we are that enhances the value of the Salat Prayer, but our reverence for God and intention to perform the prayer as per His instructions.The dry ablution (Tayammum) is another proof being the ritual is a symbolic cleaning process when we cannot find water. The Tayammum which involves just two actions namely, rubbing the faces and hands with clean dry soil is itself symbolic to the rest of the four steps done with water! God did not even ask us to wipe our heads or rub our feet with soil, yet this form of wudu is absolutely valid! Do we really feel any cleaner after Tayammum as we would feel if we washed with water? Does our face look any cleaner after rubbing with clean dry soil compared to washing with water? If the answer is ‘no’ then it is clear that the entire act of wudu demonstrates symbolic cleaning, for which God has decreed just four steps.

We also see that ablution is good as long as it is not broken by the conditions listed in the verses. At the same time, it doesn’t say that the ablution must be done only at the moment before each prayer, as someone may find it convenient to do the ablution at a particular place and pray at another location subsequently. We also know that a ablution holds good for more than one prayer if it is not broken. Surely during this time, the person will have become ‘dirty’ from ambient dirt while the body will have continued its secretions and exposure to germs and bacteria!

Misconceptions

The concept of ablution is very simple but it is also quite misunderstood. There are many but some of them are mention-worthy and need our attention to avoid them to stay with God. It is difficult for many of us to understand it as a symbolic cleaning process. Many Muslims consider that the steps as defined by God in the ritual are not adequate. It does not purify the women who are going through their menstrual cycles and secretions after their child birth to observe the Salat prayer. Ablution has also been made requirements to recite the Quran being the Holy Book.

  • The ritual of ablution is a symbolic cleaning process instituted by God and mentally helps in the preparation of the prayer. For this ritual, God has decreed four steps as adequate but it is not how much more physically clean we are that enhances the value of the Salat Prayer, but our reverence for God and intention to perform the religious rites as per His instructions. It is good to be clean and maintain regular hygiene practices (7:31). Being clean and looking clean not only makes us feel fresh and energetic, but also evokes a more favorable social response. So we may pursue cleanliness however we want, but that should have nothing to do with the four steps of ablution, as that must be done as an independent ritual linked to the Salat Prayer. We must be clear that our other cleaning actions do not add any value to the ablution or prayer. God knows our innermost intentions and also setting of a misleading example through our personal opinion about ‘cleaner is better’ by adding more steps to God’s steps (7:171).
  • Many of us consider that either 4 or 2 steps in the ritual of ablution are not adequate as defined by God (5:6). When God says to do 4 or 2 steps, then we are to do 4 or 2 steps, no more or no less. That is God’s religion introduced by Him to appreciate and remember Him.But many Muslims of today follow their own rules and some of their practices even do not makes any sense. Those who consider improving on His commandments and follow the rules of their scholars should remember that they will have to stand and defend their practices on the Day when there is no apology or excuse for the transgressors (30:57), and the leaders and the followers will blame each other when they see their retribution (34:32).
  • Our so called scholars teach the Muslim community that the Muslim women cannot pray, fast or worship in any other way during their menstrual cycles or period of secretions after child birth. They draw their decision claiming that the women are unclean that nullifies the ablution. It is mention-worthy that the secretions during menstruation or after child birth does not nullify ablution.But what nullifies ablution is very specific in the ritual, and is associated with the excretion of the digestive and urinary systems, not associated with the vaginal discharge related to the female genital system, a completely separate organ system from the digestive and urinary systems.These women are unclean which is true because of having sex for hygienic reason as found in (2:222-223). Nowhere in the Quran does it say that women cannot pray, fast or worship in any other way during their menstrual cycles or period of secretions after child birth. We also know from the Quran that men and women are spiritually equal (33:35). Hence, what a man has to do to nourish his soul, a woman has to do the same to nourish her soul either. In addition, there is no make up for the missing prayer, and if someone misses any prayer at any day, she misses it for forever. However, we should know that any rule telling us not to worship God under this or the other circumstances must be from Satan, not from God.
  • Muslim scholars have made ablution a requirement to recite the Quran being the Holy Book misinterpreting the verse 56:79, which is a commandment from God to read the Quran being sincere. But the ablution is only a requirement to observe the Salat prayer while God has commanded us to seek refuge in Him from Satan the rejected when we read the Quran (16:98)as only those who are blessed by Him can understand it (17:46).However, we have to study the Quran given to us as our guidance reflecting to divine instructions came to us not to the book in which these instructions are captured.
  • Some of us also consider that the steps of ablution are like a ‘combination’ of physical actions that must be done in a particular sequence. So we must go through the motions even if we think we are already clean through a recent wash or shower. But the verse doesn’t say that the ablution must be done only at the moment before each prayer while someone may find it convenient to do the ablution at a particular place and pray at another location subsequently. Thus, ablution holds good as long as it is not broken by the conditions listed in the verses or it holds good for more than one prayer if it is not broken.
  • The Arabic text in the verse (5:6)is very straightforward especially that states 4 steps of ablution: washing of(1) faces and (2) hands up to the elbows, and wiping of(3) heads and (4) feet up to the ankles in the phrase of the verse, Fa-igh’sila wujoohakum wa-aydiyakum ilaa al-maraafiqi wa-im’sahoo biru-oosikum wa-arjulakum ilaa al-ka’bayni while the meanings of its different parts are: Fa-igh’sila(so wash) wujoohakum(your faces) wa-aydiyakumilaa al-maraafiqi (and your hands up to the elbows) wa-im’sahoo (and wipe) biru-oosikum(your heads) wa-arjulakum ilaa al-ka’bayni(and your feet up to the ankles).But there is a controversy whether it should mean washing or wiping of the feet in the last part of the phrase.It is meant the washing of the feet instead of the wiping of the feet has reflected due to tradition as it is practiced by the Muslim community all over the world. There is also another opinion in favor of washing of the feet instead of wiping of the feet claiming that the verse, 5:6 grammatically structured to mean the feet should be washed, although the feet are mentioned in the sentence after the wiping of the head. Those who fail to recognize this grammatical structure make the wrong decision to wipe the feet, instead of washing the feet.However, if we understand that ablution is a symbolic cleaning process, it does not matter whether we wash or wipe the feet, then why should we think that there is a special grammar in the phrase to mean the washing of the feet instead of wiping the feet while the literary meaning of the Arabic text is very straightforward? How do we know that it is not a claim just to support a translation of the Quran that is meant the washing of the feet?

Conclusion

The review of the verses, 5:6 and 4:43 in connection with ablution and what nullifies it confirms that the ritual of ablution is a symbolic cleaning process instituted by God, which mentally helps in the preparation of the prayer. Even there is a relationship of the numeric properties of the two verses being the total of digits of sura and verse numbers is the same (5 + 6 = 11 = 4 + 4 + 3).It is not how much more physically clean we are that enhances the value of the Salat Prayer while our reverence for God and intention to perform any religious rites as per His instruction. It is not that the more we clean ourselves, the purer we are for the prayer.

We may also think that ablution is the first level of protection for us from the Satan so that we can observe the Salat prayer being reverent to God, which is our topmost priority – ‘successful indeed are the believers; who are reverent during their Contact Prayers’ (23:1-2). We know that the human being is created from the clay while the Satan, our ardent enemy is created from the blazing fire, and the ablution with water, even with the clean soil may serve as the first line defense for us to keep the Satan away from us when we stand for the prayer to do it with our devotion as well as full attention.

God has defined the ablution for us while many of us consider that 4 steps or 2 steps in the ritual of ablution are not adequate should know that there is no less or no more in the God’s instructions and His commandment must be followed as specified. Those who consider improving on God’s rules should remember that they will stand defending their practices on the day when there is no apology for the transgressors nor will they be excused (30:57). In addition, the arrogant and their followers on earth will blame each other on the day when they see their retribution (34:32).

It is clear that the secretions during menstruation or after child birth do not nullify ablution.But what nullifies ablution is very specific, and is associated with the excretions of the digestive and urinary systems, not associated with the vaginal discharge related to the female genital system, a completely separate organ system from the digestive and urinary systems. These women are unclean for having sex for hygienic reason but not for observing the prayer. Thus, many believing women who are missing their prayers following the rules of their scholars instead of God’s rules deprive themselves of developing their souls required for both women and men for successful return.

God has made a precondition to seek refuge in Him from the Satan before reading the Quran to read it being sincere (56:79) while He has made ablution a precondition to observe the salat prayer with full attention keeping the Satan away from us as well. Those who can fulfill these two great rites of Godin order to having thorough knowledge of God’s guidance as well as developing their souls being the salat is the prime source of nourishment of souls have a guarantee of save return to Him.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.
Tafazzal (10/13/2017)