The Legal Rulings of Purification in Islam

By Editorial Staff

Purification is the first chapter in almost all the books written about the Islamic science of fiqh (jurisprudence). Since the performance of almost every act of worship is dependent upon the fulfillment of its prerequisites, jurists start with purification because it is one of the most important prerequisites for salah (prayer).

Jurists divide purification into two categories: tangible and intangible.

The ritual purification of wudu’ or ghusl is one of the most important prerequisites for performing salah (prayer).

Intangible Purification

The intangible kind of purification is the freedom or purity of the heart from shirk (associating false deities with God). Thus, it is more important than purification of the body. Believing in the Oneness of God is one of the prerequisites of the acceptance of deeds. Allah says,

“Indeed, the idolaters are (ritually) unclean.” (Quran 9:28)

Allah says about some disbelievers,

“These are the ones whose hearts God does not intend to purify.” (Quran 5:41)

Furthermore, purification refers to the freedom of the heart from sins like grudge, hatred, suspicions, etc. Allah says about the Prophet’s wives (Allah be pleased with them),

“Furthermore, (with respect to his wives,) whenever you ask them for any article, then ask them from behind a screen. That is (sure to deepen) the purity of your hearts, and their hearts.” (Quran 33:53)

Tangible Purification

The tangible kind of purification means cleanliness and the freedom from impurities. In the technical usage of the term, it means to free from hadath (ritual impurity) through wudu’ (ablution) or ghusl (ritual bath) and to remove physical impurities.

Hadath is a legal description of the human body which prevents one from performing prayer or any other act of worship which require purification. Jurists also divide hadath into two categories: major and minor.

Major Ritual Impurity

Major ritual impurity is a state which requires having a ritual bath. It arises from having a sexual intercourse, a wet dream, seminal emission, menstruation and post-natal bleeding. Allah says,

“And they ask you, (O Prophet,) about menstruation. Say: It is a (cause for) harm. So withhold yourselves (from sexual intercourse) with women during menstruation, and do not approach them (there) until they are cleansed. Then, when they are cleansed, come to them as God has commanded you. Indeed, God loves those who are ever-penitent, and He loves those who purify themselves.” (Quran 2:222)

Minor Ritual Impurity

Minor ritual impurity is a state which requires ablution. It arises from breaking wind, urination, defecation, etc.

There are two important things here. One thing is that you can use only water to free yourself from hadath (ritual impurity) or soil (i.e. through dry ablution or tayammum) in case there is no water. The second thing is that you can use water or any other cleanser to remove other physical impurities.

Also, hadath is a description of only the human body. Jurists call a person who is free from ritual impurity pure. On the other hand, physical impurity is a description of the body, clothes, objects, places, etc. For instance, a pig is always impure and can never be purified.

The Water That Can Be Used for Purification

Most of the time, we use water for purification. That’s why jurists discuss the kind of water that we can use.

We can use only clean and cleansing water for ritual purification. Jurists call it the absolute water. Based on this, we cannot use rose water for ritual purification. The water may be clean but not cleansing such as rose water. Other liquids such as vinegar, benzene, etc. are clean but one cannot use them to perform ablution.

The Kinds of Absolute Water:

The absolute water is that water found in its original state. For instance, it includes the following:

1. Water or snow falling from clouds, Allah says:

“Moreover, He sent down upon you, from the sky, water to purify you thereby…” (Quran 8:11)

“Thus do We send down, from the sky, purifying water.” (Quran 25:48)

2. Sea water

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said regarding the sea,

“Its water is purifying and its dead (animals) are lawful (to eat).” (Abu Dawud, Al-Nasa’i, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

3. River water

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) said:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Saihan (Oxus), Jaihan (Jaxartes), Al-Furat (Euphrates) and An-Nil (Nile) are all (originally) from the rivers of Jannah.” (Muslim)

4. Ice

The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said as a part of his supplication,

Alluhum maghsilni min khatayaya bith-thalji wal-ma’i wal-barad

“O Allah! wash away my sins with snow, water, and ice.” (Muslim)

5. Underground water

This includes Zamzam water and other wellsprings. Allah says,

“Say, (O Prophet): Have you considered that if, suddenly, one morning (you found that) your water had become deeply sunken (in the ground,) who, then, would bring you water, fresh flowing (and clean)?” (Quran 67:30)

What to Do in Case There Is No Water?

It is not allowed to use liquid other than water for ritual purification of wudu’ (ablution) or ghusl (ritual bath). However, you can use whatever cleanser to clear other impurities on the body, clothes or places. Allah says,

“But if you become sick or are on a journey, or if one of you comes forth from the place of relieving oneself, or if you have touched women (intimately) and you cannot find water then take recourse to (patting) clean earth; then wipe (over) your faces and your hands with it (in place of ritual ablution).”  (Quran 5:6)

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