Ablution is the Muslim ritual of purification. Its importance to Islam dates back to the Prophet Muhammad, who stated: “Purity is half the faith.” Ablution specifically refers to ritual washing before prayer, which Muslims consider to be a sign of respect for God. By performing acts of purification, believers prepare to present themselves to Allah. Muslims believe ritual physical and spiritual purity is a necessary prerequisite for addressing God in prayer. Ablution is a part of worship and one of the ways to receive forgiveness of sins.
Muslims believe people are naturally pure until an impurity disturbs this state. Ablution rituals restore purity by removing any impure agents. Impurities are material substances that defile people or objects. Such substances include blood, urine, feces, semen, and alcohol. People remove real impurities by washing, scrubbing, drying, or another similar action.
Partial and Complete Ablution.
Islamic law specifies two major purification rituals. Partial ablution (wudu) involves washing body parts exposed to dirt and smog with clean water. These areas include the face, lower arms, part of the head, and the feet.
The ablution process begins with a declaration that the performance of the ritual is for the purpose of purity and worship. A Muslim then washes the hands, rinses the mouth, brushes the teeth, and clears the nostrils. He or she then washes the face and the arms. The next step is to cleanse the head, the ears, the neck, and in between the fingers with wet hands. Finally, a Muslim washes the feet, beginning with the right one. Many people conclude ablution with the words: “O God! Place me among the repenters and place me among the pure.” Prayers may then begin.
A single ablution can be used for as many prayers as a person wishes. It remains valid until broken, most commonly by bodily discharge of an impure substance. Falling asleep and intoxication from drugs or alcohol also invalidate ablution.
The bath, or ghusl, is the second major purification ritual. It is the complete ablution and is necessary after sexual relations, ejaculation, menstruation, and at the end of the bleeding that occurs after giving birth. Shi'i Muslims also require a ritual bath after washing a corpse. Furthermore, both Sunnis and Shi'is recommend a complete bath on special religious days, such as on Fridays, on the days of Muslim festivals, and before entering the holy city of Mecca. Those who have never performed ghusl cannot enter a mosque. Muslims believe a person cannot encounter God without maintaining a ghusl level of purity.
As with wudu, ghusl requires clean, odorless water that has not been used for a previous ritual. The bath begins with the declaration of the intention of purity and worship. A Muslim performing complete ablution then washes every part of his or her body. Many use the following order for the ritual: washing the hands, washing the sexual organs, performing the wudu, rubbing water into the hair, and pouring water over the entire body. Praising God and asking for guidance finish the bath.
Islam allows for exceptions to the two rituals in certain circumstances. For example, when clean water is not available, dry ablution (tayammum) may be substituted for either ritual. After declaring intent, a Muslim begins tayammum by placing his or her hands on pure earth or sand and blowing off any excess particles. The person then uses the dust or sand to wipe the face and arms. See also Pillars of Islam; Prayer; Rites and Rituals.