Cleanliness: Islamic Perspective

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Written by: Sulaimon Bashirudeen

The comprehensiveness of Islam is demonstrated in all its teachings which cover all aspects of human life. Indeed, a demonstration of its meaning as a religion of peace is manifest in its teaching to be in peace with one’s creator, one’s self and other creatures of Allah. One maintains peace with Allah, his creator by maintaining cleanliness and purity at all times, as Allah Himself is clean and pure and does not accept any unclean and impure act from His servants.

A means of being in peace with oneself is to imbibe cleanliness and prevent diseases that could come from being dirty. Peace can also be maintained with fellow human beings through personal cleanliness. Therefore, cleanliness of the body, clothes, place and that of the mind, heart and soul constitutes what Islam is. In fact, Islam aims at building a society where individuals can live an ideal, pure and clean life physically and spiritually.

What is Cleanliness?

Cleanliness, according to Wikipedia, is both the abstract state of being clean and free from germs, dirt, trash, or waste and the habit of achieving and maintaining that state. 

Cleanliness gives rise to a good character by keeping body, mind, and soul clean and peaceful. Maintaining cleanliness is an essential part of healthy living because it is cleanliness only which helps to improve our personality by keeping clean externally and internally.

Islam, as we learn from the Holy Quran and the Hadith, deals with every aspect of human life as there is no aspect of our life that is left untouched. Thus, Islam is a religion of nature. Islam and nature are two inseparable entities and, as such, nature loves cleanliness and detests impurity. That is why, this highly desirable feature of human existence – cleanliness – is one of the basic tenets of Islam.

What is the nature of Islam as a religion? It is to lead one’s life in total submission to the will of the Almighty Allah and; such a life can be achievable only by first leaving a life devoid of any personal impurity. Thus an adherent of Islamic faith must first adopt the life of an exemplary personal hygiene.

The more reason one of the earliest commandments given to the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad bin Abdullah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) by Allah (swt) was:

وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ وَٱلرُّجْزَ فَٱهْجُرْ

And thy garments keep free from stain!
And thyself do thou purify. And uncleanliness do thou shun

(Suratul Mudaththir chapter 74 verse 5-6)

Owing to the meaning of the word Thiyaab among which are clothes; dependants or followers of a person (Lane, Aqrab & Steinglass), the Second Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in his most celebrated commentary of the Holy Quran “Tafseer Kabeer” explained thus “The Holy Prophet is enjoined that before entering upon this great mission he should prepare a body of followers, pure of heart, conduct, and reputation. Or the verse may mean that he should himself be a paragon of piety, righteousness, and pure conduct.” (Tafseer Kabir Vol.5 pg 2713)

From the above meaning, one can deduce that there are two parts of cleanliness: Exoteric and Esoteric.

Esoteric or Unseen Cleanliness

The hidden or unseen cleanliness is to purify the soul from the effect of offenses and disobedience through sincere repentance of all sins and disobedience; and to purify the heart from all dirtiness of polytheism, doubt, spite, malice, deception, arrogance and hypocrisy. This comes by sincerity, truthfulness, goodness, truth, humbleness and doing all good deeds with pure intentions for the sake of Allah, the Almighty.

Exoteric or Physical Cleanliness

Apparent or physical cleanliness is further subdivided into two. They are: (1) cleanliness from physical dirt and (2) cleanliness from ritual impurity:

  1. Cleanliness from physical dirtiness is achieved by removing all dirt off one’s garments, body and place, particularly places of worship, using clean and pure water.
  2. Cleanliness from ritual impurity is attained by performing ablutions, ritual baths/washing and Tayammum (sand purification).

(Minhajil Muslim by Abou Bakr Jaber el-Jazaery and Translated by Ayman Muhammed Mahmoud Muhammed section 4, chapter 1, pg 136)

The Fifth Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his helper), in his Friday Sermon of 23rd April 2004 on the subject of Cleanliness and Purity further elucidates:

“…that one could truly gain Divine closeness when one develops apparent/physical, as well as spiritual purity and that apparent purity and cleanliness, sustain inner purity. Islam enjoins taking of bath at the very least each Friday and ablution before Salat and endorses using perfume before going to mosque or large gatherings. Huzuraba said the rationale behind this is to create an ambiance conducive to mutual concordance.

Huzuraba said that indeed most Muslims know and often quote the two Ahadith citing cleanliness as ‘a part of faith’ and alluding to it ‘as half of faith’, however, it is sad that this is not so visible in practice….

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) disapproved of unkempt hair and shabby appearance…

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) said that when a friend gives perfume as a gift, one should accept it and indeed use it. Adding, Huzuraba said that the blessed person of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) would exude a most fabulous fragrance, the smell of which lingered on the pathways that he had passed. Huzuraba elaborated on the counsel the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) gave on oral hygiene. He stressed the use of miswak (a bark used for cleaning teeth) and indeed practiced it in his blessed life. Daily matters like washing one’s hands before and after eating and to rinse one’s mouth regularly were all endorsed by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him).

Huzuraba reiterated the importance of keeping our mosques and other buildings clean. He said our environments should emanate a very high standard of cleanliness. Huzuraba cited an excerpt from the writings of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) expounding the fundamental importance of cleanliness in Islam and said that physical cleanliness is essential just as spiritual purity is essential because physical purity has a tremendous involvement with spiritual purity.

Also Allah says in verse 223 of Suratul Baqarah which is the second chapter of the Holy Quran:

ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ

 Allah loves those who turn to Him and those who keep themselves clean.(Suratul Baqara chapter 2 : 223)

Meaning that just as repentance frees body and soul from all moral laxity or sin so does water remove all impurity from body and clothing. Islam accordingly exhort man to always turn in repentance to Allah thus purifying ones soul and also take care of its apparent cleanliness and thereby remind man that Allah loves those who are more careful about cleanliness hidden and apparent.

The mosque, the focal point of Islamic life, is called in a Hadith the “home of the pious people”. The Holy Quran puts it precisely in Suratul Taubah chapter 9 verse 108 “in it (mosque) are men who love to be purified and Allah loves those who purify themselves”.

In this verse we are asked to clean the mosque, ridding it of all impurities, just as Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ishmael to clean the house of Allah (ka’abah) for those who perform the circuit and those who remain there in for devotion and those who bow down and fall prostrate in prayer.” ( Suratul Baqara chapter 2 verse 126).

Following the examples of sanitizing the mosque, Muslims are urged to keep their bodies pure by ablution and bathing, their clothes clean by regular washing and their houses and their surrounding spotless. These practices are incumbent upon every Muslim as the Holy Prophet of Islam (may the peace and blessings of  Allah be upon him) said: “ The key to prayer is Ablutions (cleanliness) and the key to Paradise is prayer” (Tirmidhi) thus the key to Paradise is ablutions (cleanliness) and he also said: “Prayers will not be accepted without cleanliness” (Tirmidhi) besides he said: “cleanliness is half of faith”. (Muslim)

According to another Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “God is pure and loves purity,” which means that cleanliness and purity are on the highest scale of cardinal virtues. What God loves is undoubtedly of supreme value. Every Muslim must, in consequence, lead a life marked by cleanliness and purity in order to earn the approval of his Creator.

Significance of Hand Washing

The basis of purification in the Qur’an is rendered thus: “Truly Allah loves those who turn unto Him, and loves those who have a care for cleanliness (Q2:222). Similarly, a Muslim is required to maintain absolute cleanliness when handling the Qur’an. The Qur’an declares, “Which none touches save the purified”. (Q56:79) The Qur’an also says, “And if you are unclean, then purify yourselves” (Q5:6). It (Prayer) is one of the most important tenets of Islam which cannot be done without purification of the body. The instruction to purify oneself in preparation for Salat (Prayer) is contained in a portion of the previously quoted verse: “O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash your face, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles”. (Q5:6) Prophet Muhammad had equally declared that “Cleanliness is half of faith”.

Spheres of Hand Washing Rituals in Islam

One important aspect of Islamic rituals where washing of hands is prominent is ablution (wudhu’). A prophetic narration to this effect is from Nasa’i as narrated by Abd-Khairi, that he had witnessed Ali bin Abi-Talib someday when he requested for a chair and he sat down, and then he asked for a vessel of water. He then began to perform ablution. He washed his hands three times, rinsed his mouth three times. He inhaled and sneezes out water in his nose three times. He washed his hands up to the elbows three times. He washed his face three times. Then he wet his hands, and wipe his head with them. Then he washed his feet three times, and finally he said, whoever delights in seeing the way the Prophet used to perform his ablution this was it.

Spiritual Benefits of Ablution

Nu’am Al- Mujmir said: Once I went up the roof of the Mosque, along with Abu Huraira. He performed ablution and said, I heard the Prophet saying, on the Day of Resurrection, my followers will be called “Al-Ghurr-ul-Muhajjalun” (glimmering of forehead and knee) from the traces of Ablution and whoever can increase the area of his radiance should do so (i.e. by performing ablution regularly).

Medical benefit of performing ablution

The benefits of washing one’s hands are innumerable. It is known that the washing of hands (be it with or without warm water and soap), is a vital part in fighting cross-infection of all types. It can also prevent a wide range of acute respiratory infections, helminthes (parasitic worm) infections, eye infections, and diarrheal disease. In a research headed by Professor Chris Del Mar of Bond University concludes that: “Physical barriers, such as regular hand washing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns may be more effective than drugs to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like influenza and SARS”.

Prophet Muhammad said: whoever performed ablution properly all his wrongdoings will come out of his body till they come out from under his limbs. This report has thus been exquisitely corroborated by modern-day scientists. Lastly, as outbreak of the Coronavirus spread throughout the world, people are reminded over and over again to limit physical contact, wash hands and avoid touching their faces. Islamic law requires Muslims to ritually pray five times a day and each time Muslims must purify his body especially his hands before he prays. This ritual contains both physical and spiritual benefits.

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