Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness
2. Overview of Ritual Purity and Cleanliness
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
From Islamic source documents: Qur’an and hadith
The Qur'an admonishes Muslims to purify their clothing. It refers to a true house of worship as a place in which are found men who love to purify themselves; Allah (God) loves those who purify themselves. The Qur'an talks of how Allah sent down water from the sky to purify Muslims. (This refers to a particular time of battle.) Only those who have been purified may touch the Holy Qur'an.
The Qur’an requires the washing of one's face and one's hands up to the elbows and the wiping of one's head and also one’s feet up to the ankles before commencing prayer. If a person is in a state of sexual defilement, it is necessary to wash before prayer. However, if a person is sick or travelling or coming out from relieving himself or has touched a woman and cannot find water, then rubbing the hands and face with pure earth is sufficient.
As discussed in detail on the pages that follow, the recorded hadiths distinguish physical filth from ritual impurity. Muhammad said that a mosque is a place which should be free of urine and filth. Physical filth can be removed from one's body or clothing, or from a place of prayer, by washing with pure water.
To achieve a state of purity of the body necessary for prayer, a ritual ablution procedure is required, including a precisely ordered washing of one's face and hands, wiping of one's head, and washing of one's feet. This state of purity is lost by certain actions, such as passing gas, and if this happens ablution must be repeated so prayer can be continued.
Sexual activity requires that a man or a woman perform a bath of purification, which involves more complete washing of the body than ritual ablution does. Muhammad delayed the prayers of the community so he could take a bath first, having remembered that he was in a state of impurity caused by sexual activity.
The Qur'an says to stay away from women during their menstrual periods. Once they have been purified, then one is to go to them as Allah (God) has commanded. A woman may not pray during her menstrual period. She must perform a bath of purification after her menstrual flow has ceased before she can pray.
Dry ablution, using pure earth, can substitute for either ritual ablution or a bath of purification when no water is available.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd and Reliance of the Traveller
Physical filth is different from ritual impurity. As discussed on the following pages, physical filth includes certain things that non-Muslims might eat but which are forbidden to Muslims. Filth also includes specified substances that come out of the bodies of humans or animals.
Scholars* have differing views concerning prayer when filth is present. Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and the Shafi‛i school say that removal of filth from one’s body, from one’s clothing and from the place of prayer is required for the validity of a prayer. According to The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, the better known opinion of Malik and his school is that such removal of filth for prayer is only a strong recommendation, not a requirement. According to Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school), if filth that contains moisture comes onto one's clothing during prayer, it is necessary to immediately shed that piece of clothing – otherwise the prayer is invalid. If the filth that soils one's garment is dry, then it does not invalidate the prayer unless one brushes it off with a hand or sleeve. A 19th century commentator here explains that touching the dry filth with a hand or sleeve causes it to invalidate the prayer through contact or support of the filth. Having some filth on one's clothing is permitted when one is not praying. A man may insist that his wife remove any filth prior to sexual intercourse to help ensure his maximum enjoyment.
Ritual impurity (hadath) is a state incurred by a person as a result of certain actions rather than being caused by the presence of physical filth. Minor ritual impurity results, for example, from urination, passing gas or defecation. Intercourse and certain other types of sexual activity result in major ritual impurity (janaba).
Ritual ablution (wudu) with water by prescribed procedures is necessary prior to prayer. Ritual impurity (hadath) makes the ablution invalid and requires that it be repeated before prayer can be initiated or completed. A bath of purification (ghusl) is required prior to prayer to lift major ritual impurity, and also after menstruation. Ablution with dry earth (tayammum) can be performed when water is not available for ablution with water or a bath of purification.
(Editor’s note: In our discussion of these topics, we use the word filth to refer to the physical substances that can be cleaned by washing with water. We use the word impurity to refer to the minor ritual state that can be lifted by ablution (wudu) and the major ritual state that is lifted by a bath of purification (ghusl).)
*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 74:4
 QR 9:108
 QR 8:11
 QR 56:77-79
 QR 5:6
 QR 4:43, QR 5.6
 ML 2:559
 BK 1:4:152, BK 1:4:153, BK 1:4:154, BK 1:4:163, BK 1:4:163, BK 1:4:216, BK 1:4:218, BK 1:4:219-220, BK 1:4:221, BK 1:4:227, BK 1:4:229-230, BK 1:4:231, BK 1:4:232, BK 1:4:233, BK 1:6:304, BK 1:6:305, BK 8:73:149, BK 8:73:54, ML 2:517, ML 2:518, ML 2:519, ML 2:541-543, ML 2:544, ML 2:557, ML 2:558, ML 2:559, ML 2:570, ML 2:571, ML 2:573-574
 BK 1:4:141, BK 1:4:170, BK 1:4:183, BK 1:4:187, BK 1:4:194, BK 1:4:199, BK 1:4:213, BK 2:21:253, BK 4:56:773, BK 4:56:774, BK 4:56:775, BK 7:69:543, ML 2:433-434, ML 2:435, ML 2:440, ML 2:441, ML 2:444, ML 2:445, ML 2:446, ML 2:447, ML 2:451-452, ML 2:494, ML 30:5657
 BK 1:4:142, BK 1:4:161, BK 1:4:165, BK 1:4:182, BK 1:4:185, BK 1:4:186, BK 1:4:190, BK 1:4:191-192, BK 1:4:196, BK 1:4:198, BK 3:31:155, BK 7:72:690, BK 7:72:691, ML 2:436, ML 2:437, ML 2:453, ML 2:453-454-455-456, ML 2:457, ML 2:477, ML 2:478, ML 2:528, ML 2:529, ML 2:531-532-533, ML 2:534
 BK 1:4:137, BK 1:4:139, BK 1:4:176, BK 1:4:177, BK 1:8:436, BK 3:34:272, BK 9:86:86, ML 3:702, ML 3:703
 BK 1:5:260, BK 1:5:276, BK 1:5:289-290, BK 1:7:340, BK 5:59:637, ML 3:616-617, ML 3:618, ML 3:619, ML 3:620, ML 3:623, ML 3:624, ML 3:625, ML 3:626, ML 3:627, ML 3:628, ML 3:629, ML 3:630, ML 3:636, ML 3:639, ML 3:642, ML 3:643-644-645, ML 3:674-675, ML 3:679, ML 3:682-683, ML 3:684, ML 3:685
 BK 1:5:274
 QR 2:222
 BK 1:4:228, BK 1:6:301, BK 1:6:303, BK 1:6:317, BK 1:6:318, BK 1:6:321, BK 1:6:322, BK 1:6:327, BK 1:6:329, BK 1:8:347, BK 2:15:91, BK 2:15:97, BK 2:26:714, BK 2:15:91, BK 1:15:96, BK 3:31:172, ML 3:652-653, ML 3:658, ML 3:659, ML 3:660, ML 3:661, ML 3:662, ML 4:1932, ML 4:1934
 BK 1:4:228, BK 1:6:303, BK 1:6:317, BK 1:6:322, BK 1:6:327, ML 3:652-653, ML 3:658, ML 3:659
 BK 1:7:330, BK 1:7:331, BK 1:7:332, BK 1:7:334, BK 1:7:335, BK 1:7:336, BK 1:7:337-338, BK 1:7:339, BK 1:7:340, BK 1:7:341, BK 1:7:343, BK 1:7:344, BK 1:8:429, BK 4:56:771, BK 5:57:21, BK 5:57:117
 DJP 1 (Volume 1, page 1), note by a 20th century commentator in RT e1.2 (page 52)
 DJP 1.4.1 (Volume 1, pages 79-81) , DJP 1.4.3 (Volume 1, pages 88-89), DJP 2.2.5 (Volume 1, pages 128-129), RT f4.1 (page 117), RTf4.7 (pages 118-119), RT f9.13 (pages 152-153)
 DJP 1.4.1 (Volume 1, pages 79-81), DJP 2.2.5 (Volume 1, pages 128-129)
 RT f9.13 (pages 152-153)
 RT f17.5 (page 200)
 RT m5.6 (page 526)
 DJP 1.1.1 (Volume 1, pages 2-3), DJP 1.1.4 (Volume 1, page 32)
 DJP 1.1.4 (Volume 1, page 32), RT f9.13 (pages 152-153), note by a 20th century commentator in RT e7.0 (page 70)
 DJP 1.2 (Volume 1, pages 43-44), DJP 1.2.2 (Volume 1, page 47), RT e11.1 (pages 82-83)
 DJP 1.3.1 (Volume 1, pages 67-69), note by a 20th century commentator in RT e12.0 (page 84), RT e12.16 (pages 91-91)