Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness
7. Dry Ablution
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
From Islamic source documents: Qur’an and hadith
The Qur'an calls on Muslims to keep their clothing clean and pure. The Qur'an 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. It also 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.
Only those who have been purified may touch the Holy Qur'an.
When Muhammad's wife Aisha lost a necklace, Muhammad and the others stayed in that place to look for it. Abu Bakr, Aisha's father, was angry because there was no water there and he admonished Aisha and hit her. Since there was no water, the Muslims prayed without performing ablution. It was following this event that the verse in the Qur'an about tayammum – using dry earth for ablution – was revealed.
Muhammad ranked the ability of Muslims to prepare themselves for prayer anywhere using dry earth, even where there is no water, as one of the five things given to him but no one else before him.
The procedure of Muhammad for performing tayammum – ablution with dry earth – was rubbing the hands on the earth, blowing the dirt off the hands and then rubbing the hands on the face and the backs of the hands. Muhammad said that it was not necessary to roll in the soil.
Muhammad said that this procedure of tayammam – ablution with dry earth – is sufficient prior to prayer when no water is available and a man is junub (having major ritual impurity due to sexual intercourse or seminal emission when dreaming).
It is also reported that Abdullah bin Mas'ud (one of Muhammad's close companions) held that dry ablution is not valid. He expressed the fear that if it were allowed people would use it just to avoid washing with cold water. He said that Umar (one of the successors to Muhammad in the leadership of the early Muslims) was dissatisfied with the report that Muhammad had said that dry ablution is sufficient for a man who is junub. The person who related Muhammad's description of dry ablution was told by Umar to fear Allah. Umar said that the man relating what Muhammad had said would be responsible for his claim. (Editor’s note: This indicated Umar's uncertainty about the validity of dry ablution). Umar later told a man who had had an emission of semen not to pray because no water could be found; he did not suggest that the man perform dry ablution.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
Dry ablution (tayammum) can substitute for ablution (wudu) when no water is available. The scholars* Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Malik agree that if water is not available then dry ablution can also be used to effect purification after major impurity (junub) or menstruation, which usually requires a bath of purification (ghusl).
As with ablution with water, dry ablution permits prayer and the touching of the Qur’an. Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that dry ablution permits a person in any state of ritual impurity to pray or perform other similar acts but a note by a 20th century commentator in Reliance of the Traveller says that dry ablution does not actually remove the minor or major impurity that would be lifted by ablution or a bath of purification with water.
Abu Hanifa does not say that it is necessary to search for water before performing dry ablution, while Malik and al-Shafi‛i say that such a search is required. Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that a person who is positive that no water is available does not have to search for it.
Dry ablution should also be performed when it is necessary to save water so that oneself or one's worthy companions or animals can avoid thirst. A 19th century commentator at this point in Reliance of the Traveller explains that dry ablution is not to be used to preserve water for use by those who may be lawfully killed including pigs, wild dogs, apostates from Islam, non-Muslims fighting against Muslims and married people who have been convicted of adultery.
It is also permitted to use dry ablution when one is afraid that ablution or a bath of purification with water would result in or exacerbate illness or cause substantial pain. Both the Shafi‛i and Hanafi schools require ablution with water when one has an injury that may be harmed by water, but specify that the water should not be applied to the area that will be adversely affected. The two schools prescribe different methods for performing dry ablution of these areas of the body in such cases.
While there are differences in detail among the scholars concerning the procedure for dry ablution, Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi‛i and the Shafi‛i school agree that it includes striking the earth twice – one time followed by rubbing the earth on the face and a second time followed by rubbing it on the hands, with extended rubbing up to the elbows either required or recommended.
The material used for dry ablution must be clean soil without impurities according to al-Shafi‛i. Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that the soil used may even be sand and specifies that it must contain dust. Malik and his school say that whatever other constituents are found on the surface, such as small stones, are also permitted in addition to sand and soil. Abu Hanifa mentions additional acceptable natural substances on the surface of the ground, including lime, arsenic and clay. Ahmad ibn Hanbal also permits dry ablution with the dust from the material of clothing or from wool.
Intention is required for the validity of a dry ablution. Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) specifies that the intention must be to perform the specific act to follow, such as reciting an obligatory prayer or reciting a non-obligatory prayer. A general intention to remove the state of impurity or to fulfill the requirement for dry ablution is not sufficient.
Dry ablution is nullified by the same things that nullify ablution with water and also by coming to believe that water has now become available, even if this belief is the result of seeing a mirage.
*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 5:6
 QR 4:43, QR 5:6
 QR 56:77-79
 BK 1:7:330, BK 1:7:332, BK 5:57:21, BK 5:57:117, BK 6:60:107, BK 6:60:131, BK 7:62:93, BK 7:72:770, ML 3:714, ML 3:715
 BK 1:7:330, BK 5:57:21, BK 6:60:131, BK 8:82:827, ML 3:714
 BK 1:7:332, BK 5:57:117, BK 6:60:107, BK 7:62:93, BK 7:72:770, ML 3:715
 BK 1:7:330, BK 1:7:332, BK 5:57:21, BK 5:57:117, BK 6:60:107, BK 6:60:131, BK 7:62:93, BK 7:72:770, BK 8:82:827, ML 3:714, ML 3:715
 BK 1:7:331, BK 1:8:429
 BK 1:7:334-335, BK 1:7:339, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:716-717, ML 3:718-719
 BK 1:7:334-335, BK 1:7:336, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:718-719
 BK 1:7:334-335, BK 1:7:337-338, BK 1:7:339, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:716-717, ML 3:718-719
 BK 1:7:334-335, BK 1:7:336, BK 1:7:337-338, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:716-717, ML 3:718-719
 BK 1:7:334-335, BK 1:7:336, BK 1:7:340, BK 1:7:343, BK 1:7:344, BK 4:56:771, ML 3:716-717, ML 4:1451
 BK 1:7:341, BK 1:7:342, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:716-717
 BK 1:7:341, BK 1:7:342, BK 1:7:343, ML 3:716-717
 ML 3:718-719
 DJP 1.3.1 (Volume 1, pages 67-69) , SR 823 (pages 350-351)
 DJP 1.3.7 (Volume 1, pages 78-79)
 RT e12.1(c) (page 85)
 note by 20th century commentator at RT e12.0 (page 84)
 DJP 18.104.22.168 (Volume 1, page 71)
 RT e12.3 (pages 85-86)
 RT e12.8 (page 87)
 RT e12.9 (pages 87-88)
 RT e12.10 (pages 88-89)
 DJP 22.214.171.124 - 126.96.36.199 (Volume 1, pages 73-75), RT e12.16-e12.17 (pages 90-92)
 DJP 1.3.5 (Volume 1, pages 75-76)
 RT e12.1(b) (page 85)
 DJP 1.3.5 (Volume 1, pages 75-76)
 DJP 188.8.131.52 (Volume 1, page 71), RT e5.3(3) (page 61)
 RT e12.16(a) (pages 90-91)
 RT e12.19 (page 92)