Islam is a religion that emphasizes cleanliness. The Prophet s.a.w. stressed the importance of hygiene and cleanliness in many parts of his sirah (life). Even though Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. preferred a modest and simple lifestyle, it did not mean that he wore torn-off and unclean clothes. He was always clean, as seen in many narrations by the companions r.a. Allah s.w.t. commanded the Prophet s.a.w. to upkeep his cleanliness, as mentioned in the Quran:
"Purify your garments"
(Surah Al-Muddaththir, 74:4)
Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. showed us how purification, or taharah, plays an important role in our religion, both inwardly and outwardly as well. Every outward form of purification is also an opportunity for spiritual fulfilment to purify the inward self. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said in a hadith:
الطَّهُورُ شَطْرُ الإِيمَان
"Purity is part of Iman (faith)"
We can see from this hadith how purification is closely associated with the completion of faith. There are many different forms of ritual purification in Islam, amongst which is wudhu, or ablution, which will be our focus of discussion for this article.
The word wudhu comes from the Arabic word وَضَاءَة (Wadho’ah), which means good and beautiful.
Wudhu, by terminology, means the act of ritual washing of specific parts of our body in a specific way to remove the ritual impurities. Although wudhu itself is a type of worship which entails certain rewards, wudhu can also be seen as a prerequisite to performing other ritual acts of worship, such as performing the tawaf (circling of the ka’bah) for umrah and hajj, holding the mushaf (Quran) and, most importantly, performing our five daily prayers. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى ٱلصَّلَوٰةِ فَٱغْسِلُوا۟ وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى ٱلْمَرَافِقِ وَٱمْسَحُوا۟ بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى ٱلْكَعْبَيْنِۚ
"O believers! When you rise for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, wipe your heads and wash your feet to the ankles"
(Surah Al-Maidah, 5:6)
Beyond being a prerequisite for other acts of worship, there are, indeed, many benefits of taking wudhu as an act of worship itself:
1. Removing sins and impurities
As mentioned in a hadith narrated by Sayyidina Uthman ibn ‘Affan r.a:
مَن تَوَضَّأَ فأحْسَنَ الوُضُوءَ خَرَجَتْ خَطَايَاهُ مِن جَسَدِهِ، حتَّى تَخْرُجَ مِن تَحْتِ أَظْفَارِهِ
"If anyone performs the ablution well, his sins will come out from his body, even coming out from under his nails."
This hadith shows that every wudhu we take is an opportunity not only to remove physical impurities but our sins as well.
The mercy and forgiveness of Allah s.w.t. do not only stop there. In another hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah r.a, wudhu is part of an ecology of ritual practice that leads to the removal of sins and elevation in status. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said:
مَنْ تَطَهَّرَ فِي بَيْتِهِ ثُمَّ مَشَى إِلَى بَيْتٍ مِنْ بُيُوتِ اللَّهِ لِيَقْضِيَ فَرِيضَةً مِنْ فَرَائِضِ اللَّهِ كَانَتْ خَطْوَتَاهُ إِحْدَاهُمَا تَحُطُّ خَطِيئَةً وَالأُخْرَى تَرْفَعُ دَرَجَةً
"He who purified himself (performs wudhu) in his house and then he walked to one of the houses of Allah (mosque) for the sake of performing an obligatory act (i.e. solat), both his steps (would be significant) as one of them would remove his sin and the second one would raise his status."
Even though it specifically mentions taking wudhu at home, you may also take wudhu from your workplace, school or anywhere else you may come from before walking over to the mosque. The term Faridhah (obligatory act) in this hadith refers to acts of worship, particularly the daily obligatory prayers or the Friday prayers at mosques.
2. Attaining Allah’s love
Allah s.w.t. mentions in the holy Quran:
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
"Verily Allah loves those who (constantly) turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves."
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:222)
This is why we are encouraged to constantly maintain our state of wudhu. If we do so, we could hope to continue to be showered by His divine love.
In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. shared about the condition of a person who maintains his state of wudhu while waiting for the next prayer to come:
أَلا أدُلُّكُمْ علَى ما يَمْحُو اللَّهُ به الخَطايا، ويَرْفَعُ به الدَّرَجاتِ؟ قالُوا بَلَى يا رَسولَ اللهِ، قالَ: إسْباغُ الوُضُوءِ علَى المَكارِهِ، وكَثْرَةُ الخُطا إلى المَساجِدِ، وانْتِظارُ الصَّلاةِ بَعْدَ الصَّلاةِ، فَذَلِكُمُ الرِّباطُ
"Shall I not tell you something that removes sins and elevates the position (in the sight of Allah)? The companions replied: yes, O Rasulullah. He said: Performing wudhu properly despite difficult circumstances, walking abundantly to the mosques, and waiting for the next solat after performing solat, and that is Ar-Ribat (one who is continuously in the state of worship)"
This hadith also shows how important it is to safeguard the state of wudhu to allow us to perform many other acts of worship.
3. Attaining illumination on the Day of Resurrection
Taking wudhu will not only leave you physically clean, but it will also leave spiritual marks as well. This mark will be revealed or shown on the Day of Judgment. In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w. mentioned:
إنَّ أُمَّتي يُدْعَوْنَ يَومَ القِيامَةِ غُرًّا مُحَجَّلِينَ مِن آثارِ الوُضُوءِ، فَمَنِ اسْتَطاعَ مِنكُم أنْ يُطِيلَ غُرَّتَهُ فَلْيَفْعَلْ.
"Verily, my people will be called upon on the Day of Resurrection with a mark which illuminates their faces by the effects of their wudhu. So whoever is able to extend their mark (of illumination), let him do so."
Just like other acts of worship, there are indeed many benefits to taking wudhu. Ultimately, it is an act of worship to seek the pleasures of Allah s.w.t.
According to Syafii mazhab, here are the steps mentioned in the correct order:
1. Ensure that you are free from any impurities
If you are wearing makeup, nail polish or other products that prevent water from reaching the skin, you will need to remove them to allow water to reach your skin as you wash the intended areas for wudhu.
2. Establishing your niyyat (intention)
There is no need to utter your intention verbally. What’s important is that the intent of performing the wudhu - to remove the ritual impurities, or to observe wudhu - is established in the heart. This intention has to be made from washing the face.
3. Wash the face
Rinse the face with water, making sure to wash from the hairline to the chin and from ear to ear, including sideburns.
For a gentleman with a beard, the way of washing depends on his beard’s volume. If he stands in front of a mirror and he can see his skin through his beard, his beard is considered light, and he may wash his face as any other person would. However, if his beard is thick enough that the skin under it is no longer visible, he will need to apply water to his beard.
4. Wash both arms until the elbow
Rinse the arms till just past the elbows.
It is sunnah to start washing the right arm first before you move on to the left arm. This act of washing from the right before washing the left (tayamun) also applies to the feet as well. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said in a hadith:
وإذا توضَّأتُمْ، فابدَؤوا بأيامنِكُم
"When you perform your wudhu, begin with your right side."
(Sunan Abi Daud)
5. Wipe the head
According to the Syafii mazhab, you can wipe your head by using your wet hands on some strands of hair or a part of your scalp for those who are bald to fulfil the requirement. However, it is best to wipe all of your head. According to the Syafii mazhab, it is sunnah to include your ears as you wipe over the entire head.
From the mentioned requirement, we can deduce that if you intend to maintain your hair after styling it, you may wipe it towards the sides of your head just above or behind your ears. Likewise, for those wearing the tudung/hijab and taking the wudhu outside, there is no need to take off your tudung/hijab. You may tuck in your damp hand inside of your tudung inner and wipe it, reaching the hairs within the scalp area.
As for those who may have long hair, do not wipe water at the edge of your hair, especially when it extends beyond your head area. Instead, wipe near the scalp of your head.
6. Wipe the ears
This step is not an integral step (rukun) of wudhu. Instead, it is a sunnah. Wipe both ears at the same time. There is no need to wipe the right first before the left ear (tayamun). Wiping the ears includes the front (including the crevices) and back.
7. Wash the feet until the ankle
When washing the feet, it goes from going between the toes up to the ankle and briefly past it. It is sunnah to rub, ensuring that water has reached all the mentioned areas.
The last integral (rukun) of wudhu is to observe all the steps in the mentioned order.
It is not permissible and is considered invalid if we were to take our wudhu differently from the order mentioned above. For example, if a person were to start by wiping the head first before washing the face, the wudhu is considered invalid.
However, there is only one exception to this. If a person’s entire body is submerged in water and he or she establishes the intention for wudhu, the wudhu is valid. This is the view held on by Imam An-Nawawi.
There are instances when we may need to perform our wudhu in a public toilet. Here are some reminders and tips to help ease the process:
1. We should not make a mess when taking the wudhu in a public toilet. Be conscious of our environment and do not make a mess of the area where we are taking the wudhu.
2. Bring along a small towel and a small bottle to help ease each step when in a public toilet.
3. When you reach the part of washing the legs, you don't have to lift your legs to the sink. Instead, you may take just enough water (not to be mistaken with merely wetting the hands), let it run to your feet and rub all over it until the ankle. Alternatively, you may fill your small bottle with water, shift to a cubicle and wash your feet over the toilet bowl so as not to wet the floor.
Once you are done taking the wudhu, clean up after yourself. Ensure that the area you’ve used is not too wet and messy. If it is, do take some toilet paper to wipe dry the area. Also, dry yourself down with a small towel to prevent water from dripping all over the place.
Let us be mindful of other patrons and cleaners as we try our best to be socially responsible Muslims.
As with other acts of worship, wudhu also has sunnah or supplementary deeds that can be done on top of the obligatory ones.
We can categorise them into three categories: Before, During, and After.
1. Recite the Ta’awwuz and Basmalah
It is always best to recite the Ta’awwuz and the Basmalah before starting anything. It applies to wudhu too. How we recite it as follows:
أَعْوذْ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Syaitan
بِسمِ اللهِ الرَّحمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
If you’re taking your wudhu in the toilet, do refrain from verbally reciting the name of Allah. Instead, you may recite in your heart.
2. Wash your hands
It is a sunnah to wash both hands before performing wudhu.
Our hands come into contact with germs on surfaces during daily activities. As Islam puts a strong emphasis on cleanliness, you may also wash your hands with soap to ensure that they are thoroughly clean before proceeding to wudhu.
3. Clean your teeth
The Prophet s.a.w. used to clean his teeth upon making the wudhu. He would use the miswak (also known as the siwak), which has many natural benefits, such as removing dental plaque and improving periodontal health over time. The miswak is highly regarded by the Prophet s.a.w and was even mentioned in a hadith:
لولا أن أَشُقَّ على أمتي لأمرتُهم بالسواكِ مع الوُضوءِ
"Had I not thought it difficult for my people, I would have commanded them to use the miswak with (every) wudhu"
But if you do not have a miswak, you may also use a normal toothbrush in hopes to fulfil the sunnah of cleaning the teeth before making wudhu.
4. Gargling and rinsing of the nose
Our scholars have informed us of the different ways to observe this sunnah. Amongst these is by gargling three times and then rinsing the nose three times by inhaling a bit of water and then blowing it out.
1. Conserve water
When doing the wudhu, it is highly recommended to use minimum water to avoid being wasteful. The Prophet s.a.w. mentioned in a hadith about being mindful of the usage of water in wudhu:
أنَّ النَّبيَّ صلَّى اللَّهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ مرَّ بسَعدٍ وَهوَ يتوضَّأُ، فقالَ: ما هذا السَّرَفُ يا سَعدُ ؟ قالَ: أفي الوضوءِ سَرفٌ قالَ: نعَم، وإن كنتَ على نَهْرٍ جارٍ
"The Prophet s.a.w. passed by Sa’d when he was making the wudhu. and (the Prophet) said: “What is this (act of) wasting?”. He (Sa’d) asked, “Is there extravagance in (performing) wudhu?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river."
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
2. Rub the body parts
It is a sunnah to rub (الدلك) the body parts when doing the wudhu to ensure that water reaches all the intended areas. This is particularly for washing the face, the arm until the elbow and the feet until the ankle.
It is also a sunnah to interweave your fingers together when washing your arm and between the toes when washing the feet.
3. Repeat each step three times
It is a sunnah to repeat each step of wudhu three times. As mentioned by Sayyidina Uthman ibn ‘Affan r.a:
أَلَا أُرِيكُمْ وُضُوءَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ثُمَّ تَوَضَّأَ ثَلَاثًا ثَلَاثًا
"Shall I not show you the wudhu of Rasulullah s.a.w? Then he did wudhu, washing each part three times."
After taking the wudhu, you may perform the following sunnah acts:
1. Read supplication after wudhu
After finishing all the steps and observing some of the sunnah of wudhu, make the supplication:
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إلَّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّداً عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ، اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْنِي مِنَ التَّوَّابِينَ وَاجْعَلْنِي مِنَ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ وَاجْعَلْنِي مِنْ عِبَادِكَ الصَّالِحِين
Ashadu an laa ilaaha illAllah wahdahu la sharika lah, wa ashadu anna muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluh
Allahummaj’alni minat-tawwabina, waj’alni minal mutathohhirin, waj’alni min ‘ibadikas-solihin
I testify that there is no god but Allah, the One, there is no associate with Him and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger. O Allah! Make me among those who (constantly) repent, and among those who (constantly) purify themselves, and among your righteous servants
In a hadith narrated by Sayyidina Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a, the Prophet s.a.w. mentioned the significance of making the prayer after wudhu:
ما مِن مُسلمٍ يتَوضَّأُ فيُحسِنُ الوضوءَ ثمَّ يقولُ أشهدُ أن لا إلهَ إلَّا اللهُ وأشهدُ أنَّ محمَّدًا عبدُه ورَسولُه إلَّا فُتِحتْ لهُ ثمانيةُ أبوابِ الجنَّةِ يدخُلُ مِن أيِّها شاءَ
"Every Muslim who performs wudhu carefully and then supplicates - I testify that there is no god except Allah Alone, Who has no partners, and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger - the eight gates of Paradise are opened for him. He may enter through whichever of these gates he desires."
If you have made your wudhu in a toilet, then it is best to make the supplication after stepping out of the toilet. According to the Syafii mazhab, it is sunnah to face the qiblah and raise your hands in making the supplication.
2. Pray two raka’at of Sunnah prayer
After making your supplication, you may perform two raka’at of sunnah prayer. In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said:
مَنْ تَوَضَّأَ نَحْوَ وُضُوئِي هَذَا، ثُمَّ صَلَّى رَكْعَتَيْنِ، لاَ يُحَدِّثُ فِيهِمَا نَفْسَهُ، غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ
"He who performs ablution like this ablution of mine and then stood up (for prayer) and offered two raka'at of prayer without allowing his thoughts to be distracted, all his previous sins are expiated"
In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. returned from his night journey (isra mi’raj) where he heard the footsteps of Bilal in Paradise. He then asked Bilal r.a. during the time of a Subuh prayer:
يا بلَالُ، حَدِّثْنِي بأَرْجَى عَمَلٍ عَمِلْتَهُ في الإسْلَامِ؛ فإنِّي سَمِعْتُ دَفَّ نَعْلَيْكَ بيْنَ يَدَيَّ في الجَنَّةِ. قالَ: ما عَمِلْتُ عَمَلًا أَرْجَى عِندِي: أَنِّي لَمْ أَتَطَهَّرْ طُهُورًا، في سَاعَةِ لَيْلٍ أَوْ نَهَارٍ، إلَّا صَلَّيْتُ بذلكَ الطُّهُورِ ما كُتِبَ لي أَنْ أُصَلِّيَ
"O Bilal, tell me of the best deed you did after embracing Islam, for I heard your footsteps in front of me in Paradise." Bilal replied, "I did not do anything worth mentioning except that whenever I performed my ablution during the day or night, I prayed after that ablution as much as what was written for me."
As stated earlier in this article, maintaining the state of wudhu is a virtuous act in Islam. While there is nothing wrong with breaking our wudhu, it's important to know what factors can nullify it.
Here are the four main things that can break the state of wudhu:
1. Anything that exits from the front or rear private parts
If any kinds of excrement were to exit the front and rear private parts, such as urinating, defecating, or even farting, it would invalidate the state of wudhu.
However, being in contact with faeces per se does not invalidate wudhu. For example, if a person may have stepped upon human faeces, it does not break his or her state of wudhu. Nevertheless, because it is considered filth (Najasah), we will need to remove and clean it first before performing other acts of worship, such as solat.
2. Being in an unconscious state
Being unconscious can invalidate your wudhu. This includes fainting, having seizures, or even sleeping.
There are two exceptions to sleep, which do not invalidate the state of wudhu:
a. If a person only dozes off, it does not count as sleep. A sign of dozing off is such that the person will still be able to hear sounds or the conversations of the people around them, even if they may not understand them.
b. The position of sleep is an upright sitting position. Anyone who sleeps in this position will be able to feel or be conscious of any air exiting the rear.
3. Skin contact with an adult non-mahram of the opposite gender
Be it intentional or unintentional, skin contact with the opposite gender of a non-mahram will nullify your wudhu.
But what is mahram? A mahram means a person you are not allowed to marry (unmarriageable kin). i.e. your father, brother, or grandfather. Non-mahrams are those you are allowed to marry. Hence, according to the Syafii mazhab, skin contact with your spouse can also invalidate the wudhu.
From the above, it also means that non-skin contact does not invalidate the wudhu. For example, if there is cloth or even a tissue in between, the contact does not invalidate wudhu. Another example of non-skin contact is such as being in contact with the teeth, nails or hair of the other non-mahram.
Additionally, being in contact with a child below the age of maturity (bulugh), such as shaking their hands, does not invalidate the wudhu.
4. Touching of the private parts
Touching the front and rear human private parts, intentionally or unintentionally, with the palm of our hand will invalidate our wudhu. In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w mentioned:
مَنْ مَسَّ ذَكَرَه، فَلَا يُصَلِّي حَتَّى يَتَوَضَّأَ
"Whoever touches his genitals should not perform solat until he performs wudhu."
The above steps of performing wudhu are for general conditions. However, there are some unique circumstances which require adjustments, such as:
- experiencing an illness that does not allow contact with water
- travelling to a place where water is not easily accessible
These are specific situations which impede a person from performing wudhu under normal circumstances.
To understand these unique situations and how we can perform wudhu in such conditions, look out for relevant classes from ADIL modules such as the following:
- Fardhu Ain
- Fiqh for the sick
- Traveller’s Fiqh
Look out for these classes at: https://learnislam.sg/
As a final note, for those who may have just started to learn how to take wudhu, do not despair. It only gets easier every time we fulfil it. Wudhu is considered an ‘ibadah (worship), and every movement or step we take in wudhu is an opportunity to be closer to Allah s.w.t.
And Allah s.w.t knows best.