The Meaning of Purification in Islam

The Meaning of Purification

The Arabic word tahaarah (purification) denotes purity and cleanliness.

Allah commands Muslims to purify themselves outwardly from forbidden appearances and all types of physical impurities, and inwardly from the unpardonable sin of shirk as well as diseases of the heart such as envy, pride and hatred. Once they do so, they become worthy of His love, as the Qur’an states, “Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” (Soorat Al-Baqarah, 2:222)

Allah also commands them to purify themselves prior to standing before Him in prayer. If man generally cleans himself and puts on his finest clothes before meeting a person who has a worldly position of authority, such as being a king or a president, then, surely he has to do so before standing before the King of kings.

What is the Required Purification for Performing the Prayer?

Allah commands Muslims to purify themselves and perform the partial ablution (wudoo’) before engaging in such ritual acts as performing the prayer, touching the Qur’an and circumambulating the Ka‛bah in Makkah. He also recommends them to perform wudoo’ before doing a number of things, such as reciting the Qur’an from memory, supplicating and sleep

Therefore, before a Muslim offers aprayer, he must remove two things:

  • Ritual Impurity

  • Physical Impurity

Purification from Physical Impurity

  • Najaasah The Arabic word najaasah denotes all physical substances which Islam considers impure and commands us to remove them before engaging in an act of worship.
  • Sharee‛ah The general rule in Islamic law (Sharee‛ah) is that all things are considered pure, and physical impurity (najaasah) is only an intervening factor. Thus, if a person has doubts as to whether or not his trousers, for instance, are clean or not but there is no proof for any type of physical impurity on them, then they should be assumed to be clean, following the general rule.
  • If we wantto pray, we must first remove all physical impurities from the body, clothing and the place where we intend to offer the prayer.

Things that are considered impure include the following

1 Human urine and faeces
2 Blood (except if it constitutes an insignificant amount)
3 Urine and dung of animals that are considered unlawful for human consumption (See page 189)
4 Dogs and pigs
5 Dead animals (except for those ones that are considered fit and lawful for human consumption and have been slaughtered according to Islamic rules (See page 190)). Human corpses, fish and insects are considered pure.

Physical impurity can be removed with water or any other cleanser

Removing Physical Impurity

Physical impurity on the body, clothes, place where the prayer is intended to be performed, or anything or anywhere for that matter, can be removed with anything, be it water or otherwise, for Islam commands removing it. It is not stipulated as to how many times it must be washed off, except in the case of the physical impurity of a dog (i.e. its saliva, urine and faeces), where it must be washed seven times, one of which must be done with earth. For the rest of physical impurities, they must be washed off, and if some smell or stubborn stains remain after washing, they may be ignored. Once a woman asked the Prophet ﷺ about washing off menstrual blood, and he said, “It would suffice to wash it off, and you do not have to worry about any stains that are left.” (Sunan Abu Daawood: 365)

Toilet Etiquette

  • A Muslim is recommended to enter the toilet with the left foot first after saying, Bismillaah. Allaahumma inneea‛oodhu bika min-al-khubthi wal-khabaa’ith (I seek refuge with You, O Allah, from the male and female jinn)
  • He is also recommended to leave the toilet with the right foot first and then say, “Ghufraanak”(I seek Your forgiveness, O Allah).
  • He must cover his private parts while answering the call of nature.
  • He must not answer the call of nature in a place where he may be seen or where he may offend people. Doing so is strictly forbidden
  • If he is out in an open space, such as the desert, he must not relieve himself in a hole, as he may either harm creatures that live in holes in the ground or be harmed by them. Doing so is strictly forbidden.
  • He must not face the qiblah, the direction of the Ka‛bah in Makkah towards which Muslims pray, or turn his back towards it, for the Prophet ﷺ said,“When you are answering the call of nature, you should not face the qiblah or turn your back towards it.”(Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 386; Saheeh Muslim: 264).This mainly applies if one is out in an open space. There is no harm, however, to do so in buildings, such as in present-day toilets.
  • He must try to be careful not to have any impurities splashed onto his body or clothes. If this happens accidentally, then one must wash the impurity off the affected place thoroughly.
  • Once he has relieved himself, he must
clean them three or times or more with anything that would serve the purpose, such as toilet tissue or stones. This act is called istijmaar in Arabic. It is recommended to use the left hand for cleaning the private parts.


either clean his private parts thoroughly with water. This act is called istinjaa’ in Arabic.

Ritual Impurity (Hadath)

  • Ritual impurity (Hadath) refers to the state of intangible uncleanliness that prevents a Muslim from offering the prayer until he removes it. It is not physical like najaasah.
  • This ritual impurity can be removed by performing the partial ablution (wudoo’) or a full ablution (ghusl /bath) using pure water. Pure water is water that has not been in contact with any physical impurities that might otherwise change its colour, taste or smell. If he performs wudoo’, then he can perform as many prayers as he wishes as long as he does not break it.

Ritual impurity is of two types:

Minor ritual impurity: This can be removed by performing wudoo’ (partial ablution).
Major ritual impurity: This can be removed by performing (ghusl /ritual bath).

The Minor Ritual Impurity and Wudoo’:

The partial ablution (wudoo’), becomes invalid with any of the following:

  1. Natural discharges from the private parts (both the external genital and excretory organs), such as urine, excrement and wind.Detailing things which invalidate ablution, the Qur’an states, “…or have just satisfied a want of nature.” (Soorat An-Nisaa’, 4:43) When the prophet ﷺ was informed about a man who had doubts as to whether he has passed wind or not (i.e. whether he had broken his wudoo’ or not) during the prayer, he advised, “He should not turn away or leave the prayer unless he hears a noise or smells something.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 175; Saheeh Muslim: 361)

    Loss of consciousness as a result of sleep, insanity or drunkenness is one of the things which render wudoo’ invalid.

  2. Lustfully touching the private parts with bare hands, for the prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever touches his private parts must perform wudoo’ again.” (Sunan Abu Daawood, 181)
  3. Eating camel meat: The prophet ﷺ was once asked, “Should we perform wudoo’ after eating camel meat?” he replied, “Yes.” (Saheeh Muslim: 360)
  4. Loss of consciousness because of sleep, insanity or drunkenness.

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