The Purpose of Wudu (Ablution)

By: A. Muhammad

O you who believe, when you rise to observe the Salat, you shall wash your faces and your arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles. 5:6

The Ablution prescribed by God in the Quran consists of four simple steps:

1- Wash the face

2- Wash the arms to the elbows

3- Wipe the head

4- Wipe the feet to the ankles.

One would think that if God was deliberate to give us such a precise format for ablution that all Muslims would say, "We hear and we obey" and follow it to the word? But no! It is a sad fact that the largest majority of Muslims do not follow this precise ablution but a different format!

The Ablution they perform is taken from the Sunna (methods of the Prophet). They follow an Ablution which they believe is what Prophet Muhammad followed. In addition to the four steps prescribed in the Quran, they add:

1- Washing the hands to the wrists

2- Washing the mouth

3- Washing the nose (nostrils)

4- Washing the ears

5- Washing the neck

As a result, in stead of observing the 4-step Quranic Ablution, they observe an Ablution that consists of 9 steps!

They argue that since "Al-Nazafah min al-Imaan" or (cleanliness is an attribute of good faith), as their hadith says, then, the more steps one performs to be cleaner before the Salat is something to be encouraged. In effect, they are allowing a hadith to overrule a clear Quranic instruction.

Performing these additional steps in Ablution, none of which are in the Quran, compels us to ask the following questions:

1- Is it possible that Prophet Muhammad, who was commanded very firmly by God to follow only the Quran that was revealed to him (46:9 and 10:15), has in fact ignored God's commands and devised an Ablution that is different from the one revealed to him in the Quran?

2- Those who perform the alleged Ablution of the Prophet, are they implying that the Ablution prescribed in the Quran by God is inadequate, and that they prefer the 'improved' format?

3- The above questions ultimately lead to another crucial question: is physical cleanliness the real purpose and aim of ablution after all?

The only answer to the first and second questions must be the negative. The Prophet could have never devised or followed a different format for Ablution than what God gave him in the Quran, not if he obeyed the following command from God:

Say (O Muhammad), "I am not a novelty among other messengers, nor do I know what will happen to me or to you. I follow nothing other than what is revealed to me (Quran). I am no more than a clear warner. 46:9

As for the third question one must pose and reflect on a number of issues.

If the primary purpose of Ablution was in fact cleanliness, why did God not command us to wash other parts of our bodies that are more in need of cleaning than our faces, such as under our arms (arm pits) and our private parts? Better still, if it is all about cleanliness, why did God not instruct us to take a full bath before observing the Salat? In addition, if the purpose of Ablution was cleanliness why did God only say "wipe your heads" and not "wash your heads"? Surely, wiping the head does not properly clean it!

The obvious answer to these questions is that the purpose of Ablution cannot be primarily for physical cleanliness. Ablution is nothing more than a simple command from God to test our obedience. Are we going to obey God's four simple steps, or will the devil dupe us into changing God's command, thinking we are doing good? This simple test is in fact identical to the test given to Adam with regards to the forbidden tree. Why did God place the forbidden tree among all the other trees of Paradise then warn Adam not to eat its fruit? There was nothing physically wrong with the fruit of the tree, because when Adam ate its fruit no physical harm befell them. However Adam failed in the simple test of obedience to God. The devil tricked them exactly in the same way he is tricking millions of Muslims today into disobeying the simplest of God's commands!

Satan's tricks are always the same. God Almighty has warned us that the devil will entice us with lies and illusions. In the case of Adam, the devil tricked him into believing that the fruit of the forbidden tree was of immense benefit when he said:

O Adam, shall I show you the tree of immortality and never ending sovereignty? 20:120

Similarly, in the case of Ablution, the devil has enticed millions into believing that there is a better ablution than the one prescribed by God! To make it more convincing, he has tricked many into believing that Prophet Muhammad followed the 'improved ablution'! In reality the Prophet is innocent of all these fabricated lies ascribed to him. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Prophet, in compliance with the command he received in 46:9, must have followed God's commands in the Quran to the letter without altering them.

If cleanliness was the issue exploited by Satan to instil his poison, we find that God has given us sufficient indications in the Quran to confirm that Ablution is merely a test of obedience and not a matter of cleanliness. To confirm the points presented above, the following points are re-affirmed:

First: The parts of the body addressed in the Quranic Ablution (5:6) are not necessarily the parts of the body that need cleaning the most. A person's arm pits and private parts are more in need of frequent cleaning.

Second: Why did God command us to wash our faces and arms but only wipe our heads? Since wiping the head does not really clean it, it must be taken as another indication from God to confirm that physical cleanliness is not the real purpose of Ablution, but that obeying God's simple commands is the real core of the ablution instructions.

Third: The third confirmation is found in the following verse:

If you are ill or travelling, or if any of you has come from the toilet, or had sexual contact with women, and you could not find water, you shall observe Tayammum by means of wiping your faces and hands with clean dry soil. 4:43

An important observation here is that the one who has just been to the toilet or has just had sex with his/her spouse really needs to wash their private parts and not the face and hands! However, and in the absence of water, the command from God is to wipe the face and the hands in dry Ablution (which obviously will not clean the private parts). Once again this confirms that the whole issue of Ablution is not one of physical cleanliness, but simply a test of obedience.

Sadly, the falsifiers will not only add rituals never authorised by God, which makes them guilty of shirk (42:21), but they also add ridiculous conditions that must be observed during Ablution. One such absurd condition they set is by saying that if the water slides from the elbow to the wrist then the Ablution is void! They insist that the correct method is for the water to slide in the opposite direction!

God made the religion easy to practice and rendered the Quranic commands simple and unambiguous (39:28), but sadly, the majority of people who are not satisfied with the Quran alone, have rejected Quranic instructions and allowed their Imams and scholars to conjure up for them a totally complicated and hard to follow version of Islam!

When shown the simple commands of God, they will argue against them and will treat them with contempt!

God has created the human being, and thus God knows us perfectly well. God knows that no matter how simple His commands may be, the human being will always argue unnecessarily …..

We have diversified in this Quran all kinds of examples for the people, yet the human being is most argumentative. 18:54