The purpose of 'wudu' (ablution)

By: A. Muhammad

O you who believe, when you get up to observe the Salat, 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 in giving us such a precise format for ablution, that all Muslims would say, "We hear and we obey" and follow it to the letter; 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 what they are told is the sunna (methodology of prophet Muhammad). They follow an ablution which they believe was devised and followed by prophet Muhammad. 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, instead of observing the 4-steps of the Quranic ablution, they observe an ablution that consists of 9 steps!

They argue that since "Al-Nazafah min al-Imaan" (cleanliness is an attribute of good faith), as one hadith states, then, the more thorough one performs the act of cleansing the better.

Performing these additional steps in ablution, none of which are in the Quran, raises the following questions:

1- Is it possible that prophet Muhammad, who was commanded very firmly by God to follow nothing other than the Quran that was revealed to him, has in fact ignored God's commands and devised an ablution that is different from the one prescribed to him in the Quran?

Say (O Muhammad), "I am not a novelty among the 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, also 10:15

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 an '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 would 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 in 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 our arm pits or 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!

There can only be one answer to such questions: The purpose of ablution cannot be primarily for physical cleanliness. Ablution can only be 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 that resides in the ablution 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 him. However Adam failed in the simple test of obedience to God. The devil tricked him in exactly the same way he is tricking millions of Muslims today into disobeying the simplest of God's commands!

The devil'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 sovereignty that never perishes? 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 such fabricated lies which are attributed 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 mislead people, 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: The deliberate command from God to only wipe our heads, when a simple wiping does not in any way clean the head, is a firm indication from God to tell us that ablution is not primarily for physical cleanliness, rather, that obeying God's simple commands is the real core of the ablution instruction.

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, then wipe your faces and hands with clean dry soil. 4:43

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 of the totally absurd conditions they set is in the direction of water during washing. They insist 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 from wrist to elbow!

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 the Quranic instructions and allowed their imams and scholars to dictate to 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 already told us 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, more than anything, argumentative. 18:54