The misinterpretation of 4:43
Is it "wash yourselves" or "have a full bath"?

We see a variation in the interpretation and translation of 4:43 with regards to whether we should have a wash after sexual intercourse, or that we must have a full bath. Numerous translators used the words "wash the whole body" or "have a full bath". Others wrote "wash" or "wash yourselves".
It is necessary to analyse the words in 4:43 and define the correct meaning of the instruction therein.

The keyword used in 4:43 that has been translated differently by different translators is
"ightasilu". The root of this word is the verb "ghasala" which means to wash.
The letter (T) after the letters (gh) adds the word 'yourself' to the verb 'wash'. Therfore the word "ightasilu", which is the command form of "wash", means "wash yourselves". Let us read the full verse:

4:43] O you who believe, do not approach the Salat while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying, nor after sexual intercourse, until you have "taghtasilu" (washed yourselves); unless you are on the road travelling. 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 (to wash yourselves), then find clean dry earth and wipe your faces and hands. Indeed, God is Pardoner, Forgiver. 4:43

Even though the words in 4:43 say "wash yourselves, we find that a great number of translators have added the words (full bath) or (your whole body) in their translations. These words are not found in the Arabic text. The following translation of 4:43 by Yusuf Ali is one example:

4:43 O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (Except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. If ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. For Allah doth blot out sins and forgive again and again (Yusuf Ali)

To attain the correct meaning of various Quranic words, God always gives us in the Quran the proofs of the correct meanings of such words, especially in such verses which God knows will be subject to dispute or manipulation.

The words "ightasilu" (verb) and the word "mughtasal" (noun) are are both used in the Quran. These two words share the same root word, and that is 'ghasala' which means 'wash'. The word "ightasilu" is found in 4:43 and 5:6, and the word "mughtasal" is used in 38:42.

As mentioned, the word "ightasilu" means (wash youselves). Now let us take a look at 38:42, where the noun
"mughtasal" is used. The words in 38:42 are addressed to prophet Job:

Stomp with your foot: here is a cool
"mughtasal" (wash) and a drink. 38:42

Now let us look once again at the translation of Yusuf Ali and see how he translated the word
"mughtasal" in 38:42:

(The command was given:) "Strike with thy foot: here is (water) wherein to wash, cool and refreshing, and (water) to drink."

The question is:
Why did Yusuf Ali translate the word "ightasilu" in 4:43 as (wash your whole body) yet in 38:42 he translated the word "mughtasal" as just (wash)?

In 38:42, Yusuf Ali translated the word correctly, yet in 4:43, his adherence to non-Quranic sources got the better of him resulting in him translating God's words incorrectly.

The unjustified translation of words that share the same root differently is not the work of Yusuf Ali alone, the table below shows how a number of translators translated the two words,
"ightasilu" in 4:43 and "mughtasal" in 38:42:

Yusuf Ali
Wash whole body
Mustafa Khattab
Wahiduddin Khan
T. B. Irving
Full bath
The Monotheist Group
Abdel Haleem
Muhammad Sarwar
Syed Vickar Ahamed
Wash whole body
Farook Malik
Wash whole body
Talal A. Itani
A. L. Bilal
Wash entire body
Mohammad Shafi

Let us take a closer look at the
command in 4:43 that says "ightasilu", which as we have now seen, means "wash yourselves". We note that this instruction is to be observed after four acts:
1- Illness
2- Travelling
3- Visiting the toilet
4- Sexual contact with women

The analysis

It is important to note that the words in 4:43 do not ascribe different methods of washing to each of the different acts mentioned. Only one word "ightasilu" is used and it applies to all four acts. What this means is that whatever the word "ightasilu" means, the meaning should apply to all four acts and not only one of them.
However, the traditional scholars have ascribed the obligation of having a full bath only after sexual intercourse and not after any of the other acts!
Could the reason be that those scholars knew that they would never get away with preaching to the people to have a full bath every time they travel, are ill, and every time they visit the toilet?

2- Not only did a number of translators add the words (full bath) or (wash whole body) in their translations, when these words are not found in the Arabic text, we also find that numerous scholars have set up a whole ritual which they call 'ghusl'. They state that ghusl requires haviong a full bath every time a married couple have sexual intercourse.

For a start, the Arabic words for the two words are:
Bath = hammam
Taking a bath = istihman

The words in Arabic letters are:
-- ----------

So what does the instruction to "wash yourselves" really mean? Which body parts should we wash?
To define the correct meaning, we need to be reminded that God did not specify any specific body parts that we should wash. The reason is because the one command to "wash" given in the verse applies to all four different acts (illness, travel, toilet and sexual contact). Clearly, the washing needed is different for each of the four acts. For example, the washing we need to do after visiting the toilet is not the same as the washing we need to do after travelling.

People do not need to wash their bottom after travelling, nor do people need to wash their face after visiting the toilet, nor do people need to wash their hair after sexual contact. And so, when God instructs the believers to wash themselves after each of the four acts, and before they observe the Salat, it is understood that every person will know which parts of his/her body needs washing.

Those who inject non-Quranic rules and insist that they are from God, such as insisting that a full bath is required after sexual intercourse, when such words are not from God are indeed committing a great sin. God takes such matters very seriously as we see in the following verses:

Do not utter lies that are portrayed by your tongues: "This is lawful and that is unlawful," to fabricate lies and attribute them to God. Those who fabricate lies and attribute them to God will not succeed.

So who is more transgressing than one who fabricates lies about God to misguide the people without knowledge? God does not guide the transgressing people.


The words in 4:43 are very clear. We need to wash ourselves after each of the four acts, and before we observe the Salat. We should wash the body parts that have been affected by the act we have done.

People do not use their face to go to the toilet, nor do they use their bottom when they travel, nor do they have sexual intercourse from the hair on their head. Cleanliness is to wash what needs washing.
Ultimately, God reminds us that He never wants us to have any hardship in practicing our religion:

And strive in the cause of God with the striving that is due to Him. He has chosen you and has placed no hardship on you in the religion. 22:78

God wants ease for you
, and He does not want hardship for you. 2:185