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  Cleanliness in Islam  

Islam, as we learn from the Qur’an and Hadith, is a religion of nature. Islam and nature being indeed each other’s counterparts. Nature loves cleanliness  and abhors pollution: that is why this highly  desirable feature of human existence—cleanliness—is one of the basic tenets of the Islamic faith.

What is the nature of that faith? It is to lead a life in total consonance with the will of God. And such a life can have its beginnings only in a condition of exemplary personal  hygiene. According to a hadith, the keeping of oneself clean is one half of faith; this indicates the amount of emphasis  laid upon hygiene in Islamic practice. The cleanliness factor is thus a major segment of the very  essence of Islam.

This is clearly in evidence at the appointed times of worship—the most sublime form of worship being  salat (namaz) which is engaged in five times a day. Each time the hour of prayer arrives the first thing the good Muslim must do is perform his ablution. Ablution (wudu) entails the washing of all the  exposed parts of the body. As a cleansing process, wudu is the equivalent of a half bath. In this way, the devout Muslim takes a half bath five times daily.

In the first phase of Islam, it was common practice for Muslims to take a bath daily before the fajr (dawn) prayers. Bathing  thus became a regular daily feature of every  Muslim’s life. The servant of Uthman, the third Caliph, tells of how the Caliph used unfailingly to take a bath once or twice daily. If Muslims have always attached great importance to cleanliness, it is because of the explicit commands on this subject in the Qur’an. When the Qur’an  began to be revealed, one of its signal injunctions was: “Cleanse your garments and keep away from all pollution,” (74:4).

The cleanliness of clothes is a necessary concomitant of the purity of the body. Without that, the body is not one hundred per cent clean. Indeed, as much stress is laid on cleanliness as on the avoidance of wearing showy apparel. In Islam, the devotee is required, ideally to worship in clothes which are simple, and above all, clean.

In the realm of spiritual development, one of the principal elements is purification through penitence. As the Qur’an says; “God  loves those who turn to Him in repentance and purify themselves” (2:222). Just as repentance frees body and soul of worldly moral  dross, so  does water remove impurities  from body and clothing. Islam, accordingly, exhorts  every Muslim, on the one hand, to keep his clothes and body clean with water and, on the other to turn in remembrance to God, thus purifying his soul.

The Mosque, the focal  point of Islamic life, is called in a hadith the “home of the pious people.” As the Qur’an puts it : “There you shall find men who would keep pure. God loves those who purify  themselves” (9:108). We are asked, therefore, to clean  the mosque, ridding it of noise and dust, just as Abraham and Ishmael have enjoined “to cleanse Our House (the Kabah) for those who walk around it, who meditate in it, and who kneel and prostrate themselves,” (2:125).

Following the examples of the sanitizing of the mosque, Muslims are urged to keep their bodies pure by ablution and bathing, their clothes clean by regular washing and their houses and their surroundings spotless. These practices are incumbent upon every Muslim.

According to a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said, “God is pure and loves purity,” which means that cleanliness and purity are  on  the highest scale of cardinal virtues. What God loves is undoubtedly of supreme value. Every Muslim must, in consequence, lead a life marked by its cleanliness and purity in order to earn the approval of his Creator.

Purity and Cleanliness

Islam greatly approves cleanliness. According to the Qur’an: Allah loves those that turn to Him in repentance and purify themselves (2:222).

When man rues his mistakes and returns to the path of truth, this is called an act of repentance. As such, it purifies man’s inner self. Just as by using water we can cleanse the dirt from the body, so by repentance we can purify the soul—the inner-self. That is why Islam lays great stress on both these things.

According to a hadith: “Purity is half of faith.” Similarly the Prophet of Islam once observed: “God is clean and loves cleanliness.” (Ibn Majah)

Man is a creature who has been specially granted the quality of sensitivity. That is why man naturally likes cleanliness, and since Islam is a religion of nature, it lays great stress on cleanliness. Man’s body, his clothing and his home, should all be pictures of cleanliness.

It was due to the importance given to cleanliness that the companions of the Prophet used to bathe daily. According to Muwatta Imam Malik, Abdullah ibn Umar spoke of how his father used to take a bath before each prayer. In this way he used to bath five times a day. The third Caliph, Usman ibn Affan, used to bath daily (Musnad Ahmad).

The cleanliness of body and soul is one of the basic demands of Islam.

Physical Cleanliness

Along with the purification of the heart and soul Islam lays equal stress on the cleansing of the body. The Prophet has even been recorded as having said: ‘Purity is half the faith.’ Salat (prayer) is the most important form of worship in Islam. According to a hadith, God does not accept any prayer without purification of the body. That is why performing wadu (ablution), which is almost a semi-bath, has been held compulsory.

So far as complete physical bathing is concerned, the chapters in the books of hadith dealing with purity show that the Prophet and his companions used to take a bath daily. In those days bathing before fajr (dawn) was prevalent.

One narration in the book of Hadith, Musnad Ahmad tells us that Usman, the third caliph used to take a bath every day. Taking bath in the morning is a natural human requirement. This natural requirement is certainly taken care of in Islam, which is a religion of nature in the real sense of the word.

One tradition in the Sahih Bukhari has actually led to doubt regarding the daily bath. Aisha narrates that on Fridays Muslims used to come to Madinah from far-off places covered with dust and perspiration. On seeing this the Prophet said to one of them: I wish you had purified yourself today (Fathul Bari 2/447).

This hadith is not related to daily or weekly bathing. It simply means that on a day when you are joining many people to pray in congregation, you should take extra care to cleanse yourself. In this way this hadith, far from assigning the time and the frequency of bathing, describes the special importance of bathing on such congregational occasions.

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