Wudu, ablution in Islam

Wudu, or ablution, is a way of purification for Muslims. In Islam, purification is important because it is considered to be half of faith. [1]Jami` at-Tirmidhi Book 48 Hadith 148,
Sunan Ibn Majah Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 293 English reference: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 280
The Qur’an mentions [3]Qur’an, chapter 5, verse 6 that it is necessary for Muslims who has reached the age of maturity to perform ablution before prayer. However, ablution with water is not obligatory when there is clean water is not available or if the person cannot come into contact with water. In such a case, ablution can be instead carried out by using clean earth. This is called Tayammum. Performing Wudu or ablution includes having an intention, washing the hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, ears, wiping the head, and washing the feet. Also, there are rules as to when the wudu can get broken.

Wudu has been mentioned on the Quran once, in Surah 5, Ayah 6:

لْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَهُمْ ۖ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ ۗ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

Sahih International translation: “O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of janabah, then purify yourselves. But if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and hands with it. Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favor upon you that you may be grateful.”

When is Wudu to be done

Obligatory times

Wudu is a requirement only in the case for prayer, as is evident in Quran 5:6. Also, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) stated that there is no prayer without wudu.[2]Sahih Muslim 224 Although one wudu can be sufficient for multiple prayers, it is suggested that one perform wudu before every prayer as that used to be the practice of the Prophet (ﷺ).[4]Sahih al-Bukhari 214,
Sunan Abi Dawud 48
The only times when the Prophet (ﷺ) did not perform wudu before every prayer was during the conquest of Makkah [5]Jami` at-Tirmidhi 61,
Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 134 English reference: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 133
 and when it became a burden on him.

Non Obligatory times

Apart from the obligatory time that one needs to have wudu, i.e. prayer, there are times when it is preferred that one has wudu.

  • It is highly recommended to have wudu while touching and reading the Quran. Some scholars say that it is mandatory quoting Quran 56:79. But others hold this view that this is referring to the Loh-e-Mahfuz and not to the mushaf (the book, Quran).[6]Is reading Quran without wudu permissible (by touching it)?, Ruling on a person touching the Qur’an without wudoo’, and the meaning of the … Continue reading
  • It is also preferred to have wudu while remembering the names and attributes of Allah.[7]Sunan Abi Dawud Book 1 Hadith 17
  • The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has advised to do wudu before anyone goes to sleep.[8]Sahih al-Bukhari 6311 It is also advised to perform wudu after one wakes up from sleep.[9]Sunan an-Nasa’i Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 1
  • Sleeping, eating or returning to the act of sexual intercourse while in the state of janabah – sexual impurity after the act of sexual intercourse. The Prophet said that anyone who wishes to sleep in the state of janabah, should perform wudu before sleeping.[10]Sahih al-Bukhari 286-290 In-book reference: Book 5 Hadith 38-42, Jami` at-Tirmidhi 120 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 120, Sunan an-Nasa’i … Continue reading He used to perform wudu before eating in the state of janabah.[11]Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 257 English reference: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 256 He also said that if anyone wishes to return to the act of sexual intercourse while in the state of janabah, should do wudu.[12]Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 264 English reference: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 263

Procedure – How to do Wudu

The following is the procedure to perform wudu, in the order that the Prophet (ﷺ) used to perform in.[13]Sahih Muslim 236 In-book reference: Book 2 Hadith 26 The Fard, or obligations, and the Sunnah, or Prophetic traditions have been presented together.

1. Niyyah – Intention (Fard, obligatory)

Niyyah is an important part of wudu. As mentioned in the Quran 5:6, intention is the first thing that is ordered.[14]Tafseer Surah al-Ma’idah Ayah 6 [Part 1] Along with intention, it is highly recommended that one take Allah’s name before the wudu. Some scholars, like Imam Ahmad, are of the view that it is obligatory to take Allah’s name before wudu because of a hadith in Jami` at-Tirmidhi[15]Jami` at-Tirmidhi Book 1 Hadith 25, while others are of the opinion that it is not obligatory, but instead Sunnah, since the hadith does not explicitly state that the wudu would be invalid without it.[16]Ruling on saying Bismillaah in wudoo’ – Islam Question & Answer

2. Washing of the hands (Sunnah, tradition)

It was the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) to wash his hands three times at the start of performing wudu.[17]Sahih Muslim 226 In-book reference: Book 2 Hadith 5-6 This tradition is different from the obligatory task of washing the arms up to the elbows and although the hands are washed in that act, as per the sunnah, it is better to wash the hands before too.

3. Rinsing of the mouth (Fard, obligation)

Rinsing of the mouth is considered Fard as it comes under the command of washing the face in the verse of the Quran. Also, rinsing thrice is among the Sunnahs of the Prophet (ﷺ). He commanded to rinse the mouth thrice while performing wudu.[18]Sunan Abi Dawud 144 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 144, Sunan Ibn Majah Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 439 English reference: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith … Continue reading

4. Cleaning the nose (Fard, obligation)

Another obligation is to clean the nose while performing wudu. The Sunnah is to clean by putting in it water three times and blowing out. If the person is fasting, the nose should be cleaned lightly, so as to not break the fast by entering the of the water, as the Prophet commanded.[19]Sunan an-Nasa’i Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 87, Sunan Abi Dawud 140 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 140 English translation: Book 1 Hadith … Continue reading

5. Wiping the face (Fard, obligation)

Wiping of the face is an obligation, as mentioned in the Quran Surah 5 Ayah 6. The Sunnah of this obligation is to wipe the face thrice, as the Prophet (ﷺ) used to do.[20]Sunan Abi Dawud 115 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 115 English translation: Book 1 Hadith 115, Jami’at-Tirmidhi 37 In-book reference: Book 1 … Continue reading

6. Running fingers through the beard (Sunnah, tradition)

The Prophet (ﷺ) used to let water go through his beard and run his fingers through the beard. It is therefore a Sunnah for men who have beards to wet it with water and run their fingers through it.[21]Sunan Abi Dawud 145 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 145 English translation: Book 1 Hadith 145, Sunan Ibn Majah Arabic reference: Book 1 Hadith 465 … Continue reading

7. Washing the arms up to the elbows (Fard, obligation)

Among the obligations mentioned in Quran 5:6 is the washing of the arms till the elbows. The sunnah of this practice is to wipe the arms with water three time for each arm. This obligation is different from the tradition of washing the hands thrice in the beginning. While the tradition was regarding only the hands – the fingers and palms – this obligation is regarding the arms up to the elbows.

8. Wiping of the head (Fard, obligation)

Wiping of the head is one of the obligations of performing wudu as mentioned in the Quran. The Sunnah of this action is to start wiping the head from the forehead until the nape of the neck and back to the front again for one time.[22]Sunan Abi Dawud 122 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 122 English translation: Book 1 Hadith 122, Jami` at-Tirmidhi 35 In-book reference: Book 1 … Continue reading Along with the head, it is also Sunnah to wipe the ears inside and out once.[23]Sunan Abi Dawud 123 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 123 English translation: Book 1 Hadith 123, Sunan Abi Dawud 129 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith … Continue reading

9. Washing of the feet (Fard, obligation)

The last part of the verse of the Quran 5:6 commands Muslims to wash the feet up to the ankle. This is the last part of wudu. The Sunnah of this action is to wash the feet up to the ankles three times and to wash between the toes.[24]Jami` at-Tirmidhi 39, In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 39 English translation: Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith 39, Sunan an-Nasa’i Vol. 1 Book 1 Hadith … Continue reading

Conditions for the correctness of Wudu

Among the conditions for the correctness of the wudu are the performing of all Fard or obligations mentioned before. A commonly left out practice is of the first point – the Niyyah or intention. The intention is to be made in the mind of the person and not loudly. Saying of the Basmallah or taking the name of Allah is very important for the correctness of the wudu.

Along with these conditions, another condition is that of the proper cleaning and continuity of wudu. In the mentioned body parts to be cleaned, there should not remain even a small part that is dry and has not been touched by water while performing wudu.[25]Sunan Ibn Majah Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 486, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 450, Sunnah.com reference: Book 1, Hadith 184, Sunan … Continue reading If there is any material on the skin or nails of the person that acts as a barrier for water, it should be removed for the wudu to be correct.[26]Does nail polish invalidate wudoo’ and do the prayers have to be repeated? – Islam Question & Answer

Conditions that nullify the Wudu

There are conditions that result in the breaking, or nullifying of wudu. Depending on the way the wudu is broken, the person may become impure or not. While wudu is a form of purification, the breaking of it does not necessarily make someone impure. Wudu gets nullified on satisfying any of the following conditions –

1. Hadath – Relieving oneself

Any form of excretion (urine, stool) and also the passing of wind from the back results in the nullification of wudu.[27]Sahih al-Bukhari 135, In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 1 After breaking wudu by hadath, it is an obligation to perform wudu again before praying.[28]Jami` at-Tirmidhi 76, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 76

2. Sleeping or losing consciousness

Sleeping results in the breaking of wudu, as during sleep there is no control over the passing of wind from the back.[29]Sunan Abi Dawud 203, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 203, Bulugh al-Maram 80, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 97, English translation: Book 1, … Continue reading Also, any way in which a person may lose control or consciousness over their own self results in the nullification of wudu. This includes insanity and intoxication.[30]Fainting invalidates wudoo’ – Islam Question & Answer

3. Emission of Prostatic fluid

Emission of prostatic fluid breaks the wudu of a man. It then becomes an obligation to make wudu.[31]Sahih Muslim 303, In-book reference: Book 3, Hadith 17-19 Whereas emission of semen results in the breaking of taharat and making one impure, requiring a bath to cleanse oneself.[32]Sunan Ibn Majah Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 543, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 504, Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1, … Continue reading This includes emission during sexual activity. Any sexual activity, for both men and women, breaks the wudu. This applies to both men and women.

4. Touching of the genitals

The Prophet ﷺ ordered anyone who touches their genitals to perform the wudu.[33]Sunan Ibn Majah Book 1, Hadith 216, Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 520, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 482, Jami` at-Tirmidhi 82, … Continue reading But in a different place, the Prophet ﷺ said that since it is only a part of the body, wudu is not required on touching the genitals.[34]Sunan Abi Dawud 182 In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 182, Sunan Ibn Majah Book 1, Hadith 217, Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 521, English … Continue reading Some scholars hold the first view while some others, the second. Some scholars are of the third opinion that touching the genitals with desire breaks the wudu, as it may lead to the emission of fluid from the genitals, while touching without desire does not break the wudu. But there is no hadith to back this view. A fourth opinion is that it is better to redo the wudu if the genitals have been touched, but it is not an obligation.[35]Does touching the penis invalidate wudoo’ – Islam Question & Answer

Apart from the genitals, the stronger opinion of scholars about touching the surrounding areas, including the testicles and anus is that it does not break the wudu. While some hold the view that this comes in the category of private parts, and hence invalidates the wudu.

5. Eating camel meat

This is another condition where there is difference of opinion among scholars because of different hadiths. According to the ahadith of Muslim[36]Sahih Muslim 360, In-book reference: Book 3, Hadith 123-124, Ibn Majah[37]Sunan Ibn Majah Book 1, Hadith 228-229, Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 533-534, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 494-495, Jami` at-Tirmidhi[38]Jami` at-Tirmidhi 81, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 81, English translation: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 81 and Sunan Abu Dawud[39]Sunan Abi Dawud 184, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 184 there is a need of performing wudu after eating camel meat. Some scholars are of the opinion that since the hadith of Jabir bin Abd Allah[40]Sunan Abi Dawud 192, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 192 abrogated an earlier hadith about doing wudu after eating from that which has been cooked with fire,[41]Sunan Abi Dawud 194, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 194 it also abrogates the hadith of performing wudu after eating camel meat.[42]Camel meat and ablution – Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah The other opinion is that since the abrogation is about food cooked with fire and not specifically camel meat, the ahadith about camel meat hold true and are not abrogated. They hold the view that it is obligatory to do wudu after eating camel meat.[43]Eating camel meat breaks wudoo’ – Islam Question & Answer

Sunnahs, or traditions of Wudu

Many Sunnahs of wudu are part of the procedure. They include the washing of the hands and running fingers through the beard.
Some additional Sunnahs of wudu include:

  • Siwaak, natural tooth brush – Siwaak is the act of cleaning the mouth and teeth using a stick or twig of arak tree, also called siwaak. The Prophet (ﷺ) used the siwaak at many times through out the day, and said that if it would not be difficult on his followers, he would have ordered the use of siwaak for each prayer.[44]Jami` at-Tirmidhi 22 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 22 He has also said that the siwaak is the purification of the mouth and the pleasing of Allah.[45]Musnad Ahmad 7 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 7,
    Musnad Ahmad 62 In-book reference: Book 1 Hadith 59
     It was his practice to use the siwaak whenever he got up at night.[46]Sahih al-Bukhari 245 In-book reference: Book 4 Hadith 112,
    Sunan an-Nasa’i 1621-1624 In-book reference: Book 20 Hadith 24-27
  • Beginning with the right limb – As the Prophet ﷺ always used to begin with the right hand and feet when performing wudu.
  • Washing thrice, if possible – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to wash the hands, arms, feet and the face thrice. He used to rinse his mouth and clean his nose thrice. Only wiping over his head, he used to perform once.

Tayammum, dry ablution

Tayammum literally means intending and striving towards something. Whereas the meaning of tayammum according to the Islamic Sharia refers to the wiping of face and hands with clean earth with the intention of purification. It is mentioned in the Qur’an 4:43[47]Qur’an, chapter 4, verse 43 that in the case when water is absent and one may need to perform wudu or take a bath, or when one may not be able to perform wudu because of some illness or fear or any other reason, they are obliged to perform tayammum. Tayammum is impermissible on anyone that can perform wudu with water.[48]Ruling on doing tayammum when water is available – Islam Question & Answer

Tayammum is also known as dry wudu, as it is done without the use of water. The procedure is much simpler than that of performing wudu.

  • Niyyah, intention – Just like while performing wudu, tayammum needs to be started with the intention of doing it. Again, it is highly recommended to take Allah’s name at the beginning. This does not have to be done loudly.
  • Cleaning with dry earth – As mentioned in the Qur’an 4:43 and demonstrated by the Prophet ﷺ, the obligations include the person to strike or rub their hands in clean earth or sand and wipe the face and the backs of the hands up to the wrist.[49]Sahih al-Bukhari 343, In-book reference: Book 7, Hadith 10,
    Sunan Abi Dawud 327, In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 327

Conditions that nullify Tayammum

Tayammum is invalidated by every condition that invalidates wudu, since it is an alternative to wudu and therefore comes under the same rulings.[50]How should the sick person purify himself and pray? – Islam Question & Answer Along with these, tayammum also gets invalidated if the conditions that make tayammum permissible are no longer present. That is, if the person can once again do wudu with water, then purification by tayammum is broken.

Virtues of Wudu

For Muslims, performing a perfect wudu has numerous benefits.

  • Forgiving of sins – The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is reported to have said that performing a perfect wudu makes the person’s sins leave their body.[51]Musnad Ahmad 476, In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 70 He is also reported to have said that if someone performs wudu like him, then proceed to the mosque, prays two rakah voluntary salah and waits for the congregation, then their past sins will be forgiven.[52]Sahih al-Bukhari 6433, In-book reference: Book 81, Hadith 22
  • Recognition on the day of Resurrection – On the day of Resurrection, the believers in Islam will be recognized by the traces of wudu on their body parts. He therefore told to increase the area of radiance by doing wudu regularly.[53]Sahih al-Bukhari 136, In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 2
  • Exceeding the minimum area of wudu – It has been said by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that on the day of Resurrection, the Muslims would be identified by the radiance of ablution and prostration, and so one must try to increase the portion of ablution.[54]Sahih al-Bukhari 136, In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 2, Jami` at-Tirmidhi 607, In-book reference: Book 6, Hadith 64, English translation : Vol. 2, … Continue reading
  • Reciting the tashahud after performing wudu – Reciting the tashahud, or declaration of faith, opens the eight gates of Paradise for him.[55]Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 149, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 148, Sunan Ibn Majah Book 1, Hadith 204, Arabic … Continue reading
  • Performing wudu at home – The ones who perform wudu at home and walk to the mosque have their sins removed and rank elevated.[56]Riyad as-Salihin 1065, In-book reference: Book 8, Hadith 75, Sunan an-Nasa’i 856, In-book reference: Book 10, Hadith 80, English translation: … Continue reading
  • Praying two rakah salah after wudu – The Prophet ﷺ also said that one who prays two rakah voluntary salah with concentration after performing wudu properly, will be admitted to Paradise and their sins forgiven.[57]Sunan an-Nasa’i Arabic reference: Book 1, Hadith 152, English reference: Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 151

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