Before praying any Salah or prayer, it is cumpolsory to do wudu or Ghusl. This is to ensure the person is in a clean state physically. Think of it as washing up and taking care of your appearance before you go for an important meeting!

Cleanliness And Dress

Islam advises that the Salah be performed in a ritually clean environment. When praying, the clothes that are worn and the place of prayer must be clean. Men and women each are directed to cover their bodies (awrah) in reasonably loose-fitting garments. A well-known tradition saying that “purity is half the faith” has direct correlation to Islam as the religion has incorporated and modified existing rules of purity in its religious system.

Ritual Ablution

Before conducting prayers, a Muslim has to perform a ritual ablution. The following 3 are types of cleansing, only 1 has to be done before prayer depending on circumstances.

1. Wudu: The minor ablution is performed using water (wudu). This is done most frequently and can be carried on to the next prayer if it hasn’t been broken.

2. Tayammum: The minorusing clean sand or dust (tayammum) when water is not available or not advisable to use such as due to sickness.

3. Ghusl: The major ablution (ghusl) is required when a person has had sexual intercourse, ejected semen, has had menstrual bleeding or is a new convert to the faith. Ghusl may also be performed voluntarily especially before Friday prayers.

1. Wudu: Wet Ablution

The Qur’anic mandate for wudu states:

“O you who believe! when you rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles; and if you are under an obligation to perform a total ablution, then wash (yourselves) and if you are sick or on a journey, or one of you come from the privy, or you have touched the women, and you cannot find water, betake yourselves to pure earth and wipe your faces and your hands therewith, God does not desire to put on you any difficulty, but He wishes to purify you and that He may complete His favor on you, so that you may be grateful.”
Quran, Surah Al Maida, Ayat 6

There are other acts that are performed during wudu (coming from the sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ and Sunni Islamic scholars) and the detailed acts of the wudu can be classed into 3 types:

The physical acts of Wudu

Farā’id

Seven fard (obligatory) acts. If one of these acts is omitted, it must be returned to and then completion of the successive acts are to be performed.

1. Making the intention.
2. Washing the face.
3. Washing the arms.
4. Wiping the head (in the manner of anointment).
5. Wiping the feet to the ankles.
6. Rubbing thoroughly when washing.
7. Not interrupting wudu.

Sunnah

Optional (practised by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ according to Sunni Hadiths) acts. If one of these acts is omitted, it should be completed.

  • Washing the hands.
  • Rinsing the mouth.
  • Sniffing water and blowing it out
  • Washing the hair.
  • Washing the face.
  • Washing the arms from elbow to wrist.
  • Wetting the hands to rub the ears.
  • Rubbing the ears.
  • Doing the acts of ablution in order.

Mustahabbāt

A handful of (recommended) acts that are considered to make the wudu better. If one of these acts is omitted, the wudu is still considered valid.

  • Reciting “Bismillah” before commencement of wudu
  • Reciting the shahadah after the ablution
  • Brushing the teeth before ablution.
  • Repetition of each act 3 times.
  • Choosing a clean place for ablution.
  • Not wasting water in ablution

Video Guide to Wudu

2. Tayammum: Dry Ablution

Tayammum refers to the dry ablution in Islam using sand or dust, which may be performed in place of wudu or ghusl, only if no clean water is readily available.

Circumstances When Tayammum Is Necessary

Tayammum becomes necessary in place of wudu or ghusl when one of the following circumstances prevails:

  • When there is no water.
  • When water is scarce.
  • When it is dangerous to go to a place where there is water.
  • When water is located very far away.
  • During illness, when washing with water will increase the illness or delay recovery.

Performing Tayammum

Tayammum consists of the following steps:

1. Finding a piece of ground which is free of najaasah. This could be any natural surface such as rock, sand, dust, grass.

2. Recite the bismillah.

3. Make niya, or intention to make tayammum.

4. Place the hands on the surface of the ground.

5. Lift hands with palms downwards, ensuring that no dust remains, may rub them together

6. Rub face with hands.

7. Press hands to ground and touch sides of hands together.

8. Rub right arm with left hand, from the fingers to the elbow, and back along the inner arm to the hand. Do the same with the other arm.

The same conditions that invalidate wudu also invalidate tayammum. In addition, a person’s tayammum is invalidated as and when water becomes available.

Historical Controversy

Umar denied that tayammum could constitute ghusl, although the Qur’an explicitly says it can, and even though Ammar ibn Yasir reminded him that it was Sunnah. Although it’s legality is no longer in dispute, the historical controversy is regularly mentioned in Shi’a – Sunni debates.

3. Ghusl: The Full Ablution

Ghusl (غسل) is an Arabic term referring to the full ablution (ritual washing) required in Islam for various rituals and prayers. The ablution becomes mandatory for any adult Muslim after having sexual intercourse, any sexual discharge (e.g. of semen), completion of the menstrual cycle, giving birth, and death by natural causes.

Islam also recommends (i.e. it is mustahab) the performance of the full ablution before the Friday and Eid prayers, before entering the ehram, in preparation for hajj, after having lost consciousness, and before formally converting to Islam. Shia Muslims also perform the ablution before Namaz-e-tawbah.

Ghusl should not be confused with wudu, a partial ablution, that Muslims perform before Salah.

Performing Ghusl

In Islam, ghusl requires the washing of the full body. There are some differences in details between the Sunni and the Shia schools of thought.

When Allah’s Messenger bathed because of sexual intercourse, He first washed his hands; He then poured water with his right hand on his left hand and washed his private parts. He then performed wudu as is done for prayer. He then took some water and ran his fingers in the roots of his hair. And when He found that it had been properly moistened, He poured three handfuls on his head and then poured water over His body and subsequently washed his feet.
Narrated by Aisha

In another hadith, ibn Abbas stated that Maimuna said that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was given a towel (after ghusl), but He did not rub His body with it, but He did like this with water (i.e. he shook it off).

I placed water near The Messenger of Allah to take a bath because of sexual intercourse. He (washed the palms of his hands twice or thrice and then put His hand in the basin and poured water over His body then struck hand against the earth and rubbed it with force and then performed ablution for the prayer and then poured three handfuls of water on His head and then washed His whole body after which He moved aside from that place and washed His feet, and then I brought a towel (so that He may wipe his body), but He returned it.
Narrated by Ibn Abbas

Similarly, Muhammad ibn Saalih al-Uthaymeen said, “Sufficient ghusl means that you rinse your mouth and nose, then you wash your entire body with water, even if that means plunging yourself into deep water in one go. Complete ghusl means washing your private parts and anywhere else that is contaminated with traces of impurity, then you do full wudu, then you pour water over your head three times, making sure that it reaches the roots of the hair. Then you wash the right side of the body then the left side.”

Invalidation Of Wudu, Ghusl or Tayyamum

Theoretically, one can perform one wudu for Fajr and this wudu would be considered valid for the rest of the day. However, certain things invalidate the wudu (often referred to as “breaking wudu”) and these can be stated generically thus:

  1. Defecation, passing gas or urination
  2. Emission of semen
  3. Sleep
  4. Passing blood
  5. Vomiting
  6. Loss of senses