Purification and Prayer


In the Quran, Allah says:

O believers! When you stand up for the formal prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows and wipe your heads and your feet up to the ankles;

but if you are in a state of defilement, then purify yourself [wash your (complete) selves*];

and if you are ill or on a journey, or one of you has come from the toilet or have (sexually) touched a woman, and you cannot find water, then look for clean earth and wipe your faces and your hands with it.

Allah does not want to lay any hardship on you, but He wants to purify you that you may give thanks. (Quran, 5:6 [*Quran, 4:43])

A state of defilement refers to post sexual, menstrual and natal states, or the state of someone who has just emerged from disbelief and/or polytheism and newly avowed Islam.

A state of purification is called “tahir”.

Invocation and supplication does not require “tahir” as a prerequisite. Formal prayer does.

Before formally purifying yourself, make sure that traces of what caused you to lose “tahir” (traces of urine, faecal matter, menstrual blood and sexual discharge) are cleaned from your body and clothes. Water is the best way of cleaning yourself or your clothes, but if water is short, sand, stones or textile/paper wipes are all serviceable. The Prophet, may Allah praise him, would use smooth round stones to clean himself, and scrape dried out sexual discharges from his clothes with a sharp instrument.


In Islamic terminology, the act of ablution and its result is called “Wudu”.  The verb form of this act is “tawadha”: To make ablution. This is the purifying act that prepares you to meet Allah in the ritual prayer. You should use clear water if you can find it, preferably from a flowing source—because—unless prevented, flowing water filters and cleans itself naturally.

You need to renew ablution whenever you go to the toilet, or break wind, or touch anyone’s genitalia except for your breast feeding children’s. Of course, any act that requires a purifying bath also breaks ablution.

First, invoke Allah by saying “Bismi Allah”, which means, “in the name of Allah”.

Next, you thoroughly wash your hands.

If you have any bits of food, fat or sugar traces in your mouth, rinse it out, and blow water in and out of your nose to clear any dry mucus.

Then, you wash your face from ear to ear and chin to forehead (where your hairline should be if you are not bald or balding like me). You should make sure the water reaches the skin under any facial hair.

After that, wash your forearms up to and including your elbows thoroughly.

Next, wet your hands again and wipe your head from nape to crown and inside/outside of your ears once only. If a woman is in a public place, or a man’s imama (head cloth) is difficult to take off, then the wiping can be done on top of the headdress, as long as it was put on while in a state of ablution.

Then, wash your feet thoroughly, making sure you wash between the toes, up to the shin, including your Achilles heels and your ankles. Again, if you are wearing shoes and socks, and you put them on while in a state of ablution, you can wipe the top of them if you are going to pray in them.

Finally, make the double declaration by saying “Ash-shaddu an laa ilaha illa Allah, wahdahu laa sharika lah, wa ash-shaddu ana Muhammadan nabiyyan wa rasulu Llah”.

This means, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, Who is one – there is no partner to Him. And I bear witness the Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

You are now ready to formally pray.

The Purifying Bath

In Islamic terminology, the act of ablution and its result is called “Ghusl”.  The verb form of this act is “taghasla”: to take a purifying bath. This purifying act brings you to or returns you to the state you need to meet Allah in the ritual prayer for the first time as a Muslim or again after having left it, and to meet Him in fasting and for (Umrah and Hajj) Pilgrimage. As a regular act, the purifying bath is therefore used to purify the worshipper at least once weekly before the Friday prayer, or whenever one sets out for pilgrimage, or goes to make the ‘eid (holiday) prayer, and after sexual intercourse or sexual discharge, menses and childbirth.

The water should be free clear and flowing (as in bathing in a river, lake or sea) or taken from storage and poured over you.

As in ablution, you should start by invoking Allah with the words “bismi Allah.”

First wash your private parts, meaning your genitalia.

Then, wash your hands.

Next, if you have the time, you should make ablution except for your feet.

After that, wash your torso and legs thoroughly from neck to ankles, covering every inch of your skin. If you use soap, rinse it off with fresh, clear water. It is better to wash your right side before your left side because that is the way the Prophet, may Allah praise him, invariably used to bathe.

Finally, in a place where the used water or dirty floor will not interfere, wash your feet.

If time is short, it is enough to bathe from head to toe.

If water is scarce but available, it is enough to empty bowl of water over your head, letting the water flow down your body.

When you finish bathing, say, “Ash-shaddu an laa ilaha illa Allah, wahdahu laa sharika lah, wa ash-shaddu ana Muhammadan nabiyyan wa rasulu Llah”.

Now you are ready to perform your duty in formal worship.

Purification with clean earth 

In Islamic terminology, the act of finding clean earth to wipe (amsahu) yourself with is called “Tayammoum”.  The verb form of this act is “tayamammou sa’eedan tayyiban famsahou”: to seek out, or resort to clean earth for wiping. This purifying act replaces ablution or the purifying bath when there is a scarcity of clean water – or the only clean water available is required for drinking, or if one has a sickness that may be aggravated by wetting (such as open wounds), orthe water and air is so cold you may get sick by using the cold water.

This is the simplest of all acts of purification, permitted so that you do not miss your duty through lack of suitable water. The messenger of Allah,  may He praise him, said, “The earth has been made for me a place for praying and its soil a means of purification, therefore anyone of my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due .” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

However, it is a last resort.

You begin with invoking Allah, us in ablution and bathing, with the words “Bismi Allah.”

Then you strike or brush your palms on the any earthen surface. This could be sand, soil, baked clay, earthen bricks, stones, etc. However, the surface must be clean (no fresh urine or faecal matter, or anything slimy,  putrid or filthy) before you use it.

Then blow into your palms. This may be to blow away excess soil, though the traditions do not mention this reason.

Next wipe your face once with your palms.

Then wipe the back of each hand once, wiping the right hand with the left first, and the left with the right after that.

When you finish, say, “Ash-shaddu an laa ilaha illa Allah, wahdahu laa sharika lah, wa ash-shaddu ana Muhammadan nabiyyan wa rasulu Llah”.

Now you are ready to perform the prayer, or resume prayer and fasting after menstrual or post natal bleeding had stopped.

Prayer Times

The Five Obligatory Prayers

Allah says in the Quran,  “Perform the (Obligatory) formal prayer from when the sun is at its zenith until the dusk of the night, and recite the Quran in the early dawn; verily the Quran of the early dawn is ever witnessed.” (Quran 17:78)

The sun at its zenith is the time the noon prayer enters, as you can see in the tradition on the right about the prayer times. And the end of dusk, or nightfall, is the time the evening prayer enters. Between these two prayers are the late afternoon prayer and the sunset prayer. All on its own, just before sunrise, is the dawn prayer, which is one of the two prayers that sees the angels change watch.

The Prophet, may Allah praise him, said, “The angels of the night and the angels of the day come amongst you in shifts. They meet at the dawn prayer and at the mid afternoon prayer. Those who had been with you ascend, and their Lord ask them, though He knows best about you, “How did you leave my servants?” They say, “We came to them when they were praying and left them when they were praying.” (Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari)

Because they change watch while it is being prayed, two watches of angels witness the dawn prayer.

Two or Three Voluntary Prayers

There are, however, prayers you can make at that are not obligatory. The Quran continues, “And in the night, stand and recite it as an additional prayer.” (Quran 17:79)

The Prophet would stand up in the last third of the night before dawn and make eleven units of prayer, and he recommended that his followers made at least the witr prayer (a single bowing). He said, “Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?”  (Sahih Muslim)

Another prayer recommended is the late  or mid-morning prayer, called the Duha prayer. One of the companions of the Prophet said, “My friend advised me to observe three things, (one of which was) to pray a double bowing in the fore-noon (Duha).”

Duha can be prayed until just before the sun reaches its Zenith.  It can also be prayed just after the sun has completely risen into the sky, The messenger of Allah, may He praise him, said, “He who performs the Dawn Prayer in congregation, and stays sitting in remembrance of Allah until sunrise, and then offers a double unit (two bowings) of the morning Prayer will get a reward equal to that of complete Hajj and `Umrah.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi)

Associated with all eight of these prayers is the verse, “and glorify the praises of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting, and during some hours of the night and at the ends of the day, so that you may be pleased with the reward that Allah will give you.” (Quran 20:130).

Before the sun rising and setting refers to the Dawn and Mid-afternoon prayers, but the night prayers refer to all the prayers after sunset, including the dusk prayer, the evening prayer and the night and the ’odd’ prayer. So what about the ends of the day? Ibn Kathir says in his commentary on this verse “it is the opposite of the hours at night,” meaning opposing the dusk and evening prayers, and the night and ‘odd’ prayer.

The diagram below gives an idea of how the Prayers are on the (opposing) ends of the day. The top hemisphere represents the day, and the lower hemisphere is the night. The four prayers on the right are all obligatory, but only Fajr (the Dawn Prayer) is obligatory below.

ImageThe times of the 5 obligatory prayers.

An-Naisai recorded that Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah narrated that:

The angel Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah (at noon) and said to him, “Stand and pray!” So they prayed the Dhuhr [noon] prayer when the sun had just passed its meridian.

He then came to him in the mid-afternoon and said, “Stand and pray!” So they prayed the ‘Asr [mid-afternoon] prayer while a length of a shadow of something was similar to the height of it.

Then he came at sunset and said, “Stand and pray!”  So they prayed the Maghrib [dusk] prayer when the sun had just disappeared.

Then he came in the early part of the night and said, “Stand and pray!”

So they prayed the ‘Isha [evening] prayer when the twilight had just disappeared.

He came again when dawn had just broken, and they prayed the Fajr [dawn] prayer.

Then Gabriel came on the next day in the afternoon and said, “Stand and pray!” So they prayed Dhuhr when the length of the shadow of something was close to the height of it.

He came in the late afternoon prayer and said, “Stand and pray!” and they prayed ‘Asr when the shadow of something was twice as long as the height of it.

Then he came at the same time as the previous day for the Maghrib prayer, without any change.

Then he came for the evening prayer at midnight, and they prayed ‘Isha when half of the night had passed.

Then he came when the sky was very yellow (just before sunrise) and said, “Stand and pray!” and they prayed Fajr. 

Then Gabriel said, “Between these times are the times for the prayers.”


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