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Purification and Water

Purification and Water

Sheikh Salih al Fawzan

Prayer is the second pillar of Islam, after the Two Testifications of Faith. Prayer is what distinguishes Muslims from disbelievers; it is the cornerstone of Islam, and it is the first thing one is questioned  about when called to account ( on the Day of Judgment ). Therefore, if it is correctly performed and ( thus ) accepted ( by Allah ), all of one’s good deeds will be accepted, but if rejected, so will be all one’s deeds.


Prayer is mentioned in many different contexts of the Glorious Quran, stressing its various virtues; sometimes Allah commands establishing it regularly, and sometimes He demonstrates its merits; at times, Allah shows the reward for establishing it, and at other times He associates it with patience, enjoining seeking His Help through both ( patience and prayer ) in adversity. Hence, prayer has been made the comfort of the eyes of Allah’s Messenger sallallahu alayhe was salaam in this world, as it is the ornament of the prophets, the sign of righteous servants, and the connection between servants and the Lord of the Worlds. Prayer, in addition, prevents immorality and wrongdoing.


Prayer is not deemed valid unless the one performing it is in the state of both minor and major ritual purity, as much as possible. The means of purification for prayer is either water ( in ablution ) or clean earth ( in tayammum, i.e. dry ablution ) in case water is unavailable. Due to the above, faqihs ( may Allah have mercy upon them ) used to start their books with handling the issue of purification. Since prayer is at the head of the Pillars of Islam, following the Two Testifications of Faith, it is appropriate to start with handling its prerequisites, among which is purification, the key to prayer as mentioned in the following hadith: ” The key to prayer is purification.” This is because a state of minor ritual impurity is like a padlock that hinders one from performing prayer. But once one performs ablution, that padlock is unlocked, as purification is the ‘key’ to prayer. Thus purity is one of the most central conditions of prayer; a condition is to be fulfilled before performing the action stipulating it.


Linguistically, purity means cleanliness and purification from all matters and spiritual impurities. Jurisprudentially, purity means the removal of ritual impurity as well as impure objects. The removal of impurity can be achieved by using water with the intention of purification. In case of major ritual impurity, one uses water and washes one’s whole body. yet, one only washes the four parts of ablution in case of minor ritual impurity. One can use the substitute for water ( namely clean earth ) if water is unavailable or one is unable to use it ( i.e. one can perform tayammum instead ). We will, Allah willing, elaborate on how to purify oneself from both minor and major ritual impurity.


Let us now point out the qualities of the water used for purification, and those of the water that is not. Allah, Exalted be He, says :


“…And We send down from the sky pure water.” (Quran:AlFurqan:48)


Allah also says:


“…And sent down upon you from the sky, rain by which to purify you…” (Quran : Al-Anfal:11)


Pure water is that which is originally pure and can be used as a means of purification. It is also that water which has not undergone any change (i.e. it retains its original characteristics), whether it is sent from the sky such as rain, snow or hail water, running water, such as the water of rivers, springs, wells, and sea, or distilled water. This is the proper kind of water to be used for removing ritual or physical impurity. However is it indisputable that if the characteristics of such water change due to an impure material, it is impermissible to use it for purification. Yet, if it is just a slight change and is caused by a pure material, it is impermissible to be used as a purifier, according to the preponderant of the two opinions maintained by the scholars in this regard.



Shaykh ul -Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullaah) states: “There are many cases in which the       characteristics of little or much water are affected by pure objects, such as potash, soap, lote tree leaves, dust, dough, and such things that may change water. For example, water might be put into a pot containing traces of lote tree leaves that would affect its characteristics, though the water would not be completely changed in this case. Scholars hold two well known opinions regarding such cases.”

Ibn Taymiyyah then mentions those two opinions with the arguments they are based on. He supports the opinion maintaining that it is permissible to use such water for purification, saying: In fact, this is the sound opinion, for Allaah says…” 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 (had intercourse with them) and do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe your faces and hands with it.”(Quran : Al-Maidah :6 )

“Water here is an indefinite noun in a negative phrase, which, in ‘Arabic, implies that “water” in the above mentioned verse includes every thing referred to as “water” in general, with no distinction between different kinds of water.”

That is to say, Allah has made ‘clean earth’ the substitute for water ( as a purifier) in case water is unavailable or one is unable to use it. The way clean earth is used for purification has been pointed out by the Prophet sallallahu alayhe was salaam through the Sunnah ( Prophetic Tradition ) – which will be dealt with, Allah Willing, in a special chapter. So,  decreeing such as a substitute for water (i.e. clean earth ) is a kind of divine mercy and a way by which Allah makes things easier for His servants. Allah, Exalted be He, says:

“…And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (by sexual relations) and you find no water, perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands (Tayammum). Truly, Allâh is Ever Oft­Pardoning, Oft­Forgiving. “( Quran An-Nisa 4:43)

Ibn Hubaryrah states:

Muslim scholars uniformly agree that purification with water is obligatory for whoever is obliged to perform prayer, provided water is available; in case water is unavailable, one should use its substitute (i.e . clean earth ), in accordance with the Qur’anic verse in  which Allah Exalted be He says ” … And find no water , then seek clean earth… ( Quran An-Nisa : 43), and ‘ …And sent down upon you from the sky, rain by which to purify you…‘ ( Quran Al-Anfal:11 )


This shows the greatness of Islam,. The religion of purity, and both physical and spiritual cleanliness. It also shows the loftiness of prayer which one cannot enter upon without being in two states of purity. The first is spiritual purity from polytheism, by means of testifying  the Oneness of Allah and worshipping Him sincerely and devoutly. The second is the physical purity from ritual and tangible impurities, which is performed by means of water or its legal substitutes. We should also know that provided the water is still in its original state, mixed with nothing else, it is deemed pure as scholars uniformly agree. They also agree that if any of its three basic characteristics odor, taste, and color  change due to any impure object, then water is deemed impure and it is impermissible to use as a means of purification.

Yet some scholars differ regarding the purity of water when any of its characteristics has changed due to a pure object – such as tree leaves ( like lote tree leaves ), soap, potash, or suchlike pure materials – provided that such a material is not predominant in the resulting mixture. In fact, the sound opinion is that the resulting water is still deemed pure and it is permissible to use it as means of purification from both ritual and tangible impurity.”


Due to the above, we can state that water is divided into two categories:


1-Pure Water, which can be used as a purifier, whether it is in its original state, or mixed with a pure object provided it is not prevalent enough to change the composition of water or turn it into another object.


2- Impure Water, which cannot be used for purification from either ritual or tangible impurity. It is also the water any of whose characteristics (odor, taste or color) has changed due to an impure object. And Allah, Exalted be He, knows best.

A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence

Sheykh Salih al Fawzan



pgs 9-13

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