How To Perform Ablution

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The Ablution (Wudu): Four Steps and No More

Why We Cannot Do Extra Steps For The Ablution

Question: What’s wrong with more than four steps for the Wudu (Ablution)? Is it not that the more I clean myself, the `purer’ I become for the prayer?

The concept of ablution is also quite misunderstood. The ritual of ablution is a symbolic cleaning process instituted by God and mentally helps in the preparation of prayer. For this ritual, God has decreed four steps as adequate. In Submission, it is not how much more physically clean we are that enhances the value of the Salat Prayer, but our reverence for God and intention to perform the religious rites as per His instructions.

[23:1-2] Successful indeed are the believers; who are reverent during their Contact Prayers (Salat).

So when God says to do four steps, then you do four steps, nothing more and nothing less. If God says to do three units for the Sunset Prayer, then you do three units, no more and no less. That is Submission to God (Islam). If you notice, here too, the steps of ablution are like a ‘combination’ of physical actions that must be done in a particular sequence. So you must go through the motions even if you think you are already clean through a recent wash or shower. Unless you do what God specifically asks, you cannot be submitting to God.

[22:32] Indeed, those who reverence the rites decreed by GOD demonstrate the righteousness of their hearts.

[2:189]…It is not righteous to beat around the bush; righteousness is attained by upholding the commandments and by being straightforward. You shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.

It is good to be clean and maintain regular hygiene practices (7:31). You will notice that being clean and looking clean not only makes you feel fresh and energetic, but also evokes a more favorable social response. So you can pursue cleanliness however you want, but that should have nothing to do with the four steps of ablution, as that must be done as an independent ritual linked to the Salat Prayer. You must be clear that your other cleaning actions do not add any value to the ablution or prayer. God knows your innermost intentions and you also run the risk of setting a misleading example through your personal opinion about ‘cleaner is better’ by adding more steps to God’s steps (7:171).

If you are looking for being in the ‘cleanest’ physical state, then you may need nothing less than a complete digestive wash and shower each time, immediately followed by the prayer. This is not practical and you can’t help but realize this. You can never have enough steps and conditions or be completely clean because the body has constant organ secretions, surface bacterial decay etc. Besides, there could be endless arguments on how clean is clean. Is a water rinse best or a detergent scrub. Is it okay to repeat a garment or must garments be worn fresh for each prayer? Should the knees and armpits also be included and so on. God’s practical religion has already taken all this into account, and if God wanted us to do more steps, He would have mentioned it (6:19, 38, 114, 18:109). Imagine the plight of a shop level mechanic quite covered in oil all day!

… GOD wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify GOD for guiding you, and to express your appreciation (2:185).

Besides detailing the four steps of ablution, verse 5:6 clearly establishes that the Wudu is a symbolic cleaning ritual. (See also 4:43).

[5:6] O you who believe, when you observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), you shall: (1) wash your faces, (2) wash your arms to the elbows, (3) wipe your heads, and (4) wash your feet to the ankles. If you were unclean due to sexual orgasm, you shall bathe. If you are ill, or traveling, or had any digestive excretion (urinary, fecal, or gas), or had (sexual) contact with the women, and you cannot find water, you shall observe the dry ablution (Tayammum) by touching clean dry soil, then rubbing your faces and hands. GOD does not wish to make the religion difficult for you; He wishes to cleanse you and to perfect His
blessing upon you, that you may be appreciative.

From the verse we can see that a Wudu holds good as long as it is not broken by the conditions listed in the verse. At the same time, it doesn’t say that the Wudu must be done only at the moment before each prayer, as someone may find it convenient to do the ablution at a particular place and pray at another location subsequently. We also know that a Wudu holds good for more than one prayer if it is not broken. Surely during this time, the person will have become ‘dirty’ from ambient dirt while the body will have continued its secretions and exposure to germs and bacteria!

Another proof is the dry ablution (Tayammum) when you cannot find water. The Tayammum which involves just two actions namely, rubbing the face and hands with clean dry soil is itself symbolic to the rest of the four steps done with water! God did not even ask us to wipe our heads or rub our feet with soil, yet this form of Wudu is absolutely valid! Ask yourself. Do you really feel any cleaner after Tayammum as you would feel if you washed with water? Does your face look any cleaner after rubbing with clean dry soil compared to washing with water? If the answer is ‘no’ then it is clear that the entire act of Wudu demonstrates symbolic cleaning, for which God has decreed just Four Steps.

[2:189] … It is not righteous to beat around the bush; righteousness is attained by upholding the commandments and by being straightforward. You shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.