Taharah is the first lesson taught by Islam. Ask any neo-convert and his declaration of ‘la ilaha illallah’ is closely followed by a Ghusl. Hence, the cleansing of a soul that was formerly stained by Shirk is complete only once physical cleansing has been observed. The essential connection between Islam and Taharah is already established from this relevant fact.
Tradition has it that the people of a small town near Madinah, who were very particular about Taharah, especially for their prayers, have been mentioned in the Holy Book. The Lord (swt) praises these people in the Quran:
“Never stand you therein. Verily, the mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety is more worthy that you stand therein (to pray). In it are men, who love to clean and to purify themselves. And Allah (swt) loves those, who make themselves clean and pure (i.e. who clean their private parts with dust [i.e. to be considered as soap) and water from urine and stools, after answering the call of nature].” (At-Tawbah 9:108)
After being blessed with Prophethood, the second revelation reminded the Prophet (sa) of his heavy responsibilities and asked him to observe cleanliness:
“O you (Muhammad (sa)) enveloped (in garments)! Arise and warn! And your Lord (Allah) magnify! And your garments purify! And keep away from Ar-Rujz (the idols)!” (Al-Muddaththir 74:1-5)
All blessings that come from Islam, the fountain of blessings, directly stem from cleanliness. The Prophet (sa), set for us the highest example in principles of faith and in cleanliness, which in Islam is not only a physical condition, but also a state of being and existence.
We know from history that the desert environment of Arabia and the nomadic life of its people were not very conducive to cleanliness and refinement. Most of them neglected the basic aspects of Taharah. Hence, it was the Prophet (sa), who instructed them in matters of Taharah, with his lively instruction and to-the-point admonition. Thus, he gradually led them out of their uncouth habits by teaching them refinement and civil manners.
The following incidents will illustrate how the Prophet (sa) used Hikmah in teaching Taharah to those around him.
Once, a Sahabi (rta), with his hair and beard unkempt, came to see the Prophet (sa). The Prophet (sa) asked him to tidy up his hair. He did so, and when he re-appeared before the Prophet (sa), he said: “Is this not better than that one should come with disheveled hair, looking like a devil?” (Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik) This incident illustrates that one should keep one’s hair clean, combed and neat at all times.
Another incident reveals that a Sahabi (rta) in dirty and ragged clothes once joined the company of the Prophet (sa) and his companions. On seeing his condition, the Prophet (sa) asked him about his financial condition. The man answered that he was financially blessed, and that he had everything from camels to horses to goats; in addition to all of these, he also owned a slave. The Prophet (sa) pointed out to him that the blessings that have been bestowed on him should also be apparent in his clothes and style of living. He (sa) said to him: “Since Allah (swt) has given you wealth, let Him see the effects of His favour and bounty upon you.” (An-Nasai) This shows that not using the blessings the Lord (swt) has showered upon us is a sign of ungratefulness towards His favours.
At one occasion, the Prophet (sa) saw a man with untidy hair and remarked: “Does he have nothing with which to comb his hair?” (Abu Dawood)
When he saw another man with dirty clothes, the Prophet (sa) remarked: “Can’t he find anything with which to wash his clothes?” (Abu Dawood)
It was also an instruction of the Prophet (sa) that people attend gatherings and congregations, such as the Friday and Eid prayers, in proper attire. He said that if you can afford it, it is befitting that you wear garments other than your working clothes to Friday prayer. (Abu Dawood)
The Prophet (sa) himself was so conscious of hygiene that, when he travelled, he carried with him several items for personal use like: oil, comb, pair of scissors, Miswak, mirror, etc. For oral hygiene, he cleaned his teeth regularly with Miswak – not once a day but several times. Aisha (rta) points out how diligently he used the Miswak every morning when he woke up, and also when he returned home. This was to such an extent that it is recorded that using the Miswak was among his last actions.
Many Ahadeeth of the Prophet (sa) also emphasize on Taharah, some of which are as follows:
“When you drink (water), do not breathe in the vessel; and when you urinate, do not touch your penis with your right hand; and when you cleanse yourself after defecation, do not use your right hand.” (Bukhari)
“Cleanliness invites toward faith, and faith leads its possessor to the Garden.” (Tabarani)
Taharah reflects not only personal hygiene but the condition of one’s faith as well. It is significant for us as Muslims to have a strong faith. We should take a good look at how important Taharah is to us – maybe that will tell us, where we stand in matters of faith. Make amends while you can, before the time comes for someone else to take care of your last Taharah rituals for you.