Let’s Talk Taharah

clean-water“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” (George Bernard Shaw)

While people generally consider cleanliness desirable, Islam insists upon it. Let’s talk Taharah.

We jump into the shower, soap up and clean the dirt off – then get on with our days’ activities. We mull over the brand of our toothpaste, soap and shampoo more than the actual “act” of cleaning.

Islam deals with hygiene as part of an overall scheme of ritual, spiritual and physical cleanliness called Taharah. The nearest meaning of Taharah in the English language is “purity.” But it also includes essence of cleanliness, ablution as well as sanctity.

We do not know “Taharah.” We generally associate Taharah with cleaning and hygiene only.

Hygiene is a complex Pandora’s box of a topic, full of doubtful stuff we’d rather not confront. It contains filth and disease, bugs, germs and grubby private habits. On the other hand, it also contains images of sparkling kitchens and bathrooms; scrubbed, perfumed and well-groomed people; and an endless array of cleaning products. It sits uneasily between filth and cleanliness; between the private and the public; and between the scientific and the religious domains of society. While we all agree that hygiene is important, improving it becomes difficult if we cannot agree on what it means or understand where it comes from.

Islam deals with hygiene as part of an overall scheme of ritual, spiritual and physical cleanliness called Taharah. The nearest meaning of Taharah in the English language is “purity.” But it also includes essence of cleanliness, ablution as well as sanctity.

So, do we humans have hygiene instincts? After a series of research projects looking into hygiene motivation around the world (example, India, Africa, Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a scientific study found evidence for this idea. When interviewed about the ‘why’ of their hygiene habits, the study found that people found it hard to explain their reactions to certain stimuli. Faced with feces, bodily fluids, rotten food and creepy-crawlies, people would say, “I can’t explain it – they are just yuck!” It seemed that there was a powerful sense of disgust involved, which compelled people to avoid nasty, sticky, oozing and teeming stuff. (‘A Natural History of Hygiene’, Valerie A Curtis, PhD, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

So, do we humans have hygiene instincts? After a series of research projects looking into hygiene motivation around the world (example, India, Africa, Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a scientific study found evidence for this idea.

It is in our nature (Fitrah) to want to be pure or Tahir. Taharah is an instinct ingrained in us by Allah (swt). It is no wonder then that Taharah is the first lesson of Islam. Allah (swt) says in one of His first revelations: “And purify your garments….”  (Al-Muddaththir, 74: 4 – 5)

There is a link between physical and ritual purity. Physical purity is ridding one-self of dirt and physical impurities (Najasah). Being physically clean is conducive to ritual purity. Just like having a clean container is essential for keeping water free of impurities. No matter how pure the water is, if the container is contaminated with filth, it will certainly contaminate the water.

In many cases, Taharah encompasses both physical and ritual purity simultaneously.  For example bathing (Ghusl) after sexual intercourse, and for women – at the end of menstruation and after post partum bleeding is a deliberate cleansing act of purifying the body by following a Sunnah prescribed ritual.

The Islamic prayer (Salah), has a uniqueness unlike the prayer in other religions, in which physical purification is a necessary condition. If prayer is the key to Paradise then, likewise purification is the key to prayer. 

A distinctive characteristic of Taharah is that it is a means to an end as well as an end in itself.  It is a form of worship (Ibadah) as well as preparation for other forms of Ibadah. Since worship is direct communication with Allah (swt), Taharah can also be viewed as a protocol preparation for an important event.

Taharah embraces cleanliness. A clean environment and a clean body are part of aesthetic beauty and are also necessary for sanitation and health. However, we must not equate it with fancy stuff only. There are some cases like Tayammum (dry ablution) where Taharah is achieved without cleanliness as we usually understand.  The spectrum of Taharah then goes beyond our acceptable perception of hygiene here.

Do not think for a minute that Taharah is merely a hypothetical concept.  Islam is pragmatic in all matters and Islamic concepts have practical implications. Taharah is an essential part of the rites and worship to such extent that it is an inseparable part of a Muslim’s life.  The Prophet (sa) said: “Purification is half of faith.” (Muslim, Ahmad and Tirmidhi)

A distinctive characteristic of Taharah is that it is a means to an end as well as an end in itself.  It is a form of worship (Ibadah) as well as preparation for other forms of Ibadah.

The Islamic prayer (Salah), has a uniqueness unlike the prayer in other religions, in which physical purification is a necessary condition. If prayer is the key to Paradise then, likewise purification is the key to prayer. The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah does not accept prayers without purification.” (Muslim and Ibn Majah)

Taharah then becomes essential knowledge for every Muslim, it is not simply “staying clean” or “being hygienic” – but preparing for standing before Allah (swt).  It is a ruling of Islamic law. Every Muslim is obliged to turn to the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) and take instructions from there.

“O you who believe! Approach not As-Salah when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state of Janabah, (i.e. in a state of sexual impurity and have not yet taken a bath) except when travelling on the road (without enough water, or just passing through a mosque), till you wash your whole body. 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 Truly, Allah is Ever Oft Pardoning, Oft Forgiving.” (An-Nisa, 4:43)

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The Companions of the Prophet (sa) declared with confidence, that yes, our Prophet (sa) has even taught us how to clean ourselves after going to the toilet – Alhumdulillah.

Why is there such stress on Taharah in Islam? Firstly, it is one of the qualities beloved to Allah (swt). He says: “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:222).  Secondly, it is the path to health and strength. The Muslim is entrusted with his body, thus, he must not neglect it. The Prophet (sa) said: “Your body has a right on you.” (Agreed upon)

Thirdly, it is a prerequisite to appearing in the way most loved by Allah (swt) and His Prophet (sa). Allah (swt) says: “O children of Adam! Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes) while praying.” (Al-Araf, 7:31)

And lastly, cleanliness and pleasant appearance are conducive for cultivating healthy human relationships. A man came to the Prophet (sa) with unkempt hair and untidy beard. The Prophet (sa) pointed to him, as if ordering him to straighten his hair and beard. He did so and returned. Thereupon the Prophet (sa) observed, ‘Is that not better than one of you coming with his hair unkempt, as if he were a devil?’ (Malik)

Science continues to zero in on, to make more precise, what we ‘feel’ to be right: dirt causes disease. But as a species, we are naturally hygienic – in fact, we ‘knew’ that all along. Islam endorses and institutionalizes the whole hygiene thing for us in the most user-friendly package – so go soap up!

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Modern Workplace Challenges

workplaceAt times there arises a need to compromise and do things which might be against Islam. Such dilemmas are usually encountered by Muslims in their workplace. We act and try to make people happy because we don’t want to be labelled as ‘extremists’ or because we fear losing our job. On the other hand, we also fear Allah and want to please Him. Nowadays, many things are in direct conflict with Muslims in most of the non-Muslim society. Intricacies encountered in the workplace have become a growing concern for the Muslim Ummah around the globe because of issues ranging from prayer, fasting, attire, food, socializing, handshakes, and much more.

When encountered with such dilemmas, the very first and foremost thing that one needs to do is, stay firm and strong on Deen and not compromise on clear cut matters. Why be shy of people when we should be wary of our Lord? One should only fear Almighty Allah (swt) and have the courage to take the stand and convey one’s opinion and choices without any hesitation.

As mentioned in the Quran: Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allah knows all that before putting them to test). (Al-Ankabut 29:2-3)

Prayer – Salah

To combat the challenges like prayer, communication, fasting, harassment, bullying; the first requirement is firmness in religion. One manifest issue for Muslim employees is prayer. Adherence to the five times daily prayer is a critical part of faith. A neutral space should be allocated for the Muslims, so that they can offer their obligation without hesitation. But in many places this issue is not addressed and no place is designated for prayer, except in rare workplaces where the company has allocated a resting area or meditation room.

Muslims have to find creative ways to fulfil what Allah (swt) has commanded. Islam is a religion of ease and does not want to cause difficulties for its believers.

Prayer is the fundamental tool for a believer to connect with Allah (swt) as it is stated in Quran; “Recite (O Muhammad [sa]) what has been revealed to you of the Book (the Qur’an), and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat). Verily, As-Salat (the prayer) prevents from Al-Fahsha (i.e. great sins of every kind, unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.) and Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief, polytheism, and every kind of evil wicked deed, etc.) and the remembering (praising, etc.) of (you by) Allah (in front of the angels) is greater indeed [than your remembering (praising, etc.) Allah in prayers, etc.]. And Allah knows what you do.” (Al-Ankabut 45).

When the Prophet Muhammad (sa), was asked which deed is the best, he said: “Performing the prayer at its due time.” (Muslim).

In most Western workplaces such as UK, places are not designated for Muslims to pray. A lady shared her experience in this regard. She said that due to the unavailability of any designated place she started praying in the public area, but because this would jeopardize her physical safety she began to make up prayers at home. Then she realized that offering deferred prayers at home was also not a good option. She then started praying at her desk while sitting on her chair. Muslims have to find creative ways to fulfil what Allah (swt) has commanded. Islam is a religion of ease and does not want to cause difficulties for its believers.

Maintaining a Halal diet is another major concern. To avoid any risk one should bring food from home or select food that is vegetarian

The next challenge surrounding prayer is ablution. Ablution needs a separate place because performing Wudhu sometimes splashes water on the counter and creates a mess. But one should not fear and go ahead with making Wudhu, because it is an integral routine required before any prayer. Allah mentions:

“O you who believe! When you intend to offer the Prayer, wash your faces and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles…” (Al-Ma’idah 5:6)

To avoid making a mess, keep a cloth with you to wipe the counter clean. Use water economically.

Food and Ramadan 

Another religious consideration surrounds the holy month of Ramadan. One is required to fast from sunrise to sunset. In the workplace, people are usually not aware of the ones who are fasting. If you have to turn down the invite to lunch or to some other occasion involving food, do so politely.

Maintaining a Halal diet is another major concern. To avoid any risk one should bring food from home or select food that is vegetarian or made by the people of the book, as the Quran says; “The food (slaughtered cattle, eatable animals, etc.) of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:5).However, one cannot confirm that the meal is Halal, so to be on the safest side one should bring food from home.

Muslim Identity and Behaviour 

Islam teaches us to maintain good relations and uphold a healthy and friendly environment. Muslims should also greet one another. Prophet Muhammad (sa) taught us to greet another Muslim with “Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah or Assalamu Alaykum” and the response by a Muslim should be “Wa alaykum ussalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The lure of gossip among employees and managers is a very normal act; they think it is a minor matter but it is very big in the sight of Allah (swt) and is highly detrimental to one’s faith.

But nowadays some Muslims do not think appropriate to greet Islamically in their professional realm. As per one interview, even if Muslims respond to Salam, they mumble it so that it is hardly recognizable as a greeting. We must be proud of being Muslims and acknowledge one another. Our Holy Prophet (sa) says: “Muslims should greet those people that they know as well as those people that they do not know.” (Bukhari and Muslim). Therefore, Muslims should be audacious and greet Muslims everywhere eagerly.

Backbiting, stealing or cheating and other unlawful or unacceptable behaviour has become a sort of norm nowadays. Committing such acts undermines one’s faith and makes him or her easily become indifferent and habitual to such attitude without even knowing the greatness of the sin. The lure of gossip among employees and managers is a very normal act; they think it is a minor matter but it is very big in the sight of Allah (swt) and is highly detrimental to one’s faith. Hence, in order to overcome this challenge one should change the conversation and divert peoples’ mind to some other useful and healthy topic.

The Quran says: “When you were propagating it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you counted it a little thing, while with Allah it was very great.” (An-Nur 24:15)

Interacting with the Opposite Gender

Interaction between opposite genders within the workplace can be another challenge. As a matter of fact, if men and women are working together, then potential temptation and attractiveness are natural phenomena among them. Hence, Allah (swt), the all-knower, prescribes women to cover their entire body (Awrah) except hand and face. A Muslim woman should cover her body by wearing Hijab and every believing woman should understand that it is a matter of religion and not a personal choice.

It is also stated that men and women should lower their gaze towards one another, women’s tone must be low, and the attire should not be appealing neither the saunter be attractive. If a male and female are talking, their conversation should be respectful. In short, an atmosphere of dignity with the fear of Allah (swt) should be maintained.

The Quran says: “Help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

In order to combat any unlawful act, a Muslim should always be firm and confident in conveying the religious obligations. One such example is of a man who applied for a job in a large global media company. His interview was conducted on telephone by a lady. At the end of the conversation, she asked if there was anything that the interviewee wanted to ask. In order to avoid embarrassment at any later stages, the man conveyed honestly that being a strict Muslim he did not make any physical contact with women, that is, handshakes. His colleagues understood him and appreciated his outlook. Initially he was a bit embarrassed and afraid of delineating his thoughts but after being clear and upfront, he was respected. None of his peers were rude with him and ladies at work did not shake hands with him, but instead spoke in a courteous and polite manner.

In today’s world such challenges are being commonly faced by Muslims everywhere, but we must constantly be careful against the pressures to engage in the norms and activity that contradict the Muslim’s way of life. Today, it is very hard to maintain a balance between the Islamic principles and those of Western culture. We should always attempt to come closer to Allah (swt) and make preparations for the life hereafter.

The challenges present in the workplace are serious, but a sincere follower of Islam, who will be at his or her best in order to maintain being a true Muslim, will not encounter difficulty in overcoming these dilemmas.

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