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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The Final Journey

Vol 6 - Issue 3 Final JourneyNaba Basar takes an in-depth look at the burial rites as explained in the Quran and Sunnah.

Allah (swt) says: “Then He causes him to die and places him in his grave. Then when it is His Will, He will resurrect him (again).” (Abasa 80:21-22)

Death is the ultimate reality of life, from which no soul on earth can turn their heads away. The first death on Earth took place, when the two sons of Prophet Adam (as) quarrelled, which resulted in the death of one. Allah (swt) says: “So the Nafs (self) of the other (latter one) encouraged him and made fair-seeming to him the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers. Then Allah sent a crow who scratched the ground to show him to hide the dead body of his brother.” (Al-Maidah 5:30-31)

Burial rites hold great significance in a Muslim’s life. The Prophet (sa) said: “A Muslim has five rights upon other Muslims: responding to his greeting of peace (Salam), answering his invitation (to food), invoking blessings upon him when he sneezes, visiting him when he is sick and following his funeral when he dies.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Our beloved Prophet (sa) also instructed us to make haste in burying the dead saying: “Hurry up in the funeral rites for the dead body. If it had been righteous, then you are speeding it to good, and if it had been otherwise, then you are removing the burden of its evil from your shoulders.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Thus, there should be no delaying in burying the body.

As soon as a Muslim dies, his family is encouraged to pray for the departed soul. It is against the beliefs of Muslims to wail, scream and flog oneself. Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “He is not of us who beats his face, tears his clothes and bewails loudly when misfortune happens to him, as was done before, during the days of ignorance.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Ghusl

The family should prepare the body for Ghusl, as soon as the near and dear ones are informed of the sad demise. Firstly, the family should shut the eyes, close the deceased’s jaw and straighten the body, including fingers and toes. The manner of Ghusl, according to Sunnah, is first to cover the body, so as not to expose any private parts.

The Ghusl should begin by washing the hands, then the private parts, cleaning away all impurities. Then perform Wudhu (ablution) in the same manner that ablutions are performed for prayer, washing the head and face (and beards for men) using water infused with the leaves of the lotus or anything similar (such as soap). Then, pour water on the right side and then the left side, washing the whole body twice or thrice. This may be increased up to five or seven times, until the body is totally clean. In the last washing, it is preferred to add camphor to the water, if available. Non-alcoholic fragrance should be applied on all unseen parts of the body and the places upon which he/she prostrates. It is permissible to use fragrance on the whole body. In case of women, their hair should be plaited in three braids and placed behind them.

Since the deceased holds great respect, care should be taken that the place for Ghusl is secluded, clean and sterile. It should also be ensured that not too many people are present at washing of the body. It is preferable to have only very close family members. There is no proof of reading the Quran or any Duas during the Ghusl. Moreover, the people responsible for Ghusl are not permitted to disclose any unusual mark or sighting that they may witness, out of respect for the deceased.

It is preferable that women wash and shroud the woman’s body, and men wash and shroud the man’s body.

However, some schools of thought agree that it is permissible for the spouse to give Ghusl to each other, with the condition that in case of a deceased husband, there be the woman’s Mahram to help her. The Prophet (sa) said to his wife Aisha (rta): “You do not have to worry, if you die before me. I will wash you, shroud you and bury you.” (Ahmad)

Shrouding

Ghusl is followed by shrouding, and white is the recommended colour for it.

The man’s body should be shrouded in three white sheets. The winding or the wrap-around sheets should be spread out one on top of the other. After Ghusl, the deceased is lifted off with a sheet and placed on the winding sheets. The edge of the top sheet is folded over the deceased right side, then the other edge over his left side. Then, the second sheet should be folded the same way. The third and the largest sheet should be treated the same way. These sheets should be secured with a piece of cloth (tie ropes): one above the head, another under the feet, and two around the body.

Woman’s body should be shrouded in five pieces of cloth: two winding sheets, a long and loose sleeveless shirt (from shoulders to feet), a waist wrapper and a head veil. All these should be large enough to cover the whole body and may be perfumed with incense. A loin (side) cloth may be used to bind the upper part of her legs. Four tie ropes should be used – each one seven feet long. The loin cloth should be bound round her upper legs (acts like underwear). The waist wrapper is tied in place. Then, the sleeveless shirt should be put on – long enough to cover the body from shoulders to feet. The head veil should be put on as the last.

In case the deceased woman is in her menstrual period or has post partum bleeding, padding should be used to prevent blood from leaving the body.

Extravagance (such as silk fabric or golden threads) for the white shrouding cloth (Kafan) is not recommended. Nothing should be written on or placed inside the shrouds.

Such Biddats as tying Quranic verses around the deceased or applying Henna to the hands are strictly prohibited and should be avoided and discouraged under any circumstances. Also, taking pictures or making a movie of the dead is highly disapproved of, as it shows disrespect for the dead. There is no proof of reading any particular Surah a certain number of times or placing the Quran under the pillow of the deceased.

Funeral Prayer and Burial

Before performing the funeral prayer, the family members should ensure that the deceased was not indebted to anybody. If there was a debt on the deceased, then the family should repay it as soon as possible, even before the burial. If the family cannot afford to do so, then the debt should either be pardoned or someone else should step forward and liberate the family from it. This was the practice of Prophet Muhammad (sa).

Funeral prayers have to be performed in congregation, while standing. There are four Takbirs. There is no bowing or prostration. It is a silent prayer except for the Takbirs and Tasleem. It is permissible to offer a supplication after the fourth and last Takbir. This can be supported by the Hadeeth related by Abu Yafur through Abd Allah Ibn Abi Awfa.

He said: “I was with him in a funeral prayer when he made four Takbirs and waited for a while. (He means he was making supplication.) Then he said: “Were you thinking I was about to perform five Takbirs? They said: “No.” He said: “I saw the Prophet (sa) performing four (Takbirs).”

Scholars say you may pronounce the following supplication after the fourth Takbir: “Allahummah la tahrimna ajrahu wala taftinna badahu waghfir lana wa lahu.” The body should be placed in front of the person leading the prayer.

After the first Takbir, Surah Al-Fatihah is read. After the second Takbir, salutation for Prophet Muhammad (sa) is read (preferably the one read right after Tashahhud in Salah). After the third Takbir, Dua for the deceased is read:

“O Allah! Grant forgiveness to our living and to our dead, and to those, who are present, and to those, who are absent, and to our young and our old folk, and to our males and females. O Allah! Whomsoever you grant to live from among us, help him to live in Islam, and whom of us you cause to die, help him to die in faith. O Allah! Do not deprive us of the reward for patience on his loss, and do not make us subject to trail after him.”

This is followed by the last Takbir; then, one Tasleem on the right side is performed. According to Hadeeth it is favourable to have three rows for a funeral prayer. The Prophet (sa) said: “Whoever dies and three rows of Muslims pray for him, then he will be entitled to good.” (Abu Dawood and At-Tirmidhi)

The Prophet (sa) also said: “Whoever prays the funeral prayer for someone will receive a mountain of reward. Whoever then follows the deceased until burial will receive double that reward.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “Visit the sick and walk with the Janazah, it will remind you of the Hereafter.” (Muslim)

The bier of the deceased is then carried to its final abode, wherein he will dwell until the Day of Judgement. The Quran says: “Thereof (the earth) We created you, and into it We shall send you back, and from it We shall bring you out once again.” (Ta-Ha, 20:55)

After the Burial

The mourning period should not last beyond three days, except for the widow, whose mourning period (Iddah) is mentioned in the Quran as follows: “And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait (as regards their marriage) for four months and ten days.” (Al-Baqarah 2:234) This rule has been given so that the widow observes the memory of her husband, fulfills any obligations towards him, and can ascertain whether or not she is pregnant. If the widow is pregnant, then her waiting period ends, when she delivers her baby: “And for those who are pregnant (whether they are divorced or their husbands are dead), their Iddah (prescribed period) is until they lay down their burden.” (At-Talaq 65:4)

The Final Word

Death is exceedingly one of the greatest trials Allah (swt) causes mankind to pass through. Whether it is gradual or instant, most of us find it painful to bid farewell to our loved ones embarking on the final journey of their lives in this world. It is our correct perspective of the Hereafter, and love and trust in Allah (swt) that helps us overcome our grief and heal gracefully. There is much to look forward to, beyond death – Insha’Allah an eternal life of bounties in the company of our loved ones that we have lost today.