Published in  
March 5, 2024

Wudhu | Book of Purification | Bidayat al-Abid

Bidayat al-Abid wa Kifayat al-Zahid is a concise manual restricted to the acts of worship based on the jurisprudence of the madhab of Imam Abu Abdullah Ahmad ibn Hanbal. This article focuses on the section of wudhu: the obligations, the pillars, and the legislated manner of performing it.

This article is part of an ongoing series of the explanation of the book, 'Bidayat al-Abid' . Read Part 2 here.


والوضوء استعمالُ ماءٍ طَهورٍ في الأَعْضاءِ (١) الأَرْبَعَةِ على صفةٍ مخصوصَةٍ، والتَّسميةُ واجبةٌ فيه، وفي غُسْلٍ، وتيمُّمٍ، وغَسْلِ يَدَيْ قائِمٍ من نوم الليل ثلاثًا بنيّةٍ وتسميةٍ.

Wudhu is the application of tahur water on four designated parts of the body in a

specific manner. Reciting Allah’s Name for (starting) it, ghusl, tayammum, washing the hands after waking from a night’s sleep that has invalidated wudhu, and washing the deceased is obligatory. It is obligatory to wash both hands three times when waking from a night’s sleep, after making an intention and mentioning Allah’s name.

Wudhu linguistically refers to cleanliness or being clean. Technically, wudhu is the usage of tahur water on the four known designated body parts which are the face, the hands, the head, and the feet in a specified manner,

The Tasmiyah (saying Bismillah) is obligatory for wudhu, ghusl, tayammum, washing one’s hands after a night’s sleep, and washing the dead. This is from the Mufradat of the Hanabilah. The obligation is dropped in case of forgetfulness. If one left the tasmiyah knowingly, then the purification is not valid.  No other dhikr can replace it and its place is on the tongue and not in the heart. The mute person indicates the tasmiyah with his hands. The obligation is sufficed if the tasmiyah is done in other than Arabic also. The tasmiyah becomes obligatory at the onset of the first obligatory action and is recommended at the onset of the first recommended action. It becomes obligatory when one starts washing the face (madhmadhah) and is recommended when one starts washing the hands. 

If one remembers to say the tasmiyah only midway, then as per al-Muntaha, they are to restart the washing from the beginning, and everything till that point is invalidated. al-Iqna’ on the other hand allows the person to say the tasmiyah the moment he remembers and continue with his purification from there without the need to restart it. The mu’tamad is to start over as this is the preferred position that was stated in the Hashiyah of al-Tanqeeh’, al-Insaf, al-Furu’, and al-Ghaya as well. It is best to start over and remain on the safe side unless one is highly pressed for time. 

It is obligatory to wash one’s hands three times when one wakes up from a night's sleep that has nullified the wudhu. The obligation is dropped in case of forgetfulness. This act of washing needs to have its own intention and the tasmiyah is obligatory here as well. This is separate from the intention, the tasmiyah, and the washing of the hands done at the beginning of wudhu.  

The Prophet ﷺ said, “When one of you awakens from sleep, do not let him dip his hands into the vessel until he washes them three times. Verily, he does not know where his hand spent the night.” [Bukhari]

The reasoning behind the washing of the hands here is a ta’bbudi matter. The ruling will stand even if one slept with their hands tied such that they know it didn’t touch anything. 

If a person puts their entire hand into the water container without washing them separately would render the water inside as tahir making it unfit for wudhu. 

وشُروط الوضوء ثمانيةٌ: انقطاعُ ما يوجِبُهُ، والنِّيَّةُ، وهي شَرطٌ لكلِّ طهارةٍ شرعية غَيْرَ إزالةِ خبثٍ ونَحْوِهَا، والإِسلامُ، والعقلُ، والتمييزُ، والماءُ الطَّهورُ المُباحُ، وإِزالةُ ما يمنعُ وصولُهُ، والاستنجاءُ.

Wudhu has eight prerequisites that are: the cessation of what obligates it; intention, a prerequisite for every form of purification except eliminating khabath, etc.; Islam; sanity; discernment; permissible tahur water; removal of what prohibits it; and istinja.

These are known as the prerequisites or conditions of wudhu. These eight are shared by both wudhu and ghusl and then wudhu has two more that are unique to it.

1. The cessation of what obligates it:  This refers to stopping any action that would then require a person to do wudhu. One cannot be making wudhu and also breaking it midway and still continuing. Ex: One cannot be urinating and at the same time be making wudhu. 

2. The intention (niyyah) for wudhu: Intention is the determination of the heart to do an act of worship to draw close to Allah. Its purpose is to differentiate between normal acts and acts of worship as well as between different acts of worship. Having an intention is a condition for all purifications for hadath even if it is the recommended type of purification. The two exceptions are:

a. A Kitabiyah who is married to a Muslim man. She is obligated to do a ghusl after her menses before she can engage with her husband. Having an intention for the ghusl is not a condition for her.

b. A woman who had post-natal bleeding or menstruation who refuses to do ghusl. She is forced to have a ghusl before she can engage with her husband. Naturally, the intention is overlooked here as she is pushed to do a ghusl. She cannot engage in any other acts of worship with this ghusl.  

For a woman who has lost her sanity, the one helping her take a ghusl can make the intention on her behalf. The removal of Khabath doesn’t need an intention. 

It is obligatory that the intention be formed in the heart. As a recommendation,  the Hanabilah also recommended uttering the intention on the tongue softly. The time that having an intention becomes obligatory is at the onset of the first obligatory action of wudhu which is the tasmiyah. The time that having an intention becomes recommended is at the onset of the first recommended action of wudhu which is the washing of the hands before wudhu.

Having an Intention has 3 primary conditions:

  1. Islam
  2. Intellect 
  3. Discernment 
  4. Knowing what one is to do 
  5. Not doing anything that nullifies it

A person for wudhu can intend to:

  1. Uplift hadath (ritual impurity); major or minor.
  2. Purify themselves for something that is only valid after being in a state of purification. Ex: Salah
  3. Purify themselves for something that it is recommended to be in a state of purification for. Ex: Read the Quran, visit the Prophet, teach hadith, eat after intercourse, etc. 
  4. Renew wudhu which is recommended. Ex: Renewing wudhu for Asr after already having done wudhu for Dhuhr and finishing the prayer. If a person forgets that they broke their wudhu after praying the Dhuhr and did this wudhu for Asr thinking it is just a recommended renewal, even then, the hadath will be lifted. But if he had not prayed Dhuhr in that first wudhu, then this wudhu would not suffice him.

3. Being a Muslim: The acts of worship are not valid unless done by a Muslim. Acts of worship done by a non-Muslim are invalid and rejected because the intention itself is not valid.

4. Being sane: A person needs to have sound intellect for their intention and by extension their act of purification to be valid. The purification of an insane person is not valid. 

5. Having discernment: As per the madhab, discernment refers to reaching the age of 7 years. This is the minimum age at which the intention is given legal consideration.

6. Having permissible and tahur water: Purification with other than tahur water is invalid. Wudhu will also be invalid if done with stolen water, bought from an invalid contract, water that was endowed for drinking alone, or any impermissible means, etc.

7. Removing that which prevents the water from reaching the skin: This includes any form of wax or similar material on the skin, or dough, etc that would prevent water from touching the skin. If the material is something that will be washed away when the body is being washed or will get dissolved, then that is permissible. A trace or a colour left by a material applied on the skin does not fall under this category as the water is still reaching the skin. Ex: Henna. A small amount of dirt under the nails etc is overlooked and does not affect the validity of the purification.

8. Finishing istinja and istijmar: Wudhu is not valid prior to completing istinja and istijmar. Ghusl on the other hand is still valid as istinja and istijmar can be delayed for a bit. 

The other two additional points are:

9. The entering of the time for the one who is doing the purification for a particular act of worship alone. 

10. The entering of the time for the one who has ongoing hadath.

وفروضُهُ ستة: غَسْلُ الوجه، ومنه فَمٌ وأَنْفٌ، وغَسْلُ اليَدين مع المِرْفَقَيْنِ، وَمَسْحُ الرأس كُلهِ ومنه الأذُنانِ، وغَسْلُ الرجلينِ معَ الكَعْبَيْنِ، وتَرتيبٌ، وموالاةٌ، ويسقطان مع غُسْلٍ.

It has six obligations, they are: washing the face (which includes the mouth and nose); washing the hands, including the elbows; wiping the entire head, including the ears; washing both feet, including the ankles; sequence; and continuity (both of which are not required for ghusl).

Allah teaches us in the Quran,

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

O you who have believed, when you rise to (perform) prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of janabah, then purify yourselves. 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 and do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and hands with it. Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favor upon you so that you may be grateful. [Surah al-Ma'idah, Ayah 6]

A person should start doing their wudhu from the right side of their body. This is based on the hadith of Umm Atiyah who narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) at the time of washing his deceased daughter had said to them, "Start from the right side beginning with those parts which are washed in ablution." [Bukhari]

The Pillars of wudhu are 6: 

1. Washing the face: Washing the face includes rinsing the mouth and nose. It is recommended to rinse the mouth and nose first before washing the face but if this order is exchanged then it’s still fine as they are considered as a part (external) of the face. This is from the mufradat of the Hanabilah. Some important terms to remember at this point are:

a. Swirling water properly in one's mouth such that it wets the teeth and tongue and then spitting it out (المضمضة).

b. To get water into the nose (الاستنشاق).

c. To clean the water out of the nose (الاستنثار).

Narrated Ali رضي الله عنه regarding the washing of the face: The Prophet ﷺ rinsed his mouth and sniffed and blew (his nose) with water three times. He sniffed up and blew his nose with the same hand from which he took the water. [Abu Dawud]

2. Washing the arms including the elbows. The person has to start by washing the hands. The person washes from the tip of his fingers all the way to and including the elbows. The washing of the hands that was done at the beginning of the wudhu was recommended. Washing them at this point is obligatory.

3. Wiping over all of the head including the ears. The entire head needs to be wiped from the front to the back. The wiping of the head has to be done irrespective of the length of the hair. The person starts from where the hairline is usually located. 

One can wipe the ears first and then the head also as it's still considered part of the same head but it’s recommended to start with the head and then the ears. The inclusion of the ears as part of the head is also from the mufradat of the Hanabilah. What needs to be wiped from the ears is what is apparent. One isn’t required to put the finger deep into the fold of the skin of the ear to make the whole thing wet but it is better if one can do so. 

4. Washing the feet up to and including the ankles. The washing has to include the protruding bone at the base that connects the two bones of the foot together. 

Narrated Abdullah bin Amr رضي الله عنه: The Prophet (ﷺ) remained behind us on a journey. He joined us while we were performing ablution for the Asr prayer which was overdue and we were just passing wet hands over our feet (not washing them thoroughly) so he addressed us in a loud voice saying twice, "Save your heels from the fire." [Bukhari]

5. Following the specified order (tarteeb) when moving from one of the four obligatory limbs to the next. If any action is forgotten, the wudhu is rendered invalid and needs to be restarted. 

6. Continuity: The actions should be consecutive one after the other without having a long break in between. How do we know if the pause is too long? It is considered to be long and to have broken the consecutive nature if when one resumes washing the next limb, the previous limb has dried. Drying the limbs due to it being cold before moving to the next limb is not an issue and doesn’t affect the continuity factor.  It is the time period that matters.

Niyyah is not part of this list. This is because niyyah is not a pillar but part of conditions. The obligation of continuity is dropped in the case when the wudhu is being done as part of a ghusl that was necessitated by something that we are certain of. Ex: A ghusl that one does after seeing some wetness on the bed in the morning. Here one isn’t sure what the wetness is about. What is referred here is knowing that one ejaculated for example.  

Narrated Humran (the slave of Uthman): I saw Uthman bin Affan (رضي الله عنه) asking for a tumbler of water (and when it was brought) he poured water over his hands and washed them thrice and then put his right hand in the water container and rinsed his mouth, washed his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out. then he washed his face and forearms up to the elbows thrice, passed his wet hands over his head and washed his feet up to the ankles thrice. Then he said, "Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said 'If anyone performs ablution like that of mine and offers a two-rak'at prayer during which he does not think of anything else (not related to the present prayer) then his past sins will be forgiven.' " [Bukhari]

Narrated Yahya Al-Mazini: A person asked Abdullah bin Zaid (رضي الله عنه) who was the grandfather of Amr bin Yahya, "Can you show me how Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to perform ablution?" Abdullah bin Zaid replied in the affirmative and asked for water. He poured it on his hands and washed them twice, then he rinsed his mouth thrice and washed his nose with water thrice by putting water in it and blowing it out. He washed his face thrice and after that he washed his forearms up to the elbows twice and then passed his wet hands over his head from its front to its back and vice versa (beginning from the front and taking them to the back of his head up to the nape of the neck and then brought them to the front again from where he had started) and washed his feet (up to the ankles). [Bukhari]

In another narration, Amr bin Yahya narrated (on the authority of his father): Abdullah bin Zaid (رضي الله عنه) poured water on his hands from a utensil containing water and washed them and then with one handful of water he rinsed his mouth and cleaned his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out. He repeated it thrice. He, then, washed his hands and forearms up to the elbows twice and passed wet hands over his head, both forwards and backwards, and washed his feet up to the ankles and said, "This is the ablution of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)." [Bukhari]

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