15 Nov Cleanliness
The Prophet said that “cleanliness is half of faith.” Therefore, we should recognize the importance of both inward and outward cleanliness, and keep our living quarters and environment clean.
In Islam there is a great emphasis on cleanliness, both physical and spiritual. After the occasion of the first revelation of a verse of the Qur’an (“Read!”), the second verse to be revealed was a command about wearing clean clothing:
“O you cloaked one (who has preferred solitude)! Arise and warn! And declare your Lord’s (indescribable and incomparable) greatness. And keep your clothing clean! Keep away from all pollution” (Muddaththir 74:1–5).
The Islamic scholar Elmalili Hamdi Yazir interprets the word siyab (usually “clothing”) in this verse to signify the “soul” and the “heart.” Thus, he paraphrases the verse as
“keep yourself and your heart clean from sin and unrighteousness, stay away from unclean feelings that will ruin your good deeds, and clothe yourself in good morality so that your good works may be acceptable.”
But Yazir also sees no problem with a literal understanding of the verse, directly referring to physical and outward cleanliness, as well. Thus, it is highly likely that the verse is also a commandment to keep the body and its garments clean.
It is clear that this responsibility—to keep oneself clean, both from outward impurities as well as from sins, like ascribing part- ners to God, rebellion against God, hypocrisy, and so on—is a moral obligation demanded by Islam. Both types of uncleanness are mentioned together in another Qur’anic verse:
“Surely God loves those who turn to Him in sincere repentance (of past sins and errors) and He loves those who cleanse themselves” (Baqara 2:222).
The first requirement for deserving God’s love, entering His Presence, and being His servant is cleanliness. It is the first thing we must do to put ourselves in the correct state for performing obligatory daily prayers, which are the “ascension of the believer.” In the following verse God decrees performing ablution or taking a bath for this purpose:
O you who believe! When you rise up for the Prayer, (if you have no ablution) wash your faces and your hands up to (and including) the elbows, and lightly rub your heads (with water) and (wash) your feet up to (and including) the ankles. And if you are in the state of major ritual impurity (requiring total ablution), purify yourselves (by taking a bath)…. (Maeda 5:6)
With this verse the ablutions before ritual prayers became obligatory and all Muslims wash their hands, faces, mouths, noses, ears, necks, and feet before each of the five daily prayers.
Just as we should keep our body and the clothes we wear clean, we also need to keep our living quarters and the places where we worship clean. The Qur’an says,
“O children of Adam! Dress cleanly and beautifully for every act of worship…” (A’raf 7:31).
God’s Messenger made it an obligatory practice to bathe at least once a week (this was at a time when frequent bathing was uncommon).
He also instructed people to “keep your environment clean” and urged them to maintain the shared community spaces as well. A hadith recounts his words on this subject:
“Avoid two cursed things,” he said, and when the Companions asked “What two things?” he replied, “Relieving oneself on the road where people pass by, or in a shady place (where people take a rest).”
Prophet Muhammad, who was “the Living Qur’an” and who embodied Qur’anic morality, as with everything, was the best of examples in cleanliness. He was very careful about his own cleanliness and whenever he lay down or got up, day or night, he washed his mouth and nose, brushed his teeth and made ablutions. In particular he emphasized that cleaning the teeth is crucial not only for the health of our mouth, but also to please God; moreover, he taught that the first thing a person should do on waking from sleep is to wash their hands. He was also careful to dry his limbs on a towel after washing. God’s Messenger paid close attention to cleanliness throughout his life; he would wear clean, nice clothes whenever he out went in public, particularly to the mosque or to visit someone. He used pleasant scents and avoided eating onions, garlic or smelly foods before going out.