Islamic law requires Muslims to ritually purify their body before praying. The practice is called Wuḍūʾ which involves washing the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet with water. In this op-ed for The Conversation, Islamic scholar Rose S. Aslan makes the point that Islamic hygienic practices contain both “spiritual and physical benefits.”
Here’s Ms. Aslan’s breakdown (for a fuller account, click onto the story):
Aligning with public health guidelines
In view of the coronavirus risk, Muslim leaders around the world, including in the U.S., have aligned their religious opinions with public health experts.
Muslim institutions have begun to recommend that people make sure to wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap before doing wudu. Emphasizing that wudu alone cannot prevent the virus from spreading, other Islamic institutions recommend that mosques supply extra soap and hand sanitizer near the washing area. They have issued rulings to cancel Friday prayers, urged Muslims to wash their hands with soap regularly, refrain from touching their face and practice social distancing.
While people have cleared local store shelves of hand sanitizers, wipes, cleaning supplies, gloves and masks, basic hygiene practices remain the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other viruses.
At this time, Islamic practices that emphasize purity of body could help reiterate the importance of hygienic practices along with the use of soap or hand sanitizer, to reduce one’s vulnerability to the virus.
A person of Muslim faith is supposed to perform a ritual washing of their bodies before praying to get rid of minor impurities. Wudu is to be performed, as was done by the Prophet Muhammad, in a specific order before praying, which takes place five times a day. Before each prayer, Muslims are expected to wash themselves in a certain order – first hands, then mouth, nose, face, hair and ears, and finally their ankles and feet.
Preparing for prayer by washing one’s body using water can be a deeply spiritual act for Muslims. Ritual purity is different from hygienic practices, although Islam also emphasizes good hygiene. Muslims take care to wash often, including using water after going to the bathroom.
Marion Katz, explains in her 2002 book “Body of Text” that the importance of wudu lies in its symbolic cleansing. It does not always cleanse the parts of the body that are “physically involved in the pollution act.”