Purity and the Islamic worldview

Purity and the Islamic worldview

Human cleanliness and purity in Islam reflects the nature of the world as created by Allah and the character of God who is pure. How the Qur’an begins is indicative of the Islamic worldview (Qur’an 1:1-7),

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! Praise belongs to God Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgment. It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.’

In the above, the repetition of ‘the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy’ emphasises the fundamental belief that Allah is merciful, but only towards those who submit to his will. Moreover, the orientation of the Muslim is towards the ‘Day of Judgment’. The Qur’an begins not with the beginning of world order, but proclaims God as the ‘Master of the Day of Judgment’ where human history will culminate and God will call all to account who have done good and bad. The good is characteristic of those who are on the blessed path, which is the ‘straight path’. Only those who are pure can be part of the straight path and, if God chooses to be merciful, will be rewarded with eternity in Paradise (Qur’an 2:25, 19:96 3:15-17; 9:71- 72; 30:30; 53:32). However, those who have not submitted to the will of God will suffer God’s anger on the Day of Judgment (Qur’an 2:8-19, 39; 7:40-41; 53:30-31).

Although the Qur’an begins with an orientation towards the Day of Judgment, as noted above, they view the world as created by God who is sovereign over all domains (worlds) of creation (Qur’an 2:29, 163-164; 7:54; 10:3-4; 30:8, 27). Islam understands the world as created both good and pure and world order still reflects this original state of creation. So humans are born with the innate disposition of the ‘straight’ path of religion (Qur’an 30:30). This disposition has the capacity to believe that God is the one true Lord of all being (Qur’an 2:222). The goal of a human is to keep their heart in this original state of purity so that the heart is receptive to belief and be prepared for God’s blessing. Within Islam, being deceived by the present life leading to unbelief is the most heinous offence to God (Qur’an 35:36-37, 39:71-72, 40:10). ‘Filth’ that causes the heart to be impure is a result of evil actions and bad speech (Qur’an 39:51).

However, spiritual purity is not the only condition for blessing, but cleanliness as well. The Qur’an 2:222 states unambiguously, ‘God loves those who turn to Him, and He loves those who keep themselves clean’.41 For Islam, cleanliness is the most fundamental principle of creation. Physical dirt and grime is in opposition to this state and so humans must strive to be physically clean so that in turn they can pursue spiritual purity (Qur’an 74:3-7; Sahih Muslim 2:436). Physical cleanliness and spiritual purity are not separate endeavours, but rather physical cleanliness is the first step to being spiritually pure (Qur’an 5:6; Sahih Muslim 2:475). For this reason, a central teaching of Islam is that ‘cleanliness is half of faith’ (Sahih Muslim 2:432). Faith is belief, internalised in the heart and confessed verbally, and good works where a Muslim hopes to receive God’s grace by obedience to God’s commands (Qur’an 2:177, 207-208; 5:8-9). A significant part of these good works, therefore, are the two rituals of purification: the wudu’ and the ghusl. The wudu’ is for minor impurity and involves eight stages of washing (Sahih Muslim 2:436). Performing wudu’ in mindful devotion will expiate sin done between prayers (Sahih Muslim 2:437, 438, 444). Unless a Muslim mindfully performs the wudu’, she cannot pray or touch the Qur’an. The ghusl is then a complete bath, which is required for major defilement, and recommended for every Muslim at least once a week to maintain a state of cleanliness and purity, and so be in a state to gain God’s pleasure (Qur’an 9:108; Sahih al-Bukhari 5:289, 11:6). The goal of purification, both for the wudu’ and the ghusl, is to remove all impurity (both physical and spiritual), so that the heart can absorb belief. For this reason, purification is necessary before prayer because prayer is for the favour and pleasure of God and is the physical sign of the believer’s submission to God’s will (Qur’an 5:6-7; Sahih Muslim 2:433, 435). Although the human pursuing cleanliness and purity does so for God’s favour, God is not compelled to act in grace or mercy. However, a condition of being a recipient of God’s mercy is belief and purity (Qur’an 3:31; 28:67; 35:18; 42:26). Only those who exemplify these characteristics will be in paradise and live in the garden eternally (Qur’an 2:82; 3:15-17; 7:42; 53:39-41; Sahih Muslim 2:451). Thus, for the Muslim, to be in a state of uncleanness and impurity is to be in a state opposed to God, and thus separated from the means to gain his favour, since she is unable to participate in works that outwardly demonstrate her submission. Therefore, the Muslim woman must make the distinction between what is clean-pure and unclean-impure in everyday life, so that she can protect her disposition of purity and participate in works of submission because the ‘Lord is the final goal.’ (Qur’an 53:42; see also 2:46, 31:22, 53:42). There are, however, some causes of uncleanness outside of a woman’s control, such as menstruation and childbirth. The purification rituals, in these two instances the ghusl, must be performed so that she is restored to a state of purity.

(This is an extract from an article in the Webzine, Purity, published on this website. Read the article here.)

© When Women Speak… May 2024

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