My first ‘ah-ha’ moment related to what purity means for my local friends in Indonesia was when a neighbour’s child messed on the floor in my house. After the mother cleaned it up she asked me ‘what is your rule for how many times you need to wipe something?’ While I was still thinking ‘hot water, ammonia, baking soda, scrubbing brush, till the germs are gone etc.’ she said ‘three times, I wiped your floor three times, and it is okay now.’ Okay for what? I was thinking in terms of cleanliness, getting completely rid of the mess and smell and germs. She was talking in terms of restoring my floor to being acceptable, able to be used for ‘sholat’ prayers or reading the Al-Qu’ran. One thing I have learnt recently from discussions with a variety of Muslim friends about purity is that, like some Jewish thinking about regulations in the Torah, the rules are about keeping or making a person or place acceptable to meet God, specifically to carry out the five obligatory daily set prayers or read/hold the Al-Qu’ran.
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