Cleanliness and hygiene

Islam places great stress on cleanliness. The Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said, “Cleanliness is half of faith.”[1] Accordingly, our bodies should be kept clean, our clothing should be clean, and the inner space of our houses should be free from the dirt of both the outside and the toilet area.[2]

What follows is a brief summary of the Islamic rules of hygiene and cleanliness: for worship, for the toilet and for sexual relations.

1) Cleanliness For Worship

For acts of worship such as praying, reading the Qur’an or making dhikr,[3] it is important always to be in a clean (taher) state in front of our Lord, who loves cleanliness and purity. Our clothing and the place where we pray must be clean. And our bodies must be cleaned of anything polluting.

Discharges from the body render us unfit for God’s worship without going through a specific, prescribed form of cleaning. Again, the details of these forms of cleaning are practiced according to the example or sunnah of God’s blessed Messenger (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).

When we get ready to pray, a brief ablution or washing of the exposed parts of the body, known as wudu, is prescribed. Once completed, wudu remains intact unless it is broken by any of the following bodily discharges: urinating, having a bowel movement, passing gas, vomiting, and the flowing of blood or pus; sleeping fully or losing consciousness also breaks wudu. These constitute the minor pollutions. When any of these occurs, we must make wudu again before praying, reading the Qur’an or doing dhikr.

Major pollutions occur with sexual relations, a wet dream or any other discharge of semen, and with menstruation and the period of bleeding after childbirth. Following any of these, before we can offer salat, fast, read the Qur’an or make dhikr, a full-body shower, known as ghusl, is required in the place of wudu.

2) Personal Hygiene

In Islam, urine and stool are considered as filth and pollutants. Therefore, when we go to the toilet, it is necessary to make sure that these body wastes do not cling to the body or clothing.

Muslims throughout the world clean themselves with water after using the toilet as a matter of course; in fact, they consider it dirty not to.[4] A jug with a spout is all that is needed for this, or one can attach a spray hose to the toilet; when away from home, one can carry a small empty bottle. The left hand is always used for this purpose; toilet paper can be used with it, but it does not take the place of water. The hands must of course be washed well with soap afterwards.

3) Sexual Hygiene And Related Matters

Since sexual relations are an act of love between husband and wife, in addition to satisfying the physical need of both, the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) recommended kissing and loving foreplay before intercourse.

The vagina is the God-ordained place for intercourse. Consequently, it is totally prohibited to have intercourse in the anus. Oral intercourse is considered a detestable, perverted act. Vaginal intercourse with a wife who is menstruating or bleeding following childbirth is also prohibited.

As we have mentioned, showering (ghusl) is required of both men and women after intercourse. For a woman, ghusl (showering) is also obligatory at the end of menstruation or the period of bleeding following childbirth, both before she can resume praying, fasting, reading the Qur’an and dhikr, and also before she can resume sexual relations with her husband.

There are differences of opinion concerning the permissibility of using contraceptives.[5] If they are used, it should be by mutual agreement between husband and wife. The methods used should be of a kind which does not cause harm to the woman or kill an existing fetus. Permanent sterilization is permissible only when there is a serious medical cause. Abortion is prohibited except in a case of clear and serious danger to the life of the mother.

[1] Muslim, 1:432, Mishkat al-Masabih, 296.

[2] For this reason, in many places in the Muslim world, people take off their shoes at the door of the house and wear slippers or go barefoot indoors, using washable sandals in the bathroom.

[3] Dhikr (zikr) or dhikr-Allah refers to the remembrance of God by repeating phrases of glorification or His holy Names.

[4] In Muslim countries, a water faucet for cleaning is always found within reach of the toilet.

[5] In the Prophet’s time, the practice of withdrawal was used by some Muslims, and he neither approved of it nor forbade it.