Purification Reflections Spiritual Purification

Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu

wuduEver get caught with your foot in the sink at work, school, or the library? You may have received glances from curious onlookers who wonder why you have decided to wash your toes in a public bathroom. You may have thought to yourself, “Oh man, I must look so weird!” Interestingly enough, this part of our religion is both historically and theoretically the foundation for great civilizational values that have benefited Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and can continue to do so.

For Muslims, wudu (ablution for ritual purification before prayer) causes the dripping away of sins from every limb of the body. ((Sahih Muslim 832;  6/358. Book of Prayer)) It prepares us to stand before our Lord with all our imperfections. ((Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum ud Din, Salah)) The limbs washed in wudu will emanate light in the next world, ((Sahih Muslim 264b. 2/47. Book of Purification)) by which the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) and the angels will recognize the believers. As we pour water on our face and limbs to prepare ourselves for prayer, we remember that water is the extinguisher of fire, and we are symbolically asking God for protection from the Hellfire. All this is more than enough reason for us to take pride in our wudu. However, there is still more benefit we can reflect upon.

Allah subhanahu 
ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us in the Qur’an:

“O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles […]” (Qur’an, 5:6)

This verse comes with a number of benefits, from how to purify ourselves for prayer and the spiritual benefits of doing so, to the formal principles to be used in interpreting the language of the Qur’an and understanding the commands in sacred law.

Once the Companions were ordered to wash themselves for prayer, it became fairly obvious to them, and subsequently to Muslims after them, that this purification must be done using clean water. If Muslims must use water, at least once a day and at most five times a day for a quick wash, then the necessity of clean water, which was earlier restricted to the requirements for drinking and cooking, became paramount.

A Culture of Bodily Hygiene

Thus, the first benefit was a concern for hygiene and cleanliness in general. Muslims developed a culture of keeping their clothes, limbs, and bodies clean during a time when this was not the norm in the region. The spiritual benefit of acquiring the attention of the angels through purification became reflected in the physical benefit of having clean limbs and faces. At sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset, and night, Muslims are obligated to purify themselves with a washing lasting no more than one or two minutes. Yet this much was enough for this new culture of cleanliness to become the norm.

A Concern for Water Purification

Early Muslims began to discuss ways to keep water pure for their religious use, and what qualified as clean water, taking into account the limited capabilities at the time. Ancient Greek and Sanskrit writings dating back to 2000 B.C. mention early methods of purifying water, such as the Hippocratic sleeve for water filtration, as well as the principles that use the taste and smell of water as indications of cleanliness and safety. These principles became the basis for further studies in Islamic civilization. Scholars would discuss what ratio of water to the possible pollutants was considered “safe” or clean. ((Al-Hidayah – Chapter on Wells; Al-Marghinani)) The Andalusian Muslim astronomer and mathematician Jabir ibn Aflah even described methods of purifying water using wick siphons to siphon water from one vessel to another.

One of the earliest chapters of Islamic law studied in seminaries across the world is on purification wells. That is, how to purify a well if an animal or other form of pollutant were to fall into it—not an uncommon occurrence—based on the size of the animal and the size of the well. ((Al-Hidayah – Chapter on Wells; Al-Marghinani)) The fact that clean water is required not only to wash oneself to pray, but also to sustain a healthy community was reflected in these early matters of study. Before the advent of microbiology, such measures went far in providing safety to communities across the Muslim world.

In any given society, authorities naturally have the incentive to provide clean water, but the central place of purification in Islamic society made this matter a collective concern, as each individual Muslim is responsible for his own prayers.

Fountains and Water Systems

During the founding of major Islamic cities, such as Basra, administrators prioritized the building of canals and irrigation systems for providing clean and abundant water, not only for drinking but for the ever-present need to purify oneself.

Amazing works of civil engineering that provided pure water were present across the early Muslim world, from Persia to Spain.  The use and improvement of the qanat (a water transportation system), networks of conduits that could provide water for populations nearing a million or more, and hydraulic systems providing water for baths, buildings, and places for wudu were distributed across the Muslim world. ((Donald Hill and Ahmed al-Hasan. Ingeneria)) Donald Hill and Ahmed al-Hassan summarize much of this information extensively in their “Ingeneria,” (Engineering in Arabic-Islamic Civilization).

Etiquettes for Communal Use

Islamic Law manuals explaining the methodology of ritual purification paid attention to subtle details. The Prophet ﷺ is said to have instructed that a person making wudu should make sure their hands are clean before dipping them into the water for wudu, in order to keep the water from becoming contaminated. ((Al-Hidayah – Chapter on Purification; Al-Marghinani)) While not revolutionary, this shows the degree of attention to details that could promote hygiene and protect water.

Water Conservation

The values of Islam, distilled from the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ also discourage the wasting of water, even where water supply can be assumed to be unlimited.

“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ passed by Sa’d when he was performing ablution, and he said: ‘What is this extravagance?’ He said: ‘Can there be any extravagance in ablution?’ He said: ‘Yes, even if you are on the bank of a flowing river.’” ((Sunan Ibn Majah – The Book of Purification and Its Sunnah. 1/1/425 Eng.  1/460 Arb.))

The idea that even a single person at an abundant water source should not waste water establishes a value that, if followed widely, would significantly decrease the unnecessary waste of water that exists in many places in the world today. Beyond this, the narration comes with a number of spiritual benefits that demonstrate the importance of being mindful of God-given resources, and remaining humble even when in possession of plenty.

Bottom Line – Wudu is Pretty Awesome

More important than all of this is the fact that wudu is key to Salah (prayer). It acts as the tool with which we are able to prepare ourselves to enter the Court of our Creator.  Before we stand and communicate with the Lord, wudu acts as a beautiful reminder that we are made from water, that this act is a means of protection from fire, and allows us to reflect on what we have done with each limb that we wash between the current prayer and the last.

It is very important to be considerate of others when making wudu by keeping the bathroom rug dry for the rest of the family and not flooding the floors of public facilities. But we should also remember that we have nothing to be ashamed of. Let us be considerate, but let us also be proud, and above all, let us be grateful for every opportunity we have to pray.

About the author

Abdul Sattar Ahmed

Abdul Sattar Ahmed is a young IT professional from Chicago, IL. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006 with a Bachelors in Finance with a second Major of Management Information Systems. He was a member of Young Muslims of North America for over ten years, serving in roles at the local, regional, and national levels with a focus on the organization’s educational program.

He currently works in the Software Engineering field in Chicago, and is receiving training in the Islamic sciences part-time at Dar ul Qasim Institute and the Islamic Learning Foundation’s Chicago Campus, and studies Islamic subjects independently with other scholars. He is a board member of the Islamic Learning Foundation and teaches Arabic and Islamic studies there under the lead of his teachers. His interests include software development, the study of the Qur’an, Islamic education, law, and history.


  • Love this article really has a lot of good info, and I think these basic aspects of our deen are often times forgotten and devalued. JAK for the reminder.

    • I have a question, a coworker washes his feet at the sink of a bathroom that has a sit down shower and supplied towels, does Wudu permit using the shower or does it have to be at the sink? I am concerned about the hygiene of the act. I do not even shower without flip flops. I started brushing my teeth elsewhere because I find the act unhygienic.

  • Lovely article. Wazu is one of the highest acts of worship. Exalted is he who stays in a state of wazu, exalted is he who passes away with wazu, may Allah make us from of those. Keeps the shaytaan away, keeps us pure from the inside and out, Allah ho akbar! 🙂

  • Masha Allah very good information and the value of wudu. I was caught while I was doing Wudu in our office restroom, a guy I know told me, hey man are you taking a shower? my Answer was I am cleaning myself for the prayer.

  • Haha i remember when me and some friends while we were at work it was time for salaah. So during the break whilst my friend was doing wudu a non-muslim walked in and saw his foot in the sink..

  • Really! It is not even weird but quite hectic to wash feet in the sink. So, providing taps and raised platforms that one can be able to sit comfortably when performing wudu’ is a good development. A nice piece!

  • Very nice article. I would recommend that Muslims in the West strongly consider following the Hanbali position that allows wiping over thick socks in wudhu or get some leather socks to cover the stricter positions within the madhahib. It is quite difficult (from my own personal experience) to keep the floor of a public restroom free of water when washing your feet there. I have also seen other people (without such good balance) slip as it is very hard to wash your feet if you aren’t already wearing some type of sandal. Socks and shoes and then washing the feet are very challenging.

  • Salaams to all. 🙂 A nice article. Of course, there are those, especially but not necessarily older individuals, who find it very difficult physically (arthritis, stiffness, other disability, whatever) to perform wudu in a public restroom. (To say nothing of cleansing the private parts after some bodily functions.) And there may be differences of opinion among the scholars about the acceptability of wiping over cloth socks. Also, some non-Muslims might actually be offended at discovering someone with his/her feet in the basin of a public restroom. (As a matter of simple courtesy, I think we ought to be aware of this.)

    Many pious persons, understandably and with the best of intentions, suggest remaining in the state of wudu as much as possible. Unfortunately, there are individuals (again, often but not necessarily older people) who find this difficult or next to impossible due to continuing bodily conditions. Possibly the classical scholars have addressed these matters, but for such individuals, making wudu before every prayer becomes a necessity, and in western public situations, it can be a difficulty.

  • I have a question, a coworker washes his feet at the sink of a bathroom that has a sit down shower and supplied towels, does Wudu permit using the shower or does it have to be at the sink? I am concerned about the hygiene of the act. I do not even shower without flip flops. I started brushing my teeth elsewhere because I find the act unhygienic.

    • Shawn, I think feet are not more unhygienic than the hands which are used to wipe or hold the body parts while relieving ourselves. Thats why the sinks+antibacterial soap are there.

      • Job, My initial question was not answered. Does Wudu permit using a shower to wash feet? The shower has a hand held wand and chair that would make it easier to wash the feet. My reasoning to wash the feet in a shower is sound. Wiping or holding body parts with hands can compare to the hygiene of feet, however, I have yet to stick or rest any of my body parts in a sink besides my hands. Furthermore, many of our sinks and soap dispensers are motion activated thus needing no physical contact.

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