Purification Sciences of Qur'an and Hadith

Lessons from the Sunnah: A Brief Analysis of a Hadith on Ritual Purification

(Adapted From the famous book Nayl al Awtar)

قال أَبَو هُرَيْرَة: سَأَلَ رَجُلٌ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَرْكَبُ الْبَحْرَ وَنَحْمِلُ مَعَنَا الْقَلِيلَ مِنْ الْمَاءِ فَإِنْ تَوَضَّأْنَا بِهِ عَطِشْنَا أَفَنَتَوَضَّأُ بِمَاءِ الْبَحْرِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ هُوَ الطَّهُورُ مَاؤُهُ الْحِلُّ مَيْتَتُهُ.

Abu Huraira narrated that a man asked the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), “O Messenger of God, when we are out in the ocean we carry little water with us. Hence, if we made wudu (ablution) with it, we would become thirsty. So can we make wudu from the ocean?” The Prophet responded, “Its water purifies, and its dead are permissible to eat.” (Authentic Hadith)


Whenever we examine the statements of the Prophet ﷺ, we should always remember one thing: that he was extremely eloquent and concise. Though his words are few, they contain an abundance of knowledge and wisdom. It is important that we learn to take our time contemplating his words, so we can derive as much wisdom from them as possible.

A Brief Explanation:

A man asked about a particular situation that he and other Muslims had found themselves in. Was it permissible to make wudu from the salty ocean water, while carrying a small amount of water on board? The Prophet ﷺ clearly answered the question and more than the man asked. Let’s take a look at how he answered the question.

First, he could have simply said, “Yes”, and the man would have gotten his answer and moved on. However, the Prophet ﷺ decided to make a universal statement concerning the purity of saltwater and added details pertaining to the consumption of seafood. Had the Prophet ﷺ only said, “Yes”, then it could have been understood that making wudu from saltwater is allowed only under certain circumstances, like when lacking other clean water or if out at sea. This would have left some ambiguity about the absolute purity of saltwater. Rather, he stated a principle that the water of the ocean was absolutely pure, which means it can be used in making wudu, ghusl (ritual washing), and cleaning one’s self after the restroom. Thus, it became crystal clear that saltwater is always considered pure, regardless of the circumstances.

Secondly, he added that whatever died in the ocean was permissible to eat. So why did he add this information when it was not requested? The Prophet ﷺ realized that if people are out at sea, and are in need of water, then they would also be in need of food. Hence, he realized that it was in the man’s benefit to know that all seafood is permissible to eat, and didn’t need to be slaughtered to be considered permissible. This shows the Prophet’s ﷺ insight and practicality in imparting knowledge, which although not requested, was valuable to know.

A Few Lessons from this Hadith:

  1. Imam Shafi’i said, “This hadith contains half the knowledge of purification. This shows the hadith has a ton of insight and value, and is not just a simple answer to a simple question.
  1. The Sahabi (companion of the Prophet ﷺ) who asked the question was very clear as to what he wanted to know and why. Hence, it is important that when we ask questions, we make our questions clear and provide any necessary background information that puts the question in context. This helps in giving an appropriate answer based on any special circumstances, or establishing general rulings despite the specifics of the question.
  1. The permissibility of answering with more than what is requested. In fact, Imam Bukhari has an entire chapter on it in his collection of hadith. “The Chapter of The Questioner Being Answered with more than He Asked.”
  1. If the one answering is asked about something particular, yet he knows the questioner has a need to know about something else related to the question, then it is recommended and from the sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ) to give the additional information.
  1. The man asked about the purity of saltwater and was given information on the permissibly of its food. This is because this knowledge is an essential need for those out at sea. The scholar should always be concerned with what type of knowledge benefits and has practical value.


About the author

Osman Umarji

Osman Umarji

Osman Umarji was born in West Los Angeles and graduated from the University of California Irvine in 2005 with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering where he served as president of the Muslim Student Union. He worked as an engineer for four years, specializing in mobile communications. Osman moved with his wife to Cairo to pursue Islamic Studies and is currently majoring in Islamic Law and Legal Theory at Al-Azhar University. His areas of focus are Hadith and Legal Theory. His hobbies include reading, playing sports, and traveling. He previously served as the Director of the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco in Southern California. Osman can be reached at oumarji@gmail.com.


  • Great article, MashAllah!

    There’s a slight typo in the following sentence…

    …Rather, he stated a principle that the water of the ocean was absolutely **poor**, which means it can …

    JazakAllah Khair for sharing your knowledge. May Allah reward you and your family in this life and the next. Ameen.

    • Well it’s supposed to be “Pure” not “Poor” .. Maybe I’m reading your comment and the article has already been rectified. But if you mean it SHOULD be POOR and not Pure..then, I think it should be Pure not Poor. But I bet you know that, hence, I think my first assumption is correct – the typo has been rectified 🙂

  • I don’t see the typo. If your referring to the word “pure”, then I think that this is what the writer meant to write, lol. “Poor”, would not make any sense in the sentence, lol. Or maybe the typo has been already fixed. Salaams to the ummah.

  • Masha Allah great work by yourself. May Allah reward you for your efforts. Really, following on the Sunnah can be greatly helpful.

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