Asslamo Alaikum, I have recently converted to Islam. I do not understand why cleanliness is so important in Islam. Could you please explain in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah in detail? In Christianity you do not have to be clean to pray. If I manage to pray 5 times a day why is being clean so important?
There are two separate aspects of physical cleanness as propounded by the Islamic teachings and each of these two aspects has its own respective significance.
The first aspect relates to the inherent nature of man. Man likes cleanness. He desires his physical environment and his body to be clean and free of bad odor. For the purpose of further elevating this sense of cleanliness, Islam has prescribed for its followers various directives like keeping the nails clipped, removing hair from under the armpit and from the pubic area and brushing the teeth etc. For the same reasons, it even renders it binding for the Muslims to bury their brethren after thoroughly cleaning and washing the corpse. All these directives are for the purpose of further elevating the natural sense of physical cleanliness in the Muslims.
Apart from these more natural directives related physical hygiene and cleanliness, there is another set of related directives, which for the purposes of distinction may be termed as related to ‘ritualistic cleanness’. These directives include the ritual bath after sexual climaxing or intercourse, bathing after the termination of the menstrual cycle for women, ablution before prayers etc. All these directives are, in fact, related to the ritual preparation for attending to prayers and other acts of worship of the Almighty. These directives are primarily a symbolic representation of physically and spiritually preparing ourselves for our attendance in the court of the Almighty. This set of directives relating to physical cleanliness, on the one hand, are a reminder of preparing and cleaning ourselves physically for our ultimate attendance in the presence of God on the Day of Judgment and, on the other, are symbolic of our efforts of cleaning ourselves spiritually of all the wrong that our hands may have wrought.
The Qur’an (in Al-Baqarah 2: 222) has mentioned physical cleanness and repentance together, which clearly signifies that the two concepts – of physical cleanness and repentance – have the same effects on the two respective facets – i.e. the physical and the spiritual – of the human personality. In the directives of the Shari`ah related to ‘ritualistic cleanness’, it is intended that a Muslim be reminded that just as the water washes away all the dirt and dust from his/her body, his/her true repentance and turning toward God shall completely wash away all effects of sin and transgression from his/her spirit and, thereby, render him/her fit for entrance into the absolute bliss of God’s paradise, just as cleaning with water renders him/her physically fit for attending to God’s worship during this world.
It should be kept in mind that the condition of physical cleanness is necessary to be fulfilled for the ritual prayers and acts of worship only. It is not a condition for general prayers, supplications and worship.
As for the condition of cleanness in previous revelations, it was clearly a necessary condition in the directives entailed in the Old Testament and other traditions followed by the Jews. The absence of such directives in Christianity is not because of a change in God’s likes, but was clearly due to the lack of adherence of the Pauline Christians to the directives of the Old Testament, which they were supposed to do.
I hope this helps.
December 7, 2001