Every culture, besides a number of other things, has its own distinct set of customs, traditions and etiquettes. In fact, one of the important distinguishing features between one nation and one tribe and another has generally been its distinct set of customs, traditions and etiquettes. The nation or tribe formed by the followers of the prophets and messengers of God is no exception. In the formation of this group, the prophets of God directed their followers to conform to a particular set of customs and etiquettes, which would distinguish them as a nation of the followers of God’s prophets. However, because the basic objective of all prophetic teachings is to cleanse the human mind, body and soul from all that has the potential of defiling it, the customs and etiquettes for this group of people have also been fixed and promoted with the same target in perspective.
The Arab culture, originally, being one consisting of adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, had a number of these customs, traditions and etiquettes in vogue, even before the advent of the Prophet (pbuh). With only a few minor exceptions, the Prophet (pbuh) did not alter or add anything to these traditions and customs of the Abrahamic legacy. Thus, these traditions, generally, are a more primitive part of Islam, as compared to the Qur’an. After the approval of the Prophet (pbuh), they have been transmitted to the Muslim community through the conceptual consensus and the practical perpetuation of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh). Thus, the source of these customs, traditions and etiquettes is the conceptual consensus and the practical perpetuation of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and every subsequent generation of Muslims.
An introduction of the Islamic customs, traditions and etiquettes follows:
1- Pronouncing God’s Name Before Eating or Drinking
The pronouncement of God’s name before eating or drinking is with a twofold purpose. Firstly, as a recognition of God’s countless blessings upon us, and secondly as a supplication for the continuation and abundance of these blessings in future. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have stressed strict adherence to this etiquette in a number of sayings ascribed to him. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
إذا أكل أحدكم فليقل: بسم الله. فإن نسي، فليقل بسم الله في أوله وآخره. (ترمذي، كتاب الأطعمة)
Whenever anyone of you eats, he should say: ‘[I begin] with the name of God’. If he forgets, he should then say: ‘With the name of God, at the beginning as well as at the end”.
2- Using the Right Hand for Eating & Drinking
After pronouncing God’s name before starting to eat or drink, a Muslim should use his right hand for eating and drinking. This practice is a continual reminder for Muslims to strive to be among those, who – on the Day of Judgment – shall get their records in their right hands1). Adherence to this practice, on behalf of the individual symbolizes his desire and commitment to be among the people of ‘right hand’ on the Day of Judgment2). The Prophet (pbuh) has stressed adherence to this practice in a number of narratives ascribed to him. In one of these narratives, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
إِذَا أَكَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَأْكُلْ بِيَمِينِهِ وَإِذَا شَرِبَ فَلْيَشْرَبْ بِيَمِينِهِ. (كتاب الأشربة)
Whenever one of you eats, he should eat with his right hand and whenever he drinks, he should drink using his right hand.
3- Muslim Greeting & its Response
At the time of meeting a Muslim should greet his brother with the words: السلام عليكم (Assalaam `alaikum 3) The addressees should subsequently respond with the words: وعليكم السلام (Wa `alaikum Assalaam4 ) These words are, in fact, a supplication for the addressee for peace and blessings during the life of this world as well as the hereafter. These words have been referred to in the Qur’an as well as in sayings ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh). As a further etiquette of greeting others, the Prophet is also reported to have said:
يُسَلِّمُ الصَّغِيرُ عَلَى الْكَبِيرِ، وَالْمَارُّ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِ، وَالْقَلِيلُ عَلَى الْكَثِيرِ. (بخاري، كتاب الاستئذان)
The young should take precedence in greeting the old, the passer-by should take precedence in greeting the one who is sitting and the smaller group should first greet the larger group.
4- Blessing After Sneeze & its Response
A sneeze is a relief from a common temporary disorder in the human body. After being relieved from this temporary disorder, a Muslim should thank the Almighty with the words: الحمد لله (Al-Hamdulillah5), while those present around him, who hear him praise and thank the Lord, should pray for God’s mercy and blessings for him with the words: يرحمك الله (Yarhamukallah6). The initial utterance is obviously to thank the Almighty for the relief one feels after sneezing, while the response – entailing an invocation of God’s mercy for the person who has thanked his Lord – signifies a reminder of the fact that God’s mercy and His blessings are, in fact, the right only of the thankful. This practice of thanking God after sneezing and then of responding with an invocation of God’s mercy for the person who has thanked God is known in the Arabic language as ‘Tashmeet’. ‘Tashmeet’ has been one of the common practices among the followers of God’s prophets. The mere fact that there was a word for this practice in the pre-Islamic Arabic language clearly evidences the fact that this practice was also in vogue among the Arabs even before the advent of the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) approved and promoted this practice among his followers without any alteration. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
إِذَا عَطَسَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ. وَلْيَقُلْ لَهُ أَخُوهُ أَوْ صَاحِبُهُ يَرْحَمُكَ اللَّهُ. فَإِذَا قَالَ لَهُ يَرْحَمُكَ اللَّهُ. فَلْيَقُلْ يَهْدِيكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيُصْلِحُ بَالَكُمْ. (بخاري، كتاب لأدب)
When one of you sneezes, he should say: “All gratitude is due to God”, his brother or his companion, in response should say: “May God bless you/have mercy upon you”, then again as a response, the listener should say: “May God guide you all and make you all more virtuous”.
5- Reciting ‘Adhaan’ in the Right Ear of a Newly Born and ‘Iqaamah’ in its Left Ear
This tradition was initiated by the Prophet (pbuh).
The words of the Adhaan7 and the Iqaamah8, as fixed by the Prophet (pbuh), according to God’s directive, entail the complete summarized message of Islam9. The Adhaan – the call to prayers is, in fact, a call to Islam – a call to complete submission to God’s will. The Iqaamah – the announcement of the initiation of prayer is, in fact, a call for preparedness for serving and worshiping God. Every Muslim is continually being called toward the message entailed in the Adhaan and the Iqaamah. This message is being delivered through our mosques five times during every day.
Recitation of the Adhaan in the right and the Iqaamah in the left ear of a new born child symbolizes, on behalf of the parents, that like their respective physical contributions in the formation of the child, they have also, through the deliverance of God’s message, initiated the transmission of their spiritual beings to the child.
6- Trimming Moustaches, Removing Hair from the Pubic Area and from Under the Armpits, Clipping Nails & Circumcision
As part of the teachings related to physical cleansing, the Prophet (pbuh) directed the Muslims to trim their moustaches, remove the hair from their pubic area and that which grows under the armpits, clip their nails and circumcise their male offspring. These practices were approved, adopted and promoted by the Prophet (pbuh) as symbols of cleanness.
Large and unkempt moustaches have generally been considered a sign of arrogance. Moreover, such moustaches can also soil food and water at the time of eating and drinking. Likewise, large nails are not only a sign of an uncouth and a dirty personality, but also give a wild and beastly appearance. Thus, the Prophet (pbuh) gave the directive regarding the trimming of moustaches and the clipping of nails. In the same manner, removing hair from the pubic area and from under the armpits and circumcising the male offspring are also clearly related to physical cleansing. To stress adherence to all these practices, the Prophet (pbuh) even fixed a time-period for some of these practices. According to one of the narratives, Anas (ra) is reported to have said:
وُقِّتَ لَنَا فِي قَصِّ الشَّارِبِ وَتَقْلِيمِ الأَظْفَارِ وَنَتْفِ الإِبْطِ وَحَلْقِ الْعَانَةِ أَنْ لاَ نَتْرُكَ أَكْثَرَ مِنْ أَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً. (مسلم، كتاب الطهارة)
We were directed not to leave our moustaches untrimmed, our nails unclipped and the hair on our pubic area and under our armpits unshaved for over forty days.
All these practices were generally adhered to by the Arabs, even before the advent of the Prophet (pbuh)10. Adherence to all these practices is, in fact, a part of human nature, which, in view of their significance in our physical cleansing and purification, have always been a permanent feature of the teachings of the prophets of God. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
خَمْسٌ مِنَ الْفِطْرَةِ قَصُّ الشَّارِبِ وَنَتْفُ الإِبْطِ وَتَقْلِيمُ الأَظْفَارِ وَالاِسْتِحْدَادُ وَالْخِتَانُ. (مسلم، كتاب الطهارة)
Five things are a part of man’s nature11: Circumcision, removing pubic hair, clipping nails, removing hair from the armpits and trimming moustaches.
7- Keeping the Nose, the Mouth & the Teeth Clean
As a part of elevating the religious tastes and developing a strong sense of purification and cleanliness among their followers, cleaning the nose, the mouth and the teeth has been a permanent feature of the teachings of the prophets of God. Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, especially, keeping the nose, the mouth and the teeth clean has been mentioned in the history of the Arabs, since pre-Islamic times, as an accepted religious tradition12. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have strictly adhered to the practice of rinsing his mouth and his nose every time he performed his ablutions. In the same manner, he also greatly stressed the importance of keeping the teeth clean. He is reported to have said:
لَوْلاَ أَنْ أَشُقَّ عَلَى أُمَّتِي لأَمَرْتُهُمْ بِالسِّوَاكِ عِنْدَ كُلِّ صَلاَةٍ. (مسلم، كتاب الطهارة)
Had it not been for the burden that it may have caused for my followers, I would have directed them to brush their teeth before every prayer.
8- Washing after Urination and Defecation
The Arabic word “Istenjaa” is used as a term for cleaning the related organs after urination and defecation. “Istenjaa”, like many of the aforementioned customs and traditions, was also strictly adhered to by the Arabs, since pre-Islamic times13. Depending upon the circumstances, “Istenjaa” may be performed with water, with pebbles of dry earth or with any other suitable thing. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have preferred using water for the purpose. Abu Hurairah (ra) is reported to have said:
كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذَا أَتَى الْخَلاَءَ أَتَيْتُهُ بِمَاءٍ فِي تَوْرٍ أَوْ رَكْوَةٍ فَاسْتَنْجَى . قَالَ أَبُو دَاوُدَ فِي حَدِيثِ وَكِيعٍ ثُمَّ مَسَحَ يَدَهُ عَلَى الأَرْضِ… (أبو داود، كتاب الطهارة)
When the Prophet would go to relieve himself (i.e. to urinate or defecate), I would get him water in a pot. He would perform Istenjaa with the water and brush his hand on the earth.
9- Refraining from Sexual Contact During a Woman’s Menstruation and her Puerperal Discharge
Refraining from sexual contact with women during their menstruation and during their puerperal discharge has been a part of all revealed religions. The Arabs, under the influence of the Abrahamic traditions, strictly adhered to this restraint even before the advent of the Prophet (pbuh). This restraint is also referred, from various aspects, in the pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. There was no noticeable difference of opinion or practice in this regard. However, the allowable limits of interaction with women during these days were not as clear. There were some extremely strict opinions regarding these limits. Some even considered the touch of a menstruating woman to be defiling and corrupting their physical cleanness. Thus, when people inquired about these limits, the Qur’an clarified these limits (Al-Baqarah 2: 222) in the following words:
الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ فِرَاشًا وَالسَّمَاءَ بِنَاءً وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَّكُمْ ۖ فَلَا تَجْعَلُوا لِلَّـهِ أَندَادًا وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ.
They ask you about menstruation. Say: it is a state of uncleanness. Therefore, detach yourselves from women during their menstruation, and do not approach them until they are clean [from menstruation]. Then, when they have cleansed themselves, approach them, from where God has ordained you. Indeed God loves the repentant and He loves those who keep themselves cleansed.
The Qur’an, in the cited verses, has clarified that the ‘detachment’ from women prescribed during their menstruation, relates only to conjugal (sexual) relations with them. It does not imply that a woman during her menstruation should be rendered ‘untouchable’ during these days, as is the case in some societies and religions. Furthermore, the addition of the words “when they have cleansed themselves, approach them, from where God has ordained you”, after the words “do not approach them until they are clean [from menstruation]”, evidence the point that even though the prohibition of conjugal relations extends till the continuation of the menstrual discharge, yet the Qur’an has recommended that the recommencement of conjugal relations should be postponed till after the woman has physically cleansed and washed herself.
In the last part of the verse, a beautiful analogy is drawn between repentance and keeping oneself physically clean. A close look at the two phenomena shows that they essentially refer to the same thing from two different perspectives. Physical cleansing, as we know, refers to relieving the body from all such things that soil and defile it; Repentance, on the other hand, is in fact, the cleansing of the soul – i.e. relieving the soul from all such things that have the potential of soiling and defiling it. Thus, the last part of the verse declares that to deserve God’s love, one should continually strive to keep his body as well as his soul cleansed.
10- Bathing After Menstrual & Puerperal Discharge & After Sexual Uncleanness
Bathing after menstrual and puerperal discharge of blood and after sexual contact has also been a part of all divine religions. It was also a common tradition among the Arabs, even before the advent of Islam, as an Abrahamic tradition. As has been cited above, the Qur’an has referred to a woman’s bathing after the discontinuation of her menstrual bleeding. The same rules, as given in the Qur’an for menstruation, should obviously apply to puerperal bleeding as well. Bathing after sexual contact, especially before offering Sala’h, is also referred to in the Qur’an. The Qur’an (Al-Nisaa 4: 43) says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىٰ تَغْتَسِلُوا ۚ
Believers, do not go near prayers, while you are in a state of intoxication, until the time that you are aware of what you say and neither in a state of sexual uncleanness, until you bathe yourselves carefully, except that you only intend to pass through [the mosque].
In Surah Al-Maaidah, the words “وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا”14 have been used for the same implication. Sexual uncleanness, over here, refers to a person’s condition after sexual intercourse or sexual climax. After such a condition, bathing is prescribed for physical cleansing. The recommended bath is not merely to throw water on oneself, on the contrary, as the Arabic verbs “اغتسلوا” and “اطهروا”15 imply it should be conducted with special care. The example set by the Prophet (pbuh) relating to bathing after sexual uncleanness, as reported in a number of narratives, entailed the following, sequential, steps:
- Carefully washing hands;
- Carefully washing and cleaning the organ, using the left hand;
- Conducting the complete ritual ablution, prescribed for prayers, except for washing the feet;
- Thoroughly washing the head while rinsing the hair;
- Washing the whole body;
- Washing the feet.
Following are two of the narratives reported by Hadhrat Ayesha (ra) and Hadhrat Maimoonah (ra) – the mothers of the believers – relating to the Prophet’s (pbuh) bath:
كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذَا اغْتَسَلَ مِنَ الْجَنَابَةِ يَبْدَأُ فَيَغْسِلُ يَدَيْهِ ثُمَّ يُفْرِغُ بِيَمِينِهِ عَلَى شِمَالِهِ فَيَغْسِلُ فَرْجَهُ ثُمَّ يَتَوَضَّأُ وُضُوءَهُ لِلصَّلاَةِ ثُمَّ يَأْخُذُ الْمَاءَ فَيُدْخِلُ أَصَابِعَهُ فِي أُصُولِ الشَّعْرِ حَتَّى إِذَا رَأَى أَنْ قَدِ اسْتَبْرَأَ حَفَنَ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ ثَلاَثَ حَفَنَاتٍ ثُمَّ أَفَاضَ عَلَى سَائِرِ جَسَدِهِ ثُمَّ غَسَلَ رِجْلَيْهِ. (مسلم، كتاب الحيض)
Hadhrat Ayesha (ra) reports that when the Prophet (pbuh) bathed after sexual uncleanness, he used to wash his hands, then pouring some water with his right hand on the left one, he used to clean his private parts, then he used to do ablution, as he would do before prayers, then taking some water, he would deeply massage his hair till he was satisfied that the skin of his head had been washed, then he would pour three handfuls of water on his head and then pour water all over his body. In the end, he would wash his feet.
قَالَ حَدَّثَتْنِي خَالَتِي، مَيْمُونَةُ قَالَتْ أَدْنَيْتُ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم غُسْلَهُ مِنَ الْجَنَابَةِ فَغَسَلَ كَفَّيْهِ مَرَّتَيْنِ أَوْ ثَلاَثًا ثُمَّ أَدْخَلَ يَدَهُ فِي الإِنَاءِ ثُمَّ أَفْرَغَ بِهِ عَلَى فَرْجِهِ وَغَسَلَهُ بِشِمَالِهِ ثُمَّ ضَرَبَ بِشِمَالِهِ الأَرْضَ فَدَلَكَهَا دَلْكًا شَدِيدًا ثُمَّ تَوَضَّأَ وُضُوءَهُ لِلصَّلاَةِ ثُمَّ أَفْرَغَ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ ثَلاَثَ حَفَنَاتٍ مِلْءَ كَفِّهِ ثُمَّ غَسَلَ سَائِرَ جَسَدِهِ ثُمَّ تَنَحَّى عَنْ مَقَامِهِ ذَلِكَ فَغَسَلَ رِجْلَيْهِ ثُمَّ أَتَيْتُهُ بِالْمِنْدِيلِ فَرَدَّهُ. (مسلم، كتاب الحيض)
Ibn Abbas (ra) reports: “My aunt told me that she placed some water for the Prophet (pbuh) to bathe after sexual uncleanness. The Prophet (pbuh) [while bathing] started with washing his hands two or three times. Then taking some water from the utensil with his right hand, poured some water on his private parts, cleaning these with his left hand. Then he thoroughly rubbed his left hand on the floor [to clean it]. Then he performed ablution, as it is performed for prayers. Then he poured three handfuls of water over his head. Then he washed his whole body. Then stepping aside, he washed his feet.
11- Washing the Corpse
Washing a corpse, before burial, is also a part of the religious customs and traditions promoted by the previous prophets of God. Although it suffices to thoroughly pour water over the dead body, yet in view of the extraordinary importance of cleanliness and physical cleansing, the corpse should be washed as thoroughly as possible. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
اغْسِلْنَهَا ثَلاَثًا أَوْ خَمْسًا أَوْ أَكْثَرَ مَنْ ذَلِكَ إِنْ رَأَيْتُنَّ ذَلِكَ بِمَاءٍ وَسِدْرٍ، وَاجْعَلْنَ فِي الآخِرَةِ كَافُورًا أَوْ شَيْئًا مِنْ كَافُورٍ (بخاري، كتاب الجنائز)
Wash her16 with water and jujube leaves three, five or even more times, if you would. And the last time you wash her, mix some camphor in the water as well.
According to another narrative, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
اغْسِلْنَهَا وِتْرًا، ثَلاَثًا أَوْ خَمْسًا أَوْ سَبْعًا، ابْدَأْنَ بِمَيَامِنِهَا وَمَوَاضِعِ الْوُضُوءِ مِنْهَا (بخاري، كتاب الجنائز)
Wash her in odd numbers, three, five or seven times. Start with her right side and wash those parts first, which are washed during ablution for prayers.
12- Shrouding the Corpse
Shrouding the corpse, after washing it, is also a part of the Abrahamic tradition of religion17. Even though the corpse may be shrouded simply in a single sheet of cloth, yet as a show of honor and regard for the dead, it is highly recommended that this shrouding be done with special care. According to a narrative ascribed to Ayesha (ra), the Prophet (pbuh) was shrouded in three sheets of white cotton and there was no shirt or head covering on him, when he was laid to rest18. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
إِذَا كَفَّنَ أَحَدُكُمْ أَخَاهُ فَلْيُحْسِنْ كَفَنَهُ (مسلم، كتاب الجنائز)
When one of you shrouds his dead brother, he should shroud him in the best of manners.
13- Burying the Dead
The method adopted and promoted by the prophets of God, for laying the dead to rest is burial in the ground in a grave, which is dug specially for this purpose19. The details of the method of burial or the exact architecture of the grave have not been determined by the Prophet (pbuh). Any method may, therefore, be adopted for the purpose. The grave may be a straight pit covered with blocks, to avoid direct contact of dirt with the corpse or it may be an angled pit20. The corpse may or may not be placed in a coffin, before burial. The Prophet (pbuh), however, expressed his dislike toward construction of a mausoleum over the grave and making a permanent structures and writing inscriptions over it21. It has also been reported in a few narratives that after laying the dead to rest, the Prophet (pbuh) would put three handfuls of dust in the grave, at the side of the corpse’s head22. It has also been reported that while laying the dead in the grave, the Prophet (pbuh) would say: بسمالله وعلى سنة رسلوالله (Bismillahi wa `alaa Sunnati Rasoolillahi)23. The Prophet (pbuh) is also reported to have directed others to say these words24. It has also been reported in a few narratives that after the burial, the Prophet (pbuh) would ask the Muslims to pray for the forgiveness and salvation of their dead brother. In one of the narratives, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
اسْتَغْفِرُوا لأَخِيكُمْ وَسَلُوا لَهُ التَّثْبِيتَ فَإِنَّهُ الآنَ يُسْأَلُ (أبو داود، كتاب الجنائز)
Ask forgiveness for your brother and pray for his steadfastness, as now he is faced with his accountability.
14- Eid al-Adhaa and Eid al-Fitr25
These two annual festivals were initiated by the Prophet (pbuh), according to the directives of God. A few annual festivals have been mentioned in the books of history as a part of the socio-religious tradition of the Arab polytheists. In the same manner, a few celebrations have also remained a part of the Jewish traditions, however, according to the Torah and other scriptures, it is clear that all these festivals were, in fact, in commemoration of certain events of national significance in the history of the Israelites. Through the last revelation of His guidance to man, God promulgated the two Eid days as religious celebrations. Both these celebrations, which God recognized and promoted in His final Shari`ah, through the Prophet (pbuh), are connected to the two most significant events of submission to God’s will and piety. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated every year at the end of the month of Ramadhan (the month of fasting), on the first day of Shawwal (the month following the month of Ramadhan), after the Muslims have completed the prescribed fasting during Ramadhan. Eid al-Adha is celebrated on the 10th of Dhulhajj (the last month of the Muslim calendar, during which the Muslims undertake the pilgrimage of the Ka`bah), in commemoration of the great sacrifice of Abraham (pbuh).
According to some historical narratives, it has been reported that both these festivals were first initiated after the Prophet (pbuh)’s migration and the establishment of the first Muslim state in Medinah. In one such narrative, Hadhrat Anas (ra) is reported to have said:
قَدِمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمَدِينَةَ وَلَهُمْ يَوْمَانِ يَلْعَبُونَ فِيهِمَا فَقَالَ ”مَا هَذَانِ الْيَوْمَانِ.” قَالُوا كُنَّا نَلْعَبُ فِيهِمَا فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ. فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ”إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَبْدَلَكُمْ بِهِمَا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمَا يَوْمَ الأَضْحَى وَيَوْمَ الْفِطْرِ.” (أبو داود، كتاب الصلاة)
When the Prophet (pbuh) reached Medinah, people used to observe two festivals, in which they would play games and have fun. The Prophet (pbuh) asked them: ‘What is the significance of these two days?’ People told him: ‘Since the pre-Islamic days, these have been our days of celebration and games’. The Prophet (pbuh) said: God has replaced these days with two other days: the day of the Eid al-Adha and the day of the Eid al-Fitr.
A few actions were promulgated by the Prophet (pbuh) through his Sunnah for all Muslims to observe with reference to these days. These actions include:
- Zaka’h al-Fitr;
- The address and the prayer on the Eid days; and
- Declaring God’s praise and His greatness, after each prayer during the three days26 following the Eid al-Adha.
The Zaka’h al-Fitr is to be paid during the last days of Ramadhan, before the Eid. The amount to be paid as Zaka’h al-Fitr has been prescribed at one day’s food requirements of a person. It is to be paid for each person, whether young or old, in one’s household. During the days of the Prophet (pbuh), it was, generally, prescribed in terms of grain. It was prescribed by the Prophet (pbuh) at approximately two and a half kilograms of any of the more popular grains. According to one of the narratives reported by Bukhari:
فَرَضَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم زَكَاةَ الْفِطْرِ صَاعًا مِنْ تَمْرٍ، أَوْ صَاعًا مِنْ شَعِيرٍ عَلَى الْعَبْدِ وَالْحُرِّ، وَالذَّكَرِ وَالأُنْثَى، وَالصَّغِيرِ وَالْكَبِيرِ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ، وَأَمَرَ بِهَا أَنْ تُؤَدَّى قَبْلَ خُرُوجِ النَّاسِ إِلَى الصَّلاَةِ. (بخاري، كتاب الزكاة، باب فرض صدقة الفطر)
The Prophet (pbuh) prescribed Zaka’h al-Fitr at a Saa`27 of dates or barley upon every Muslim: whether slave or free, man or woman, grown-up or a child. He also directed that it should be distributed before going for prayers28 on the Eid day.
According to Abd Allah ibn Abbas (ra), the Prophet (pbuh) prescribed the payment of the Zaka’h al-Fitr as atonement or penance for any wrongdoings during the month of Ramadhan as well as for making arrangements for the food of the deprived29.
The details regarding the Eid address and prayer shall be covered in the article regarding the ‘Forms of Islamic Worship’.
Praising and glorifying God after each prayer has been prescribed without fixing any specific words for such praise and glorification. This implies that any words may be used for such declaration30. The days during which such declaration is formally prescribed are the same, which have been prescribed for staying at Minaa, after the sacrifice during Hajj. These days are also considered to be a part of the Eid celebrations after the 10th of Dhul Hajj.
Both the festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adhaa are special occasions for the remembrance of God and expressing gratitude towards Him as well as for celebration, enjoyment and entertainment. According to Hadhrat Ayesha (ra), once when Abu Bakr (ra) tried to stop some young girls from singing songs in the Prophet (pbuh)’s house, he said:
يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ، إِنَّ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ عِيدًا، وَإِنَّ عِيدَنَا هَذَا الْيَوْمُ. (بخاري، كتاب الجمعة، باب سنة العيدين باب سنة العيدين لأهل الإسلام)
Abu Bakr, every nation has a day of celebration. This is our day of celebration [therefore, let these girls entertain themselves].
According to some of the narratives reported in the various compilations, the Prophet (pbuh)’s general routine on these days was as under:
On the day of Eid al-Fitr, the Prophet (pbuh) would eat a few dates (in odd numbers) before leaving for the Eid congregation and prayer31.
On the day of Eid al-Adhaa, the Prophet (pbuh) would not eat anything before the Eid congregation and prayer32.
On both these occasions, the Prophet (pbuh) would take a separate route while approaching and returning from the place of the Eid congregation and prayers33.
The Mosaic Traditions
Some of the customs and traditions explained above form an integral part of the Mosaic laws as well. Information regarding these traditions are scattered in the various source books of the Jewish traditions. For instance, according to the Encyclopedia of Judaism, a benediction before and after meals is an essential custom among the Jews. The Encyclopedia writes:
In Hebrew, this blessing is popularly known as ha- motsi since the text reads: “Blessed are You, O Lord… who brings forth [ha-motsi] bread from the earth.” Based on Ps. 104:14, the wording used was fixed by the sages (Ber. 6.1, 38a). Pronouncing this benediction accords with the rabbinic view that “it is forbidden and sacrilegious for anyone to enjoy [the good things] of this world without a blessing” (Ber. 35a), and that failure to recite a benediction over food is tantamount to “defrauding the Almighty” (Tosef. Ber. 4.1)…
… When several people join together in a meal, the householder or oldest male present recites the Grace and then distributes portions of the loaf to everyone else. In non-Orthodox circles this function may be performed by a woman. The act of saying Grace before a meal automatically exempts one from having to recite any other benedictions at table, apart from the statutory blessings over wine and fruit. When the piece of bread eaten is equivalent to the size of an olive, the recitation of Grace After Meals becomes obligatory. Except during the New Year season… (The Encyclopedia of Judaism, Grace Before Meals)
The Encyclopedia further writes:
These Birkhot ha-Nehenin (“Benedictions for Enjoyment”) are traced to sources in the Bible which allude to an expression of thanksgiving before and after eating (1Sam. 9:13; Deut. 8:10). The Talmud adds that “it is forbidden to taste anything before making a benediction,” since the bounty and fullness of the earth belong to God (Ps. 24:1) and not offering thanks for their enjoyment is tantamount to stealing from Him (Ber. 35a). (Encyclopedia of Judaism, Benedictions)
In response to my question regarding the adherence of the modern Jews to the custom of offering a benediction before eating, Ms. Alifa Saadiya34 responded with the following:
Jews recite a special “blessing” using a traditional form always begins: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe-and-Time…” After that, the formula varies according to whether one is eating a meal, a specific food, taking a drink, or performing some activity commanded by the Torah, or certain other things (e.g., there is a special blessing recited after we wash after using the toilet).
Any meal at which bread is served, begins by washing the hands and saying a blessing for that, then, without speaking on any other matter, one proceeds to say the blessing over bread: “Blessed are You, etc., …who brings forth bread from the earth.” After this, the whole meal is served, then the hands are rinsed again (but no blessing is required for this), and a long Grace after Meals is recited or sung, which includes many passages from the Torah, the Psalms, and other parts of the Bible, along with many expressions of gratitude to God for providing all creatures with sustenance, for Jerusalem, for the Sabbath and Holy Days, and at the end, various petitions – for an honorable livelihood, for health, for peace among family members, to return Jews to their land, to restore Jerusalem, to bring the Messiah, to bring peace. There is a slightly different wording, depending on which Jewish community one comes from, Ashkenazi (European), Sefardi (Spanish or Oriental Jews), etc.
Whenever we eat outside of formal meals (that is, those at which bread is served), we also say special blessings for different types of food: wine and grape products, grains, vegetables, fruits, and everything else. There are short blessings to be recited after eating these.
According to Matthew, Jesus (pbuh) strictly adhered to this custom. The Gospel reads:
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples… (Matthew 26: 26)
In his commentary on the Bible, Adam Clarke, while explaining this verse writes:
Our Lord here conforms himself to that constant Jewish custom, viz. of acknowledging God as the author of every good and perfect gift, by giving thanks on taking the bread and taking the cup at their ordinary meals. For every Jew was forbidden to eat, drink, or use any of God’s creatures without rendering him thanks; and he who acted contrary to this command was considered as a person who was guilty of sacrilege. From this custom we have derived the decent and laudable one of saying grace (gratas thanks) before and after meat35. The Jewish form of blessing, probably that which our Lord used on this occasion, none of my readers will be displeased to find here, though it has been mentioned once before. On taking the bread they say:- Baruch atta Elohinoo, Melech, haolam, ha motse Lechem min haarets. Blessed be thou, our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread out of the earth! Likewise, on taking the cup, they say:- Baruch Elohinoo, Melech, haolam, Bore perey haggephen. Blessed be our God, the King of the universe, the Creator of the fruit it of the vine!
The Mohammedans copy their example, constantly saying before and after meat:- Bismillahi arahmani arraheemi. In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, Matthew 26: 26)
Regarding the importance of the Right hand, the Encyclopedia Judaica writes:
Although there does exist some evidence that the left was regarded as “sinister” in the Talmud, the general opinion, both in halakhah and aggadah, is merely that the right is more important and significant than the left. The word yad (“hand”), without qualification, was taken to refer always to the right hand, as the word ezba (“finger”) to the index finger of the right hand (Zev. 24a). All religious duties had normally to be performed with the right hand (or foot). (Encyclopedia Judaica, ‘Right and Left’)
The Talmud says:
Our Rabbis taught: When one puts on his shoes, he must put on the right first and then the left; when he removes [them], he must remove the left [first] and then the right. When one washes, he must [first] wash the right [hand, foot] and then the left. When one anoints [himself] with oil, he must anoint the right and then the left. (Berachoth 62a)
The mutual greetings of the Jews, as is well known, is with the words “Shalom `aleka” or “Shalom Aleichem”. It is clear that it is exactly the same as the one adhered to by the Muslims.
In her response to my question regarding the Jewish greetings, Ms. Alifa Saady wrote:
In general, most people don’t use a particular greeting, although “Shalom aleikhem” is used a lot, especially in very religiously observant communities. The response is “Aleikhem Shalom” (“Peace be with you.” and “And with you, Peace.”) I would say that one encounters this greeting mostly in a religious setting – at a synagogue, or for some holy day occasion, or at a circumcision or wedding. In everyday Israel, most people go straight to asking “Ma nishma?” (How are you?) and say goodbye with “L’hitraot” (“until we meet again”). Sometimes, a vestige of “God be with you” creeps in when people say, “L’hitraot ‘bye” (because in English, Good-bye means “God be with you.”)
Regarding the mutual greetings, the Talmud writes:
R. Helbo further said in the name of R. Huna: If one knows that his friend is used to greet him, let him greet him first. For it is said: Seek peace and pursue it. And if his friend greets him and he does not return the greeting he is called a robber. (Berechoth 6b)
Thus, as in the Muslim tradition, the Jewish tradition prescribes the greeting as well as returning or responding to it. Moreover, the greeting as well as the response to it is absolutely the same in the Jewish tradition, as is followed by the Muslims.
The Encyclopedia of Judaism writes:
As the Bible indicates, many forms of salutation and well-wishing were current in ancient Israel, often consisting of merely two or three words (Gen. 24:31; Deut. 31:23; Ruth 2:4). By rabbinic times, such Hebrew greetings had been extended occasionally with new phrases in Aramaic; and, from the Middle Ages, these were sometimes given Yiddish equivalents among the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe. The Hebrew term which most commonly figures in such expressions is ‘shalom’ (Peace), since it is closely associated with man’s health, well-being, and natural state of mind. According to the sages, a person’s character may be gauged from his walk, dress, and way of greeting others; if possible, one should “be the first to greet” (Avot. 4.15) and “he who fails to return a greeting is considered a robber” (Ber. 6b). (Encyclopedia of Judaism, Greetings, Congratulations and Good Wishes)
Regarding the blessing following a sneeze, the Encyclopedia Judaica writes:
Another social custom prevalent among Jews is to say “God bless you” (the exclamation asuta meaning “health”) to anyone who sneezes. This custom is associated with the legend that in antiquity sneezing was a sign, which forebode the sneezer’s forthcoming death, but which no longer prevailed after the time of Jacob… The origin of the custom, however, is not confined to Jews. (Encyclopedia Judaica, ‘Folklore’)
In response to my request for information regarding this custom, Ms. Saadya wrote:
… an ancient Jewish tradition relates that in the time of the biblical Patriarchs, people would actually die if they sneezed! So, the response is usually, here in Israel, to say “Labriut!” (to your health), or the Yiddish version, “Gesundheit!” or even the English, “God bless you!”
Regarding the recitation of a prayer in the ears of a new born child, Ms. Alifa Saadya wrote:
You wrote about the custom of reciting the declaration of belief in a newborn baby’s ears. In Judaism, too, there is a custom to recite the Sh’ma (“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One”)36 in a baby’s ear when first meeting him or her. I have encountered this primarily among Sephardi Jews.
Regarding the trimming of the moustaches, the Talmud reads:
Abitol the hair-dresser said in the name of Rab that [trimming the] upper lip means from corner37 to corner; [and of the drooping ends too, all that causes inconvenience]. Said R. Ammi, And as regards the upper lip [it also means only] whatever part causes inconvenience. Said R. Nahman b. Isaac, And to me [all of it] is like the [end of the] upper lip causing inconvenience. (Mo’ed Katan 18a)
Trimming of moustaches is also referred to in one of the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Clement of Alexandria writes:
About the hair, the following seems right. Let the head of men be shaven, unless it has curly hair. But let the chin have the hair. But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets. For an ample beard suffices for men. And if one, too, shave a part of his beard, it must not be made entirely bare, for this is a disgraceful sight. The shaving of the chin to the skin is reprehensible, approaching to plucking out the hair and smoothing. For instance, thus the Psalmist, delighted with the hair of the beard, says, “As the ointment that descends on the beard, the beard of Aaron.”
Having celebrated the beauty of the beard by a repetition, he made the face to shine with the ointment of the Lord.
Since cropping is to be adopted not for the sake of elegance, but on account of the necessity of the case; the hair of the head, that it may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes, and that of the moustache similarly, which is dirtied in eating, is to be cut round, not by the razor, for that were not well-bred, but by a pair of cropping scissors. But the hair on the chin is not to be disturbed, as it gives no trouble, and lends to the face dignity and paternal terror. (Early Church Fathers, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, Fathers of the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Although there exists no positive evidence for the custom of paring nails, yet it is clear that untrimmed hair and unpaired nails were considered to be a symbol of one’s grief, which obviously implies that clipping one’s nails was generally observed as a part of hygiene and cleanliness38.
Cutting nails was also a part of the Jewish baptism:
The baptism was to be performed in the presence of three witnesses, ordinarily Sanhedrists (Yebam. 47 b), but in case of necessity others might act. The person to be baptized, having cut his hair and nails, undressed completely, made fresh proffession of his faith before what were ‘the fathers of the baptism’ (our Godfathers, Kethub. 11 a; Erub. 15 a), and then immersed completely, so that every part of the body was touched by the water. The rite would, of course, be accompanied by exhortations and benedictions (Maimonides, Hilkh. Milah 3:4; Hilkh. Iss. Biah 14:6). (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 2, Appendix XII, Alfred Edersheim)
Circumcision is referred to in the Bible as being first directed to Abraham (pbuh). Genesis says:
God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (17: 9 – 14)
The same directive was repeated to Moses in the following words:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.'” (Leviticus 12: 1 – 3)
Explaining the Jewish custom in more detail the Encyclopedia Judaica writes:
It is a Jewish father’s duty to have his son circumcised (Sh. Ar., YD 260:1). Should he neglect to do so, it devolved on the bet din39 (ibid., 260:2). It is not a sacrament, and any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not. Although circumcision may be performed by any Jew (or Jewess if no male is available: Maim. Yad, Milah, 2:1), in the first instance it is desirable that the operator, called a mohel, be a loyal adherent to the tenets of Judaism (Sh. Ar., YD 264:1). Even in Talmudic times, he was described as a craftsman. In most modern communities, he has been specially trained in the principles of asepsis and in the technique of circumcision and has received rabbinic recognition. The operation must be performed on the eighth day, preferably early in the morning (YD 262:1), thus emulating Abraham in his eagerness to undertake a divine command. Should the child be premature or in poor health, the rite must be postponed until seven days after he has recovered from a general disease or until immediately after recovery from a local disorder (262:2 – 263:3). Should a child for any reason have been circumcised before the eighth day or have been born already circumcised (i.e., without a foreskin), the ceremony of “shedding the blood of the covenant” (hattafat dam berit) must be performed on the eighth day, provided it is a weekday and the child is fit (263:4). This is done by puncturing the skin of the glans with a scalpel or needle and allowing a drop of blood to exude. If the eighth day is a Sabbath or festival, the circumcision must nevertheless take place (266:2) unless the child is born by Caesarean section, when it is postponed to the next weekday. There are special laws relating to the time of circumcision of a child born during twilight of the Sabbath or festival (262: 4 – 6). There was a talmudic disputation as to whether preparations for the operation that are forbidden on the Sabbath may be undertaken on that day, if they have been previously omitted (Shab. 130a-132b).
… The child is brought from the mother by the godmother and handed over at the door of the room to the godfather who, in turn, hands it to the mohel. Before this, the child is welcomed by the congregation with Barukh ha-Ba (“Blessed be he that comes”) and the Sephardim40 sing a piyyut41 in which those who keep the covenant are blessed. The mohel places the baby for a moment on the Chair of Elijah, after which it is placed on a pillow on the knees of the sandak (“holder”). The infant’s legs are held firmly by the sandak; the mohel, having previously thoroughly scrubbed and immersed his hands in a disinfectant solution, takes a firm grip of the foreskin with his left hand. Having determined the amount to be removed, he fixes the shield on it to protect the glans from injury. The knife, sometimes double-edged, is then taken in the right hand and the foreskin is amputated with one sweep along the shield. This discloses the mucous membrane, the edge of which is then grasped firmly between the thumbnail and index finger of each hand and is torn down the center as far as the corona. This part of the operation is called peri’ah. Sometimes this maneuver is performed with scissors, but it is known that a lacerated wound is much less likely to bleed than a cut wound.
… The next stage is the performance of mezizah (“suction”). This has led to much controversy in recent years. Throughout the ages this was done by suction by the mouth in order, according to Maimonides, to remove the blood from the distant parts of the wound (Maim. Yad, Milah, 2:2). It was the recognized method of disinfection at the time. A mohel who refrained from performing it was considered to be endangering the life of the child, and had to be debarred from practice. Toward the middle of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century cases of syphilis, tuberculosis, and diphtheria occurring in infants were ascribed to infection from mohalim using this method of suction. This has been contested by a few Jewish doctors, and some communities still follow the original practice. The Paris Consistoire abolished mezizah in 1843. The method now authorized by most rabbinical courts is for mezizah to be performed either by a swab or through a glass tube, preferably containing a small piece of absorbent cotton. The rounded end of the tube is placed firmly over the penis, pressed firmly over the area of the pubis, and suction by the mouth is carried out through the flattened end of the tube or through a rubber attachment. This is followed by the application of a sterile dressing, and the readjustment of the diaper.
Immediately after the actual circumcision the father recites the benediction “Who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments and hast commanded us to make our sons enter into the covenant of Abraham our father.” In Israel this is followed by the She-Heheyanu benediction. The congregated guests reply “Even as this child has entered into the covenant so may he enter into the Torah, the nuptial canopy, and into good deeds.”
Although the dressing of the wound does not form a statutory part of the rite, the sages took an active interest in the incidence of hemorrhage after the operation. According to Katznelson hemophilia was recognized in talmudic times, because there is a law that a mother who has lost two children from the unquestionable effects of circumcision, must not have her next sons operated on until they are older and better able to undergo the operation. Moreover, should two sisters each have lost a son from the effects of circumcision, the other sisters must not have their sons circumcised (Sh. Ar., YD 263:2-3).
The child is then handed to the father or to an honored guest, and the mohel, holding a goblet of wine, recites the benediction for wine and a second benediction praising God who established a covenant with His people Israel. The mohel then recites a prayer for the welfare of the child during the course of which the name of the child is announced. Naming a child at the circumcision is an ancient custom already mentioned in Luke 1:59. It is customary for the mohel to give the infant a few drops of wine to drink. The ceremony is followed by a festive meal at which special hymns are sung, and in the Grace after Meals blessings are recited for the parents, the sandak and the mohel. (Circumcision)
Quite predictably, Jesus (pbuh) referred to this tradition approvingly, without even a shade of disapproval. According to John 7: 22, Jesus (pbuh) said:
Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
Nevertheless, immediately after Jesus (pbuh), there arose a debate among the apostles regarding whether or not should they prescribe circumcision for the adult converts. The Acts of the Apostles has briefly narrated this debate among the apostles. It reads:
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord – even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago. Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. (Acts 15: 1 – 20)
It can easily be derived from the above cited discussion between the apostles that Jesus (pbuh) himself had given no directive against circumcision. In fact, Jesus (pbuh) had not even hinted toward the discontinuation of the Abrahamic tradition. Moreover, it is also clear that the above discussion did not result in the decision of the complete abolition of the said tradition; on the contrary, it was actually an allowance granted by the apostles to the adult converts in view of the fact that such a strong directive was likely to dissuade them from believing in the message of the new prophet.
Subsequently, Paul started propagating the abolition of the Mosaic Law, including the directive regarding circumcision. Acts 21: 18 – 25 reads as:
The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 21: 18 – 25)
Finally, Paul unequivocally declared the redundancy of the Mosaic law and publicly started dissuading the new converts from adhering to it:
… Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians 5: 2 – 6)
Many Apostolic Fathers have commented on and have tried to prove the discontinuation of circumcision among the followers of the Christ. Nevertheless, they have all failed to present even a single clear directive of Jesus (pbuh) in which he is reported to have disapproved the said practice, in particular, or adherence to the Mosaic Law, in general. The most that has been said about circumcision is that it actually signifies removing the foreskin of one’s heart and, thereby, submitting to the directives of the Almighty42). Nevertheless, they have clearly omitted the point that even if ‘circumcision’ is taken to be symbolic of ‘the heart’, it does not by itself refute the Abrahamic custom; on the contrary, it only proves that the concept of circumcision remains incomplete, if it does not encompass that of the heart. It does not, by itself, imply that the spirit of the directive suffices for the symbol as well.
It is, in fact, on the basis of the foregoing arguments that the Muslim mind holds the abolition of the Mosaic Laws and Practices as a part of the innovations of Paul, which absolutely lack the support of Jesus (pbuh).
Although not much could be found regarding cleaning the mouth, nose and teeth, yet, the Encyclopedia Judaica states:
The rabbis considered the human body as a sanctuary (Ta’an. 11a-b). They stressed the importance of good and regular meals (Shab. 140b), and gave much advice on the types of food conducive to good health (Hul. 84a; Ber. 40a, Av. Zar. 11a), and on the care of teeth (Ber. 4b; Shab. 111a; TJ, Av. Zar. 3:6). (Hygiene)
Likewise, there is not much reference to wiping or washing the organs after urination or defecation. Nevertheless, there is a brief reference to it in the Talmud. The Talmud reads:
It has been taught: R. Akiba said: Once I went in after R. Joshua to a privy, and I learnt from him three things. I learnt that one does not sit east and west but north and south; I learnt that one evacuates not standing but sitting; and I learnt that it is proper to wipe with the left hand and not with the right43. (Ber. 62a)
As far as the menstruation (and puerperal bleeding) of a woman is concerned, the Torah has expressly declared it to be uncleanness and has directed for the discontinuation of sexual relations between husband and wife during these days. Leviticus 20: 18 reads as:
If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them shall be cut off from among their people. (Leviticus 20: 18)
Thus, as is clear from the cited part of the Torah, sexual relation with a menstruous woman was a punishable crime according to the Torah44
h. However, it is also clear from the Torah that the uncleanness of a woman during her menstrual periods did not merely result in the discontinuation of sexual relations, but actually required a woman to be completely secluded from the rest of the household. Leviticus 15: 19 – 33 reads as:
When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. If a man actually lies with her so that her menstrual impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time. Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. When she becomes clean from her discharge, she shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she will be clean. Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting. The priest shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the LORD because of her impure discharge. Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them. This is the law for the one with a discharge, and for the man who has a seminal emission so that he is unclean by it, and for the woman who is ill because of menstrual impurity, and for the one who has a discharge, whether a male or a female, or a man who lies with an unclean woman.
The Torah has also mentioned the uncleanness of the woman during her puerperal discharge. The Torah says:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days. When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female. But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean. (Leviticus 12: 1 – 8)
The Encyclopedia Judaica says:
According to Jewish law, a woman is forbidden to maintain sexual relations with her husband during and for some time both before and after (see below) her menses.
… In brief, the halakhah as at present codified is that sexual intercourse (and any other intimacies which may lead to it) is forbidden from the time the woman expects her menses until seven clean days (i.e., days on which no blood whatsoever is seen) have elapsed. For this purpose a minimum of five days is fixed for the menses themselves. Thus the minimum period of separation is 12 days. In the evening of the seventh day without sign of blood the woman immerses herself in a mikveh45 and normal marital relations are resumed until the next menses are expected. Any bleeding is considered as menstrual and requires a waiting period of seven clean days. (Niddah46)
It is also clear from the above excerpt that a ritual bathing (called ‘mikveh’) should be performed after the discontinuation of the menstrual or puerperal bleeding.
At another instance, the Encyclopedia Judaica explains:
Total immersion47) also came to form part of the ceremony of conversion to Judaism, although there is a difference of opinion concerning whether it.is required for males in addition to circumcision, or in lieu of it (Yev. 46a). Since the destruction of the Temple, or shortly thereafter, the laws of impurity have been in abeyance. The reason is that the ashes of the red heifer, which are indispensible for the purification ritual, are no longer available. Thus, everybody is now considered ritually impure. The only immersions still prescribed are those of the niddah and the proselyte, because these do not require the ashes of the red heifer and because the removal of the impurity concerned is necessary also for other than purely sacral purposes (entry into the Temple area, eating of “holy” things). The niddah is thereby permitted to have sexual relations and the proselyte is endowed with the full status of the Jew.
In addition to the cases mentioned in the Bible, the rabbis ordained that after any seminal discharge, whether or not resulting from copulation, total immersion is required in order to be ritually pure again for prayer or study of the Torah. Since this was a rabbinical institution, immersion in drawn water or even pouring 9 kav (approx. 4½ gallons) of water over the body was considered sufficient. The ordinance was attributed to Ezra (BK 82a, b) but it did not find universal acceptance and was later officially abolished (Ber. 2lb-22a; Maim. Yad, Keri’at Shema 4:8). Nevertheless, the pious still observe this ordinance.
From amongst the early Christian scholars Thomas Aquinas considers the prohibition of establishing sexual relations with one’s wife during her menstruation as a prohibition, which the Christians are also required to observe. Aquinas writes:
It was forbidden in the Law to approach to a menstruous woman, for two reasons both on account of her uncleanness, and on account of the harm that frequently resulted to the offspring from such intercourse. With regard to the first reason, it was a ceremonial precept, but with regard to the second it was a moral precept. For since marriage is chiefly directed to the good of the offspring, all use of marriage which is intended for the good of the offspring is in order. Consequently this precept is binding even in the New Law on account of the second reason, although not on account of the first. Now, the menstrual issue may be natural or unnatural. The natural issue is that to which women are subject at stated periods when they are in good health; and it is unnatural when they suffer from an issue of blood through some disorder resulting from sickness. Accordingly, if the menstrual flow be unnatural it is not forbidden in the New Law to approach to a menstruous woman both on account of her infirmity since a woman in that state cannot conceive, and because an issue of this kind is lasting and continuous, so that the husband would have to abstain for always. When however the woman is subject to a natural issue of the menstruum, she can conceive; moreover, the said issue lasts only a short time, wherefore it is forbidden to approach to her. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement to Vol. 6, Question 64, A(3).)
Regarding the death rites, the Encyclopedia of Judaism says:
Attending to the dead is considered the most selfless of the commandments in the Torah. According to the rabbis, the respect and care given the newly deceased stems from the belief that man was created in the image of God; although the life is now gone, the human form must be respected for having once embodied a Divine spirit. (Corpse)
It further writes:
The Encyclopedia, at another instance, writes:
After members of the burial society have taken charge of the body, they prepare it for burial, washing it thoroughly in a process known as Tohorah (or taharah, i.e., ritual purification) and then dressing it in a white-linen shroud (takhrikhin)… Finally, the shrouded corpse is placed either in a coffin or on a bier prior to the funeral service. According to the most ancient practice, still observed in Israel and by some Eastern Sephardi Jews, no coffin is used and burial takes place directly in the earth. A coffin was used, however, for the burial of Joseph (Gen. 50: 26) and this type of burial was accepted by talmudic times. Maimonides ruled that Jews should be buried in wooden coffins (Yad, Evel 4.4), as is now general practice throughout the Diaspora and, for state and military funerals, in Israel as well. Observant Jews only permit the use of a plain wooden coffin (aron), with no metal handles or adornments, lined ornamental “caskets” being prohibited. Following the example of R. Judah ha-Nasi (TJ Kil. 9.4), some arrange for holes to be drilled in the base of the coffin so that the body may have more direct contact with the earth. Whether in a coffin or on a bier, the deceased is borne to the grave face upward; adult males are buried wearing their prayer shawl (tallit), one of the fringes having been removed or deliberately marred in order to render the prayer shawl unfit. In some Eastern communities, the deceased Jew’s phylacteries (tefillin) are also buried with him. (burial)
It is also well known that the Christians generally observed the burial rite and, not until very recently, they did not allow for cremation of the dead.
© Copyright December, 2000. All Rights Reserved with the Author
- According to the Qur’an, those who shall stand successful on the Day of Judgment, shall receive the records of their deeds in their right hands, while the doomed shall receive their records in their left hands (see Al-Haaqqah 69: 19 – 22 [↩]
- See Al-Waaqi`ah 56: 27 – 40. [↩]
- Lit: ‘peace be upon you (all)’. [↩]
- Lit: ‘and upon you too may be peace’. [↩]
- Lit: ‘all praise/gratitude is due to God’. [↩]
- Lit: ‘may God have mercy on you’ or ‘may God bless you’. [↩]
- The public call to prayers. [↩]
- The local announcement of the initiation of prayers, for the purpose of alerting those who have come to the mosque to offer their prayers with the congregation. [↩]
- The Adhaan begins with the declaration of the fact that God is the biggest and the highest authority and, therefore, deserves our submission and obedience the most. After this, a declaration of the oneness of God and the prophethood of Mohammed (pbuh) is made, which is followed by a call to God’s worship – in the style taught by the Prophet (pbuh) – which guarantees eternal success. In the end, once again the declaration of God’s incomparable greatness and His oneness is repeated to symbolize the all-encompassing nature of the belief of Tawheed (oneness of God) in Islam. The same words are repeated in the Iqaamah, except for the addition after the call to the worship of God – and, through that, to eternal success – of a few words, declaring that the congregation is about to get under way. This declaration is for the purpose of alerting people to gather themselves up and to be prepared for the most exalted task of God’s worship. [↩]
- “Al-Mufassal fi Taarikh al-Arab Qabl al-Islam”, (Arabic) Dr. Jawwad Ali, Vol. 6, Pg. 346. [↩]
- That is, a man due to his natural inclination of keeping himself clean should strictly adhere to them. [↩]
- “Al-Mufassal fi Taarikh al-Arab Qabl al-Islam”, (Arabic) Dr. Jawwad Ali, Vol. 6, Pg. 346. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Al-Maaidah 5: 6, “If you are sexually unclean, bathe yourselves carefully.” [↩]
- Both the Arabic verbs have the same connotation of bathing with special care. [↩]
- It was the corpse of his baby daughter. [↩]
- Washing and shrouding a Muslim’s corpse, under normal circumstances, is an obligation upon the relatives of the dead or, in their absence, of the Muslim community, in general. However, if due to some extraordinary circumstances, it becomes difficult or cumbersome to wash and shroud the corpse, then the body may be buried without washing or shrouding. It is reported in Bukhari, that the Prophet (pbuh) directed the Muslims to bury the martyrs of Uhud without washing or shrouding. The Muslim jurists have, generally, interpreted the directive of the Prophet (pbuh) to be related exclusively to martyrs. Nevertheless, the referred directive of the Prophet (pbuh) actually seems to be a general exception, based on the principle of providing ease under such circumstances in which it becomes difficult and cumbersome to follow the actual directive. This principle of providing ease under difficult circumstances is common to all directives of Islam. [↩]
- Reported in Bukhari, Kitaab Al-Janaayiz. [↩]
- As in the case of laving or washing the corpse and shrouding it, this method of laying the dead to rest in a grave is also recommended and prescribed under normal circumstances. Thus, in case of death in the open seas, there may be no other option but to set the body adrift in the waters. [↩]
- In such a grave, there is a side ways cleft at its bottom. The corpse is laid to rest in the cleft, which saves it from direct contact with the dirt put over it. [↩]
- As reported in Muslim, Kitaab al-Janaayiz; and Ibn Maajah, Kitaab al-Janaayiz. [↩]
- As reported in Ibn Maajah, Kitaab al-Janaayiz. [↩]
- In the name of the one God and according to the ways of the Prophet of God. As reported in Abu Dawood, Kitaab al-Janaayiz. [↩]
- Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 2, Pg. 27, 40, 59 and 69. [↩]
- These are two annual festivals, one at the end of Ramadhan after the Muslims have completed the month of fasting and the other during the days of Hajj, in commemoration of the great sacrifice of Abraham (pbuh). [↩]
- These days are known as the “Ayyam e Tashriq” (i.e. the days of Tashreeq). [↩]
- A local measure, equal to about two and half kilograms. [↩]
- Reference is to the congregational prayers for Eid. [↩]
- Abu Dawood, Kitaab al-Zaka’h, Baab: Zaka’h al-Fitr [↩]
- The Qur’an has specially directed to praise and glorify God during these days. It seems that the Prophet (pbuh) has prescribed this declaration of God’s praise and His greatness after each prayer to serve as a reminder of the Qur’anic directive. [↩]
- Bukhari, Kitaab al-Jum`ah, Baab: Al-Akl Yawm al-Fitr Qabl al-Khurooj. [↩]
- Tirmidhi, Kitaab al-Jum`ah, Baab: Maa Ja’a fi Al-Akl Yawm al-Fitr Qabl al-Khurooj. [↩]
- Bukhari, Kitaab al-Jum`ah, Baab: Mun Khaalafa al-Tareeq Idha Raja`a Yawm al-Eid. [↩]
- Ms. Alifa Saadya – a former Christian, now a convert to Judaism – has an interest in interfaith studies and dialogue. She works as an editor and prepares books for publication for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ms. Saadya has participated in a number of conferences at the Tantur Ecumenical Theological Institute in Jerusalem, which included speakers from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Druse communities of Israel and Palestine. I am extremely grateful to Ms. Saadya for providing me with the invaluable information regarding the practices of the modern-day Jews. [↩]
- It is clear from these words that even though the Christians have forsaken the Mosaic law, yet this custom has prevailed among them as well. [↩]
- Considering this supplication closely, it seems quite possible that these words may also have been used as Adhan for the Israelites. [↩]
- The footnote on the Talmud reads as: “of the mouth”. [↩]
- The Talmud says: “And just as it was said that a mourner is not allowed to crop his hair within [the period of] his mourning, so is paring the nails not allowed to him within [the period of] his mourning. This is R. Judah’s opinion; but R. Jose allows it… Phineas, Mar Samuel’s brother, suffered a bereavement and Samuel called on him to ask him the cause of it. Noticing that his nails were long, he asked him why he had not cut them. He replied: Had this happened to you, would you have been so regardless of it [as to cut them]?” (Mas. Mo’ed Katan 17b). [↩]
- i.e. Rabbinic court of law. [↩]
- Plural of Sephardi. Jews of Spain and Portugal and their descendents, wherever resident. [↩]
- Hebrew liturgical poetry. [↩]
- The idea is clearly based upon: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked.” (Deuteronomy 4: 16) and “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” (Jeremiah 4: 4 [↩]
- It is interesting to note that according to Rabbah b. Hannah the reason for not wiping with the right hand is that the right hand is used in eating (Ber. 62a). [↩]
- Commenting on this passage, Ms. Alifa Saadya writes:
You wrote: “Thus, as is clear from the cited part of the Torah, copulation with a menstruous woman was a punishable crime according to the Torah” and in the same paragraph, “.actually required a woman to be completely secluded from the rest of the household.”
Regarding the punishment of “karet” – being “cut off” – this was not a punishment administered by any rabbinic court, but only by God. Usually it was interpreted to mean an early, unexpected death. The punishment of “karet” is between the sinner and God, and should not be speculated upon by others.
It is my understanding that at no time in Jewish history were women secluded from the rest of the household during their menstrual period. At any rate, that was the response I had when I posed the question to a rabbi several years ago.
Things that made you “impure” were, first of all, never associated with sin. Rather, impurity was a temporary condition, and always had some means of being rid of it. In practical terms, a person who had contacted some form of ritual impurity was not allowed to enter the holy precincts of the Tabernacle or Temple, nor to partake of certain of the sacrifices that were shared out among relatives and friends, and the priests. Removing the simpler types of ritual impurity usually meant waiting a certain period (“until nightfall” or whatever) and then bathing. It is important to remember that in the time of the Temple, men had as many or more opportunities to become ritually impure than women did, so there is absolutely no onus on women for having menses, heaven forfend! Things that made one ritually impure were usually things you had no control over. The concept is closer to the idea of “taboo” than anything else. In my opinion, the idea has a lot to do with the “sense of the holy” that human beings developed, with its concommitent sense that being in a holy place required one to be physically clean, dressed in a tzniut (modest) manner, and of humble heart, free from any clinging to sin. The spiritual danger was that people would be, as the Christian term is “whited sepulchres” — i.e., clean in body and dress, but full of evil thoughts hidden from view.
Regarding a husband and wife, the husband was not supposed to sit on his wife’s bed, or touch her, or share utensils, but in all other respects they could interact as usual. In fact, this is a major point being made in the books that are published for new brides — to emphasize that a relationship has many aspects outside of sex, and to encourage the growth of love and respect in _all_ areas of married life, along with the virtues of patience and self-control.
There is also a large area of halakha (Jewish law) related to the purity of “vessels” (i.e., cooking pots, etc.), and I have never studied this aspect of halakha because only some minor aspects of it apply to Jewish practice nowadays. In the time of the Temple, however, people were very careful about these matters, and in archaeological digs of the homes of the wealthy, one finds that there was a preference for using bowls and containers made of stone, because stone did not become ritually impure, as did metal and ceramic items. Even today, though, anyone who buys new utensils of metal, ceramic, or glass, takes them to a mikveh to immerse before using them.
The subject of purity of vessels raises the question, then, of what did Jewish women do who had to cook and prepare meals with various utensils when they were having their periods. And I do not know the answer, since this is no longer a practical issue, but just something that is studied in the yeshivot (schools of higher Jewish learning). [↩]
- i.e. a pool or bath of clear water, immersion in which renders ritually clean a person who has become ritually unclean through contact with the dead (Num. 19) or any other defiling object, or through an unclean flux from the body (Lev. 15) and especially a menstruant (Encyclopedia Judaica, “Mikveh”). [↩]
- i.e. menstrous woman. [↩]
- Total immersion has been defined by the Judaica as: the person or article to be purified must undergo total immersion in either mayim hayyim (“live water”), i.e., a spring, river, or sea, or a mikveh, which is a body of water of at least 40 se’ahs (approx. 120 gallons) that has been brought together by natural means, not drawn. The person or article must be clean with nothing adhering (hazizah) to him or it, and must enter the water in such a manner that the water comes into contact with the entire area of the surface. According to law one such immersion is sufficient, but three have become customary. (Judaism Practice, Ablution [↩]
- i.e. the Burial Society. [↩]
- Ritual washing of the body. [↩]