One day in Madinah, during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, a group of idolaters approached one of his followers by the name of Salman Al-Farsi., may Allah be pleased with him. They sought to ridicule the Prophets and made a mockery of his teachings. They said to Salman sarcastically, “Indeed, your companion teaches you everything, he even teaches you how to defecate!” Salman was able to get the better of them. Rather than retaliate, he used the opportunity to enlighten them. “It is so,” he responded calmly and proudly:
“The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, prohibited us from removing excrement using the right hand, or while facing the direction of prayer. The Prophet prohibited us from using dung or bones to do so, and he said not to use less than three stones (to wipe).”
With this explanation, Salman Al-Farsi elevated the status of the Prophet Muhammad by calling him “the Prophet” rather than a “companion” and acknowledging the enormous value of his teachings. He informed the idolaters that as a matter of fact, yes, the Prophet was meticulous about instructing his followers regarding the most minute details of life. The disbelievers, on the other hand, were devoid of even the most basic guidance. Due to their haughtiness, they rejected Islam, and did not gain anything from its rulings on personal hygiene, which would have benefitted them both on a spiritual and physical level.
Islamic teachings emphasize living a pure and balanced life. Undoubtedly, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, taught his followers everything they needed to know to be successful in this world and the Hereafter, including the rules of cleanliness. There is an emphasis on purification in Islam, not just of the body, but of the heart and soul. A Muslim enters this world with a clean slate and leaves it in a state of ritual purification. Just as a baby is wiped clean when it comes out of his mother's womb, a ceremonial bath is performed on the dead body in preparation for burial. Thus, a believer departs for his/her journey to the next life in a state of purity.
Throughout the Quran and Sunnah there are examples likening being clean with faith. Acts of worship cleanse the soul while maintaining good hygiene keeps our physical bodies stay clean. Both are equally important. Allah says:
“Successful indeed are those who purify themselves.”
(Surah Al-A’la, 87:14)
Likewise, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said:
“Cleanliness is half of faith…”
This hadith is recorded in Sahih Muslim, but it is interesting to note that there is a book of purification in each of the famous Kutub al-Sittah or the Sahih Sittah, the six major hadith books in Sunni Islam. These contain dozens of teachings from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, regarding Islamic hygiene – everything from proper bathroom etiquette, to how to perform wudu (ablution), and ghusl (ritual bathing). Needless to say, there are countless narrations about cleanliness in Islam in the collections of hadith, too many to enumerate in one article.
Basic Sunnahs of Cleanliness
Here are five of the basic Sunnahs of cleanliness that we can implement and teach our families.
1. Make dua for cleanliness.
Staying clean is so important that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, used to make dua for purification. Upon completion of his ablution (wudu) before prayer, he would say the following:
“O Allah, make me of those who return to You often in repentance and make me of those who remain clean and pure.”
2. Wash private parts with water.
The bidet has been trending recently after thousands of non-Muslims fans traveled to Qatar for the 2023 FIFA World Cup. After discovering that Muslims use water to cleanse themselves in the bathroom in addition or in lieu of toilet paper, everyone wanted to jump on the instinja bandwagon. Istinja is the Arabic/Islamic word for using water for cleaning the private parts after answering the call of nature. This was a practice of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and the best way to ensure ridding oneself of filth.
Abu Hurairah reported:
"When the Messenger of Allah upon whom be peace, relieved himself, I used to bring him a container of water. He would cleanse himself, then rub his hands against the soil."
(Abu Dawud, An-Nasai, Al-Baihaqi, and Ibn Majah)
The wife of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, Aisha, also reported:
“I never saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, come out from the toilet but that he cleansed with water.”
Not only was this his regular practice, but he also warned his followers about failing to clean themselves properly after using the bathroom.
Once the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by two graves and told his companions that its inhabitants were being punished. He said as for one of them, he used to backbite, and the other used to soil himself with urine (and did not clean himself properly).
3. Wash your hands regularly.
Do you remember your mother, grandmother, or aunt scolding you about washing your hands, saying, “Who knows where those hands have been?” It turns out that they were quoting the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, almost verbatim. Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet said:
“When one of you awakens from sleep, do not let him dip his hands into the vessel until he washes them three times. Verily, he does not know where his hand spent the night.”
It is the Sunnah to wash one's hands upon waking up from slumber, before and after eating, and before prayer.
In another hadith, Aisha reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, if he wanted to sleep while he was in a state of major ritual impurity, he would perform ablution. If he wanted to eat or drink, he would first wash his hands and then eat or drink.”
The scholar Ibn Qudamah said about this hadith that, “Among the manners of eating, it is recommended to wash the hands before and after eating, even if one is in a state of ritual purity.” (Al-Mughni, 7/289)
4. Eat with the right hand and clean with the left.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, advised his followers to eat with their right hands and reserve their left hand for cleaning themselves. This would safeguard the person from ingesting harmful bacteria, some of which cause food poisoning and other deadly illnesses. In addition, it prevents cross-contamination, and keeps at least one hand free of waste in the immediate absence of water and soap until one can wash his/her hands again. He instructed:
"When any of you eats, he should eat with his right hand and when he drinks, he should drink with his right hand, because Satan eats with his left hand and drinks with his left hand." (Muslim)
He also said:
“Verily, I am only like a father to you in the way that I teach you. When one of you goes to relieve himself, he should not face the direction of prayer or turn his back to it completely, and he should not cleanse himself with his right hand.”
(Sunan Abi Dawud)
Notice how the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, began his advice by telling his companions that he is like a father to them. He did not want to embarrass those under his tutelage or make them feel uncomfortable regarding proper manners when using the bathroom. Parents and educators should model the same compassion when teaching children as he did with those in his care. When the Prophet married his wife Umm Salamah, her children became his stepchildren. One of them was Umar ibn Abu Salamah, may Allah be pleased with him, who narrated that when he was eating with the Prophet his hand used to go all over the plate until he taught him:
"Mention Allah's Name (i.e., say Bismillah before starting eating), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is near you."
5. Learn the ten acts of fitrah, natural cleanliness.
There are ten rituals of cleanliness considered part of the natural inclinations of mankind called the Sunan al-Fitrah. Aisha reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Ten acts are part of natural instinct:
- trimming the mustache
- letting the beard grow
- using the tooth stick
- sniffing water into the nose
- clipping the nails
- washing the knuckles
- removing hair from the underarms
- shaving the pubic hair
- cleaning the private parts with water
- rinsing the mouth*
(* Mus’ab (one of the narrators) said, “I forgot the tenth, except that it might be rinsing the mouth.”)
Additionally, Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, who was Prophet Muhammad’s servant, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“He set a time for us to trim our mustaches, cut our nails, pluck our armpit hair, and shave our pubic hair; we were not to leave that for more than forty days.”
In recent years, due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, many reports appeared on the news and social media about the effectiveness of certain Islamic practices in combating contagious diseases. Many of the traditions were established more than 1,400 years ago through the Quran and the Sunnah to help prevent the spread of bacteria and disease.
For Muslims, maintaining good hygiene is not just an excellent habit, but part of our faith. Worship cannot occur unless a person is in a state of purification in body and soul. Physical cleanliness and spiritual well-being go hand in hand. Keeping our environment, our homes, and our people clean helps to maintain a healthy, balanced society. Alhamdulillah – all praise is for Allah – who sent us a Messenger who did not shy away from teaching us how to purify ourselves inside and out.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.