Cleanliness is one of the fundamental teachings of Islam, emphasized in both the Qur’an and Hadith. Most cultures and doctrines do have a regard for cleanliness. However, Islam goes one step further by not only prescribing cleanliness upon its followers, but declaring it to be a component of faith, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “Cleanliness is half the faith.” (Muslim) Hence, the person who disregards cleanliness cannot actually possess more than half the faith, thus making cleanliness the most significant ethical value. A love for cleanliness earns the love of Allah, as He says, “Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” (Qur’an 2:222)
There are various forms of purity that have been referred to in the Qur’an and Hadith. Let us examine these more closely.
As a means of achieving cleanliness of the body, Islam has laid great emphasis on bathing and making ablution. For example, the Prophet (ﷺ) made bathing obligatory at least once a week when he said, “Every Muslim should bathe once every seven days where he should wash his head and all of his body.” (Bukhari, Muslim) A bath is also compulsory after being in a state of sexual impurity.
Moreover, the state of ablution is required for every Salah (formal prayer), which guarantees that a Muslim washes his or her hands, face, forearms, and feet, at least twice or thrice each day. While making Wudu (ablution) at certain times may cause us inconvenience, Allah says that the purpose it serves, which is bodily purification, makes one attain His favour: “Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favour upon you that you may be grateful.” (Qur’an 5:6)
We should take care not to allow any form of impurity to come in contact with our bodies, and if does, to remove it with water, or clean earth in the absence of water. Once, the Prophet ﷺ passed by two graves whose occupants were being tormented. The Prophet ﷺ revealed that one of them suffered punishment in the grave as he “did not keep himself safe from being defiled by urine.” (Muslim) The Prophet ﷺ was very particular about brushing his teeth, which he used to do every time he made ablution – usually before every Salah. According to his wife, Ayesha, the first thing the Prophet ﷺ did upon entering his home was to brush his teeth. (Muslim)
Cleanliness of the Home
Our homes must be cleaned regularly to make them free of any dirt, dead insects, and any other type of filth. This is a religious obligation to ensure proper levels of hygiene. During the Prophet’s ﷺ time, the Jews in Madinah did not use to pay attention to the cleanliness of their houses, and the Prophet ﷺ warned his followers against such behaviour. He said, “You must clean your houses and not follow in the footsteps of Jews.” (Tirmidhi)
Purity of Food
Muslims should eat clean and wholesome foods only. For example, meat of swine and animals that die of themselves are prohibited because of their impurity. Similarly, we are required to wash hands before and after meals to ensure hygiene. The Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, “Whoever goes to sleep without washing his hands from the traces of fatty foods exposes himself to illness and should blame no one but himself.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah) Similarly, our food utensils should be carefully washed, and not shared with animals. The Prophet ﷺ said that if a dog drinks out of a utensil, it is to be washed seven times before usage. (Muslim)
Cleanliness of the Environment
Some people, unfortunately, have the abominable habit of dumping their household trash outside the back or side walls of their houses. Heaps of garbage dumped in empty plots and on roadsides is a common sight in some societies. This not only creates a nuisance for other residents and the passers-by, but also contradicts the Islamic teachings on cleanliness. Similarly, people, in certain societies, are actually seen urinating in the open despite the availability of public toilets. The Prophet ﷺ once said, “Beware of those acts which cause others to curse.” His companions asked, “What are those acts?” He replied, “Relieving oneself in the people’s walkways or in their shades.” (Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud)
Cleanliness of the Mosque
The mosques should also be kept pure; the Prophet ﷺ forbade spitting in the mosque, for instance. Those who enter the mosque should be clean and properly dressed. Allah praised the worshippers in the mosque at Madinah due to their great regard for cleanliness: “Within it are men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves.” (Qur’an 9:108) The Prophet ﷺ strictly forbade consuming anything whose odour may be offensive to others prior to coming to the mosque . He said, “Whoever has eaten garlic or onion should keep away from our mosque and stay at home.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
To be morally pure means to possess a high degree of character and to exhibit the best moral traits. Among the most widespread moral vices, these days, are indulging in bribery, consuming alcohol, engaging in backbiting, engaging in illicit sexual activity, and most commonly, perhaps, abusing and uttering profanities without even being provoked. Such moral impurity is made all the more objectionable since Islam lays extreme importance on one’s character. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The best among you are the best in character.” (Bukhari)
Purity of Worship
In Islam, worship, in all its forms, is exclusively for Allah, and none has any share in His right to be beseeched for help. Yet, many people make their worship impure by giving some of Allah’s exclusive attributes to others, and asking others to fulfil their wishes or to intercede with Allah on their behalf. Regarding the angels, deceased human beings, objects, false deities, and others invoked besides Allah, He states, “If you invoke them, they do not hear your supplication; and [even] if they heard, they would not respond to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will deny your association.” (Qur’an 35:14) Purity of worship thus implies that Allah alone is to be called upon, knowing that no one else possesses the power to even hear one’s prayer, let alone respond to it.