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Islamic Studies Purity
by
Sukidi

Introduction

The idea of purity has been one of the most central doctrines and practices in Islam. It has been prescribed in the Qurʾanic texts and exemplified in the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. There are several Qurʾanic texts used as the authoritative bases for the discursive interpretation and practice of ritual purity within the boundary of Qurʾanic discourse.

General Overviews

For a general introduction to the concept of purity in ritual worship, see Kader 1968, Williams 1994, and Katz 2001. Kuşçular 2007 is the best comprehensive guide to purity.

  • Kader, Ali Abdel. “The Concept of Purity in Islam.” In Proceedings of the XIth International Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions. Vol. 2, 104–107. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1968.

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    A brief general introduction to the concept of purity in Islam and its division into two types: physical purity and spiritual purity.

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  • Katz, Marion Holmes. “Cleanliness and Ablution.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Vol. 1. Edited by Jane D. McAuliffe, 341–344. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001.

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    Contains a brief vocabulary of purity in ritual worship,including ablution and purity in an ethical context, such as sexual purity and impurity.

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  • Kuşçular, Remzi. Cleanliness in Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Ṭahāra. Translated by Suleyman Basaran. Somerset, NJ: The Light, Inc., 2007.

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    This book guides the readers through a comprehensive discussion of purity, including its definition, rules, and rituals.

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  • Williams, John Alden. The Word of Islam. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

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    Contains a modest introduction to the concept of purity in the books of fiqh (pp. 66–87).

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The QurʾAnic Rules Of Purity

The notion of purity, its rules and other related matters in ritual worship are usually defined and constructed in specific reference to the two Qurʾanic verses: al-Maʾida 5:6 and al-Nisaʾ 4:43. While the former verse asks believers to perform a required process of purification (wuduʾ) before prayer, the latter requires them not to approach prayer when they are intoxicated or in a state of major ritual impurity. For the full translation of both verses, see Abdel Haleem 2004. These two Qurʾanic verses have generated various exegetical discourses among scholars, including Burton 1988, Katz 2002, and Lowry 2004.

  • Haleem, Abdel, A. S. Muhammad, trans. The Qurʾan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    An English translation of the Qurʾanic verses. See particularly al-Maʾida 5:6 (p. 68) and al-Nisaʾ 4:43 (p. 55).

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  • Burton, John. “The Qurʾān and the Islamic Practice of Wuḍūʾ.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 51 (1988): 21–58.

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    The author rethinks of various meanings of such Qurʾanic verses as al-Maʾida 5:6 and al-Nisaʾ 4:43 and various interpretations of wuduʾ expressed in the Sunni and Shiʿi literatures.

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  • Katz, Marion Holmes. Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunnī Law of Ritual Purity. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    An in-depth study of the early development of the Sunni law of purity (tahara) in the fourth/tenth century. Chapter 1 examines the symbolic context of the Qurʾanic rules of purity with reference to the juristic interpretation of Sura 5:6 (pp. 29–58).

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  • Lowry, Joseph E. “Ritual Purity.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Vol. 4. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 498–508. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2004.

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    Provides a brief discursive interpretation of ritual purity, especially the scriptural requirements of ritual cleansing before prayer with reference to Qurʾanic verses such as al-Maʾida 5:6 and al-Nisaʾ 4:43.

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Purity In Islamic Traditions

Purity is a topic of major interest in prophetic tradition (hadith), Islamic law (fiqh), commentary on the Qurʾan (tafsir), and Islamic mysticism (tasawwuf). Each scholarly tradition attempts to explain the nature and rules of purity in ritual worship and related matters.

Prophetic Tradition (hadith)

The discussion of purity in the prophetic tradition (hadith) typically begins with a set of shared narratives about the significance of purity, usually attributed to the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. For example, the Prophet is reported to have said that purity is half of the Islamic faith, and that purity is the key to prayer. See, for instance, al-Nasaʾi 1988, Ibn Majah 1996, al-Tirmidhi 1996, and Malik b. Anas 2003. Tabaʾtabaʾi 2007 offers a collection of prophetic narratives on purity and the rules of beautification.

  • Ibn Majah, Muhammad ibn Yazid. Sunan Ibn Mājahʾʾʿ. Edited by Khalil Maʾmun Shiʾha. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Maʿrifa, 1996.

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    The first volume contains the “book of purity” (Kitāb al-ṭahāra) on pages 173–367.

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  • Malik b. Anas. Al-Muwaṭaʾʿʿ. vols. Edited by Abu Usama Salim b. ʿUbayd al-Hilali. Dubai: Majmuʿa al-Furqan al-Tijariyya, 2003.

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    The first volume contains the “book of purity” (Kitāb alṬahāra) on pages 221–355.

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  • al-Nasaʾi (Abi ʿAbd al-Rahman Ahmad b. Shuʿayb b. ʿAli). ʾʿʿʿSunan al-Nasāʾī.ʿʿ. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Maktaba al-Maʿarif li al-Nashr wa al-Tawziʿ, 1988.

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    Includes comprehensive coverage on purity in section on the “book of purity” (kitāb al-ṭahāra). See pages 10–58.

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  • al-Tirmidhi, Muhammad b. ʿIsa. ʿAl-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr. 6 vols. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1996.

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    The first volume contains the “chapters of purity” (abwāb al-ṭahāra). See pages 51–194.

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  • Tabaʾtabaʾi, Muhammad Husain, compiler. ʾʾSunan An-Nabī: A Collection of Narrations on the Ways of the Holy Prophet. Translated by Tahir Ridha Jaffer. Kitchener, Ontario: Islamic Publishing House, 2007.

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    Of various reports attributed to the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, this collection includes a section on cleanliness and the rules of beautification (pp. 83–92).

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Islamic Law (fiqh)

Purity is also a topic of juristic discourse. The early Orientalist scholars of Islam saw the Islamic law of purity as an offshoot of either Zoroastrian Persian heritage (Goldziher 1901, Boyce 1991) or the Jewish law of purity (Wensinck 1914). Others situate the study of purity within the discursive tradition of Islamic law (Maghen 1997, Maghen 1999, Maghen 2005). Reinhart 1990 looks at the elements and rules of ritual purity (al-tahara) from the perspective of the anthropologist Mary Douglas. A more specifically pietist discussion on the rules of purity and pollution in Maliki juridical texts is given in Safran 2003.

  • Boyce, Mary. “Pādyāb and Nērang: Two Pahlavi Terms Further Considered.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 54, no. 2 (1991): 281–291.

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    Presents a basic thesis concerning the striking similarity between the Zoroastrian ritual purity of padyab-kusti and the Islamic ritual purity of wuduʾ (ablution).

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  • Goldziher, Ignáz. “Islamisme et parsisme.” Révue de l'histoire des religions. 43 (1901): 1–29.

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    A critical study of the Zoroastrian Persian influence on the genesis of the Islamic law of purity.

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  • Maghen, William Avi. “Al-Taharah Shatir al-Iman: An Inquiry into the Historical Evolution of the Islamic System of Ritual Purity.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1997.

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    A textually based inquiry into the historical evolution of purity in the early Sunni Islamic law. (Al-Taharah Shatir al-Iman translates as “Purity is half of the Islamic faith.”)

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  • Maghen, Ze'ev. “Close Encounters: Some Preliminary Observations on the Transmission of Impurity in Early Sunnī Jurisprudence.” Islamic Law and Society 6, no. 3 (1999): 348–392.

    DOI: 10.1163/1568519991223784Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a uniquely Islamic approach to the transmission of impurity in early Islamic law.

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  • Maghen, Ze'ev. Virtues of the Flesh: Passion and Purity in Early Islamic Jurisprudence. Studies in Islamic Law and Society. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2004.

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    Probes certain underlying principles of purity in early Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh al-tahara), especially in relation to the sexual desires, impurity, and other related matters.

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  • Reinhart, A. Kevin. “Impurity/No Danger.” History of Religions 30, no. 1 (1990): 1–24.

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    Discusses the elements and rules of the ritual purity from the perspective of Mary Douglas's classic text Purity and Danger (1966), while also attempting to discern their logic in the Islamic law (fiqh).

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  • Safran, Janina M. “Rules of Purity and Confessional Boundaries: Maliki Debates About the Pollution of the Christian.” History of Religions 42, no. 3 (2003): 197–212.

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    Discusses the rules of purity and pollution, especially the status of Christians under the Maliki juridical texts.

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  • Wensinck, A. J. “Die Entstehung der muslimischen Reinheitsgesetzgebung.” Der Islam 5 (1914): 62–80.

    DOI: 10.1515/islm.1914.5.1.62Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article, which translates as “The emergence of the Muslim laws of purity,” offers an extensive set of parallels between the Islamic and Jewish laws of purity.

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Commentary on the Qurʾan (tafsir al-Qurʾan)

A discussion of purity is at the center of classical exegetical works. Naquib 2007 offers a close reading of purity in the classical Qurʾanic commentators.

  • Naquib, Shuruq. “And Your Garments Purify: Ṭahāra in the Light of tafsīr.” ṬJournal of Qurʾanic Studies. 9, 1 (2007): pp. 59–77.

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    An exegetical study of the Qurʾanic verses 74:1–4, which deal with purity (tahara), and how they are dealt with in the works of classical Qurʾanic commentators such as al-Tabari, al-Zamakhshari, al-Razi, al-Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir.

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Islamic Mysticism (tasawwuf)

This section contains discussions of purity in the works of two Muslim mystics, Ibn al-ʿArabi (Ibn al-ʿArabi 1995) and al-Ghazali (al-Ghazali 1966, al-Ghazali 1998). Both attempt to grasp the significance of practices of purity from the perspective of inner spirituality.

  • Ibn al-ʿArabi, Muhyi al-Din. ʿMysteries of Purity: Ibn al-ʿArabī's “asrār al-ṭahārah.”. Translated by Eric Winkel. Notre Dame, IN: Cross Cultural Publications, 1995.

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    A comprehensive study of purity (tahara), including its divisions, mysteries, minor and major impurities, and other related matters.

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  • al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid. IḥyaʾʿUlum al-Din. 5 vols. Edited by Abdullah al-Khalidi. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Arqam, 1998).

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    The first of the five volumes of al-Ghazali's classic work (Revival of the Religious Sciences) contains a section on “the book on mysteries of purity” that deals with purity, ablution, and other related matters. See pages 190–205.

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  • al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid. The Mysteries of Purity: Being a Translation with Notes of the Kitāb Asrār al-Ṭahārah of al-Ghazzāli's IḥyaʾʿUlūm al-Dīn, by Nabih Amin Faris. Lahore, Pakistan: Muhammad Ashraf, 1966.

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    An English translation of al-Ghazzali's section of “The Book on the Mysteries of Purity.”

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Theoretical Aspects of Purity and Ritual

A number of Western scholars, ranging from Islamicists and historians to anthropologists, have not focused on the ritual elements of purity. For a brief overview and theories on Islamic ritual, see Denny 2001. Graham 1983 offers an understanding of Islamic purity practices informed by contemporary theories of ritual. An anthropological study of the social meanings of an Islamic ritual prayer called Salat is given by Bowen 1989. Katz 2005 is still the best scholarly analysis of Islamic ritual and the various motives that stimulate the academic interpretation of ablution (wuduʾ).

LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0064

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