In the Name of God,The Compassionate, The Merciful
Because of the continuous development of medical science, manydiscoveries have been made over the recent years. Interestingly, many ofthese breakthroughs had already been revealed in the Qur’an andestablished in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more than1,400 years ago. As a result many non-Muslims are realizing that theteachings of Islam are the unequivocal truth.Sayed Inseram AliMadinah Munuwara, Saudi ArabiaOctober, 2000
Explaining the medical interpretations of ablution is a bit technical;however, what follows is hopefully a clear presentation and explanationof this subject for those having little background of medical knowledge.There is a branch in the medical sciences called Immunology. Thissubject is defined as the way in which the body can protect itself frominvasion by pathogenic (infectious) microorganisms and provide adefense against their harmful effects. The healthy human bodycontinually comes into contact with microorganisms such asbacteria, fungus, virus, etc. these microorganisms may be ingestedthrough food, inhaled or enter into the body through blood, a cut orthrough nasal and mouth droplets while sneezing and coughing etc.despite the constant challenges from the environment, the bodynaturally guards itself against infection. So it is possible fro a person toovercome the microorganism and become immune to that infection.This protection is maintained by a number of defense mechanismsworking on their own or together. Many theories have been suggested toexplain immunity. The theory most commonly used today is the DefenseMechanism of the Body, which is divided into two major groups:1. Natural Immunity (non-specific)2. Acquired Immunity (specific)
Natural (non-specific) immunity is provided by all themechanisms that form an immediate non-specific barrier toinfections. They consist of four sub groups:1A. Mechanical Barriers:These include the skin, the stomach lining, the genital area andthe mucous membrane of the respiratory tract. Nasal and earhairs act as a filter. The action of coughing and sneezing removesmucous that contains microorganisms.1B. Chemical Barriers:These are secretions that contain substances which have an antimicrobial action; for example, mucous membrane secretionscontain the enzyme lysozyme which is found in the eye, therespiratory tract and the in the genital area. Secretionscontaining acid are present in the gut and genital area. That saltand fatty acids found in skin secretions are also anti microbial.
1C. Phagocytosis:In the blood, phagocyte cells engulf and destroy an organism bydigestion at the site of entry or infection, thereby protecting the body.1D. Anti Microbial Commensal Flora:Commensal flora of the body stops the growth of pathogenic organismby performing antagonistic action against bacteria with certainsubstances like colicin.2A. Acquired Immunity (specific):By taking vaccines, toxins and microorganisms are usually inactivatedor destroyed which gives protection against specific organisms.Thus under the topic of ablution, I will discuss the first two factors ofnatural (non-specific) immunity, which is also known as the First LineDefense Mechanism.
When a person performs ablution five times a day, he getsprotection from different bacterial, viral and fungalinfections. There is no doubt that if proper cleaning has notbeen done or procedure of ablution has not beenconducted, a person is likely to get any infection. On thehand, if the proper cleaning of the exposed parts of thebody is done frequently as in ablution, a person ismaximizing the natural ability of his body to protecthimself against different infections. All microorganismsrequire time, moisture, food, a favorable pH (acidic oralkaline) and salts for growth to occur.
So, if all of the factors are favorable, then themicroorganisms will grow and cause infection. One ofthe benefits of ablution is that it breaks up themicrobial deposits on the body and helps protect itfrom infection. Thus, ablution acts as the first line ofdefense and does not allow the microorganisms toenter into and establish their activity on the skin andon the other exposed parts of the body.
In the Holy Qur’an, Allah describes ablution, as in thefollowing verse: “O you who have believed, when yourise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and yourforearms to the elbow and wipe over heads and washyour feet to the ankles…” (5:6)Performing ablution has many steps. The religiousformality is started by having the intention to purifyoneself for the sake of Allah and in accordance with theSunnah by saying: Bismillahirahmanirahim (in theName of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful).
The next step involves washing one’s handsthree times. When a Muslim washes his handsfor ablution, he must also wash in between thefingers to eliminate all the dirt and dustparticles from the skin. Without a doubt, thehands are exposed to a lot of dirt and dustparticles on daily basis. These particles containmicroorganisms, and in the presence of sweatand fatty acids, these microorganisms growwell and cause infections. Thus the hands arenot safe for eating, praying etc. unless they arewashed in this way
After washing the hands, the mouth is washed. This stepof ablution is also significant. As humans, we are oftensuffering from all different kinds of throat infections.Since the tissue in the mouth and at the back of throat isvery soft, any irritation can cause infection. Threedifferent type of microorganisms cause these throatinfections: viral, bacterial and fungal. To protect thethroat against these infections, the mouth should bewashed with a gargling motion that reaches the throat.This is the area where most of the dust particlesaccumulate, whether a person is typically outside or in anair-conditioned room. For example, in a dry climate witha lot of dust, the dust particles can settle in the mouthand cause an infection.
By washing five times a day all the bacterial ordust particles that are settling in the throat canbe eliminated, thereby protecting theindividual against infections. Inaddition, washing the mouth and using themeswak (a tooth stick) five times a day cleansthe gums and the intradental spaces of theteeth. This eliminates the bacteria and foodparticles in the mouth leaving it with afresh, clean smell. This illustrates a furthercase of how a mechanical barrier safeguardsour body from infections.
The third part of ablution is washingthe nose. Water is inhaled and exhaledfrom the fright hands into the nosethree times. There is a filtration systemin the nose comprised of small hairfollicles. This filtration system preventsthe dust particles from going directlyinside the nose.Another significant pint while makingablution is that the nose should bewashed from the inside, especially incold, dry places, as there is always asecretion inside the nose.
This secretion is dried and forms a crustinside the nose. If this is attached to the hairitself, it may cause a chance for infection tooccur if the dry crust is removed. The internalpart of the nose is very soft tissue and istherefore extremely sensitive and liable tobleed. Furthermore, any little injury to thisarea can help the organism to settle and causean infection.Washing back to the middle part of the nosethree times can eliminate all the settled dustparticles and secretions, thereby protectingone from different nose infections like sinusesand boils in the root of the hair follicles.
The next stage is to wash the face from theforehead to chin, including the cleaning andmessaging of eyes. Washing the face increase thecirculation, cleans the eyes and all the dustparticles deposited on the face. Likewise, thesweat on the is also removed. These secretions ofsweat being cleaned off are in the nature of fattyacids and they form a layer on the skin. . If thislayer on the skin is not cleaned often, it provides agood opportunity for bacteria to grow to make askin infection.
On the contrary, frequently washing the face, as inablution, eliminates the chances for wrinkling of the skin andkeeps the skin smooth, even at old age.Interestingly, it is a practice to many women in china to wash andmessage their eyes with water. They believe that by doing thisthey will not get any eye infections or develop the cataract eye.This inside corner of the eye has special enzyme that kills most ofthe bacteria and protects the eye from infections. However, ifdust particles accumulate in this area over time because theywere not washed out, then there is more of a likelihood that aneye infection will occur.
The following true story also illustrates the importance ofwashing the face in ablution. There was a catastrophic civil war inRwanda in which cholera was prevalent. Two medicaldoctors, one from Sudan and the other from Rwanda, wereworking in Germany at the time. Because of strife inRwanda, both of these doctors went to Rwanda to help theinjured people. These injured people were in lined up to betreated. The Rwandan doctor mentioned to the Sudanese doctorthat the population of Rwanda is only about 1% Muslim.Thereafter, the Sudanese doctor said he would be able to identifywhich people standing in the treatment are Muslims.
A few days of being amazed at how the Sudanesedoctor was able to precisely tell the Muslims from thenon-Muslims, the Rwandan doctor asked, “How do youknow that certain people are Muslim and others arenot?” The Sudanese doctor disclosed that in Islam weperform the ritual of ablution before prayers. Thisablution makes faces clean, clear and with spirituallight. The Rwandan doctor was affected deeply. Beforealong, he became a Muslim.
Washing both arms up to the elbow is thenext step. The washing of the armsensures that sweat, fatty acids and dustparticles near the hair follicles areremoved to prevent any possible infection.
The next step is washing the head. This step alsoincludes the washing of the ears because the earshave openings that have deep grooves and hairs.These grooves and hairs are ideal for the settling ofdust particles. Therefore, cleaning the ears with amoist index finger five times a day protects the earsfrom dust accumulation and possible infection.Cleaning the neck is also preferred as it helpsprevent itching due to acidity which can possiblylead to an allergy.
Washing the feet up to the ankles is the laststep in performing ablution. When washing thefeet up to the ankles, one must wash betweenthe toes since these are the areas wheresweating and fatty secretions are morepredominant. If this area is not washedfrequently and properly, a defensive odor mayoccur. Similarly, a fungus may develop, which iscommonly known as athlete’s foot. When thefeet are washed properly and regularly, onefeels a relaxed and fresh feeling.
Performing ablution has another important benefit.Using hot and cold water for the ablution increases theblood circulation throughout the body. As a result, onefeels refreshed and more energetic.Furthermore, increasing the blood circulationthroughout the body makes the body’s defensemechanisms more active and powerful.Moreover, making ablution can reduce static electricitywhich is often attributed to skin problems like theshrinking of the skin
In conclusion, from all this explanation it is well understood thatthe immunological hypothesis provides the principles ofimmunity and the first line of the defense mechanisms;nevertheless, in all of this information, no guidance is providedon how to protect ourselves from infectious diseases. However,Islam required ablution more than 1,400 years ago which showshumanity how to be protected from infectious diseases by athorough washing of exposed body parts five times a day. To myknowledge, Islam is the only religion that requires its believers tofollow certain hygienic procedures that safeguard the human frominfectious diseases.
There is a very common saying:An apple a day keeps the doctor away. So let’salso say: Make ablution five times a day andkeep the doctor away.Clearly, health is wealth and blessing from God.
About the Author:Sayed Inseram Ali is a microbiologist who worked as aLecturer with the Department of Microbiology at theUniversity of Karachi from 1965-1970. Thereafter, he joinedthe Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia as a RegionalDirector of Laboratories in Madinah for twenty years (1970-1990). He has been working at the Zain Clinical Laboratoryas the Technical Director since 1990. He also writes anddelivers lectures on Islam and the medical sciences