Cleanliness vs. Purification: Discussion on Some Islamic Doctrines
30 June, 2004
Among all the rituals prescribed by almost all the religions of the world, the act of spiritual purification gets more importance than physical cleanliness, even though Islamic scholars insist that the latter is the part and parcel of their faith. The induction of a newborn or of a grown up into Christianity is known to the Christians as "Baptism," while Muslims carry out the same ritual in a little different way. The baptizing process in Christianity became a ritual for its followers after Jesus Christ's immersion in the water of Jordan River (Mathew 3:13), while Moses, the actual founder of Judaism, never went through this process, hence the absence of Christian-like baptism in the Jewish religion.
Muslims carry out the purification process of a grown up convert to Islam by having him or her invoke kalima Taiyyaba. Soon after the invocation of the kalima, the convert not only attains the status of a Muslim, or Muslima, he or she also becomes a purified person with his or her past sins forgiven by God then and there. Children born to Muslim parents are inducted into Islam, firstly, by reciting the words of Adhan, by grown up men into their ears, and, secondly, through giving them the so-called Muslim names at or during a ritual called "Aqiqa."
The responsibility for shouting the words of Adhan rests only on the Muslim men. Their women cannot perform this duty, even if they are elderly, respectable or highly erudite in the realm of the Quran, hadiths and other branches of the Islamic literature and doctrines. The reason for imposing this embargo on the Muslim women is neither known to most of us; nor is it discussed by the Muslims in their private or public forums for reasons unknown even to them.
It is not that in Islam, cleanliness of human body does not play a role. In fact, it does in specific cases. Let us examine this case scenario:
Muslims firmly believe, and it is true, that one of the foremost duties that man and woman owe to humanity is for them to mate and procreate children. As they take this duty of theirs very seriously, they not only formalize but also purify the mating process of the Muslim men and women by invoking God, Muhammad and the Holy Quran.
In keeping with their beliefs, Muslims prefer to have their marriages solemnized by the high ranking Maulanas, where possible. Muslim couples become Islamically married only after the Maulanas have completed their recitations from the Quran, and blessed them with prayers. Each word of the Quran is holy; therefore, its recitation on the occasions of marriage not only turns the married couples into purified beings, their copulation thereafter also becomes a purified act. But does this belief hold any truth?
Islam requires that all Muslims must say "Bismillah -" before doing anything and everything in their lives. The utterance of Bismillah purifies their actions.
As a consequence of its significance, Bismillah has become as essential for many Muslims as their breathing. I have seen some Muslim doctors in Bangladesh saying Bismillah every time they touched their patients. I have seen a few Bangladesh government officials uttering Bismillah at the time of taking bribes. I have heard Muslim pimps saying Bismillah, while pocketing commissions from their customers.
The role of Bismillah in the Muslim life notwithstanding, Muslim couples are required to take baths, and say Bismillah before each of their copulations. The same requirements apply, when they prepare themselves to say their ritual prayers (Salat), with the difference that in many cases, they substitute the requirement of bath with water by dry ablutions. Adherence to the Islamically prescribed processes of physical cleaning and spiritual purification are necessary for the reason that Islam equates sexual intercourse not only with the Muslim prayers, it also ensures that the children, who the couples are expected to produce through their mating, came out to the world with all the pure qualities embedded in them.
But strangely enough, the concepts and processes, mentioned above, lose their sanctity as soon as the Muslim couples are done with their copulations, for they are required by the high standard of Islamic hygiene to take a bath immediately after their sexual intercourse, as the seminal discharge into vaginas is a cause for defilement of human bodies.
How is it possible? Muslims should ask. If the seminal discharge makes humans dirty or unclean, then what is the necessity for them to take baths, perform ablutions and say Bismillah before engaging in their sexual acts? If the completion of an act, even after saying Bismillah -, defiles the performers' bodies, then how about the Muslims, who begin their prayers (Salat) after saying the same words as are in Bismillah -? Why don't they become unclean after completion of their prayers, since, in Islamic perception, Muslim prayers are no different than their sexual acts?
Muslims must also ask themselves: how can humans be clean and pure, when they are the products of impure semen? Is not a product, made out of impure or unclean materials, also supposed to be impure and unclean? If it is so, then how humans are called the best creation of God?
Leaving behind the above questions for Muslim scholars to respond, I should now take up the discussion of the matter of this article, it being Cleanliness vs. Purification.
As I have said at the beginning of this article, spiritual purification in Islam takes precedence over physical cleanliness. Take, for example, the following stipulations of the Quran:
a. It requires all Muslims to remove their "ceremonial impurity" by washing their whole body with water. But where they are unable to find water, they have been advised to take clean sand or earth, and to rub their faces and hands therewith.
b. The Quran requires Muslims to undertake the same process after they "cometh from offices of nature," or they "have been in contact with women." (Quran; 4:43).
From Abdullah Yusuf Ali's commentary on the above referenced verse, it appears that the requirement of cleaning one's body with water or purifying the "spiritual dirt" by rubbing sand and earth on one's face after urination, defecation or sexual intercourse applies only to Muslim men, for he stated: "- For a man, when he is ill, cannot walk out far to get water, and a man on a journey has no full control over his supplies. In all, four cases, where water cannot be got, cleaning with dry sand or dry earth is recommended. This is called Tayammum (The Holy Quran, Vol. 1, p. 194).
Be the truth as one may deduce from the above quotation, the fact remains that the rubbing of sand or dry earth on one's face cannot remove the feces one finds on his or her body after its discharge; these supposedly cleaning materials must be rubbed on the affected area itself, if one wanted to meet the minimum standard of a hygienic life. Even the direct application of sand (if it is at all possible to do without causing damage to the applicant's sensitive part of the body) and earth to the affected area is not good enough to make it clean, for it is only water that can wash away the feces from a person's body. Left unclean, the accumulation of the feces creates, over a short period of time, an obnoxious odor that nobody can suppress easily even after wearing expensive cloth or perfume.
The realization of the above truth opens up, for us, another field of inquiry: how the people of the time of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, must have cleaned themselves after responding to the calls of nature, especially when water was not so easily available to them?
Did they always purify themselves with sand and dry earth, instead of cleaning their bodies with water? If so, how badly they must have smelt most of the times?
And if they cleaned themselves by rubbing sand or earth on their faces, how was it possible for the founder of Islam to decree that "cleanliness" was a part and parcel of the Muslim faith?
Because of a Quranic stipulation that requires all Muslims to eat "halal" or "kosher" foods, attempts to live within the bounds of the stipulation have become almost an obsession with most Muslims. It is not that halal foods help them live longer, or that it improves their character; rather, it is their longing to enter heaven on the Day of Resurrection that motivates them to do all the weird things for procuring halal food and materials in their lives.
While living in non-Muslim countries, many Muslims can be seen running about for finding halal eggs and milk in the market. How precisely the non-Muslim dealers or sellers of halal eggs and milk procure them, respectively, from their chickens and cows, has never been debated, but it seems possible that they make both the animals to become Muslims before producing their products. Or, may be they feed them Islamic foods that help them produce nothing but pure and halal products. Is there any other means through which chickens and cows can be forced to produce halal eggs and milk? Perhaps, readers can throw some light on this matter.
Spiritual purification also requires Muslims to use only those modern gadgets, invented mostly by the infidels, which have Islamic applications. In accordance with this spirit, Cellular Phones are now being converted to Islam so that they could be used for reminding their owners with the timings of their daily prayers (see New Age, Dhaka dated June 27, 2004).
What invention of the kafirs would be the next target of Islamization would be known to us only when, and after, it has happened. In the meantime, let not the infidels prevent the Muslims from the use of what they have already stolen (remember the saga of Pakistan's Islamic Atomic Bomb?) from them; rather, the infidels from all over the world should hand over to them (the Muslims) everything they have, even if their philanthropic act may prove, down the road, to be one of the causes of their own downfall and destruction.