The Accessible Conspectus: Ablution & Its Obligatory Actions

In the Name of God, Most Merciful and Compassionate

1.5 Ablution

After first writing about water, tanning hides and bones, using artifacts, and the toothstick, the author of The Ultimate Conspectus moves to ablution. He mentions its obligatory actions and its recommended actions.

The obligatory actions of ablution are actions that must be performed for the ablution to be valid. The ablution will not be valid if any of these actions are omitted.

Recommended actions are actions that should be performed but could be omitted. The ablution will be valid even if all of the recommended actions is omitted.

It is useful differentiate between obligatory actions and recommended actions because sometimes we do not have enough water or enough time to make a complete optimal ablution. Knowing which actions are obligatory and which actions are recommended allows us to omit non-obligatory acts when there is a need to do so. It also lets us know whether an ablution is valid if something has been omitted.

1.5.1 Obligatory Actions

The textual foundation for the obligatory acts of ablution is Allah Most High saying, “O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to [ilā] the elbows and wipe over your heads [bi ruʾūsikum] and wash your feet to [ilā] the ankles,” [Q5:6].

Six actions are obligatory.

The first is making an intention just as one begins to wash the face. Intention is an essential part of everything you do. The basis for requiring it when making ablution and other actions is the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying, “Actions are according to intentions.”

Your intention can be one of the following: lifting the state of ritual impurity; rendering permissible something that cannot be performed without purification; the obligatory act of ablution; ablution itself; or obtaining purification from being in a state of ritual impurity.

Intention itself is an action of the heart. You do not have to utter your intention. But you can if it makes it easier for you to formulate it in the heart.

The second obligatory action is washing the face. The face is the area between the two ears, and from the bottom of the chin up to and including where the hairline usually is. Suppose Aḥmed has a low hairline (say all the way down to their eyebrows) or a hairline so high that he’s bald. He would need to wash from the place where the hairline usually is down to the end of his chin.

When washing the face, you need to wash all the facial hair and the skin underneath. An exception to this for males is beards or sideburns that are dense enough that you cannot see the skin underneath them. When they are that dense, it is sufficient just to wash the outside of the hair.

The third obligatory action is washing the hands up to and including the elbows. When you wash your hands, you need to ensure there is no dirt or grime underneath the fingers that would prevent water from reaching the skin. It is fine if there is something on the skin that does not prevent the water reaching the skin. Many fiqh books differentiate ink itself from the color it leaves behind. So if you put a drop of ink on your skin, the ink’s substance is going to prevent water from reaching the skin. If you then remove the ink’s substance, its color remains. While the ink itself prevents water from reaching the skin underneath, the color it leaves behind does not prevent it.

The fourth obligatory action is wiping a portion of the head. What suffices is getting a part of the head or the hair over it wet. If you’re wearing something on your head that you do not want to remove, you can wet your fingers and then stick them up underneath your head-covering.

The fifth is washing the feet up to and including the ankles. Later, we will cover the possibility of wiping over foot-coverings instead of washing the feet.

And the sixth is doing the above in the order they were mentioned: making the intention, washing the face, then the hands, wiping a portion of the head, and finally washing the feet.

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