In the Name of God, Most Merciful and Compassionate
The author of The Ultimate Conspectus began his book with purification as this is the norm with books from the Shāfiʿī school of law. Some other schools start with the times for prayer. The reason we begin with purification is that prayer is the main form of worship, purification is its primary condition, and something that is a condition should come before the thing that depends upon it.
The Arabic word for purification is “ṭahārah.” Its linguistic meaning is to clean and to remove dirtiness whether that dirtiness is physical or moral. It includes both physical and spiritual purification. Spiritual purification involves removing the sicknesses of the heart, such as envy, arrogance, conceit, showing off, and others. Imam al-Ghazali said that knowing their definition makes it personally obligatory to treat these sicknesses. Physical purification will be the topic of this chapter.
In the context of fiqh, purification is defined as doing that which renders prayer lawful to perform. Its examples include ablution, the purificatory bath, removing filth, dry ablution, and others.
Physical purification is achieved using various means. These include water, earth, tanning, and chemical transformation. The primary means, though, is water.
Fiqh books often begin a chapter or section by giving its definition and its textual foundation. The definition will include the primary linguistic meaning of the key terms, as well as its technical definition within the discipline of fiqh. The textual foundation demonstrates why the topic is even relevant to Islamic law. It usually consists of evidence from the Quran or Sunnah. Sometimes authors will mention that there is consensus on the issue. The textual foundation is not intended to give exhaustive evidence for the particular rulings within the section.
The textual foundation for purification comes from the Quran and Sunnah. Allah Most High says
“He sent down upon you from the sky, rain by which to purify you,” [Q8:11].
“And it is He who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy, and We send down from the sky pure water,” [Q25:48].
The Prophet ﷺ said concerning the sea that “its water is purifying, and its dead are lawful.”
Earth is a means of purification used in the absence of water. It is considered a means in that it renders prayer permissible. Evidence for this includes that Allah Most High says, “…and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe [with it]…,” [Q4:43, Q5:6].
Since water is the primary tool for achieving purification, the author begins by listing the sources of water.
Purification is possible with seven types of water: rain water; sea water; river water; well water; spring water; snow; and hail. If we wish, we could shorten this and say: “Water that descends from the sky or comes out of the ground, so long as it retains its original characteristics.” So water includes the crystal-clear liquid you melt from glacial ice, as well as the yellowish liquid people draw from the village well.