Analysing the verse of Wudhu in Islamic Law

Wiping the Feet During Ablution (Wudu)

The followers of the Ahlul Bayt comply by what the Noble Qur’an teaches them to do during wudu (ablution) in regards to wiping their feet, rather than washing them. The Noble Qur’an commands,

“O you who believe! When you intend (to perform) your prayers, wash your faces and your hands from the elbows and wipe (by passing wet hands over) your head and your feet up to the ankles.”[1]

Those who practice the washing of their feet during wudu argue that “your feet” in the Noble Qur’an is linked to washing the face, whereas the followers of the Ahlul Bayt argue that “your feet” is linked to rubbing the head; therefore, it should be wiped, and not washed.

In support of the latter view, Ibn ‘Abbas narrates from the Prophet, that they used to rub their feet during the time of the Prophet.[2] Undoubtedly, all Muslims at the time of the Holy Messenger of Allah used to perform wudu in the same way. No disagreements occurred between them since the Messenger of Allah was present among them and all the Muslims used to submit their disagreements to him in accordance with the Noble Qur’an,

“And if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger.”[3]

The same situation existed during the time of the first caliph, Abu Bakr (11-13H) and no disagreements over the performance of wudu have been reported from that time period either. Similar was the period of the second caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (13-23H), except for the fact, that he allowed wiping of the socks rather than the bare feet as the Noble Qur’an directs (5:6).

However, the disagreement regarding the performance of the wudu began during the time of the third caliph, ‘Uthman ibn Affan (23-35H) when he began to wash his feet instead of wiping them.[4] Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, in his book Kanz al-‘Ummal[5] mentions that the third caliph, ‘Uthman ibn Affan (during his caliphate) was the first to differ in performing the wudu. In Sahih al-Muslim[6] and Kanz al-‘Ummal,[7] ‘Uthman ibn Affan says that during his caliphate, some of the companions of the Prophet who performed their wudu differently than himself attributed their practice to the Prophet. More than twenty narrations—all narrated by the third caliph—are about his new manner of performing wudu. These traditions indicate his establishment of the new method.

Some prominent Muslim historians, such as Ibn Abi al-Hadid al-Mu’tazili[8] regard this trend as nothing new in the tradition of the third caliph since he was known for his numerous innovations (into the faith of Islam). There is a near consensus among the Muslim historians that the third caliph, ‘Uthman was murdered by Muslim revolutionaries in 35H. because of political and financial issues. However, other Muslim historians interpret the third caliph’s introductions (regarding some of the religious rules during the last six years of his caliphate) as a departure from the tradition of the first and second caliphs. The majority of the Muslims during his caliphate looked at the third caliph as a follower of the first and second caliphs, and the implementer of their practices. Since the third caliph witnessed numerous introductions during the time of the second caliph, and saw himself religiously and intellectually no less than his predecessors[9], thus he decided to depart from the previous policy and have an independent opinion regarding different political, financial, and jurisprudential issues such as, washing the feet during wudu.

Although some people today consider washing the feet to lead to better cleanliness and hygiene than merely wiping the feet; however, Allah the Almighty who legislated all the acts of worship, including the wudu, is more aware of the advantages and disadvantages of washing or wiping the feet. It has been narrated that Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “If religion was according to human opinion, the bottom of the foot would be more worthy of wiping than the top. But I saw the Messenger of Allah wiping the top of his feet.”[10]

[1] Noble Qur’an, 5:6
[2] Al-Shahrastani, Wudhu’ al-Nabi
[3] Noble Qur’an, 4:59
[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, 52; Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, 204
[5] Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, Hadith 26890, Vol. 9, 443
[6] Sahih Muslim Vol. 1, 207-208
[7] Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, Hadith 26797, Vol. 9, 423
[8] Ibn Abi al-Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balagha, Vol. 1, 199-200
[9] Al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 4, 339
[10] Abu Shaybah, al-Musannatf, Hadith 6, Vol. 1, 30; Sunan Abi Dawud, Hadith 164, Vol. 1, 42

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