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What is the manner of washing face, wiping head and feet in wudhu?


Verse no. 6 of the chapter al-Maidah makes a mention of all those things that bring about the purification of man’s soul and hence, a considerable portion of the rulings associated with wudhu, ghusl and tayammum, which bring about purification of the soul, have been explained therein.  Initially the believers are addressed and the rulings related to wudhu, are mentioned as follows:


يا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَ أَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرافِقِ وَ امْسَحُوا بِرُؤُسِكُمْ وَ أَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ‏

(O you who believe! When you rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles)


In this verse the portion of the hand that ought to be washed during wudhu has been mentioned, since مَراَفِق is the plural of مِرْفَق – meaning elbow.  And since it is possible that when it is said “wash your hands”, it could be thought that they should be washed till the wrists - as this is the measure that is generally washed - the verse, in order to do away with this misconception, specifies ‘as far as the elbows’ (إِلَى الْمَرافِقِ).


From the above explanation it becomes clear that that the wordاِلىَ in the verse is only for mentioning the limits of washing and not the manner of washing as some have imagined – having taken the verse to mean: Wash the hands from the tips of the fingers towards the elbows (as is prevalent amongst a group from amongst the Sunnites).


The above issue is similar to the case when a person instructs a worker to paint the walls of a room from the floor up to a height of one meter.  It is plainly evident that it is not intended that the wall should be painted from the bottom towards the top – rather, it means that this is the portion that has to be painted - neither more nor less.


Hence, only the extent that needs to be necessarily washed has been mentioned in the verse; however, as far as the manner of washing is concerned, it has been mentioned in the traditions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) that have reached us by means of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), and it is to wash the hands from the elbows towards the fingertips.


The letter (ب), which is found in the word (بِرُؤُسِكُمْ) - according to the explicit statements of some of the traditions and clear opinions of some of the lexicographers  - is used to denote ‘a part’ (or portion) - as such the meaning conveyed by the verse is: ‘Wipe a portion of your heads’ which, in our traditions, has been delineated as the anterior one-fourth region of the head and this one-fourth portion ought to be wiped with the hand, however small be the measure of wiping.


As such that, which is prevalent amongst some of the Sunnite groups, who wipe their entire heads and even their ears, is inconsistent with the meaning conveyed by the verse.


The word أَرْجُلَكُمْ being located next toبِرُؤُسِكُمْ is a testimony towards the fact that the legs should also be wiped and not washed. (And if we observe that during recitation, أَرْجُلَكُمْ is recited such that (ل) possesses the fathah (the vowel point for ‘a’), this is due to it being superimposed upon the place of بِرُؤُسِكُمْ and not on the word وُجُوهَكُمْ.  

(1 ,2).


 1. There is no doubt that there exists a comparatively great separation between وُجُوهَكُمْ and أَرْجُلَكُمْ making the superimposition upon it to appear remote.  Apart from this, a great number of Qur’an- reciters have also recited the word أَرْجُلَكُمْ with (ل) possessing the kasrah (the vowel point for ‘i’).

2. Tafseer-e-Namunah, vol. 4, pg. 285.

Other Related Links:

What Is The Philosophy Behind Tayammum ?

What Is The Need To Face The Qiblah In The Prayers?

PRAYERS: Philosophy Behind Wudhu And Ghusl?

Ablution (Wudu')


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