by Dr. M. Khan
In this article it is intended to show how scrupulous standards
of personal hygiene are attained by the Muslim following the injunctions
of the Qur'an and the example of Allah's Prophet, Muhammad-upon
whom be peace.
Many of these injunctions are often obeyed by the Muslim with
the intention merely of per- forming certain ritual duties. The
making of wudu for example is often seen simply as a necessary prelude
to the performance of prayer and a condition for its validity. While
this is certainly the case, there seems to be a wider significance
to these 'rituals' and 'habits' which become clearer on reflection,
especially in the light of the present knowledge of medicine.
By reflecting thus, we can appreciate some of the underlying secrets
of these Islamic teachings and something of the wisdom and blessed
guidance of Allah, praised and exalted be He. We shall first quote
some of the verses of the Qur'an and the ahadith of the Prophet
with regard to cleanliness and personal hygiene in order to establish
the authoritative precedents on which Muslims base their actions.
Allah says in the Qur'an:
"Surely Allah loves those who repent and He loves those who keep
O you who believe! When you rise up for your prayers wash your
faces and your hands up to the elbows and lightly rub your heads
and wash your feet up to the ankles, and if you are unclean purify
your- selves. And if you are sick or on a journey or one of you
come from the closet or you have had contact with women and you
find not water, then go to clean high ground and rub your faces
and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on
you but He would purity you and would perfect His grace upon you
that you may be thankful."
And the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:
"Keeping clean (pure) is half of Faith."
"Cleanliness is part of Faith."
"One who makes wudu and thoroughly cleanses his body with water,
then goes to perform the compulsory salat and prays together with
people in a mosque, Allah forgives his sins."
"When one of you rises from sleep, he should clean his nose three
times for the devil spends the night in the cavity of the nose."
"When one of you gets up from sleep, he should not touch any utensil
unless he washes his hands three times, for he does not know where
his hands had been during the night."
"it is essential for every mature person to take a bath on Friday,
to brush his teeth and also to use perfume if he can afford it."
"If a man and woman get so close that their private parts come
into contact, then taking bath is obligatory."
"None of you shall urinate in stagnant water nor shall he use
it for bathing."
The Messenger of Allah,peace be upon him, was in the mosque when
a man entered whose beard and hair of the head were dishevelled.
The Prophet made a gesture to him which meant, 'Go and brush your
beard and head.' So the man left and returned after doing that and
the Prophet said, 'Is it not better than as if one is a devil.'?
The Messenger of Allah prescribed forty nights within which a
man should shave the unwanted hairs of his body, trim the moustache
and cut the nails (i.e. these are not to be left unattended for
more than forty nights).
Our mother Ayesha said,
"Allah's messenger used his right hand for his ablution, water
and his food, and his left hand for evacuations and anything objectionable."
The above are a very short selection indeed of the many sayings
and practices of Sayyiddina Muhammad, peace be upon him, with regard
to cleanliness. Some of the points contained in them may be summarised
1. Muslims are asked to clean the pereneal region by washing with
water when water is available, after urination and defecation,
2. To get rid of the unwanted hairs of the body by shaving within
3. To cut the nails of the fingers and toes regularly.
4. To take a bath when one is unclean and before Friday prayers.
5. To wash the hands, clean the nose and rinse the mouth after
rising from sleep.
6. To wash the hands before eating.
7. To clean the teeth after meals and in between.
8. To be in a state of wudu for the five times daily prayers by
rinsing the mouth, cleaning and douching the nose, washing the face,
the arms, rubbing the head, cleaning the ears and rubbing the neck
and then by washing the feet-sequence taught by the Prophet.
One fact which emerges from the above is the emphasis placed on
the use of water for maintaining cleanliness and ritual purity.
This emphasis is all the more pronounced when one remembers that
the instructions were given first to a people who lived in the desert,
in a place where there was little water, not sufficient even for
the cultivation of crops.
For a Muslim these instructions are turned into a habit from early
childhood even in the simplest of Muslim homes. Let us now consider
the blessings that arise from these practices.
THE PERFORMANCE OF WUDU
Washing the hands
The hands are used for multifarious purposes and become dirty
very quickly. Washing the hands regularly therefore is a must and
the practice of wudu ensures that this is done. Attention must also
be paid to the nails of the fingers. Dust accumulated under the
nails is difficult to get rid off. Surgeons when washing up for
operations devote much time to brushing the tips of the fingers.
Washing the hands is as essential in tropical countries as it is
in non-tropical but industrialised countries.
Muslims because of the habit of eating with their hands-which
incidentally has much to recommend it as against the use of knife
and fork-are used to washing their hands before eating. The Prophet
of God, peace eb upon him, also taught Muslims to wash their hands
after rising from sleep. This principle of hygiene is perhaps not
even appreciated even by teachers of hygiene.
Rinsing the mouth
Muslims can make wudu five times a day and each time they rinse
the mouth three times. They also rinse the mouth after each meal
or after eating anything ... in between meals. Thus they rinse their
mouth nearly eight times in sixteen hours-that is, roughly every
By rinsing in the manner prescribed, any food or particle accumulating
in the inter- dental spaces are washed away. The regular rinsing
of the mouth is recommended in the prevention and treatment of diseases
of the teeth, gums and the mouth.
In addition to rinsing the mouth, Muslims have a tradition based
on the practice of the Prophet-peace be upon him of cleaning their
teeth with miswak which is the forerunner of the present-day toothbrush.
Muslims also have the practice of cleaning the interdental spaces
with wooden pins. This is highly desirable with the type of food
eaten which makes full use of the teeth.
It is no doubt the result of such meticulous care of the teeth
that caries of the teeth is uncommon in Muslim countries. Children
in some poor countries may suffer from obvious bone diseases but
have beautiful teeth.
Douching the nose
The Prophet-peace be upon him-instructs Muslims to clean their
noses by douching after rising from sleep and every time they make
wudu. An ordinary face wash only cleans the outer part of the nose.
Douching the nose is the only way to clean it from inside. This
helps to wash away the dried secretion inside the nose stuck to
the lining. The inner lining of the soft part of the nose is the
skin which has hair follicles. These hairs trap the dust particles
going inside and the secretion blowing out through the nose. They
can thus become coated with the nasal secretion and dust.
Rubbing the inside of the nose with the little finger-which is
ideally situated opposite the thumb-is the only way of making sure
that the area is cleaned. Muslims also regularly trim the hair inside
Cleaning the nose in the manner of the Prophet is thus very useful
in preventing the infection of nose sinuses (cavities inside the
bones of the face), boils in the hairy part of the nose and nose
bleeding. Also the lining of the nose has a tendency to get dry
in hot and in cold, humid countries. In this respect douching is
useful to wet the nasal lining: cold water run into the nose, like
cold air shrinks the lining of the nose. It is the safest form of
shrinking agent for blocked noses.
A clean and free nose does smell better than a blocked one. Keeping
the nose clean also prevents the infection of the ears and throat.
The use of the handkerchief to blow the nose instead of cleaning
the nose with water is not hygienic. The dirty handkerchief is carried
in the pocket and while perhaps the handkerchief is changed the
next day, the pocket is not! it is better to carry disposable tissues.
Blowing the nose properly and thus keeping it clean is often considered
antisocial. Even people who instruct others to blow their noses
do not do it themselves in company-so great is the social pressure.
Washing the face
In this process the part of the face from the forehead to the
chin between the two ears is washed, The important part in this
area, apart from the nose and mouth, is the eyes. The face, being
one of the exposed parts is liable to get dust laden. Washing the
face cleans it and gives a relaxed feeling, keeping away the feeling
of tiredness. Keeping the face clean is helpful in preventing certain
The eyes are always washed along with the face but especial effort
is to be made to clean the inner corner of the eyes with the index
finger as the hand is carried from forehead to the eyes. The inner
corner of the eye is the region where secretion often accumulates.
Secretion left in this region not only gives an impression of
untidiness but is also a source of infection. In washing the eyes,
the lids, the eye ashes, the conjunctiva (the transparent covering
of the globe for the passage of tears) are washed. Washing these
structures is essential in preventing and treating certain diseases
and indirectly and in some respects directly helps in maintaining
sight. Washing the eyes especially with cold water shrinks the inner
lining of the lids and removes itching and soreness.
In desert and dusty atmospheres, the washing of the eyes is extremely
essential. It is equally essential in the industrialised societies
with dirty atmospheres and artificial lighting which often produces
much harmful glare.
The skin of the head (scalp) is covered with hair which, with
the industrial dust in the air, becomes dust laden. Incidentally,
covering the head not only prevents it becoming dirty but also protects
it from extremes of temperatures. As custom has it, the majority
of people in industrialised societies remain bareheaded. In some
countries people are not allowed to swim in a public pool without
a head cap.
A scaly condition of scalp-polyriasis Capitae (dandruff) is very
common in the West not only in the westerners but also in the easterners
who adopt western culture. Predisposing conditions are skin, application
of chemicals to the hair and emotional factors.
It is desirable to avoid application of chemical creams. Pure,
natural oils like coconut oil as used in the east are more to be
recommended. In the circumstances it would be correct to assume
that rubbing the scalp with wet hands five times a day should be
beneficial to the maintenance of a clean and healthy-feeling scalp.
Also recommended in this regard, incidentally, are adequate diet
Without the conception of wudu, the ears would be left out from
the process of washing the face. In making wudu, the ears are cleaned
by force of habit. The outer ear of pinna is not a uniform surface
but has deep grooves due to the structure of underlying cartilage.
These deep grooves are the ideal place for dust to accumulate. The
only way to clean the ear is to run the moist index finger through
these grooves. The outer orifice of the outer ear can ideally be
cleaned by a moist index finger. The part of the ear most likely
to be forgotten is the back of the pinna. There is a deep groove
here and again it is an ideal place for dirt to accumulate.
The deeper part of the outer canal can be cleaned satisfactorily
only by an ear specialist. But one can attempt to clean it by winding
cotton wool on a match stick. Cleaning the outer ear in the above
manner prevents its being infected. I saw fewer cases of infections
of outer ear during my two years stay in Saudi Arabia where the
treatment is free and the atmosphere dusty, than I have seen during
my practice in England.
The custom of carrying a perfume laden cotton wool in the ear
in Muslim countries is certainly the only way of carrying it without
further. I think it has the advantage of masking the smell of any
discharge from the deeper part of the outer ear canal.
People living in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and other
industrial towns know how much the collar of the shirt gets dirty
in a single day. In addition to accumulating dirt, the neck perspires
under the collar. Cleaning the neck five times a day keeps it clean
and prevents the collar being dirty and keeps away the perspiration.
Most of the day the feet are covered with socks and remain inside
a tight shoe. The spaces between the toes perspire and the perspiration
does not evaporate. Thus the skin between the toes become moist
and is liable to become infected. A condition known as athlete's
foot-epidae morphytose-is very common among the sock users in humid
climates. The predisposing factors are humidity non-permeable socks,
orthopaedic defects and unsuitable footwear. When the feet are washed
special attention should be given to cleaning the spaces between
the toes and in cold and humid climates, to dry up the skin before
putting on the socks.
Taking off the shoe and socks and washing the feet gives a very
relaxed and refreshed feeling. It also removes the smelly perspiration
and therefore the smell of the socks. Also, one of the reasons that
people are not so regular in cutting the nails of the toes is that
they do not see the nails most of the time, The saying, 'out of
sight, out of mind' holds true in this regard. Washing the feet
is a useful reminder to attend to the nails.
From the above it can be seen that in wudu the part of the body
which perspire most and give rise to offensive odour are cleaned.
The cavities of the body like the mouth and the nose which are rich
in bacteria are cleaned. Wudu thus prevents infection of these parts
and prevents body odour. It gives the confident feeling which the
manufacturers of deodorants advertise-without any cost. It has the
additional advantage over deodorants that it removes the cause of
body odour instead of masking it. And if perfume is used in addition
to this, as is the Islamic custom, one can imagine the fragrance
of Muslim societies.
Wudu is also an excellent prescription for relaxing the tight
garments, although tight garments are not recommended for the Muslim
man or woman. In the process of making wudu, the tie, tight trousers,
and tight socks are loosened or removed for sometime. The act by
itself gives a feeling of relief. Washing the face and feet, and
blowing the nose and cleaning the mouth is very refreshing.
It requires five specialists-Ear-nose-throat, eye, dental surgeon,
chiropodist and general surgeon-to give the complete picture of
personal hygiene. Even they cannot co-ordinate and integrate it
in the simple, practical and effective way which the Prophet, following
llah's instructions, set for the daily routine of a Muslim's life.
And this was 1400 years ago, long before many peoples even began
to concern themselves with these matters. There may be other secrets
for mankind in the Muslim principles which will be discovered with
the advance in scientific knowledge, but for myself as a Muslim
and incidentally as an ENT surgeon the present facts are enough
to convince me of the genuineness of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad
and the unparalleled nature of his work.
Of course this assertion does not reflect the idea of using scientific
knowledge as the criterion of good and bad, or right and wrong.
It is only an exercise in trying to understand the ways of Allah.
For the Muslim's belief in religious principles is not conditional
on being proved or disproved scientifically. In fact, scientific
observations cannot be used as a criterion for they are ever changing.
We may now deal with some other Muslim habits and practises which
go to make up the Muslim conception of personal hygiene. This concept
embraces two aspects: the aspect of being clean in the sense of
being free from dirt and dust and the other of being clean in the
sense of being pure-a condition akin to surgical asepsis wherein
the body and its covering garments are free from any stains of body
excreta and other similar unclean substances, most of them teaming
Muslims are asked to clean the perineal region and the region
between the thighs by washing with water especially after defecation
or urination. In the absence of water, the instructions are based
on the surgical principle of cleaning away from the cleaner to the
The habit of cleaning the pereneal region with tissue paper alone
does not in fact clean the area; it only wipes off the faeces and
spreads a thin film of faecal matter over the area. The combination
of modern scientific knowledge which makes tissue paper commercially
available and Muslim cultural practice would produce the best results.
Thus tissue paper can be used first and water afterwards, The same
principle can be applied to other fields end thus a society better
than the present one can be produced.
Method of defecation
Muslims adopt a squatting position and according to the hadith
they have to lean heavy on the left foot. They also use the left
hand in the toilet of the region. These ail seemed to be based on
anatomical knowledge. Professor Ian Bird in his text-book of Surgery
writing about appendicitis states that the squatting position helps
complete evacuation of the colon and thus avoid stagnation at the
tail end of the gut.
The last part of the digestive tract where faeces accumulates
is in the left side; hence the leaning on that foot is helpful.
Similarly the use of the left hand help to press the left thigh
against the left side of the abdomen. In spite of this method (squatting)
being superior to the sitting position, most of the toilets in new
governmental buildings in Muslim countries have western type of
toilets-which people, it is interesting to note, use in the eastern
way. In cold countries where splashing of water has to be avoided
some research on this line can produce a design of toilet meeting
Muslims have to clean the area between the thighs and the groin
by washing thoroughly with water after urination. Here again, the
etiquette while urinating is to adopt a squatting position. This
also has an anatomical basis being the only way of evacuating the
passage from the bladder completely. Further, it helps to avoid
splashing of urinary droplets over the body or clothes, though this
can be achieved by building receptacles at higher level.
It should be remembered that urine and faeces are unclean substances
teeming with bacteria. The habit of washing the pereneal region
along with the habit of shaving the hair In this region enables
the Muslim to keep this region which is the greatest source of body
odour, clean and free of smell.
Circumcision which is practised by Muslims is in line with this
objective. The medical advantages enjoyed by Muslim men as a result
of practising this custom-apart from cleanliness of the area is
freedom from strains of urine, i.e. the lessening of near absence
of uretheretes, paraphysinosis and carcinoma in the region in man.
In woman, writing about the incidence of diseases of the cervix
in "Pill on Trial", Paul Vaughan and Dr, S. 1. Macmillan noted:
"None of these diseases produce the evidence indicating the relation
between the customs of circumcision and a carcinoma of the cervix."
Yet it is surprising that in scientifically minded England, it is
getting more difficult to have a child circumcised under the National
In cases where the toilet of the lower part of the body-between
the umbilicus and the knee is neglected a host of unpleasant effects
and diseases can arise:- body odour, boils or absess in the region,
skin diseases in the region and infections of the various parts
of the area, In cold climates where woollen garments are used, it
is especially essential to keep the area clean as the garment is
not changed frequently.
Even the use of underpants does not solve the problem. Underpants
should be used in addition to and not in place of. People who do
not pay attention to these hygienic principles are carrying on their
body bacteria laden clothes.
Every Muslim and Muslimah-after puberty- has to take a bath. When
married, a bath is necessary when the spouses have sexual contact.
Women have to take a bath after their cycle. Unmarried men have
to take a bath after ejaculation. in addition Muslims have to take
a bath before the Friday prayers.
Taking a bath on Friday, putting on clean clothes and using perfume
are all recommended and are important measures for having a fragrant
congregation on Jum'a day instead of a smelly one. In huge crowds
a stuffy atmosphere is likely to develop when people perspire more
both in hot and in cold countries.
Method of Taking bath
Muslims are not allowed to take a bath in stagnant water. Further,
the dirty parts of the body are washed first and then the cleaner.
The habit of taking a bath in the tub is not hygienic. While sitting
in the tub full of water, all the dirt from the body floats over
the water and sticks to the margin of the tub. When the water is
allowed to drain away the level of the dirt can be seen sticking
to the lower part of the body.
Even when the tub is filled with clean water the dirt that has
stuck to the body and the sides of the tub contaminates the water.
If the tub has to be used, the best way is to wash the lower part
of the body and the arm pits first. Then after cleaning the tub
again fill it with water and stay in it as long as is desired. Lastly,
wash the whole body with running water.
The mere awareness of these hygienic principles is often not enough.
My wife was astounded at the practice of taking a bath in the tub,
even in hospitals and especially after delivery. She has had her
three children delivered at three different hospitals in England
and on every occasion she was asked to have a bath in the tub. She
tried to point out that taking a bath in the tub was bad enough
but was especially so after delivery.
Taking a bath or making ghusl involves the preliminary of performing
wudu: washing the hands, mouth, nose, face including eyes, rubbing
the head, ears, neck, and washing the feet. Thereafter the whole
body is washed, the right side first and then the left.
This article has been written partly to make Muslims realise the
richness of their culture. One would expect the scientifically advanced
people to be more appreciative of certain hygienic principles but
often this is not so.
The advance of scientific knowledge by itself cannot and does
not ensure that people would make use of this knowledge. A Muslim,
however when adopting and carrying out the principles of Islam does
so with the conviction of their usefulness and great benefit, and
also with the feeling of moral obligation that they must be carried
out. In the case of personnel hygiene, this attitude ensures that
the principles are moulded into a set pattern of habits and behaviour.
Two distinct advantages of Islamic culture are its direct approach-in
this case to remove the cause of uncleanliness-and its universality
which implies that it can be practised in the poorest of societies.
The believers in the days of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and
for a long time afterwards perhaps did not understand the entire
significance of the Prophet's teachings, but believed in them nevertheless.
Today, the scientific mind tries to understand this significance
and the inner meaning behind certain habits and practices. This
indeed is a healthy attitude, so long as one remembers the limitations
of the knowledge of the day, and the completeness of truth embodied
in the religion of Islam.
March - April 1971