O you who believe! when you prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. (al-Ma’idah, 6)
Every Muslim makes the ritual ablution of Wudu many times a day before prayer. But are they aware of the amazing medical protection they are applying to their bodies? Read on….
Salah is the Arabic word for prayer which constitutes the second pillar of Islam. Muslims are required to pray five times a day (unless physically or mentally unable). Prior to prayer Muslims must make sure they are in a state of purity (taharah) by performing a ritual ablution known as ‘Wudu’.
Muslims believe all things prescribed by Allah ﷻ have an infinite and divine wisdom behind them. This article will touch on a few medical related benefits of ablution and the next edition will do the same for Wudu. I will attempt to address this topic purely from a physiological aspect as oppose to the psychological benefits (these are however interrelated). Also, I would like to stress the injustice that will be done, when humans attempt to expound on the wisdom of divine prescriptions.
Wudu in of itself can be considered an act of worship and is commanded in the Qur’an directly by Allah ﷻ. Unlike other acts of worship (ibadah), Allah ﷻ showed its importance by listing step-by-step the obligatory aspects of its performance. This ablution broadly consists of the washing of the hands, the face, lower arms, wiping the head and washing the feet up to the ankles. For this article we will add one non-obligatory element to this list because of its importance: the rinsing of the mouth.
Washing of the Hands
The benefits of washing one’s hands are innumerable. It is known that the washing of hands (be it with or without warm water and soap), is a vital part in fighting cross-infection of all types. It can also prevent a wide range of:
• acute respiratory infections;
• helminth (parasitic worm) infections;
• eye infections;
• diarrhoeal disease.
A recent article published in the British Medical Journal in 2007, went as far as to reaffirm that physical barriers to infection (i.e. hand washing) if given more of a priority can be more effective than drugs. A case in point would be the prevention of acute respiratory infections. A study carried out in Pakistan found that over 50% of pneumonia related infections in children under the age of 5 could simply be prevented by the washing of hands with soap. Hand washing also reduces respiratory infections by removing infectious pathogens to be found on the hands.
Rinsing of the Mouth
Moving on, the rinsing of the mouth and oral cavities has its obvious benefits for removing germs, bacteria and unwanted food particles. It is important to note Muslims wash their hands before rinsing their mouth, ensuring bacteria that would otherwise remain on the hand does not enter the body via the mouth. Alongside the rinsing of the mouth another component of maintaining oral hygiene is in the using of a natural toothbrush (miswak).
The miswak or siwak is a small stick that is optionally used by Muslims in the same way as a toothbrush. The miswak is made from a twig or root that is known to contain antiseptic properties. It is recommended at certain times, such as: before going on a journey; entering the house; sleeping; waking; and before prayer. It is narrated that Abu Hurayrah once reported that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Were it not that I might overburden believers, I would have ordered them to use the miswak at every prayer” (Sahih Muslim). It is known the miswak a) prevents tooth decay and b) halts the increase of decay.
In support, a scientific study in 2003 concluded, ‘The miswak is more effective than tooth brushing for reducing plaque and gingivitis, when preceded by professional instruction in its correct application. The miswak appeared to be more effective than tooth brushing for removing plaque from the embrasures, thus enhancing interproximal health’. More strikingly the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2000 had backed an internal consensus on using the miswak for oral hygiene purposes. Alongside this, other research papers, ‘Beyond Sewak: World of Science and Research’, asserts the miswak also has an anti-addiction effect on smokers both on the curative and preventative side.
Thus if the mouth is not washed or cleaned properly, including the use of miswak, it will increase ones susceptibility to infection and disease. Illnesses associated with a lack of oral hygiene include Monoliasis (bacterial infection), Periodontal disease, Gingivitis and Tartar. Also, another recent study published in the Clinical Microbiology Reviews Journal by the name of ‘Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection’, have found a direct link between a lack of oral hygiene and systemic diseases. Systemic diseases include Cardiovascular Disease, Bacterial Pneuomonia, Osteoperosis, Low Birth Weight and Diabetes Related Complications.
Washing of the Face
The washing of the face regularly with cold water is highly recommended by all those in the medical profession. It is an essential method by which to keep one’s face free from a wide range of pollutants.
Washing the Head and Arms
Muslims are then prescribed to wash the head (including neck) and arms. The head and neck are littered with veins that run throughout the body and to the brain and spinal cord. The wiping of the hands over the head stimulates these veins increasing the blood flow and strengthening the corresponding organs. The same can be said of the arms where there are three major veins running to the heart, liver and brain.
Washing the Feet
Taking good care of one’s feet and ankles are vital for everyday working and recreation. According to the NHS Podiatry Service, the foot ‘is often the one part of our body most neglected’. Washing the feet helps prevent fungal problems (i.e. athlete’s foot) and other hygiene related infections. Also patients with diabetes are recommended by the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC), to keet feet skin healthy, one way being ‘washing your feet in warm water every day’.
Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves. (al-Baqarah, 222)
Overall, while Muslims perform the specific act of ablution known as Wudu, because it has been commanded by Allah (swt) , there is always an underlying and undeniable wisdom to be found, a pattern that can be observed throughout the various Islamic rituals.