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Purity and Ritual Prayer
 
The first condition for the performance of ritual prayer is purity (taharah). Here purity has a ritual connotation and is gained through wudu`, ghusl (ablution), or tayammum. Obligatory wudu` and ghusl are done for the performance of obligatory ritual prayers, obligatory circumambulation, or touching the text of the Quran. Mandub (recommended) purity is required for the performance of some recommended rites. Purification (taharah), in the form of wudu`, ghusl, or tayammum, is done as a means of removing spiritual impurity (hadth). That which results in a need to perform wudu` or minor purification (hadth al-asghar) is referred to as a minor impurity (hadth al-asghar), and that which results in the need to perform ghusl is referred to as a major impurity (hadth al-akbar). Things that necessitate wudu` or nullify it include any bodily discharge, sleep and matters relating to these two. Sexual intercourse and menstruation, and their concomitants, and touching a corpse are cases which necessitate ghusl.
In the Islamic shari`ah, water is the ultimate purifier, which in the Quran is referred to as tahur (the purifier) (Furqan 25: 48). Water is what removes the impurity, both in cases of wudu` and ghusl. In cases where no water is available, or there is a threat of bodily danger, or there is insufficient time, earth is used for tayammum as a substitute method. Outward purity is a major aspect of wudu` and ghusl, while in tayammum the main intent is adherence to the command of the Legislator (Shari`, i.e. shari`ah). Here, it is interesting to note that in a prophetic hadith “God is the creator of water and earth.”
Apart from removing spiritual impurities or hadth, the performer of ritual prayer should avoid outward impurities or that which in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is referred to as khubth. These include impure things, which are referred to as najis and which impart their impurity when they come into contact with other things, while one or the other contains moisture. In such cases the second object receiving impurity from the najis object is called mutijannis (that which has become impure). The performer of ritual prayer and some other religious rites is required to remove physical impurities, najis or mutijannis, from his attire and place of worship. Becoming pure from hadth, or spiritual purity, which is the prerequisite for ritual prayer and some other religious rites, is itself a religious rite and thus requires the intention (niyyat) for proximity to God (taqarrub) as its initial condition. On the other hand, purity from khubth is a means of meeting the material conditions of ritual prayer and thus does not call for the intention to proximity.
The performance of wudu` entails (1) the washing of the face from the hair line to the chin; (2) the washing of the two arms, from the elbow to the fingertips of the right hand and then from the elbow to the fingertips of the left hand; (3) the mash (touching) of the top of the head from the back to the front (4) the mash of the top of the right and then the top of the left foot from the tip of the toes to the leg. As regards the mash of the feet Imami Shi`ites concur with the method just explained, but Sunnis believe that the feet must be washed completely. Ghusl is of two types: tartibi (sequential) and irtimasi (through immersion). In the former, the head, then the right side of the body, and then the left side of the body are washed. In the latter, one completely immerses himself in water. In tayammum, the palms of the hands are placed on earth and then rubbed over the face – from the hair line to the top of the nose, then the back of the hands are rubbed (mash) – first the right and then the left hand. However, there are divergent views as to the meaning of sa`id or the surface of tayammum.
Another type of ghusl which differs completely from other ghusls is that which is performed on a corpse as a means of its preparation for burial. In this type of ghusl the performer of the rite is other than the one who is the subject of purification. This is why instead of being referred to as ghusl (transitive from) it is called taghsil (intransitive form).
 
* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.408 - 409
 
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