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Al-Wudu Verse

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Al-Wuḍuʾ Verse (Arabic:آية الوضوء) is the 6th verse of Sura al-Ma'ida and the only verse in the Qur'an explaining the way of making wudu'. There are disagreement between Shi'a faqihs and Sunnis about the meaning of three words in this verse: "Ila" (to), "Arjulakum" (your feet) and "Ka'bayn" (protruding bone). By virtue of this verse, Shi'a wash their hands downward and wipe a portion of the upper part of feet. In contrast, Sunnis do not believe that washing downward is necessary and most of them wash their feet. Other than this verse there are 560 hadiths in Shi'a sources about wudu and its details.

Text of the Verse

Translation: When you stand up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe a part of your heads and your feet, up to the ankles.

Direction of Washing Hands

Shi'a Faqihs believe that washing hands from elbows to the tips of the fingers is compulsory for making wudu. However, Sunnis unanimously say that one is free whether to wash the hands downward or upward, but washing them upward (from the fingers to elbows) is Mustahab (recommended). This disagreement originates from the meaning of the word "Ila" (to) in this verse and also hadiths about wudu.

According to Shi'a, the word "Ila" in this verse only explains the limit of washing not the direction of it, because in Arabic the word "Yad", meaning hand, has three usages:

  1. From the tips of the fingers to the wrist
  2. From the tips of the fingers to the elbow
  3. From the tips of the fingers to the shoulder.

"Ila" (to) in this verse only indicates that the second usage is meant. Even in ordinary usage when someone tells a house painter "paint this wall to this point" it does not mean toward this point and in this direction, rather it only indicates the limit.

Moreover, Shi'a faqihs have provided evidence form hadiths about Prophet Muhammad (s) - that he washed his hand downward - and also hadiths from the Infallible Imams (a) saying that the hands must be washed downward.

Washing or Wiping the Feet

By virtue of this verse and hadiths from Ahl al-Bayt (a), Shi'a believe that one should wipe on the upper part of feet while making wudu. In contrast, Sunni believe that they must be washed. It seems that the origin of this disagreement is the way of reading the letter "لام" (L) in "Arjulakum."

There are two different Qira'a (reading) for this word.

Common Qira'a: In the most prevalent Qira'a, it is read "arjulakum" (the vowel "æ" after "l"). According to Arabic grammar by reading in this way the verse can convey two meaning:

  1. Wash your face and hand and wipe a part of your heads and your feet.
  2. Wash your face and your hands and wipe a part of your heads and wash your feet.

In addition to hadiths and tradition which support the first one, the second is against the eloquence of the Qur'an (as it appears even in the translation).

Some Sunni scholars claimed that in this verse washing includes wiping, i.e. washing is wiping with more water, but wiping does not include washing. So, if someone washes his feet, he has done his duty in wudu, but if he just wipes and in reality he was required to wash his feet, that does not suffice and his wudu is void.

Answering this claim, it is said that washing and wiping are two different actions and none of them is applied to the other, i.e. no washing is wiping and no wiping is washing. Commonly, if someone washes his feet, people do not say that he has wiped them. Above all, if this claim was correct, washing the head should have sufficed instead of wiping, while even Sunnis reject this.

Rashid Rida, the Sunni scholar, said: "intellectually, washing is more suitable, as it is more hygienic, so it is better for standing before the Lord of the lords."

However, because wudu is an act of worship, it must be performed in the way God and His Apostle (s) defined; not according to the taste or personal opinion of others. If the feet are dirty, one can wash them before or after wudu; changing the way of making wudu is not the solution.

Uncommon Qira'a: in this Qira'a (reading) the word is recited "arjulikum", which makes the verse to have only one meaning: "wipe a part of your head and your feet." However, some Sunnis said that even in this Qira'a the feet must be washed and the verb "wipe" is used to persuade people to consume less water for washing their feet.

Meaning of Ka'bayn

Ka'bayn is the dual form (Tathniya=indicating two) of Ka'b. Three meanings are mentioned for this word:

  1. the protruding bone on foot
  2. the joint of tibia and foot (ankle)
  3. the bone of malleolus which is protruded on each side of ankle.

Some Shi'a scholar has chosen the first meaning and some the second. However, the third meaning is not correct here, because if it was suitable, the word should have been used in plural form not in dual form.

References

  • The material for writing this article is mainly taken from آیه وضو in Farsi Wikishia.