This is the very thought that goes through our heads as we scramble to get ready for Jumu’ah prayer. We hurriedly jump into the shower, make wudhu (ablution), and just like that, we are on our way. Some are scared to ask about the steps of ghusl and others assume they already know. The proper steps of ghusl should be fundamental knowledge to every Muslimah, married or not, and understanding this ritual is critical because is it a prelude to prayer.
What is ghusl?
Ghusl is an Arabic term describing the complete ablution and purification of one’s body. Ghusl after the completion of one’s period and the ghusl that is performed after sexual relations are the two most important types of ghusl in regards to women. In both of these situations, ghusl is mandatory (wajib) and must be performed before prayer or other religious duties, such as reading the Qur’an or entering the masjid.
The times when ghusl is mandatory are:
• after ejaculation (during a state of consciousness or during sleep),
• after sexual intercourse,
• after completion of the menstrual period,
• after completion of post-natal bleeding,
• when a new Muslim accepts Islam
• and at the time of death.
The instances when ghusl is sunnah are:
• Friday ghusl (ghusl al-Jumu’ah),
• Eid ghusl,
• Ghusl before standing on the Mountain of ‘Arafa during Hajj,
• and ghusl al-Ihram (before beginning the Hajj).
How do we know that ghusl is required of us?
The action of ghusl is clearly mentioned in Surah An-Nisa when Allah (SWT) says:
O you who believe! Do not approach prayer when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state of Janaba, (i.e. in a state of sexual impurity and have not yet performed ghusl) except when travelling on the road (without enough water or just passing through a mosque), till you wash your whole body. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (by sexual relations) and you find no water, perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands. Truly, Allah is Ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving. [An-Nisa: 43]
The Method of Ghusl
There are two main components of ghusl; if they are not performed, then the ghusl is invalid. They are making the niyyah (intention) and the washing of all parts of the body.
Ghusl is a prelude to prayer, therefore, the niyyah must be made before starting the act of purification. The niyyah of the act of ghusl is to please Allah (SWT) and to make your prayers acceptable to Him. The niyyah is not said aloud in the case of ghusl, nor is the name of Allah (SWT) to be spoken aloud in a bathroom.
To further outline the proper method of ghusl as described by the Prophet (SAW), Aisha (RA) narrates in a hadith:
When Allah’s Messenger made ghusl because of sexual intercourse, he first washed his hands; he then poured water with his right hand on his left hand and washed his private parts. He then performed wudhu as is done for prayer. He then took some water and ran his fingers in the roots of his hair. And when he found that it had been properly moistened, he poured three handfuls on his head and then poured water over his body and subsequently washed his feet. [Bukhari and Muslim]
This hadith translates into these six steps:
1. Make the niyyah (intention) to perform ghusl for purification.
2. Wash your hands.
3. Wash your private parts thoroughly with water.
4. Perform wudhu (ablution) except for the washing of your feet, which you can do later while bathing the body.
5. Wash the entire body, starting with your head and the right side, followed by the left (making sure you wash behind the ears and between the toes).
6. It is preferred that the whole body be washed three times. The minimum is once.
Upon completion of these steps, you are considered eligible to pray and conduct other religious rituals.
A Few Issues Pertaining to Ghusl
It is permissible for one to combine two intentions in one in regards to ghusl; for instance, Friday ghusl and janaba (after sexual relations) may be combined, or ghusl after completion of the period and Friday ghusl. It is not necessary to have a separate bath for each reason.
If one performs ghusl, it is not necessary for he or she to make wudhu again after completion, the ghusl itself counts as the wudhu. Furthermore, a hadith narrated by Aisha (RA) says: “The Prophet of Allah (SAW) would not make wudhu after performing ghusl.”
Though every religious ritual is important, ghusl should be given an even greater amount of attention and care. We should strive to perfect it not only because is it the door to accepted prayers, but it is the key to purify our bodies both inside and out.
Sarah Elshamy is an American-born Egyptian living in Cairo. She is currently studying at Al-Azhar University entering her third year studying hadith and Qur’an.