Intention for Ablution

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Are we required to have a niyyah (intention) when performing the wuḍu (ablution)?


i. Ṣalāh (prayer) is an integral part of Islam. Its prerequisite is the required level of purity.  Most books and manuals of fiqh (jurisprudence) tend to place this subject of Ṭahāra (purification) at the beginning, given its importance.

ii. Writing in Bidāyatul Mujtahid (Vol. 1, Kitāb aṭ-Ṭahāra) Ibn Rushd states: ‘Wuḍu (ablution) becomes obligatory when it is time for ṣalāh (prayer) or when a person has intended an act for which wuḍu is a requisite condition, even if the act is not associated with a fixed time.’

iii. A minority of scholars have argued that a niyyah (intention) is not a condition for the validity of wuḍu. Again, as Ibn Rushd (Bidāyatul Mujtahid, Vol. 1, Kitāb aṭ-Ṭahāra) provides a useful succinct summary:

‘A group of jurists, including al-Shāfi’i, Mālik, Ḥammād, Abu Thawr, and Dāwud, were of the opinion that it is a condition. Another group said it is not a condition and this was the opinion of Abu Hanifah and al-Thawri. The reason for their disagreement is the vacillation of the term ‘ibādāh, between being a pure ritual ‘ibādāh — I mean, not subject to rationalisation and intended only for the pleasure of Allah, like ṣalāh and similar forms of mere ritual worship — and between‘ibādāh that can also be rational, like the washing of dirt.’

iv. Our adopted view on this matter, is that it rests with the former: it must be accompanied with an intention.


  1. There are several facets to this topic as a whole.
  2. Further to the summary comment of Ibn Rushd above and to provide a more detailed explanation, we present a translation of three issues (numbers 110/112)  from al-Muḥalla bil’Athār by Ibn Ḥazm (Vol. 1 Kitāb aṭ-Ṭahāra, pp. 90/93).
  3. This provides a critical appraisal of the dissenting view and why it is rejected as being invalid, both from its internal reasoning as well as its textual conformity.

The Wudu for Salah

The wuḍu (ablution) for Ṣalāh (prayer) is an obligation.  No Ṣalāh will be accepted without wuḍu for the one who finds water.  This is (based upon) ijmā (consensus) upon which there is no disagreement by anyone.  Its origin lies in the statement of Allah the exalted, namely:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ

O you who believe, when you stand for the Ṣalāh (prayer) wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles. [5: 6]

Wudu isn’t valid unless it is with the intention of Tahara

Wuḍu (ablution) isn’t valid unless it is (accompanied) with the intention of Ṭahāra (purification) for Ṣalāh (prayer).  There is no difference in this regard between the obligatory or voluntary Ṣalāh.  One will not suffice without the other; it is for all types of Ṣalāh without exclusion, with the intention of having purity for that.  The proof for that, is the verse mentioned previously.  Allah hasn’t ordered the wuḍu except for Ṣalāh in general – alṢalāh (the prayer).  Moreover, Allah hasn’t specified a particular prayer, so therefore there shouldn’t be a specification made with other than that which Allah has commanded.

  • Abu Ḥanifah said: It is permissible to do wuḍu and ghusl (full body wash) without the requirement of an intention; intending (simply) to clean and cool-off would be sufficient.

The argument that they said, is that one is but required to wash certain body parts.  And they said: we judged as such by way of Qiyās (analogy) with the removal of najāsa (impurity); that is undertaken without the need of an intention.  And some of their statements is that tayumum (dry ablution without water) is not valid except if accompanied with an intention.

  • Al-Ḥasan ibn Ḥayy said: Wuu, ghusl and tayumum, all of that doesn’t require an intention.
  • Abu Yusuf said: If someone has junub (a state of ritual impurity) and enters a well to extract (water from) a bucket, but immerses himself (in that water), that is not sufficient to wash (away) that janabā.
  • Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan said: this is enough to remove, wash away the janabā.

Ali (Ibn Ḥazm) said: As for their argument that he is ordered to wash his body or these particular body parts and he did what he was ordered to do, that is a lie.  The reason being, is that the order has come to wash with the intention of performing another act that Allah the exalted has commanded.  Allah the exalted has said:

وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ

They were commanded only to worship Allah making the religion sincerely to him [98: 5]

The exalted has barred us from being commanded with anything except by way of his worship, celebrating his praise; we are commanded in Deen to accompany that with an intention.  All actions of the Sharī’ah are in this manner.

حدثنا حمام بن أحمد ثنا عبد الله بن إبراهيم ثنا أبو زيد المروي ثنا الفربري ثنا البخاري ثنا الحميدي ثنا سفيان بن عيينة ثنا يحيى بن سعيد الأنصاري أخبرني محمد بن إبراهيم التيمي أنه سمع علقمة بن وقاص الليثي يقول، سمعت عمر بن الخطاب يقول على المنبر: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول إنما الأعمال بالنيات وإنما لكل امرئ ما نوى

Ḥammām ibn Aḥmad narrated to us Abdullah ibn Ibrāhim narrated to us Abu Zayd al-Marwazi narrated to us al-Farabry narrated to us al-Bukhāri narrated to us al-Ḥumaydi narrated to us Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna narrated to us Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed al-Anṣāri narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhim at-Taymee reported to me that he heard ‘Alqama ibn Waqqāṣ al-Laythi saying: I heard Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb saying upon the minbar: I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him say:

‘Actions are based upon intentions and a person will receive according to what he intended.’  

Concerning their Qiyās (analogy) that it is likened or akin to removing the najāsa, that is invalid, because all Qiyās is invalid.  Even if Qiyās were true, this will still be invalid in of itself.  For certain reasons, we can tell them why did you make Qiyās upon wuḍu and ghusl in relation to najāsa with the first of the Qiyās that was upon tayumum, which is a substitute for wuḍu in certain circumstances also?  As the tayumum is based upon wuḍu in some cases (their Qiyās) reached the extent of (extending it to) the two elbows, then it is not permissible to do wuḍu upon tayumum because it is not permissible to undertake each of them except with an intention, because both of them are the requisite purification for Ṣalāh.

If they say, Allah the exalted has said: (regarding tayumum) ‘betake yourselves to pure earth,’ [5: 6] and he did not say the same for the wuḍu.  We reply, yes, but so what?  Likewise, Allah the exalted said: ‘when you stand for the Ṣalāh wash,’ [5: 6].  So, it is correct that it is not permissible that the washing is undertaken (for itself) except if it is relation to the prayer, as with the text of the verse.

The second consideration is that they claim that the washing of najāsa is permissible without intention – is invalid, (but) not as they have said.  Nay, every purification relating to najāsa is enacted by the command of Allah upon an (existing) attribute.  What it is not permissible except by intention and upon that attribute, as per the words of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him: ‘Whoever does an act which we have not commanded, will have it rejected.’  And we have already mentioned it (the narration) with its isnād previously.  Every najāsa doesn’t occur except by an attribute, and the people have to pray without najāsa upon their bodies or in their clothes or in the place of where they pray.

They did what has been ordered and the corruption of their position and protestations become manifest.  The greatest contradiction that they have is in relation to the difference between wuḍu and ghusl and between tayumum and Ṣalāh and other than that from matters upon which there is no proof.  And they differed amongst themselves regarding the person in junub being immersed (in water) in the well, as we have mentioned earlier, there’s no evidence.

Some of them said: if wuḍu needs an intention, then the intention needs another intention and so on.  We say unto them – this may be compulsory for you, because you made the intention compulsory for the tayamum and prayer which is impossible.  But the intention which is commanded, is commanded by itself, to undertake what is commanded by it only.

As for the opinion of Al-Ḥasan ibn Ḥayy, it is in contradiction to the wording of the verse and the ḥadith that we have been mentioned on this previously.  Our statement in relation to this, is the same as that of Mālik, al-Shāfi’i, Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Isḥāq, Dāwud and other than them.  And with Allah the exalted is all tawfeeq.

Wudu: before and after its time

The wuḍu is valid before and after the time (of prayer).  Some of the people have said, the wuḍu and the tayamum are only valid after the time of the Ṣalāh occurs.  Others have said wuḍu is valid after the time (of prayer enters), but not so with tayamum; (it is) only valid after the time (of prayer enters).  And others have said, wuḍu and tayamum can be performed before and after the required time.  Their argument for all of that, this is not valid except after the time has entered, (rests) with the statement of Allah the exalted:

إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ مَرْضَى أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ مِنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ مِنْهُ

O you who believe, when you stand for the Ṣalāh (prayer) wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles.  If any of you is sick or on a journey, or has just relieved himself, or had intimate contact with a woman, and can find no water, then take some clean sand and wipe your face and hands with it. [5: 6]

Ali (Ibn Ḥazm) said: And this not an argument for them, but rather an argument that is against them, because Allah the exalted did not say when you stand for an obligatory Ṣalāh and neither he did he say when the time enters upon you and you stand for an obligatory Ṣalāh.

Rather, he the exalted said: ‘when you stand for the Ṣalāh’ [5: 6].  So, he the exalted did not specify whether it is for an obligatory or voluntary Ṣalāh and there is no disagreement upon this.  Indeed, there is a decisive consensus upon this from all people of the earth that are from amongst the Muslims, upon (the fact) that the voluntary Ṣalāh is not valid except if its prerequisite Ṭahāra (purification) exists, namely from either wuḍu, tayamum or ghusl.

Hence according to the text of the verse, when one wants to stand for obligatory or voluntary Ṣalāh, one would either perform the wuḍu or undertake ghusl if required if in janabā or tayamum, if required as being from the people of tayamum (without water) and then pray.  Thus the text of the verse is definitive, that if one completes his ghusl, wuḍu, or tayamum, then that establishes the required purity without doubt.  If the required level of purity is correctly established, it is thus permissible for one to undertake other tasks between that Ṭahāra and the Ṣalāh, be that walking, talking or (any other) work.

(This is) because the verse did not require the Ṣalāh to be (immediately) connected with Ṭahāra, neither by way of text or evidence accompanying it.  If it is possible that there exists a timespan between the Ṭahāra and the Ṣalāh, then that is open-ended unless it is specified further by the Qur’ān or Sunnah and that extends to other obligatory (Ṣalāh) times as well as in relation to that which is voluntary.

It is well established by the text of the verse that it is permissible to attain Ṭahāra by ghusl, by wuḍu and by tayamum prior to the time of the obligatory Ṣalāh.   Indeed, the text of the verse doesn’t further outline anything else from that, except the intention of Ṭahāra so that one may perform the Ṣalāh only, (with) nothing more.  Another evidence: there is no disagreement amongst anyone, that the Ṣalāh is valid (immediately) from the beginning of its time.  That being the case, its (performance) would not be valid unless Ṭahāra is acquired prior to that.  This necessitates that obtaining the requisite Ṭahāra must be undertaken prior to that first time.  An additional proof is what Abdullah ibn Rabih’ narrated to us:

ثنا محمد بن معاوية ثنا أحمد ابن شعيب ثنا قتيبة بن سعيد عن مالك عن سمي عن أبي صالح عن أبي هريرة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: من اغتسل يوم الجمعة غسل الجنابة وراح فكأنما قدم بدنة، ومن راح في الساعة الثانية فكأنما قرب بقرة، ومن راح في الساعة الثالثة فكأنما قرب كبشا، ومن راح في الساعة الرابعة فكأنما قرب دجاجة، ومن راح في الساعة الخامسة فكأنما قرب بيضة، فإذا خرج الامام حضرت الملائكة يستمعون الذكر

Muḥammad ibn Mu’āwiya narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Shu’ayb narrated to us Qutayba ibn Sa’eed narrated to us from Mālik from Sumiyah from Abu Ṣāliḥ from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

‘Whoever performs ghusl from janāba on Friday, then comes (to the masjid), it is as if he sacrificed a sacrificial animal. Then the one who comes in the second hour, it is as if he sacrificed a cow. Then the one who comes in the third hour, it is as if he sacrificed a ram. Then the one who comes in the fourth hour, it is as if he sacrificed a chicken. Then the one who comes in the fifth hour, it is as if he sacrificed an egg. Then when the Imām comes out, the angels attend to listen to the reminder.’

This is a clear text that outlines the permissibility to do wuḍu for Ṣalāh and tayamum as required, prior to the entry of the time coming into effect.  The Imām on Friday must by necessity come out for Ṣalāh (slightly) after the time or after the time has entered.  Definitely, without any doubt he would have acquired the level of purification required earlier in the day and prior to the time of Jumuah’.  Indeed, the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him instructed about the details of coming to Jumuah, concerning the one who has (to substitute with) tayamum; in relation to travelling and the one who has wuḍu.

As for those who would make a distinction between making wuḍu permissible before its time but tayamum is not after its time, prohibiting that; they claim the ruling of the verse dictates it be after the beginning of its time.  They claimed that regarding the wuḍu, the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him, as he came out on the Day of Conquest (i.e. the conquest of Mecca) performing all Ṣalāh with a single wuḍu.

Yet this is not an argument for them because it is not set out in this report that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him did wuḍu before the time of Ṣalāh (or) when it entered.  He may have performed the Ṣalāh after the time had entered then prayed all his prayers with that requisite purity, unless it was broken.  If this is possible, there is no evidence in this report establishing that it is permissible to do wuḍu before the time has come.

And with Allah the exalted is all tawfeeq.

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