Cleanliness and purification is one of the great privileges of Islam. It has evolved a wonderful system that encompasses Muslim life on individual and social levels. Islam places great emphasis on cleanliness, in both physical and spiritual terms. The attention to hygiene is the aspect which is an unknown concern in any other religion or philosophy before Islam. While people generally consider cleanliness a desirable attribute, Islam insists on it, making it an indispensable fundamental of faith. Cleanliness is an essential part of Islamic life and in fact the meaning and spirit behind the concept of cleanliness is much beyond the superficial concept of the conventional cleanliness.
In the Holy Quran, there are a number of verses which shed light at the importance of cleanliness: "Truly, Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean." (Al Baqarah 2:222) At another place Allah says: “In it (mosque) are men who love to clean and to purify themselves. And Allah loves those who make themselves clean and pure.” (9:108) Cleanliness and purity has been emphasized by various means in hundreds of Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him). In a Hadith he said: Cleanliness is half of faith. (Sahih Muslim Book 2, Number 0432)
The importance of cleanliness can be estimated from the fact that the books of Hadith as well as the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) start with a chapter on cleanliness. There are two terms used in Islamic literature: taharah and nazafah. Taharah (Cleanliness from physical impurities) is required by Islam to be observed by each and every Muslim in his and her daily life while nazafah (neatness) is a desirable attribute.
There are two kinds of cleanliness; physical and spiritual. As far as physical cleanliness is concerned, it is of two types. One which is related to human body and the other is related to environment, water, house, road and public places. Muslims are required to observe cleanliness from the excretions of the penis, vagina or anus. Semen, sperm, urine, menstruation, vaginal fluid, stool and blood are impure and require compulsory modes of cleanliness. Muslims wash their genitals after passing urine and secretion and take bath every time they have intercourse with their mates. Muslims also enjoined to use water, not paper or anything else after eliminating body wastes. They are categorically prohibited to have sex with their wives during their menses.
A Muslim is obliged to make ablution if exposed to minor impurities. This means he must wash off those parts of the body (like hand, feet, face, nostrils etc) which are commonly exposed to dust, dirt and environmental pollution. Before every prayer (at least five times a day) and before recital of the Quran, Muslims are asked to perform this ablution. Likewise, Muslims are enjoined to have a Ghusl (bathe) after ejaculation, sexual intercourse, menstruation and puerperium. While at many other occasions, bathing is recommended as for Friday prayer, festival days, in Hajj etc.
Muslims are duty bound to keep the nails clipped, to remove hair from the armpit and from the pubic area as a matter of routine practice. Muslim males are required to get circumcised to avoid even faint traces of urine entrapped in the foreskin of the genitals. They are also instructed to trim their moustaches in order to avert oral intakes. Islam has directed attention in taking care of mouth by using any purifying agent like miswak. Brushing the teeth (once or twice a day) is very recent development of near past, but Muslims are accustomed this herbal brush for the past 1400 years, five times a day prior to each ablution. There are a number of Hadith that lay special stress on cleaning the teeth, hands and hair.
Apart from body, Islam requires a Muslim to keep his clothes, houses and streets clean. In fact a Muslim cannot offer his prayers with unclean body, clothes or using dirty premises. They are asked to use clean water and keep it safe from impurities and pollution. The particular chapter of taharah starts with the classification of water and goes on to describe how water gets impure or polluted.
Moreover, Islam instructed Muslims to maintain the cleanliness of the roads and streets. This is considered a charity to ridding the streets of impurities and filth. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) strictly warned against it and considered it one of the reasons to provoke Allah's curse and the people's curse, saying: "Beware of the three acts that cause others to curse you: relieving yourselves in a watering place, on foot paths or shaded places." (Abu Dawud, No 26)
Apart from physical cleanliness, Islam emphasizes on spiritual cleanliness. This means that one is free from polytheism, hypocrisy and ill manners, love of wealth, love of fame and other carnal desires. The emphasis in Islam is more on the cleanliness of the inner-self that is heart, mind and soul. The external cleaning process and rituals in reality are the preparatory ground work to obtain the more important task and that is cleanliness of the inner-self, which is the ultimate goal of the religion. Islam requires the sincere believer to sanitize and purify his entire way of life. The directives of Zakah (alms) and fasting are nothing but to purify ones wealth and soul.
Cleanliness is the pathway to health and strength. Islam wants a healthy and strong Muslim society which is immune against infectious diseases and is capable of understanding and applying God's message and carrying it away to the whole world. The Holy Quran says: You are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing In Allah. (Surah Aal-Imran, 3/110)
In view of the significance of cleanliness in Islam, Muslims should have the highest standard of cleanliness and personal hygiene of all the people in the world. But, it is highly regrettable that the heap of garbage has become an identity of Muslim homes and localities. The Muslim majority areas are marked with unhygienic and unhealthy conditions.