The following is a transcription of “Are You Making the Most of Your Wuḍūʼ?” podcast.
People ask: “What are the spiritual meanings of our ritual ablution?” – the wuḍūʼ.
Very often people forget that the ritual ablution – wuḍūʼ – is an act of worship. Very often our wuḍūʼ turns into a routine: “I need to pray, so let me do my wuḍūʼ, let me finish my wuḍūʼ.” So sometimes it just becomes routine: “I’m doing this, so I can now go and pray.”
And this is true, in that wuḍūʼ is a means to be able to pray, but it is at the same time an act of worship. So one needs to pay attention to it.
Other people make a mistake with respect to the wuḍūʼ, in that they become excessive and fall into misgivings about it. They put all their focus on worrying and that is a mistake, because the Prophetic teachings give us a balance, that we do things in a right way, as best we can, but we attach our hearts not to our actions but to the One we are doing the actions for.
So what is the wuḍūʼ? The word wuḍūʼ in Arabic, comes from waḍā’a, from radiance, and naẓāfa, cleanliness. So the purpose of wuḍūʼ is to clean oneself in a ritual manner to be ready to pray, and it is a means of radiance, because the outward washing has a sense of spiritual purification and spiritual illumination.
So when we make wuḍūʼ we have to keep in mind that we begin the wuḍūʼ with intention: “Why am I making wuḍūʼ?” For the sake of Allāh. This is an act of worship. It contains a beautiful reminder that God loves purity, God loves beauty. So you are readying yourself for the encounter with your Beloved.
So you begin with the intention. In fact, some of the great masters of spirituality, like Imām Aḥmad Zarrūq, he says that presence of heart in prayer begins with presence of heart in the ritual ablution, in the wuḍūʼ. So you begin with intention: “I am seeking Allāh through this action,” and you behold the meaning that each of the limbs that you wash, that you are seeking to rid it of blameworthy qualities, and to adorn it with the qualities of spiritual illumination, the qualities beloved to Allāh. So that when you wash your hands, intend to wash yourself of all acts that are sinful that you may have committed with your hands, in your dealings, in your actions. And to acquire with your effort, and your actions all those qualities that are beloved to Allāh. When you rinse your mouth, you intend to rid yourself of vile speech, and the consumption of anything that is displeasing to Allāh, and to characterize yourself with speech that is beloved to Allāh, of remembrance and supplication and recitation of Qur’ān, and speech that inspires others, that encourages others, that assists others. Likewise, when wash your face, you intend to wash away directing yourself in life towards all that is displeasing to Allāh, and to characterize yourself with those radiant concerns, the concerns for God Himself and for all that is beloved to Allāh in your life. When you wash your arms, the same meanings, that you be of those who receive their book of good deeds in their right hand, the hand in which the righteous receive their book of good deeds on the Day of Judgment, not to be of the people of perdition, those who receive their book of deeds in their left hand. That you perform the actions of the servants of good, not the actions of those who turn away. Likewise, with your feet, that you direct your feet towards all that is pleasing to Allāh, and that you rid yourself of directing yourself in life towards all that is displeasing to Allāh.
In the ritual ablution, in the wuḍūʼ, not only is it from the Prophetic example to begin in the name of Allāh, by saying bismiLlāh, but it is also from Prophetic practice to remain in remembrance of Allāh throughout the wuḍūʼ, So with each of the actions that we perform, before you wash your mouth engage in remembrance, before you wash your face engage in remembrance. You can say lā ilāha illa Allāh, or subḥān Allāh, or to make a du’ā, make an interactive wuḍūʼ. With each action ask Allāh for meanings related to that particular action. This was not only from the broad Prophetic practice, but the early Muslims used to engage in frequent supplication at each of the stages of wuḍūʼ. In some of the great books of Islām, like the Beginning of Guidance by Imām al-Ghazālī, are suggested particular supplications that you can recite at each stage of your wuḍūʼ, and this is the kind of wuḍūʼ that results not just in physical cleanliness and then to be outwardly ready to pray, but it results in inward purification, inward radiance, and a spiritual readiness to pray. And this is why when we finish the wuḍūʼ, we take a sip of the water source from which we are making wuḍūʼ, and then we look up to the Heavens, we raise our finger, and we make the testification of faith, and we make the du’ā:
“رَبِّي اجْعَلْنِيْ مِنَ التَّوَّابِيْنَ وَ اجْعَلْنِيْ مِنَ الْمُتَطَهِّرِيْنَ”
“Oh Lord, make me of the oft-repentant and make me of those who purify themselves completely!”
And these are the two meanings of the ritual ablution: complete repentance and complete purification, illumination, and readiness for the prayer.