Adopting Tayammum (Dry Ablution) in the Midst of Water the Crisis

Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

Since the beginning of the Water Crisis in the City of Cape Town three years ago, we have taken modest steps to conserve this precious resource. For example, we recommended that masajid place jugs of water in the wudū-areas and stopped the water supply from the taps. We also embarked on a robust water-saving educational campaign.

As the water crisis became increasingly severe in 2017, we recommended that Musallis perform the farḍ wudū (washing only the obligatory parts of the body once) in preparation for the ṣalāh (ritual prayer) and other acts of worship that requires the wudū.

The water crisis has now officially escalated to the level of disaster and we are hurtling towards Day Zero. As of 1 February 2018, the City of Cape Town has implemented Level 6B water restrictions. This means that the daily consumption per person, per household will be reduced to 50 litres. Day Zero, we are informed, commences in May 2018 when all water supply across the city will cease. Residents will then have to stand in line at selected locations to receive an allocation of 25 litres per person, per day.

In light of this dire situation we recommend that Muslims save water and begin to adopt the alternative mode of ablution, known as tayammum (the dry ablution). Tayammum can be performed in preparation for the ṣalāh and other acts of worship instead of wudū with water.

This recommendation is based on clear evidence from the primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an. In Surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, verse 6, Allah, the Lord of Wisdom proclaims: “… But if you are sick or travelling, or one of you have answered the call of nature, or you have been intimate with women, and you cannot obtain water, then (perform tayammum) obtain for yourselves fine earth or sand and wipe your faces and hands with it. Allah does not want to make it hard and difficult for you, but wants to make you pure and clean, and to bestow His blessings upon you, so that you show gratitude and may be thankful.” (Qur’an, 5:6)

The Qurʾānic commandment of tayammum applies to circumstances when there is no water, or when the available water is needed for drinking purposes and other means of survival. Shaykh Dr Wahba al-Zuḥaylī (d.2015) in his authoritative Islamic Law and its Sources- al-Fiqh al-Islāmī wa Adillatuhu, discussed the applicable rules for tayammum under the heading “water as a necessity: immediately or in future.”

Shaykh al-Zuḥaylī explained: “A person is required to perform tayammum if one is convinced, or, if one estimates a water shortage in the future which could result in people perishing or experiencing severe hardship…”. (Vol 1, p 419)

The Qurʾānic teaching of tayammum embodies the Prophet Muhammad’s (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) practice of ease (yusr or taysīr) in the face of hardship. He worked tirelessly to establish this principle of ease and alleviating hardship and frequently reminded his followers: “The Religion (of Islam) is easy. Any worshipper who becomes severe in adhering to the teachings of this religion will be overwhelmed. Therefore, do not be extreme in your devotions. Rather, seek to perform acts of worship to the best of your ability. And give glad tidings (be positive and life affirming). So, seek Allah’s assistance (in adhering to the principle of ease) in the morning, and at sunset, and during part of the night.” [Reported by Abu Hurayra and recorded in Sahīh al-Bukhārī].

Mindful of this central teaching of Islam, all the major schools of Islamic law (madhāhib) recognize the “principle of ease” (yusr or taysir) as an essential part of Islamic jurisprudence. Among the legal maxims in Islamic jurisprudence (al-qawāʿid al kulliya) one rule states: “instances of hardship elicit ease” (al-mashaqqa tajlib al-taysīr). This rule implies that whenever a hardship (ʿusr or mashaqqa) confronts a believer then the “principle of ease” applies. This rule applies to the water crisis we are currently experiencing.

All of the above evidence supports our recommendation for Muslims living in Cape Town to adopt the performance of tayammum (dry ablution) in the current dire circumstances of a water shortage. Muslims do not have to wait for the taps to run dry, before embracing the dry ablution. The current water crisis should be sufficient to warrant its legitimacy.

Numerous written resources illustrate how to perform tayammum. The very word tayammum means, “to intend, endeavor and aspire (qaṣd).” The aspiration is to attain proximity and closeness to Allah. Hence, it is imperative that the following intention (nīyyah) be made when beginning tayammum: nawaytu al-tayammum li istibāḥatis ṣalāh (I make the intention to perform tayammum to make the ritual prayer permissible.) The intention is followed by striking the palms of one’s hands on stone, brick, clay or sand. After the first strike, rub the face once. On the second strike, rub the hands starting from the fingers and then moving to the arms up to the elbows once. Begin with the left hand over the right hand and arm, followed by the right hand over the left hand and arm. It is important to note that tayammum must only be taken at the time of prayer and not before the appointed time. Furthermore, tayammum cannot be kept until the following prayer and must be renewed each time.

We make duʿā and pray that Allah, the Lord of Compassion, will soon bless us with abundant rain and bring relief from the drought-stricken conditions faced by the City of Cape Town and large parts of the country. May we always remain good stewards of nature’s gifts.

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