By Editorial Staff
It goes without saying that most faiths, including Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions, pay a lot of attention to purification and cleanliness. Christianity and Islam are two Abrahamic religions which are most concerned about purification and cleanliness.
As a matter of fact, cleanliness has two types: moral and physical. The above two divine messages elaborated on the importance of the first type, that is, moral cleanliness.
For example, Islam considers charity a means of purification for Muslims. This purification is not physical but moral one. About that, the Qur’an says:
Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [Allah ‘s blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (At-Tawbah 9:103)
As for Christianity, it often stresses spiritual, moral purification. It is the cleanliness of hearts by means of faith rather than the cleanliness of members. For example, in the New Testament, we read: “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)
However, the second type of purification and cleanliness, that is, physical purification and cleanliness, requires explanation, clarification and description.
We notice that the final message of Islam has elaborated on all aspects of the physical cleanliness through the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s tradition).
As for Christianity, the New Testament is devoid of any satisfactory explanation of the physical cleanliness. It focuses only on the moral cleanliness. On the other hand, the Old Testament clarifies only some aspects of the physical cleanliness and personal hygiene. However, the Old Testament’s handling of this issue does not stand comparison with that of Islam.
In terms of cleanliness, the Old Testament ranges between excessiveness and negligence, unlike Islam, that seems very balanced, moderate and comprehensive when dealing with cleanliness, especially the personal hygiene.
We observe that the Islamic approach seems more concerned about personal hygiene even for non-worship purposes, unlike the Old Testament, where cleanliness and purification are often intended for worship.
Let’s discuss the issue of personal hygiene between Christianity and Islam to know how Christianity and Islam deal with this very important question.
Urination & Defecation
Urination & Defecation in Islam
In Islam, urination and defecation have certain etiquette, including avoiding getting soiled with urine and feces going down, cleaning oneself preferably with water, covering private parts and keeping away from people’s eyes as far as possible.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned against breaching or neglecting the above etiquette and pointed out that ignoring or disregarding such etiquette leads to torture in the grave.
Ibn `Abbas reported that the Prophet once went through a graveyard of Medina and heard the voices of two humans who were being tortured in their graves. The Prophet said, “They are being punished, but they are not being punished because of a major sin, yet their sins are great. One of them used not to keep himself clean from urine, and the other used to go about with calumnies.” Then the Prophet asked for a green palm tree leaf, split it into two pieces and placed one piece on each grave, saying, “I hope that their punishment may be abated as long as these pieces of the leaf are not dried.” (Al-Bukhari)
The urination and defecation etiquette in Islam also include shunning urination and defecation in the road, in the shade or in water, be it running or stagnant.
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of God said: “Be on your guard against two things which provoke cursing.” They (the Companions present there) said: “Messenger of God, what are those things which provoke cursing?” He said: “Easing oneself on the thoroughfares or under the shades (where they take shelter and rest).” (Muslim)
Jabir reported that the Messenger of God prohibited urination at the stagnant water. (Muslim)
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet said: “One of you should not urinate at the running water and then bathe in it.” (Muslim)
Urination & Defecation in Christianity
Unlike Islam, we do not find crystal clear etiquette for urination and defecation in Christianity, especially the New Testament. Likewise, in the Old Testament, we do not find specific etiquette either, except for a command to get outside the camp, dig a hole for defecation and then fill the hole up. In the Old Testament, we read:
“You shall also have a place outside the camp to which you may go, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and when you [prepare to] sit down outside [to relieve yourself], you shall dig a hole with it and shall turn and cover up your waste…” (Deuteronomy 23:12-14)
Sexual Intercourse & Fluids
Sexual Intercourse & Fluids in Islam
In Islam, purification is a must after ceremonial impurity, i.e. after sexual intercourse and the discharge of sexual fluids in general either through intercourse, wet dream, masturbation or otherwise. Taking a bath is mandatory after impurity in the wake of sexual intercourse or the discharge of any sexual fluid. In the Qur’an, we read:
If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. (Al-Ma’idah 5:6)
About the obligation to take a bath specifically after sexual intercourse, Abu Hurairah reported that Prophet Muhammad said: “When a man sits in between the four parts of a woman and has sexual intercourse with her, taking a bath becomes compulsory.” (Al-Bukhari)
About the obligation to take a bath after the discharge of a sexual fluid, Ali reported that Prophet Muhammad said: “If you discharge a (sexual) fluid, then take a bath.” (Abu Dawud and An-Nasai’)
(The mother of the believers) Umm Sulaim, the wife of Abu Talha, came to the Messenger of God and said, “O Messenger of God! Verily God is not shy of (telling you) the truth. Is it necessary for a woman to take a bath after she has a wet dream (nocturnal sexual discharge)?” The Messenger of God replied, “Yes, if she notices a discharge.” (Al-Bukhari)
Sexual Intercourse & Fluids in Christianity
In the New Testament, we do not find a detailed description of the manner of physical purification after sexual intercourse and the discharge of sexual fluids.
In the Old Testament, we find a description of the manner of purification after intercourse, but we notice that the prescribed manner is exaggerated and degrading to man whom God has honored.
We find that the Old Testament considers men and women impure after sexual intercourse even after they take a bath and asserts that their impurity extends to the things above which intercourse took place. The Old Testament makes washing those things with water compulsory. In the Old Testament, we read:
“Now if any man has a seminal emission, he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening. Every garment and every leather on which there is semen shall be washed with water, and shall be unclean until evening. If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.” (Leviticus 15:16-18)
As for the sexual fluids, the Old Testament deems them such impure emissions which soil everyone and everything around, even if one purifies oneself of this impurity by taking a bath. Like a woman in childbed or having vaginal bleeding, a man then has to expiate for the discharge of a sexual fluid. In the Old Testament, we read:
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean…Every bed on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean…And the priest shall use them, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord for his discharge…” (Leviticus 15:1-15)
Menstruation, Lying-in & Vaginal Bleeding
Menstruation, Lying-in & Vaginal Bleeding in Islam
Personal hygiene after menstruation and lying-in has etiquette in Islam. First of all, husbands have to refrain from having sexual intercourse with their wives during the menstruation or lying-in period. About that, in the Qur’an, we read:
And they ask you about menstruation. Say, “It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” (Al-Baqarah 2:222)
Moreover, purification after menses and lying-in per se has etiquette in Islam. At the end of the menstruation or lying-in period, a woman has to take a bath, where she is to wash her body as a whole, wash her sex organ thrice, track the traces of blood and perfume her genitals.
`A’ishah reported that an Ansari woman asked the Prophet how to take a bath after menses. He replied, “Take a piece of a cloth perfumed with musk and clean yourself with it thrice.” The Prophet then felt shy and turned his face. So I pulled her to me and told her what the Prophet meant.” (Al-Bukhari)
Another report on the authority of `A’ishah reads: ”A woman asked the Prophet about the bath which is to be taken after menses. The Prophet told her what to do and said, “Purify yourself with a piece of cloth scented with musk.” The woman asked, “How shall I purify myself with it?” He said, “Glory be to God! Purify yourself (with it).” I pulled her to myself and said, “Rub the place soiled with blood with it.” (Al-Bukhari)
In Islam, menstruation and lying-in do not lead to woman isolation, seclusion or segregation. Rather, they entail consolation, solace and kindness to woman.
Islam only prohibits penetration, but it still permits penetration-free sexual intercourse. Under the Chapter of Menstruation in Sahih Al-Bukhari, we find that Prophet Muhammad used to express sympathy for and show kindness to his wives during their periods and treat them quite normally the way he used to.
Prophet Muhammad would recite the Qur’an in the lap of one of his wives while menstruating. His wives would wash his head during their periods, and he would sleep with them without penetration.
Menstruating and confined women have lightened rulings in Islam. They may stop fasting during their menstruation or lying-in period in Ramadan and may make up for the days on which fasting is broken after Ramadan. They may also stop offering prayer without making up for the missed prayers. They are recommended to witness the feast prayers.
As for the vaginal bleeding outside usual menstrual periods, a woman has only to purify herself for each prayer by performing ritual ablution (wudu’).
`A’ishah reported that Fatimah bint Abi Hubaish said to the Messenger of God, “O Messenger of God! I do not become clean (from vaginal bleeding). Shall I give up my prayers?” The Messenger of God replied: “No, because it is from a blood vessel and not menses. So when the real menses begins, give up your prayers and when it (the period) finishes, wash the blood off your body (take a bath) and offer your prayers.” (Al-Bukhari)
Menstruation, Lying-in & Vaginal Bleeding in Christianity
In the New Testament, we do not find etiquette to be observed by a woman during the menses and lying-in period. In the Old Testament, we notice that it regards menstruation and lying-in appalling punishable crimes.
So, we observe that the Old Testament considers a menstruating woman impure and so is whoever touches her or her bed, and such a person has to take a bath and wash one’s clothes. Everything on which a menstruating woman sits or lies becomes equally impure. In the Old Testament, we read:
“When a woman has a discharge, if her bodily discharge is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And if it is on her bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. If a man actually lies with her so that her menstrual impurity is on him, he shall be unclean for seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.” (Leviticus 15:19-24)
As for lying-in, the Old Testament considers a confined woman as impure as the menstruating woman. So, she may not touch any hallowed thing or go to the sanctuary. A confined woman’s impurity is multiplied if she has given birth to a girl. Since lying-in is a crime in the Old Testament’s sight, a woman has to atone for it. In the Old Testament, we read:
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Leviticus 12:1-8)
As for the vaginal bleeding, it is like menstruation in the Old Testament in terms of the woman’s impurity and need for atonement for a crime which she did not commit. However, the suffering of the woman having vaginal bleeding is much longer and greater. In the Old Testament, we read:
“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge. You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them. These are the regulations for a man with a discharge, for anyone made unclean by an emission of semen, for a woman in her monthly period, for a man or a woman with a discharge, and for a man who has sexual relations with a woman who is ceremonially unclean.” (Leviticus 15:25-33)
1- The Glorious Qur’an
2- Sahih Al-Bukhari
3- Sahih Muslim
4- Sunan Abi Dawud
5- Sunan An-Nasai’
6- The Holy Bible