Islamic Customs and Etiquette
The various manifestations of the conduct, mannerisms and pattern of living of a group of people are called customs and etiquette. No period of human civilization has remained devoid of them. We find them in currency in every clan, culture and nation. Civilizations are mostly distinguished from one another because of them. The religions revealed to the Prophets of Allah also direct their respective believers to follow certain customs and etiquette. The objective of divine religions is purification of the soul. Consequently, these customs and etiquette have been chosen to fulfill this objective. When the Prophet Muhammad (sws) was called to serve the Almighty, all these customs and etiquette existed in Arabia as practices of the Abrahamic religion. Except for a few things, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) made no addition to them. They, obviously, existed before the Qur’ān and their status is that of Sunan (plural of Sunnah) which were sanctioned by the Prophet (sws) and then transferred to the Muslim ummah through the consensus and perpetual adherence of the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws). Now their source is the consensus of the ummah and on this very basis are accepted and acknowledged everywhere as part of Islam. In the following paragraphs, this writer shall elaborate in detail these customs and etiquette.
1. Declaring Allah’s name before eating and drinking and using the right hand for the purpose
The first of these is to express gratitude to Allah for His bounties and to invoke His blessings and the second is to constantly remind us that those who are bestowed with the favours of Paradise will receive their account in their right hand on the Day of Judgement. In other words, when a true believer uses his right hand while eating and drinking, he symbolically expresses his desire to be among the ashāb al-yamīn (companions of the right hand) on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet (sws) has directed us to follow this Sunnah of the Prophets in the following words:
إِذَا أَكَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ طَعَامًا فَلْيَقُلْ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ نَسِيَ فِي أَوَّلِهِ فَلْيَقُلْ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ فِي أَوَّلِهِ وَآخِرِهِ (ترمذى ، رقم : 1858)
When anyone among you is about to eat food, he should say bismillāh. If he forgets to say it at the beginning and [remembers it later on while eating], he should say: “In the name of Allah both at the beginning and at the end.” (Tirmadhī, No: 1858)
إِذَا أَكَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَأْكُلْ بِيَمِينِهِ وَإِذَا شَرِبَ فَلْيَشْرَبْ بِيَمِينِهِ (مسلم ، رقم: 2020)
When anyone among you eats, he should eat with the right hand and when he drinks, he should drink with the right hand. (Muslim, No: 2020)
2. The ceremonial salutation and its response when people meet one another
The ceremonial salutation is a prayer of peace and well-being for one another in this world and in the Hereafter. The one who initiates the salutation says السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ (al-salāmu ‘alaykum) and the one who replies says وَ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمَ (wa ‘alaykum al-salām). This salutation is mentioned in the Qur’ān as well as in various Ahādīth. While pointing out its correct etiquette, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
يُسَلِّمُ الصَّغِيرُ عَلَى الْكَبِيرِ وَالْمَارُّ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِ وَالْقَلِيلُ عَلَى الْكَثِيرِ.(بخاري ، رقم : 5877)
The young shall say salām to the old, the one who is walking shall say it to the sitting and a small group shall say it to a large one. (Bukhārī, No: 5877)
3. The ceremonial utterances after sneezing
Sneezing relieves a person from an internal disorder. A person is required to say الْحَمْدُ للّه (al-hamdullilāh: all gratitude is for Allah only) after sneezing and anyone who hears him should reply by saying only يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallāh: may Allah have mercy upon you). These words are meant to remind a believer that the blessings of Allah in this world and in the Hereafter are specifically for people who are grateful. According to some Ahādīth, it was initiated at the dawn of mankind, when the spirit was blown into Adam and he woke up in this world . The existence of the word تشْمٍِْيت (tashmīt) for these ceremonial utterances is evidence enough that they are an age old Sunnah which the Prophet Muhammad (sws) sanctioned and adopted for his own ummah also. He is reported to have said:
إِذَا عَطَسَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَقُلْ: الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ وَلْيَقُلْ لَهُ أَخُوهُ أَوْ صَاحِبُهُ يَرْحَمُكَ اللَّهُ فَإِذَا قَالَ لَهُ: يَرْحَمُكَ اللَّهُ فَلْيَقُلْ: يَهْدِيكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيُصْلِحُ بَالَكُمْ.(بخاري ، رقم: 5870)
When anyone of you sneezes, he should say الْحَمْدُ للّه (al-hamdullilāh) and if his brother or companion hears these words, he should reply by saying يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallāh). And when he says يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallāh), you should say: “May Allah guide you and keep you well.” (Bukhārī, No. 5870)
4. Saying the آذَانَ (ādhān) in the right ear of a new born and the اِقَامَة (iqāmah) in his left.
This Sunnah was initiated by the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The words of the آذَانَ (ādhān) and the اِقَامَة (iqāmah) adopted by the Prophet (sws) in accordance with the guidance he received from the Almighty encompass very comprehensively the whole message of Islam in a very concise and moving manner. A true believer is forever an addressee of this message. We hear these words to our people five times a day from our mosques. Sounding these words in the ear of a newborn is a symbolic expression of the fact that just as his parents have transferred their physical being to him, they have initiated the transfer of their spiritual being to him with words that convey the basic message of Islam.
5. Clipping the moustache,
6. Shaving the pubes,
7. Removing hair from under the armpits,
8. Cutting nails,
9. Circumcising the mail offspring
10. Cleaning the nostrils, the mouth and the teeth
The fondness towards cleanliness which the Prophets of Allah want to inculcate among their followers made them include the above mentioned practices as an established Sunnah. In history, they are referred to as شَعَآئِر (sha‘ā’ir: religious symbols) of Arabia . It is known from the way the Prophet (sws) did wudū (ablution) that he would specially do مَضْمَضَه (madmad~ah: to gargle in order to clean the mouth) and اِسْتِنْشَاق (istinshāq: to pour water in the nostrils to clean them). He was also very diligent in cleaning his teeth, and is even reported to have said:
لَوْلَا أَنْ أَشُقَّ عَلَى أُمَّتِي لَأَمَرْتُهُمْ بِالسِّوَاكِ عِنْدَ كُلِّ صَلَاةٍ (مسلم ، رقم : 252)
Had I not thought that this would burden my ummah, I would have directed them to clean their teeth before every prayer. (Muslim, No: 252)
11. Cleaning the body after urination and defecation
Cleaning carefully the relevant body parts after defecation and urination is another Abrahamic practice . Depending upon the circumstances, these parts can be cleaned by water, mud cubes or other things that can serve the purpose. It is apparent from various Ahādīth that the Prophet (sws) normally used water for this. Abū Hurayrah (sws) reports:
كَانَ االنَّبِيُّ إِذَا أَتَى الْخَلَاءَ أَتَيْتُهُ بِمَاءٍ فِي تَوْرٍ أَوْ رَكْوَةٍ فَاسْتَنْجَى ثُمَّ مَسَحَ يَدَهُ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ.(أبو داؤد ، رقم: 45)
When the Prophet would go out to relieve himself, I would bring some water in a utensil or a water container. He would clean himself from this water and then rub his hands on the mud to clean them. (Abū Dā’ūd, No: 45)
12. Taking the ceremonial bath after the menstrual cycle and the puerperal discharge
The ceremonial bath has also remained a Sunnah of the Prophets. As soon as bleeding ceases in both these situations, a woman must have this bath to enter the state of purity. The Qur’ān explained the sharī‘ah regarding this issue in the following words:
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنْ الْمَحِيضِ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَاعْتَزِلُوا النِّسَاءَ فِي الْمَحِيضِ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّى يَطْهُرْنَ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمْ اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ (222:2)
They ask you concerning women’s courses. Tell them: “They are an impurity. So keep away from women in their courses and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves approach them in the manner the Almighty has directed you [in your instincts] – for Allah loves those who constantly repent and keep themselves clean.” (2:222)
Amīn Ah~san Islāhī, while explaining this verse writes:
In this verse, two words have been used: طُهْر (tuhr) and تَطَهُّر (tatahhurr). While the former means “the completion of the state of impurity and discontinuation of menstrual bleeding”, the latter implies “a woman entering the state of purity after having the ceremonial bath”. According to the verse, a woman should be in a state of purity for sexual intercourse; simultaneously, it is delineated that when a woman enters the state of purity, the husband can go near her. It is evident from these words that the real reason that prohibits sexual intercourse is blood; so once this stops, the prohibition no longer remains. However, the proper conduct in this regard is that a husband should approach his wife for sexual relations once she has had the ceremonial bath.
13. Ceremonial bath after Janābah
In the religion of the Prophets, after janābah also, the believers must take the ceremonial bath. The Almighty has stated this directive particularly before the prayer in the following words:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنْتُمْ سُكَارَى حَتَّى تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّى تَغْتَسِلُوا (43:4)
Believers approach not the place of the prayer when you are in a drunken state until you are able to understand what you say nor when you are in a state of sexual impurity (janābah) till you have taken a bath except if you only intend to just pass through the prayer place. (4:43)
In Sūrah Mā’idah, this directive is stated in similar words (If you are in a state of janābah, have a bath. (5:6)). By janābah is meant the state of impurity that one enters after copulation or after a seminal/ovular discharge whether or not copulation has taken place. The ceremonial bath is necessary after this state in order to be purified. One should have this bath in a thorough and complete manner. As per the linguistic principles of Arabic, the Qur’ānic words اِطَّهَرُوا (ittaharū) and اِغْتَسِلُوا (ightasilū) testify to this. The way the Prophet (sws) set about following this directive, as mentioned in various Ahadīth, can be summarized as:
First the hands should be washed;
then the genital area should be thoroughly cleaned by the left hand;
then wudū should be done except that feet should be washed later at the end;
then while inserting the fingers in the hair, water should be soaked into it so that it reaches its roots;
then water should be poured all over the body.
In the end, the feet should be washed.
Following are the Ahadīth that have reached us in this regard from ‘A%’ishah (rta) and Maymūnah (rta), the blessed mothers of the believers:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذَا اغْتَسَلَ مِنْ الْجَنَابَةِ يَبْدَأُ فَيَغْسِلُ يَدَيْهِ ثُمَّ يُفْرِغُ بِيَمِينِهِ عَلَى شِمَالِهِ فَيَغْسِلُ فَرْجَهُ ثُمَّ يَتَوَضَّأُ وُضُوءَهُ لِلصَّلَاةِ ثُمَّ يَأْخُذُ الْمَاءَ فَيُدْخِلُ أَصَابِعَهُ فِي أُصُولِ الشَّعْرِ حَتَّى إِذَا رَأَى أَنْ قَدْ اسْتَبْرَأَ حَفَنَ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ ثَلَاثَ حَفَنَاتٍ ثُمَّ أَفَاضَ عَلَى سَائِرِ جَسَدِهِ ثُمَّ غَسَلَ رِجْلَيْهِ.(مسلم ، رقم: 316)
‘A’ishah reports that when the Prophet would have the ceremonial bath after janābah, he would first wash both hands. Then he would clean his genital area by the left hand after pouring water on it by the right one. Then he would do wudū the same way as wudū is done for the prayer. He would then take some water and insert his fingers in his hair until the water reached the skin. He would then pour three handfuls of water on his head. Then he would drench all his body with water and then wash both feet. (Muslim, No: 316)
عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ حَدَّثَتْنِي خَالَتِي مَيْمُونَةُ قَالَتْ أَدْنَيْتُ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ غُسْلَهُ مِنْ الْجَنَابَةِ فَغَسَلَ كَفَّيْهِ مَرَّتَيْنِ أَوْ ثَلَاثًا ثُمَّ أَدْخَلَ يَدَهُ فِي الْإِنَاءِ ثُمَّ أَفْرَغَ بِهِ عَلَى فَرْجِهِ وَغَسَلَهُ بِشِمَالِهِ ثُمَّ ضَرَبَ بِشِمَالِهِ الْأَرْضَ فَدَلَكَهَا دَلْكًا شَدِيدًا ثُمَّ تَوَضَّأَ وُضُوءَهُ لِلصَّلَاةِ ثُمَّ أَفْرَغَ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ ثَلَاثَ حَفَنَاتٍ مِلْءَ كَفِّهِ ثُمَّ غَسَلَ سَائِرَ جَسَدِهِ ثُمَّ تَنَحَّى عَنْ مَقَامِهِ ذَلِكَ فَغَسَلَ رِجْلَيْهِ ثُمَّ أَتَيْتُهُ بِالْمِنْدِيلِ فَرَدَّهُ.(مسلم ، رقم: 317)
My aunt Maymūnah [once] told me: “I placed some water [in a utensil] before the Prophet (sws) so that he could have the ceremonial bath of janābah. He first washed both his hands two or three times. Then he slid his hand in the utensil and poured some water over his private area and washed it with his left hand. He then thoroughly rubbed this hand on the ground and did wudū the way it is done before the prayer. He then took three handfuls of water and poured them on his head. Then he washed all his body. He then stepped aside and washed both his feet.” (Muslim, No: 317)
14. Bathing a dead body
Bathing a dead body is also from among the sunan of the Prophets. The directive stands fulfilled if water is poured all over the body. However, keeping in view the importance of purification and cleanliness in Islam, the spirit of the directive is that the body should be bathed with diligence and thoroughness.
The directives regarding bathing a dead body which the Prophet (sws) once gave are:
اغْسِلْنَهَا ثَلَاثًا أَوْ خَمْسًا أَوْ أَكْثَرَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ بِمَاءٍ وَسِدْرٍ وَاجْعَلْنَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ كَافُورًا أَوْ شيئاً مِنْ كَافُوْر (بخاري، رقم: 1195)
Bathe the [dead] body of this [girl] with water and berry leaves three times or five times – or even more if required and add camphor or [he said] some camphor to the water with which you bathe her. (Bukhārī, No: 1195)
اغْسِلْنَهَا وِتْرًا وَكَانَ فِيهِ ثَلَاثًا أَوْ خَمْسًا أَوْ سَبْعًا وَبْدَاْنَ بِمَيَامِنِهَا وَمَوَاضِعِ الْوُضُوءِ مِنْهَا (بخاري، رقم: 1196)
Bathe this girl odd number of times: three or five or seven times and begin with her right side and from the limbs by which wudū is done. (Bukhārī, No: 1196)
15. Enshrouding a dead body in coffin cloth
Enshrouding the dead body in coffin cloth after giving it a bath is also an Abrahamic Sunnah. Though one single piece of cloth can be used for this purpose, however, to show due respect to the dead body something better seems befitting. ‘A%’ishah (rta) narrates that the Prophet (sws) was enwrapped in three yamanī sheets which did not include any shirt or turban (‘amāmah). The Prophet (sws) says:
إِذَا كَفَّنَ أَحَدُكُمْ أَخَاهُ فَلْيُحَسِّنْ كَفَنَهُ. (مسلم، رقم: 943)
Any one among you who enshrouds your dead brother in a coffin cloth should do it befittingly. (Muslim, No: 943)
Another practice among the Prophets of Allah is burying the dead in a grave – the final resting place. No specific way has been fixed for this. A ditch can be made by digging the earth and then covering it or a cavity can be made adjacent to a dug out ditch or the dead body many be buried in a coffin casket. All these ways can be adopted. However, the Prophet (sws) did not approve of cementing a grave or building some structure over it or writing something on it. It has been reported in some Ahādīth that at the time of burial, the Prophet (sws) sprinkled clay from the head side of the body three times. While placing the body in the grave, the following words have also been reported from the Prophet (sws):
ِوَعَلى سُنَّةِ رَسُوْلِ الله ِبِسْمِ الله.
Another Hadīth says that the Prophet (sws) urged others also to say these words.
The following prayer for the dead after burial is ascribed to him in this regard:
اسْتَغْفِرُوا لِأَخِيكُمْ وَسَلُوا لَهُ ِالتَّثْبِيت فَإِنَّهُ الْآنَ يُسْأَلُ (ابوداؤد ، رقم: 3221)
Pray for the forgiveness of your brother and beseech the Almighty to make him steadfast because now he would be called to account. (Abū Dā’ūd, No: 3221)
17. ‘īd al-Fitr;
18. ‘īd al-Adhā
- 1. Sadqahal-Fitr after ‘id al-fitr
- 2. The Prayer and the Sermon
- 3. Animal Sacrifice
- 4. Takbīrs after every prayer in the Days of Tashrīq
References in this article
. Tirmadhi, No: 3368.
. Dr Jawad ‘Ali, al-Mufassal fi Tarikh al-‘Arab Qabl al-Islam, 2nd ed., vol. 6 (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li al-Malaliyyin, 1986), 346.
. Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1985), 526.
. In normal circumstances, every dead person must be given a bath. However, in extraordinary circumstances in which bathing a dead body and putting it in a coffin cloth becomes a matter of great difficulty, then the body can be buried without bathing it and putting it in a coffin cloth. It is narrated in Bukhari (No. 1346) that the Prophet (sws) directed Muslims to bury the martyrs of the battle of Uhud in this manner. This incident has been narrated in other books of Hadith also. Our jurists associate such a burial with martyrdom only. However, in the opinion of this writer, this is a general exception which is based on the principle of relief (rukhsah) that is always kept in consideration in the various directives of Islam.
. This way is to be adopted in normal circumstances. So if a person dies on a ship and the shore is far off, the only option left is to cast the body in the surrounding water.
. Muslim, Nos: 969-70; Ibn Majah, No: 1563.
. Ibn Majah, No: 1565.
. Abu Da’ud, No: 3213, (“In the name of Allah and according to the way of His Prophet”).
. Musnad Ahmad, No: 5233.
. The 10th, 11th , 12th and 13th of dhu al-h~ajj.
. Bukhari, No: 910.
. Tirmadhi, No: 943.
. Bukhari, No: 986.
- "Meezan" (Urdu - Published 2009, Lahore; ISBN 48593948) Author: Javed Ahmad Ghamidi