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 fulfil 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’an 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 prescribed by the prophets of God.


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 ashab al-yamin (companions of the right hand) on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet (sws) has directed us to follow thisSunnah of the prophets in the following words:


سَمِّ اللَّهَ وَكُلْ بِيَمِينِكَ

Eat while taking the name of God and use the right hand.[1]


إِذَا أَكَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيَأْكُلْ بِيَمِينِهِ وَإِذَا شَرِبَ فَلْيَشْرَبْ بِيَمِينِهِ

When anyone among you eats, he should eat with the right hand and when he drinks, he should drink with the right hand.[2]


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-salamu ‘alaykum) and the one who replies says وَ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمَ (wa ‘alaykum al-salam). This salutation is mentioned in the Qur’an as well as in various Ahadith. While pointing out its correct etiquette, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:


يُسَلِّمُ الصَّغِيرُ عَلَى الْكَبِيرِ وَالْمَارُّ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِ وَالْقَلِيلُ عَلَى الْكَثِيرِ

The young shall say salam 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.[3]


3. The ceremonial utterances after sneezing

Sneezing relieves a person from an internal disorder. A person is required to say الْحَمْدُ للّه (al-hamdullilah: all gratitude is for Allah only) after sneezing and anyone who hears him should reply by sayingonly يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallah: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 Ahadith,itwas initiated at the dawn of mankind, when the spirit was blown into Adam and he woke up in this world.[4] The existence of the word تَشْمٍِْيت (tashmit) 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

When anyone of you sneezes, he should say الْحَمْدُ للّه (al-hamdullilah)[5] and if his brother or companion hears these words, he should reply by saying يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallah).[6]And when he says يَرْحَمُكَ الله (yarhamukallah), you should say: “May Allah guide you and keep you well.”[7]



4. Clipping the moustache, 5. Shaving the pubes, 6. Removing hair from under the armpits, 7. Paring fingernails, 8. Circumcising the mail offspring

All these five things belong to Islamic etiquette. Large moustaches give the impression of arrogance and conceit in a person. Also edibles and drinks become contaminated through them when they are put in the mouth. Dirt often accumulates in elongated nails and such nails also have resemblance with savage animals. Consequently, the Almighty has directed us to keep our moustaches trim and to pare our fingernails whenever they grow. The rest of the three directives are aimed at one’s physical cleanliness and hygiene. So strict was the Prophet (sws) in observing these norms that for some of them he even stipulated a certain time limit. Anas (rta) reports:


وُقِّتَ لَنَا فِي قَصِّ الشَّارِبِ وَتَقْلِيمِ الْأَظْفَارِ وَنَتْفِ الْإِبِطِ وَحَلْقِ الْعَانَةِ أَنْ لَا نَتْرُكَ أَكْثَرَ مِنْ أَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً

The time before which we must trim our moustache, pare our fingernails, shave pubic hair, remove hair from under the armpits has been fixed as forty days.[8]


Before the advent of Islam, Arabs usually observed these etiquette.[9] The source of these norms and practices is found in our own nature and the prophets of Allah have always made them a part of religion, considering the importance they occupy in purifying and cleansing human beings. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:


الْفِطْرَةُ خَمْسٌ الْخِتَانُ وَالِاسْتِحْدَادُ وَقَصُّ الشَّارِبِ وَتَقْلِيمُ الْأَظْفَارِ وَنَتْفُ الْآبَاطِ

Five things are from among [the norms of] human nature: circumcision, shaving the pubes, clipping the moustache, paring fingernails and removing hair under the armpits.[10]


9. 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 a Sunnah. In history, they are referred to as شَعَآئِر (sha‘a’ir: religious symbols) of the Arabs.[11] It is known from the way the Prophet (sws) did wudu (ablution) that he would specially do مَضْمَضَه (madmadah:to gargle in order to clean the mouth) and اِسْتِنْشَاق (istinshaq: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 مَعَ كُلِّ صَلَاةٍ

Had it not been for the fact that this would burden my ummah, I would have directed them to clean their teeth before every prayer.[12]


10. Cleaning the body after urination and defecation

Cleaning carefully the relevant body parts after defecation and urination is another Abrahamic Sunnah.[13]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 Ahadith that the Prophet (sws) normally used water for this. Abu Hurayrah (rta) reports:


كَانَ االنَّبِيُّ إِذَا أَتَى الْخَلَاءَ أَتَيْتُهُ بِمَاءٍ فِي تَوْرٍ أَوْ رَكْوَةٍ فَاسْتَنْجَى  ثُمَّ  مَسَحَ يَدَهُ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ

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.[14]


11. 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’an while mentioning the nature of sexual intimacy between husband and wife in this situation has explained the shari‘ahregarding 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 have cleansed themselves from blood. But when they have purified themselves after taking a bath, approach them in the manner the Almighty has directed you [in your instincts]. Indeed, Allah loves those who constantly repent and keep themselves clean.” (2:222)


Amin Ahsan Islahi, while explaining this verse writes:[15]


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.


12. Ceremonial bath after Janabah

The directive of the ceremonial bath after janabah has always remained a part of the religion of the prophets. 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 (janabah) till you have taken a bath except if you only intend to just pass through the prayer place. (4:43)


In Surah Ma’idah, this directive is stated thus: إِنْ كُنْتُمْ جُنُباً فَاطَّهَرُوْا (5: 6) (if you are in a state of janabah, have a bath, (5:6)). By janabah is meant the state of impurity that one enters after copulation or after ejaculation 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’anic words اِطَّهَرُوا (ittaharu) and اِغْتَسِلُوا (ightasilu)testify to this. The way the Prophet (sws) set about following this directive, as mentioned in various Ahadith, can be summarized as:

First the hands should be washed;

then the genital area should be thoroughly cleaned by the left hand;

then wudu 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 theAhadith that have reached us in this regard from ‘A%’ishah (rta) and Maymunah(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.

‘A’ishah reports that when the Prophet would have the ceremonial bath after janabah, 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 wudu the same way as wudu is done for the prayer. He would then take some water and insert his fingers in his hair until when he would see that the water had reached the skin, he would pour three handfuls of water on his head. Then he would drench all his body with water and then wash both feet.[16]


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.

Ibn ‘Abbas narrated: “My aunt Maymunah [once] told me: ‘I placed some water [in a utensil] before the Prophet (sws) so that he could have the ceremonial bath of janabah. He first washed both his hands two or three times. Then he slid his hand in the utensil and poured some water over his genital area and washed it with his left hand. He then thoroughly rubbed this hand on the ground and did wudu 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.’”[17]


13. Bathing a dead body

Bathing a dead body is also from among the sunan of the prophets.[18] 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

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.[19]


اغْسِلْنَهَا وِتْرًا وَكَانَ فِيهِ ثَلَاثًا أَوْ خَمْسًا أَوْ سَبْعًا وَبْدَءُوا بِمَيَامِنِهَا وَمَوَاضِعِ الْوُضُوءِ مِنْهَا

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 wudu is done.[20]


14. 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 more elaborate seems befitting. ‘A%’ishah (rta) narrates that the Prophet (sws) was enwrapped in three yamani sheets of cotton which did not include any shirt or turban (‘amamah).[21] Thus he is reported to have said:


إِذَا كَفَّنَ أَحَدُكُمْ أَخَاهُ فَلْيُحَسِّنْ كَفَنَهُ.

Any one among you who enshrouds your dead brother in a coffin cloth should do it befittingly.[22]


15. Burial

Another practice among the prophets of Allah is burying the dead in a grave – the final resting place.[23]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 may 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.[24] It has been reported in some Ahadith that at the time of burial, the Prophet (sws) also sprinkled clay from the head side of the body three times.[25]


16. ‘Id al-Fitr, 17. ‘Id al-Adha

Both these festivals were originated by the Prophet (sws) at the behest of the Almighty. Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, we find mention of ‘id festivals as يَوْم السَّبْع (yawm al-sab‘) and يُوْم السَّبَاسَبْ (yawm al-sabasab) and as well as of some others among the Idolaters of Arabia. The shari‘ahof the Israelites had ‘id festivals as well but as is evident from the Old Testament and other scriptures, these festivals related more to commemorating certain days of their history. In the last shari‘ahalso, the Almighty fixed the above mentioned two ‘id festivals for man and associated them with two great manifestations of piety and submission to the Almighty. The ‘id al-fitr is observed on the first of Shawwal right after the end of the holy month of Ramadan in which the believers undergo a period of fasting. Similarly, the ‘id al-adha is celebrated on the 10th of dhu al-hajj to commemorate the sacrifice offered by Abraham (sws).

It is evident from certain Ahadith that these festivals were initiated in Madinah after migration. Anas (rta) reports:


قَدِمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْمَدِينَةَ وَلَهُمْ يَوْمَانِ يَلْعَبُونَ فِيهِمَا فَقَالَ مَا هَذَانِ الْيَوْمَانِ قَالُوا كُنَّا نَلْعَبُ فِيهِمَا فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ  عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ قَدْ أَبْدَلَكُمْ بِهِمَا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمَا يَوْمَ الْفِطْرِ وَ يَومَ النَّحْرِ.

When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, he found people celebrating two specific days in which they used to entertain themselves by playing and merriment. He asked them about the nature of these festivities at which they replied that these days were occasions of fun and recreation of the days of jahilliyah. At this, the Prophet remarked that the Almighty has fixed two days [of festivity] instead of these for you which are better than these: idal-fitr and ‘id al-adha.[26]


The rituals which have been made Sunnah in these days and whose details have been mentioned in an earlier chapter “The Shari‘‘ah of Worship Rituals” are the following:


1. sadaqah al-fitr

2. The Prayer and the Sermon

3. Animal Sacrifice

4. takbirs after every prayer in the Days of tashriq


Both these festivals of ‘id al-fitr and ‘id al-adha are occasions of showing gratitude to the Creator, remembering Him and are a means of entertainment. ‘A%’ishah (rta), the mother of the believers, narrates that when on an ‘id day her fatherAbu Bakr (rta) stopped young girls from singing, the Prophet (sws) said:


يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ إِنَّ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ عِيدًا وَهَذَا عِيدُنَا.

Abu Bakr! [Let them sing]; every nation has an ‘id and [this day] is our ‘id.[27]



[1]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 960, (no. 5376).

[2]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 902, (no. 5265).

[3]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 1085, (no. 6231).

[4]. Al-Tirmidhi, Al-Jami‘ al-kabir,vol. 5, 382-383, (no. 3368).

[5]. Gratitude is for God.

[6]. May God have mercy on you.

[7]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 1083, (no. 6224).

[8]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 124, (no. 599).

[9]. Jawwad ‘Ali, Al-Mufassal fi tarikh al-‘arab qabl al-islam, vol. 6, 346.

[10]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 1036, (no. 5891).

[11]. Ibid.

[12]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 143, (no. 887).

[13]. Jawwad ‘Ali, Al-Mufassal fi tarikh al-‘arab qabl al-islam, vol. 6, 346.

[14]. Abu Da’ud, Sunan, vol. 1, 11, (no. 45).

[15]. Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 1, 526.

[16]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 142, (no. 718).

[17]. Ibid., 143, (no. 722).

[18]. In normal circumstances, every dead person must be given a bath. However, in extraordinary circumstances in which bathing a dead body and wrapping it in a coffin cloth becomes a matter of great difficulty, then the body can be buried without bathing it and without putting it in a coffin cloth. It is narrated in Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 215, (no. 1347) 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.

[19]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 201, (no. 1258).

[20]. Ibid., 201, (no. 1254).

[21]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 202, (no. 1264); Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 379, (no. 2179).

[22]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 380, (no. 2185).

[23]. 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.

[24]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 389-390, (no. 2245).

[25]. Ibn Majah, Sunan, vol. 2, 261, (no. 1565). Though this is a mu‘an‘an narrative of a mudallis narrator, yet in Ibn ‘Asakir’s Tarikh Madinah Dimashq, it is specified that he heard this narrative from his teacher. See: Abu al-Qasim ‘Ali ibn al-Husaynibn ‘Asakir,Tarikh Madinah Dimashq, 1st ed., vol. 65 (Beirut: Dar ihya’ al-turath al-‘arabi, 2001 ), 33.

[26]. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 4, 141-142, (no. 13210).

[27]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 153, (no. 952).