Fard (Obligatory) Elements of Wudu (Ritual Ablution) [Detailed]

The obligatory elements entailed by wudu are restricted to four, such that if a person performed them without adding anything thereby, he would be in a state of ritual purity in which he would be able to perform ṣalāh, touch the qur’ān and engage in any other action requiring that one first perform such ablutions. As for the four obligations included in wudu, they are as follows:

  1. To wash the entire face once. As for what constitutes the face lengthwise it is from the top of the forehead (i.e. from where the hairs of the head generally tends to grow([1]) to the bottom of the chin. As for the horizontal limits of the face, they extend from the front of one ear to the front of the other; the space extending from the chin to the ear is also included within the limits of the face, by length and width. As for the outside of the nose, one must wash all parts of it, including the lower part which separates the nostrils, because it is part of the face. If one has a deep scar or any other grooves or wrinkles on the face, one is required to let the water get inside and/or between them. It is not necessary for water to enter the eye. However, to wash the outer part of the eye, eyelids and the external corner of the eye which is connected to the nose, is compulsory. if there is mucus or anything of the like stuck there, it will be necessary to remove it. To wash that part of the lips which is visible when closing the mouth is farḍ (obligatory). One should not keep the mouth and eyes tightly closed, as there is a chance that the lips or eyelids may remain dry, resulting in the wuḍū (ritual ablution) remaining incomplete. As for facial hair, mainly the beard, one must wash that part of it which extends from the upper face to the bottom of the chin, whereas if it extends beyond these limits, it is not necessary to wash it. Furthermore, if one has a thin beard (i.e. the skin beneath is visible), it will be farḍ (obligatory) for water to reach the underlying skin. If the beard is thick (i.e. the underlying skin cannot be seen), it will not be necessary for water to reach the skin, rather washing the exterior of those hairs which grow within the boundary of the face (i.e. when pressing the beard against the neck with the hands) will be farḍ (obligatory). If parts of the beard are thick (i.e. the underlying skin cannot be seen) and some parts thin, then it is farḍ (obligatory) to wash the exterior of the thick parts and underlying skin of the thin parts. These rulings are for those hairs which fall within the boundary of the face. The same ruling applies if the moustache or eyebrows are thick (i.e. the underlying skin cannot be seen). However, if the moustache is overgrown to the extent that it goes beyond the upper lip, it is wājib (mandatory) to ensure that water reaches the lip. Similarly, it is farḍ (obligatory) to wash the area between the beard and the ears, irrespective of whether there is any hair growing there or not.
  2. To wash both hands and arms including the elbows once. The elbows should be given special attention as they tend to remain dry.
  3. To do masaḥ (masaḥ is the passing of wet hands) of one-fourth of the head once([2]). This is estimated to be equal to the area of the palm of someone’s hand. It is not necessary to make masaḥ of the roots of the hairs, rather, masaḥ of the hair will be sufficient([3]). Furthermore, it is not necessary that the head be wiped; rather, it is sufficient for the water to make contact with one-fourth of the head, regardless of the means by which this takes place. As for those who have long hair which comes down over the forehead or neck, if they wipe the hair itself, this is not sufficient, since one’s aim is to wipe one-fourth of the head.
  4. To wash both feet including the ankles (which are the two bones protruding at the base of the leg above the foot) once. One must ensure to wash the cracks at the bottom of the feet also and give special attention to the heels as they tend to remain dry.

If any part of the body which is from the compulsory acts of wuḍū (ritual ablution) remains dry, even if it is the breadth of a hair, wuḍū (ritual ablution) will be incomplete and invalid.


([1]) The hairline tends to be located at the top of one’s forehead; however, if a person has lost some hair on his forehead, he will only wash until that part of the forehead from where hair usually grows. As for a person who has hair which grows further down the average hairline, then this too will be included in the boundary of the face. Hence, it will be farḍ (obligatory) to wash these hairs as well.

([2]) Masaḥ of the head will be performed on those hairs of the head which are situated above the earlobe. The hairs below the earlobes do not fall within the boundary of the head. Similarly, hair found on the forehead is not considered to be part of the head. Hence, one should ensure that masaḥ is made on at least a quarter of the head which falls under the boundary of the head.

([3]) If the head is washed whilst washing the face, this will suffice for masaḥ and it will not have to be performed. However, this is makrūh (disliked) as this is not the prescribed method of doing masaḥ.

[Taken from ‘The Fiqh Manual, Taharah (Purity)’, a comprehensive compilation of rulings in in light of Ḥanafī Fiqh, and soon to be published by Baḥr-ul-Midād Publications, ʾIn shāʾ Allāh.]

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