Among the instructions given by the holy Prophet Muhammad [s] concerning cleanliness and purification there are some like those appertaining to Istinja’, Taharah (cleanliness) of the body and dress, and purity and impurity of water that are of general application and others which are related exclusively to Salah and can be described as its pre-requisites. The command of wudu’ belongs to the latter category. Allah declares in the Holy Qur’an:
“When you rise up for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles.”
To be in a state of wudu’ is, thus, an essential condition of this unique form of presence in the Court of the Almighty and of holding communion with Him. Wudu’ has been described as the key of Salah showing that just as no one can enter a locked house without opening the lock with the key, so too it is not possible to gain admission to Salah without wudu’. Wudu’ is a necessary condition of making Salah worthy of acceptance.
Since Salah is the highest form of presence before Allah and of paying divine honors, respect and regard for it would demand that the command to take a bath and wear good, clean dress be given for every prayer service. But because this would have entailed much hardship, Allah, in His infinite kindness, has enjoined only this much that Salah should be offered in clean clothes and with wudu’ in which all the visible organs that have a special place in the physical structure of man, and can be said to symbolize the whole of the body, are washed. Moreover, hands, feet, face and head are the parts that, generally, remain uncovered, and, hence, these alone are required to be washed or wiped lightly in wudu’
The pious, whose spirituality has not been blunted by surrendering it hopelessly to beastly urges, experience a feeling of filthiness and a sort of gloom and dullness within themselves in the state of impurity, ie. when their Wudu’ has been voided due to a natural evacuation or some other reason. After having performed the wudu’ this gives place to a sense of spiritual cleanliness and effulgence. Herein lies the chief purpose and significance of wudu’ and it is because of this that it has been made a pre-requisite of offering Salah, or, in other words, of making one’s special presence in the Court of the Almighty. But this much even we, the common people, can realize, that wudu’ is a solemn act of preparation for presenting one self in the Court of the Supreme Being. People who perform wudu’ even with this minimal awareness do feel a rare joy and effulgence in it.
In many Ahadith the cleansing or washing away of sins with the water used for wudu’ has been mentioned. Although sins do not possess a visible or external impurity that can physically be removed by the use of water but the cleansing of sins in these traditions signifies pardon and forgiveness. When a person commits a sin its unholy effects settle, at first, on the limbs with which he perpetrates it, and then in his heart. Afterwards, as in obedience to the command of Allah and in order to purify himself, he per forms wudu’ the foulness of the misdeeds he has been guilty of and the impurity that has come to defile and contaminate his limbs as a result of it is washed away and the transgressions are forgiven by Allah.
A Muslim, when attending to ritual purity in the things that envelop him in progressively closer layers – his room, then his clothes, then his skin – should not neglect his inner being, which lies at the heart of all these. He must endeavor to purify it with repentance and remorse for his excesses, and a determined resolution not to commit them in future. He should cleanse his inner being in this way, for that is the place to be examined by the One he worships.