How Cleanliness and Our Best Outward Appearance are Rooted in Islamic Thinking
Posted on Feb 12, 2020
By Danah Shuli
If you take the time to read about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) – reflect upon his relationships and how he lived his life – there is so much we can learn. We put the Prophet on such a high pedestal, and rightfully so, that we often forget he was just as human as we are in so many instances. (In a previous post, I wrote about four times when the Prophet showed us he is human just like us.)
Here at Haute Hijab, we talk a lot about gaining strength and confidence, not just from developing a beautiful, righteous character but also from our outward appearance. This is, after all, a hijab company focused on empowering Muslim women to take pride and be confident in their appearance. This rational is rooted in Islamic thinking, stemming from the time of the Prophet.
Melanie in front of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Islam has always put an emphasis on cleanliness and looking presentable. From doing our abulations before prayer, to taking a bath (ghusl) after intimacy in order to pray, to self grooming in preparation for Jumuah (Friday prayers), cleanliness and putting forth the best in one’s appearance is at the core of Islamic principles. The Prophet’s life was a great example of executing this part of our religion, and there are so many great lessons we can learn and implement into our daily hygiene and dressing routines.
It’s no secret that oral hygiene is an important part of our overall health, so much so that there is an entire field of medicine dedicated to dental health. It didn’t take long for ancient civilizations to recognize the importance of cleaning our teeth and mouth. During the time of the Prophet, he used miswak to clean his teeth. The miswak had actually been around for centuries before the time of the Prophet and was commonly used by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was known for its unique cleaning properties.
Studies have shown that the Arak tree – Salvadora persic, from which miswak is made – contains a variety of minerals that are essential to strengthening the root and tooth enamel, as well as antibiotics that help suppress bacteria growth and plaque formation. Aside from the health benefits of taking care of your teeth, breath and mouth, there is an obvious benefit to looking more attractive and presentable.
It was narrated that the first thing the Prophet did when he woke up and entered his home was to use the miswak, which is so relatable since we are taught from a young age to brush our teeth in the morning and before going to bed. Many of us even take our toothbrush with us to work to brush after lunch or on the plane to freshen up after hours of travel.
"Whenever the Prophet got up at night, he used to clean His mouth with siwak." (Sahih Bukhari)
"I asked Aisyah: 'What the Prophet did first when he entered his house, and she replied: He used siwak (first of all).'" (Muslim)
One of the things I love in studying the life of the Prophet is his attention to detail in all aspects of his life. Making sure his oral health was in check was important, not only to present a clean image of himself and Islam to others but also in front of Allah (S). He also made sure to use the miswak before prayers. This to me is the epitome of ihsan, or excellence in faith.
The next time you wake up for fajr, make a conscious effort to brush your teeth or use a miswak as part of your routine to get ready for prayer. Doing so for every prayer may be difficult, but I have tried my best to at least implement this sunnah during fajr.
“Were it not that I might overburden my followers, I would have commanded them to use the miswak before every prayer.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Dress to Impress and Grooming
There is a fine line between dressing in clean, presentable clothes to feel good about yourself and draw an attractive image of what Islam represents, and dressing in extravagant clothing in order to show off. While Islam encourages us to always dress nicely, especially when visiting the mosque and each other, we should be wary of our intentions and make sure to do so in a humble way.
Amr bin Shu’aib narrated that the Prophet (saw) said:
“Eat, drink, and give in charity. Wear (nice) clothing but without pride and extravagance. Verily, Allah loves for his blessings to be seen upon his servants.”
I am a strong advocate for this, especially in a time when Muslims are often seen in a negative light. Looking our best by giving thought to our appearance not only pleases Allah (S) and is a sunnah practice, but it also opens a gateway to dawah. You are more confident when you’re dressed your best, and that energy is seen by others. So, why not use that to our advantage? As visibly Muslim women in hijab (or even if we don’t wear hijab), we are a walking representation of Islam. Our hijab especially is our instant trademark and identifier in a crowd, whether you want it to be or not.
By taking a few minutes to thoughtfully curate our outfit and hijab to suit the occasion before heading out, we can make an instant impression about Islam on those around us without even speaking.
Imam Al Ghazali writes:
"This aim (of cleanliness) is an obligation upon every knowledgeable person tasked with presenting the creation with the call to Allah Almighty, that he takes care of his outward appearance so as not to compel people to avoid him."
Also, Abu Hurairah (rah) reported that the Prophet (saw) said
"Five practices are characteristics of the Fitra: circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, cutting the moustaches short, clipping the nails and depilating the hair of the armpits."
Speaking of dressing presentably and attending to our personal hygiene, let’s talk about Jumuah. We all know the importance of Jumuah in Islam. It is recognized as the most holy day of the week and even treated as a mini Eid by some. Naturally, this significance comes with a hygiene routine that the Prophet emphasized and practiced every week. Aside from attending the masjid in your cleanest and finest clothing, it is sunnah for men to perform ghusl, clip their nails, trim their mustache, groom their beard and apply cologne.
Although the emphasis on attending Jumuah is on men, since it is obligatory for them, women are also encouraged to take care of their appearance and cleanliness on Fridays whether they are performing prayers at the masjid or at home. Things like performing ghusl, clipping nails and dressing our best are practices we can adapt from the sunnah of the Prophet (saw) on Friday.
This not only makes the Friday prayer a pleasant experience for those attending, but it also is how we should prepare to congregate in a place of worship on the holiest day of the week. You’d never attend an interview without ironing your clothes, getting a haircut and looking your absolute best. The same principle applies to meeting the one in which all matters of your life lie between His hands – Allah (S). Even if you pray at home, you should meet Allah (S) at your best.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: "When one of you wants to come to Jumu’ah, let him perform ghusl." (Muslim)
"The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every Muslim who has attained the age of puberty and also cleaning of teeth with Siwak and using perfume, if available." (Sahih Bukhari)
Cleanliness and Care Beyond the Body
We all know that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was a living example of the ideal Muslim. His character spoke for itself years before he even became the Prophet and Messenger of Allah (S). His actions spoke louder than words, so it’s no surprise that he would also practice cleanliness in various aspects of his daily life beyond taking care of his body.
Of the many hats the Prophet wore, one of the most important was that of a husband. Through his sunnah, we are given a prime example of what a loving, caring and helpful husband he was around the house. For example, consider how he helped to keep his home clean. There are many accounts from his wives that narrate the house chores he would take on in order to keep his home clean and help out. It wasn’t just about cleaning his home either. He attended to his appearance by mending his own clothes and looked after his family’s animals.
Aisha was asked, “What did the Prophet (saw) use to do in his house?” She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it.” (Bukhari)
In two other narrations it is reported that she responded: “He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.” (Al-Albani) “He milked his goat.” (Ahmad)
Through his actions, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) showed the world that cleanliness and care across all facets of our day to day life is as important to our faith, as is our inner spiritual growth and development. So much so that according to Sahih Muslim, “Cleanliness is half the faith (iman).” To disregard our focus on maintaining a clean lifestyle and physical appearance would be a disservice to our spiritual goals.
There are so many reasons to give time to our personal appearance within our homes and as we make our way out in the world. I hope you have been inspired to take a closer look at the way you tend to your appearance, both inside and outside of the home. Keep in mind that with the right intention, your daily cleanliness and dressing routine can be an act of worship by following the sunnah of the Prophet (saw).
Let us know in the comments below which new sunnah you plan on implementing!