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6 Lessons from the Hadith of Tayammum

People of the past knew the art of conveying a lot of meaning using very few words. The best example of that is Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Nowadays, an avalanche of gossip often conveys little or no beneficial knowledge.

The classical scholars of Hadith would derive many rulings from one simple incident in the life of the Prophet or his companions. They could derive legal rulings from hadiths on manners and derive etiquettes and moral lessons from hadiths on legal rulings.

This is why deep knowledge of Hadith is needed to become a scholar of Islamic law, and vice versa. We need more seekers of knowledge to pursue academic Hadith studies.

The Tayammum

Let us take an example of a simple incident. This is after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him). A man came to Umar and asked what he should do when he became junub (a state of sexual defilement) and there was no water to take an obligatory bath to remove the janaba.

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Another Companion, Ammar ibn Yasir, was also there, and he was reminded of an interesting incident. He and Umar were on a journey, and both of them had become junub. They didn’t know the proper procedure of performing tayammum (dry ablution), but they had to pray.

So each companion did his own brainstorming and arrived at a different solution to the problem. Umar did not pray, and Ammar, on the other hand, rolled around on the ground and then prayed.

After returning from their journey, Ammar asked the Prophet about it, and he said:

It would have been sufficient for you to do like this.

The Prophet then showed him how to do it properly.

He stroked lightly the earth with his hands and then blew off the dust and passed his hands over his face and hands. (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

I do not claim to have scholarly knowledge of Hadith sciences, but from the little that I have studied, this hadith has several profound benefits. Here are some of them:

1- The evident benefit of this hadith is that it teaches the correct Sunnah procedure of performing tayammum.

2- When you don’t know the correct way of acting in a particular situation, you try as best as you can. Umar’s ijtihad was that, prayer is not valid without wudu, and so he didn’t pray at all.

Ammar evidently thought differently: since tayammum was a substitute for wudu, he would rub as much of his body as possible with dust and that would act like wudu.

Both were wrong, of course. But their ignorance of the correct ruling did not make them abandon the shariah, as many of us do nowadays.

3- They didn’t continue to remain in a state of ignorance. Instead, they sought the correct knowledge.

4- The Prophet did not scold them for their ijtihad or render their acts invalid.

5- Islamic law is not just about memorizing a bunch of laws, it involves using our intellect.

6- The difference of opinion among the two companions didn’t cause any discord between them.