Before presenting themselves for prayer, Muslims prepare by making sure that their bodies are clean of dirt and impurities. Purifying the body also helps to prepare the mind for a state of worship.
The Qur'an says, “Oh you who believe! When you prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands [arms] to the elbows. Rub your heads [with water], and wash your feet to the ankles…. Allah does not wish to place you in difficulties, but to make you clean, and to complete His favor upon you so that you may be grateful” (Qur'an 5:6). Ablutions are called wudu, from an Arabic word meaning pure, clean, and radiant.
How is wudu done if there is no water available?
If no clean water is available or if one must avoid water for medical reasons, it is possible to perform a dry ablution, known as tayamoom. In this case, ablution is done using clean sand or dust, and only the hands and face are wiped.
Steps of Ablution
To perform ablution, a Muslim first takes a moment to concentrate in preparation to wash up for prayer. Then the individual rinses with clean water the following parts of the body, starting on the right-hand side:
Arms, to the elbows
Head, including ears
Once ablutions are done, the believer remains in a state of purity until something is done to break the ablution — like using the bathroom, bleeding from a wound, vomiting, passing wind, or falling asleep. In these cases, ablutions must be redone before the next prayer.
An imam is usually someone who has memorized much of the Qur'an and is considered knowledgeable and pious. There is no priesthood in Islam; the imam may change from year to year. The word imam means “leader” and “in front of,” because he stands in front of the other worshipers during prayer.
A Full Shower
In some cases, a full bath or shower (called ghusl) is required before prayer. These thorough ablutions are done after intimate sexual contact and at the end of the menstrual period. After fully washing the whole body, the same process of ablution is done, with the addition of rinsing the sides of the body and the head more thoroughly.