“Start with what Allah starts with”

Jâbir b. `Abd Allah relates, while describing the pilgrimage, that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Start with what Allah starts with.”

This hadîth is related in Sunan al-Nasâ’î (2965) as quoted above and inSahîh Muslim (1218) as a statement instead of as a command. It is also related in Sunan al-Tirmidhî (862), Sunan Abî Dâwûd (1905), andSunan Ibn Mâjah (3074).

The meaning of the hadîth:

This hadîth comes in the context of Jâbir’s description of the Hajj. Jâbir says:

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) circled the Ka`bah seven times, three at a brisk pace and four at a normal walk.

Thereafter, he recited: “And take Abraham’s station as a place of prayer.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 125] Then he offered two units of prayer with Abraham’s station between himself and the Ka`bah.

Then he touched the corner and departed the area, reciting: “Indeed, Safâ and Marwah are from the rites of Allah.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 158] Then he said: “Start with what Allah starts with.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) started his walk between the two mounts at Mount Safâ’. Though, it comes with reference to the walk between Mount Safâ’ and Mount Marwah, its legal implications are much broader. This is why Ibn hajar al-`Asqalânî mentions it among the hadîth relating to ablutions in his book Bulûgh al-Marâm.

We shall now discuss the legal relevance of the principle of starting with what Allah mentions first and how it relates to the performance of wudû’

Its legal implications:

The Prophet’s statement – “Start with what Allah starts with” – brings up the question of whether a person has to make wudû’ in a particular order. The scholars are all agreed that it is prescribed for us to carry out our ablutions in the order mentioned in the texts. They disagree whether it is obligatory to do so or just preferred.

The first opinion is that it is obligatory to carry out the wudû’ in its prescribed order. This was the view of numerous scholars, including Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Shâfi`î, Mâlik, Abû `Ubayd, Abû Thawr, and Ishâq b. Râhawayh.

Those who hold this view cite the following evidence in its support:

1. Allah says: “O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, wipe your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 6]

They argue that, just like with Mount Safâ’ during the pilgrimage, we must begin with what Allah tells us to begin with. Therefore, we must follow the sequence given in the verse that describes to us how to carry out our ablutions.

They also point out that the verse interrupts the enumeration of the body parts that need to be washed by mentioning the wiping of the head. This shows us that this particular order of events is specifically intended. Had the sequence been irrelevant, the dictates of style would have required the grouping together of the parts that are to be washed and then mention of wiping the had on its own.

2. They also argue that there is no sound and unquestionable evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ever carried out his ablutions in any other sequence but the one mentioned in the verse. What is related with certainty from him is that he was meticulous about preserving the same order all of the time.

3. Finally, they argue that wudû’ is an abstract form of worship. It is something that we only know about by way of revelation. That means that our knowledge of it must come strictly from the Qur’ân and Sunnah. The method of carrying out our ablutions has come to us in a very specific manner, and we must adhere to that manner in our ablutions.

The second opinion is that adhering to the prescribed order of activities is not obligatory. Someone who carries out his ablutions without observing the proper sequence will still be carrying out a valid act of ritual purification. This was the view of Abû Hanîfah. It was also the opinion of a few scholars of the Shâfi`î school, including al-Muzanî and Ibn al-Mundhir. Other scholars who held this view include al-Thawrî, Makhûl, al-Zuhrî, and Ibrâhîm al-Nakha`î.

Their opinion is supported by the following evidence:

1. It is related from al-Miqdâm b. Ma`di Karab that Allah’s messenger (peace be upon him) carried out his wudû’ by washing his hands three times, then washing his face three times, then washing his forearms thrice, then he rinsed his mouth and nose out with water three times. Then he wiped over his head and wiped both sides of his ears. Then he washed his feet three times.

This hadîth is related in Musnad Ahmad (17320), Sunan Abî Dâwûd(121), Sunan Ibn Mâjah (442), and other sources.

Al-Shawkânî, in Nayl al-Awtâr, declares its chain of transmission to be a good one. Al-Nawawî declares it to be a good hadîth in al-Majmû` and an authentic hadîth in al-Khulâsah. It is also declared authentic by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalânî in al-Talkhîs, by Ibn al-Salâh in Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, by Ibn al-Mulaqqin in al-Badr al-Munîr, and by al-Albâni in al-Silsilah al-Sahîhah.

The reply to this hadîth is that even though its chain of transmission is good, it is a strange (shâdhdh) narration, since it is variance to many other authentic hadith. This hadith is only narrated to us by way of `Abd al-Rahmân b. Muyassir al-Hadramî, whose name is not free from criticism.

Ibn al-Madînî considers him to be an unknown narrator from whom only Harîz narrates.

Ibn al-Qattân concurs with this assessment, saying: “The state of `Abd al-Rahmân b. Muyassir as a narrator is unknown, since we only know Harîz to have narrated anything from him.”

However, Ibn Hibbân mentions him as a reliable narrator in al-Thiqâtand al-`Ijlî does so in Ma`rifah al-Thiqât. It is mentioned in al-Tahdhîbthat not only Harîz narrated from him, but also Safwân b, `Amr and Thawr b. Yazîd.

2. It is related from Rubayyi` bint Mu`awwadh b. `Afrâ’ that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) used to come to them. Once he said: “Pour for me water for ablutions.” He then washed his hands three times, then his face three times. Then he rinsed his mouth and nose once. Then he washed his arms three times. Then he wiped upon his head twice, beginning with the back of his head and moving his hands to the front and wipes his ears, back and front. Then he washed his feet three times.

This hadîth is related in Musnad Ahmad (27555) and Sunan Abî Dâwûd(162). This is a weak hadîth narrated with many different wordings, al relying upon the narration of `Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. `Aqîl, who is a questionable narrator.

Had the hadîth been authentic, it would not be evidence that the actions of wudû’ can be performed out of sequence. The reason for this is that the rinsing of the mouth and nose are part of the washing of the face. In this hadîth, we only have a case where the Prophet (peace be upon him) washed his face before rinsing his mouth and nose instead of starting with his mouth and nose. This makes no difference to the overall order of events, since all of it constitutes the broader action of washing the face. Ibn Qudâmah declares that it is merely Sunnah to begin the washing of the face with the nose and mouth.

These two hadîth are the strongest pieces of evidence cited by those who believe that it is not necessary to carry out the actions of wudû’ in a particular order. Their other evidence is comprised of statements and actions narrated from the Companions.

3. It is narrated that `Alî b. Abi Tâlib said: “I do not bother about which limb I begin with as long as I perform a thorough wudû’.

This narration is found in Sunan al-Bayhaqî (1/87) and Sunan al-Dâraqutnî (1/88-89). It is narrated by Ziyâd, the ward of Banî Makhzûm, about whom Ibn Ma`în says: “He is nothing as a narrator.”

In any case, it is quite possible that all that is meant by it is that he does not bother whether he starts with his right or left limb when washing his hands, arms, and feet. Starting with the right side is only preferred and is not obligatory in wudû’. In this case, we would understand that `Alî is merely clarifying that the wudû’ is valid regardless of whether you start with the right of the left. Of course, the Companions were always very careful to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)

4. It is related about Ibn Mas`ûd that he said: “It is no problem if you begin with your feet before your hands.”

This narration is found in Sunan al-Bayhaqî (1/87) as well as in al-Bayhaqî’s Khilâfiyyât (1/490) and in Sunan al-Dâraqutnî (1/89). It is a false narration, about which Ibn Qudâmah says: “It has no basis whatsoever.”

Al-Dâraqutnî says: “It is narrated without a full chain of transmission and cannot be established.”

Al-Bayhaqî, in al-Khilâfiyyât, writes: “The incompleteness in this transmission is because Mujâhid never heard anything from `Abd Allah b. Mas`ûd. The correct narration from Ibn Mas`ûd merely concerns the issue of washing the right and left sides.”

It is true that Ibn Mas`ûd said: “If one wants, he can begin his wudû’ with his left hand.” [related with a good chain of transmission inKhilâfiyyât al-Bayhaqî (1/491) and al-Bukhârî’s al-Târîkh al-Kabîr (1650)]

It appears that the strongest opinion is that it is obligatory to carry out the actions of wudû’ in their prescribed order.

And Allah knows best.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

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