‘The Prophet used to like to start with the right side…’

A’ishah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to like to start with the right side when putting on his sandals, combing his hair, engaging in his ritual purifications, and in all of his activities.

This is an authentic hadîth related in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim among other books.

The meaning of the hadîth:

Starting with the right side has two meanings. When there are activities that involve both sides of the body, it means to start with the right side of the body. This is the case when it comes to such activities as washing the hands and putting on shoes. When the activity relates to coming in contact with something, it means to use the right hand instead of the left, as is the case with giving and taking.

In this hadîth, it refers mainly to activities involving the hands and feet.

The phrase “in all of his activities” is a general statement that includes his entering and departure from buildings and from rooms. However, other evidence specifies this generality in this case. Therefore, the preference for the right foot is on occasions where a place of respect is being entered, like a mosque or a person’s home. In other places, like a lavatory, it is preferred to enter with the left foot. This specification of the hadîth has been discussed by al-Nawawî in al-Majmu` (1/384) and Ibn Daqiq al-`Id in Ihkâm al-Ahkâm (1/40).

`A’ishah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to use his right hand for eating and for his purifications and use his left hand for when he went to the bathroom or dealt with things that were harmful. [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (33)] This hadîth is declared authentic by al-Nawawî in al-Majmu` (1/108) as well as in al-Adhkâr and Riyâdh al-Sâlhîn, and by al-`Irâqî in Tarh al-Tathrîb (2/71).

Hafsah relates that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) used to use his right hand for eating, drinking, and getting dressed and his left hand for other things.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (32)] Al-Nawawî declares its chain of transmission to be a good one in al-Majmû` (1/384). Its chain of transmission contains the narrator Abû Ayyûb `Abd Allah b. `Alî al- Azraq al-`Ifrîqî, about whom `Abû Zur`ah says: “He is not strong. His hadîth contain what is rejected. He is a bit weak.” However, Ibn al-Ma`în says: “There is nothing wrong with him.”

This specification of the general preference for the right is also evidenced by the Prophet’s saying: “If one of you puts his sandals on, let him start with his right foot. When he takes them off, let him start with his left, so that his right foot is the first to wear the sandal and the last to be taken out of it.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5855) and Sahîh Muslim(2097)]

These hadîth and others explain to us the meaning of `A’ishah’s statement: “…in all of his activities”. It means activities like entering the mosque, putting on shoes, and the like. Activities of an opposite nature, like blowing the nose and removing filth, should be done with the left hand.

Its legal implications:

This hadîth has significance for the performance of wudû’. It indicates that when washing of the paired limbs, we should start by washing the right.

As for the singular limbs, like the face, and the head, we wash them at once using both hands together, as is indicated by the various hadîth that discuss the wiping of the head. It is not Sunnah to start with the right half of the head and then the left.

However, in a situation where a person for some reason is unable to use both of his hands, then he should start by washing the right side of his face and then the left and likewise he should wipe the right side of his head before the left. The ears, which are considered as consequential to the head, are also wiped together simultaneously by one who is able to do so. Therefore, in the case where a person cannot use two hands, he should wipe his right ear before the left.

Scholars agree that starting with the right side in wudû’ and in ghusl is a Sunnah act and that it is not obligatory. Al-Nawawî declares it to be a matter of consensus in al-Majmû` (1/383).

Likewise, Ibn `Abd al-Barr says in al-Istidhkâr (2/21): “There is unanimous agreement that someone who washes his left hand before his right does not have to repeat his ablutions.” The same is said by Ibn al-Mundhir in al-Awsat and Ibn Qudâmah in al-Mughnî.

Fakhr al-Dîn al-Râzi relates in his Tafsîr a narration from Ahmad b. Hanbal that he considered starting with the right hand to be obligatory in wudû’. However, the Hanbalî jurist al-Zarkashî explains that this is an irregular narration and that it is “rejected”. [Sharh Mukhtasar al-Khiraqî (1/178)]

Some benefits of this hadîth:

1. This hadîth shows the preferentiality of starting with the right hand for all good and clean activities. It is Sunnah to do so. `A’ishah says: that the Prophet (peace be upon him) “used to like” to do so. This shows that it is something he preferred, but not something that he obligated others to do.

2. The hadîth also shows us that we should be deliberate in our activities, conscious of what we are doing, and seeking Allah’s reward even in our most mundane daily chores and our most habitual actions, like getting dressed and walking out of the house. We should inculcate an intention of worship in our hearts and of following the Sunnah, and not just allow our activities to be governed by unconscious habit.

3. The hadîth shows how Islamic Law comprehends every detail of human life.

4. It shows the permissibility of being concerned with one’s outward appearance, like one’s clothes, one’s grooming, and one’s shoes. The fact that a person should put his right shoe on first and take it off last shows that the activity of dressing is a respectful, dignified one.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

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