Other Deeds Related to the Act of Embracing Islam
There are a few other deeds that are often associated with the act of declaring one’s faith. These are (1) a complete bathing, (2) removing all of one’s hairs from pre-Islamic days and (3) circumcision. Each of these shall be discussed separately below. Before moving on, it must be noted that none of these actions, however, should lead to a delay in a person’s embracing Islam. In fact, once a person has decided to embrace Islam, the event should not be postponed, for example, to a more appropriate time or a time in which more people will be witnessing and so forth. In reality, no one knows when a person may be taken by death and, therefore, whenever a person has made a conclusive decision to embrace Islam, he should embrace it at that time by making the declaration of faith.
A Complete Bathing: There are actually four opinions among the scholars concerning the complete bathing in connection with embracing Islam. Without going into great detail1, the views may be summarized as follows: One view is that the bathing is obligatory upon anyone who embraces Islam. This is one opinion found in the Maliki school and is the well-known opinion of the Hanbali school. Another view is that this bathing is not obligatory under any circumstances. This is also a view held by some of the Hanbali school. A third view is that this bathing is recommended for anyone who embraces Islam. This is one of the views of the Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools. A final view holds that this bathing is only recommended, unless an individual is in a state of sexual defilement or a woman has previously experienced menstruation or post-partum bleeding—in which case it becomes obligatory. In those cases, the bathing is required for the state of ritual purity required for the prayer.
Part of the reason for the difference of opinion on this issue is the existence of some reports in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told some individuals who had embraced Islam to perform a complete bathing. However, as stated earlier, in order for such reports (or hadith) to be considered a proof in Islamic Law, they must meet very stringent conditions. These reports all have some minor defects to them and are considered weak by a number of hadith scholars.
In addition, some scholars note that numerous people embraced Islam during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and there is no record of there being a general order or understanding that such people were to bathe as part of the process of becoming Muslim. Furthermore, given this argument, the reports of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) telling some individuals to bathe may be a sign that such bathing is recommended but not obligatory.
At the same time, though, the new Muslim is going to be required to perform the prayers.3 It is a requirement for the prayer that an individual be in a state of physical purity and the act of bathing itself requires the intention of entering into a state of purity, as opposed to being simply for the sake of washing. Although some scholars argue that the individual’s previous state is overlooked by Islam, this does not seem to be a strong argument at this point. If the individual is sexually defiled or if a woman has experienced menstruation or post-partum bleeding, they will have to make a complete bathing before performing the prayer.
In sum, based on the overall evidence, it can be argued that bathing after making one’s declaration of the faith is, at most, a recommended act but not an obligatory act. This should not be looked at as a mere ritual without any significance. The person who embraces Islam definitely has had a spiritual rebirth and is setting about on a transformation of his life. In fact, for most converts, Islam is truly a life transformation very different from his previous pattern of life. Hence, he should prepare himself mentally, emotionally and physically. This bathing metaphorically removes from him all of the different types of physical impurities that may still be lingering on him. He is now ready to venture on his new path.
In any case, though—at least to be on the safe side—before one prays, one has to be in a state of physical purity which would require a complete bathing on the part of those who were sexually defiled or women who had experienced menstruation or post-partum bleeding in the past.
Removing all of one’s hairs from pre-Islamic days: This action is also based on a hadith which the vast majority of the scholars reject as weak. This is a hadith in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said to a man who had just informed him that he had embraced Islam, “Remove from yourself [or shave off of yourself] the hairs from [the time of] disbelief.”
Again, even if the hadith is accepted as authentic, this was not a practice that was known to be widespread during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) or afterwards. Thus, some scholars understand this hadith as applying only to those people who grew their hair for a religious purpose. In that case, they should remove that hair upon becoming a Muslim.
For example, in contemporary times, it is well-known that Sikhs do not remove any hairs from their head or body as a sign of their brotherhood. However, there is nothing explicit in the text that would support his interpretation. Hence, once again, either the hadith is weak or if it is accepted, it may be understood to be a recommended but not a required act. As with the case of the bathing, it is an act by which one removes the remnants of his pre-Islamic life in order to set about on his new life as a Muslim and servant of God.
Circumcision: In some of the narrations that mention the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) telling the new Muslim to remove his hairs of pre-Islamic days, the individual is also told to be circumcised.6 There is also another narration that states, “Whoever embraces Islam is to be circumcised, even if he is of older age.” But this is also a report that cannot be verified as a statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
There is no question that circumcision is an established practice of Islam. It is obligatory or an emphasized recommended act. However, the evidence is lacking to prove that one must immediately fulfill this act upon becoming a Muslim. There are some exceptions that excuse a person from performing this act.
In the past, scholars mentioned an adult who embraces Islam and fears negative consequences via the process of circumcision.8 Of course, in contemporary times, this possibility has been reduced, as circumcision is now a precise and safe medical procedure. At the same time, though, it is costly in some parts of the world, especially if it is considered an elective procedure. This financial burden could be more than what some converts could afford to bear, in which case they can delay the procedure until they are able to afford it. And Allah alone knows best.
Jammaal al-Din M. Zarabozo