The Quality of Rubbing the Head and Feet

The Quality of Rubbing the Head and Feet

Another controversial issue in the ablution is the quality of rubbing the head. The Shia rub only the front part of the head, while most Sunnis rub most or all the head. In fact, this difference is not so controversial and many jurisprudents do not consider rubbing the entire head as obligatory. For instance, Imam Shafi’i considers the least amount of rubbing sufficient. In Bidayat Al-Mujtahid, we read the following:
Scholars have reached consensus that rubbing the head in the ritual ablution is compulsory, but they are not in agreement about the amount of it. Malik believes in the obligation of rubbing the whole head. Shafi’i and some of the followers of Malik and Abu Hanifah believe that only rubbing a part of the head is necessary.

These disciples of Malik have determined a one-third amount for rubbing the head. Some others have set the two-third amount. Abu Hanifah says that the amount is one-fourth. Moreover, Abu Hanifah has determined a part of the hand to rub with, saying: “Rubbing the head with less than three fingers is not enough.” Shafi’i has determined no limitation for the hand nor for the head.(1) Ibn Rushd then adds:
The main reason for this difference is that “بـِ” (to) has two meanings in Arabic;

1. Addition,(2) and,

2. Division. The usage of “بـِ” for division in Arabic is undeniable as agreed upon by the grammarians of Kufah. People who know this fact consider as obligatory rubbing a part of the head. They have referred to the tradition of Mughirah who said: “The honorable Prophet (a.s) performed ablution and rubbed the front part of the head and upon his turban.” Ibn Qudamah writes in his Al-Mughni, “It is also narrated from Ahmad that he deems legal rubbing a part of the head.” He then continues, “Abu Al-Harith says: “I asked Ahmad, ‘Does it suffice to rub just a part of the head and leave other parts?’ He answered, ‘Yes, it is sufficient.’”(3)
It is narrated that A’ishah, Uthman and Ibn Umar rubbed the front part of the head during the ritual ablution.(4)

In Al-Mughni, Hasan, Sufyan Thawri, Awza’i and other opinionists are said to believe in rubbing a part of the head.(5) In arguing for the obligation of rubbing a part of the head, some grammarians are quoted as saying, “When “بـِ” is added to the object of a verb which is transitive per se, it refers to division, such as in the honorable verse وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ (rub your heads), but if the verb is not transitive by itself, the “بـِ” refers to addition.(6) Some have argued that “بـِ”, when added to a noun, refers to the fact that a part of that noun is intended. Abu Al-Su’ud, in the exegesis of the honorable verse says, “It is proved that “بـِ” adds a sense of containing to the verb.

Perhaps, it is said that it does not mean to rub all the head, unlike وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ which resembles God’s saying “فاغسلوا وجوهكم” (wash your faces.) Therefore, the great majority of Sunni jurisprudents believe that rubbing a part of the head is sufficient. All Shia scholars believe that rubbing a part of the head is obligatory and consider necessary rubbing the front part of the head. However, there is controversy on determining its amount. What is common among Shia jurisprudents is that naming (something) rubbing the front part of the head would suffice.(7) The proof for this famous statement is valid traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (a.s).(8) We bring here one of these traditions narrated by Imam Baqir (a.s):

Zurarah asked the Imam (a.s), “How do we know that rubbing a part of the feet is enough?” Imam Baqir (a.s) replied: O Zurarah! This is the word of the Messenger of Allah (a.s) and the same is true in what has been revealed of Allah’s Book; since Allah states, “wash your faces;” so, He told us to wash the whole face. Then He said, “and your hands as far as the elbows.” Then He distinguished these two proceeding statements saying, “Rub your heads.” When He said, “your heads,” He taught us that rubbing will be done with part of the head, as He had attached the ruling of the hands to that of the face, so He stated, “and your feet to the ankles.” Thus, by attaching the ruling of the feet to that of the head, He taught us that rubbing a part of the feet is sufficient.

As is evident from this tradition, Imam Baqir (a.s) has adduced both the Prophet’s tradition and the Quran’s surface and lexical aspect. To Shia jurisprudents, rubbing the head is recommended to be horizontally and with three closed fingers in amount.

Rubbing or Washing the Feet?

The most controversial issue in the ritual ablution among the Sunni and Shia is what to do about the feet. Most of the Sunnis, following the idea of the four Islamic schools, believe that the feet should be washed up to the ankles, but some of grand Sunni jurisprudents and all the Shia believe that what is ordered is rubbing the feet up to the ankles, not washing them. Some Sunni jurisprudents believe that both rubbing and washing are valid and still some others have issued verdicts to perform both of them. The honorable verse, about our duty toward the feet in ablution says: And rub your heads and your feet to the ankles.

Among the usual pronunciations, the word “ارجلكم” (your feet) has been pronounced in two ways: one with the jarr (genetive case) vowel (/i/ sound) and the other with the nasb (accusative case) vowel (as the vowel sound in English ‘lab’). We now discuss either pronunciation to understand our true duty as stipulated in the Holy Quran.



1. Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd Qurtubi, Bidayah Al-Mujtahid, Published in Egypt, Vol. 1, Kitab Al-Taharah, Kitab Al-Wuzu, 2nd section, Question 6, p. 11.

2. Such as in 23:20.

3. Al-Mughni, Vol. 1, Bab Al-Siwak wa Sunnah Al-Wuzu, Question 28, p. 175.

4. Vol. 1, p. 111.

5. Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni, Vol. 1, Bab Al-Siwak wa Sunnah Al-Wuzu, Question 28, p. 175; Al-Majmu’, Vol. 1, p. 433.

6. such as 22:29.

7. That is if someone is seen to have rubbed, that suffices even if it has been the least amount (Editor).

8. Madarik Al-Ahkam, Vol. 1, p. 208.