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Tayammum for sick people

August 13, 2011



Respected sir

Can you help us understand the rules of tayammum for a person with high fever? Whether such fever reaches 38, 39 or 40 degrees is of no relevance here. Further, the scenario I am asking about is one where water in itself will not worsen the sick person’s actual illness, but tayammum will make it a whole lot easier for him to perform salāt in this weakened state. Likewise related to the same topic, being that of tayammum in the Mālikī school, I would like to pose the following questions: Which is the ruling that is acted upon when it comes to the daily recourse to tayammum on the part of a person with chronic problems with eczema, which sometimes cause bleeding, severe ache and loss of sleep? In this case water does worsen the illness. Can such an individual make tayammum his de facto routine when the eczema is in the blooming phase?


In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.
May Allah’s prayer of blessing and the greeting of peace be on His chosen Messenger, the pure and purified members of his family, and the totality of his noble companions, as well as whoever follows them through engagement in beneficent goodness until the Day of Judgment, amīn.

Allah has stated in His Book, when legislating the compulsory fasting of Ramadān, that He has willed ease for His slaves as opposed to hardship.
The Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, has taught us that there is no inconvenience (haraj) in the Dīn, as well as that the Dīn of Allah is potent, and that whoever wants to overcome it shall be overcome by its hardness.
That does not mean, obviously, that one simply fashions the “easy way out” in everything, or selectively does so, for instance by making rulings of eating and covering of women extremely harsh and everything relating to the creation, distribution and bequest of wealth conveniently “light”.
The criterion is what the Lawgiver has determined.
Unlike the rigid formalism of secular law, the sharī`ah of mercy, having its source in the All-Merciful, Most Merciful Creator, and in the best of mankind sent as mercy to all the worlds, is flexible, because its primary objective is to secure the greatest benefit for the largest number of Allah’s slaves, the causes of whose wellbeing are fully known to Him, as opposed to the gain of powerful interest groups in society or fastidious attention to the technicalities of laws based on uninformed speculation of what suits the needs and aspirations of humankind.
In the first issue of our e-magazine “Sulwān”, specifically in the course of the first article in the series “Orientating signposts: The arch-rules of the fiqh”, we dealt extensively with the foundational jurisprudential rule or qā`idah fiqhiyyah which states that hardship attracts facilitation in the Law (In Arabic: Al-mashaqqah tajlib at-taysīr). The questioner is referred to such humble contribution about the relevant dimensions of the afore-stated arch-rule across the different juristic subjects it applies to.
We mentioned that rule since it is the springhead for relieving distress when it comes to the use of water for the sake of attaining ritual purity. Sickness is one of the four recognized reasons that trigger the implementation of the said arch-rule, and one of the specific rulings ramifying from it is that “illness” authorizes resort to tayammum as a substitute for water, if the use of water causes an escalation in the worshipper’s sick condition.
Let us further refine the position in such a manner that the questioner understands the rulings applicable to the particular concrete scenarios he has alluded to in his request for clarification.
It is well-known that tayammum is a concessionary replacement for ablution and the major ritual bath (wudū’ and ghusl) as means of acquiring ritual purity, which is the portal to primary acts of worship in Islam.
Tayammum, which linguistically signifies purposeful orientation towards a goal and a firm resolve to attain it, is one of the concessions exclusive to this Prophetic nation. It should therefore be appreciated and not frowned upon as if the legitimate beneficiaries and users of such compassionate Divine indulgence were somehow criminals “stealing from the ‘ibādāt”.
In Morocco and most traditional Islamic countries, stones were made available in mosques for those incapable of using water for the ablution.

Allah is Merciful, and He does not subtract reward from a slave for whom He has decreed a subtraction from the optimal functioning of his bodily capacities.
Though it is a concessionary exemption (rukhsah) or departure from the stricter requirement of the Law (‘azīmah: in this case, ablution and ghusl), it might even rise to the status of a mandatory undertaking, namely, in respect of one who cannot find water and has to perform the prayer in time, or fears death or extreme harm if he does not resort to such concession.
Taking by this concession is not left to the vagaries of men’s selfish predilections. It is demarcated by a framework of clear rules. One of a number of causes has to be present for the concession to be available to the slave.
The relevant one in the context of the question is “the inability to make use of water”, as that renders tayammum permissible.
In this respect, the sick or wounded person who fears that, by using water, he will meet his death, suffer an increase in his illness, a delay in his healing or a relapse into illness *, as well as the healthy person who is afraid of contracting fever, or catching a cold if he performs the full bath or ghusl, is allowed to take the alternative concessionary route of making tayammum, and is in fact mandated to do so in the first-mentioned instance of fearing death if he does not do so. There is a similar allowance for the one who is incapable of moving or is unable to find one who can make water factually available for him to use.

* [This last-mentioned case is based on the sound position in the school. Cf. the superlative work by the jurist from Sfax in Tunisia Ibn Rāshid al-Qafasī, titled Al-Mudhhab fī Dabt Masā’il al-Madhhab, which Ahmad Bābā as-Sūdānī termed “an unparalleled work in its genre”].

The determination of whether one of those contingencies is reasonably feared or not is left to a person’s own experience (and every person is the best doctor of himself and the one most knowledgeable about his own being) or to the pronouncement on the matter by a reliable medical practitioner, Muslim or otherwise.
The root textual authority for the said general ruling is a well-known hadīth transmitted on the authority of ‘Amr b. al-‘Ās, may Allah be well pleased with him, and reported by Abū Dāwud in his Sunan collection. A further corroboration of the aforesaid is found in a sahīh narration reported by al-Hākim in his work Al-Mustadrak ‘alā as-Sahīhayn.
As for the different situation where a person is harmed by cold water only, tayammum is not a valid option for him, as he can heat up the available water.
In short, therefore, there are defining boundaries within which the concession is granted (even to the point of turning into an obligation): Beyond them we step into the arena of “mere convenience”, of an “additional easing of matter for the self”, which is not recognized by the Law as a valid causal basis (sabab) for deflecting from the normal, more stringent requisite for ritual purity.

Let us therefore move to the practical application of the foregoing to the instances contemplated by the questions.
1.    We have said that what worsens a state of illness for a person suffering from an ailment, as with the high fever referred to in the first scenario, or retards his convalescence from such indisposition, is a cause entitling such sick individual to make use of tayammum [Had he merely feared the onset of fever, a fortiori such high fever, as pointed out earlier, he could have made tayammum as a substitute for the ghusl]. For a person suffering from high fever ranging from 38 to 40 degrees, the use of water might is likely to worsen his said infirmity, (although, on the other hand, water is described as a therapeutic tool for alleviating and eliminating fever). It might also be quite possible that such fever incapacitates him from betaking to a source of water whereby he can make ablution, and even more so the ghusl. If, however, a trusted medical practitioner or your sharpened self-knowledge supports your statement that the feverish person’s condition is not worsened, but that deflecting to tayammum would merely ease his fulfillment of the obligation to pray, such “convenience” would not be a recognized ground bestowing on him the option of tayammum as per the above.
2.    Eczema is a form of dermatitis, or inflammation of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) .The term eczema is broadly applied to a range of persistent skin conditions. These include dryness and recurring skin rashes that are characterized by one or more of these symptoms: Redness, skin edema (swelling), itching and dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, or bleeding. As the blooming phase of the eczema involves severe physical distress (throughout the daily span covering all the five compulsory prayers), which water worsens, thereby occasioning a deferment in the recuperation of good health by the patient in question, or even when the general action of the ablution aggravates his eczema in full bloom, the afore-mentioned general rule applies, and a concession is available. It is important that either as a result of a dependable medical diagnosis or the prior experiences of the individual concerned, the pathology is clearly defined and proven to be one that is adversely impacted upon by the use of water in one of the afore-mentioned modes, as is the case with severe eczema, and Allah knows best.


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