Customs and Behavioral Laws1
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi

    The various manifestations of the conduct, mannerisms and pattern of living of a group of people are called customs and etiquette. No period of human civilization has remained devoid of them. We find them in currency in every clan, culture and nation.  Civilizations are mostly distinguished from one another because of them. The religions revealed to the Prophets of Allah also direct their respective believers to follow certain customs and behavioral laws. The objective of divine religions is purification of the soul. Consequently, these customs and behavioral laws have been chosen to fulfill this objective. When the Prophet Muhammad (sws) was called to serve the Almighty, all these customs and behavioral laws existed in Arabia as practices of the Abrahamic religion. Except for a few things, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) made no addition to them. They, obviously, existed before the Qur’an and their status is that of Sunan (plural of Sunnah) which were given sanction or tacit approval by the Prophet (sws) and then transferred to the Muslim Ummah through the consensus and practical adherence of the Companions of the Prophet (sws). Now their source is the consensus of the Ummah and on this very basis are accepted and acknowledged everywhere as part of Islam. In the following paragraphs, this writer shall elaborate in detail these customs and behavioral laws.

1. Taking Allah’s name before eating and drinking and using the right hand for the purpose
    The first of these is to express gratitude towards Allah and to invoke His blessings and the second is to constantly remind us that those who are bestowed with the favours of Paradise will receive their account in their right hand on the Day of Judgement. In other words, when a true believer uses his right hand while eating and drinking, he makes a symbolic expression of the fact that he wants to be among the Ashabu’l-Yamin (companions of the right hand) on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet (sws) has directed us to follow this Sunnah of the Prophets in the following words:

When anyone among you is about to eat food, he should say Bismillah. If he forgets to say it at the beginning and [remembers it later on while eating], he should say: ‘In the name of Allah both at the beginning and at the end’. (Tirmadhi: No. 1513)
When anyone among you eats, he should eat with the right hand and when he drinks, he should drink with the right hand. (Muslim: No. 2020)
2. The ceremonial salutation when people meet one another
    The ceremonial salutation is a prayer of peace and well-being for one another in this world and in the Hereafter. The one who initiates the salutation says (Al-salamu ‘alaykum) and the one who replies says (Wa ‘alaykumu’l-Salam).  This salutation is mentioned in the Qur’an as well as in various Ahadith. While pointing out its correct etiquette, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
The young shall say salam to the old, the one who is walking shall say it to the sitting and a small group shall say it to a large one. (Bukhari: No. 6234)
3. The ceremonial utterances after sneezing
    Sneezing relieves a person from an internal disorder. A person is required to say  (Al-Hamdullilah: all gratitude is for only Allah) after sneezing and anyone who hears him should reply by saying  (Yarhamukallah: may Allah bless you). These words are meant to remind a believer that the blessings of Allah in this world and in the Hereafter are specifically for people who are grateful. According to some Ahadith, it was initiated at the dawn of mankind, when the spirit was blown into Adam and he woke up in this world2. The existence of the word  (Tashmit) for these ceremonial utterances is evidence enough that they are an age old Sunnah which the Prophet Muhammad (sws) sanctioned and adopted for his own Ummah also. He is reported to have said:
When anyone of you sneezes, he should say (Al-Hamdullilah) and if his brother or companion hears these words, he should reply by saying (Yarhamukallah). And when he says (Yarhamukallah), you should say: May Allah guide you and keep you well. (Bukhari:No. 6224)
4. Saying the (Adhan) in the right ear of a new born and the (Iqamah) in his left.
    This Sunnah was initiated by the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The words of the(Adhan) and the(Iqamah) adopted by the Prophet (sws) in accordance with the guidance he received from the Almighty encompass very comprehensively the whole message of Islam in a very concise and moving manner. A true believer is forever an addressee of this message. All of us hear these words five times a day from our nearby mosques. Sounding these words in the ear of a newborn is a symbolic expression of the fact that just as his parents have transferred their physical being to him, they have initiated the transfer of their spiritual being to him with words that convey the basic message of Islam.

5. Clipping the moustache, 6. Shaving the pubes, 7. Removing hair from under the armpits, 8. Cutting nails, 9. Circumcising the mail offspring
    All these five things are from among the norms of decency. Large moustaches give the impression of arrogance and conceit in a person. Edibles and drinks become contaminated through them when they are put in the mouth. Dirt often accumulates in elongated nails and such nails also have resemblance with savage animals. Consequently, the Almighty has directed us to keep our moustaches trim and to cut our nails whenever they grow. The rest of the three directives are aimed at one’s physical cleanliness and hygiene. So strict was the Prophet (sws) in observing these norms that for some of them he even stipulated a certain time limit. Anas (rta) reports:

The time before which we must trim our moustache, cut our nails, shave pubic hair, remove hair from under the armpits has been fixed as forty days. (Muslim: No. 258)
    Before the advent of Islam, Arabs usually observed these norms of decency3. The source of these norms and practices is found in our own nature and the Prophets of Allah have always made them a part of religion, considering the importance they occupy in purifying and cleansing human beings – the very objective of Islam. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
Five things are from among [the norms of] human nature: circumcision, shaving the pubes, cutting nails, removing hair under the armpits and clipping the moustache. (Muslim: No. 257)

10 .  Cleaning the nostrils, the mouth and the teeth
    The fondness towards cleanliness which the Prophets of Allah want to inculcate among their followers made them to include the above mentioned practices as an established Sunnah. In history, they are referred to as  (Sha‘air: religious symbols) of Arabia4. It is known from the way the Prophet (sws) did wudu (ablution) that he would specially do (Madmadah: to gargle in order to clean the mouth) and (Istinshaq: to pour water in the nostrils to clean them). He was also very diligent in cleaning his teeth, and is even reported to have said:

Had I not thought that this would burden my Ummah, I would have directed them to clean their mouth before every prayer. (Muslim: No. 252)

11. Cleaning the body after urination and defecation
Cleaning carefully the relevant body parts after defecation and urination is another Abrahamic practice5. Depending upon the circumstances, these parts can be cleaned by water, mud cubes or other things that can serve the purpose. It is apparent from various Ahadith that the Prophet (sws) normally used water for this. Abu Hurayrah (sws) reports:

When the Prophet would go out to relieve himself, I would bring some water in a utensil or a water container. He would clean himself from this water and then rub his hands on the mud to clean them. (Abu Da’ud: No. 45)
12. Abstention from sexual relations during the menstrual cycle and the puerperal discharge
    All divine religions prohibit sexual relations when the wife is passing through these states. Pre-Islamic Arabia also upheld this prohibition. Their poetry reflects this. There was no difference of opinion in this regard. However, great extremes existed in the limits of abstention during these states. So when people inquired about them, the Qur’an explained the Shari‘ah regarding this issue in the following words:
They ask you concerning women’s courses. Tell them: They are an impurity. So keep away from women in their courses and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves approach them in the manner the Almighty has directed you [in your instincts] -- for Allah loves those who constantly repent and keep themselves clean. (2:222)
    My mentor, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, while explaining this verse writes6:
The extent to which one should abstain from one’s wife during this period is explained in the subsequent part of the verse: ‘So keep away from women in their courses and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves approach them in the manner the Almighty has directed you [in your instincts]. Indeed Allah loves those who repent and those who observe cleanliness’. It is evident from these words that this abstention relates to sexual intercourse only. It does not imply that a woman has become untouchable in this period, as is the belief found in some religions. The Ahadith also bear witness to this explanation as does the practice of the Prophet (sws).

In this verse, two words have been used: (Tuhr) and (Tatahhurr). While the former means ‘the completion of the state of impurity and discontinuation of menstrual bleeding’ the latter implies ‘a woman entering the state of purity after having the ceremonial bath’. According to the verse, a woman should be in a state of purity for sexual intercourse; simultaneously, it is delineated that when a woman enters the state of purity, the husband can go near her. It is evident from these words that since the real reason that prohibits sexual intercourse is blood. So once this stops, the prohibition no longer remains. However, the proper conduct in this regard is that a husband should approach his wife for sexual relations once she has had the ceremonial bath.

    While explaining the last part of the verse, he writes7:
The essence of the words Tawbah and Tatahhurr is that while the former implies cleansing one’s self from inner impurities, the latter implies cleansing one’s self from outer ones. Viewed from this angle, the essence of both is the same and both these characteristics of a believer are very dear to the Almighty. On the other hand, the Almighty is displeased with those who are devoid of these. Moreover, it is evident from the context of the verse that those who do not abstain from copulation during this period or exceed bounds to satisfy their sexual urge are disliked by the Almighty. Various Ahadith also mention this.
13. Ceremonial bath after the menstrual cycle and puerperal discharge, 14. Ceremonial bath after Janabah
    The ceremonial bath has also remained a Sunnah of the Prophets. The first of these has been explained earlier. As soon as the menstrual bleeding ceases, a woman must have this bath to enter the state of purity. After Janabah also, the Almighty has directed believers to go through the ceremonial bath, particularly before the prayer in the following words:
Believers approach not the prayer when you are in a drunken state until you are able to understand what you say nor when you are in a state of sexual impurity (Janabah) till you have taken a bath except if you only intend to just pass the prayer place. (4:43)
    In Surah Ma’idah, this directive is stated in similar words (If you are in a state of Janabah, have a bath. (5:6)). By Janabah is meant the state of impurity that one enters after copulation or after a seminal/ovular discharge whether or not copulation has taken place. The ceremonial bath is necessary after this state in order to be purified. One should have this bath in a thorough and complete manner. The Qur’anic words (Ittaharu) and (Ightasilu) testify to this. The way the Prophet (sws) set about following this directive, as mentioned in various Ahadith, can be summarized as:
First the hands should be washed; then the genital area should be thoroughly cleaned by the left hand; then Wudu should be done except that feet should be washed later at the end; then while inserting the fingers in the hair, water should be soaked into it so that it reaches its roots; then water should be poured all over the body. In the end, the feet should be washed.
    Following are the Ahadith that have reached us in this regard from A’ishah (rta) and Maymunah (rta), the blessed mothers of the believers:
A’ishah reports that when the Prophet would have the ceremonial bath after Janabah, he would first wash both hands. Then he would clean his genital area by the left hand after pouring water on it by the right one. Then he would do Wudu the same way as Wudu is done for the prayer. He would then take some water and insert his fingers in his hair until the water reached the skin. He would then pour three handfuls of water on his head. He would then drench all his body with water and then wash both feet. (Muslim: No. 316)

My aunt Maymunah [once] told me: ‘I placed some water [in a utensil] before the Prophet (sws) so that he could have the ceremonial bath of Janabah. He first washed both his hands two or three times. Then he slid his hand in the utensil and poured some water over his private area and washed it with his left hand. He then thoroughly rubbed this hand on the ground and did Wudu the way it is done before the prayer. He then took three handfuls of water and poured them on his head. Then he washed all his body. He then stepped aside and washed both his feet’. (Muslim: No. 317)

15. Bathing a dead body
    Bathing a dead body is also from among the Sunan of the Prophets.8 The directive stands fulfilled if water is poured all over the body. However, keeping in view the importance of purification and cleanliness in Islam, the spirit of the directive is that the body should be bathed with diligence and thoroughness.

    The directives regarding bathing a dead body which the Prophet once gave are:

Bathe the [dead] body of this [girl] with water and berry leaves three times or five times – or even more if required and add camphor to the water with which you bathe her.
Bathe this girl odd number of times: three or five or seven times and begin with her right side and from the limbs by which wudu is done. (Bukhari: No. 1254)
16. Enshrouding a dead body in coffin cloth
    Enshrouding the dead body in coffin cloth after giving it a bath is also an Abrahamic Sunnah. Though one single piece of cloth can be used for this purpose, however, to show due respect to the dead body something better seems befitting. A’ishah (rta) narrates that the Prophet (sws) was enwrapped in three Yamani sheets which had no shirt or turban (‘amamah). She says:
Any one among you who enshrouds your dead brother in a coffin cloth should do it befittingly. (Muslim: No. 943)
17. Burial
    Another practice among the Prophets of Allah is burying the dead in a grave -- the final resting place.9 No specific way has been fixed for this. A ditch can be made by digging the earth and then covering it or a cavity can be made adjacent to a dug out ditch or the dead body many be buried in a coffin casket. All these ways can be adopted. However, the Prophet (sws) did not approve of cementing a grave or building some structure over it or writing something on it.10 It has been reported in some Ahadith that at the time of burial, the Prophet (sws) sprinkled clay from the head side of the body three times.11 While placing the body in the grave, the following words have also been reported from the Prophet (sws):12. Another Hadith says that the Prophet (sws) urged others also to say these words.13 The following prayer for the dead after burial is ascribed to him in this regard:14
Pray for the forgiveness of your brother and beseech the Almighty to make him steadfast because now he would be called to account. (Abu Da’ud: No. 3221)

18. ‘Idu’l-Fitr; 19. ‘Idu’l-Adha
    Both these festivals were originated by the Prophet (sws) at the behest of the Almighty. Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, we find mention of Id festivals as (Yawmu’l Sab‘) and (Yawmu’l-Sabab) and some others among the Idolaters of Arabia. The Shari‘ah of the Israelites had ‘Id festivals as well but as is evident from the Old Testament and other scriptures, these festivals related more to commemorating certain days of their history. In the last Shari‘ah also, the Almighty fixed the above mentioned two ‘Id festivals for man and associated them with two great manifestations of piety and submission to the Almighty. The ‘Idu’l-Fitr is observed on the first of Shawwal right after the end of the holy month of Ramadan in which the believers undergo a period of fasting for the purpose of attaining piety. Similarly, the ‘Idu’l-Adha is celebrated on the 10th of Dhu’l-Hajj to commemorate the sacrifice offered by Abraham (sws) – something which depicts the spirit of submitting to the Almighty in the ultimate form.
    It is evident from certain Ahadith that these festivals originated in Madinah after migration. Anas (rta) reports:

When the Prophet arrived [in Madinah], he found people celebrating two specific days in which they used to entertain themselves by playing and merriment. He asked them about the nature of these festivities at which they replied that these days were occasions of fun and recreation of the days of Jahilliyah. At this, the Prophet remarked that the Almighty has fixed two days [of festivity] for you which are better than these: ‘Idu’l-Fitr and ‘Idu’l-Adha. (Abu Da’ud: No. 1134)
    The rituals which are to be observed in these days are the following:
1. Sadqah i Fitr after ‘Idu’l-Fitr
2. The Prayer and the Sermon
3. Takbirs after every prayer in the Days of Tashriq15
    A Muslim is required to give Sadqah i Fitr before the ‘Idu’l-Fitr prayer. This is a day’s meals that every young or adult person is required to give. In the days of the Prophet (sws) it was given in the form of grains and cereals. So the Prophet (sws) had fixed its quantity as one (Sa‘)which is equivalent to 2.5 kg:
The Prophet (sws) has made it obligatory upon every Muslim to pay Sadqah i Fitr. The quantity fixed for this is one Sa‘ of dates or one Sa‘ of wheat and every person whether he is a freeman or slave, man or woman, young or adult is required to pay it before he leaves his house for the ‘Idu’l-Fitr prayer. (Bukhari: No. 1503)
    According to Ibn Abbas16, the Prophet (sws) imposed the Sadqah i Fitr to cleanse one’s fasts from lewd and loose talk that one might have indulged in during fasting and to provide ration for the poor on this festive occasion. As far as the details of the prayer and the sermon are concerned, they will be dealt in an appropriated chapter17 of this treatise.
    The directive to say Takbirs is given in the general sense: no words have been prescribed by the Shari‘ah and it is to be said in the same days in which pilgrims offer sacrifice and reside in Mina. After the 10th of Dhu’l-Hajj these are also considered among the days of ‘Id.
    Both these festivals of ‘Idu’l-Fitr and ‘Idu’l-Adha are occasions of showing gratitude to the Creator and remembering Him as well as are a means of entertainment. A’ishah (rta), the mother of the believers, narrates that when on one ‘Id day her father AbuBakr stopped young girls from singing, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
Abu Bakr! [let them sing]; every nation has days of ‘Id and [this day] is our ‘Id. (Bukhari: No. 952)
    The routines and practices which the Prophet (sws) observed in these days have been recorded in some Ahadith. They are:
On Idu’l-Fitr, he would swallow a few dates before going out to pray. It has been reported that their quantity would be an odd number.18
    On ‘Idu’l-Adha, he would never eat anything before the prayer.19
    He would return from a different route from the one he had adopted while proceeding for both the ‘Id prayers.20

 (Translated by Shehzad Saleem)


1. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Mizan, 1st ed., (Lahore: Daru’l-Ishraq, 2001), pp. 321-33
2. Tirmadhi, No. 3368
3. Dr Jawad ‘Ali, Al-Mufassal fi Tarikhi’l-‘Arab Qabla’l-Islam, 2nd ed., vol. 6, (Beirut: Daru’l-‘Ilm Li’l Malaliyyin, 1986), p. 346
4. Dr Jawad ‘Ali, Al-Mufassal fi Tarikhi’l-‘Arab Qabla’l-Islam, 2nd ed., vol. 6, (Beirut: Daru’l-‘Ilm Li’l Malaliyyin, 1986), p. 346
5. Ibid.
6. Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1985), p. 526
7. Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1985), p. 526-7
8. In normal circumstances, every dead person must be given a bath. However, in extraordinary circumstances in which bathing a dead body and putting it in a coffin cloth becomes a matter of great difficulty, then the body can be buried without bathing it and putting it in a coffin cloth. It is narrated in Bukhari (No. 1346) that the Prophet (sws) directed Muslims to bury the martyrs of the battle of Uhud in this manner. This incident has been narrated in other books of Hadith also. Our jurists associate such a burial with martyrdom only. However, in the opinion of this writer, this is a general exception which is based on the principle of relief (rukhsah) that is always kept in consideration in the various directives of Islam.
9. This way is to be adopted in normal circumstances. So if a person dies on a ship and the shore is far off, the only option left is to cast the body in the surrounding water.
10. Muslim: Nos, 969-70, Ibn Majah No. 1563
11. Ibn Majah: No. 1565
12. Abu Da’ud: No. 3213, ‘In the name of Allah and according to the way of His Prophet’.
13. Musnad Ahmad: No. 5311
14. Abu Da’ud: No. 3221
15. the 10th, 11th , 12th and 13th of Dhu’l-Hajj
16. Abu Da’ud: No. 1609
17. The yet to be written chapter on ‘Worship Rituals’ will deal with these issues insha Allah.
18. Bukhari: No. 953
19. Tirmadhi: No. 542
20. Bukhari: No. 986