The Imamis have agreed - in following the Imams of the two weighty things - on the necessity of having an intention of the wudu and ritual bath (ghusl) for them to be valid. For they are acts of worship which Allah has commanded: "They have not been commanded except that they worship Allah sincerely in religion." This is the madhab of al-Shafi'i, Malik, Ahmad, Dawud, Abu Thawr and many Imams of the masses.
The Hanafis said that the obligation to perform the wudu and ghusl by pure water is only for being in a physically pure state which is attained by the flow [of water] on the limbs whether it occurs with or without an intention. This purity may be attained accidentally, for example, by washing impure clothes because water, by its very nature, purifies [things]. They said if a man falls in water unintentionally or entered water for jest, or to cool or clean himself, or if he was imitating the acts of others or quenching his thirst and if the water covered the parts of his wudu, it is proper for him to pray with this wudu. [This applies] even if he had entered the water as a non-believer and converted when he came out of it since being a Muslim is not a condition in the validity of the wudu.
Yes, they have seen intention to be necessary for the tayammum to be correct because the earth does not, by its nature, purify things. [The fact that] it is a purifying agent is due to ta'abudi (due to a pronouncement by the lawgiver) so it is essential to have an intention to perform the tayammum with it. Similar is the case of the wudu and ghusl with the nabidh (intoxicating beverage extracted from dates, raisins or barley, etc.) of dates or the leftovers of a donkey or mule because, like the earth, nabidh or the leftovers are purifying agents by ta'abudi (following a pronouncement by the lawgiver).
In short, they have differentiated between the wudu and ghusl which is performed with the nabidh of dates or the left over of a donkey or a mule and that which is performed by pure water. They have deemed the first to be worship whose meaning is not rationally derived so, like the tayammum, they imposed the intention on it. They have considered the second to be the means necessary for physical cleanliness like purification from filth.
I do not know from where they knew that the intention of the lawgiver in the wudu and ritual bath is merely the physical purification which, due to the nature of water, is attained by it's flowing [on the limbs]? Every Muslim man and woman knows that the wudu and ghusl are to remove the effects of impurities so as to make the prayers - and other acts for which the wudu is a condition for removing the impurities - valid. This would have not been perceived nor understood had it not been for the devotion to the holy commands issued by the one who is all-wise. The true facts and details are hidden from human beings, jinns, angels and the whole of creation. Yes, we believe, in compliance to divine commands, that the wudu is to remove the affects of the minor impurity and that the ritual bath (ghusl) is for removing the major impurity, just as we believe in the obligation of the prayer, fasting, the zakat and pilgrimage as to how [to do it], how much and when [to perform].
The attainment of physical cleanliness by the wudu and ghusl many times does not make them mere acts for [being] clean; just like reviving those deserving zakat; giving it to them does not exclude [the act of giving] from [also] being an act of worship, it does not become a [mere] physical act of welfare. The same applies to the khumus, expiations and all other alms and material forms of worship. If the aim of the wudu and ghusl was mere physical cleanliness then they would not have been obligatory to perform when one is impure and then becomes completely clean and pure. This is against the ijma' of the Muslims, and contrary to what has been established from the leaders of the Prophets (S.A.W.) since he said: "Allah does not accept a prayer from impurity until [there is] a wudu." And he (P) said: "God does not accept a prayer without purity nor any alms [acquired] dishonestly."
The prerequisite of the intention here can be proven from the book and the sunna. This is in addition to what the practical principle (al-asl al-'amali) requires, i.e., with regards to doubtful acts, we must be cautious when we are not sure the conditions [attached to the act] are fulfilled. Moreover, the principle of istishab states that the impurity remains when one performs the wudu without an intention.
As for the book, the need for intention is derived by combining the verses from the [chapters] of al-Ma'ida and al-Bayyina. The verse of the Ma'ida is: "When you undertake the prayer then wash your faces" (5:6). The minor premise is established in the form of an analogy, i.e., we have been commanded to perform the wudu and ghusl. As for the verse in al-Bayyina: "You have been commanded to worship only Allah with sincerity in religion."(98:5) The major premise is established; i.e., everything that we are commanded to perform must have the sincere [intention] for Allah. However, there are objections and problems to this deduction.
As for the sunna, the wudu of the Prophet of God (P) requires the sequence and intention based on the assumption that the validity of actions depends on the correct performance [of acts]. The Hanafis say: "The assumption is that an act becomes perfect based on the intention," therefore there is no proof for what we claim. It can be said as a response to them: "The first assumption is better since the validity of an act is more necessary to get to the essence of an act than it's perfect [performance].
We, the Imamis, in whatever service we pay to Allah, follow the Imams of the pure family and their rulings are conclusive proofs for us. [This is] proof in itself since they are the [other] half of the book of God and receptacles of the sunna of the Prophet of God (S.A.W.) and the ships of salvation of the umma. One who boards them is safe and one who stays away drowns. They are the doors to reducing [burdens of sins]; one who enters them is granted safety. They are the firmest thing upon which one lays hold, to which there is no separation. They are the custodians of the community from differences and its refuge from punishment; they are the eggs of the Prophet of God through which his devoted friends and successors burst forth. They are the inheritors of his knowledge and wisdom; they are the best of people to him due to the legislation from Allah, the most High, as we have proved in its place in our Azharite "Muraja'at" and other publications.
Adapted from: "Questions on Jurisprudence" by: "Abdul Hussein Shareefaldin Al-Musawi"
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