Ask Ali: On performing ablution in the desert

How Muslims can perform the necessary cleansing ritual in the absence of water, plus the Islamic ritual that welcomes a newborn into the world.

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Dear Ali: If Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day, what would happen if they are in the desert? How would they make ablution if there was no water? FC, Umm Al Qaiwain

Dear FC: That's a smart observation. As you must know, normal ablution is with water and performed in order for us to be pure when praying to God. It is a prerequisite before going to pray and we do it five times a day. It is scientifically proved to be hygienic because wiping certain parts of our body (hands, face, arms and feet) rids those parts of our body from the germs and microbes that stick to them.

Of course, lack of water doesn't mean that you cannot pray. God blessed us with another option to purify ourselves, and that is with dry sand known as "tayammum" in Arabic. Bear in mind that when we have ablution with water, there are many steps that we take that are not available when making tayammum, so it is a much shorter process.

Tayammum can be done with clean sand, a lump of clay or a stone, but the recommended precaution is that if sand is available tayammum should not be performed with anything else.

To make tayammum, one would recite the following: "Bismillaah alrahmaan alrahim" which means "In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Compassionate", then have the intention to perform tayammum (niyyah) and proceed by placing both hands on the sand, rubbing the hands to ensure no particles remain and then wiping their face. Repeat the same but this time with only the arms. The feet do not have to be wiped with sand since they are in contact with the earth anyway. One can proceed with praying after one is done with this process, as one is then considered pure enough to face God. Having said the above please understand that not many really practise this now due to the availability of water almost everywhere in our country.

Dear Ali: I work as a nurse in one of the hospitals here in Abu Dhabi, and I enjoy seeing how parents in your country have their own customs, especially when fathers receive their babies for the first time. Most Emiratis seem to do the same thing, which is to whisper something that sounds like the call to prayer in the babies' ears? Why is that? LL, Abu Dhabi

Dear LL: You are right. What you hear is the call to prayer from our mosques, the athan or azan. In Islam, it is the custom for the call to prayer to be recited into the baby's right ear. We welcome newborns by whispering the words to them. We believe these are the first words a Muslim baby should hear.

The words of the athan are a declaration of Allah's greatness and the testimony that brings a person into Islam. Likewise, the athan is an indication to the parents that the child's upbringing and education must be based upon the word of the tawheed (attributing Oneness to Allah) and the guidance of Islam through the Holy Quran.

Typically, the person to utter the words of the athan into the baby's ear is the father, the grandfather or another male in the family. This ritual is a sunnah, which means it was what our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) practised, and we try as much as possible to keep his ways and traditions alive because it brings us closer to him and God.

I can't wait to conduct this custom, inshallah, with Mr Ask Ali Junior someday.