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Last Updated: 2012/03/10
Summary of question
Why do Shiites wipe their feet rather than washing them which is an obligatory act in wudhu?
question
First question: Sunnis wash their feet when performing wudhu and they describe this practice as fardh (mandatory). It is certainly mandatory and I am wondering why Shiites are refraining from performing a fardh by wiping their feet. Aren\'t they committing a sin? Second question: You Shiites are doing what Hazrat Ali (karramallahu wajhahu) did. As far as I know, he neither abandoned a fardh nor a recommended act. Rather he performed all of them. But you Shiites are abandoning a recommended act in prayer and a fardh (mandatory one) in wudhu. What is your reason for abandoning them?
Concise answer
It is quite natural and clear that every sect and denomination considers itself to be on the right side or to be the right sect. Contrary to what you think, we believe we are performing what is mandatory to do. We perform what you think as fardh and it is the Sunni brothers who have distanced themselves from fardh. In order to substantiate the point, we shall present evidence from the Quran and  prophetic traditions
Shiites relying on the Quran and teachings of the Ahlulbayt, peace be upon them, as well as those of the prominent companions of the Prophet (S) maintain that wudhu is made up of two washings and two wipings in the sense that you first wash your face and then wash the hands beginning from the elbows to the tips of the fingers. Thereupon, you wipe the head and the feet.
There is only one verse in Surah al-Maedah of the Quran that makes clear reference to how one should perform wudhu. Although the word ro'usekum (your head) is pronounced with 'e' after 's' but the totality of the word "bi-ro'usekum" is the object of imsahu (you should wipe) which means that both "your head" and "feet" are the objects of wiping and they should be recited with "nasb" (accusative). So, the "feet" must be wiped because the word is used immediately after "ro'usekum" and they are both in the position of nasb which is a characteristic of all objects to a verb, grammatically speaking. In addition, we believe that wudhu is among the acts of worship and the acts of worship are based on divine instruction (i.e. they are tawqifi) which is something that is not subject to debate and argument, because it has been decided by the religion in a command by Allah. In other words, no one has the right to make any changes to them by adding to and omitting something from them. We must perform wudhu in the same way that the Prophet (S) performed. If someone presents an argument to prove something different, he has opposed the nass i.e. clear evidence.
There are some Sunni scholars who say: "Rationally speaking, washing is better than wiping. Washing amounts to cleaning and it is better to clean for one who wants to stand before the Lord of the Lords but that is simply an analogy which has been proved in its respective place to be void and practically useless.
 
Detailed Answer
It is quite natural and clear that every sect and denomination considers itself to be on the right side or to be the right sect. Contrary to what you think, we believe we are performing what is mandatory to do. We perform what you think as fardh and it is the Sunni brothers who have distanced themselves from fardh. In order to substantiate our claim, we shall present evidence from the Quran and prophetic traditions
Shiites relying on the Quran and teachings of the Ahlulbayt, peace be upon them, as well as those of the prominent companions of the Prophet (S) maintain that wudhu is made up of two washings and two wipings[1] in the sense that you first wash your face and then wash the hands beginning from the elbows to the tips of the fingers. Thereupon, you wipe the head and the feet.
Source of discrepancy
 It seems that the discrepancy in regards to the way Muslims are performing wudhu originate in the pronunciation of the word "arjol" (feet) in verse 6 of Surah al-Maedah.  When it comes to the letter "l" in the word "arjol", there are two views about it; some have pronounced it as "arjolakum" and others have pronounced as "arjolekum". In the latter case, assuming that this reading is correct, there should not be any differences among the scholars but even then some Sunni scholars are of the view that the Sunnis' view is preferable; because in this case the word "arjol" is recited as "arjolekum" not because it is wiped like the head but because the feet becomes wet when the face is being washed. Therefore, to prevent israf (extravagance), it is recited with "e" after "l".[2]
Is it anything other than self-interpretation?  Is it not a kind misinterpretation that aims only to justify one's thoughts and beliefs, whereas, in fact, the Quran is the word of Allah revealed to human beings? We must be at the Quran's service and benefit from its teachings; we should take our beliefs from the Quran and consolidate our beliefs with it. We should not make any prejudgment or impose our own opinions on the Quran.
This kind of opinion is not interpretation but it is analysis of personal and individual view imposed on the Quran. It is therefore necessary to further elaborate on the verse in question.  However, there are some people who have pronounced the word "arjol" with "a" after "l.
Discussion concerning the verse in question
The only verse which deals with the way wudhu should be performed is verse 6 of Surah al-Maedah which says:
"يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا إِذا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَ أَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرافِقِ وَ امْسَحُوا بِرُؤُسِكُمْ  وَ أَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ"[3]
O you who believe! when you rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles.
According to a well-known reading, the letter "l" in "arjolakum" is recited with an "a" after it.  For this reason, there are two views about the position of the word in the entire structure of the verse:
A) It is the object of the verb "wash" which includes both the face and feet and both of them are pronounced with "nasb".
B) Although the word ro'usekum (your head) is pronounced with 'e' after 's' but the totality of the word "bi-ro'usekum" is the object of imsahu (you should wipe) which means that both "your head" and "feet" are the objects of wiping and they should be recited with "nasb". So, the "feet" must be wiped because the word is used immediately after "ro'usekum" and they are both in the position of nasb which is a characteristic of all objects to a verb, grammatically speaking.
Some Sunni scholars have argued that washing includes wiping also because washing means more wetness but the contrary is not true.  That is to say, wiping does not include washing Therefore, one who washes his feet will become certain that he is relieved of the obligation because if we assume that wiping is obligatory, he who washes his feet, he has definitely wiped them too but the contrary is not true. If washing is supposed to be really obligatory and one only wipes his feet, he is not relieved of the obligation because he has only wiped or rubbed his feet while it is obligatory on him to wash them.[4]
Obviously, such an argument is incorrect and inconsequential because washing and wiping are two different things. They are opposed to each other and none of them can be said to be included in the other. In other words, neither washing is considered to be wiping nor wiping is used instead of washing. In fact, if we are to determine the exact meaning of a word, the best criterion through which the meaning of each word can be identified is the common view or common understanding.
Does the general public understand the same thing which was explained above? Do people consider one's act of washing his feet as wiping?  Let's assume that there is an overlapping relationship between wiping and washing and that washing includes wiping and something more than that, then in this case we must be able to generalize it by saying that wherever we are supposed to wipe, washing would be sufficient there. Therefore, we must say that if someone washes his head, it would be sufficient for wiping because washing includes wiping. There is no doubt that this argument is basically invalid and there is no one who would subscribe to it or accept it.[5]
Secondly,  we believe that wudhu is among the acts of worship and the acts of worship are based on divine instruction (i.e. they are tawqifi) which is something that is not subject to debate and argument, because it has been decided by the religion in a command by Allah. In other words, no one has the right to make any changes to them by adding to and omitting something from them. We must perform wudhu in the same way that the Prophet (S) performed it. If someone presents an argument to prove something different, he has opposed the nass i.e. explicit and clear evidence.
Rashid Reza, a Sunni scholar says: Rationally speaking, we see that washing is better because washing is cleanness and it is better for one who stands before the Lord of the Lords.
Undoubtedly, Rashid Reza has taken recourse to analogy without mentioning its name. That is, he has said that washing amounts to cleanness and whatever is considered to be cleanness is better and this is also washing and it is better.  The fact is that analogy has no role to play in proving a legal ruling. This is not something the author of al-Manar is believing in. Because he narrates two traditions from Imam Sadiq (AS) under the holy verse of the Quran " أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِنْ نارٍ وَ خَلَقْتَهُ مِنْ طِين" (I am better than him as you created me from fire and created him from mud).[6] The narrations condemn those who take recourse to analogy.  He says that Abu Na'eim narrates in Hilyatul Awliya and Daylami from Ja'far Sadiq, he from his father and he from his grandfather that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: "The first person who used analogy in religion was Satan."[7]
Again he says: Ja'far (Sadiq) said: "He who draws analogy in religion using his own view, God will put him beside Shaitan on the Day of Judgment."[8]
Conclusion
What was mentioned in this discourse were two rules for two different subjects. That is to say washing and wiping the face and head, respectively, are the objects of two different verbs. The hands and face are the objects of "wash" and feet and head are the objects of "wipe" that precedes them. In other words, in the same way that washing the face is obligatory, washing the two hands from the elbows to the tips of the fingers is also obligatory and in the same way that wiping the head is obligatory, wiping the feet too is obligatory.[9]
Given the points raised above and the arguments presented, can it be said that Shiites are abandoning a mandatory duty (fardh) and are acting against Sunnah of the Prophet (S)?
 

[1] Tusi, Tahzib al-Ahkam, vol.1, p. 63, hadith 25, Dar al-Kotob al-Islmaiyah, year 1365 (1986). رُوِيَ عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ أَنَّهُ  قَالَ: غَسْلَتَانِ وَ مَسْحَتَانِ.
[2] Zamakhshari, Mahmood, al-Kashaf 'An Haqaeq Ghawamez al-Tanzil, vol.1, p. 611, Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, Beirut Publications, year 1407 A.H, third edition.
[3] Al-Maeda: 6
[4] Razi, Abu Abdullah Fakhruddin Muhammad bin Umar, Mafatih al-Ghaib, vol.11, p. 306, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi Publications, Beirut, Year, 1420 A.H. third edition; Rashid Reza, Muhammad, Tafsir al-Quran al-Hakim (Tafsir al-Manar), p. 233, Dar al-Ma'refa Center for Printing and Publication, Beirut, Lebanon, second edition.
[5] See: Tabatabai, Muhammad Hussein, al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, Musavi, Hamedani, vol.5, p. 363, Islamic Publications Office affiliated to Society of Teachers of the Islamic Seminary of Qom, Qom, 1374 (1995), fifth edition.
[6] Surah al-A'araf, verse 12.
[7] Satan said in response to God who said to him: " He said: What hindered you so that you did not prostrate when I commanded you? He said: I am better than he: Thou hast created me of fire, while him Thou didst create of mud."
[8] Rashid Reza, Muhammad, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Hakim (Tafsir al-Manar), vol.8, p. 331.
[9] Tusi, Tahzib al-Ahkam, vol.1, p. 62, hadith 20; For further information about various views in this regard, refer to Sheikh Mufid's treatise titled al-Mash 'alaa al-Rijlayn", p. 25.
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