This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here and the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.We have all heard the old adage, Cleanliness is next to Godliness. While this saying does not exist in either the Jewish or Christian scriptures, it does appear that the God of Islam is very concerned with external cleanness and requires it of all who would draw near to Him.
"O believers, when you stand up to pray wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles. If you are defiled, purify yourselves; but if you are sick or on a journey, or if any of you comes from the privy, or you have touched women, and you can find no water, then have recourse to wholesome dust and wipe your faces and your hands with it." (Koran 5:8-9)
"O believers, draw not near to prayer when you are drunken until you know what you are saying, or defiled -- unless you are traversing a way -- until you have washed yourselves; but if you are sick, or on a journey, or if any of you comes from the privy, or you have touched women, and you can find no water, then have recourse to wholesome dust [pure sand] and wipe your faces and your hands" (Koran 4:46)The problem with external cleansing is that it does nothing to effect the inside of a person, where in is the seat of all sin, lust, and out of which our sinful behavior proceeds. We can wash all we want, but, unless we have come to faith in Jesus and have had the Spirit of God cleanse us on the inside, we sill remain dead and decaying within. Jesus spoke to the Jewish leaders about their eagerness to dress up the outside while ignoring the inside, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28) External cleansing is nothing more than an attempt to appear righteous on the outside but leaves our dead and decaying soul untouched on the inside. Similarly, Jesus spoke to the Jewish leaders about their ritual and ceremonial washing and cleansing, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Matthew 23:25-26)
God does not care what we look like on the outside. He does not demand that we first wash and clean ourselves up before coming to Him. He sees us through and through and what He is concerned about is our inward state not how dirty we may appear on the outside. It is what is inside that defiles a man, not his outward condition.
There was a time when the Pharisees and scribes criticized the disciples to Jesus asking, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" (Mark 7:5) They assumed that their hands were defiled because they had not been properly washed. Mark tells us that, "the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots." (Mark 7:3-4) However, Jesus rebukes them saying, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man." (Mark 7:14-15) Muhammad did not understand this truth but perpetuated the error of the Pharisees and scribes down to his own day.
God does not care about our outward cleanliness, He cares about our heart. When you come to pray, clean your heart not your hands. Consider what is on the inside and don't worry about how you appear outwardly. If you have uncleanness of the heart, take care of that first and then return to pray. Just like Jesus taught us, "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Matthew 5:23-24) Let us not get side tracked with physical cleansing or improvements, let us focus on what is inside and we will do well.
More to come...