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The Ruling of Touching the Muṣḥaf in a State of Impurity

Imām Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn

A brief look at the opinions regarding the state of purity one must be in in order to touch a Muṣḥaf and the final verdict based on Qurʾanic proof.

The Ruling of Touching the Muṣḥaf in a State of Impurity

It is ḥarām upon the one who has nullified his state of purity to touch the musḥaf.

A musḥaf is defined by any article upon which the Qurʾān has been recorded, whether this be in its entirety or partly. Even if it be a single verse written on a piece of paper with nothing attached to it, it will still adopt the ruling of a musḥaf. Similarly, a board [like a whiteboard or chalkboard] will adopt the ruling of a musḥaf save for the few instances deemed as exceptions by the jurists (رحمهم الله).

Our saying ‘the one who has nullified his state of purity’ is comprehensive of minor and major forms of impurity. Impurity can be generally defined as a physical attribute that occludes the performing of ṣalāh and other acts of worship for which purity is a prerequisite.

Evidence to Support the Impermissibility of Touching the Muṣḥaf in a State of Impurity

The evidence for this is the following:

  1. The saying of the Most High:

    إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ ‎﴿٧٧﴾‏ فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ ‎﴿٧٨﴾‏ لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ ‎﴿٧٩﴾‏ تَنزِيلٌ مِّن رَّبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

    “That (this) is indeed an honourable recital (the Noble Qurʾān). In a Book well-guarded (with Allāh in the heaven i.e. Al-Lawḥ al-Mahfūẓ). Which (that Book with Allāh) none can touch but the purified (i.e. the angels). A Revelation (this Qurʾān) from the Lord of the ʿĀlamīn (mankind, jinns and all that exists).”
    (Al-Wāqiʿah, 56:77-80)

    Evidence in support of this opinion is derived from the pronoun [‘which’] in His saying “Which none can touch” [according to one interpretation of this verse]. The subject matter of these verses is the Qurʾān, as evidenced by His saying afterwards: “A Revelation (this Qurʾān) from the Lord of the ʿĀlamīn (mankind, jinns and all that exists).” That which has been revealed is the Qurʾān. The purified, as in the verse, are the ones who have performed wuḍūʾ or ghusl from a state of major impurity [again, according to one interpretation of the verse]. The evidence of [the performers of wūḍūʾ or ghusl being granted the label of pure] is His saying [concerning those who have performed either wuḍūʾ or ghusl]:

    وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ

    “But He wants to purify you”
    (Al-Māʾidah, 5:6)

    It is also said: The article ‘لا’ [none] in His saying ‘لا يمسه’ [none can touch it] is nāfiyah [that is, an informing ‘لا’ which would mean: ‘which none can touch’] rather than nāhiyah [a forbidding ‘لا’ meaning: ‘which should not be touched’]. The evidence of this is that the verse is read with a ḍammah [لا يمسُّه] rather than with a fatḥah [لا يمسَّه].

    We say: Sentences may adopt an informational form, while in actuality being a request. In fact, an informational phraseology which is meant as a request is actually among the strongest ways of posing a request. This is because it almost implies that the request has already been fulfilled. From this is the saying of the Most High:

    وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَاجًا يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرًا

    “And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait (as regards their marriage) for four months and ten days.”
    (Al-Baqarah, 2:234)

    His saying “they (the wives) shall wait (as regards their marriage)” here adopts an informational phrasing but in actuality is an order for them to wait for this allotted period of time. Also in this vein is the ḥadīth: “A man shall not sell over the selling of his brother [that is, intentionally undercut his sale with a lower price].”1 Again, the phraseology is informational, but it means to forbid.

  2. It has been narrated in the correspondence of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm, which was written by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to the people of Yemen: “Only the purified may touch the Qurʾān.”2 The ‘purified’ being referred to here are those who have physically purified themselves from impurities through either performing wuḍūʾ or ghusl. A believer is completely pure in the metaphorical sense. However, since the musḥaf is not usually touched except by the believers anyways, his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) saying “only the purified” implies that he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is referring to other than this metaphorical purity. Rather, he is referring to the removal of physical impurities. The evidence of this is His saying:

    مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ

    “Allah does not want to place you in difficulty, but He wants to purify you.”
    (Al-Māʾidah, 5:6)

    “Purify you” physically – as this was mentioned at the conclusion of the verse of wuḍūʾ and ghusl.

  3. This is consistent with sound reasoning. As there exists no words more deserving of reverence and veneration than the Words of Allāh. If He has ordered that we perform wuḍūʾ before engaging in ṭawāf around His house, then performing wuḍūʾ to recite His book which He himself spoke would be even more befitting. For we are enunciating the Words of Allāh which leave our mouths. In doing so, we are making contact with the Words of Allāh that are more honourable than a physical building which would stipulate that we are in a state of purity. Just as we would have to be in a state of purity to perform ṭawāf around the Kaʿbah. Thus, as a means of reverence and showing respect to the Book of Allāh we should also be in a state of purity.

This is the opinion upon which the majority of scholars have reached agreement. It is also the opinion adopted by the Four Imams.

The Opinion that Touching the Muṣḥaf is Permissible for One in a State of Impurity

Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī and others from among the people of knowledge hold the opinion that the musḥaf may be touched by one who has invalidated his wuḍūʾ. Their evidence is that our original state is one innocent of any compulsion. As such, we should not attach sin to the servants of Allāh in relation to them carrying out an action for which a clear passage has not been related.

Debating the Evidences Provided by Scholarly Majority

They refute the evidences provided by scholarly majority as follows:

As for the verse [specified], there is no evidence in it because the pronoun [‘which’] in His saying “which none can touch” refers to the “well-guarded book” [as mentioned in the preceding verse]. The well-guarded book may refer to al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūẓ or the book which is in the hands of the angels. As Allāh, the Most High, said:

كَلَّا إِنَّهَا تَذْكِرَةٌ ‎﴿١١﴾‏ فَمَن شَاءَ ذَكَرَهُ ‎﴿١٢﴾‏ فِي صُحُفٍ مُّكَرَّمَةٍ ‎﴿١٣﴾‏ مَّرْفُوعَةٍ مُّطَهَّرَةٍ ‎﴿١٤﴾‏ بِأَيْدِي سَفَرَةٍ ‎﴿١٥﴾‏ كِرَامٍ بَرَرَةٍ

“Nay, (do not behave like this). Indeed it (these Verses of this Qurʾān) are an admonition. So whoever wills, let him pay attention to it. (It is) in Records held (greatly) in honour (Al-Lawḥ Al-Maḥfūẓ). Exalted (in dignity), purified. In the hands of scribes (angels). Honourable and obedient.”
(Abasa, 80: 11-15)

This verse can be used to interpret the aforementioned verse in Sūrah al-Wāqiʿah. His saying: “(It is) in Records held (greatly) in honour (Al-Lawḥ Al-Maḥfūẓ)” here is like His saying: “In a Book well-guarded (with Allāh in the heaven i.e. Al-Lawḥ Al-Mahfūẓ)” there.

For parts of the Qurʾān may be used to interpret other parts. If the meaning of the verse was what had been mentioned by scholarly majority, the verse would have been read “لا يمسه إلا المطَّهِّرون” [that is, with a kasrah on the هِ and a shaddah on the طّ in the word المطَّهِّرون which is not how the verse is read/written]. As this iteration of the word would denote: ‘those who purify themselves,’ [as is the claim of scholarly majority]. There is a difference between the word المطهَّر which is the form of the word that denotes reception of a verb [or object; i.e, taking the meaning of ‘the one who is purified’] and the word المطهِّر which is the form of the word used to signify the executor of the action itself [or subject; taking the meaning of ‘the one who purifies’] as in the saying of the Most High:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ

“Truly, Allāh loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves (by taking a bath and cleaning and washing thoroughly their private parts, bodies, for their prayers, etc.).”
(Al-Baqarah, 2: 222)

As for their claim that sentences may adopt an informational form while in actuality being a request, this is true. Although, we must only interpret the sentence as a request if we are contextually led to believe that a request is what was intended. In this instance, there is nothing contextually that would support that interpretation. Thus, we must interpret the verse according to its most apparent meaning. Considering this, the sentence is informational [rather than meant as a request]. This interpretation would also bolster our interpretation of ‘the purified’ in the verse as referring to the angels. This is also consistent with the aforementioned verses from Sūrah ʿAbasa.

As for His saying after this: “A Revelation (this Qurʾān) from the Lord of the ʿĀlamīn (mankind, jinns and all that exists),” it refers to the Qurʾān as that is the subject being referred to here. As there is nothing to prevent the combining of two pronouns in one context, one of them referring to that which is not explicitly mentioned (i.e, the Qurʾān), as long as there is a context that supports this interpretation.

Even if we were to concede that it is equally possible for the verse to be referring to either the Qurʾān or al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūẓ, then we must use the judicial principle: “If there exists the possibility of multiple interpretations within a passage used as evidence, then the passage ceases to be a valid form of evidence for a specified issue [because it may be that the passage is not referring to it].” Then, this verse is not a valid form of evidence anyways. As such, we should return to the original state of innocence from the purity requirement.

As for the ḥadīth of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm, it is weak because it is mursal [that is, a narration from one of the Tābiʿīn to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) without mention of the companion]. Since mursal is among the types of weak narration, it may not be used for the establishment of rulings. Not to mention a ruling that would cause great hardship for the Muslims, preventing them from reading the Book of Allāh except in a state of purity which is especially difficult on cold days.

If we were to concede the ḥadīth as authentic due to its popularity, we could also interpret the word ‘pure’ as meaning their hearts are pure from shirk, or their bodies pure from impurity or najāsah, or that they are pure from minor or major forms of impurity. Then, these are four possible interpretations. If an evidence that could be interpreted in just two ways ceases to be a valid form of evidence, then what could we reasonably conclude regarding an evidence that has four possible interpretations? As the word ‘pure’ has been used to describe a believer as Allāh said:

إِنَّمَا الْمُشْرِكُونَ نَجَسٌ

“Verily, the Mushrikūn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allāh, and in the Message of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) are Najasun (impure)”
(Al-Tawbah, 9:28)

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Indeed, the [body of the] believer is not impure.” Here, there is negation of a believer being described as impure. Negation stipulates confirmation of the opposing state and there exists only two: one of purity or impurity. As such, there is nothing in this ḥadīth that would support the view that only the one who has performed wuḍūʾ may touch the muṣḥaf.

As for the logical evidence provided, we do not view qiyās [analogisation of judicial issues with one another] as being a valid form of evidence. As is the opinion of the Ẓāhirī school of thought.

The Stance Taken By Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn (رحمه الله)

In my opinion, their refutation of the use of the verses [of sūrah al-Wāqiʿah] is clear, and I am in agreement with them regarding their view on it.

As for the ḥadīth of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm, its chain of narration is weak as they claim. However, it has gained the acceptance of the people in terms of their reliance on it for legislations related to zakāh, diyyah (blood money) and other issues. Their acceptance of it proves its origin as legitimate. Frequently, the acceptance of the people for a particular narration may replace the stringent measures that would otherwise be applied to its chain of narrators, or other requirements that would have applied. This is inclusive of narrations of all kinds; those related to issues of creed and jurisprudence. As for this ḥadīth, it has been narrated from the time of the tābiʿīn until today. So, how could we say: “It has absolutely no origin?!” This is quite improbable.

I used to find myself inclining towards the Ẓāhirī opinion on this issue. Then, I contemplated his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) saying: “Only the purified may touch the Qurʾān.” ‘Purified’ here must refer to one who has purified himself from major and minor forms of impurity due to the saying of the Most High:

مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ

“Allah does not want to place you in difficulty, but He wants to purify you.”
(Al-Māʾidah, 5:6)

And the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) would not habitually refer to the believer as ‘pure,’ rather it would have been more eloquent for him to refer to them as possessing īmān. Thus, it has become clear to me that it is impermissible for one who is characterised as impure, whether this be major or minor, to touch the muṣḥaf. I derive this from the ḥādīth of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm. As for the qiyās used by the scholarly majority, it is weak; lacking the strength of a valid piece of evidence. Rather, support for this opinion comes from the ḥadīth of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm.

If someone says: The correspondence of ʿAmr ibn Ḥazm was to the people of Yemen who, at the time, were not Muslim. This is a contextual fact that could favour interpretation of ‘pure’ in the ḥadīth as referring to a believer.

We answer: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) would frequently attach commands to the possession of īmān. If he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) wanted, he could have just as easily have said: “Only the believer may touch the Qurʾān.” This would have been clear, plainly evident.

Thus, the opinion I have settled on finally is that only a person with wuḍūʾ may touch the muṣḥaf.

Distinguishing that Which May Be Touched

[Q]: Is it ḥarām to touch the Qurʾān itself, or the entire book which contains the Qurʾān? For there is an opinion held by the Shāfiʿī madh`hab that touching the actual letters is ḥarām, rather than the margins. As the margins are really just paper.

The Most High says:

بَلْ هُوَ قُرْآنٌ مَّجِيدٌ ‎﴿٢١﴾‏ فِي لَوْحٍ مَّحْفُوظٍ

“Nay! This is a Glorious Qurʾān, (Inscribed) in Al-Lawḥ Al-Maḥūẓ (The Preserved Tablet)!”
(Al-Burūj, 85: 22)

Here, that which is being referred to [the Qurʾān] is clearly a separate entity to the other object of the sentence [al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūẓ]. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Only the purified may touch the Qurʾān.” Therefore, the opinion of the Hanbalī madh`hab is that it is ḥarām to touch the muṣḥaf in addition to the paper it has been recorded within [for a person not possessing wuḍūʾ]. The exception to this is that they allow a child to touch a board upon which the Qurʾān has been recorded provided that he does not touch the actual letters. This is a more encompassing opinion as, from a judicial standpoint, a ruling may be confirmed as a way of being consistent with an existing ruling even if the first ruling [i.e. touching a part of the paper upon which the Qurʾān was recorded] would never have been legislated in isolation.

The Ruling of Those Under the Age of Puberty

[Q]: Does this ruling apply to one under the age of puberty?

[A]: Some scholars say: This ruling does not apply to children under the age of puberty because they are not responsible before Allāh for their actions. Considering this, how can we rightly obligate upon them that which is not an action of disbelief in and of itself, nor is it even close to that? It is considered a form of disobedience for one over the age of puberty. As for children, it cannot be considered disobedience for them because the pen [used to record their actions] has been lifted.

However, should ordering them with this action be obligatory on their parents or guardians or not?

The correct opinion according to the Shāfiʿī madh`hab is that they are not obligated to perform wuḍūʾ, nor should their parents command them to do so. This is because they will not be held responsible in their current state. Furthermore, there would be great hardship on the parent or guardian in commanding them to do so even though it is not compulsory on them. If there exists difficulty upon that child because of it and it is also not compulsory, we should not obligate commanding it upon the parent.

The most famous opinion of the Ḥanbalī madh`hab is that it impermissible for a child to touch the muṣḥaf without wuḍūʾ. His parent or guardian must command him to perform wuḍūʾ when touching it just as he would order him to perform it for ṣalāh. This is because it is considered an action that is only lawful in a state of purity. As such, his parents or guardian must command him to abide by it.

Touching a Board Wherein the Qurʾān is Written

They make the exception for Qurʾān that is written on a board. Their rationale is the inherent hardship related to this, while others reason that the type of writing recorded on a board is unlike that which is in the muṣḥaf. As that which is in the muṣḥaf is recorded with the express purpose of providing a clear, unerasable, stable, record which is unlike this. Also, if you were to write the Qurʾān backwards and then hold it up to the mirror, you would see it written correctly. However, it would not then become ḥarām for you to touch that mirror [if you were not in a state of wuḍūʾ]. This is because clearly the Qurʾān has not been recorded on the actual mirror.

The most apparent opinion taken by jurists in this matter is that it is impermissible for one who is not in state of purity to touch a board upon which a verse of the Qurʾān has been recorded. However, it is permissible to write the Qurʾān while not being in a state of wuḍūʾ provided the actual letters are not touched. It has also been said that this opinion is unwarranted. Rather, there is a difference between a muṣḥaf, a small erasable board, and a large display board. A small erasable board or a muṣḥaf is held and transported by people. Therefore, its ruling should be consistent with that of the Qurʾān as opposed to a large display board.

The Ruling of the Books of Tafsīr

As for the books of tafsīr, touching it without wuḍūʾ is permissible. This is because they are considered books of tafsīr [rather than purely Qurʾān]. Also, the verses written therein are much less than the tafsīr it contains. The evidence for this is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to send correspondences to the disbelievers upon which he would write verses of the Qurʾān. This proves that the ruling should be consistent with the most overwhelmingly frequent type of writing found in the document.

If a book contains that which is Qurʾān and other than it in equal amounts: From a judicial standpoint, if that which stipulates permissibility and impermissibility are combined in a single place without one overcoming the other, then we judge in favour of the side of impermissibility and caution. Thus, we would give such a document the ruling of a Qurʾān. Just as if the book contained even a marginally larger amount of tafsīr, we would rule it as being a book of tafsīr.


[1] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 2140 and Muslim: 1413.
[2] Authentic: narrated by al-Dāraquṭnī 1:121 and al-Bayhaqī 1:88. Graded authentic by Ibn Ḥajar, al-Shāfiʿī, and Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr. See ‘al-Talkhīṣ al-Ḥabīr’ no: 175 and ‘Nuṣb al-Rāyah’ 1: 196.

Source: Al-Sharḥ al-Mumtiʿ 1: 315-323
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: July 17, 2023
Edited: July 18, 2023


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