Henna and Fingernails

by Ayesha F. Hussain
for The Henna Page © 2004

The Islamic religion stands upon five pillars, all of which support the meaning of being a Muslim:  Zakat (charity), salaat (daily prayers), rosa (fasting), shahada (declaration of faith in God and only one God), and Hajj (the pilgirmage to Mecca for those who can afford it).  Another basis of Islam is cleanliness, both inside and out.  Salaat is the cleansing of sins and the soul and is performed five times daily:  Fajir (day break), Zuhar (when the sun is at its highest point in the sky), Asar (when the sun begins to set), Magrib (when the sun is set), and Isha (when there is complete darkness). It typically follows that prayers are performed first thing in the morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and just before bed.

Before prayer time, wudu (cleansing of certain parts of the body) is performed.  There is a set order that Mohammed himself set and that every Muslim follows.  The first step is to declare that this act is for the purpose of worship and purity.  This is done by saying Bismillah, "in the name of Allah".  Next, water is run over the right hand with the left washing it three times, and then the same is repeated to wash the left hand.  The next action is to rinse out the mouth three times with water in order to keep the mouth clean and to remove any excess food particles or the scent of sleep, and afterwards to snuff water through the nose three times in order to wash out all of the mucus. The face is then washed three times in order to remove eye crust and sweat.  Then a small amount of water is taken onto the hands to swipe them lightly onto the hair, ears, and neck once. The last step is to run water over the right arm with the left hand three times and to repeat this for the left arm and finally the feet.  The excess water is dried off, and prayers are followed with the women donning head coverings or hijabs. Prayers are accepted when this simple form of ablution is done, and the wudu is valid unless the person passes gas, urinates, defecates, has skin contact with blood or bodily fluids, engages in sexual intercourse, sleeps, or vomits.  A person can be cleaned again by performing wudu again.  Also, prayer is invalid if a woman is menstruating, but she is clean after she washes any clothing that she has worn or sheets that she has slept on while menstruating.

Young children learn simple things like wudu and how your body is to be clean if the sins are to be also.  It is an easy task, done simply by remembering that the right side is always first, all is done three times except for the forehead, ears and neck, and the hands are first, the process moves upward, and then the dirty water is cleaned off by washing the arms and finally washing the feet lightly to remove any grime.

Nail polish has been thought to be harram, or unclean.  The reason for this is that when wudu is performed, the water is not able to reach the base of the nail, thus leaving it dirty.   In order to have a valid wudu, a woman would have to remove her nail polish while performing wudu but could reapply it afterwards.  Since nail polish has been a tedious task with wudu, Muslim women often dye their fingernails with henna in order to have both healthy nails and the flair of color.  Henna is thus accepted as a cosmetic within the Muslim religion.

Cleanliness is not only important with wudu, but in other matters of life such as the bathroom.  After urinating or defecating, Muslims are required to wash water over their genitals in order to get all of the urine or feces off of the body. There are also some hadiths, ways of the prophet, that Muslims are asked to follow.  These extra tasks are not necessary, but are blessed to follow in the footsteps of the holy prophet Muhammad.  These extra things are to ensure cleanliness in different aspects, such as brushing the teeth before or after wudu. As soon as a Muslim hears the Azan, the call to prayer, he or she is to go to prayers as soon as possible.  However, this is not allowed if there is  a meal on the table.  Instead, it is customary to eat and then proceed with wudu and prayers.

Fasting itself uses the times as prayers do to start and end the daily fast.  The fast begins at Fajir and ends at Magrib during Ramandan, the month of fasting.  This is a holy and blessed time for Muslims everywhere to have special foods and hold feasts at the end of the day to celebrate a sense of unity and a sense that they have all accomplished this fast because God has helped them to do so.  The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar instead of the solar calendar that Americans use. Because of this, Islamic holidays tend to be eleven days earlier every year.  Therefore, Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-ad-ha have no set date on the Gregorian calendar. When the final day of Ramandan has been declared, it is traditional for women to henna for the next day’s festivities and prayer. It is typical for everyone to wear their newest and flashiest clothes, and for the women to adorn themselves with twenty-four karat gold jewelry and display their hennaed hands. In Muslim countries, the  holiday lasts three days, and most businesses are close so that the people may rejoice.

Patterns for fingernails with Arabic Calligraphy: Click on images to link to larger size

Joy  generosity

Online References for Wudu



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*"Henna, the Joyous Body Art" 
the Encyclopedia of Henna
Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2000 
registered with the US Library of Congress
TXu 952-968