Skip to main content

Body, Significance of


The body is the locus of human existence and activity in Islam. Islamic law stipulates the regular purification of the body, requires the use of a body in performing rituals, and views the body as the site of both social continuity and punishment in the case of violating social norms.

Purification and renunciation of the body are required for both men and women in Islamic law. Ritual purification involves washing and wiping certain parts of the body, and is invalidated by natural bodily emissions (urine, feces, pus, blood, vomit), sleep, unconsciousness, insanity, and sexual contact. Most jurists also agree that touching one's genitals (penis, vagina, anus) also invalidates purification. The ritual fast during the month of Ramadan requires keeping substances from entering the body (food, drink, medicine) and abstinence from sex.

The body is also of symbolic importance for the rites of the pilgrimage to Mecca. While in the sanctuary at Mecca pilgrims are not allowed to eat the meat of wild animals or plants. Pilgrims are not allowed to have sex, and marriages performed during the pilgrimage are invalid. Nor are pilgrims allowed to wear sewn clothing or apply perfume to their bodies. The hair and fingernails of pilgrims cannot be cut during the pilgrimage but are cut upon exiting from the sanctuary at the end of the pilgrimage. Many classical sources report that the prophet Muhammad distributed his hair and fingernails, cut at the end of his last pilgrimage, to his followers as relics.

Islamic law recognizes the body as the legal sphere of the individual. The "private area" (˓urwah), the area which must be covered in public, is defined differently for men and women. For men it is the area between the waist and the knees, for women it is the area from the neck to the ankles, although some authorities also include in this the female voice. Crimes such as theft require the amputation of limbs (hands and feet), and other crimes such as fornication require death by stoning under certain circumstances.

See alsoCircumcision ; Gender ; ˓Ibadat .


Katz, Marion Holmes. Body of Text: The Emergence of theSunni Law of Ritual Purity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Reinhart, Kevin A. "Impurity/No Danger." History of Religions 30 (1990–1991): 1–24.

Zannad, Traki. Les lieux du corps en Islam. Paris: Publisud, 1994.

Brannon M. Wheeler

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Body, Significance of." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. . 16 Jul. 2019 <>.

"Body, Significance of." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. . (July 16, 2019).

"Body, Significance of." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. . Retrieved July 16, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.