Ghusl is the major ablution as opposed to wudu’ (ablution) which is known in the Islamic Law (Shari`ah) as the minor ablution. It is an act of worship, which means washing the entire body with water. Ghusl is considered necessary and required in the following cases:
1- Discharge of Al-Mani Owing to Stimulation:
The opinion of the jurists in general is that ghusl is a must if one has discharged sperm owing to stimulation during sleep or wakefulness. Abu Sa`id (Al-Khudri) reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) saying: “Water (washing) is (needed) after (the ejaculation of) sperm.” (Muslim)
Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that Umm Sulaym said: “O Messenger of Allah, Allah is not ashamed of the truth. Does a woman have to perform ghusl if she has a wet dream?” He said: “Yes, if she sees the liquid.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
– Discharging semen without any type of stimulation:
If a person discharges semen without being stimulated, because of illness or extreme cold for example, in this case ghusl is not obligatory. Mujahid said, “We were in a meeting in the mosque with the students of Ibn `Abbas (Tawus, Sa`id ibn Jubair and `Ikrimah). When he stood to pray, a man came in and said, ‘Is there one who can give a legal verdict?’ We said, ‘Ask your question.’ He said, ‘Whenever I urinate, a liquid always follows it.’ We asked, ‘Is it the type of liquid that gives birth to children?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ We said, ‘Then you have to perform ghusl.’ The man went away. Ibn `Abbas hurried to finish his prayer, after which he told `Ikrimah to bring the man back. He turned to us and said, ‘Is your verdict found in the Book of Allah?’ We said, ‘No.’ He asked, ‘Is it based on the sayings of the Prophet ( peace be upon him)?’ We said, ‘No.’ ‘Then from what?’ We said, ‘From our opinion.’ He said, ‘That is why the Messenger of Allah said that one learned man is more difficult for Satan than a thousand worshippers.’ The man came and faced Ibn `Abbas, who said to him, ‘When that happens? Is it owing to any stimulation?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Ibn `Abbas asked, ‘Do you feel any numbness in your body?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Said Ibn `Abbas, ‘That is from the cold. Ablution is sufficient.’”
– Having wet dream without ejaculation:
If one has a wet dream but does not find any traces of ejaculation, there is no need for ghusl in this case either. Ibn Al-Mundhir said, “All the people of knowledge, as far as I know, agree on this point.” The hadith of Umm Salamah mentioned earlier supports this proposition.
If a person wakes up and finds some moistness, but does not recall any wet dream, though he is sure it is sperm, what should he do? To be safe, he should perform ghusl. Mujahid and Qatadah said : “There is no need for ghusl until he is sure that it is sperm, for his prior state of purity is not cancelled by an uncertainty .”
– Squeezing the penis to prevent ejaculation:
This also makes ghusl unnecessary. This is based on the hadith which states that ghusl is required if the sperm can be seen. But, if the person walks and cannot control his ejaculation, he must perform ghusl.
– Sperm on the clothes during prayer:
If a man does not know how the sperm got on his clothes, and he has already prayed, should he perform ghusl and repeat all of his prayers since the last time he slept? If he thinks that it happened before his most recent sleep, he should repeat all of his prayers since the supposed time of his ejaculation.
2- Contact between the Two Circumcised Parts:
This refers to the penis and the vagina. If one’s penis has entered his wife’s vagina, ghusl is obligatory even if there was no ejaculation. Almighty Allah says:
If you are Sexually Impure, Purify Yourselves. (Al-Ma’idah 5:6)
Commenting on the subject, Ash-Shafi`i says: “In the Arabic language, sexual impurity refers to any type of sexual intercourse, regardless of whether sperm was ejaculated or not. If someone says, ‘So and so is sexually impure due to so and so,’ it refers to sexual intercourse, even if there was no ejaculation. No one disagrees that the fornication which requires the prescribed punishment is sexual intercourse, even if there is no ejaculation.”
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When anyone sits between the four parts of (a woman’s) body and exerts himself (has intercourse), bathing becomes obligatory (for both).” (Ahmad and Muslim)
Sa`id ibn Al-Musaiyab (may Allah have mercy upon him) reported that Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari said to `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with them): “I would like to ask you something, but I am embarrassed.” She said, “Ask and don’t be shy, for I am your mother.” He asked about a man who had intercourse but did not ejaculate. She said, on the authority of the Prophet, “If the two circumcised parts encountered each other, ghusl is obligatory.” ( Ahmad and Malik)
There is no doubt that there must be insertion; if there is only touching, ghusl is not obligatory for either. All scholars agree on this point.
3- After Menstruation or Menses:
Concerning menstruation and childbirth bleeding, Allah says in the Qur’an:
Do not approach them until they become pure. When they are pure, go to them in the manner that Allah has prescribed for you. (Al-Baqarah 2:222)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said to Fatimah bint Abu Habish: “Do not pray during your period. After it has ended, perform ghusl and pray.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Post-childbirth bleeding is treated in a similar manner, according to the consensus of the companions. If a woman gives birth and has no flow of blood afterwards, some scholars say that she must perform ghusl, while others say that it would not be necessary. There is no textual authority on this latter point.
When a Muslim dies, it is obligatory to wash his or her body, according to the consensus of the Muslims.
5- Embracing Islam:
New converts to Islam must perform ghusl. Abu Hurairah reported that Thumamah Al-Hanafi was captured. The Prophet (peace be upon him) passed by him and said: “What do you have to say for yourself, O Thumamah?” He said, “If you kill me, you would be killing a relative. If you give me a bounty (set me free), I would be thankful. If you want wealth (as a ransom), we can give you what you wish.” The companions of the Prophet preferred the ransom and said, “What would we get if we killed him?” One time when the Prophet passed by him, he finally embraced Islam. The Prophet untied him and told him to go to the garden of Abu Talhah and perform ghusl. He performed ghusl and prayed two ak`ahs (units of prayer). The Prophet said: “Indeed, your brother became a good Muslim.” (Ahmad)
Quoted with slight modifications from Sayid Sabiq’s Fiqh As-Sunnah.