A Lesson in Fiqh: Wiping Over Socks


33829744_e3f18ffdc8_bA common misconception among many people is that they believe the texts of the Qur’an and Hadith are intended for all of mankind and are so clear that anyone fairly literate should be able to read them and understand what they mean. The first part of this idea is correct – the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ are intended for everyone. However, the idea that anyone reading the texts will be able to fully understand each and every intended meaning regardless of their background knowledge is very wrong.

Let’s take a practical example in order to demonstrate the truth of this claim. If someone were to open up Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, which is one of the very famous early collections of narrations [Ahӑdith], they might come across the following:

حَدَّثَنَا هَنَّادٌ وَمَحْمُودُ بْنُ غَيْلَانَ قَالَا حَدَّثَنَا وَكِيعٌ عَنْ سُفْيَانَ عَنْ أَبِي قَيْسٍ عَنْ هُزَيْلِ بْنِ شُرَحْبِيلَ عَنْ الْمُغِيرَةِ بْنِ شُعْبَةَ قَالَ تَوَضَّأَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَمَسَحَ عَلَى الْجَوْرَبَيْنِ وَالنَّعْلَيْنِ
قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ

Hannӑd and Mahmud ibn Ghaylӑn informed us that Waki’ informed us on the authority of Sufyӑn on the authority of Abi Qays on the authority of Huzayl ibn Sharhabil on the authority of Al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba who said: “The Prophet ﷺ made ablution [wudu] and wiped over his socks and sandals.” Abu Isa [At-Tirmidhi] said: “This narration is authentic [hasan sahih].”

Whether this was read in Arabic or in English you might conclude from it that you can wipe over your feet when making wudu without having to take off your socks or sandals. You might naturally go even further and consider it ridiculous that anyone could have a doubt about this since it is so clear. The Prophet ﷺ did it and the narration is authentic so we can do it too.

However, a major problem arises when we look into Islamic history. We realize that virtually none of the scholars of Islamic Law came to the same conclusion based upon this narration. This means two things:

  1. No scholar worthy of the name opened up a book like Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, read this hadith, and then made a conclusion based upon what he read.
  2. No scholar came to the conclusion that anyone can unconditionally wipe over their socks and sandals because the Prophet ﷺ did it and the narration is authentic.

The first point has to do with methodology. The Prophet ﷺ said, “When someone in authority makes ijtihad [decrees a ruling regarding Islamic Law] and is correct then he receives two rewards. However, if he is wrong he only receives one reward.” In Islam, anyone who makes ijtihad and is qualified to do so will be rewarded even if he is wrong.  The important thing is that he used the correct methodology. On the other hand, anyone who undertakes ijtihad without being qualified and knowing the correct methodology will get no reward. In fact, it is feared that he may even be held accountable for doing so. This is demonstrated by an incident where a group of people were asked a question and gave the wrong answer which resulted in the death of the questioner. Later, the Prophet ﷺ was informed about what had happened and he exclaimed in contempt, “They killed him! If they don’t know, why don’t they ask?! Asking is the cure for ignorance.”

The second point has to do with putting history into perspective. If most scholars didn’t come to the same conclusion as the one who read this hadith then it might be concluded that they have never come across this hadith before. Maybe they didn’t have a copy of Sunan Al-Tirmidhi. Maybe they didn’t read the part about it being authentic. This conclusion would result in a very negative view of Islamic history. Now that we use the printing press, books like Imam Tirmidhi’s can be printed and distributed for everyone to read in order to supposedly correct the mistakes of all of those scholars of the past.

Let us look at the issue in detail in order to clear up these misconceptions. First, we will look at the authenticity of the narration and then we will take up what it implies.

Authenticating a Narration

After the death of the Prophet ﷺ, Muslim scholars came up with the most rigorous and ingenious method of authenticating history ever known. This was in order to properly preserve the statements of the Prophet of Islam ﷺ.

The casual reader might notice that Abu Isa Al-Tirmidhi graded the narration in question as authentic. However, we must also see what other scholars had to say about the same narration since Al-Tirmidhi is not the only authority in the field of hadith criticism.

Imam Abu Daud said, “Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi used to refrain from narrating this hadith because it is well known that Mughira reported that the Prophet ﷺ wiped over his leather socks [khuffayn].” One of the most knowledgeable early hadith scholars of his time, Imam ibn Mahdi, was very well aware of this hadith, and had it memorized as well, but refused to narrate it to others because he considered it to be unauthentic. The vast majority of scholars agreed with him, among them: Sufyan Al-Thawri, Yahya ibn Ma’in, Ali ibn Al-Madini, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Ahmad ibn Hambal, Al-Nasai, Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, and Ibn Al-Qaiyyim.

The question might arise then, on what basis did scholars like Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Hibban as well as contemporary scholars like Al-Albani authenticate this hadith? In order to understand this phenomenon we must first understand that there are five tests that a hadith must go through before being declared authentic:

  1. Ittisal – The chain of narration must be uninterrupted. For example, assume Imam Al-Bukhari is relating a statement of the Prophet ﷺ and there are three people between him and the Prophet ﷺ (i.e. I heard from X who heard from Y who heard from Z who heard the Prophet ﷺ say…). If Imam Bukhari happened to mention in his book person Y by his nickname which was unknown to other people then this hadith would automatically be deemed unauthentic because person Y would be considered as missing from the chain of narrators since we are unable to find out anything about him.
  2. Adl – All of the narrators must be upright. This means that they must be good Muslims, honest, have good behavior [akhlaq], etc.
  3. Dabt – All of the narrators must be precise. This means that they only narrate after knowing the general context and implication of the narration and are familiar with the various wording that was used.
  4. Shudhudh – The narration should not contradict another narration about the same incident which is established. The narration in Sunan Al-Tirmidhi about wiping over socks suffers from this defect as will be shown.
  5. Illa – The narration should be free from any other major defect that is usually found after researching all the narrations on the same topic.

Once we understand these principles we begin to understand why ibn Mahdi refused to narrate this hadith. He realized that Al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba saw the Prophet ﷺ wiping over his leather socks [khuffayn] and that this is established by several authentic narrations. However, the narrators Abu Qays and Huzayl made a mistake by narrating that Al-Mughira said “socks” [jawrabayn] instead of “leather socks” [khuffayn]. Since the difference between the two words makes a very significant difference, the narration of Abu Qays and Huzayl have been declared unacceptable.

The Implication of a Statement

Let us assume that the hadith in question is indeed authentic. Is the assumption that “anyone can wipe over their socks and sandals because the Prophet ﷺ did it” correct?

If we look at what the scholars had to say on the subject, we will not find even one that unconditionally allowed wiping over the unqualified term “socks.” Rather, they stipulated certain conditions which must be met and defined what types of socks are allowed to be wiped over.

Every scholar began by looking at the Qur’an, since that is the undisputed word of God. What does it have to say about this subject? “O you who believe, when you stand for prayer wash your faces, your arms up to the elbows, wipe a part of your heads, and wash your feet up to the ankles.” (5:6) This verse clearly states that you mush wash your feet up to the ankles when performing ablution. However, the Qur’an also says, “Take whatever the Messenger gives you and refrain from whatever he forbids you. (59:7)” Therefore, if it can be established that the Messenger ﷺ taught his followers any exception to the rule then it may be taken as a concession.

The scholar then looked at all of the narrations on the same topic. Imam Abu Hanifa’s statement clarifies this important principle, “I did not pass a judgment about wiping over socks until the overwhelming narrations proving its validity became manifest to me like daylight.” What he meant was that he did not consider wiping to be an established exception to the rule until he collected several authentic reports. His reasoning was this:

  • the Qur’an is the word of God and its authenticity is undisputed;
  • any single narration, even after passing the five tests of authentication, still has a possibility of being wrong due to the human element of the narration;
  • no report should be allowed to be used as an exception to the rule until its authenticity is such that it leaves no room for any reasonable doubt.

After it became clear to him that several of the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ had narrated regarding wiping over socks he went further and said, “I fear that whoever denies wiping over socks has almost left Islam because the narrations regarding it have almost reached the level of tawatur.” Ibn Hajar verifies this by saying, “The experts of hadith have confirmed that the narrations which establish the permissibility of wiping over socks have reached the status of tawatur.”

After checking all of the narrations on the topic the scholar noticed the following:

  • The Prophet ﷺ was not only seen wiping over his socks but he also instructed some of his companions to do so as well;
  • He set a time limit as to how long anyone may wipe over their socks before having to take them off;
  • He set a prerequisite that they must be worn in a state of purity before they may be wiped over;
  • He wiped over the top of the sock rather than the bottom.

None of the preceding points apply to the narration of Abu Qays and Huzayl mentioned by Al-Tirmidhi and all of the narrations are unanimous that the socks mentioned were khuffayn and not jawrabayn.

The purpose of this discussion was not to deny that wiping is only restricted to leather socks (it is definitely not) but rather to correct the false assumption that reading a single verse or a single narration can qualify as evidence for a ruling on any issue. From this example, we should learn the following lessons:

  • Some texts of the Qur’an and the Prophetic narrations require more than just a casual reading in order to understand their context and true import.
  • No one should assume that they have fully understood any Qur’anic verse or Prophetic statement and then make judgment upon others unless they are familiar with all of the evidence on the topic.
  • To properly understand Islam one should study on an issue by issue basis rather than a text by text basis.
  • Sincerity, without knowledge, does not justify ignorance.

Does this mean that we should not read the Qur’an or hadith? Absolutely not. In fact, this should be an encouragement to read even more. The more knowledge you acquire the more things will begin to fit into place. One of the beautiful things about Islam is that there are no Divinely appointed clergy or priests. Anyone can study, increase in knowledge, and understand the Qur’an and Sunnah for themselves. If you only read this article with the hope of knowing whether or not you can wipe over the socks that you are wearing then go ask your local scholar rather than reading a collection of hadith. If that idea bothers you, then set out on the path of knowledge, the Muslim community is in need of more knowledgeable people.

Print Friendly

31 Comments

  1. Reem says:

    Salaam – very grateful for the lesson in fiqh! I know this wasn’t the central point of the article, but the following sentence is confusing because there are so many negatives…..

    “The purpose of this discussion was not to deny that wiping is only restricted to leather socks (it is definitely not)”

    so…is the author saying wiping is NOT restricted to leather socks?

  2. M.Masroor says:

    Thumb up !!! Nice one we need Islamic scholars and also those who work in the field of Da’wah and those Doctors ,Scientists ….and intellectuals.

  3. M.Masroor says:

    So wot i understood was that we have to identify if wiping over the socks is allowd or not allowd

  4. umm yusuf says:

    Jazak’Allahu khayr!!!

    That’s just increased my motivation even more to persevere in my studies..

    May Allah reward you with many hasanaat for this motivation and whatever I do in acting upon it, you have even more reward insha’Allah.

  5. Son of Adam says:

    Asalamualaykum,

    Have any scholars ever took upon the undertaking of challenging any hadiths found in Bukhari or Muslim, or were these two hadith compilations accepted without any questioning or scrutiny?

    I was just curious to know as to whether these two great books contained, as far as human beings are capable of telling, any errors or even weak hadiths.

    Jazakallahu khayr

    • Atif says:

      Wa ‘alaykum assalaam
      Logically, in order for the scholars to accept those two hadith compilations, they would have to scrutinize each and every hadith in them, at the very least to look for mistakes. So no, these two hadith compilations have not been accepted without any questioning or scrutiny. For example, I believe the muhaddith Al-Albani (rh) undertook this task of verifying the ahadith in them, as well as the other collections.
      In any case, a muslim can learn the hadith sciences, and look at the chain themselves to verify if the hadith is authentic (to a basic level). The commentaries of hadith collections also contain discussions regarding the authencity of specific hadith.

    • Osman Umarji says:

      What makes Saheeh al Bukhari so great is because it was challenged so much historically. The great hadith scholar al Daraqutni critiqued Saheeh al Bukhari significantly, highlighting what he believed to be flaws and issues of contention. After the scholars began to research these contentions and others, it was even more apparent how incredible this book really was.

      Alhamdolillah, our tradition has always had critical thinking scholars who challenged and analyzed the works of previous scholars. Many mistakes were corrected and improvements were often made. Insha Allah we revive the spirit of critical thinking and not blindly following what our predecessors wrote (may Allah reward them all).

      • Son of Adam says:

        Jazakallahu khayr for the answers Atif and Osman Umarji. In regards to the latter’s comment on critical thinking, how far is one allowed to ‘go’ when challenging what the previous scholars said? Also, is it permissible for scholars to challenge issues where there has been an ijma’ (one example would be apostasy, which has only relatively recently been reanalyzed)?

        • Osman Umarji says:

          Wsalaam,

          One may not go against ijma’. It is one of the major sources of our legal theory, and cannot be overridden.

          However, very often it is perceived or claimed that there was ijma’ on an issue, when in many cases there was a large majority who held a particular position. The issue of apostasy was not an issue of ijma’, as there were scholars who held various positions regarding all the details concerning who is an apostate, how to deal with him/her depending on the type of apostasy committed, etc.

          At the end of the day, we should be clear that any analysis in issues of law and legal theory should be left to qualified scholars (and the door is always open to become one), or else we will fall into major mistakes, like Imam Mustafa mentioned.

          Wsalaam,
          Osman

  6. Kiirston says:

    As salamu alaykum, so then it is O.K. to wipe over socks so lond as state of purity before placing them on?

    • A.Saleh says:

      Wsalams
      After your done with your wudu, wipe over the socks using your full hand from the toes up to the ankle. One time, one motion is enough. Make sure the socks are thick enough for the water not to get through. There are other opinions, that mention other conditions. But this opinion is safer. Im trying to make it simple. Wallahu A3lam

    • Khateeb and Imam, Naaib Qadi [Qazi] says:

      Masah may not be done over socks. Such Wudoo is invalid and the Salaat therafter is invalid.

      Masah may be done over impermeable leather stockings that are worn outside and walked in without tearing, and are worn after completing a Wudoo that includes washing the feet.

      Lone Hadeeth do not trump Mutawaatir Hadeeth.

      Wa billahit-tawfeeq.

      • Kamal says:

        One opinion in the hanbali madhhab is that wiping over socks is permissible as long as one can walk at length in those socks ie they are thick enough

  7. Siraj says:

    SubhanAllah, very inspiring.

  8. tariq kaseem says:

    as sallamu alaikum

    The explanation of the hadith isn’t what the science of hadith is about. A single hadith even is it’s saheeh isn’t the end of discussion about any topic. wiping over sock those that fulfills the conditions is well known for anyone that has even study fiqh at a beginners level. It was something that was a given in the past. This will show us all how far we have fallen as a ummah as far as knowledge goes. Wiping over khuffs was even mentioned in Aqeedah at-tahawiyya because it was a given in the past. Not knowing is never a acceptable excuse not in dunya or aakhriah matters.

  9. Kwame Madden says:

    Beautiful article very scholary and informative thankyou for addressing this issuie.Shaykh Ibrahim Memon has a excellent book the The Book of Purification and he covers this issue very scholarly.Also he has in introduction to the science of hadith.This article will defintenly be included in our halalqa.Thank s again keep up the good work.

  10. abdullah says:

    Fatwa by Mufti Taqi Usmani on the topic: http://albalagh.net/qa/masah_regular_socks.shtml

  11. Mustafa Umar says:

    Yes, wiping is not restricted only to leather socks. Sorry for all the negatives.

    • Hussein says:

      Salam Brother,

      I thought you were saying that wiping over socks was restricted to only leather socks. now here you’re saying it isn’t?

      and is it different for different medhabs at all, do u know? Is there another article some where that explains this also, Jazak Allahu khair akhee!

  12. Zahid says:

    Thanks for the article. But in a way I am a little frustrated I have to admit. I have been trying so hard for so long to find the truth out about this issue. I used to practise ‘masah’ until a number of articles from scholars in the field published articles saying it is not permitted unless the socks fulfill the condition of leather socks. Both Sunnipath and Mufti Taqi Usmani seem quite fixed on its impermissibility across all madhabs. And yet only days ago I read that it is permissible in the hanbali madhab and that the necessity that socks fulfill the conditions of leather khuffs is not necessary. Is there any none leather sock that actually fulfills the condition of leather? Is there any sock made of fabric that does not absorb water? Or that can be walked in in roads for three miles without ripping? Am I supposed to go and test them out personally by walking in them for three miles? I am so deeply confused. These scholars have brought strong arguments for their case and this has put waverings in my heart about performing masah so I have now stopped using what I once considered a great mercy and concession in our religion. It has made life quite difficult, to the point where sometimes I do not want to go out because I fear that when prayer time comes I will find no where nearby with a suitable facility to wash my feet, and this is most uncomfortable at times in public places such as restaurants or shops. If that is what is required by me of Allah (SWT) then of course I am willing to do it. But if I am denying myself a great mercy in performing masah then I would really like InshaAllah to discover the truth behind this issue as it has become a great cause for concern in my life to be honest. I often am made to feel that the religion is not simple as I have been taught and that in fact it can oft-times be quite stressful and heavy. I feel very overwhelmed both physically and mentally by this. I would really like to know the truth of this issue and feel sure in it. Equally I am not a scholar and at present don’t have the time or energy to dive into scholarly study. I would really like to hear the side of the argument of those who permit this practise with a well argued and clarified response. Does this exist anywhere already perhaps? If not is anybody willing to write a counter response so to speak to the articles of Mufti Usmani and Sunnipath, not for the sake of arguing or creating division, but rather to give those of us who really want to get to the truth of this issue a clear basis of all the arguments from both sides? Once we have the full information each can then consult his heart and ask Allah (SWT) for guidance and choose the approach he feels best with. I cannot just go and ask my local scholar because they all give different answers but without a detailed argument.
    If you say this masah on socks is permissble please provide your reasoning as to why with all of the evidence you can provide I humble ask, because I am struggling so much with this issue and would greatly appreciate its clarification.
    Best of regards
    WS
    Zahid

  13. Uthman says:

    I think Zahid makes a great point. I have had it noted to me in front of others right before I lead prayer that not only is my prayer invalid, but so too are the ones who pray behind me. This individual embarrassed me in front of others and then holds an air of arrogance over me. I hate this religious zealotry but nevertheless I looked into this issue with contemporary scholars giving me the green light. However, these contemporary scholars are not considered “ulema” by this person’s standards due to the fact that they aren’t part of a traditional madhab. Can someone please illuminate this point of what socks are valid/invalid for the sake of myself and brothers like Zahid. Wasaaaam

  14. huda says:

    While the intention behind writing this article was good, it really just makes me more confused. So, are we allowed to wipe over socks? The answer to this basic question is no where above. Also, since no one wears leather socks anymore, what kinds of socks are allowed? Please answer these questions.

    • Osman says:

      Sister Huda,
      Please note that the author said in the beginning:
      “We realize that virtually none of the scholars of Islamic Law came to the same conclusion [that it's permissible to wipe over socks] based upon this narration. ”
      Also, note that he later states:
      “If we look at what the scholars had to say on the subject, we will not find even one that unconditionally allowed wiping over the unqualified term “socks.” Rather, they stipulated certain conditions which must be met and defined what types of socks are allowed to be wiped over.”
      Later on, note carefully what he says:
      “The purpose of this discussion was not to deny that wiping is only restricted to leather socks (it is definitely not) …”
      Meaning, if you have another type of waterproof sock (fulfilling the criteria of “khuffain”), then it is permissible to wipe over that, too. Possible example: SealSkinz socks (http://www.sealskinz.com/socks).

  15. Yaseen says:

    Brother Osman, Assalamo alaikom

    I have to agree with sister Huda on this one. The article does not provide a clear response on what is acceptable for wiping over. Th explanation you gave by quoting the article does not answer the question. Please provide evidence from the sunnah where it says waterproof socks? Nobody walks around with waterproof socks and the purpose of masah was to make things easier on the Muslims. So where does the sunnah stipulate that they have to be specifically waterproof?

    Jazakallah Khairun

  16. Ridhwan says:

    Assalamu alaykum,

    I think if you read the link for the article by Mufti Taqi Usmani, it becomes clear that the wiping over socks other than ‘khuffs’ is only based on them being the same or better than ‘khuffs’. The hadith cited in the article (above) has been criticised by the scholars of hadith and only 3 hadith exist that talk about masah over jawrabayn (according to the research of Mufti Taqi) and he clearly asks the question:

    “can we leave the clear command from Allah Ta’ala to wash our feet while performing Wudhu on the basis of one Hadith? As mentioned previously, the establishment of masah ‘alal khuffain reached the level of Tawaatur, and that Imaam Abu Yusuf said that if it hadn’t reached that level then we would not have the flexibility of specifying (limiting) the command of Allah Ta’ala, of washing the feet. The Ahaadith about masah ‘alal jowrabain do not reach the level of Tawaatur”

    I am sure we would all love to make masah over our thin cotton socks especially when we are at work rushing to pray during out break times, but the evidence is clearly saying to me to wash my feet isn’t it?

    And Allah Knows Best and we ask for his assistance

    Duas Requested

    Was Salaam
    your brother in Islam

  17. Ahmad says:

    I have asked and according to many scholars it is not valid in hanafi or Maliki or shafi madhhabs.
    Mufti taqi represents the majority.
    Wallahu alam
    Don’t be lazy, get out of doubt, wash your feet.
    Use licensed socks to wipe over.
    Examples, khuffs ( leather socks ) or seal skinz socks
    Are water proof durable and permissible by many scholars.
    I think we all agree that the socks that are thin and cotton was not something sahaba had. :)

  18. Asad says:

    I guess there are lots of disagreement between different Maslaqs of Islam, why not go to a Mufhti and take a fatwah and follow it.

    One of the Mufthi told me that it can be done because Molana Modudi think also agrees that it can be done.

  19. mujahid says:

    What does everyone think of these new leather socks? They look a lot better than the usual ones:

    http://www.wudustore.com/khuffs-leather-socks/

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

More in Hot Topics, Purification, Sciences of Qur'an and Hadith, Seeking Knowledge (160 of 225 articles)