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Close Encounters: Some Preliminary Observations on the Transmission of Impurity in Early Sunnī Jurisprudence

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The Prophet said, al-tahāra shatr al-īmān, "purity is half of faith." In this essay, I attempt to elucidate what appears to be a uniquely Islamic approach to the acquisition and impartation of ritually pollutive states. Based on a survey of relevant hadīth exempla and fiqh discussions—including sections dealing with saliva as a premier conductor of pollution, janāba (sexually induced impurity), menstruation, mulāmasa (contact with the opposite sex), and the question of water already used in ablutions—I argue that the sharī'a accords all human beings a clean ritual slate from birth, and, what is more surprising, flatly denies the possibility of persons becoming ceremonially contaminated or contributing to the ritual defilement of others under any circumstances. These characteristics make the Islamic tahāra system an intriguing anomaly in the world of religious purity codes.


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