… when ablution was already being practiced and done in Mecca? What was the need for doing so and the wisdom underlying it? Usually, people overlook such things, due to whatever reasons, but there is no doubt that there are deep meanings and lessons to be found in these very subtle points – in both the texts of the Qur’an and hadith.
The verse of purification is found in surah al ma’idah. Allah Most High says:
يا أيها الذين آمنوا إذا قمتم إلى الصلاة فاغسلوا وجوهكم وأيديكم إلى المرافق وامسحوا برؤسكم وأرجلكم إلى الكعبين
“Oh you who believe! When you stand for prayer wash your faces and your arms to the elbows, wipe your heads, and [wash] your legs to the ankles.”
According to the commentators of the Qur’an, such as Imam Qurtubi in his Al Jami` Al Ahkam al Qur’an, this verse is madani, meaning that it was revealed after the hijra of our beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). In specific, it was revealed quite late in the Prophet’s life as is gleaned from hadith in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, the Mustadrak of Hakim, and others – some scholars even stipulating that it was the last of the Qur’anic chapters revealed. This is detailed in Mufti Muhammad Shafi`s Ma`ariful Qur’an for whoever is interested in reading more into the issue.
Imam Haskafi in his al Durr al Mukhtar mentions two basic wisdoms behind the revelation of this verse at such a late period, even though ablution was being practiced well before the verses nuzul (coming down). He states (with Ibn `Abidin’s hashiya included):
( قوله : ففائدة نزول الآية إلخ ) جواب عما يقال إذا كان الوضوء فرض بمكة مع فرضية الصلاة وهو أيضا شرع من قبلنا فقد ثبتت فرضيته فما فائدة نزول آية المائدة ؟ أفاده ط . ( قوله : تقرير الحكم الثابت ) أي تثبيته ، فإنه لما لم يكن عبادة مستقلة بل تابعا للصلاة احتمل أن لا تهتم الأمة بشأنه ، وأن يتساهلوا في شرائطه وأركانه بطول العهد عن زمن الوحي وانتقاص الناقلين يوما فيوما ، بخلاف ما إذا ثبت بالنص المتواتر الباقي في كل زمان وعلى كل لسان . ا هـ . درر . ( قوله : وتأتي ) مصدر تأتي معطوف على ” تقرير ” . ( قوله : اختلاف العلماء ) أي المجتهدين في النية والدلك والترتيب ونقضه بالمس وقدر الممسوح
(a) That the benefit in revealing this verse after the hijra was to establish the command of ablution again. Ibn `Abidin explains this by stating that wudhu’ was not (and is not) considered an independent act of worship but rather a tabi` of prayer. It was possible that people not grasp and understand its relevance – thus, easing themselves greatly in regards to fulfilling its conditions and integrals. This could also arise due to the diminishing of its transmitters. However, the Qur’anic verse established its importance and its mass-transmission (tawatur), something that remains in every time period on every tongue.
(b) Another reason was to establish khilaf among the `ulema since such difference is a mercy. Ibn `Abidin adds that this means, “The people of ijtihad (differing) in intention, rubbing the limbs, order of ablution, nullification through touching (the private parts), and the extent of wiping.”
And Allah Knows Best