Not many people are aware that sand can also be used to perform ablution (spiritual purification) for the 5 daily obligatory prayers in Islam. They are quite aware of the use of water to perform ablution before entering the mosque to pray. In fact, a very few Muslims who are knowledgeable enough about sand ablution, have tried performing it. Many Muslims are not aware of the conditions that allow them to use sand for ablution and talk less of knowing how to perform it.
The role of ablution is key for every Muslims who want to pray or observe the compulsory 5 daily prayers. Observing ablution is a prerequisite to each prayer. Without ablution, any of these prayers observed is invalid and can’t stand. Reason why you see Muslims observe ablution at every instance of observing the compulsory prayers.
Sand Ablution which is termed; Tayammum according to Islamic Law refers to: ‘Aiming for or seeking soil to wipe one’s face and hands with the intention of purification and preparing oneself to pray, and so on.” This act of ritual cleansing is proven by the Quran, Sunnah (prophetic tradition) and Ijmaa’ (consensus of Muslim scholars).
Quran [Quran 4:43] says: “…And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women [i.e., had sexual intercourse] and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving.”
From the Sunnah, we have the Hadith (prophetic statement) related by Abu Umamah may Allah be pleased with him in which the Prophet (May The Peace and Blessing of Be Upon Him) said: “All of the earth has been made a pure place of prayer for me and my nation. Whenever a person from my nation wants to pray, he has something with which to purify himself, that is, the earth.” [Ahmad]. Finally, there is a consensus of Islamic scholars that Tayammum forms a legitimate part of the Sharee’ah (Islamic Law), as it replaces ablution with water or Ghusl (ritual bathing), under specific circumstances. Sand can be only used for ablution under some conditions which are stated below with valid evidences from the hadith:
The first condition is If one cannot find water or the amount one finds is insufficient for ablution. ‘Imran Ibn Husayn (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “We were with the Messenger of Allah (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) during a journey. When he led the people in prayer, one man stayed apart. He (May the Peace and Blessing of Be Upon Him) asked him: “What prevented you from praying?” He replied: ‘I need a ritual bath (because of having a wet dream) and there is no water.’ The Messenger (May the Peace and Blessing of Be Upon Him) said: ‘Use the soil, for it is sufficient (i.e. Tayammum).’’’ [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
The second instance is if one is injured or ill. If one is in this condition and thinks that using water will worsen it (he does not have to be absolutely sure, but may base his assumption on past experience or what a knowledgeable person has told him), he may perform Tayammum. Jabir, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “We were on a journey and one of us was injured. Later, he had a wet dream. He asked his companions, ‘Can I perform Tayammum?’ They said, ‘No, not if you have water.’ He performed Ghusl, which caused him to die. When news of this came to the Messenger of Allah (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) he said: “They killed him! May Allah kill them! Do you not ask if you do not know? The remedy for ignorance is to ask. He could have performed Tayammum and not dropped water on his wound, or wrapped it with something, then wiped over the wrapping, and then washed the rest of his body.”
Third is that Tayammum is allowed when water is available but is too cold and cannot be heated, or there is no public bathroom available. ‘Amr Ibn Al-’Aas, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that he was once participating in a military expedition. He had a wet dream during an extremely cold night, and was afraid that if he performed Ghusl he would die. He prayed the morning (Fajr) prayer with his companions. He then went to the Messenger of Allah (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) to ask him about this. The Messenger (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) said: “O ‘Amr! Did you pray with your companions while you needed a ritual bath?” ‘Amr said to the Prophet (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) the verse (which means): “…Do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” [Quran 4:29] The Prophet (May The Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him) smiled at this and did not say anything. [Al-Bukhari]
Another condition which is the 4th is If water is nearby, but one cannot fetch it due to fear. If one fears for his life, family, wealth, [for example, if an enemy (beast or human) is nearby or if one is a prisoner, and so on], he may perform Tayammum. This is also allowed if there is water but one lacks the proper means to get it, or if one fears some accusation against him if he gets it.
Also sand can be considered as an option if one is saving his water for later use. This could be for dough, cooking, or to remove an impurity that is not pardonable. Imam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy upon him said: “Many of the Companions performed Tayammum to save their water for drinking.” ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him said: “A man who is travelling and becomes unclean because of sexual intercourse, or a wet dream, can perform Tayammum (sand ablution) if he fears he will go thirsty. He should perform Tayammum and not Ghusl.” [Ad-Daraqutni]
If one can get water, but fears that the prayer will be over by the time he gets it, he can perform Tayammum and pray, and does not need to repeat his prayer (after he gets water). Performing ablution with sand is very simple and easy. It can be done as follows;
First, one must have the intention to perform ablution and purifying himself, then he mentions Allah’s name, strikes both palms on the soil, and wipes his face and hands up to the wrist, starting with the right hand. Nothing is more authentic and clearer than what ‘Ammar may Allah be pleased with him related. He said: “I once became sexually impure and had no water, so I rolled in the dirt and prayed. This was mentioned to the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said: “This would have been enough for you,” and he struck the earth with his hands, blew in them and then wiped his face and hands with them.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
This Hadeeth shows that one strike of the earth is sufficient, and one only wipes the arms to the wrists. It is an act of Sunnah that one who makes Tayammum with dirt should blow into his hands first and not make his face dusty or dirty.