By Abu Amina Elias for FaithinAllah.org
Can a Muslim touch a copy of the Quran (mushaf) without having ablution?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The general rule is that it is obligatory to have ablution when touching or reciting from the Quran. However, some scholars have made a concession if this would cause hardship and caution is taken not to get any impurities on the Quran
The majority of scholars maintain that it is an obligation to have ablution (wudu) before touching or reciting from the Quran. The basis of this ruling is the statement of Allah the Exalted:
إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ لَّا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
Verily, it is a noble Quran in a protected Book. None touch it except the purified.
Surah Al-Waqiah 56:77-79
Scholars derived from these verses that a Muslim should have ablution before touching the Quran. However, there is a disagreement of interpretation over whether this is referring to believers touching the Quran or to the angels touching the Preserved Tablet (lawhin mahfuzh) on which is written the destiny of mankind.
Ibn Kathir reported:
عن ابن عباس لاَّ يَمَسُّهُ إِلاَّ ٱلْمُطَهَّرُونَ قال الكتاب الذي في السماء و عن ابن عباس لاَّ يَمَسُّهُ إِلاَّ ٱلْمُطَهَّرُونَ يعني الملائكة
Ibn Abbas said concerning the verse, “None touch it except the purified,” that this refers to the Book in the heavens and “the purified” refers to the angels.
Source: Tafseer Ibn Kathir 56:79
This is as Allah said in another verse:
فِي صُحُفٍ مُّكَرَّمَةٍ مَّرْفُوعَةٍ مُّطَهَّرَةٍ بِأَيْدِي سَفَرَةٍ
In noble records, exalted and purified, in the hands of angelic messengers.
Surah Abasa 80:13-15
Nonetheless, it can be derived from the verses that it is at least highly recommended to have ablution when touching the Quran and no doubt this is the case.
There is also a narration used to support the obligation to have ablution before touching the Quran.
Abdullah ibn Abu Bakr ibn Hazm reported: In a letter written from the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, to Amr ibn Hazm it is stated:
لَا يَمَسَّ الْقُرْآنَ إِلَّا طَاهِرٌ
Do not touch the Quran unless with purification.
Source: Muwatta 468
Some scholars dispute the authenticity of this tradition, but it has been acted upon by many scholars as well as the people of Medina. Imam Malik was particularly strict on this point, saying that the prohibition is based not only on protecting the Quran from impurities but that it exists in itself as a matter of respect for the Quran.
Imam Malik said:
وَلَا يَحْمِلُ أَحَدٌ الْمُصْحَفَ بِعِلَاقَتِهِ وَلَا عَلَى وِسَادَةٍ إِلَّا وَهُوَ طَاهِرٌ وَلَوْ جَازَ ذَلِكَ لَحُمِلَ فِي خَبِيئَتِهِ وَلَمْ يُكْرَهْ ذَلِكَ لِأَنْ يَكُونَ فِي يَدَيْ الَّذِي يَحْمِلُهُ شَيْءٌ يُدَنِّسُ بِهِ الْمُصْحَفَ وَلَكِنْ إِنَّمَا كُرِهَ ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ يَحْمِلُهُ وَهُوَ غَيْرُ طَاهِرٍ إِكْرَامًا لِلْقُرْآنِ وَتَعْظِيمًا لَهُ
No one should carry the Quran by its strap or on a cushion unless he is pure. If it were permissible to do so, it would also have been permissible to carry it in its cover. This is not because there is something on the hands of the one who carries it by which the Quran will be soiled, but rather it is disapproved for someone to carry it without being pure out of respect and honor for the Quran.
Source: Muwatta, Kitab Al-Quran
Indeed, the majority of scholars have taken this view and this is the safest opinion and the best in terms of piety and respect for the Quran. However, some scholars allowed touching the Quran in a state of minor impurity, that is without ablution, for the statement of the Prophet, “unless with purification,” might mean linguistically what is pure, that his hands are clean of impurity, rather than its specific legal meaning.
وَأَمَّا الْمُحْدِثُ حَدَثًا أَصْغَرَ فَذَهَبَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ وَالشَّعْبِيُّ وَالضَّحَّاكُ وَزَيْدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ وَالْمُؤَيَّدُ بِاَللَّهِ وَالْهَادَوِيَّةُ وَقَاضِي الْقُضَاةِ وَدَاوُد إلَى أَنَّهُ يَجُوزُ لَهُ مَسُّ الْمُصْحَفِ وَقَالَ الْقَاسِمُ وَأَكْثَرُ الْفُقَهَاءِ وَالْإِمَامُ يَحْيَى لَا يَجُوزُ
Regarding the one in a state of minor impurity, it has been narrated from Ibn Abbas, Ash-Sha’bi, Ad-Dahhak, Zaid ibn Ali, Dawud and others that it is permissible to touch the copy of the Quran. However, Al-Qasim, Imam Yahya, and the majority of jurists say it is not permissible.
Source: Nayl Al-Awtar 1/262
Therefore, if it will cause hardship for a Muslim to have complete ablution before touching the Quran, then there may be a concession to touch it in this case. Care should be taken not to get anything impure on the Quran, but the general rule is that a Muslim should have complete ablution before touching it.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.