A branch is produced by the root. While the branch may come to fulfill an entirely different purpose than the root, it is, nonetheless, indebted to it. It also cannot survive without the root. So, in perhaps a circuitous way, the branch is tied to the root, figuratively and literally.
Branches do not thrive, let alone survive, by severing themselves. In fact, the primary way a branch can survive (should it become severed) is if it is grafted on to another plant which has a root. The branch’s well-being is tethered to the root.
Such is the way to explain ‘asl and far’ (فرع/أصل), in the study of Usul al-Fiqh, as well as the application and implementation of sacred knowledge and overall success as a Muslim. Far too many of us today seek success as branches, heedless of our attachment to roots.
Usul al-Fiqh (the foundation of understanding) constitutes two definitions, made up of two single parts:  ‘asl, (lit., “root”), which something — besides itself — builds off of and far’ (lit., “branch”), which itself is built upon something else.  Fiqh (lit., “understanding”), is knowledge of sacred rulings, the path to which is known as ijtihad (independent legal reasoning, lit., “to push oneself in striving”.
أصول الفقه مؤلف من جزأين مفردين: فالأصل – ما يبنى عليه غيره والفرع ما يبنى على غيره والفقه – معرفة الأحكام الشرعية التي طريقها الاجتهاد
A short excerpt taken from al-Juwayni’s al-Waraqat.
So you know how to make wudu’, huh? Well here are the notes from our workshop we conducted on the subject of wudu’ [ablution] on March 20th, 2012. The source we used was the text commonly referred to by the Maliki’s as “al-Matn al-Akhdari” by Abu Zayd ‘Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad al-Sagir al-Akhdari, known more succinctly as al-Akhdari. A copy of the text in PDF format can be downloaded here. What’s discussed here are bullet points from al-Akhdari’s text.
al-Taharah [ritual purity]/الطهارة.
al-Taharah can be broken down into two categories: taharah hadath/طهارة حدث and taharah khubth/طهارة خبث:
- Hadath: that which invalidates one’s wudu’ by relieving oneself, passing wind, deep sleep, etc.
- Khubth: that which disallows one from praying due to the presence of some time of filth or impurity such as blood, urine, etc.
The conditions for water: That it does not change its three main characteristics:
There are a few exceptions here that al-Akhdari points out. If water contains a material that does not change its natural state, such as sand, then one can still use this to make wudu’. Another is salt: even though salt does dissolve in water and can change its taste [#2 above], it’s still considered to be a natural state for water [i.e., sea water/salt water naturally occurs] and thus can still be used for wudu’.
Impurities: some notes and conditions:
- If a garment has an impurity on it that can be seen with the naked eye, then one simply cleans the spot in question or removed the garment if it cannot be cleaned.
- If a garment has an impurity that cannot be seen with the naked eye, then the entire garment must be cleaned.
- If one knows there is the presence of some impurity but is doubtful if it has come into contact with your clothes [i.e., walking down the street and one sees excrement or urine from a dog but one’s not sure if one’s clothes have come into contact with that impurity] then one sprinkles some water on that area to remove the impurity instead of washing the garment/ومن شك في إصابة النجاسة نضح.
- If one is certain that one’s clothing for instance, has definitely come in contact with something [say some type of liquid] but you are uncertain if that substance [here liquid] is pure or impure, then one is not required to take any action because the Shari’ah only deals with certainty.
- If one remembers the presence of some impurity while s/he is praying and the prayer is still in the mukhtar time [i.e., the early part of the prayer] then one should cut his or her prayer, remove the impurity [or change garments if it cannot be cleaned] and repeat the prayer.
- If one remembers after the prayer  and again, the prayer is still its mukhtar/مختار time, then one should repeat the prayer so long as one will not enter into the dururi/ضروري time [i.e., the prayer would be getting late]. If it is the latter case [in the dururi period] then one does not repeat the prayer.
Obligatory acts of wudu’. They are seven [*note: the Maliki’s consider the basmallah/بسملة “saying bismillah” a pure act of worship and thus must be said outside of the lavatory]:
- Intention/النية. For the Maliki’s it’s preferred to be done silently, “in the heart.”
- Washing the face from the hairline to the chin [for brothers this includes the beard and the area it covers]/غسل الوجه.
- Washing the hands including the elbow joint/غسل اليدين إلى المرفقين. In Arabic the “yad” also includes the arm.
- Passing the hand over the head once [as we’ll see, the return wipe is part of the fadilah or “Sunnah” aspects of wudu’/مسح الرأس.
- Washing the feet including the ankle bone/غسل الرجلين إلى الحعبين.
- Application of the water must be done with the hand, including the feet [unlike the Hanafis]/الدلك.
- Continuity without the drying of the limbs: in other words, one may pause one’s wudu’ so long as none of the limbs dry/الفور. If they do before the final limb is washed, the wudu’ is broken and must be redone.
*Note: for the Maliki’s, it is not required to do the fara’id/الفرائض obligatory acts in order/الترتيب [tartib]. This is considered a fadilah/Sunnah.
Sunnah acts of wudu’:
- Washing the hands including the wrist bones [from the beginning of wudu’/غسل اليدين الكوعين.
- Swishing water in the mouth [one may use the index finger, miswak, or a dry tooth brush for an added fadilah]/المضمضة.
- Inhaling water [lightly]/الاستنشاق. For the one that’s fasting, this should be done carefully so as to not invalidate the fast. *Note: simply putting water in one’s nose does not count.
- Exhaling water from the nose/الاستنثار. This is done by placing the left hand on the bridge of the nose and gently blowing out. It is disliked/مكروه [makhruh] to do this loudly.
- The return wipe on the head [see step 4 above]/رد مسح الرأس. This is done only once and does not go past the hairline.
- Washing the ear plate/مسح الأذنين.
- Renewing water for washing the ear plate/تجديد الماء.
- Doing the obligatory acts and Sunnah acts in the order represented here/الترتيب.
Matters concerning forgetfulness: if one is performing a complete/Sunnah wudu’ and skips a Sunnah act by accident [i.e., step 3 from the Sunnah acts] then one may return to this step at the end of the wudu’ for one does not stop and go back for a Sunnah act in favor of continuing on to an obligatory one.
There are many other points which, God willing if we have the time, will revisit in greater detail.