Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
What is the ruling of keeping braids in the hair of a woman during ghusl? There is a hadith of a woman who asked Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and she was told to pour water over her head three times reaching her scalp, but I was told that that is only valid if you have thin hair. If that is the case what constitutes thin hair?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Imam Muslim (Allah be pleased with him) relates in his Sahih that Umm Salama asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace): “O Messenger of Allah! I am a woman who braids her hair. Should I undo it for the purificatory bath from sexual impurity (janaba)?” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “No. It suffices you to pour three hathayat [a hathaya is the amount that can be held in both hands] over your head and then pour water on yourself, and you will be purified.”
Imam Nawawi mentions in his commentary that the position of the Shafi’i school–like the position of the majority of fuqaha–is that a woman does not have to undo her braids for ghusl provided water reaches all the hair, both the hair on the outside of the braids and the hair inside the braids. If her braids are such that the water does not reach all the hair without her undoing her braids, then she must undo them. Because of other evidence on this issue, the hadith above is understood to refer to the case where water reaches all the hair, inside and outside, without a woman having to undo her braids.
The criterion for a valid ghusl, then, is that every part of the body must be washed, both skin and hair. In order for your ghusl to be valid, water must flow over your scalp as well as all the hair on your head. If it is possible for you to do this without undoing your braids, it is not necessary for you to undo them. Otherwise, you must undo them.
And Allah knows best.