Islamic toilets – a plea

I’m fairly politically correct. But I was almost caught short and caught out at the weekend.

So – my credentials, such as they are. I don’t like people using black as a negative descriptor – blacken your name, blackhearted, blackguard. I’m with Benjamin Zephaniah (left) on that one. (Check out his 1995 poem white comedy. The last line has an extra twist these days.)

Nor do I enjoy hearing an English parent say of a child having a tantrum that he or she is “throwing a Paddy”, or that something ridiculous is “a bit Irish”.

And I do not assume that everyone has a Christian name before their surname.

But, before we carried away. No, I do not want to ban Christmas trees, nativity plays or the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep. (Nor, as far as I’ve ever encountered, does anyone else – despite what the newspapers may sometimes says.) I do not want to indulge in some kind of cultural cringe, self-censorship, chilling of open discussion or campaign to ensure that people “can’t even be yourself in your own country.”

Political correctness is about fairness, tolerance, not causing unnecessary offence, decency – in a word politeness.

But hey – even the most h0lier-than-thou get tripped up occasionally. Which is why I make a heartfelt to the designers of toilet facilities in public buildings. It’s based on the following events of the past weekend:

I’m at a party in a community centre. It’s a good party – lots of laughing, dancing, drinking, eating, silliness (sorry, I already said dancing). And naturally, at some point, I nip off to the toilet.

In I stride, past the row of cubicles, towards the old-fashioned long low metal trough in front of me, to the left of the sinks. Just as I reach it, I see from the corner of my eye, some newer individual porcelain urinals that had been hidden by the toilet cubicles. At the same time, I notice a small sign in front of me, stuck on above the metal trough. It says MUSLIM WASHING FACILITIES.

Whoah! I come to a screeching halt. The screech is audible to me, if no-one else. Immediate handbrake turn.

As I stand – in the right place – relieving myself, I’m relieved that nobody else was there to witness my near miss. I also think to myself:

  • What if the sign had fallen off?
  • What if there had been blokes already using the correct urinals blocking my view of them?
  • Worse, far worse… What if there had been blokes already washing themselves in the metal trough, blocking my view of the sign with their backs, but leaving just a bg enough gap for me to slip in and… and… and cause a diplomatic incident?

Well, wouldn’t you be cross if you were rinsing your feet and some intoxicated stranger pissed in the sink? (Wudu rules are quite particular about that, funnily enough.)

Which is why I suggest that when you’re designing the layout of toilets in public buildings and you want to include Islamic washing facilities – go ahead. Fine by me, if there’s a demand. But please – make more of an effort to separate the weeing from the washing. For all our sakes.

It’s not just me. More intelligent, less intoxicated people have almost made the same mistake. I’m talking about women, of course.

Because a similar metal washing trough was also available in the Ladies toilet.

These instructions came from the (possibly defunct) A Girl's Guide to Being Muslim blog.

And the women using the toilet room were puzzled by the trough. It’s not that they can’t read. There was no sign in the Ladies. Presumably because the community centre management didn’t expect women to be hoicking up their dresses and… Well, you get the idea. Women are more patient. They have to be. They tend to wait until a cubicle is free.

So no harm done.

Ah… Except that… Later in the evening my daughter emerges from the Ladies in high dudgeon. She is indignant that there is a boy in the Ladies going to the toilet in the sink.

To be fair to the centre management, if a boy bursting for the loo ignores the sign indicating that he’s entering the women’s toilets, he’s hardly going to pay attention to a notice talking about Muslim washing facilities either.

As for me, I now feel a bit less ignorant and a bit more embarrassed…

  1. which is why I reiterate my plea about separating the washing area from the rest of the toilet room,
  2. and why I haven’t mentioned the name of the community centre.


Filed under life

9 responses to “Islamic toilets – a plea

  1. Ben designing Ideas

    This is really very nice. Thanks & continue the good work.

  2. Here in the States public sinks are ripped from walls when certain religious people sit on them to wash their feet.

    This also happens in Universities, causing special washing places to be built which raises tuition to pay for them. This in turn causes resentment.

  3. 乳膠床墊

    Thanks for this! I’ve been searching for facts about this subject.

  4. I have to tell you, I have never even heard of this. And that is a terrible thing. What does that say about America/Americans? Why don’t we know about this? I’m an educator for goodness sakes!

    Are Americans completely insensitive to those whose hygienic/religious needs are a wee bit different from the Christian majority? I suspect so. Our culture has long been based on the idea of “The Melting Pot,” where everything gets thrown in and kind of gets homogenized. You know, you get a kind of a goulash where nothing retains its original parts, but hopefully everything has gained a bit of flavor from exposure to the others ingredients.

    Sadly, Americans don’t seem to be interested in the “flavor” anymore. People don’t even seem to be civilized about discourse on the topic. I am always interested in learning about any and all religious practices. I like to know the origins of the traditions, the reasons behind the rituals, etc. Apparently, most Americans don’t.

    It would be hard for me to imagine an establishment even considering putting in separate toilet/washing facilities to try to accommodate patrons. I think it would be perceived as going back to the days of slavery, where there were separate facilities.

    Thank you, Paul, for bringing this issue to my attention. I shall have to research it now. Maybe one of my students will research this for a paper later in the semester!


    And thank you for your kind words on my blog. That was a toughie for me.

    • blackwatertown

      I think these facilities would be seen as additional rather than separate.
      But efforts to accommodate everyone come in for some reprehensible misrepresentation in the UK too – see this story for instance
      The link is to the Press Complaints Commission adjudication on a newspaper story printed in the offending rubbishy newspaper. I won’t point to the original story. You’ll get the gist.

  5. Renee, this has been going on for quite some time in the US. I am an American who lives a Muslim country, so may be more attuned, but in any city this is now common place.

    Many companies, colleges and even airports have installed special washing areas. Some by request, others due to Maxi’s mention that sinks are broken off walls and wet messes left in bathrooms.

    As Maxi mentioned, there is some resentment, especially in companies where it is against policy to have any religious objects on your desk, or employees receive special breaks to pray that other faiths do not. Or, with airports and universities that have taxpayer funded washing facilities.

    “Wee bit different” is an understatement. Islam has specific, prescribed rules about personal hygiene. I believe that post toilet clean-up requires flowing water. So to be absolutely devout, toilets would need to have hose attachments. There are places here where there is not toilet paper in the bathrooms.

    In Jordan, I have not seen special foot baths in public restrooms. People must use the regular sinks, I will have to ask a friend.

    BWT, I had never even considered that people who are not aware what they are for might use them for a loo. That really would be disastrous for a person who was trying to be ritually clean before prayer. @@

  6. Excellent post, l quite agree with your conclusion. However lam having problem subscribing to your rss.

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