(Part 1) Public restroom etiquettes: Meet the elephant in the room!

restroomI’m sure that it’s an international issue, but I’m going to specifically discuss public washrooms around the religious sanctities since Tahara (cleanliness) is our half faith. In my travels, it has become clear that people don’t understand how to behave in the washrooms, let alone take care of Tahara.

Yes it’s a fairly gross subject; but this dormant ‘loo-phobia’ you may have, could soon be defeated by nature, hitting its panic button on you. You will start to see black spots floating in the air, and one of them of them will even speak to you. Nature does not always wait for the most opportune time to make its appearance; your days there (especially at Hajj) may be longer than your endurance. So, sometimes you are forced to visit the nearest facility. Unfortunately, the nearest restrooms are not always the most fun to call upon. And in case you can’t find one near, just follow your senses. Your nose will guide your way. Wherever it smells funny, there it is. But you won’t be laughing!

So consider this a refresher course – a guide to be crammed, forwarded or shared as needed. (Not for the weak hearted.) Just breathe into a paper bag, until you throw up. But till then, bear with me.

1) Clean after yourself

Now, this is a no-brainer. Bathrooms should be clean. There should be no sign of fecal matter (yours or anyone else’s). But since it’s not always the case, you will walk into a cubicle and walk right out again, mentally and emotionally scarred. To even get to the seat, you have to wade through a lake of mystery liquid that, by the laws of logistical probability, very likely isn’t water. And when you arrive, you may find that the last person to use it couldn’t decide, because it’s everywhere but in the bowl given, which isn’t rocket science. Feces are supposed to go in the water inside the toilet into the dark abyss.

“Duh,” you say, “everyone knows that.”

Oh really? Then why is it on the toilet seat and on the restroom floor approximately all the time?

There is a button located directly above the toilet paper that is marked with the word… wait for it… “FLUSH”. Press that! And if the water isn’t available, then you should’ve kept a water bottle with you. If it’s too late, then cry us some river, please, and get it flushed.

You shouldn’t expect free toilet paper, tissue or soap either. So carry them with you in small amounts.

P.S. If it’s like a cubicle, from which Ikea should learn space management, then don’t go in with big gallons of water (above 1 litre – definitely a ‘no-no’), because that will leave no space for you. And if you start to wrestle in there, deciding whether the bottle should occupy the space or you, making people outside lose it and giving up right beside the door of your cubicle, then you may not have many gymnastic abilities to try when stepping out.

2) Cover and let others stay covered

People naturally expect privacy in the restroom, but it’s far from priority for most.

You may get in to only find your second biggest fear happening (I say second biggest fear, because your first biggest fear is obviously being that person) – someone didn’t lock the door and is now smiling at you. Smiling is Sunnah – I accept. But in such circumstances, it’s frightening. But obviously screaming too is the worst option at that time. It will draw a large crowd. Just close the door immediately – don’t even wait to apologize. If the guilt is overwhelming, then offer them something from your bag/purse/wallet as a peace offering – definitely after they have stepped out of the cubicle. Or you can stand outside their door and beg for their forgiveness. If they were out of water (as you may have noticed in a split second), you could go to a bathroom close by and steal some water – but be sure to knock to make sure no one is in there. You don’t want to get stuck doing double bathroom apologies. It will get expensive and tiring. And you may lose your own control during the process.

There is a clear line that is not supposed to be crossed. Your Satr (part of body to cover) is from navel till knees. Keep it covered. Nobody wants to see it. (This is meant for men in Ihram also – people are there to attain closeness of Allah (swt) and your unawareness about your whereabouts could make a difference).

If you can’t find any stall empty, please, prefer the bushes over exhibition, because others may join you in your brave-step-taken; and now, you have a sin of the entire bathroom audience on you and this would yank the Haram meter up to a highest level.

3) Don’t steal toiletries

The person you saw smiling at you may have a reason behind it – no bathroom lock.

Now, I don’t know, if people think whether they are going to build their own toilet someday or open a bathroom business, that’s why they came in with screw-drivers and took all the locks away; or it’s their way of serial revenge – but that stuff is not for free and it’s not yours to take away. Let it be where it belongs. Or next time, you will be in that state, where one of your hand will be covering the space, from where the lock is kidnapped and another will be holding the door (while someone will be trying to open it) and you won’t be the one smiling this time.What goes around comes around. Beware!

Please don’t steal – be it locks, tissue paper, pipes, etc. Anything. You don’t want to owe toiletries to so many people on the Day of Judgment.

4) Don’t answer nature calls with a conversation

Now, here’s a fairly interesting pet peeve: talking. Holding court in the area, where people are relieving themselves, is not good for unbiased judgments. They might not want to be your audience or testify for anything in your favour. And worse than observing a forum, is having someone engage them in that conversation.

ou do know it’s not ok to talk while attending to your ‘business’, right?

And even, the most commonest-of-all-common senses say, “It’s just gross!”

This brings me to attending phone calls in the toilet. If there’s any sort of line, don’t use your phone in the bathroom. This is purely a matter of courtesy. Please, focus on the task at hand. If it’s called a restroom, it doesn’t mean you rest in there. No text or a selfie can be more urgent than what others, with bladders the size of a grape, in line need to do – every second for whom means the difference between dignified relief and a desperate sprint from the door to a dark corner of the nearest hill/jungle, which you shouldn’t be grumpy about, when you step on it.

5) Keep your creativity confined to your own walls

I’m all for creativity and art, but, please, limit your mediums to less-pukable ones. Nobody wants to see your art on the toilet floor or anywhere around it. I’m glad human being doesn’t possess superpowers, with which they could climb the walls, because you may have to deal with wall art as well – and, no, I’m not talking about graffiti. But I’m coming to that.

Keep your graffiti confined to your own walls. This is a public area. Not yours to claim or paint. Do not spray paint the bathroom doors with things that may force parents to blindfold their kids, when sending them in these toilets. (Now you know the reason behind that wreck). Then writing your number beside, seriously? I can’t even comment on this one. I’m out. Sorry – retiring from earth. I live in space now.

Heart not warmed yet? It will be microwaved because…

[To be continued Insha Allah…]

Defining the Satar

Oct 10 - Defining the SatarBy S. K. Siddiqui and Tasneem Vali

In December, 2001, Nicholas Kristof reported in the New York Times that although Afghan women were no longer required to wear the Burqa, they did so anyway. In his view, only the subjugated and backward women would choose to cover themselves. Islamic law, however, assigns it moral, social and legal dimensions. It is of utmost importance to dress correctly, because your dress is a reflection of yourself.

It is human nature to make even the simplest instruction complicated; the same has happened with Allah (swt) commandment, especially regarding a Muslim woman’s dress. If we study the fundamentals of what Allah (swt) has commanded, there are very few rules to remember – they are clearly defined in the Quran.

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah’s All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (An-Nur, 24: 30-31)

1. Extent of Covering

The dress of Muslim men must cover the area from the navel to the knee, while women should cover their entire body, except for the face and hands. The area that must not be uncovered in the presence of any person, except the spouse, is called Satar. Some additional instructions are as follows:

(a) A Muslim woman cannot exhibit her beauty and adornment, except for “that which must ordinarily appear thereof”. This prohibition could include:

  • natural beauty,
  • acquired adornment (jewellery, clothes, etc.).

2. Looseness

The dress must not be tightly fitted.

3. Thickness

The clothes should not be transparent, so that the colour of skin or the shape of the body is apparent.

4. Overall Appearance

It should not attract undue attention.

In addition to the above clear requirements, there are some minor considerations:

  1. The dress should not be similar to what the opposite sex wears. Ibn Abbas (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sa) cursed the men who act like women, and the women who act like men. (Bukhari)
  2. The dress of a Muslim must not imitate/emulate that of another nation. Muslims have their distinct identity and must ‘wear the label’ so to say. Al-Qurtubi says: “Women in those days used to cover their heads with the Khimaar, throwing its ends on their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, along with the ears, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah (swt) commanded them to cover those parts with the Khimaar.”
  3. It should not be a dress of fame, pride and vanity. “Whoever wears a dress of fame in this world; Allah will clothe him with a dress of humiliation in the day of resurrection, and then set it afire.” (Al-Albani). At the same time, it is imperative to wear clothes that are befitting your socio-economical status – in other words, it is not right to wear rags to appear more pious.
  4. The dress must be clean, reflecting one’s concern for Taharah.

The verses in Surah An-Nur inform us about special relations known as Mahrams. These are the people in front of whom a woman may appear with her head uncovered, but the rest of her still needs to be covered. The spouse is a special case, in front of whom the other party may appear uncovered to any degree.

The basic code to follow is practicing what you preach. Allah (swt) says: “Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do.” (As-Saff 61:3)

The rule never to break is that of decency. In every culture, the norms of decency vary, for instance, in the west, exposing your legs is not considered indecent, and in India, where wearing a Saree is common, exposing the midriff is acceptable.

However, as Muslims, we must interpret everything in the light of the Quran and Sunnah; thus, our dress and actions must follow the aforementioned conventions.

Even though Muslims might be properly covered physically, their eyes must remain open to the world. They may come across things which are Haram for them to see – they should avoid looking at them. This might include lowering the gaze when seeing a person who does not follow the Islamic dress code, exercising caution when watching TV, avoiding looking at billboards and sticking to guidelines of modesty in social interaction with the opposite sex.

Those of us armed with western education ‘know’ that it is rude not to keep eye contact with people when addressing them. However, Islam teaches that believing men and women lower their gaze to protect themselves. We need to unlearn these alien theories.

In addition to this, we should be aware that even though most of these rules apply post puberty, we have a responsibility to create awareness in our children about their bodies as soon as they become conscious of their clothing or actions. Children should be made aware that wearing certain types of clothes or acting in a certain way in front of the opposite sex is unacceptable.

Allah (swt) has given us simple and clear guidelines. It is our responsibility to follow them as closely as we can. We should avoid the trap of such excuses as – “If I cover my face, the other person will not understand what I say.” Do you see a person’s lips move, when you talk on the phone? A nun, who covers herself, is dedicated to God, but a Muslim woman who chooses to do the same, is viewed as oppressed and down trodden.

Break the shackles of your education – think with your heart’s eye! Let Allah (swt) be your sole guide.