Public toilet awareness and etiquette in Islam



Now I’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.
But in my travels, it has become clear that people don’t understand how to behave in them, let alone taking care of tahara.
Many restrooms house “unpleasant” surprises on the floor, toilet seats, and other areas. Public toilets are not cleaned by these people, so they feel less guilty for trashing them. This place is littered with Bathroom Stall Graffiti, spare bits of toilet paper and paper towels, liquids and solids of undetermined origin and a toilet bowl – discoloured, clogged and smelling. The handles on the faucets and bowls may be missing also.
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.
Although you may want to go to reasonable lengths to avoid public restroom visits at all costs by opting for nappies on account of a pathologically tiny bladder. But Nature does not always wait for the most opportune time to make its appearance, your days there (specially 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!
Basically, a good policy is:
Try to leave the vicinity in the condition you would wish to find it. Treat it like you usually treat your own toilet at home. No I don’t mean to say you take all the disinfectants with you, but you clean after yourself at least. Even if nobody is watching you, Allah is. You will be rewarded.
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) HYGIENE
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 have come with a water bottle. If it’s too late then Cry us some river please and get that thing flushed. You shouldn’t expect free toilet paper, tissue or soap either. So you should carry them with you in small amounts during your longer journeys.
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 that will leave no space for you. And you start to wrestle with it, making people outside lose it and giving up right beside the door of your cubicle. Not many gymnastic abilities to try when stepping out then.
But in your effort to be super hygienic, don’t wash your hands so many times or do wudu so obsessively that you flood the whole place. Fishes won’t be the only creatures swimming. Use the water reasonably.
2) PRIVACY
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 possible thing to do 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, if they haven’t 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 ‘lota’ but be sure to knock before and 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. You don’t want to get into that kind of embarrassment.
Which brings me to a clear line here that is not supposed to be crossed. Your satr is from navel till knees. Keep it covered.
http://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/18/117

http://sunnah.com/abudawud/33/6

Nobody wants to see it. (This is meant for men in ihram also – people are there to attain khushoo’ and your unawareness about your whereabouts could make a difference) please do whatever you wish, behind closed doors. 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 if there’s no option then kindly try your best to not mess with the bathroom doors so vigorously that you lock the person inside permanently – making it even more impossible for you to get in, let alone making that person stay in forever.
Because a one ply door can change into an iron-man wall if dealt with such desperation. And if the other person on the other side of the door wrestles with that door the same way then it’s probable that the cubicle is going to go domino on all other cubicles. And you don’t want to wear the toilet seat on you. Or the unmentionable stuff. Just stay calm and hysterically shout for help.
Heart not warmed yet? I’m about to microwave it.
3) THEFT
The person you saw smiling at you may have a reason behind it – No bathroom lock.
Now I don’t know if people think if they are going to build their own toilet someday or open a bathroom business that’s why they came in with screws and took all the locks away or it’s their way of serial revenge, but that stuff ain’t 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, it’s going to be other way around because what goes around comes around. Beware!
Please don’t steal – be it locks, tissue paper, lota, pipes etc. Anything. You don’t want to owe so many people, toiletries, on the Day of Judgment.
4) CONVERSATIONS
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 favor. And worse than observing a forum, is having someone engage them in that conversation. You do know it’s not ok to talk while attending to your business,  right?
http://www.sunnah.com/urn/1253520

And even the most commonest-of-all-common senses say, it’s just gross.

Which 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. I don’t even know why they call it restroom anyway because 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 out the door to a dark corner of the nearest hill/jungle; which you shouldn’t be grumpy about when you step on it.
5) CREATIVITY
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 beings don’t have superpowers with which they can climb the walls because you may have to deal with wall art as well and no I’m not talking about graffiti.
Which brings me to another topic – spray painting the bathroom doors, writing your number. Seriously?  I can’t even comment on this one. I’m out. Sorry. Retiring from earth. I live in space now.
Keep your graffiti confined to your own walls. This is a public area. Not yours to claim or paint.
One extreme is creating art on the floor and doors, another is flushing the toilet with foot instead of a hand. People with hands – PLEASE! Acrobatics required to use your foot to flush, raise your risk of injury from slipping and falling if you’re standing on one leg to flush the toilet. It may end you up in way more mess than you thought you can get into from touching the handle.
And some people go to extra length by not sitting on the seat and hovering closely above it. Now if you were in that one ply cubicle, the floor art was understandable because they move with a tiny gush of wind even. So please don’t hover above the seat, making it difficult for you to find balance even.
You are in a world of communicable diseases, I accept! But a research says that 18% of your phones are more germ-ish than the toilet seat (unless you put the phone ON the toilet seat).
So might as well save yourself the extra agony and perch your rear end on the seat.
And if you are going all Indian toilet up on the European toilet, then at least clean after yourself. Your shoe/slipper prints will be all over the seat. Roll the tissue around your hand and just clean it. I’m sure your mother taught you that as well before you had an accident in which you lost your memory on cleaning manners. By you I mean people, not YOU of course. You wouldn’t do that, would you!?!
6) AGGRESSIVENESS
You may usually find a long line in front of washrooms in places where there are little to no WCs available. And usually the queue would literally be hanging by the bathroom doors (if handles are available that is, otherwise – hanging by the holes). You may just want to stand in line calmly because the person in front of you deems every move from you as a line-breaking threat and they have thought of every clever way to stop you. It may include physical violence as well. What impatience does to human beings sometimes.
But there are times when calm is a word in dreams only. You will enter a stampede and the next thing you know, you’re in a washroom.
And even though it sounds like a better option than waiting in line and you may want to be the one to start that stampede through witty pretense, but it’s not. Because it usually involves pushing, shouting, hitting, lying, knocking each other down etc. (perhaps hair pulling as well). Bad things don’t add up to a single nice thing even. Because even if you manage to push all other contestants in line, it won’t feel like a victory.
So avoid being in that group. Don’t claim ownership of the bathroom. Or tell people that you’re waiting for your family member in there (thinking we all are after all brothers and sisters since Adam and Eve were our greatest fore-parents) or that the woman or man drawn outside with the title women/men toilet is your great great grandfather who built this building from scratch before he handed it over to you – his generation. Nobody is going to buy such lies. And no one has the time to listen to your fairy tales either. So save yourself from unnecessary lies. (And who doesn’t know, lying is bad anyway). Don’t render your hajj/umrah  or any religious act that you are going to perform afterwards or performed before, useless.

7) GENERAL SURVIVAL TIPS
*First commode in the first row is always the bad choice because that’s where the most uncontrolled splatters are. Which of course makes sense – they couldn’t make it any further.
*Forego the hand dryer altogether because it probably won’t work anyway. Because you may stand there with your hands outstretched, waiting for some magic to happen but it won’t and you will leave and hear the whoosh sound suddenly but it will be too late to go back now because it will cease to work as soon as you will reach it. Wipe your wet hands with tissue instead, if you wish.
*If the faucet sensor doesn’t work once, no need to constantly hit the poor thing. Because it may fire back by automatically turning itself on when you will least expect it. You don’t want to go outside explaining people that it’s not what they think it is.
*Look for hooks, locks, water availability etc. inside the toilet, before you enter it.
Because if you are done and then find out that there is no water available, praying for rain won’t be much of an option.
And Don’t take your purse/bag inside if there are no hooks to hang them on. Because draping it around your neck may be the last resort then and you may not wish to die in the toilet making it look like a suicide.
*There are times when checking before entering may mean another person shoving him/herself in your checked stall. In times like these, just jump right into it and just make sure you have company who can provide you with required things upon unavailability or take care of your accessories. But don’t go like – here! Take my wallet, here! Take my belt, here! Take my ring, here! Take my watch…because the above will happen eventually nonetheless. Someone will enter your stall while you are busy loading your burden onto your mate.
*When you change the diaper of your baby, please throw it into the dumpster. Babies’ faces are cute but their feces are not. Don’t just roll it in the air and let fate decide its destiny. After you clean after yourself, please do that for the baby as well. Man or woman – whoever is taking it for the team.
(If you think this all as a mere exaggerated joke, I would just say you’ve been extremely lucky. But these guidelines will help you in the future whenever you get out of the warm folds of your home sweet home)
Well jokes apart, this is something serious because one of the grave punishments includes someone not being conscious about cleanliness. As the hadith goes….
http://www.sunnah.com/urn/1253460
You can’t single-handedly eradicate the lack of hygiene issues in public restrooms but you can dilute its strength. We will never stop fighting. We will go on; we will always work this issue until it doesn’t need to be worked on anymore. This is just a small step towards some basic awareness – but a small step is better than nothing, better than an intangible ideal.
Please make purification – your half faith …

“….and purification is half of faith.”
(http://www.sunnah.com/tirmidhi/48/150)

Be the change you want to see in the world. And if Muslims are going to present themselves this way, how are we ever going to preach? Actions speak louder than words. Allah is watching you. And angels are taking notes. Stay conscious.
Our deen is so beautiful and complete. It teaches us how to live a life – From smallest details to the biggest of issues. The very basics of life.
May Allah guide us all to the best behavior that wouldn’t hurt us or people around us.
Article submitted by Samina Farooq

4 responses to “Public toilet awareness and etiquette in Islam”