“Let’s go!” Its as easy as it sounds for some, but the common, everyday practice of going to the bathroom could be a world of complexity for others. The world presents requirements way beyond the so-called basic need. Culture, tradition, religion, superstition and feng shui are just a few of many influences that affect people’s everyday lives.
For architects and designers to build restrooms people will be happy to use, these not-so-basic requirements should be regarded carefully. Though these beliefs are often identified with the past— backwardness and poverty, while progress is borrowed from well, the West (take a quick look at your “Western-style” toilet!), they are still major influences on how people conduct their everyday affairs, and should not be left without proper consideration or reflection.
Tan Kok Hiang, Partner of Singapore-based Forum Architects articulated this requirement best when he inferred, “Any community has sensitivities. The challenges faced (by architects) are no different from designing for any other group of people. One just has to be very respectful and understand that things have different levels of importance to different groups of people.”
One such group of people who have special requirements when it comes to using restrooms are Muslims, who make up one billion of the world population. This figure represents 20 percent of people around the globe, making Islam the second largest religion in the world.
Muslims’ faith to Allah (an Arabic word which means the One True God) and the Islam religion mold their being, and guide them despite changes. Their practices are based on teachings in the Qur’an (an Arabic word which means the Word of God), as revealed to the Prophets. The religion also outlines certain toilet behavior and manner when using the restroom. Thus, it is important to understand the Islamic toilet etiquette if one intends to design restrooms for Muslim users. The following are some important considerations in the design of restrooms for this group of users.
Muslim’s toileting practices could be compounded into six areas— entering, seclusion, the prohibition of facing the Qiblah (which is the Ka’abah in Mecca), squatting, cleaning and stepping out.
The Qur’an states that one should enter the restroom with left foot first while saying a prayer of protection. It is not permissible to enter a restroom while carrying anything that bears the name of Allah, such as the Qur’an, or any book with the name of Allah in it, or jewelry such as bracelets and necklaces engraved with the name of Allah. Muslims should keep silent when in the restroom. Thus, talking, reading, greeting others and answering greetings are not to be done inside the restroom except for risky situations, like guiding a disabled person.
“When the Prophet felt the need of relieving himself, he went far off where no one could see him”. It is implied that one should be out of sight, thus doors of toilets should be securely closed. Privacy is therefore a major requirement when providing restroom facilities for Muslim users. Muslim women specifically have problems with Western-style public restrooms because they find stalls with gaps between the floor and wall too immodest. This makes installation of floor-to-wall dividers and louvered doors a necessity.
Prohibition Facing the Qiblah
Islam prohibits facing the Qiblah while defecating. The Prophet said “if you go to defecate, do not face the Qiblah nor turn your back toward it. Instead, you should turn to your left side or your right side”. Some scholars believe that this forbiddance only applies in open areas. According to them, when in an enclosed area, or as long as there is something shielding one’s body, there is no harm in facing the Qiblah. Another more accepted opinion says that it is something forbidden in both open and enclosed areas and it is best to refrain from doing so as much as possible out of respect for the Qiblah. Determining the Qiblah in an area designated to be the restroom and working around it could therefore be considered a requirement when designing toilets for Muslim users.
Muslims are encouraged to urinate while sitting or squatting and not while standing since this was the usual practice of the Prophet. Although standing is not forbidden as the Prophet is also reported to have done so. Squatting or sitting is said to be better since it is healthier for the body and there is less chance of urine splashing onto one’s body or clothes. Islam strictly prohibits direct contact with urine and feces as these are considered impure. The Prophet once passed by two graves and and said “Both are being punished. They are not being punished for major (sins). One did not shield himself from urine and the other carried gossip.” This explains why squat-type toilets are still popular in some areas— they are not being resistant to progress as some would think, but are adhering to their beliefs.
After using the toilet, one should performs the Istinjaa (cleansing with water). In Istinjaa, water is preferred for the purpose of cleaning oneself. However, when water is not available, a material that does not have a smooth surface, such as stone or wood can be used. Tissue paper can be used as long as it does not absorb the feces or urine and cause the hand to come into contact with it.
Qur’an forbids the use of the right hand in order to clean oneself from the impurities of urine and feces. The Prophet said, “None of you should touch his privates with his right hand whilst urinating nor should he wipe off feces with his right”.
Muslims have a practice of leaving the toilet with right foot first as this is the usual practice of the Prophet. They utter a prayer of forgiveness as they leave the toilet.
Prayer uttered before entering the restroom with left foot: “O Allah, I seek Your protection from the male and female devils”
Prayer uttered after leaving the restroom with the right foot: “ I seek your pardon. Praise be to Allah who removed from me discomfort”