There are times you read a book and you forget everything about it - its name, author, colour; everything except maybe a single sentence or character. Long ago, I read a book that had a comparison of Islam and Christianity. The bit I remember is about how Islam has lots of detailed rules because its founder was a trader, and thus concerned with standardization. Trading requires consistency in measurements, contract terms and standards of quality. Thus, this background was instrumental in setting up the new religion. There are rules for practically everything – how to use a toothpick, how to drink water, how to have sex with your wife (foreplay is encouraged) and so on and so forth.

There are 2 main sources of law in Islam. The first is the holy book, the Quran. The rules stated there are rigid, abiding by them is compulsory. The second source is the practice and sayings of the prophet, the Sunnah and Hadith. For practical everyday living, the Sunnah & Hadith are more studied. Thus, the rules for going 1 or 2 are more explicit in there; maybe because despite god being supposedly omniscient, bodily functions are too prosaic and better left to the human. However, Muhammad is viewed as the perfect human whose every action was guided by god so maybe god made the rules based on personal experience.

The rules are:

1. Bodily functions are not to be done on thoroughfares, bodies of standing water, in the shade or any place that might inconvenience others.

2. The toilet or designated area should be entered with the left foot and a prayer. There is a specific prayer for entering the toilet. This is one of the many similarities between Islam and Judaism that have enabled Muhammad’s detractors to allege he copied the Jews. On the opposing side, the similarities are used as evidence of the shared divine origin of the religions. However, long ago, I read a book (most details forgotten too) about a Hindu dacoit teaching his protégé the rituals of that religion. They also have lots of prayers and rules for everyday living. So either Jews copied the Hindus or the rituals in Hinduism are also evidence of shared divine origin for the 3 religions. Or perhaps the rituals are just the human penchant for complicating simple things to create significance.

3. The man should squat to pee (or sit in these days of advanced toilet technology). There is a debate about the permissibility of peeing while standing. I am not learned enough to know all the hadiths quoted by the opposing views. However, a common-sense argument is that peeing while standing increases the chances of urine splashing on the clothes. Since urine is unclean and one cannot pray while tainted, it is better to squat. The debate about posture is only about men peeing. I suppose the assumption is that women would naturally squat and both sexes would not want to shit standing up.

4. Silence should be maintained while answering the call of nature. As a kid, I was taught that every person is always accompanied by a pair of angels. One on the right records good deeds while the one on the left records bad deeds. Since angels are clean beings, they don’t enter toilets. So, they would wait at the door, facing outwards until the person finishes and exits. Talking would have made the left angel to record a bad deed then. The modern office usually has communal toilets with open basins and closed stalls. Thus, the privacy is incomplete. The Nigerian habit of obsequiousness means subordinates usually feel obliged to acknowledge a person no matter how many times they meet you in a day. While I respond if greeted, I feel uncomfortable doing so. I can excuse a Christian because it can be assumed they don’t know since theirs is a less rule bound faith, but I look askance at a Muslim who greets me in the toilet. I imagine that if I had an honest face, it would express my incredulity at his inadequate spiritual education.

5. Clean the functioning orifice with leaves, smooth stones or paper and then wash with water using the right hand to pour the water while scrubbing with the left. The preferred method is to first clean with the hard matter and then with water. If water is not available, the hard matter will suffice, however, one should clean with water as soon as possible. One of my westernized Christian friends once asked me how I could touch shit with my hand while washing my arse. I cannot understand how one can just use paper to clean shit. I would feel dirty all day. I mean, why don’t we bath by just using paper to wipe our bodies? This is not an argument on the superiority of the method I am used to, just an observance about culture.

6. Exit the toilet with the right foot while saying the exit prayer. There are lots of prayers in Islam. There is a book of prayers, beautifully packaged; similar to “Our Daily Bread”; people would buy the book and memorize the prayers. I was gifted the book many times and each time I would attempt to memorize the prayers but quickly give up. I used to wonder if one would have time to do anything other than pray all day.

The steps above might seem complicated, especially the prayers since they have to be said in Arabic thus requiring memorization. However, once one gets used to them, performing the sequence becomes automatic. I know people who know what prayer to be said in every situation and how to do everything in the manner the prophet is reported to have done. Nigerians are an ostentatiously religious people and since orthopraxy is important in Islam, correctly observing ritual becomes an end in itself. Those who are punctilious about the rituals often seem relaxed to me, I assume because routine is comforting and believing the routine also comes with heaven as a bonus would be additional motivation.

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