Every time I plopped my right foot into the sink of a public restroom, I felt anxiety, waiting for a non-Muslim to enter who would completely misunderstand what I am doing. Even just washing my arms above my elbows or wiping my hair and ears in a public restroom used to make me feel stressed, worried that someone would think I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or that I was homeless and illegally ‘bathing’ in the restroom. But making wudhu in a public restroom was not my only problem. Even in my home or in another Muslim’s home or in another Islam-friendly place, my wudhu did not seem like an act of worship in itself, but something I needed to get through quickly in order to perform my salah. Over the years, I have tried different ways to make performing wudhu more spiritual, whether I am at home or travelling. I think I have finally figured it out.
As we all know, wudhu is fardh (obligatory) for prayer, unless one is in major impurity and needs ghusl or if there is no water to be found and tayammum (dry ablution) is permitted. Prayer, of course, is incumbent upon adult, sane Muslims five times a day, unless one is excused such as a menstruating woman. In fact, our tradition reports that wudhu is the key to prayer:
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The key to the prayer is the performance of ablution; the opening of the prayer is the exaltation of Allah (takbeer) and the closing of the prayer is the invocation of peace (tasleem).” (Ibn Majah)
Numerous other ahadith mention additional benefits of wudhu, both in this world and the next, including wiping away sins, elevating our status and allowing our beloved Messenger (SAW) to recognise us on the Day of Judgment.
The importance of wudhu cannot be overstated, and it is an act of worship in itself. It must be done carefully and with the right intention. Indeed, when some of the companions were washing their feet hastily in wudhu, the Prophet (SAW) told them in a loud voice two or three times, “Save your heels from the Hellfire!” (Bukhari and Muslim) Yet, many of us rush through wudhu, barely giving it any thought, whether we are at home or elsewhere.
5 Steps to Performing Wudhu Well
Performing wudhu well, and by this I mean doing it slowly and correctly and feeling that it is an act of worship in itself, works best for me when I do five things:
1. leave the bathroom;
2. sit down facing the Qibla;
3. conserve water;
4. slow down; and
5. invest in items that are beautiful and designated specifically for wudhu.
First, at all costs I try to avoid doing wudhu in a bathroom. It always seemed unsanitary to me because, after all, it’s a bathroom. It’s hard to feel spiritual in a place where Allah’s (SWT) name shouldn’t even be mentioned. At home, I make wudhu where I perform salah, which helps me to start putting Dunya matters aside. Second, I sit down on a small stool and face the Qibla as I would in salah. This further helps me to take my mind from the Dunya as I position myself towards Allah’s (SWT) house. Third, even running a trickle of water in the sink made me feel like I was doing wrong, knowing that the Prophet (SAW) warned us about being wasteful when performing wudhu:
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this extravagance?” Sa’d said, “Is there extravagance with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.” (ibn Majah)
In order to limit the amount of water I use during wudhu, I have a cup of water and a bowl to catch the water, which I place on a thin Turkish Pestemal cotton towel I put in front of my stool to catch any dripping water. The Prophet (SAW) is reported in many ahadith to have performed wudhu with one ‘mudd’ of water. A ‘mudd’ has been defined as “equivalent to the volume of two hands of an average man cupped together so that they are neither flat nor clasped shut”, while others sources mention that wudhu should be made with 0.51 litres or 0.75 litres of water.
I purposely try to slow myself down while performing wudhu. Slowing down is much easier, and indeed natural, when you are sitting down with a cup of water to use rather than when you are standing in front of a sink, doing wudhu quickly so that you won’t waste too much water dripping from the tap.
Finally, I chose my cup, my bowl, my stool and the thin towel to catch any dripping water with great care to be soothing and aesthetically pleasing. These items are designated solely for wudhu, which honours them and reminds me that what I am doing is a beautiful act of worship. One might think that all of these steps add a great deal of time to performing wudhu, but they don’t. My wudhu equipment is stored together and easily accessible. Doing wudhu with this extra care only adds minutes to a rushed wudhu done quickly in the bathroom while standing in front of the sink. Wudhu in this way helps me to travel from the Dunya to the Akhirah as I prepare for salah.
I also keep a micro stool (weighing only 284 g), a collapsible camping bowl and cup, and a thin Turkish hand cloth in my bag to perform wudhu as I do at home when I am at a friend’s house or in another environment with sufficient privacy. Unfortunately, though, there are times when I have to do my wudhu in a restroom, such as when I am physically travelling. I have found that using a wudhu cup to avoid wasting water and doing wudhu slowly puts me in a better place spiritually even if I am not sitting in a place of salah and facing the Qibla.
Alhamdulillah, I no longer am concerned about what others might think when I make wudhu in public, and I believe much of that is because wudhu means so much more to me now than it used to. May Allah I accept our intentions.
The importance of a wudhu cannot be overstated, and it is an act of worship in itself. It must be done carefully and with the right intention.
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.