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Our Muslim Shower!
Water or napkins? A brief history of the Muslim hygienic ritual that prevents piles and hemorrhoids.
HUMAYUN GAUHAR | Tuesday | 25 January 2011 | Pakistan Today
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The first time I heard the name ‘Muslim Shower’ I thought it was a party for someone who has converted to Islam in which he or she is ‘showered’ with gifts. I took this from the ‘shower’ that parents have for their newborn babies where friends and relatives ‘shower’ the baby with gifts. “No,” I was told, “it is an actual shower.” Wow, I thought. Now inanimate objects have started getting religion. “Idiot,” they said. “It is a small shower attached to the side of a water closet with which users can wash their derrieres after evacuating. Muslims always wash.” I hope you get what I’m getting at without being accused of being impolite. It is just a natural bodily function. Except that we Muslims don’t just pull up our trousers afterwards and walk off. Neither do those of other religions in this wondrous subcontinent of ours. Neither do we use toilet paper, which doesn’t do the job properly. We use water, the most hygienic; it also helps prevent piles and hemorrhoids. It’s nothing to do with religion– washing after evacuating is not a Muslim prerogative. Imagine the glee of India’s Hindus ordering a ‘Muslim’ shower – sweet revenge for a millennium of Muslim rule.
Times were when people would go to the fields to relieve themselves, at one with nature, their ubiquitous lota besides them. A lota is a vessel in which they carried water along to do the needful. In those days the lota had a round bottom, to prevent it from falling over and the water getting spilt. No matter how uneven the ground, one could always trust it to keep straight. That is why political turncoats are called lotas, for whichever way you knock them down they always get up by joining the party in power. They are indestructible, like the round-bottomed lota. Take a train ride in India and even to this day you will witness the populace on its haunches, backs to the train, lined up on both sides of the track, patriotically fertilizing their country. My late great friend and co-editor of a book, Bruno Kriesky, would insist that if train tracks were made along the length and breadth of third world countries, development would follow along the routes as people settled down there and started agriculture and whatever else is required by travelers – same for waterways and roads. However, now that India has started shining, they must have a lot to evacuate. I suppose our cuisine has a lot to do with it, unlike in countries where there is little fibre in their diets and people perpetually suffer from some degree of constipation. With our food, toilet paper just won’t do.
When toilets appeared the round-bottomed lota gave way to the flat-bottomed lota. It also acquired a spout. When a Pakistani lady friend of mine stayed with an English friend she took her faithful lota along. “Mummy, there is a teapot in the bathroom?” stated the friend’s little daughter observantly. When I was living in digs up in Cambridge, my landlady, on seeing a can of Coke in my hand, asked in wonderment: “You drink Coke in the toilet?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said and sat on the throne laughing.
Then there was this friend of mine from Lahore (now recently retired from the IMF) who was also in digs in Cambridge. He decided that the best thing to do without attracting attention was to wash his nether regions while showering. Great idea, until one day he got diarrhea… He took seven or eight showers that day. Imodium had not yet been invented! End of bright idea.
On my umpteenth visit to the Palace of Versailles it suddenly occurred to me that there were no toilets. “Where did they do it?” I asked my guide. “Oh! In the corner of any room; a servant came along with a pan and brush and took it away.” They didn’t bathe much either in those days, which is probably why the French invented perfume. England’s Queen Elizabeth I takes the cake in personal hygiene though – or the lack thereof. She took a bath only once in her life and caught a cold, never to bathe again.
That’s probably why she remained a virgin, not the reason given.
Anyway, it was the French who invented the bidet that cleans the user quite effectively. Why didn’t they name it ‘Christian Bidet’? The idea of using water was earlier adopted by the Romans, possibly after the conquest of Palestine. They had a round brick-lined pond full of water and people would sit over its sides, their bottoms perched just above the aqua and use feather brushes with sticks, something like bottlebrushes, dip them in water and clean themselves. They didn’t realize that after the first user, they were cleaning themselves with other peoples’ muck. But it was better than not cleaning at all.
It is not just a hygiene thing; it is also cultural. Westerners consider us dirty for touching our mess; they won’t, even after using toilet paper. We can’t understand how people can walk around with a butt full of manure. They do realize it though; when a pretty girl wears a G-string bikini, they say she is flossing! But hygiene is hygiene and that’s all there is to it.
During a briefing at the Inter Services Public Relations I went to the toilet. I saw that the army had gone a step further, as usual: there were Muslim showers besides each urinal, and a roll of toilet paper too with a waste paper bin on the floor besides each, because Muslims have to wash there as well if they want to pray. But I still haven’t figured out how soldiers can stand up and wash themselves with a shower without getting their crisp trousers wet. They probably think that they are better endowed than us ‘bloody civilians’ – or is it just dexterity?
Some might consider the generic name ‘Muslim Shower’ pejorative. A Muslim may not regard it as just a convenience and not be very enthralled by a shower being called ‘Muslim’, especially considering what precisely it is used for. Mullahs might even declare it a blasphemy. Perhaps we will get a fatwa one day declaring the inventor of the device a blasphemer and the bright person who named it too. The fatwa could even extend to those who distribute, sell and use it. And the call would go out to all Muslims to destroy every Muslim shower. The Chinese broke all western commodes during the Cultural Revolution because they were symbols of capitalism. Watch out. The entire populace could be in grave danger – and Muslim showers too.
Column published by Pakistan Today. Reach Mr. Gauhar at
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