Written by Sarah Khan.
I’m not always the biggest fan of Muslim countries, but one thing I have always loved and appreciated about them are the Muslim showers. These are the little hand-held shower heads found in Muslim countries and are usually where the toilet paper roll would be in Western countries. This little aquatic beauty is used to wash oneself after urinating or, most especially, after defecating. They go hand in hand with the Islamic rule to always stay clean especially when it comes to matters of bodily waste. But, when you grow up Muslim in a non-Muslim country, you often struggle with finding a balance between keeping clean and adapting to the new culture.
The Khans moved to Canada in 1995 after a five-year stint in Dubai. The Khan parents made sure that their spawns were born in their homeland of Pakistan before beginning the shift to a more progressive country that would suit the lifestyle and ideology that they would inevitably pass on to the Khan spawns. My brother and I grew up with Mama Khan wiping our butts not only when we were in diapers but when we began using the toilet on our own as well. Learning to wash after urinating was easy enough, but learning to clean after defecating took some learning.
By the time we moved to Canada, we were well-versed in how to wash ourselves, but to our mild surprise, there was no Muslim shower, nor a lota—the pot traditionally used to wash. Mama Khan bought a milk bag holder (thanks to Canada predominantly selling bagged rather than cartons of milk) and we used that as a makeshift lota. We used a milk bag holder to wash with for years until my mum returned from one trip to Pakistan with a couple of beautiful steel lotas—real lotas—and she continues to use these to this day.
Using public bathrooms became a challenge. Urinating was easy enough since a quick wipe would tide us over until we got home, but defecating was a whole other business. How to poop in a public bathroom when living in a culture that doesn’t wash thoroughly after every trip to the bathroom? If your family was like mine, you came up with alarmingly ingenious ways to satisfy both cultures. The Khans are splintered in our solutions to the pooping-as-Muslim-in-the-West problem. Papa Khan didn’t really care either way; when he could wash he’d wash and if he couldn’t wash he’d wipe. Mama Khan refuses to poop anywhere but inside her own house. Sometimes in those inevitably desperate times she’s forced to use the bathroom at work or at the mall to defecate, in which case she buys a small bottle of water to use as a makeshift lota.
My brother has stopped using water in his waste management altogether. To him, it’s probably just easier, especially since he lives with his wife and her (white) family in the American south. Toilet paper is good enough for him. As for myself, I am a mix of my mum and my dad in that I don’t mind pooping anywhere, but I refuse to poop without washing no matter where I am. For this reason, I keep an empty water bottle in my desk drawer at work and if I’m out and about and the need to defecate strikes me, I do like my mum and buy a cheap bottle of water and find a quiet spot to happily do my deed.
The water bottle trick is the most common, as far as I know. We’ve got family who, before setting out for any air travel, buy a two litre bottle of water to use just to wash with en route to their final destination. When I myself travel, I also keep a spare empty water bottle around to wash with. But when I’m in certain parts of Europe, I thrill at the sight of a bidet in my hostel’s bathroom because it means I can throw away my ratty water bottle in exchange for the next best thing after a Muslim shower. But bidets are rare and seem to be getting rarer in European hotels, which likely cater to a Western clientele. When I’ve stayed in AirBnB spots in Europe that are rooms in people’s actual homes, I’ve always found a bidet in the bathroom. Clearly the general population of most European countries washes their bums like Muslims do, but why hasn’t that practice carried over into North America?
I’ve heard people argue that touching your bum after you defecate is disgusting and why would anyone do it and call it cleanliness. But, as far as I know, everyone washes their bums in the shower and if you shower right after you defecate (as would seem the logical thing to do), then it’s not any different than what Muslims around the world do. The idea that not washing after defecating is considered cleaner or more hygienic by some is baffling. But is that just a cultural thing?
My brother was six when we moved to Canada, so many of his most formative years were spent around Canadian culture. He spoke English without an accent almost immediately and to this day speaks our native tongue of Urdu with a Western accent. My parents were fairly hands-off compared to other Pakistani parents, so while we acknowledged and often practiced our own cultural (and sometime religious) activities at home, my brother and I were equally exposed to and involved in Western culture and practice. And while both he and I are wildly “Westernized,” I consider myself equally abiding to certain South Asian cultural practices with which I grew up. Most prominently are my flawless Urdu (which surprises everyone) and my need to wash after pooping.
Washing after defecation isn’t something that’s restricted to just Muslim countries as a large part of Europe utilizes bidets, which are meant to serve the same purpose. But why the bidet and/or the habit of washing bums with water instead of wiping them with often-too-dry toilet paper never made it across the sea to North America is baffling to me. Wet wipes and the likes are starting to (or at least attempting to) gain traction and serve the same purpose, but I can see it being a hurdle. People have to buy yet another item thus spending more of their hard-earned money. Water costs little, not to mention the massive reduction in toilet paper is inevitably good for the environment. Until North America becomes a place in which water is scarce, I really see no reason why we shouldn’t all switch to installing Muslim showers and implementing lotas in every bathroom—public and private alike.