I’m sure that it’s an international issue, but I’m going to specifically discuss public toilets around the religious sanctities. Since tahara (cleanliness) is half our faith, but in my travels, it has become clear that people don’t understand how to behave in them, let alone taking care of tahara.
Yes, it’s a fairly gross subject but this dormant “loo-phobia” you may have, could soon be defeated by nature hitting its panic button on you. You will start to see black spots floating in the air and one of them of them will even speak to you. Nature does not always wait for the most opportune time to make its appearance; your days there (especially at hajj) may be longer than your endurance. So sometimes you are forced to visit the nearest facility. Unfortunately, the nearest restrooms are not always the most fun to call upon. And in case you can’t find one near, just follow your senses. Your nose will guide your way. Wherever it smells funny, there it is. But you won’t be laughing!
So consider this a refresher course, a guide, to be crammed, forwarded or shared as needed. Not for the weak hearted – just breathe into a paper bag until you throw up. But till then, bear with me.
1) Clean after yourself
Now this is a no-brainer. Bathrooms should be clean. There should be no sign of fecal matter (yours or anyone else’s). But since it’s not always the case, you will walk into a cubicle and walk right out again, mentally and emotionally scarred. To even get to the seat, you have to wade through a lake of mystery liquid that, by the laws of logistical probability, very likely isn’t water. And when you arrive, you may find that the last person to use it couldn’t decide because it’s everywhere but in the bowl given, which isn’t rocket science. Feces are supposed to go in the water inside the toilet into the dark abyss.
“Duh” you say. “Everyone knows that.”
Oh really? Then why is it on the toilet seat and on the restroom floor approximately all the time?
There is a button located directly above the toilet paper that is marked with the word… wait for it… “FLUSH”. Press that! And if the water isn’t available then you should’ve kept a water bottle with you. If it’s too late then cry us some river please and get it flushed.
You shouldn’t expect free toilet paper, tissue or soap either. So carry them with you in small amounts.
P.S. if it’s like a cubicle from which Ikea should learn space management, then don’t go in with big gallons of water (above 1 litre – definitely a no no) because that will leave no space for you. And if you start to wrestle in there, deciding whether the bottle should occupy the space or you, making people outside lose it and giving up right beside the door of your cubicle then you may not have many gymnastic abilities to try when stepping out.
2) Cover and let others stay covered
People naturally expect privacy in the restroom, but it’s far from a priority for most.
You may get inside to only find your second biggest fear happening (I say second biggest fear because your first biggest fear is obviously being that person) – someone didn’t lock the door and is now smiling at you. Smiling is sunnah (the way of the Prophet, peace be upon him), I accept, but in such circumstances, it’s frightening. But obviously screaming too, is the worst option at that time. It will draw a large crowd. Just close the door immediately – don’t even wait to apologize. If the guilt is overwhelming then offer them something from your bag/purse/wallet as a peace offering – definitely after they have stepped out of the cubicle. Or you can stand outside their door and beg for their forgiveness. If they were out of water (as you may have noticed in a split second), you could go to a bathroom close by and steal some ‘lota’ (water for cleaning after using the restroom) but be sure to knock to make sure no one is in there. You don’t want to get stuck doing double bathroom apologies. It will get expensive and tiring. And you may lose your own control during the process.
There is a clear line that is not supposed to be crossed. Your satr (area of the body to stay covered from others) is from navel till knees. Keep it covered. Nobody wants to see it. (This is meant for men in ihram (ritual purity when at pilgrimage) also – people are there to attain khushoo’ (awareness and closeness to Allah) and your unaware-ness about your whereabouts could make a difference).
If you can’t find any stall empty, please prefer the bushes over exhibition because others may join you in your brave-step-taken and now you have a sin of the entire bathroom audience on you and this would yank up the Haram (forbidden) meter up to the highest level.
3) Don’t steal toiletries
The person you saw smiling at you may have a reason behind it – No bathroom lock.
Now I don’t know if people think if they are going to build their own toilet someday or open a bathroom business that’s why they came in with screws and took all the locks away or it’s their way of serial revenge, but that stuff is not for free and it’s not yours to take away. Let it be where it belongs. Or next time you will be in that state where one of your hands will be covering the space from where the lock is kidnapped and another will be holding the door (while someone will be trying to open it) and you won’t be the one smiling this time. What goes around comes around. Beware!
Please don’t steal – be it locks, tissue paper, lota (water jug), pipes etc. Anything. You don’t want to owe so many people, toiletries, on the Day of Judgment.
4) Don’t answer nature calls with a conversation
Now here’s a fairly interesting pet peeve: talking. Holding court in the area where people are relieving themselves is not good for unbiased judgments. They might not want to be your audience or testify for anything in your favor. And worse than observing a forum, is having someone engage them in that conversation.
You do know it’s not ok to talk while attending to your business, right?
And even the most commonest-of-all-common senses say, it’s just gross.
Which brings me to attending phone calls in the toilet.
If there’s any sort of line, don’t use your phone in the bathroom. This is purely a matter of courtesy. Please focus on the task at hand. If it’s called a restroom, it doesn’t mean you rest in there. No text or a selfie can be more urgent than what others, with bladders the size of a grape, in line need to do – every second for whom means the difference between dignified relief and a desperate sprint out the door to a dark corner of the nearest hill/jungle, which you shouldn’t be grumpy about, when you step on it.
5) Keep your creativity confined to your own walls
I’m all for creativity and art but please limit your mediums to less-pukable ones. Nobody wants to see your art on the toilet floor or anywhere around it. I’m glad human being doesn’t possess superpowers with which they can climb the walls because you may have to deal with wall art as well and no I’m not talking about graffiti. But I’m coming to that.
Keep your graffiti confined to your own walls. This is a public area. Not yours to claim or paint.
Spray painting the bathroom doors with things that may force parents to blindfold their kids when sending them in these toilets. (Now you know the reason behind that wreck). Then writing your number beside. Seriously?
I can’t even comment on this one. I’m out. Sorry. Retiring from earth. I live in space now.
Heart not warmed yet? It will be microwaved because…
6) Extra-hygiene means extra-danger
In your effort to be super hygienic, don’t wash your hands so many times or do ablution so obsessively that you flood the whole place. Use the water reasonably.
Another extreme is flushing the toilet with foot instead of a hand. People with hands – PLEASE! Acrobatics required to use your foot to flush, raise your risk of injury from slipping and falling, if you’re standing on one leg to flush the toilet. A flamingo can do it well, you can’t. It may end you up in way more mess than you thought you can get into, from touching the handle.
Some people go to extra length by not sitting on the seat and hovering closely above it. Now if you were in the one ply cubicle, the floor art is understandable because they move with a tiny gush of wind even. So please don’t hover above the seat, making it difficult for you to find balance even.
You are in a world of communicable diseases, I accept! But research says that 18% of your phones are more germ-ish than the toilet seat (unless you put the phone ON the toilet seat).
So might as well save yourself the extra agony and perch your rear end on the seat. Don’t be a human spaceship.
If you are going all Indian toilet up on the European toilet, then at least clean after yourself. Your shoe/slipper prints will be all over the seat. Roll the tissue around your hand and just clean it. I’m sure your mother taught you that as well before you had an accident in which you lost your memory on cleaning manners. By you I mean people, not YOU you of course. You wouldn’t do that, would you!?!
7) Patience is virtue, lying is not
You may usually find a long line in front of toilets in places where there are little to no WCs available. Usually, the queue would literally be hanging by the bathroom doors (if handles are available that is, otherwise – hanging by the holes). You may just want to stand in line calmly because the person in front of you deems every move from you as a line-breaking threat and they have thought of every clever way to stop you. It may include physical violence as well. What impatience does to human beings sometimes!
There are times when calm is a word in dreams only. You will enter a stampede and the next thing you know, you’re in a washroom.
And even though it sounds like a better option than waiting in line and you may want to be the one to start that stampede through witty pretense, but it’s not. It usually involves pushing, shouting, hitting, lying, knocking each other down etc. (perhaps hair pulling as well). Bad deeds don’t add up to success. Even if you manage to push all other contestants in line, it won’t feel like a victory. So avoid being in that group.
Don’t claim ownership of the bathroom. Or tell people that you’re waiting for your family member in there (thinking we all are after all brothers and sisters since Adam and Eve were our greatest fore-parents). Your turn will come in shaa Allah, don’t worry.
Save yourself from unnecessary lies. (And who doesn’t know, lying is bad anyway). Don’t render your Hajj/Umrah or any religious act that you are going to perform afterwards or performed before, useless.
8) Your kids are YOUR responsibility
Help the little ones before you help yourself. Their level of control is zero as compared to yours. But first commode in the first row is always the bad choice. Because that’s where the most uncontrolled splatters are. Which of course makes sense – they couldn’t make it any further. So walk a little (or perhaps run like a wind), holding your gag reflexes on stand by as you poke through all the stalls anticipating post-culinary exploration disaster. But there will be a cleaner one, I can guarantee (almost 90%). Don’t lose hope. Just Un-witness the ones witnessed in line.
When you’re making sure that your kids are not eating their own boogers, also make sure that you are not the one sticking it on the walls.
If you find such things, don’t feel ashamed to clean it off with the help of tissues etc. I have personally witnessed women picking up someone else’s baby’s diapers and throwing them into the trash bags and cleaning up the area, just to provide better environment for the newcomers. It’s not an easy task. May Allah reward them immensely.
So please! Those with diaper clad babies – when you change the diaper of your baby, please throw it into the dumpster. Babies’ faces are cute but their feces are not. Don’t just roll it in the air and let fate decide its destiny. When you clean after yourself, please do that for the baby as well. Man or woman – whoever is taking it for the team.
9) Don’t abuse the toiletries
Sometimes the flush is not working because of too much toilet paper clogged inside (or too much dinner). You may see the dustbin beside the pot, empty! And you wonder why do people throw everything around while there is space for everything given? People who lead adult-lives, by the adulthood they should know how to use a chair with a hole in it. Something that they have been taught to use and have been using since 15 years or so. Definitely we are the disease!
If the faucet sensor doesn’t work once, no need to constantly hit the poor thing. Because it may fire back by automatically turning itself on when you will least expect it. Be gentle with the public property. You don’t want to go outside explaining people that it’s not what they think it is.
Forego the hand dryer altogether because it probably won’t work anyway. Because you may stand there with your hands outstretched (crowding the place) waiting for some magic to happen but it won’t. If the restroom looks well maintained then probably it will but usually it doesn’t and all you do is make the crowd turn into a mob.
Save people some space instead and wipe your wet hands with tissue instead, if you wish.
Under dire circumstances, don’t jiggle someone else’s door handle angrily. Either you will lock them inside permanently or you will break the handle. Both ways, your future isn’t bright.
Don’t take your overloaded purse/bag inside the toilet. Sometimes the hooks aren’t very strong. Sometimes there are no hooks at all. Either way, draping it around your neck may be the last resort.
Hand it over to someone close, outside the restroom. Don’t bring them in just so they could wait outside your stall, holding your bag. It will crowd the area unnecessarily.
(If you think this all as a mere exaggerated joke, I would just say you’ve been extremely lucky. But these guidelines will help you in the future whenever you get out of the warm folds of your home sweet home)
10) Stay God-conscious
Jokes apart, this is something serious because one of the grave punishments includes someone not being conscious about cleanliness.
We can’t single-handedly eradicate the lack of hygiene issues in public restrooms but we can dilute its strength. We will never not be fighting. We will go on, we will always work this issue until it doesn’t need to be worked on anymore. This is just a small step towards some basic awareness – but a small step is better than nothing, better than an intangible ideal.
Please make purification – your half faith!
Our religion is so beautiful and complete. It teaches us how to live a life – from smallest details to the biggest of issues. The very basics of life.
Basically, a good policy is:
Try to leave the vicinity in the condition you would wish to find it. Treat it like you usually treat your own toilet at home, specially when the guests are coming. Be the best version of yourself that ever existed. Be the super-you. You got it in you somewhere, so just be that.
Be the change you want to see in the world. And if Muslims are going to present themselves this way, how are we ever going to preach? Actions speak louder than words. Even if nobody is watching you, Allah is. Angels are taking notes. You will be rewarded. In shaa Allah.
May Allah guide us all to the best behavior that wouldn’t hurt us or people around us.