First of all, we must remember that our ability to digest food and drink is a great blessing from Allah. We would not be able to survive without a digestive system. However, with every blessing comes a responsibility. Since human waste is classified as impure, Islam teaches us a few rules about how to relieve ourselves with dignity.
So what’s the problem?
There are many Islamic guidelines about how to use the restroom. We will only focus on those that pertain to standing and urinating. This common practice has led to the following unethical practices:
1. Shamelessness. One bad habit that has resulted from using of public urinals is the loss of personal modesty in the restroom. It is very common to see two men using the bathroom while having a conversation at the same time. Had they peeked over just a little they would have be able to see one another’s private parts. This is abhorrent. The Prophet ﷺ (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said,
2. Increase in impurity. How many urinals have you ever seen that provide wuḍū’ facilities, water fixtures or even toilet paper? Probably none. This results in people leaving the restroom without an appropriate level of cleanliness or washing their hands. The Prophet ﷺ said,
‘Ā’ishah (ra), the Prophet’s ﷺ wife, said to a group of women, “Tell your husbands to clean themselves with water because I am embarrassed to tell them. This is what the Prophet ﷺ used to do regularly.”5 Cleaning yourself, with either a solid substance or with water, is so important in Islam that once when the Prophet ﷺ passed by a man’s grave he told Ibn ‘Abbās (ra) that the deceased man is being tortured, but not for a major sin: “He didn’t used to clean himself after urinating.”6
3. Disrespect for others. One of the common habits we find in people who regularly use urinals is that they also stand up while using a lavatory. This can result in an unsanitary seat covered with urine and germs. Very few people care to clean the seat, let alone the toilet area after leaving, so, the next person entering has to deal with that disgusting mess. In this regard, the Prophet ﷺ said,
“Beware of the cursed ones.” Some people asked, “Who are the cursed ones?” He replied, “People who relieve themselves in public pathways or in shaded areas.”7
Public pathways and shaded areas are two areas where people would be offended from excrement and filth because they use them so often. The same curse would apply to those who leave filth behind for the next person. The curse, in this context, has two meanings: people are cursed by the one who has to deal with the dirt they left behind and they are cursed by Allah for their careless and disgusting habits.
Are there any exceptions?
The Prophet ﷺ always sat down to relieve himself. This is proven by ‘Ā’ishah (ra), who was constantly in his presence. She said, “Don’t believe anyone that tells you the Prophet ﷺ used to stand while urinating. He always used to sit down.”8 The only person who ever contradicted her statement was Hudhayfah when he said, “The Prophet ﷺ [while traveling] approached a garbage dump and stood while urinating. Then, he called me to bring some water for him, so I did, and he performed wuḍū’.”9 This is clearly an exception to the rule because the Prophet ﷺ was in a very dirty place. Hudhayfa’s description of the place being a garbage dump reveals to us the context and makes it clear that ‘Ā’isha’s (ra) challenge was referring to people who claimed the Prophet ﷺ did it often as a habit. Her challenge still stands today. When someone tries to misquote the statement of Hudhayfah in order to prove that the Prophet ﷺ used to stand and urinate just as people do today, we should correct it.
What should a Muslim do?
Muslims should try to combat this immorality in their own community by encouraging good standards of hygiene. We live in societies which claim to be clean and advanced, yet their toilets – the most basic of sanitary developments – are among the filthiest in the world. Visit any gas station, high school, theme park, etc. and experience what happens to the restrooms when there is no full time janitor to clean up afterwards.
People of the world still have much to learn from Islam’s frank information on cleanliness. Purity has an environmental impact and is strongly connected to worship; without a clean body, a Muslim cannot pray. It is such an important principle in Islam that the Prophet ﷺ said,