by Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim
Culture is the way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Examples are the kinds of foods we eat and how we prepar them, the kinds or styles of clothes we wear, the types of celebrations we have, not only religious but also around important events such as weddings, births and deaths. Culture also includes the kinds of music the society produces (there is not one culture that does not produce its own musical expression) etc.
Istinjaa, cleaning oneself with water after using the toilet, is one of those topics that we assume everyone knows about and practices. This particular method of 'lavage' is a cultural practice specific to the Muslim overall body of behaviors. Many moons ago, in the late 60’s while I was still a teenager in the Dar ul Islam Movement, istinjaa was taught as part of our lessons on hygene and had the same importance attached to it as had the wudhu and the ghusul. Because the movement stressed community socializing, i.e. going to each others houses for salat, dinner, study circles etc, it would have been viewed as ‘extremely poor adhab’ to enter a bathroom (hamam) with no water bottle / jug with which to make the proper ablutions. Almost like going to someone’s home and not finding a ‘salat-rug’ or a place to make prayer.
That was then.
After many years in this deen, it astounds me that, with respect to what we consider as ‘that which we pass on’ or in other words, culture, we haven’t moved beyond the ‘soap bottle’ or planter-bottles.
For those of us who have had the opportunity to travel to Muslim lands on the other side of the Atlantic, one of the major features of those societies is that they, with the understanding of the requirement of instinjaa, equip their bathrooms with the necessary hardware to easily fulfill this obligation. Its called the bidet (pronounced: bi-day). In every hotel-room and individual household that I visited overseas, the bidet was part of the standard operational equipment. The bidet is used around the world, not only in the Middle East, but also in places like Spain and Japan.
The use of the bidet is also a statement about the way in which a people negotiate a religious/cultural imperative with current technology. If all we had were 3 flat stones, as the hadiths about istinjaa tell us then we would use only that, but Allah has positioned the American Muslim Community in the center of modern technology, so which of His favors would we deny ?
I have been using a bidet in my home since 2003 and have tried several different types and I guarantee once you get used to one, you can't imagine how you ever lived without it, not to mention its more efficient than the water pot ever was and our wives and daughters will be forever thankful.
They are easy to install and vary in prices from under $50.00 and can cost up to several hundred dollars. Bidets are available in many U.S. hardware stores and can easily be found on Amazon. Although when considering giving one as a gift to a newly wedded couple, such as to our sons and daughters, spend a little more and look into the remote controlled units (seats) such as advertised by BioBidet but be sure to make note as to the shape of the commode in question. The shape of the toilet is usually standard or elongated. The 'higher end' bidets gives you the options to adjust the temperature of the seat and the water being used. Some also have fans for drying off making the experience 'paperless'.
see: biobidet.com (seats)
As istinjaa is part of our culture, and culture is what we ultimately hand down to our children, wouldn’t it be nice to make our bathrooms reflect our cultural / personal habits?