Secrets of the Muslim bathroom

The lota has torn apart relationships and embarrassed first-generation kids like me. So what is it? Let me explain


In America, Muslims must think like Jason Bourne, practicing our rituals with clandestine skill to avoid awkward confrontations. For instance, it’s not easy to find creative space to pray while providing logical explanations to those who find you in mid-prostration. “I’m doing Arabic tai chi,” you might say when someone sees you crouched in a stall at the Gap. “It’s an … Eastern thing.”

Or, what if you get caught doing the pre-prayer ablution, wudu, that requires Muslims to wash their hands and feet five times a day? “Uh, my foot is in the office restroom sink because I couldn’t pay my water bill,” you might say. “Rough economy, you know?”

Added to this list is the “lota,” which is used in Muslim communities, including most South Asian populations, to aid in cleansing rituals. The lota is a magical chalice for our peoples – it’s a traditional hand-held vessel that contains water to assist in our bathroom “activities.” Using a baseball lineup analogy, toilet paper and moist wipes are a “leadoff” hitter, but the lota functions as the “clean-up hitter,” the player with the power to bring all the players to home plate.

But the lota can be confusing to Americans. Not long ago, an American Muslim family was detained at the airport and interviewed by the FBI. They had aroused suspicion by “lingering” near the airplane bathroom and asking for a “cup” to perform a “religious custom dictating cleanliness.”

I can certainly sympathize. I have confused many co-workers with my creeping “stealth lota jihad.” At my former law job, I once used a venti Starbucks cup as a temporary, emergency lota. I thoroughly washed the caramel frap residue and filled it to the brim with tap water.

“Hey Waj,” I heard just as I was about to enter the stall and liberate myself. It was my boss. “Whatcha’ got there?”

“Oh, this? Just, uh, was thirsty,” I replied. We stared at each other for several, uncomfortable seconds. “Yup – thirsty.”

And then I proceeded to drink the water.

But the lota shouldn’t be such cause for embarrassment. It has always existed — right under our very noses and bottoms. For Muslims, it is the homely girlfriend we adore but are ashamed to date in public. We keep it hidden out of self-loathing and fear. As America’s unofficial ambassador of “Eastern Toilet Etiquette, ” however, I say it’s time to explain a few things.

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Categories: Americas, UK, United States

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8 replies

  1. hahaha… is hilarious

    some people take with them mineral water bottle. (although the water in may not be sufficient)
    some people may wonder Muslims drink water while in the washroom?

    Now serious talk. I think it is the most cleanest way of cleaning in the washroom.

  2. In Muslim countries, as you may know, we usually have a ‘toilet shower’, thus not needing the ‘Lota’. The strange thing is that in Hotels and Restaurants, we find these things in 3 star hotels, but not in 5 star hotels. I think the Hotel keepers thought that 5 star hotels are constructed for foreign (unclean) tourists and not for Muslims. Therefore, if you travel to a 5 star Hotel, bring your Lota along!

  3. I am afraid, someone may take a sarcastic view of the Muslim Hygiene – while the truth is that Islam ushered in an extremely conclusive scientific view of personal cleanliness; which is worthy of “adulation” than “looking down upon it”.

    Before Islam, most of the societies resorted to use Dried Bones; Dead Wood; Stones; Clay; Hey and various other plant stems for cleaning “Fecal Matter” after voiding their bowels.

    Pre-Islamic societies were accustomed to Body Odour and Rectal Infections – most furious being Piles, Bungles, Crohn’s Disease and Colitis, etc.

    In sub-tropical habitations of India, Bengal and Maldeps, a major cause of adolescent mortality was Abdominal Colic and Infections in the Lower Intestine. Traces of similar diseases and infections are reported in Mesopotamian Medical History as well as in the Mongolian and Chinese Therapies.

    So is the case with Vedic and Greek Schools of Medicine.

    Arab dwellings in the desert were probably the worst hit by such diseases and in order to overcome those, they used to import Turmeric, Tamarind, Alum, Camphor and other medicinal herbs from all over.

    Early days of Islam are well recorded for the fact that Health Care Providers used to wait that a patient may show up to seek some treatment from them.

    That period of Islam stands out in Islamic History that – All what is perceived today as some odd theoretical sermons WAS INDEED PROVEN IN PRACTICE.

    So is the case with Cleaning after Voiding Bowels.

    Fact # 1 is that Fecal matter is SOLUABLE IN WATER.

    Facts down the line are that Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) prescribed that Bones must not be used as toiletry aid (it is infested with creatures not visible in plain human sight) so is the case about dead wood and so on.

    The Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) prescribed:-

    1. Void your bowels at a low surface pit (Ceramic Commodes were not invented then)
    2. Keep Dried Clay around and Wipe the Feces without touching with hands or fingers.
    3. Then if you have access to Clean Water – wash your body areas.

    Please remember this is all said for the set-up in the desert-dwellings’ culture – and the purpose is so very clear that Do Not use Infection causing agents, keep yourself optimally clean and refrain from spreading the feces.

    When Muslim culture developed in Baghdad, Turkey and India; Clay Tablets and Cotton Cloth Wipes were used as Toilet Tissues. Perfumery was still an add-on to them.

    Water Bidets were used after using those wipes.

    Water being the solvent, would clean every bit of probable contamination.

    TODAY – CORPORATIONS as extensive as EMCO and KOHLER are marketing BIDETS in numerous sizes, designs and for various utilities – for in-house and in travel; etc.
    Please check their websites to know – What their researchers have found about the Water Washing – as how those researches prove the stand point of Muslim Sanitation and Hygiene.

    Indian LOTA is a cultural form of BIDET and was developed for Indian way of life in Indian societies, matching the climatic and environmental requirements – and is by no means an essential to be tagged with Muslim Hygiene, elsewhere.

    Muslim Hygiene is based upon, Dry Wipes and Washing – use of Toilet Rolls and Wet Tissues can make a Muslim as Hygienically Clean as anyone may want.

    Purpose of Water Washing is cleanliness and there is NO STRESS ON “LOTA”.

  4. Dear Shahid, Thanks for your contribution. That is why we have the ‘comments’ section in our blog, so that we can ‘throw light from different angles’ on the same topic.

    I am really happy that the standard of comments in our blog is very high, especially compared to other News sites. (even for this somewhat ‘special’ topic). Thanks to all for their contribution!

  5. Out of curiosity, I searched for Lota in the Randomhouse dictionary, here is the result. We can refer our surprised friends to look it up.

    lota [loh-tuh]  
    lo·ta   [loh-tuh]
    (in India) a small container for water, usually of brass or copper and round in shape.
    Also, lo·tah.

    1800–10; < Hindi lotā

  6. Believe it or not, but, out here that pipe is known as ‘Arabian shower’, which Rafiq sb is talking about. And we get them at any hard-ware shop.

    In urban Kenya, nearly everybody is familiar with it and the Muslim ablution practices, too, Alhamdulillah.

    Therefore, the average American seems to be more ignorant of other cultural practices than my fellow Kenyans:))))

    Oh, and some of the local hotels are also beginning to provide this pipe in the toilets…

    When we go to a public place like a restaurant or hotel here, and want to use water in the loo, we just ask the reception for an empty clean bottle and they very willingly provide us
    with one to use.

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