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The Eastern Toilet: A Hajj Reflection

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When I began telling people that I was planning on going for Hajj, I was surprised to hear one piece of advice over and over again—use the squatting toilets in Mina. Although I was eager to hear suggestions on how to make my Hajj easier and better, deep down inside I knew the issue of the Eastern toilet was one that I would have to fight the most with. The only previous exposure I had to the Eastern toilet was when I avoided it at all costs during the two-and-a-half month trip I took to Pakistan when I was fourteen. I thought the toilet in the floor was gross and primitive and I had no interest in using it then, and honestly no interest in using it while I was at Hajj.

Ultimately, I decided to follow the advice I heard about the squatting toilets, but I knew I had to figure out how to use one and then get used to it. One of the things our Hajj leader emphasized was that the easiest way to spoil the Hajj is through complaining about small things. Getting used to the squatting toilet for me also meant getting over myself, so I promised myself to exclusively use the squatting toilet while we were in Makkah the days before Hajj started. I would keep up this regiment to prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the days of atrocious bathroom accommodations in Mina, and then as soon as I was out of my ihram, I’d go back to the Western toilet. So, I began to use the Eastern toilet in our building before the days of Hajj actually started.

Little did I expect, a terrible stomach bug kicked in a couple days before Hajj started and it continued to plague me for the rest of my trip, including the days of Hajj. My stomach bug and subsequent GI issues were so horrid that I went from forcing myself to using the squatting toilet to wanting to use it. Using the squatting toilet ended up being the only way I could relieve myself painlessly. Coming to that realization broke down years of prejudice I had against the Eastern toilet and, by extension, its users. Having a Western toilet in Pakistan is considered “modern,” or “keeping up with the Jones’s.” I had internalized that idea while I was in Pakistan, and it added to my already negative opinion of the Eastern toilet. Coming from my cushy American point-of-view, previously swearing to never use an Eastern toilet in my life—I’m just so glad that I was proved wrong.

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It’s sad to admit this, but yes, my prejudice against the Eastern toilet exposed that the superiority I felt towards many of my brothers and sisters in Islam simply because of the place I was born in and continue to live in, and the subsequent lifestyle of luxuries that being an American in my socioeconomic position affords me. It was disgusting to feel that way deep inside, but I discovered it during my Hajj journey. I heard from many people who have been on Hajj mystical and mysteries sayings like you find out who you truly are at Hajj and Hajj is the biggest spiritual test. In many ways, I expected another issue to come up along my journey, like getting mad or feeling lazy. But I was truly surprised that a deep-rooted arrogance  born out of nationalistic and capitalistic ideals turned out to be the issue that revealed itself to me.

It wasn’t a glorious spiritual moment, nor something to feel proud about (nor something to feel proud for sharing with whoever reads this article.) Allah taught me in the most disgusting place with the most disgusting instrument while I suffered from a disgusting sickness that I am not superior to any other person of the Ummah, no matter where they are from or what they have. This kind of mindset, which I attribute to the American paradigm, is exactly what keeps the Ummah from being together as one. I’m not saying I’ve been illuminated and have healed my heart from this sickness yet, but my eyes have been opened, at least, through my humbling—no, I’d say humiliating—lesson. The first step to fixing something is knowing that it is broken, and inshaAllah one of the things I hope to work on is to rid my heart of all and any arrogance.

Thanks to my Hajj roommate’s suggestion, I currently have in my possession a Squatty Potty stool, which is the best I think I’m going to get for the time being. It’s not as great as a real Eastern toilet, but hey, it’s halfway there. When I think about using the stool now, I am reminded that I have looked down upon others based on minute cultural differences and that I have a lot of work left to do to rid myself of those prejudices.

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Meena is a high school English teacher, DIY enthusiast, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US and is also studying the Asharah Qira'aat/10 Recitations.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Amel

    May 9, 2017 at 11:40 AM

    LOL, thanks for sharing. An “Eastern” toilet is the first thing I was confronted with after making a long and tiring journey to a new country. I’m not sure it was a point of arrogance for me (I was more perplexed than anything), but it was a very humbling experience that actually brought me to tears as I tried to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do. On the flip side, I have heard some absolutely hilarious stories regarding people encountering a Western toilet for the first time…so it actually goes both ways. I believe very strongly that all people should travel and experience these moments of embarrassment and humility. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is one of the best things that a human being can experience.

  2. Yacoob

    May 10, 2017 at 4:48 AM

    For me, it’s not so much the cultural superiority of Western over Eastern. It’s the cleanliness. The reality is that the Eastern toilets on Hajj are filthy – and THAT’s what turns people off. Given the choice between a clean Eastern toilet (e.g. something you’d find in a hotel there) and a dirty Western one, I know I’d definitely choose the former.

    But the reality is that most of us have to use the dirty Eastern ones on Hajj. The Saudis could probably do a lot to improve the situation, but perhaps it’s part of Allah’s wisdom that they don’t – because having to debase yourself like this helps bring you down from any illusion you had that you were somehow better than others.

    It builds character, though.

    I wrote more about it here:
    https://dreamlife.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/hajj-chronicles-part-10-hijra/

  3. Indian

    May 12, 2017 at 2:48 AM

    I have an exact opposite view, being an India, I’ve ALWAYS wondered how people can share the same toilet seat with hundred others. It always made me go Yuck.. Eastern are much better, there’s no contact with your body and you can always use disposable gloves/tissue to hold the water outlet. I made sure I dint use the washrooms in Hajj much (I drank water only to keep my throat wet and not for hydration) and between zuhr and asar, I wouldn’t mind walking 800m to and fro in scorching heat to use the washroom in the room! (‘clean’ western + shared only with my family). Now that I started working in an MNC, I’m OKish to using it provided they are extra clean.
    On a side note, if you look at the body mechanism while using western and eastern, eastern is SO SO much better off. You may read it up as I wont elaborate much but it keeps the joints healthy + puts the necessary force on your stomach.
    “I thought the toilet in the floor was gross and primitive”?
    “prejudice against the eastern toilet”?
    Really? I heard this for the first time in my life. I thought THIS was how it always was from the beginning until people thought we’d rather sit on a seat and slack.

  4. Saharish

    May 21, 2017 at 12:03 AM

    Love the article, I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and using the Eastern toilet near the Haram was an event for us each time. I agree, its more about the cleanliness of the area though. Im actually glad there aren’t any western toilets in the facilities, they couldn’t possible have been kept clean! In all this maybe we should pray for the cleaners of these places! May Allah bless them infinitely! Ameen!

  5. Abu Hirsi

    May 22, 2017 at 5:12 AM

    I read somewhere that those who use the squat toilet (so called eastern) suffer less fecal impact since the bowel movements are complete. It is unnatural to sit on a toilet ball and assume stuff will drop as if there is a a drain pipe is opened. Once must press the stomach to the knees using a squat toilet to effectively empty the waste.

    • Molvi Hukka

      May 22, 2017 at 2:51 PM

      @Abu Hirsi, according to one my good doctor friend in the USA, you are absolutely right, in fact according to him, many people in the US have bowel movement issues only because of the “Western toilet”. And the author is right about the “squashing” :) .

  6. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 20, 2017 at 3:09 PM

    One thing I love about your writing is how you use seemingly ordinary experiences to address deeper personal issues.

    I agree with “Indian” that the Eastern toilet (assuming it is kept clean) is inherently more hygienic, since your skin does not contact the same surface as everyone else’s.

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