Sunday 18 July 2010

WuduMate: a symbol of what's to come?

An innocuous little brochure came to my attention at work a few weeks ago. It details a range of fittings that can be installed in toilet accommodation accessible by members of the public. Ritual washing can apparently present problems to the devout who need to perform their rite at particular times of the day, and often the facilities available are less than amenable. The front of the trifold brochure shows a man with his foot in a washbasin, and the tag-line "There has to be an easier way...."

Indeed there is an easier way*, but it's not the one that the manufacturers of the WuduMate would prefer you use. Specialist Washing Co would rather you purchase the WuduMate and install it in your publicly accessible toilets, so that people who want to wash their feet don't have to stick them in a washbasin.

The company, according to its website, will supply a solution for many ritual washing requirements — at home, at work, travelling, in the multi-faith room, or in the mosque.

That last sentence above contains the essence of my unease about this company and its promotion of its products — a company that calls itself "Specialist Washing Co." Specialist washing in this case is extremely special, by which I mean Islamic. The company is not called Islamic Washing Co, or even Ritual Washing Co. "Specialist Washing" is used here as a euphemism, and though it may not have been the company's intention, the impression it gives is that they are trying to hide their true purpose — to persuade providers of public toilets to include facilities for the exclusive use of devout Muslims. Nowhere in the brochure or on the website did I find any suggestion that these facilities could be used by non-Muslims who might want to wash their feet in a non-religious fashion.

On the website much is made of the provision of facilities in multi-faith rooms. To me the idea of a multi-faith room is a particularly preposterous one. Religious faith is of course important — even a confirmed atheist like myself must acknowledge that faith plays an important and often central role in many people's lives. But the faiths professed by believers in different religions can be so at odds with each other that the idea of lumping them all together in one room seems like a recipe for conflict, or at least contradiction. Specialist Washing Co are suggesting that such rooms should be equipped with expensive and space-consuming sanitary-ware (plus the plumbing of water supplies and drainage that goes with it) for a specific religious ritual in a public place.

By all means put these things in your home, your mosque, or even your palace. But don't expect the rest of us to pay for you to carry out an elaborate ritual at our expense.

*The easier way? Don't do it.