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Wudu (ablution) is an inseparable part of Salaat (prayer).
The first time I was taught how to perform wudu was in somebody's bathroom, a sister showed me. I had a book about prayer and it also talked about how to perform wudu, but there were no pictures and the best way to learn something (I think) is to see how it is done before your own eyes.
The first few months I had an irritated skin around my eyes, nose, ears and between my toes because of the water.
But now, after all these years I'm used to it and so is my skin, I just have to apply a moisturizing cream afterwards, sometimes water can be hard on you.

To perform wudu at home only takes a few minutes, but in an unfamiliar place it always takes me at least double the time, especially when there is no place to put your clothes or when the place is not clean.
The cleanest place I have ever been to (outside my home ) was in a small mosque on Victoria Island, BC (Canada). The washroom was unbelievable clean, there were stacks of bright white soft towels and separate hampers for "face towels" and "feet towels", there was an abundance of fragrant soap and a place to hang your clothes, all in all it was a pleasure to be doing wudu.
The complete opposite was (I'm so sorry to say) the wudu location behind the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo (Egypt). I will not go into details, but insha Allah I hope that they will make changes in the near future especially because Al Azhar is a beautiful Mosque and is visited by so many Muslims from all over the world. And as our Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) said "Cleanliness is half of faith" Sahih Muslim 2:432.

I know that it is not always easy to perform wudu, especially when it is early in the morning for fadjr (sometimes around 3 'o clock in the summer time), or when the water is too cold (it takes forever in our apartment for the water to get at least luke warm), or when you just did it and lost your wudu somehow and you have to do it all over again.
Or when you are in a strange place and don't like the look of the washroom.
But when I feel that way, I always remember a television documentary that I saw a long time ago. And I hope that when I tell you this story you will remember it too and that it will strengthen your resolve to do wudu properly, enthusiastically and with humility and gratitude.

The documentary was about foot binding in China. You may have heard about it, it was a custom that was performed by women to make their feet smaller and thus more attractive for men. It was even a prerequisite to get married at all.
Foot binding was finally abandoned in the middle of the last century after 1000 years.
Foot binding started at a young age, between 3 to 5 years because at that age the feet were still flexible and the bones soft.
It is quite a horrible story but I still want to tell it otherwise you will not understand what I like to convey.

The toes of each foot (except for the great toe) were curled under the feet, and pressed downwards with great force into the sole of the foot until the toes broke. The broken toes were then held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was drawn down straight with the leg and then the arch was thus broken as well. The binding that was then applied pulled the ball of the foot and the heel closer together, causing the broken foot to fold at the (freshly) broken arch and pressing the (freshly) broken toes underneath.
Because the toe nails continued to grow and because of unsavory infections the bindings had to be reapplied freshly on a regular basis, for rich women at least once daily and for poor peasants two or three times a week. You can imagine how painful that must be, the unbinding at least as painful as the rebinding.
Here is where my story leads. The documentary showed Muslim women with foot bindings. The Muslim Hui women bound their feet just like other Chinese women at that time.
At the time of the documentary there were only a few women left in China who had actual foot binding done to them at a young age. These women, who were now in their eighties, talked about their feet and about the pain they had to go through all their life. How in the time of Mao the government forbid foot binding and how they were ordered to wear regular shoes and to work in the fields. But to unbreak those feet was as painful as the initial breaking in the beginning so they hid their feet in regular shoes and still worked for hours a day in the fields and carried heavy loads.
But because they were Muslim they had to do wudu, and the documentary showed the women unbinding their feet and perform wudu, as they said five times a day, every day.
Could you ever feel just slightly lax about performing wudu after this story, I can't.

"O ye who believe! when ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If ye are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if ye are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or ye have been in contact with women, and ye find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that ye may be grateful.
Al-Ma'ida, Sura 5, Ayah 6

September 2012

Wudu in pictures and words:

More info about foot binding (Warning: there are some shocking pictures):