This article is an extract from our booklet Diversity Matters - a guide to Best Practice in the Design of Multi-Faith rooms. To download a pdf copy of the full booklet, please click the image below
Most religions and cultures value cleanliness, with some practising ritual washing before prayer or mealtimes. Christian monks used to practice ritual washing in a communal wash area known as a Lavatorium. Although generally abandoned, this custom has been replaced by the washing of hands before meals. Some observant Jews will wash their hands before prayer as a ritual undertaken as a devotion to God and an act of symbolic self-purification.
Probably the most widely performed act of ritual cleansing is wudu, performed by Muslims before Salat (prayers). Wudu shows respect to God by bringing the adherent to prayer in a purified state. The actual practice of wudu varies between different Muslim groups, generally, however, it requires the washing of the face, head, hands, arms and feet.
Clean running water must be used except in some circumstances where no water is available. Contact with static or grey (dirty) water can invalidate the wudu ritual and should be prevented in any washing facility provided.
Wudu can take up to about three and a half minutes, and thus an appropriate number of washing stations need to be provided to cater for the probable number of people likely to want to perform wudu without causing too much of a queue.
Imagine you are a conscientious, hard-working employee of a supermarket chain. You are a Muslim and in your daily life, you try hard to observe the quite demanding duties of ritual washing and prayer. But it’s not easy.
Your employer is sympathetic and tries to understand, but he does not really quite appreciate how difficult it is for you to find somewhere appropriate to carry out your religious duties in a quiet, dignified way which meets the requirements of your faith and personal aspirations without causing offence or distraction to colleagues.
You put up with having to wash your feet in the staff toilet in a wash hand basin over two feet high. You cringe when you put your bare foot back on the floor which is by now wet with unclean water and dangerously slippery. You brace yourself for the walk past non-Muslim staff to the storage area where you are allowed to say your prayers with the other four Muslims who work in the supermarket.
Your employer is really good to be so sympathetic. But you believe another employer not far away has gone even further to accommodate the religious needs of his multi-ethnic staff by implementing a purpose-built facility for wudu and prayer. Maybe you should make some enquiries… Could this be your washroom?
In Muslim ablution terms, the organisation of a ‘clean zone’ aims at keeping the praying space free of organic traces, bad smells, and other things that render the praying space unusable for Salat or would upset those performing their prayers. It is therefore important in the design of the prayer area to define a line after which people should not be wearing their shoes, since these shoes might be carrying traces of road dirt.
The ‘line’ designating this clean zone can be a change of floor material, a small step or even a taped line on the floor; shoes should be left outside the clean zone; thus any shoe racks should also be located outside this zone. Toilets should obviously be outside this zone, ablution spaces though can be, and probably should be inside this zone. Conceptually, access to the ablution space can be from either outside or from inside the clean zone. Access from inside the clean zone can be either directly from the praying area or through a corridor or other types of links, but care must be taken to ensure no water is taken from the ablution area to the prayer hall.
Many corporate bodies remain unaware of the importance of the washing ritual to Muslims and do not provide appropriate washing facilities. This leaves observant Muslims having, for example, to wash their feet in an ordinary hand basin in a toilet area. This not only shows a casual disregard for their needs but also creates very real and obvious health and safety hazards.
A solution is to provide tailor-made washing facilities which could be more closely associated with the prayer room – e.g. completely separate from toilet areas, which is a highly recommended approach if space can be made available.
The water used for wudu must be clean and flowing. Although not mandatory, in colder climates it should be pre-mixed to an ambient temperature before being dispensed.
If a sick or disabled person cannot do wudu with water because he is unable to do so, there is a dispensation that he/she can follow called ‘Tayammum’. ‘Tayammum’ literally involves the disabled/sick person ‘striking their hands on pure dust’, then wiping his/her face with the inside of their fingers and palms. In the likely circumstance, no ‘pure dust’ is available, other natural substances such as floor or wall tiles can be used.
Despite the above, it is suggested that ‘best efforts’ are made to accommodate disabled people in the wudu area, but it is extremely difficult to configure a disabled facility for wudu that caters for every type of disability.
Unlike disabled toilets where in many countries there is a published standard, there is rarely a standard for the provision of disabled wudu facilities. For any project outside the UK which requires wudu facilities, it is suggested that local regulations are checked to ascertain whether there are any documented standards for providing wudu facilities for disabled people in commercial buildings; if not, the following approach would be sensible.
It is suggested, that whatever arrangements are being considered for wudu, they should at least demonstrate ‘best efforts’ to cater for disabled users. If it can be demonstrated that ‘best efforts’ have been made to cater for the needs of the disabled in a wudu facility, these are likely to be accepted by any reasonable disability auditor.
WuduMate is a unique range of washing appliances specifically designed for the Muslim ritual of wudu. Designed and manufactured by the Specialist Washing Company of the United Kingdom, (trading as WuduMate), a range of WuduMate models are available for use in the workplace, meeting all of the aforementioned requirements.
There are a number of WuduMate configurations which can be used to assist in this, with each WuduMate model configurable to some extent for disabled use, some facilitating wheelchair access better than others:
Allowing time for prayer and providing a designated space or a multi-faith room in a workplace is a big step towards inclusion of employees from different cultures.
However, especially if you have Muslim employees, it is also worth considering, and maybe consulting the employees themselves, as to what facilities would enable them to make their ritual ablutions comfortably and discreetly.
This article is one in a series that has been extracted from our booklet DIversity Matters -a guide to Best Practice in the Design of Multi-Faith rooms. You can download the whole booklet, or read other articles in this series here: