Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of CAIR, posted the following comment on his personal blog ("U-M 'foot bath' station is about hygiene") in response to Karen Bouffard's article in the Detroit News on Tuesday:
"What escaped being printed in this story is that Muslims make ritual ablutions before prayers and that Muslims have been putting their feet in face bowls because washing feet is a portion of the ritual ablution. The University of Michigan-Dearborn is simply making provisions based upon hygiene concerns. The school cannot restrict the practice of Muslims washing themselves for prayer. "
Mr. Walid's comment illustrates the inconsistency in this whole controversy. On the one hand he cites the University’s “hygiene concerns,” and then on the other protests that UM can’t restrict Muslims from washing themselves for prayer. The truth is, no one has ever accused UM of attempting to restrict Muslims from washing themselves for prayer. Nor has UM up till now claimed that it is installing the foot baths in response to a hygiene issue.
Mr. Walid can’t have it both ways. This is either a hygiene issue, or it’s a prayer issue.
Since public colleges and schools throughout the civilized world for a century or more (with the possible exception of France) have been meeting the hygienic needs of students by means of rest rooms equipped with the standard flush toilets, water taps and wash bowls, I don’t know what Mr. Walid has in mind when he says this is a hygiene issue. I don’t really think he means to imply that the Muslim minority in the UM student body have any more need than anyone else to wash their feet, at least not for any reasons of good hygiene.
Mr. Walid admits as much when he tells us that Muslim students have been putting their feet in face bowls not to achieve better hygiene, but as “ritual ablutions before prayer.” (Perhaps Mr. Walid has in mind that it isn’t good hygiene for nonMuslim students to wash their face in bowls also being used to wash feet, and I would agree).
In any event, when people wash their feet in face bowls in these circumstances, the bowls are being put strictly to a religious purpose.
In fact, as reported in WorldNet Daily, ("Airport adds foot basins for Muslim cabbies"), the purification ritual is quite involved, and isn’t just made in preparation for prayer, but also incorporates prayers and praise to Allah:
"The Islamic purification ritual, known in Arabic as 'wudu,' involves a 10-step process, which includes:
1. Praising Allah while washing both hands up to the wrist three times, making sure that the water reaches between fingers and under rings.
2. Rinsing out the mouth thoroughly three times, using the right hand (the one not used for cleaning private parts) to bring the water to the mouth.
3. Snorting water into the nostrils from the right hand, three times, to cleanse them of demons that Muslims believe reside there, clearing the passages of any mucous using the left hand.
4. Washing off the tip of the nose with the left hand.
5. Washing the entire face three times from right ear to left ear.
6. Continuing to wash from forehead to throat.
7. Washing the right arm and then the left arm, three times, from the wrist up to the elbow, removing watches.
8. Moving wetted palms over the head from the top of the forehead to the back of the head.
9. Passing the wetted tips of the fingers into the grooves and holes of both ears, and also passing the wetted thumbs behind the ears and ear lobes.
10. Finally, washing both feet to the ankles starting with the right foot, including between the toes, then reciting: 'Ash-hadu an la ilaha illal lahu wa ashhadu anna Muammadan 'abduhu wa rasuluh' – meaning there is no god but Allah and he has no partners, and Muhammad is his servant and messenger. "
I want to say right off I'm not quoting this intending to mock anyone's religion. All religions have rituals and practices that seem strange to outsiders, including my religion. My point is that wudu entails not merely physical washing, but itself is an act of prayer and worship. It is no more intended for hygiene than baptizing a baby is.
And as described, wudu must be a tricky operation to have to attempt at a rest room sink, I’ll admit. But nowhere that the foot washing stations have been installed has anyone alleged that school authorities, (or employers such as at the Minneapolis airport), ever told Muslim students or employees they weren’t allowed to use the sinks for this purpose. The closest to this came when the administration at Minneapolis Community and Technical College rationalized the sinks as a “safety” issue after a single incident in which a student fell down trying to wash her foot in a standard sink.
From the Muslim student’s point of view, accomplishing his ritual is a religious problem to be solved: how to perform wudu within the confines of a western college lacking foot baths one would find in thoroughly Islamized countries? But this is his religious problem, not one the University needs to solve.
And that's how the trouble began here, when UM-Dearborn accepted the students’ religious problem as its own problem. The University undertook to resolve the issue of, “How can we make sure our Muslim students can perform wudu?”
We all know that no modern public college or school would ever undertake to ask, and commit its limited resources to answer, “How can we guarantee that our Baptist students can evangelize, our Catholic students can attend daily Mass, our Pentecostal students can conduct campus healing services, and our conservative Jewish students can avoid contact with Gentiles?” No public college would ever do so, because such active support and endorsement would clearly violate decades of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.
Moreover, the most indirect religious symbols of the majority faith have been banished from public spaces, lest the very sight of them cause fragile unbelievers to be offended or made to feel outsiders from the larger community.
I think a great deal of our courts’ “wall-of-separation” rulings are overreaching and wrong. Nonetheless, in our system, all citizens have to bear equally the weight of the law’s precedent. The legal standards may not be fair, but if they are applied at all, they should be applied equally.
We have been asked to accept that a Christmas crèche on school grounds or a rendering of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse are unlawful forcings of Christianity on any person unfortunate enough to even catch sight of them. At the same time, we are now being asked to accept that an elaborate foot washing station--not only symbolizing Islam, but an appurtenance of its most essential daily practice, just as patently religious as a baptismal font or a tabernacle--is somehow only a reasonable accommodation all but secular in its purpose.
Like too many of these kinds of things lately, the defenders of this don't believe a word of it, and have trouble keeping a straight face when they pretend they do. Decisions are being made to treat Islam as a special case, and that is why these things are getting by without a fight.