In Japanese schools, students clean the entire school in the last 15 minutes of the school day. They grab the brooms and mops and scrub down the hallways, classrooms, and bathrooms. In Japanese society, the concept of good hygiene practices is not confined to the personal level, but it’s considered a communal responsibility and a duty. Japanese schools do not hire janitors, they have non-teaching support staff, called Yomushuji, who work with students and teachers to keep the facilities in optimal hygienic conditions.
Japanese culture has a similar emphasis on personal hygiene just as Islam and other world religions and societies. Many Asians have a no-shoe policy in their homes and places of worship to venerate a place. In addition, many cultures use water to clean after urination and defecation. In Hinduism, hand and feet washing is a must before entering a house. Muslims make wudu or ablution 5 times a day, and regular bathing and grooming are obligatory. The hygiene practices extend to keeping the environment clean as well. We know that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, taught to drink from clean vessels and cover the food pots with lids to prevent contamination from animals and insects.
Then, why does Japanese society stand out for its cleanliness and excellent personal hygiene practices more than other societies, especially Islamic ones?
This is likely because hygiene practices are not consistent across Muslim lands. In some Muslim countries, you’ll see mounds of rotting smelly trash in corners at public places and very little or no care for the environmental cleanliness or upkeep outside one’s home or business. Bathrooms and toilets in some Islamic cultural centers are poorly kept and are grossly unhygienic. The question begs to be asked, why do people whose religion makes cleanliness half of their faith not practice personal and communal hygiene?
As individuals and communities, we need to do better to reflect on our Islamic guidance on hygiene, vigorously.
Allah says in the Quran,
“Surely Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”
(Surah Al-Baqara, Verse 222)
Practicing personal and communal hygiene is a civic duty for parents who want a better and healthier world for our children. And there are three specific reasons to move forward to obtain a healthy society, a better quality of life, and the promotion of civic responsibility.
A Healthy Society
It is a proven fact that good personal hygiene practices help prevent infectious diseases and are a great tool for stopping devastating pandemics in their tracks. We often hear of the Norovirus outbreak on cruise ships and schools. Diarrhea, cholera, Ebola, hepatitis, and many other preventable infectious diseases are directly tied to personal and communal hygienic practices. With appropriate hygienic measures, often these outbreaks are controlled effectively thus saving the pain and misery of many of the vulnerable segments of the population such as children and the elderly.
As parents, we can advocate for the following measures that when implemented appropriately at our local Islamic centers, schools and other places of gatherings, can assure the prevention of infectious diseases at a personal and communal level.
- Hygiene education initiatives for public consumption and promotion of communal responsibility as a civic duty for children and adults alike, as part of daily life (before the spread of the infections)
- Assuring proper sanitation protocols for the community and a clean supply of water
- Proper hygienic and cleaning protocols at schools and places of worship
- Adequate staff and supplies with proper supervision for assuring clean places
- Participation in infectious disease prevention planning with local and national governments
- Adequate storage of PPE (personal protective equipment) in anticipation of an outbreak
Better Quality of Life
The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on the personal lives of many of the people. Families were separated and couldn’t gather for long periods of time. Patients died in hospitals without their loved ones surrounding them. People lost jobs, businesses shut down, and schools closed. Children lost their parents, grandparents, and sometimes entire families and support systems. We are still reeling from the devastating effects of the pandemic. However, it was baffling to see the reluctance of a few to take proper hygienic measures that could prevent the spread of infection and reduce the loss of life based on the notion that it affected their personal comfort.
We also heard many Muslims disregarded standard operating procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continued to hold large gatherings during some of the worst stages of the pandemic. Allah warns us in the Quran:
“And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”
(Surah Al-Ma'idah, 5:32)
With cleanliness as half of our faith, it does not take much to connect healthy hygiene with better communal health. In an authentic hadith, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“ Cleanliness is half of faith.”
(Sahih Muslim Book 2, Number 0432)
On the other hand, we clearly saw that nations that value the greater community good, recovered faster and resumed normal life with minimal damage to the livelihood of the people. South Korea is a good example. The country not only had strong crisis management planning and systems but also tremendous support from its people. The people considered it their civic duty to prevent loss of life and hardship to their neighbors. Their sacrifice paid off. Businesses opened, parents went to work, and children went to school.
Promotion of Civic Responsibility
Continuing with Japan’s example, after World War II, the country implemented policies and programs to effectively drop high infection rates, mainly due to a public education emphasis on personal and communal hygiene and policy formulation at the government level.
To have healthy and caring societies, the idea of communal hygiene has to be ingrained into the cultural practices and participation should be celebrated at every level. Citizens learn the lifelong important values of being environmentally responsible, show care to others in their local communities, and live a healthy and clean life. The practice of communal cleaning at schools starts at age 6/7 at Japanese schools. Their citizens continue to uphold their hygienic practices into their adult lives, and that is why Japan is considered the cleanest country in the world. I am sure it is a great source of pride for Japanese people. Cleanliness brings them close as a community and informs the world that they care for each other’s well-being.
Islam motivates us to build healthier communities by being personally responsible for the well-being of others around us. We can deduce this directly from the Sunnah (sayings and practices) of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
The Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever harms [others], Allah will harm him, and whoever causes hardship [to others] Allah will cause hardship to him.”
(Abu Dawood #3635)
A Muslim’s hereafter is now tied up with being considerate and caring for other Muslims.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, also said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him not harm his neighbor.”
(Sahih Bukhari #6110)
In this manner, a person is responsible to fulfill his/her civic duty with care toward the community as a way of maintaining faith.
In conclusion, we have learned that personal hygiene is not a preference of an individual but is a communal responsibility. A responsibility that needs to be inculcated from an early age into our children. Building a sense of community, caring for the well-being of others, and sacrificing personal comforts for the benefit of others are essential lessons to be taught for the welfare of society.
End Notes and Sources
Tayaabah Qazi has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, an AdminI/II Certification from the State of Maryland Education Department, and a Secondary Teaching Certification in Chemistry as well as a CPP certificate. She has served in the education field as a teacher and an administrator of schools. Recently, she served at Community College of Baltimore County as a Coordinator of Adult Basic Education program. Currently, Tayaabah is the Program Manager at the Office of Workforce Development at Maryland Department of Labor. She has been a long-time resident of Maryland for 17 years, with her family, but hails from Southern California. She is also a staunch believer of the 4 Cs: Compassion. Commitment. Conversation. Cultivation.