The Tale of the Barber and the Istin’jaa Bottle, by Shaykh Luqman Ahmad

One of the many morals of this story is to never deem any sunna of the prophet (SAWS) as insignificant. Another moral to this story is the confirmation of the verse, “and We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds”.[2]


This is a true story, that happened just a few days ago, and it is one that reminded me of how important and valuable the Sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) is. It also reminded me of the universality of Muslim brotherhood and how laa ilaaha illa Allah turns complete strangers into acknowledged brothers in faith, even in the smallest of matters. This incident reminded me of the hadith of Abu Tharr, when he reported the Prophet (SAWS) as saying; (Do not belittle any form of righteousness)[1]. It was Easter Sunday, around 4:25 in the afternoon on a very lazy and low traffic Sacramento weekend. I normally take my son to the barbershop on Saturdays and we have our own regular barber that we have been using for some time. Most barbershops are closed on Sundays but in area of the city that I live, there is a spate of barbershops, mostly owned by Asians, which usually remain open on Sundays.
My son really needed a haircut because I had neglected to get him to the barber the weekend before, so he was quite overdue. We had a late start so I didn’t expect that our usual barber would be open. Still, I headed out with my 10 year old son in tow, to see if he could get treated for a tonsorial. When we arrived at our usual barber, the sign said open but we didn’t see any cars in the parking lot, so my son got out of the car and checked the gate and it was locked. We saw a light inside but it was clear that they were closed for the day and we didn’t see anyone inside. At that point, it was already about five o’clock and the salat time for Asr was closing in on me so I figured that I would have to wait another day before he could get a fresh cut and off we drove.
As I was cruising down El Camino Avenue, trying to observe the speed limit although I was running a little late. As I was driving, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a small, non descript barbershop situated in the middle of the block. I quickly made a u-turn and pulled up right in front of the place and told my son to get out and check the door. He did, and the door was open although my son turned to me and said that there was no one inside. I told my son to go in while I park the car, and I’ll be in right behind him; I figured that if the door was open, a barber had to be somewhere close by. I parked my car and within a minute, I was inside the shop. When I opened the door, my son had already picked out his cut style and was in the chair being prepped. I spoke to the barber briefly to give my okay and then excused myself and stepped back outside to make a phone call, which lasted a minute or so.
I stepped back into the barbershop and asked the barber who was in full cutting mode by that time, could I use the bathroom. He motioned me to go to the back. The barber who I assumed was Buddhist because there was a sizeable Buddhist community in the area, was an older, Asian gentleman, who moved slowly, spoke with a very heavy accent, and had a peaceful air about him.
I went into the bathroom and while I was there, noticed what looked like a western style istin’jaa bottle. In America and in other countries, people convert open mouthed, spouted containers that are normally used for watering house plants, into convenient istin’jaa bottles, that you regularly find in the bathrooms of Muslim homes. Properly cleaning one’s self after going to the bathroom is an important part of purification and Islamic hygiene; no self respecting practicing Muslim goes without having some apparatus for using water while cleaning one’s self.
Nevertheless, when I saw the bottle in the bathroom, my first impression was that it was perhaps a flower pot, that happened to look like an istin’jaa bottle, and not the other way around, but then I started thinking; why would it be in the bathroom? Granted, none of this was my business, but using an istin’jaa apparatus after one relieves himself, is a Sunna of the Prophet (SAWS). Anything that I notice that has a root or a basis in the practice of the Prophet (SAWS) that I am aware of, usually gets my attention, even if it is just a cursory mental glance. After washing my hands and leaving the bathroom, my curiousity got the best of me. Now normally I would have used the time my son was in the chair to read, text, answer email or somehow interact with my smart phone, in order to pass the time. However, this time was different; my mind was still on the istin’jaa/ flower bottle; why was it there, what was it for? So immediately after I sat down I popped the question to the barber, who was making headway on my son’s hair cut. Excuse me sir, I said, are you a Muslim? He replied in the affirmative, after which I immediately offered him salaams and he quickly responded with a smile. The salaams led to an automatic back and forth utterence of traditional Muslim greetings and responses that are exchanged upon meeting; kaifa haaluk, al-humdu lillah, ma sha Allah, sub’haana Alllah! Allahu Akbar and it went on for a few minutes. When Muslims come together, the first thing we are supposed to do is to make du’aa for each other by exchanging salaams.
We both were clearly overjoyed at the seemingly by chance meeting of two Muslims on a slow, Easter Sunday afternoon, over a boy’s haircut. Except that as Muslims we believe that nothing happens by chance; things happen by decree (qadr), and with Allah’s permission. The brother’s name was Abdul-Aziz, he’s originally from Malaysia, and he’s quite a barber too; hooked my son up! And to think, this all happened due to a Sunna of the Prophet (SAWS), a simple good deed, of using in’tinjaa! One of the many morals of this story is to never deem any sunna of the prophet (SAWS) as insignificant. Another moral to this story is the confirmation of the verse, “and We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds”.[2]

Imam Luqman Ahmad


[1] Collected in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad

[2] Quran 21:107

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