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Global bathers: A bath to cleanse the senses

Raised in Spain but born in Morocco, Lush brand manager, Loubna El Khadir tells us why she uses Hammams as a way to reconnect with her culture and community when she returns to her hometown of Tangier. More than a place to clean, Loubna discusses the elaborate religious rituals that take place in these public bathhouses.

I once read that water doesn’t simply cleanse us of dirt, it gives us life. To this day, this sentiment really resonates with me. Depending where you are in the world, something as natural as washing changes and there are many cultures where water is at the epicentre of society. 

I now live in Madrid, but was originally born in Tangier, Morocco, a country where more than 95% of the population is Muslim and follows Islam. Here, religion and culture merge through water and the rituals that accompany it. When I was little, I noticed that mosques and public restrooms (otherwise known as Hammams) were often located close to one another. As I grew up and started asking questions, I began to understand why. 

In the past, houses didn’t have a private bathroom and people would go to public baths to clean themselves and perform a ritual of purification before prayer. This sacred practice consists of cleansing the body and the senses both physically and spiritually, to arrive at prayer free from impurities. Praying without washing first is not accepted. 

There are two forms of ablution: Ghusl - a full-body ritual of purification and Wudhu - partial ablution that involves washing the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, arms, head, ears and finally feet with water. These are an important part of the purity ritual in Islam. Muslims pray five times a day and each time the same rigorous ritual must be performed. 

These bathhouses become more than a place to clean the body, they are a space where relationships are formed between the people who go there. Although there are many Hammams in Morocco focused on men, women are most attracted to the bathhouses and they are a common meeting point for women in the same neighbourhood. 

I like the Hammams because they equalise and democratise people. It’s a space where you take off your clothes, expensive or cheap, new or old, and simply give in to the ritual of deeply cleansing your body and soul. I’ve always been curious about this place where people can relate to one another regardless of social class, nationality and occupation. 

Every time I visit my city, Tangier, I visit a Hammam, because it reconnects me with my culture. Despite having a very different life now, being there naked and stripped of everything material connects me to the women in the bathhouse. I watch how they fill buckets with water, comb their hair and chat to one another regardless of their backgrounds and enjoy mimicking them, purifying myself.

When we as Europeans bathe or shower, we often just use soap, but for Moroccans this moment is sacred and takes time. It’s common to visit the Hammams weekly to deeply exfoliate the skin. You’ll find three rooms in a traditional Hammam:

The first is a warm room where you begin to acclimatise to higher temperatures and breathing deeply. The second is the hot room where thermometers rise and the pores of the body open for complete cleansing. This is also where massages are usually received. Finally, you’ll find the cold room, where you return to reality by pouring ice water over the body so that the pores close and the skin is left soft and smooth.

Traditionally the bachelorette parties of Moroccan women take place in these public baths. The bride, with her friends and family, come together to clean and prepare her for her wedding day. Recently I attended a Morroccan friend’s bachelorette party in a Hammam and it was simply magical. There was a unique atmosphere full of songs, laughter and tears. A unique moment to remember. 

In Europe people’s relationship with water is based on cleansing, refreshing or quenching thirst, but in Morocco, people’s relationship to water goes further, it not only hydrates the body but also purifies the soul. 

By Loubna El Khadir, Lush brand manager, Spain

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