Wudu: In Islam, the ritual washing of the face, hands, and other body parts in preparation for prayers. Wudu comes from Arabic al-wuḍūʼ; the closest English equivalent is ablution, although the latter word can also be used in non-religious contexts.
Wudu showed up in the news last week in obituaries for the Polish chemist and entrepreneur Wojciech Inglot, who died February 23 in Przemysl, Poland. He was 57.
Inglot had founded Inglot Cosmetics in 1983; in 2009, the company introduced O2M, a nail polish said to promote nail health by allowing oxygen (O2) and moisture (M) to pass through it. The polish – made from “a polymer similar to that in the newest generation of contact lenses,” according to a story in USA Today – sold poorly because of its high retail cost ($14 a bottle).
Then last fall, a Muslim cleric and academic in Southern California who was working on a book about purification and prayer learned that some Muslim women were trying to determine whether O2M’s porous properties might make it acceptable for wearing during prayer. Muslim women who wear nail polish often remove it as part of a ritual, called wudu, that involves washing with water before daily prayers.
After the cleric published an article saying O2M was “good news” for devout Muslim women, “a craze” built up around the brand, USA Today reported:
Though the Muslim holy book, the Quran, does not specifically address the issue of nail polish, some Islamic scholars have said that water must touch the surface of the nail for the washing ritual to be done correctly.
Some Muslim women might put nail polish on after finishing the last prayer of the day before going out, and then take it off again before dawn prayers. They can also wear it during their periods, when they are excused from the prayers, but some find it embarrassing to do so because it could signal they are menstruating. Some simply don’t want to take the trouble of getting a manicure that won't last long.
The late success of O2M caught Inglot by surprise, USA Today reported:
“I don't think there is a single Muslim living here,” Inglot said in an interview with The Associated Press nine days before his death at his factory in Przemysl, near the border with Ukraine. “We didn't even think about this.”
When I read the obituaries, I was struck by the similarity between Inglot’s surname and the French word for nail, ongle. A coincidence, to be sure, but an apt one.