A suggestion from Ghana


I received many emails and phone calls following the last article I wrote about regular maintenance and cleaning of mosque restrooms. Most senders and callers criticized the condition of the restrooms of mosques located on highways and agreed that it was difficult for women and children to use these unclean restrooms with lingering odors and garbage thrown everywhere.

The wife of the Ambassador of Ghana to the Kingdom sent me an email about unclean restrooms on the Riyadh-Makkah highway. She traveled on the highway with her husband and was shocked at the bad condition of the restrooms. She even suggested a solution to this problem, which I hope the officials in charge of mosques at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs take into consideration. She came up with this suggestion in order to contribute, in her own part, to solving this problem. Here is her suggestion:

“I am Hajia Ramatu Damba, wife of the Ambassador of Ghana to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This message is in response to your article concerning the maintenance of mosques in Saudi Arabia. I read the article and feel I should contact you for more details because it happened that I travelled from Riyadh to Makkah and I saw so much filth in some of the mosques that I prayed in. So I ask you to direct me to the appropriate authorities to see if I could arrange for them to get some workers from Ghana for the cleaning of the bathrooms and the mosques. Both male and female.”

In a nutshell, she suggests that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs bring Ghanaian cleaners, male and female, to the Kingdom for this purpose. It is better if the ministry recruits the workers directly without using the help of recruitment companies or brokers who only care about making profits through recruiting workers from certain Asian countries for very low salaries and based on unfair terms and conditions in order to maximize their profit from the deal. Hajia Ramatu Damba stressed in her email that Ghanaian workers do not mind working at mosques as cleaners, unlike some workers from certain countries who refuse to do such jobs and regard it as inferior.

However, some expatriate workers accept a job offer as restroom cleaners and even sign contracts with the recruiter, but when they arrive in the Kingdom they are shocked to discover that the salary is not commensurate with the one in the original contract. As a result, these workers tend to become negligent and do not perform their job in the way that they should because they are not satisfied and feel cheated.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, as I said in my last article, used to hire janitors for mosques just as today it hires imams and moazens “prayer callers”. It also used to give certificates of appreciation to the staff in charge of keeping a mosque clean. The certificates carried the signature of Haj and Endowments Minister Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdulwaseh. This was a long time ago when the ministries of Haj and Islamic Affairs were one government agency. In my last article, I said that the minister of labor used to sign such certificates but I was wrong; it was the minister of Haj and Islamic Affairs who did so. At the time, the mosque janitors used to compete with one another over who kept a mosque cleaner. If the ministry found any unclean mosque, it would hold the janitor accountable and sometimes deduct money from his salary. The imam and moazen would also be held responsible.

Today, a large number of imams do not lead prayers regularly and do not even monitor the performance of janitors and moazens. I pray at a mosque where the janitor is the one who leads prayer and calls prayer, in addition to his cleaning tasks. I believe the imam and moazen pay him for filling in for them.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com