A few weeks ago I was standing at the men's bathroom sink in my office building. The bathroom was empty when I came in and after a few minutes the door opened and I heard a sudden gasp.
A middle-aged woman had accidentally walked into the men's room and not only had to deal with the embarrassment of being there, but also the awkwardness of find me with my foot in the sink. I tried to explain what I was doing, but before I could, she quickly stammered an apology and ran out.
So why was my foot in the sink? Each adult Muslim man and woman is required to pray five times a day and a prerequisite to our prayer is being in a state of ritual purity. This is attained by washing one's hands, rinsing out one's mouth and nose, washing one's face and arms up to the elbows, wiping over one's hair and the nape of one's neck, and finally, washing one's feet up until the ankle. This process is called wudu in Arabic.
It's not necessary for one to perform wudu before each prayer, but only in those instances where the state of ritual purity has been broken. Things that break it include falling asleep while lying down or leaning against something, urinating, defecating or passing gas, excessive blood flowing from any part of the body, vomiting more than a mouthful, or fainting.
The Arabic word for our five daily prayers is salah. Each salah has a window of time in which it can be prayed (performed), but it must be prayed within that specific time frame and takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish. (More)