Asalaamu alaykum, sister,
Thank you for sending us this very important, and common, question.
You are not alone in wondering if something being told to you is based on Islam or cultural practices.
Many converts face this issue, and we want to encourage you to keep asking the right questions.
It’s a real tragedy when something which is purely cultural is mistaken for authentic, pure Islam, which is based on the Qur’an, and the Sunnah, or living example of our Prophet Muhammad.
All else falls into a category that is gray. Some things from our culture are totally fine, and should continue! But some things do, indeed, need to change.
Where Does This Idea Come From?
Before anything else, I’d like to point out a very key fact: like most men in his time and culture, Prophet Muhammad did not know how to read or write, and thus would not have said anything regarding proper etiquette in writing.
This idea that just because a few things were mentioned by him regarding the right or left hand does not mean that it applies in all scenarios.
Personal Hygiene and Health
The root of this issue is found in the very real admonitions Prophet Muhammad gave regarding the importance of health.
We can’t forget that during Prophet Muhammad’s time, basic understandings of bacteria and infection were just not known yet.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the norm, as far as using the bathroom and personal hygiene, involved going out into the desert, doing your business, and cleaning yourself with at least 3 stones, and some water.
You can imagine it was a messy business.
In order to ensure that one does not accidentally ingest dangerous bacteria while in the course of eating, it is just common sense to eat with a different hand than the one you clean yourself with after using the bathroom.
For that reason alone, it’s not surprising that Prophet Muhammad advised his followers to eat with their right hands and clean themselves with their left hands:
Mention Allah’s Name (i.e., say Bismillah before starting eating), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is near you. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
When any one of you wipes himself, he should not use his right hand. (Al-Bukhari)
The Day Of Judgment and Giving of Book of Deeds
There is an authentic narration that those whose Book of Deeds (or recording of their life choices) will be given to them in their left hand if the contents of that book sends them to Hell.
And as for those given their record in their left hand, they will cry ˹bitterly˺, “I wish I had not been given my record, nor known anything of my reckoning! I wish death was the end! My wealth has not benefited me! My authority has been stripped from me.” ˹It will be said,˺ “Seize and shackle them, then burn them in Hell, then tie them up with chains seventy arms long. For they never had faith in Allah, the Greatest… (Quran 69:25-37)
Now that is certainly terrifying, but are we sure that “left hand” is the key point here, and not the fact that those people have earned Hellfire by their bad deeds??
Wear Your Right Shoe First, and others
Another example of Prophet Muhammad’s emphasis on the right vs. the left can be found in his admonition to make sure you put your right shoe on first:
If you want to put in your shoes, put in the right shoe first; and if you want to take them off, take the left one off first. let the right shoe be the first to be put on and the last to be taken off. (Bukhari)
Likewise, Aisha, one of Prophet Muhammad’s wives, reported:
The Messenger of Allah loved to start from the right hand side in his every act; in wearing shoes, in combing (hair), and in performing ablution. (Muslim)
Prophet Muhammad also advised us to enter a room with our right foot and leave it with our left first, unless it’s the bathroom, wherein the order is the reverse.
But, I’d like to point out that all these examples are related to habit, or something one can change, in order to mimic the actions of Prophet Muhammad.
Being left- or right-handed is not, contrary to some advice given elsewhere, a matter of habit, but a matter of brain physiology.
Being Left-Handed is Biological
It happens that approximately 85% of people are right-handed. This isn’t surprising, considering that we evolved to use language and reason, both aspects of the left side of our brain.
What happens in the right side of the body is controlled in the left side of the brain.
Because the left hemisphere also controls the movements of the right hand–and notably the movements needed to produce written language–millennia of evolutionary development resulted in a population of humans that is biased genetically toward individuals with left hemisphere speech/language and right-hand preference.
Another theory says that our handed-ness is determined by a complex genetic inheritance.
Either way, this is something which is largely out of our hands, pun intended.
Can someone write with their right hand when they were born with a genetic disposition to write with their left hand? Absolutely.
And some people are ambidextrous, or able to write and do other such things with both hands. But these people make up perhaps 1% of the population, at best.
But should we? That is not something which seems to be backed up by any hadith or Quran verse.
There is no clear statement from Prophet Muhammad that one should avoid using their left hand for anything other than eating.
He only emphasizes wearing things which have pairs, like shoes and pants, be done with the right side first.