On facebook, a friend posted this photo, which explains the right way for a devout Muslim to trim their nails.
Toe nails are easy. You start with the smallest one on the right foot, then work your way in an arc towards the smallest one on your left foot.
Fingernails are a little more complicated. For some reason, you do four fingers of the right hand in one arc, then four fingers of the left hand (but starting with a different finger), and then finally the thumbs (see photo above for better understanding; the fingers have been helpfully numbered in the right sequence).
As if this elaborate sequencing isn't enough, there's also a recommended frequency of nail paring (not more than 40 days between trimmings), a recommended disposal method (burial) and several other injunctions (for example, you can't wear nail polish, but you can put henna on nails and make them orange).
I then looked up a Jewish resource site, to find out what they had to say about nails. As it turned out, the Jewish way is equally specific. There are rules for the frequency with which nails should be cut (every week, or once in two weeks). There are days on which nails should not be cut (Thursdays). There's a recommended sequence (adjacent fingernails can't be trimmed one after another). There's also another rule that says you can't clip fingernails and toenails on the same day.
Both religions say that it is important to dispose of or destroy nail clippings. I think it stems from this old underlying belief that nails have "power" of some sort, and if you leave them lying around, someone can cast a a spell on you or do you harm.
I then looked up Hinduism and Christianity on the subject of nails. In Hinduism, I found that there isn't much other than an injunction not to cut nails after dark (I found lots of complicated rules about haircuts and tonsuring, and a total obsession with bathing!). Christianity doesn't seem to have anything much to say on the subject of nail cutting at all (or bathing, or haircuts or any other form of personal hygiene). Or maybe I just didn't look hard enough.
The more I read, the more I wanted to smile, especially when I laid all the "rules" side by side. They were all written in earnest religious tones; and each writer seemed convinced that they had got it right.
Actually, some of this stuff may have been right at the time it was written - for example, not cutting nails after dark was probably sensible in the pre-electricity era. Not leaving nails lying around is definitely sensible, no matter what era you are in.
But not all the rules make sense today. By and large, I find that the elaborateness of religious ritual borders on the absurd.
I have never had much patience with it; primarily because I grew up without any customary daily prayers or weekly fasts or what have you. I agree that rituals do have their uses. Having set patterns for things can aid in calming the mind. But hello? the "right" sequence for paring toenails? What were they thinking? :) :)