Below is the script for my YouTube video on menstruation.
Hello, everyone! And assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu! Welcome to #WhatThePatriarchy where we are planning the destruction of the patriarchy from its roots. Thank you for joining me today.
This is Shehnaz, and today we’re gonna talk about menstruation, period. From the Sunni perspectives, though, because I haven’t looked too much into the Shi’i perspectives yet, but I do plan to record many more videos on menstruation in the future because this is an important and relevant topic and I love talking about it. I struggled a lot with figuring out how to address this topic. There are so many layers to this conversation – there’s so much wrong with the way that we talk about it and the way that we treat menstruants, or people who menstruate, most of whom are women. We could have a long
conversation on how the community, the Muslim community treats, or sacred spaces treat individual women when they are menstruating. But I finally decided that the starting point should be one where we talk about privilege. Privilege is when you don’t have to think about something or the impact of something because it doesn’t affect you. The way that I’m gonna do this is by highlighting the subjectiveness of the rules and the laws of menstruation that are created by people who never menstruated. They have/had the privilege to have this conversation authoritatively without thinking about the impact of the rules that they were coming up with. These rules were not gonna be affecting them in any way; these ruins were not gonna be affecting their spirituality, their relationship with Allah, their relationship with the mosque, or with other sacred spaces, or with the community and so on. So some sub themes of menstruation that we’re gonna cover today very briefly, not extensively – this is just an intro to these sub themes, really – include the following: I’m gonna make a case for the subjectiveness of the rulings on menstruation and highlight the privilege of those who created and developed these rules on menstruation by discussing five different points that challenge the patriarchal assumption that menstrual blood or postpartum blood is impure and that we are prohibited (not exempt – prohibited!) from praying while on our period.
What even is menstruation? What answer do people typically give when we ask why can’t we pray and fast while we’re on our period, whether because of menstruation or postpartum? spoiler alert – while people tell us typically that it’s because all blood coming out of our body is considered impure, that is not true. I’ll also talk about how these ideas of menstruation affect our spirituality and our relationship with Allah and with ourselves and our faith especially during Ramadan. And what about managing the blood? If we choose to for example, use a menstrual cup, can we pray while on our period then since the blood doesn’t leave our body right away? This calls for a new fiqh of menstruation, by the way, a feminist fiqh ideally but it certainly calls for a new, a revision of the existing rules of menstruation. Now, what about hajj? Can we perform hajj or umrah while we are menstruating? The patriarchal answer is that sure, yes, you can but the tawaf, or the circling around the Ka’ba seven times can only be performed when you are not menstruating, when you are considered to be in a state of purity. I want us to pause and think about what this means for those of us who menstruate.
But you have to know that there are fatwas from people, from male scholars both historically and in our current times today, people that you would consider very legitimate scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah, for example, that allow us to do the tawaf while we are menstruating without any condition. And finally, where did these rules on menstruation come from, these technical details? They are not from the Qur’an. The Qur’an doesn’t prohibit us from praying and fasting while we are on our period. And they’re also hardly from the hadith. The hadith certainly use a different language. Hadiths suggest something more like an exemption, so I see why people think that it’s an exemption to not be, to not have to pray when we’re on our period whereas the fiqh makes it a prohibition. But even if they are from the hadiths, I argue that the hadiths are not always the source of fiqh and scholars have historically had no problem and did not hesitate to ignore the hadith in favor of their own preferences, and their own personal opinions. So spoiler alert: the details on menstruation, of what is pure, what is not, etc., they’re non-Islamic, they’re extra-Islamic, and I insist even that they are un-Islamic coming from cultures and attitudes that were already in existence at the time that the fiqh was being developed. Recall our discussion from Leila Ahmed’s book in a previous episode that we did about how non-Islamic sources became a part of textual, written
Islam over the course of several centuries to the point where we can’t even tell anymore what is Islamic and what is not, what is originally Islamic, what is from the Qur’an, what is from the sunnah. But I want to begin by issuing two disclaimers first, I’m not suggesting at all and I have never claimed this and I will never claim this, that people who menstruate should be required to pray and fast while on their period. I completely understand and I value the fact that so many of us benefit from the from this lack of obligation from not having to pray and fast while on our period. Some of us go through so much pain during this time that adding yet another responsibility to our lives would be very stressful
My second disclaimer is related to privilege. You see, I’m gonna keep emphasizing the fact that the fiqh of menstruation was created by people and developed by people who never menstruated What I want to clarify is that in my opinion not menstruating doesn’t by default disqualify you from being a part of this conversation or for for having opinions on menstruation. For example, if you know how menstruation works and you’ve studied it enough to give an expert opinion then by all means please contribute to this conversation. But the problem that exists in the fqh of menstruation is this: it’s almost entirely the opinions and the assumptions of the people who never menstruated They were not scholars of menstruation; they were not experts on menstruation; they were scholars of Islam! In that case I think that the right thing to do would have been to defer the people who did menstruate so that they, these men, could understand what the actual impact of the rules that they were creating would be on the people who were going to have to follow these rules. So why can’t be fast and pray while on our period? The patriarchy tells us that it’s because all – actually most – bodily fluids invalidate certain religious obligatory acts like fasting and praying. These fluids include semen, any fluids released during an orgasm, urine, feces, and blood of any sort, which includes menstrual and postpartum blood. Generally, ritual impurity occurs during or after something like menstruation, sexual intercourse, ejaculation, and childbirth.
The problem with this answer? I don’t even know where to begin! I want to acknowledge two things here. First that the scholars historically were not concerned so much with the polluting nature of the blood but more so with the fear that the blood might drift from her, from the person who was menstruating, and soil or dirty the place that she was praying in, particularly the mosque. And because of this, they actually prohibited -no, some of them prohibited women or menstruating people from entering the mosque while they were menstruating. But others had a little more sense and decided that only people with a very very heavy menstruation were not to come to the mosque. Remember this point because I will return to it later. And second the scholars never claimed that the person who is menstruating is impure. Instead, they said that the person who is menstruating is in a state of impurity. These are two different things, being impure versus being in a state of impurity. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Muslim scholars who came up with all these rules like menstruation, about what is pure and impure, how they know what they know basically about menstruation and all these technical details of menstruation. example if they think that they can manage it. Sick people generally are still allowed to fast if they can manage it, if their life doesn’t depend on it. If anything, the qur’anic verse actually explicitly says that it’s best for us to fast voluntarily in excess even if we are sick or traveling and so on, not requiring it but also definitely not prohibiting. It’s possible though that people in the past thought that way, that menstruation was an illness, because we didn’t have so much knowledge about menstruation in the pas. We have a much more advanced knowledge today. Which brings me to mention some basic facts about menstruation. You see, menstruation happens when the lining of the uterus, the womb, sheds because the uterus is just really, really mad because an egg wasn’t fertilized. Or perhaps more
scientifically, a tissue that existed to support a possible pregnancy is released because again the egg wasn’t fertilized. The fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall but since no fertilization happens, the uterus breaks down the wall that it had built to receive this egg – becaus ethe uterus is funny like that. Menstruation lasts a different number of days for different people. It can be five days, which is the average; it can be less, it can be more, of course. It can be very painful. Just a side note, by the way, I think a lot about the fact that too many menstruating people, which happens to be mostly women, have to take so many pills every month that the bottle that you’re taking that drug from will warn can cause liver disease or some other kinds of problems. In other words it’s very unhealthy to be taking that many drugs that frequently throughout your lifetime.
This is related to patriarchy and if you think deep enough you can figure out what the problem here is. Changes are happening to the body during menstruation and they can be manifested in emotional and physical and psychological ways. Different menstruating people will respond differently to these changes. This response is dismissively called PMSing by the patriarchy. So back to our actual conversation. Again, what’s wrong with the idea that the reason we can’t pray while on our period is simply because the menstrual and postpartum blood is impure? a lot of problems. First according to too many sources, semen actually isn’t impure. It is a fluid from our body, from genitalia, but it is not considered impure. So don’t be telling me that there’s no patriarchy involved in this, that gender is not relevant to how we decide whether something is good or bad, or pure or impure. Which means that if you have semen on your clothes, you don’t have to scrub it off and you can still pray on it without cleaning, without washing it, for example, because it’s not impure. And I know that this isn’t an equivalent of menstrual blood but here’s my point: the scholars worried about the menstrual blood dripping from the woman and therefore making the place that she was praying in impure but semen in the same place isn’t an issue because semen is considered impure. And that’s the privilege that I’m talking about. I find it laughable the way that this is
presented in in the literature. It’s like, according to the opinions of the
scholars, semen is not impure. According to the opinion of people who produce sperm
semen or sperm is not impure. Second, not all blood is impure. Blood from a
wound is not considered to invalidate your prayer or wudhu or your state of
purity, okay. Did you know, for example, that there are reports about the
Khalifah ‘Umar and other male Sahaba literally praying while bleeding from a
wound and the scholars decided that the reason that that was okay was because –
and I kid you not – the bleeding wouldn’t stop and in that case when you’re
bleeding non-stop and it’s not in your control, it’s totally fine to pray on it!
And the reason that they thought that that was okay also was because they
considered that blood to be from an unusual place why on earth the vagina is not an unusual place to bleed from is beyond me again, subjective – who decided that the vagina is not an unusual place to bleed from but something like your nose is a totally unusual place to bleed from?! That makes no sense whatsoever. What does this tell us? These rules are totally subjective. The scholars had enough authority, they had legitimacy to declare menstrual blood totally pure on the obvious objective logic that this is something that is essential for humanity’s survival, it’s recurring, it’s not in anyone’s control, and oh my goodness, how on earth is that not an unusual place to bleed from? Oh and an interesting thing, by the way: on menstrual blood, the tradition tells us that menstrual blood is dark in color it’s thick in texture, and it’s unpleasant in odor. The smell, however, you should know depends on how you manage it so if you use a menstrual cup, which I highly recommend, then it has no smell whatsoever because the blood is never exposed to air until you take the cup out and you’re ready to throw it out
Third, these rules are so subjective that they said that you’re only not allowed to pray and fast until the seventh day of your period. This was some scholars’ opinion. If your period goes on for longer, then you are suddenly required obligated to do a ghusl and pray and fast as usual. And you would have to perform your wudhu for each prayer. What the heck changed?! It’s the same fluid! And why 7 days? Some people say that oh it’s seven days because if your period goes on for that long or for longer than seven days, it’s not real menstruation. Okay but they didn’t prohibit us from praying and fasting while on our period because of the period, because of the menstrual blood. They prohibited us from praying because it’s bodily fluids coming out of our “private areas” and yes yes the tradition does distinguish between the different kinds of vaginal blood
there’s istihada, for example, which male scholars ruled irregular blood compared to a haidh, which ismenstrual blood. So the idea is that there is regularmenstruation and then there’s irregular menstruation. When the menstruation goes for longer than a certain amount of days it’s not legitimate menstruation.
So yes, I recognize that the fiqh makes a distinction between different kinds of blood – vaginal blood – but it is that technicality that I’m interested in because it highlights the subjectiveness of all of this. So I’m questioning here why one sort of blood is treated one way why we are prohibited from praying when one kind of blood comes out of us and we’re obligated to pray again like normal when a different kind of blood comes out of us – from the exact same spot. But here’s an interesting thing, you guys: there’s a hadith in Bukhari narrated by Aisha where she says one of the wives of Allah’s messenger sallallahu alaihi wa sallam joined him in i’tikaf and she noticed blood and yellowish discharge from her vagina and put a dish under her when she prayed. Notice that she doesn’t renew her wudhu in order to continue this this worship, i’tikaf. Think on your own what this might mean and how this challenges so much of what we know about menstruation and prayer.
Fourth, note here though that not all things coming out of your body invalidate your ghusl or your wudhu. vomit for example doesn’t, or according to some scholars it doesn’t – but that’s the point it’s debatable, it’s subjective, no logical reason exists for this just like no logical reason exists for the assumption that menstrual blood is impure.
I will say though that the vomit one is interesting because some hadiths tell us that the prophet sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam didn’t renew his ablution after vomiting in some hadith but then other hadiths tell us that he did. The inconsistency’s always interesting to look at. Fifth – and this is my personal favorite, okay – the fiqh says that when we are uon our period we cannot, we are not allowed to perform the tawaf during Hajj this comes from a hadith report by Aisha in which the prophet sallallaahu alaihi wa salaam tells her when she’s upset that her period has come while they were doing Hajj that she should do everything except the tawaf. And you should know that the language of the hadith on this matter is one of exemption, not of prohibition. The hadith and the fiqh tell us that we are to stay in Makkah while on our period and postpone our tawaf for when we have done our ghusl and have achieved a state of purification and the bleeding has ended basically.
Now if you think about this in the context of people living in Makkah or near Makkah or close by city, right, this makes perfect sense especially in the seventh century when, you know, rules of where you can stay for how long etc weren’t complicated the way that they are today. But today going for a hajj or umrah is a complicated and political matter we have borders ,visas are required for our stay there, and so on. It’s so serious apparently though that at least some historical opinions insist that it’s a sin to perform the tawaf while menstruating. Other opinions are that if you have a limited time then you can go ahead and do tawaf but you must make some serious sacrifice like sacrifice a goat or a sheep or a camel ideally or something like that because, you know, you have a lot of money and why wouldn’t you? But to be fair, this sacrifice this expiation is not considered mandatory by all the scholars. It’s seriously disturbing, tho, that these people who are making these rules for us don’t want to acknowledge what this means for women. So fortunately we do have scholars both in the past and in today’s time that allow us to perform the Hajj and Umrah or the Umrah while we’re on our period including the tawaf without any restriction or prohibitions or conditions like oh you must sacrifice a cow in expiation. The logic that these scholars use is precisely that we can’t just go for Umrah or the Hajj whenever we feel like it. There are rules and restrictions and we can’t just decide to postpone our trip for whatever and however long we want. Also the Hajj or the umrah both literally are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and – if even that, for most of us! So among the scholars who do allow women to perform the tawaf while on their period is someone that I think most of us would least expect – Ibn Taymiyyah, the 13th century scholar who is known to be very extremely conservative and considered by some to be the father of Wahhabism. The point here is that we are allowed to perform the tawaf while on our period. So what does this all tell us? Do you realize how much power these people have? These people who have never menstruated who have never bled from the vagina get to decide when our period is legit and when it’s not, when it’s acceptable for a ritual or when it’s not.
And a sidenote here – and this is really important – I don’t know how much research they did on menstruation, how many women’s period they studied to know this to know exactly how the menstruation works or how the blood looks and all of that – but I have my guesses. The more important note here is that these exact same humans could also therefore issue a fatwa saying that at least during Ramadan, right, which is a month that comes only once a year it’s the most blessed and maybe your last one, your menstruation does not invalidate your prayer or your fast, and you may, if you choose to and if you can afford to do so health-wise and so on, pray and fast while you’re on your period, that you are simply exempt but not prohibited from fasting and praying while you’re on your period. Just like they decided that our tawaf during Hajj is completely valid while we’re menstruating. It’s that easy, it’s that simple. And that’s also why it’s all about power. But we also have to ask here, okay, let’s assume that the menstrual blood is indeed impure that it can invalidate our fast and prayer and such, what if we manage it in a way where the blood actually stays inside of us and doesn’t come out except a couple times a day like if we use a tampon or a menstrual cup which again I highly, highly recommend – menstrual cups in my opinion are the best invention ever. Bcause you see when you use a tampon or a menstrual cup you insert it inside of your vagina and in the case of the cup it collects the blood and can stay inside of you for a good eight hours or so. The same thing with a tampon except instead of collecting the blood, it’s absorbing the blood. What this means is that the blood in this case is staying inside of you the way that any bodily fluid does, right, urine, for example, which is completely fine as long as it’s inside of you but it becomes impure only once it’s out of you. All of these impure bodily fluids become impure only after they leave your body.
So the question that this raises is can we pray if we’re using a menstrual cup while on our period because the blood isn’t leaving our body except a couple times every few hours when we’re throwing the blood away? Then again, of course, menstruation was managed very differently in the past, during the time that the fiqh on all of this was being written than it is today. And what that tells us is that we definitely need to rethink our ideas on menstruation and all of these rules on menstruation.
Oh and I almost forgot. Seaking of tampons, there literally are male scholars out there who say that tampons are prohibited because tampons are akin to masturbation and cause pleasure. Although the fact that they think pleasure is haram makes me so sad for their wives. And this, beloved viewers, is another reason why you shouldn’t listen to people who have never menstruated but are writing about it and telling you things about it authoritatively. I want to acknowledge here that not everyone has safe and healthy ways of managing their period. I don’t want to exclude them from this conversation. This tampon and menstrual cup invention is only one layer of this discussion and just one reason why the historical rulings on it, on menstruation, are flawed and don’t inherently make sense. I want to return here now to this idea that it’s an exemption that we’re exempt from praying and fasting during our period rather
than prohibited. Why do people think that it’s an exemption? Because the language of prohibition is extremely dehumanizing and objectifying and nobody wants to feel like God hates us and thinks of us as pollutants when we go through something that is so natural and necessary and which the hadiths recognize as something totally real and not in our control. The exemption language doesn’t make sense because there are a huge set of other restrictions on us besides just not being allowed to pray and fast. Some people even believe we’re not even allowed to read the Quran, touch the Quran, or even hear a recitation of the Quran. Aand of course this happened to sometimes be the same people who, you know, insist that we can still do dhikr if we want to continue worship while on our period. This despite the fact, by the way, that there’s a hadith in which Aisha says that the prophet sallahu alaihi wa sallam used to lie in her lap and recite the Quran while she was on her period which means that a menstruating person is listening to the recitation of the Quran while she was on her period. And then there are Muslims who believe that we’re not even allowed to go to the mosque while on our period that not only can we ourselves not pray but that if we knowingly pray in a congregation while on our period, then we invalidate the prayer of everyone in that congregation. What a burden to carry! How on earth is this an exemption and not a prohibition?! This language is terrible and it’s objectifying and dehumanizing.
Look, if it was simply an exemption, then no one would be horrified to learn that some of us do choose to fast and pray while on her period. But you tell someone this and the reaction is one of
disgust and horror and shock, like how dare you approach Allah while you’re bleeding? And, of course, recall that famous very famous but controversial and absolutely false hadith that there are more women in hell because we are spiritually inferior to men or spiritually deficient and intellectually deficient – naaqasat ‘aql wa deen, the saying goes – because we do not fast and pray while menstruating. It’s so circular it makes no sense. It goes like this: you’re not allowed to pray and fast while on your period. Because you don’t fast and pray on your period which we prohibit you from doing in the first place you miss out on so much and that makes you spiritually weaker than men, than people who don’t have those restrictions. But to be fair, the scholars did acknowledge that this made no sense and they didn’t hold women accountable for the prohibition. So I mentioned earlier that the scholars did have and do have the capacity, the scholarly capacity, the divine legitimacy to issue a fatwa allowing people who menstruate to fast during Ramadan if they can handle it so that they don’t have to make it up and they don’t have to miss out on this on this blessed opportunity. Listen getting your period in Ramadhan is especially hard, and in the last 10 days? It’s the worst. You’re missing out on so much because there’s still stigma and there’s all these prohibitions and restrictions about what you can and can’t do, how you can and can’t worship the policing of our worship is so tragic
when you’re on your period. Plus imagine what it’s like – and for some
of us we don’t have to imagine; we experience this – having your worship in the most sacred of all months interrupted by your period, a month where every single good act and obligatory act that you fulfill is multiplied by thousands. Yes, sure, we can perform dhikr and do other forms of worship non-obligatory forms of worship, but that’s not the point. And some male scholars, by the way, are familiar with this struggle experienced by menstruants because there are literally fatwas online that allow us to take medications and hormones to delay our period so that we don’t miss out on the wonderful opportunities that Ramadan blesses us with! Now let’s talk a little bit about making up these fasts sure prayers that we miss during our period don’t have to be made up but the fasts. We have to ask, will we get the same reward for making up the fasts that we miss because of our period that we would receive if we fasted in Ramadan? So, for example, when you’re fasting in Ramadan, you’re not just fasting; you’re doing a bunch of other wonderful things, you’re maybe giving charity, you’re reading the Qur’an more frequently, and so on. So all these other good acts and deeds that we perform while making up the fast that we would do when we’re fasting in Ramadan, would we get the same blessings for them?
Would we get the same rewards? Are they multiplied by thousands in the same way that they are in Ramadan? Whatever the answer is, we have to ask – how do we know
that? You have to understand, it’s coming
from human imagination and human desire
so why aren’t we asking who even created
these rules, these technical details of
the rules of menstruation, what the sources of these rules even are because
they’re not on the Quran like I keep saying and these specific rules, the technicalities they’re not in hadith either and when they are, there are
multiple and contradictory and inconsistent versions, which complicate all of these rules or any one majority position. But fortunately the language of the fiqh rulings on the topic doesn’t resemble the language of the hadith on the same topic. But let’s say that the Prophet himself did say we are prohibited, right – not exempt, prohibited – from this, I want us to understand something. The hadiths actually are not always a source of fiqh. There are too many instances when the hadith are literally ignored by the fuqaha’ for their own personal opinions and preferences instead. Examples? Check out the laws on female-initiated divorce in fiqh verses in the hadith. The hadith tell us one thing and the fiqh gives us a completely different picture. For female-led prayer, the same thing happens. The hadiths indicate one thing, but the men of fiqh go, oh yeah well I know there’s a hadith in which a woman led at least other women in prayer but I don’t like that women lead prayers at all, even women, and therefore I’m gonna prohibit it. We’ll talk about female led prayer in a different episode. That’s not my point. My point is that the scholars didn’t always stick to the hadith to make their points, which means that the fuqaha’ always had and still have the authority, the legitimacy, the power to offer rulings that don’t align with what the hadith say. We need to be asking why they don’t take more advantage of that power for the good. And I want to end here with the earlier question about again where these men came up with these rulings from. There is an answer to this
They’re definitely not from the Qur’an, and they’re not even coming from the hadith in most cases. So the sources of the fiqh of menstruation are not Islamic They’re coming from somewhere else – they’re Jewish, they’re Zoroastrian, they’re Christian, they’re Greek, and they are other religious and cultural laws at the time that the fiqh was being written and developed, which took centuries, right?
We talked about that in a previous episode. So did you know, for example, that in Zoroastrian and Christian laws, women are considered impure for 40 days after childbirth? And it’s a thing that many Muslims still believe ,by the way. You can read more about the background of these laws and ideas and attitudes towards menstruating people or menstruation generally in a book by Marion Katz called Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunni Law of Ritual Purity. I’ll do a separate episode on this book alone another time. And of course recall our discussion from Leila Ahmed’s book about how non-Islamic sources became a part of textual Islam over the course of several centuries to the point where we can’t tell anymore what is Islamic and what is not, what’s authentic, what’s not, what’s cultural, what’s, you know what’s not, and so on. All right, I’m gonna stop here for now, but I will come back to this topic again soon.
This is not over. Thanks for watching!
I haven’t read the whole article yet, but just wanted to mention Dr Mindy Pelz, who is an advocate and someone knowledgeable about intermittent fasting and fasting in general, from a non-religious perspective. She states that women should fast different then men, because of hormonal changes and has done a lot of research with her team on the subject. It might be worth your while to look into that perspective as well. I was always very irritated by the prohibition to fast in islam for women, but her explanation made sense for the first time to me. I’m past menopause , so for me it isn’t an issue anymore, but even for post menopausal women Dr Mindy Pelz advocates a different way of fasting then for men.
Thanks for your comment – but I’m not challenging the claim that women shouldn’t fast when on their period. Watch the video or read the text to understand better.