Menstruation, Ramadhan, and Patriarchal Ideas about Piety, God, and Purity

Ramadhan mubarak, everyone! I hope everyone’s been having a beautiful month of spiritual rejuvenation and reflection, connecting with their Creator (for any and all to whom this may apply), and I hope we’re all making the best of these last ten days as we approach the end. May we all continue to be blessed with another and another and many, many more Ramadhans, aameen.

The following post’s purpose is to remind ourselves about how destructive patriarchy is to a woman’s spiritual health – and to her very existence! It is about menstruation, about being a Muslim woman, and about our male-centric notions of piety and religiosity that hinder (Muslim) women from fully embracing our religion; it’s about how disconnected we feel from God, from our religion, even from the community when we menstruate — entirely because of misogynistic (not just male-centric or patriarchal) views about women, (im)purity, piety, and God.

11052510_10153027754478941_1793920799096887428_n

#deathtoPatriarchy

You see, we’re in the last ten days of the holiest month of Islam, and, as some women lament the fact that nature had to call necessarily in these last ten days & their period had to prevent them from enjoying all possible spiritual benefits now instead of coming just a few days earlier, the following is a good reminder. The pain of my female friends as they seem to experience religious deficiency, a sudden mournful disconnect from their Creator just because they’re bleeding, something without which humanity would actually stop existing (‪#‎deathtopatriarchy‬ for its inconsistent attitude towards motherhood!) … Girls, stop it! Don’t give in to these ideas that make you feel like you can’t access God just because you’re menstruating! It’s not God but patriarchy that says you stop worshiping your Creator when you bleed; allow yourself to be deprived of enjoying these last fruitful days of Ramadhan. Own your period! Own your menstruation! Own your blood, and own your body! (P.S. My heart goes out to any and all who pain during this time – God be your source of comfort! And, like me, feel free to curse any and all things to make yourself feel better – whaaaat! It helps! That frequent wave of a milli-second pain that runs around the area of our baby-maker, yeah, it’s intolerable. If cursing helps you, curse; if screaming helps you, scream; if chilling and staying calm helps you, chill and stay calm. … Okay, this isn’t really a part of my point, but just wanted to say #ifeelyougirls.)

Needless to say, I’m not demanding that we start requiring menstruating women to fast and pray and all. My contentions are simple: 1) It’s not that we don’t pray while on our period; it’s that we’re not permitted to–it’s that we’re forbidden from performing these rituals that are essential to the spiritual health among some of us; 2) Our attitudes, as individuals and as community, toward menstruation, women, and especially menstruating women are unhealthy and misogynistic, and they need to be challenged. Those among us who choose not to partake in prayer while menstruating are welcome to not do so; but those among us who choose to partake in prayer should be able to do so without the unwelcoming attitude of our community.

So. My friend Saadia — may God reward her generously for sharing her knowledge and wisdom with us — just shared a powerful FB post yesterday about how male-centric our ideas on worship are, and I’d like to share parts of it here and will redirect readers to her blog on the rest. She said:

i love all this advice going around for what women can do during Ramzan when they are menstruating to feel a sense of Ramzan spirit and spirituality, all this advice that refuses to *hear* what women are *saying* about how they feel. What use is your advice and your solutions if you can’t actually hear the problem?? The problem of course is that … there is no solution to this problem unless we challenge the male-centric notion of worship, but then again, that would be too much to ask.

Someone asked her what she means by a gendered/male-centric notion of worship, and she offered this beautiful explanation; I’ll share it below. She touches on the reductive response of “but you are not obligated to pray/worship during your menstruation!” and “but God rewards you for your pain!” Damnit, people! That’s not the point!

That we can’t enter the mosque (some say), that we can’t pray if we wanted, that we can’t fast if we wanted, that we can’t even recite the Qur’an (some say), that we can’t touch the Qur’an — even if I’m “excused,” so what? The point isn’t whether I’m still obligated to do all this or that I’m exempt from it all. God, we’ve become so obsessed with doing things because they’re obligations that we miss what I believe is the real point of fasting, praying, reading the Qur’an (I recognize that that “real” point may differ from Muslim to Muslim, and that all is great). So what that I’m rewarded during menstruation? So what that I am not obligated to participate in worship the way non-menstruating individual is? There’s something special and beautiful about being able to participate, being able to communicate with God, being able to pray and read the Qur’an and touch the Qur’an and fast – and when you take that away from me not because you care about me and want me to focus on taking care of myself because of how much in pain I might be while menstruating but actually because you’ve forbidden me from partaking in these rituals, because I invalidate your prayer/etc. if I joined you in prayer as you pray with everyone else, you take away from me that intimate connection I’m striving to build with my Creator. Building that connection with the Creator is a long process for many among us, and when we have to take “breaks” in between, that doesn’t help.

And, yet, few people believe us when we say that religion is centered on the male-experience. When we bring our own experiences into the conversation, we’re often told, “Stop being so emotional.” Seriously? The misogyny of this idea aside (as though something’s wrong with being emotional, as though men are not emotional creatures), exactly how does one attain spirituality with no emotion? Isn’t spirituality connected to the heart? What are emotions typically associated with? Funny and ironic how so many laws in Islam are built around men’s emotions and desires, but suddenly to women, when we point out some serious flaws and the patriarchy of those laws, the response is: “Law doesn’t take emotions into consideration.” Please.

The point is that the deeply patriarchal tradition decides what is pure and what’s not, what is religious and what’s not, what is the correct way and time to pray/fast/etc., what breaks a wudhu and what doesn’t, etc. so that when I do not fit into those ideas due entirely to things not in my hand, it is no longer just not-obligatory upon me to do these things but it actually becomes forbidden! I’m actually invalidating the prayers and rituals of other people around me who are still obligated to perform those things. If this isn’t a complete disgust and disrespect of women, I don’t know what is.

We’re told that we can’t pray, fast, etc. while on period because blood breaks the wudhu. But what we’re not told is that the blood we bleed during menstruation is actually unlike ordinary/normal/other blood. The composition, the texture, the causes, etc. are not the same for the menstrual blood. So when we tell women that their wudhu constantly breaks because they’re bleeding and “blood” (like other fluids from our bodies) breaks your wudhu, we forget that menstrual blood is a whole different story. I insist that if the ulama included women among them — or if men menstruated — the discourse surrounding purity, menstruation, etc. would be completely different (not just in Islam but in all other religions as well). Gloria Steinem has a wonderful piece on how different our attitude towards menstruation would be if men menstruated; check it out here, and try not to cry over how true it is. And try to imagine what I felt when I first found out that Viagra is covered by insurance… and the price of all things period-related (or contraception)? #dontask.

Let’s also remember that the law has it that if we menstruate for longer than, what is it, 7 days? we are no longer exempt from prayer/fasting/etc. It’s interesting that that exception to the rule exists …whatever happened to constant broken wudhu then, no? (I understand the law often makes exceptions so this is nothing new, but I’m pointing at the claim that somehow, the blood no longer nullifies our prayer/fast/etc. after a certain amount of days that men agreed upon. Don’t again get me started on how different things would be, how different religious rulings and attitudes towards anything women-related would be if women were a part of conversations and discussions when Islamic law was being established. It’s all right, I suppose; it’s not like Islam or Islamic laws are frozen in time or anything… Oh, wait…)

This is what Saadia has to say on her blog about the meaning of a male-centric idea of worship, religiosity, piety, etc.:

Let me offer an example: Ramzan/Ramadan is around the corner and I’ve already begun to hear the voices of women expressing their frustrations about not being able to make it to Tarawih, not being able to take much time to concentrate on their spiritual development and nourishment during this blessed month due to their responsibilities as mothers, not being able to pray, fast, or recite Quran due to menstruation. This month is a time of tremendous spiritual growth and reward we are told, a spiritual boot camp you might say and it’s emotionally crushing if you are not able to partake in it both communally (through long hours of tarwih and tahajjud at the masjid) as well as in your own personal practice. As myself and my female friends and family members hit our menstrual cycle I will also begin to hear them recount (as I myself feel) a disconnect not only from Ramzan/Ramadan, from fasting, from prayer, from the Quran, but from the very space of sacredness itself (the mosque) as menstruating women cannot enter spaces designated for prayer. I feel their pain: when one is engaged in night after night of intimate commune with the Divine, it is painful to be cut off so instantly. The blood that flows from my vagina comes to mark not only the promise of life but also a spiritual death.

Unfortunately, our communal response to these frustrations expressed by women is nothing beyond empty rhetoric. Imams and Shuyukh extol the reward that mothers receive for their years of toil and sacrifice in the face of reduced prayer and opportunities for ritual worship. Women are also rewarded, we are told, for desisting from prayer, fasting and recitation of the Quran while menstruating out of obedience to Allah. That mothers, in our current gender dynamics of parenting, are breaking their back day and night out of devotion to their family is beyond a doubt. That they will be rewarded for their efforts is also what our beloved Prophet (saw) has told us time and time again. That is not the issue. The issue is a religious discourse that does not speak of women’s religious experiences except as peripheral conversations. There is a reason why year after year I hear women express the same emotions and year after year I hear the same empty rhetoric glorifying and valorizing maternal self-sacrifice in the interest of maintaining patriarchal gender norms. The responses don’t address the very fundamental issue: we are all deeply socialized into male normative conceptions of religious piety and righteousness, but then there are those of us (i.e. half of humanity) who are unable to fulfill it!

Unfortunately, our communal response to these frustrations expressed by women is nothing beyond empty rhetoric. Imams and Shuyukh extol the reward that mothers receive for their years of toil and sacrifice in the face of reduced prayer and opportunities for ritual worship. Women are also rewarded, we are told, for desisting from prayer, fasting and recitation of the Quran while menstruating out of obedience to Allah. That mothers, in our current gender dynamics of parenting, are breaking their back day and night out of devotion to their family is beyond a doubt. That they will be rewarded for their efforts is also what our beloved Prophet (saw) has told us time and time again. That is not the issue. The issue is a religious discourse that does not speak of women’s religious experiences except as peripheral conversations. There is a reason why year after year I hear women express the same emotions and year after year I hear the same empty rhetoric glorifying and valorizing maternal self-sacrifice in the interest of maintaining patriarchal gender norms. The responses don’t address the very fundamental issue: we are all deeply socialized into male normative conceptions of religious piety and righteousness, but then there are those of us (i.e. half of humanity) who are unable to fulfill it!

This is how this religious discourse works: growing up we emphasize prayer, reading Quran, and involvement in the masjid as fundamental acts of piety. If we are dedicated to our faith, we are told again and again, then we must pray on a daily basis (and more if you wish to increase your piety), read Quran regularly and keep the company of pious people (hence the emphasis on communal prayer and frequenting the mosque). We teach this to little girls as well as little boys. But here’s the thing: that little girl hits puberty and is no longer able to fulfill this male-centered model of piety: this idea of a pious person that assumes that we will always be able to pray without bodily processes interrupting us for significant periods of time, that we will not only have full access to the masjid but that it will be a space that caters to our needs, and that we will, in terms of time constraints as well as our responsibilities, be able to engage in communal prayer at all times, anytime and anywhere. If you’re a man, you can pray every prayer, every day. You can fast throughout Ramzan/Ramadan without interruption, no “days off” is going to spoil your groove. You can go to the masjid and have access to the most aesthetically pleasing sections of the masjid as well as comfortable access to the beautiful recitation of the Imam (not through TVs and speakers that might stop working in the middle of prayer). You can come and go from the masjid as you please, at any time (for tahajjud, fajr, late night tarawih) without having to worry about having a man escort you and you can be certain that I‘tekaf arrangements will be made for you at the mosque so that you can spend the last ten days of Ramzan/Ramadan in intense worship without much discussion on whether it is required for you or not, whether you need to, whether you will cause fitnah by your presence, whether you have a mahram with you or not or even whether leaving your children for days at a time will be possible because who will care for them in your absence? Our standards of piety and ritual worship work for you perfectly, they are, in fact, meant to work for you!

As women we find our ways of remaining spiritually connected by taking time out to make zikr, using technology to read the Quran on our period without “touching” it. But many of us also feel that it’s not quite the same. There is something absolutely intimate about prayer, brief moments throughout the day to commune with Allah (swt) that are hard to experience through other forms of worship. Not fasting during Ramzan/Ramadan we try to mimic fasting by not eating and still attend tarawih sitting to the side (not in the prayer area of course, because we would not want to pollute it with our menstruating presence) and yet the “fasting” feels like starvation, and the experience of standing for long periods in prayer and listening to the words of Allah (swt) resound in your head, punctuated with moments of humbling oneself in prostration, cannot be felt as you sit to the side following along. We have been deeply socialized into a piety defined by prayer, fasting and reading Quran and being cut off from it due to our biological processes as women feels like a handicap, it feels like our piety is thwarted.

So, while working to ensure that women have decent prayer spaces in the masjid and a welcoming atmosphere is certainly a worthy endeavor, it is only the beginning of the battle. We must also create a religious discourse that defines piety in a way that takes women’s religious experiences seriously. The problem of prayer spaces for women in the masjid is not only spatial but is also symptomatic of a larger communal attitude that discounts and demeans women as faithful believers.

SubHanAllah to all of that. Aameen to all of that.
And while we’re talking about the gendering of piety and worship, lemme also add a couple of other things that break a woman’s fast and invalidate her prayer:

Showing her hair, showing ANY part of her skin except (per contemporary ideas on the hijab) face and hands, showing her cleavage, and whatever else doesn’t apply to men because our ideas on modesty, too, are so depressingly gendered and sexist.

Let me end with a desperate call for more women to study Islam, to openly and boldly critique whatever dehumanizes you or makes you feel like a lesser Muslim or human than, I don’t know, say men? We also need more women to enter Islamic Studies so we can change the ways we talk about women, gender, sexuality, worship, piety, God, Islam and be able to challenge traditional/sexist/misogynistic ideas on all of these.

Thank you for reading.

God be our Guide, aamene.

Advertisements

About Orbala

I want it to rain on my wedding day, pliss.
This entry was posted in Death to patriarchy, menstruation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Menstruation, Ramadhan, and Patriarchal Ideas about Piety, God, and Purity

  1. Wonderful blog!

    as with the blood nullifying wudu, wasnt there a hadith saying the sahaba used to pray with blood on their bodies during wartime?

    Like

    • orbala says:

      Not aware of that hadith, but why doesn’t it surprise me that it exists?! Patriarchy LOVES breaking any and all rules in order to accommodate itself and men.

      Like

  2. SNP says:

    Love this post. When Saadia was talking about the rhetoric of imams saying “we are rewarded as mothers and for obedience ‘, I immediately thought of that awful ‘hadith’ that accuse our Prophet pbuh, of telling women they were deficient because they bled! P.S. I do not believe our beautiful humble Prophet pbuh ever said that, I don’t care what ‘evidence’ there may be. It sounds not like him. Anyway, great post

    Liked by 1 person

    • orbala says:

      Thank you ❤
      Agreed! It makes no sense to on the one hand not do things because you're not *allowed* to in the first place (assuming you're not allowed – I believe we are) and on the other hand be told that "you're deficient in deen because you don't pray while you menstruate!" Like, seriously, Patriarchy! Just stop existing already.

      Liked by 1 person

    • orbala says:

      Oh, that was to say: agreed that the Prophet (s.) would never say something like that. I like that you said “accused” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • SNP says:

      Thank you. Yes, ‘accused’ because that hadith sounds scandalous. It makes the Prophet pbuh seem arrogant and nasty and that’s wrong. Peace ❤

      Like

  3. SY says:

    It’s not patriarchy. The Islamic rule not to pray comes from a straightforward Hadith in Sahih Bukhari:

    Narrated by Zainab bint Jahsh: “I said to the Prophet (saw) that I was suffering from Istihadah. He said: ‘Do not pray during the days of your period, then perform Ghusl and delay Zuhr and bring ‘Asr forward and pray; then delay Maghrib and bring ‘Isha’ forward and pray them together, and perform Ghusl for Fajr.”

    There is another Hadith where who heard Fatima bint Abi Hubaish asks him a similar question and he gives her the same answer. I do hope you acknowledge this and correct the post.

    Like

    • orbala says:

      That’s patriarchy. Those ideas are patriarchal, rooted in patriarchy – applies to all traditional religions. The beginning of this post addresses the point regarding the gendered/patriarchal/sexist nature of knowledge.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Menstruation, Ramadhan, and the Muslim Woman: beyond the whole “it’s a break from prayer/fasting!” | Freedom from the Forbidden

Well? What you say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s