Are Periods dirty?
Over the years I have constantly been asked why we are not allowed to pray or fast when we are on our period. It could be quite disconcerting as we would be likened to cultures that went to the extreme of shunning women out of the kitchen and not allowing the women to touch anything because they were dirty and unclean. Often Non-Muslims have this thinking but surprisingly so do some Muslims!
This definitely is not the case. There is not much to cover this topic when you search it on the internet. You will find thousands of articles that will tell you:
- When a period starts or finishes
- How many days it could go on for
- What to look out for to be certain your period has finished
Nor is there much in terms of why women cannot pray or fast. Although non-Muslims would occasionally ask this question, and it would be difficult to give an answer, the question was often directed from fellow Muslim girls as well.
The simplest answer? God ordained it on us and we should follow it. We are given a break from fasting when we are feeling down, suffering from horrible back pain and having incredibly bad mood swings that are driving the people around us mad! In terms of prayer, we are ritually unclean, once our body has gone through its cycle and we have purified ourselves we can begin our prayers as normal.
Is it unfair that we have been told we cannot pray? Not really, if you are not ritually clean you need time to have your body go through its cycle and be clean. In the Quranic Ayah “The Pure Ones” it is not only the menstruating women that are told that they must not pray or fast, but any person that is in ritual impurity, whether it be male or female.
So, if a man is ritually impure because he has had sexual intercourse or has had a wet dream, he cannot pray until he is clean! Women just have the added benefit that we are excused from having to make up the prayers whereas men have to make up for their prayers!
Is period seen as a punishment in Islam?
First and foremost, it is important to realise that periods are not some kind of punishment to us for something we did and it is not a horrible disease either. Instead Islam views periods as a natural function of the body.
Medically, a woman cannot become pregnant if she cannot menstruate, which is the case for young children and post-menopausal women. The cycle of menstruation lasts a certain period of years in which a woman is able to conceive. Motherhood itself holds a very high ground in Islam.
Abu Huraira (ra) reported that a person said to Allah’s (swt) Messenger (pbuh) “who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment” he said (pbuh) “your mother, again your mother, again your mother and then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order of nearness” (Sahih Muslim book 45, Hadith).
So in a nutshell, motherhood is not possible without menstruation, and seeing as motherhood is given such a high stance in Islam, this refutes the idea that period is a punishment, or anything of a demeaning value for a woman.
What does our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) say about periods?
- Prior to the time of the prophet (pbuh) men would refuse to go near their wives when they were on their periods. They would not eat with them, drink with them or even go near them. Hence companions proceeded to ask the prophet (PBUH) about this to which he replied that “Do everything with her except for sexual intercourse.” [Muslim; ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]
- In another incident, the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about what was permissible to do with a menstruating woman. He responded, “For you is what is above the izar (lower garment).” [Abu Dawud]
The above 2 hadiths make it clear to both Muslim men and women that a husband needs to act favourable towards his wife regardless of the fact that she might be menstruating. She should not be ignored or shunned away and instead they should continue to live as companions for the sake of Allah. You are allowed to cuddle, to spend time with each other, to enjoy each other’s company, to go out and about and to joke around with each other, none of this is forbidden!
Here are 3 more beautiful examples to show how the Prophet (pbuh) interacted with his wives during menstruation:
- Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would recline on my lap while I was menstruating and he would read the Quran.” [Bukhari]
- She also said in another narration, “I would drink while menstruating, then pass the vessel to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He would place his mouth on the (same) place as my mouth and drink….” [Muslim]
- In another instance Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, ‘Get me the prayer mat from the prayer area.’ I replied, ‘I am menstruating.’ He said, ‘Verily, your menstruation is not in your hand.’ [Muslim] This strictly shows that a woman will not defile a prayer mat by touching it, and that her limbs are not filthy but pure, and that she is only ritually impure.
What does this mean for us Muslim women?
Fasting can often be tough. I remember going to college and then later to university and the toughest thing for me was eating! At a young age we are taught that periods are an embarrassing thing for a man to find out about, therefore at all costs you try and avoid letting any male person be aware that you might be menstruating. Mind you, we would not exactly shout from the roof tops that we were menstruating!
However, this did mean that we would quite unfortunately end up fasting for the whole day, which would become a sin in itself as you are not meant to be fasting. Later once work started, it was the same, I would be questioned as to why I was not fasting, why today I was not being so strict about praying on time and I gradually gained the confidence to answer appropriately. So just be confident in your answers and do not feel guilty about your periods, as for you this is natural and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Also if you explain things to people they do understand and if they are still interested they can do further research to find out more.
Please note: It is important to remember, we are not allowed to pray or fast, or touch the Quran, but we have not been stopped from listening to the Quran, we are not stopped from making dhikr from a supplication book, we can send blessings on the Prophet (pbuh), attend lectures and classes that are religious, ask for forgiveness and help others. There are so many small and simple tasks we can do that may work wonders on the day of judgement. We don’t know what good we might do that brings us one step closer to Allah.
Please attempt to carry on your good deeds and to make a better place for yourself in Jannah!
So what is the overall picture?
Periods are nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary periods give you the opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful moments of life, motherhood.
Allah has ordained it on us and we should follow it as his will. As women we should see periods as a blessing as it allows us to experience the wonderful moment when we become mothers, we get a break during fasting to make it easy on us. Allah(swt) has even protected us from the harm of sexual relations during this time! Subhanallah what more would we want!? We should not see it has a nuisance, or something dirty but a natural part of our body.
In terms of prayers, we are ritually impure at the time, and we need to be clean before praying, once our periods are finished we can commence with our prayers. But please remember we have not been stopped from making dua, or reciting what we remember and we can continue with everyday remembrance of Allah (swt).
Most importantly, periods are seen as a natural process in Islam, so if anyone says anything else, set them straight!