by Sameera Qureshi
originally published on http://muslimsistah-sq.blogspot.com/
I have a secret to tell.
It’s the grand-daddy of all secrets when it comes to Muslim women during Ramadan. Oh yes fellow sistahs, you know what I’m talking about. You think you can get around people knowing by faking the fast but no, you can’t and you shouldn’t. It’s high time that we educate those around us about the nitty-gritty of fasting permissibility when it comes to women.
And here’s the (not-dirty-at-all) secret…women who are menstruating are excused from fasting. I bet y’all didn’t know that! And it doesn’t surprise me, considering how even within Muslim families, us females are so ashamed of anyone knowing that we can officially take a “break” (missed fasts need to be made up after Ramadan) from fasting, and guilt-free while we’re at it. God is ever so Merciful!
There’s a few reasons why I want to blog about this topic. First of all, no one else is or has, that I know of. I haven’t come across any recent non-Fiqh (religious rules, basically) related blog regarding women, menstruation and Ramadan. Since you all know me so well, I thought it was high time we talk about a natural process that close to 500 million of us Muslim women species go through during Ramadan. Second, I have mixed feelings when it comes to taking a break from fasting. Even though it’s obligatory, and there are times when I’m relieved to get a break, it also throws your fasting routine and rhythm out the window and you also can’t participate in any prayers, which can be tough. So I’ll elaborate on this point. The third reason is because I do not want this generation of young women and the ones to follow to be ashamed of something that is God given and natural. No more fake fasting, no more fake Suhoor (pre-dawn) meals and no more shame. Enough is enough when it comes to this miracle of life that women have been given.
Back to the first point. I have been around non-Muslim friends during Ramadan in the past and when they apologize for eating in front of me during our meet-ups, I have to be honest and tell them I’m not fasting. There’s no way I want them to experience guilt or awkwardness around me when they have no reason to. And I’m not going to lie and say “yeah, it’s really tough this year so I’m taking a break,” because this is not true. And so I tell them the truth. The same goes for close Muslim friends if we’re with each other during community Iftar (breaking the fast) gatherings. If a woman invites me to pray, I tell her I can’t, and I’m sure she understands why! Perhaps try to make a joke out of it and say something like “my uterus won’t let me fast!” (here’s hoping that women know what a uterus is, you’d be surprised). I think most Muslim men (I would hope) know why some women during communal gatherings opt out of prayer…but then, I could be wrong. At least the married men should know. But I think us women need to have less shame around this. If you can’t fast and pray, then you can’t and there’s nothing wrong with it. It shouldn’t stop you from participating in community Iftars and the like. In fact, being in community gatherings during your menstrual cycle will at least give you a sense of Ramadan rather than being holed up at home, watching your family or spouse eat their Iftar meal while you sit and watch them, jealously.
Second, I personally have mixed feelings when it comes to ceasing the fast during this active uterus time. This can be true if you can’t start Ramadan because you’re menstruating, or you have to stop after you’ve fasted and established a routine over a period of time (no pun intended), or the worse case (in my humble opinion) is when you miss fasting the last 10 days (the holiest days) and also when you can’t participate in Eid prayer. This has happened to me before and I was a nutcase. I understand I can’t really control my cycle, but seriously, whenever it happens, I’m in denial and it takes me a while to accept that I will need to sit on the sidelines for a while. Islam still encourages women to be active participants in Ramadan without fasting, such as by preparing meals for those who are fasting, reciting Dua’a (prayers) during the day without actually praying on a prayer mat (which isn’t allowed during a woman’s cycle), giving to charity, performing good deeds, etc. We are blessed to have many additional options apart from abstaining from food, so at least we don’t completely feel left out. But it is challenging to take a break since once you’re in the flow of things (again, no pun intended), you don’t want to stop and have to start the acclimatization to fasting all over again. Boo.
And third, there is too much shame around menstruation, regardless of what time of the year it is. I remember when I lived at home prior to marriage, I use to get up and fake the morning meal so my brothers and dad wouldn’t know that I wasn’t fasting. Then my mom would sneak food into my bedroom, where I’d shamefully eat my PB and J sandwich, ensuring no one could hear or see me. Then I’d have to eat the Iftar meal with everyone else, and have the same late bedtime as everyone. After a while, this became incredibly annoying and also, deceitful. Women are given this time to take a break and rest, and here we go taking religion’s permission, adding a dash of cultural backwardness and shame to it, and we’ve got one heck of a messed up situation that is incredibly frustrating to deal with. When I was teaching sexual health classes to middle school girls this year, this topic came up numerous times: girls having to fake prayers all year round and fasting during Ramadan. They expressed frustration and weren’t sure why they needed to since they were sure their dads at least knew about menstruation (since sexual intercourse is forbidden during this time, I would sure hope so). I felt their pain and offered them advice to talk with their parents about this issue, to save them from faking religious practices they shouldn’t have to.
Finally, while we’re on the topic of Ramadan and menstruation, I really encourage all women to look into more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of dealing with their cycle. Sure, disposable feminine hygiene products may seem convenient, not-so-expensive (they actually are when you do the math for a year of products) and all that is available, but I assure you, we have come a long way and there’s a myriad of additional options. If sanitary pads are more of your thing, check out Lunapads (made in Canada) or Party in my Pants for cloth options (before you judge, do your research!). If you’re looking for a tampon-alternative, check out the Diva Cup, which also belongs to Lunapads. These may seem like “hippie” alternatives that won’t work for you, but I assure you, they are healthier ways to deal with your period (look up all the toxic chemicals in disposable pads and tampons) AND save the environment at the same time. That’s what part of Ramadan is about anyway, isn’t it?
See, reading this wasn’t so bad, was it? Whether you’re a male or female, I’m sure you learned something new, no? And then there’s many of you out there who probably knew all of this. You sexual health keeners you! Either way, this is another topic where there’s a difference between modesty and shame. It’s OK to tell family members and those you need to if you’re not fasting, in a discrete way. But there’s no reason to be shameful about it, and using a ruse to fake the fast and daily prayers for those around you.
So embrace menstruation during this month, fellow women, and stick with what Islam advises around this subject. Remember that God has ordained this miracle of life within our bodies. How can something God given be shameful?
After all, when we treat menstruation as something shameful and wrong, it can really be a pain in the uterus.
Sorry, I really had to try for one final pun
Sameera Qureshi, MScOT (c) is an Occupational Therapist and currently manages a mental health promotion project that is school and community based, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her work over the past six years has been primarily with Muslim populated schools and their families. Since 2011, Sameera has been working to implement Islam-oriented sexual health education programs both within these schools and the greater Muslim community. Her work includes developing the curriculum for both genders and teaching the curriculum to girls in grades 5-9, running parent sessions, collaborating with multiple Calgary agencies around sexual health, and making her work available to interested community member and professionals. She also maintains a blog called Muslim Sistah and can be found on Twitter @muslimsistah