By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
Nov 26, 2015
In the wake of remarks made by the new board president of the Sabrimala Temple in Kerala recently, the rulings of different religions with regard to menstruating women have inspired a serious media debate. The president of the Sabrimala Temple has reportedly spoken about how he is hoping for a machine in the future that can make it possible to ‘scan’ menstruating women, so that they may be barred from entering the temple premises. According to media reports, women will be allowed to enter the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala only after a machine is invented to "check the purity of women".
This statement has caused uproar and even a widespread social media campaign in India. Many feminist, liberalist and progressive adherents of the Hindu faith traditions have come out to denounce it. They maintain that it reflects a sexist sentiment that has reinforced misogynist myths that revolve around women in India. Following the controversial statement made by the president of Sabarimala temple, outraged women across India have launched a counter campaign namely “Happy To Bleed” to protest against menstrual taboos and sexism of the temple authorities. A bloody response on social media, spearheaded by a young woman from Punjab, Nikita Azad, is doing rounds.
While the campaign ‘happy to bleed’ plays on, religion continues to be blamed for the alienation of women during menstruation. This unsettling situation has come as a wake-up call to the theologians of all religions to grapple with this matter more seriously, rethinking and explaining their respective theological perspectives on the status of menstruating women. In this context, it would be timely and relevant to explain Islamic law and jurisprudence regarding this issue. In short, it is indispensible to get the answers to the questions like how menstruating women are viewed in Islam in general and why are they prevented from keeping fast and/or performing Salah during their periods etc?
In this context, the first point that must be made clear is that in Islam, menstruation is not regarded as something that makes a woman inferior to man. Many common misconceptions occur because of misogynist patriarchal interpretations of Islam that go against its true egalitarian spirit. One must understand that in such a scenario, it is the Mullah that humiliates the woman and not Allah. According to Islamic jurisprudence, menstruation is categorized as state of ‘ritual impurity’ and not as a state of ‘spiritual impurity’. The rationale behind the prohibition on praying or fasting for menstruating women is an Islamic jurisprudential ruling termed, ‘Daf’aul Haraj’ meaning ‘lessening of the difficulty’ or ‘avoidance of inconvenience’. This implies that a menstruating woman is not required to perform certain obligatory acts of worship, such as Salah (prayer) and Saum (fast), for her own convenience. This is because women suffering from menstrual cramps are not in a fit condition to perform acts of worship that require a certain amount of physical exertion.
Much against the common misunderstanding prevailing in the patriarchal society, Islam does not consider menstruation to be a punishment towards women. It would be completely erroneous and misguided to consider menstruation as something horrible. The true Islamic perspective is that menstruation is a normal and natural physical state. It is not a “woman’s curse” as many ignorant Muslims wrongly stereotype it. There is not a single Qur’anic verse or Prophetic tradition that declares menstruating women as ‘dirty’, ‘impure’ or ‘inferior.' Rather, menstruation is viewed in Islam as a natural physical status that normal, healthy women experience throughout their lifetime.
From the jurisprudential perspective of Islam, menstruation is not any kind of ‘spiritual impurity’, but merely a ritual uneasiness and physical inconvenience. Hence, Islam considers menstruating women unfit to engage in certain acts of worship, because they lack the prowess required for them. Thus, this has only legal consequences and not the spiritual consequences.
Most importantly, countless Islamic traditions and prophetic narrations stress that a husband must act more favourably and compassionately towards his wife when she is menstruating. Such a man who takes special care of his menstruating wife and continues to live with her as soul mate for the sake of Allah, gets ample rewards in Islam.
As for the prohibition on praying, fasting or performing other obligatory religious duties during her menstruation, it is embedded in all the Abrahamic faiths including Christianity, Mosaic Law and the Jewish tradition. Islam is no exception. This has been ordained in Islam due to several reasons as briefly explained below:
This is the practical way of dealing with menstrual problems, as, obviously, trying to maintain the prayer and fasting would be a severe hardship for some women. Those living in a modern country cannot understand the plain old physical hardship of not having any type of feminine hygiene products to keep them feeling relatively clean and fresh.
Furthermore, Islam ordains that Allah never causes any of good deeds to be lost. So, if menstruating women can’t pray or fast, still they can engage in other acts of worship, such as doing zikr (remembering Allah), reciting duas and the holy verses of the Qurán, feeding a fasting person, reading helpful Islamic books or listening to Islamic lectures and lots more. There are countless acts of worship that menstruating women can perform that will earn them the pleasure of their Lord. Undoubtedly, if they are in a constant state of remembering Allah, they will never feel removed from Him. For Allah says in the Quran:
“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” [02: 186]
Even if women were given the option to pray or fast during their menstrual periods, this would unnecessarily cause feelings of guilt in those who are not able to fulfil their religious duties in such a condition. In fact, Islam seeks to keep women free from religious responsibilities altogether during such a situation. But it should also be clear that menstruating women are not barred from visiting masjids or other places of devotion according to Islamic precepts. Going by numerous reports in the hadiths (Prophet's sayings), Prophet's wife Ummul Momineen Hazrat Aisha (r.a), in her periods, would continue to remain within the house of the Prophet (saw), which was actually a part of the holy mosque of Madina.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar, English-Arabic-Urdu writer, and a Doctoral Research Scholar, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance (JMI Central University). After graduation in Arabic (Hons.), he has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilizations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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