Menstruation Makes You Unholy

This post was originally published by ‘Nice Mangos’ on her personal blog in February 2015, and we’re delighted to reproduce it here with her kind permission!

So this weekend we were helping my aunt move, and gosh I love her to pieces… she is one of my few relatives who defends my right to disbelieve as an equal right to having belief. Why can’t we have more awesome Muslims like this in the world?

Anyhoo, we were just about done with moving the big stuff, like furniture, and her daughter tried to hand her a pile of books – which she suddenly backed away from, saying “no, no, haat pak nahi hain” (literally translated that means: My hands are impure). ‘Ah religious books’, I thought to myself. Women are not allowed to touch the Quran while menstruating. This has always bothered me a lot. Because if the messy stuff is occurring in the crotchal region, how then does it make your hands unclean? Apparently it makes your whole existence ‘impure’. God will not listen to your prayers during this time either, because you are not allowed to pray, according to some scholars (yes I know some hipster Muslims will jump on this and say, “that’s not true, you’re not interpreting the Quran/Hadith right, women are regarded as equals” and all that jazz… but no).

My aunt is a very modern, progressive woman, but still abides by that, as do most Muslim women I know. I remember that when I was a kid, my mom was never really religious, but at one time during my pre-teen years she got cornered into Quran lessons over the phone by an older woman. When she got her period she probably thought, “Score, I get a few days off from these phone-in Quran lessons!” Oh, but she was mistaken. The older lady said, “Why should you miss any days at all? Get yourself some thin gloves you can wear during the lesson, so it creates a barrier between your hands and the holy pages.”

I remember being irritated even then. I don’t remember if this was before I got my period or after, but in any case I was aware of what menstruation was, and found it awful that a woman should not be allowed to hold a book while bleeding in a completely different part of her body. I’d get it if our hands bled during menstruation: I mean that would be messy as hell, and the book would be ruined… But this idea of impurity associated with womanhood that we as Muslim women are forced to internalize is abhorrent. And also, it can’t be easy turning pages while wearing gloves.

Here we have a traditional Pakistani bride, photographed during her
menstrual cycle. And well, you can see what happens: women
turn into flesh eating zombies and need to be kept away from the
holy books – understandably so.

I’m not blaming my aunt; she grew up thinking this, as did my mom. It’s more of a reflex now than something that is actively thought about. But even logically though, lets say there was some ‘magical impurity’ emanating from a woman’s being during her cycle that could cause damage to the holy book: how on earth does a pair of flimsy gloves protect it?

But back to the story about moving: I was taken aback and my aunt gestured to my cousin to hand the pile of books to me. I didn’t want to offend anyone because my association with Satan is a well known fact (I kid, but some  Muslim people don’t like non-believers touching their scriptures). So out of respect for everyone else in the room, I hesitated to grab the books (in case I was blamed for being disrespectful later), and said, “Well if her hands are impure now, mine are probably in a constant state of impurity.” My dad winced at the reminder, lol. Oh dad.

But everyone indicated it was ok for me to grab the pile of holy books, so I did… and I did not burst into flame. Yay! But it got me thinking about what this is all based on. Because surely now in the 21st century, people can conclude that if your hands are washed with soap, they are clean… right? So what’s this ‘impurity’ crap about? How petty of god to disallow prayer and worship during a menstrual cycle. (And yes, I know, Islam isn’t the only religion with issues surrounding menstruation).

So here is what I found (see full website here):

“The menstruating woman and the one who is in a state of impurity (janaabah) (Janaabah = post-sex state of impurity) should not recite anything of the Qur’aan.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 131; Ibn Maajah, 595; al-Daaraqutni (1/117); al-Bayhaqi, 1/89.

On the flipside there was this: Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: “There is no clear, saheeh text to indicate that a menstruating woman is forbidden to recite Qur’aan… It is known that women used to menstruate at the time of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and he did not forbid them to recite Qur’aan, or to remember Allaah (dhikr) and offer du’aa’.”

Preventing a menstruating woman from reciting Qur’aan deprives her of the chance to earn reward, and it may make her forget something of the Qur’aan, or she may need to recite it for the purposes of teaching or learning.”

God’ forbid you deprive her the chance of that heavenly reward, and OMFG what if she forgets something that is, you know, already written down and readily available. For this her impurity can be excused. So basically it seems, there is no general consensus, and nobody is sure if god is really THAT petty or not, but: “If a woman wants to err on the side of caution, she can limit her recitation to the passages which she is afraid of forgetting”
Gee thanks! Oh wait… “It is very important to note that what we have been discussing here is restricted to what a menstruating woman recites from memory. When it comes to reading from the Mus-haf (the Arabic text itself), a different rule applies. The correct view of the scholars is that it is forbidden to touch the mus-haf when one is in any kind of state of impurity, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):“… which none can touch except the purified.” [al-Waaqi’ah 56:79]. “

“In a letter to ‘Amr ibn Hazm, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) told the people of Yemen: “No one should touch the Qur’aan except one who is taahir (pure).””
It summed up here by
“This is an issue on which the scholars of Islam have a difference of opinion.  The best and most accepted opinion is that a woman who is in her menstrual period should abstain from touching the Quran, until she has purified herself.
Most of the scholars are of the opinion that there is no harm for a woman, who is in her menstrual period, to recite the Quran from memory.” 
So thanks: we have the privilege of uttering the words in our state of feminine impurity, but we cannot touch.
Gosh darn it’s good to feel loved. 🙂
Thanks Islam!
(If you think this is bad, you should see what the Orthodox Jews have going on during and after menstruation).
Nice Mangos

Nice Mangos

Pakistani-Canadian illustrator/blogger and author of 'My Chacha is Gay'. Writes and draws about sexuality in South Asia (mostly Pakistan), religion, politics, feminism and godlessness. You can follow her on Twitter @nicemangos.

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Alan Flynn says:

    Women are also prohibited from staying inside a mosque during their period but may pass through if they need to How utterly demeaning. This rule seems to be quietly dropped on mosque open days when interested kuffar are welcomed in. Perhaps the rule does not apply to them. I wonder also whether the celebrated women-only mosques of China apply this rule –

    Such blatant sex discrimination betrays the patriarchal roots of Islam. Men need only purify themselves following certain acts – such as sex – but women by their very nature are deemed unclean.

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