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Menstruation

By:
Carolyn Baugh
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Menstruation

Like sexual emission, menstruation is a state necessitating full-bath lustration before the Muslim can obtain the ritual purity required for worship. The requisite elements are an intention to remove major impurity; washing the hands and then the genitals thoroughly; performing the ritual ablution (wudūʿ ); washing the entire body, beginning with the head (to the roots of the hair) and right side of the body, then continuing on to the left.

Ḥadīth reports attributed to Muḥammad 's wife ʿĀʿishah claim that women were “ordered” (nuʿmar) to make up fasts missed as a result of the exemption granted menstruants, and not ordered to make up prayers missed for the same reason. In one ḥadīth, the Prophet explains that menstruation is “decreed” for the daughters of Adam, positioning it as “an integral part of God 's plan … a biological fact” rather than a punishment (Katz, Body of Text, 198). The euphemism used repeatedly by the Prophet to refer to menstruation is nafs (“self” or “soul”), explained by Ibn Qutayba (d. 276 AH/889CE) as the metaphor the Arabs used for blood, “due to blood 's connectedness with or nearness to, or causality of life” (Tafsīr Gharīb al-Qurʿān, 25).

Although no ḥadīth suggests it, the schools of law (both Sunnī and Shīʿī) unanimously restrict menstruating women from touching the Qurʿān. It has become habitual throughout the Muslim world to link verse 56:79 (“No one may touch it but the pure”) to the issue, despite its lack of any contextual bearing on the physical Qurʿān or the purity status of humans. Yet, some menstruants will only touch the pages of the Qurʿān via a medium or when wearing gloves. Fatwās have been issued, notably from Saudi Arabia, that menstruating female students may freely study Qurʿān during their cycles.

Ibn Kathīr 's (d. 774 AH/1373CE) exegesis details the Prophet 's habits with his menstruating wives. He would eat with ʿĀʿishah and drink from the same vessel, and recite Qurʿān while reclining in her lap. He gave license to all forms of spousal intimacy with the exception of vaginal intercourse; this is the meaning that many exegetes give to “keep away from women in the maḥīḍ (literally, place of menstruation)” (2:222). This verse also calls menstruation “adhan” (harm): some exegetes have historically and currently defined this as meaning menstruation is harmful to men. Others insist that it is harm to the woman, who “suffers” monthly. Many scholars (notably al-Qurṭubī, al-Sayyid Sābiq) have included the infamous ḥadīth about “deficiencies of (woman 's) mind and religion” in discussions on menstruation and purity. However, classical and post-classical jurists generally structured laws of purity in gender-neutral ways, even engaging in debates that challenged the notion that menstruation rendered a woman deficient in religion (Katz, Body of Text, 198–199).

Modern attitudes toward menstruation vary widely according to levels of education and entrenched cultural practices. In areas as diverse as Morocco, Syria, Egypt, and the United States, some pregnant women ignore the concession to leave off fasting, illustrating their belief that the menstruant 's Ramadan fast is deficient. In Malay Muslim culture, euphemisms are generally negative, and women are restricted from touching the Qurʿān, entering graveyards, and engaging in sex. Perceived mental incompetence also colors social attitudes: it has been argued that women cannot be competent judges (Egypt) or discerning voters (Kuwait) due to their menses. In many highly traditional enclaves, menarche is often the signal for young girls to be married off, often against their will. In certain areas of Pakistan, newly menstruating girls are forced into purdah, to don burkas, and to withdraw from school; in such situations, girls tend to have little or no factual information about menstruation, its hygiene, or its significance.

Bibliography

  • Ibn Qutayba, Tafsīr Gharīb al-Qurʿān. 1958.
  • Katz, M. H.Body of Text: The Emergence of the Sunni Law of Ritual Purity. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2002.
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