By Imaan Irfan
16 minutes until Maghrib. The smell of fresh biryani floats in from the kitchen. The dates are nestled in a little dish, glistening in a way that tells you that the first bite will make it all worth it. A jug of ice-cold water glints mockingly at you from the table. Not long now. 16 minutes until Maghrib...and you discover your whole fast is invalid. It's that time of the month.
Ya Rabb, you think, you couldn't have spared me a few extra minutes?
Shark week, Aunt Flo, your ‘friend’...they’re all creative ways to circumvent the matter at hand. Dr Tamara Gray, the founder of Rabata, says she thinks of her week without salah as a ‘week of dhikr’ instead (an admirable sentiment, but it just doesn't have the same ring to it as 'praycation', my euphemism of choice). Though sometimes stigmatised or just brushed under the prayer rug, the taboo doesn’t have any place in Islam, but can get in the way of frank discussions about how women explore spirituality. 'A'isha (RA) said, ‘How good are the women of Ansar that their shyness does not prevent them from learning religion.’ (Sahih Muslim Book 3: Kitab al Haydh, the Book of Menstruation) There’s a conversation to be had about menstuating women struggling to feel as connected to God, especially towards the end of Ramadan when we should feel at our spiritual peak.
We know the exemption from fasting is a mercy. Periods can be bloody painful (ha), and intense cramps or constant thirst don’t really mesh well with having to focus on worship. Sure, you might have been denounced as a kafir by the little brother who caught you eating, but it’s a blessing nonetheless. Though, by the time those heavy painkillers have kicked in, and the hot water bottle has cooled down, one can't help but miss being able to participate in Ramadan in the way we’ve become used to.
After all, Ramadan is the month of fasting (which we’re now cut off from), the month of extra salah (which is also off the table), as well as the month of the Quran (and good luck trying to navigate the fatwa minefield of whether or not you’re allowed to read/recite this week).
In a piece published by Amaliah, five female scholars wrote:
'The sentiment that is also often expressed, is the wish for acts of worship during haydh [menstruation] to be optional. However, if this were the case, choosing to pray would still be considered the ideal or better option, with some women struggling to meet those standards. If the option to pray salāh were available, refraining from prayer and taking a break would not be considered an act of obedience to God. Our struggle and reward is in obeying the commandment not to pray.'
Especially if it falls in the last ten nights, the idea of missing out on a lot of potential Ajr is a concern for some women, under the assumption that they’re being deprived of taqwa.
The article added, ‘Taqwa is not attained as a result of ‘ibādah (worship). Taqwa is gained as a result of ‘itā’ah (obedience)...for women during haydh, the act of obedience to God is in refraining from the prayer, so this is how we attain taqwa during this time.’
Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed also wrote a reminder that ‘Verily actions are by intention. So Allah knows what is in your heart and what you intended or hoped to do of prayer etc, and He can reward you, as if you had done so’.
This can be a time of connecting with God in other ways. One friend told me that she takes a moment to remember Allah while her family is praying, even though she can’t join them, because ‘it’s good to keep the habit up, taking the time to reflect those five times a day, even if it’s not actually [performing salah]’. Some find a reciter they like and listen to the Quran more frequently (Omar Hisham Al Arabi on Youtube, Madinah Javed if you prefer a female qari, or of course, the OG Mishary Alfasy Rasheed). Making dua, doing more dhikr, giving charity, practicing tasawwuf (contemplation), listening to talks, or just making an extra effort to help the fasting people in your family, are all forms of worship that we might otherwise neglect in favour of other things. We are reminded of how fortunate we are in being able to partake in the Holy Month at all, when there are so many who are never able to fast, no matter how much they want to.
Fasting is a way to connect us not only with God, but with other people. During lockdown, many have been feeling disconnected from that aspect of community and collective struggle, in the same way some women feel on their ‘week out’. It can bring on the same feeling of detachment and longing that some of us felt upon realising that the mosques would be closed. Now all of us can empathise, having been given a taste of this month without the things we take for granted -- from breaking our fasts with other people, to going to the masjid in the evenings for taraweeh. But, as with Ramadan in lockdown, what we think cuts us off from worship as we know it may actually be a time to bring us closer to God in a different way. We focus on other ways to connect to Allah, use the precious time we have for introspection, and can find ourselves transformed after it all. The end of Ramadan is in sight; whether you’re fasting or not, let’s try to go out on a spiritual high. Because menstruation should not keep us from God. Period.
The Amaliah ‘Alimahs Respond’ article mentioned: https://www.amaliah.com/post/52261/womens-rights-in-islam-marriage-in-islam-talaq-in-islam-inheritance-for-a-woman-in-islam-are-there-any-female-prophets-is-hijab-obligatory-hoor-al-ayn-can-a-muslim-woman-attend-a-burial-islam-islamqa
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