Be Careful What You Ask: Ramadan and Periods

Be Careful What You Ask: Ramadan and Periods June 24, 2015

This post was written by guest contributor Rana S.

I no longer feel awkward saying it out loud – some may think I’m too blunt about it. You know, like, about my period.

Menstruation is one of the factors that nullify a person’s fast (regardless if it is during the month of Ramadan or not) – it automatically “breaks” it. Every Ramadan, I get asked by at least a few people I know (and a few strangers have asked as well) about why I’m not fasting whenever I get “caught” eating or drinking a beverage. I would also get teased with “Ha! You’re cheating!” or “I caught you red-handed!” I suppose some people feel obliged to say something due to the fact that I do wear the hijab, and thus it is assumed I am also the Ramadan fasting type.  Sometimes these are people that I have already told that I fast during Ramadan, but then they suddenly see me “breaking” it.

During my high school and college years, I felt awkward confessing to guys that I was on my period. I would reply vaguely with something along the lines of “well, you know, there are circumstances in which Islam prohibits fasting, and I’m in one of those situations.” Some of the guys would look confused and simply reply with “Oh…okay.” If they inquired further, I would then explain that a person may break his/her fast for health reasons. I would lie that I had a health issue, but never say what that health issue was – I’d basically hint that I did not want to discuss the matter any further.

That changed seven years ago.  I was on the metro drinking an iced cappuccino on a Ramadan day, when a Muslim guy I knew got on. When he spotted me, he walked over and said hi. Then he stared at the iced cappuccino in my hands. “Oh, you’re not fasting?” he asked casually.

“Not today…”

“I guess you don’t feel like fasting today?”

“It’s not that. I just can’t.”

“Why?”

“You do realize that there are exceptions to the fasting rule?”

“Well I know illness is one of them. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine…”

“Then how you come you just can’t?”

“Um, I’m a woman?”

“Huh?”

“You do know, right, that the rules of fasting differ for women?”

“Really?”

“Yes…”

“Like what?”

“Like, a woman’s period. It nullifies the fast. And yes, I’m on my period. ”

“Oh…I didn’t know that.”

[silence]

“I honestly didn’t know that…”

The incident with the Muslim guy was my trigger of change. The fact that even some Muslim guys either don’t know or forget that anyone menstruating is exempt from fasting (an ignorance largely due to the taboo of “exposing” men to it) is simply…not right. To be fair, the metro guy wasn’t the only Muslim guy who asked – but he was the only one who kept asking to the point where I confessed that I was on my period.

The metro incident made me realize that the taboo of talking about menstruation or admitting that one is on her period to guys – even when it would be for educational purposes (as in the case of Ramadan) – was only because patriarchal societies devalue and censor women’s bodies whereby only some aspects are fully acknowledged while others are taboos. Menstruation is a defining symbol of womanhood for many women. It is human – yet I have always felt that I should be as secretive about it as possible, to the point as if it does not exist. I did not want to hide that unnecessarily anymore.

I have some Muslim girlfriends who would still prefer lying to guys during Ramadan than confess their menstruation status. A few even go as far as only abstaining from food and beverages in public so as to not be “caught.” A few others abstain from food and beverages only whenever they are at home, so as to fool their fathers and brothers. The taboo nature of periods, and the extent to which some Muslim women will go to hide it, is perhaps why some Muslim guys either don’t know or forget.

Fast forward six years later. I spent the next six Ramadans bluntly telling anyone who asked, man or woman, that I was on my period whenever I got “caught.” With guys, it always occurred on a one-to-one basis.  That changed one day in Ramadan 2014. I was at work, and it happened to be an employee’s birthday. After the birthday cake was divided unto plates, I casually picked one up.  One of male co-workers asked, while the kitchen was still crowded with all employees, “hey, how come you’re not fasting? I thought you were really into that.” All eyes turned towards me. I looked around the kitchen, then responded with “Okay, now that I have your utmost attention, I want to say:  I’m on my period. I can’t fast when I’m on my period.”  One of my other male co-workers laughed and said “Oh yeah! I remember last Ramadan when you told me. I knew when it started and ended!” The conversation ended thanks to a third male co-worker who cautiously said “Okay…this is getting awkward. Can we change the conversation?”

The work incident still makes me laugh. It also made me realize that I no longer feel awkward about explaining my period status during Ramadan to men, regardless of who they are or how many men are in the same room as me.

Just for the record, not every Muslim breaks his/her fast due to exceptions to the fasting rule. There are Muslims that don’t fast simply because they don’t want to.  Others choose to fast on only some Ramadan days, but not all. Then there are those that were obliged to break their fast for a number of days, but don’t make up for them before the next Ramadan – or not do them at all. Fasting is a spiritual journey – not everyone is on the same pace with it.

I procrastinate horribly when it comes to making up my period days. Every year I get lectured by my mom about why I fast them anywhere between one to four weeks before Ramadan – especially since Ramadan these past few years has been in the summer, and thus the days are long. I half-heartedly convince myself that at least I’m preparing myself for Ramadan. That’s still smart, right?…Right?

Muslim girls: Take advantage of your period days in Ramadan. Organize an outing that involves food nearly every day before you return to your fasting routine. You should especially do this with other Muslim girls that are on their period. You deserve a break! How about even a dance party?  Call it “The Period Party” and invite all your menstruating Muslim friends. That is, if you don’t think it sounds too cheesy. I have yet to try this. Or how about even a one week trip to somewhere around the world? You know like, during your period days.

Will I have any period stories this Ramadan? I probably will. Since I was 14, I’ve never fasted a whole Ramadan (one month) without getting my period and without getting “caught”!

Happy Ramadan and Happy Break-Fasting!


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  • pietrocrazy

    I really like this article because it’s an issue I (and every other Muslim woman) have struggled with too! On the one hand, I don’t think women should have to hide when they’re on their periods, and they certainly shouldn’t feel that they should be ashamed of doing what is Islamically mandated – i.e. NOT fasting during this time.

    But on the other hand, while I don’t fault non-Muslims for asking why we’re not fasting, I don’t think Muslims have any excuse. Whether I’m on my period or have a medical issue of some kind that prevents me from fasting, it’s really none of your business. If you are a Muslim and you see another person you know is Muslim not fasting, then asking about it is really an invasion of their privacy and just plain rude. Better to assume the best about somebody (they’re not fasting for an Islamically valid reason) rather than the worst.

  • Seyyed Ali H. M

    As men, we demand equal rights and no fasting days during Ramadan.
    Just kidding. If such conversation was brought up between me and another Muslim Lady, I would apologize for even bringing it up to her.

  • muslimahmom

    Thanks for this article! Funny and smart. I am also looking for practical advice on eating and drinking during this time because I am just feeling like I am really getting into the swing of fasting and bam! my period starts. So I have been only taking tiny sips of water and allowing myself to taste the food while cooking for my family, but that’s it. I am curious if others do the same thing, and if there is any guidance for us to avoid feeling like we are going backwards or creating more hardship when it’s time to fast again? Any insight is appreciated!

    • What I am trying to do is eat minimally, kind of like what you are saying here. And not get into the whole breakfast, lunch and dinner routine. I feel the same way that I am in the swing of fasting and bam!

  • You are not going to believe this. I just last day didn’t eat anything and broke the fast with my relatives, because they came over and I just didn’t want to explain. Not even to women.

  • NG

    Interesting. I didn’t realize this. I must say I never came across the issue when living in the Middle east, perhaps because in the culture I was in that would be such a taboo subject to mention. But I am sure the women would never eat publicly, that simply was not done during Ramadan.

  • Emily

    As a Mormon who fasts one Sunday out of each month, if I see another Mormon eating, I assume that there is a valid reason (pregnancy, nursing, diabetes, or other physical issue) and say nothing at all.