As Salaamu Alaikum. I have had some Muslim friends asking questions about certain rules and regulations in Islam. Specifically, it was asked “Why don’t we women pray or fast during our menses?”.
Now, the short answer to that is “God said so”. It is agreed upon by all the scholars that the teachings in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah (the way of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) indicate that women are not to pray or to fast when they are on their menstrual cycle. We are to abstain from praying and fasting and then make up the missed fasts, but not the missed prayers. It is enough to know that this is an authentic rule for us to submit, but it is human nature to want to look more deeply into the issue.
A different version of the question is “Why can’t I pray or fast when I’m on my menses?”. This is a more personal question. A woman asking this may be saying “I am strong, my menses is a bit of a hassle but no big deal, I really want to pray and fast and I feel like I am missing out on worship when I don’t fast and pray. Why can’t it just be optional for me to do so if I want?”
This is an honest question. My reply, my LAYPERSON’S reply, let me stress, is this: Sometimes Allah makes rules for everyone, even though not everyone is in need of regulation. For example. Allah has made the consumption of alcohol forbidden to everyone, even though there are people who are incredibly responsible and who would never drink and drive, or become angry at someone, or behave in a destructive way due to alcohol. Because there is no way to sort out the “good drinkers” from the “bad drinkers”, erring on the side of benefit for the most people, Allah has made the ban on drinking alcohol universal. Those who are “safe” drinkers nonetheless abstain out of obedience to Allah, and to serve as good role models for everyone else.
I could argue a similar case for women not praying or fasting during menses. Imagine you have a group of ten women. For two of the women, their menses is really easy and it doesn’t slow them down much. They don’t have huge hormonal swings or cramps or other issues. Five of the women have moderate issues like cramps, headache, mood swings, and physical issues like bloating. They can pop an Advil and get through, but they are not at their best. The other three women really struggle. They are incapacitated by their menstrual cycle with severe cramps, fatigue, brain fog, and just all-around misery. They lie on the sofa for at least a day or so curled up around a hot water bottle. To have to get up to pray or to endure the rigors of fasting would be a major hassle for them.
Add to that the practical aspect of dealing with menstrual blood, and you can see that trying to maintain the prayer and fasting would be an incredible hardship for some women. Those of us living in a modern country cannot understand the plain old physical hardship of not having any type of feminine hygiene products to keep us feeling relatively clean and fresh. Some women make their own with strips of cloth and others do without, never moving from their homes and having the menstrual blood flow into a basin or onto the ground. I remember reading a story recently about a region in India where all the girls quit school when they started menstruating because they had no pads or other products to catch the flow of blood, so they effectively just stepped out of society for those days every month. This is NOT a rare thing – much of the Muslim world lives in relatively primitive circumstances in this regards. Imagine having to pray and fast and somehow keep clean without the basic necessities to do so.
An answer to that might be “Well, why not make it optional?” I think in that case, a lot of women would be guilted or pressured into trying to carry on and pray and fast even when they felt miserable. It’s like what I see among a lot of women when they try to “encourage” their sister in Islam to fast even when she is heavily pregnant or breastfeeding. I know a lot of women who struggle mightily to fast in those circumstances just because of pressure from family or friends, even though they have a clear dispensation from Allah Himself to refrain from fasting and make up the days later.
So if it were optional to fast or pray while menstruating, many women who are in pain, who are very uncomfortable, who have a heavy flow that is difficult to manage, would feel pressured by others around them to “buck up and be strong” and pray or fast anyway even though for them it would be a mercy to take the dispensation. Women can be really tough on other women and we find it hard to put ourselves in others’ shoes. I mean, for instance, I was blessed with easy fast labors when I had my babies, alhamdulillah. Does that give me the right to tell another woman whose labor pains are really horrible that she should “tough it out” and not take any pain relief? It’s not my place!
So Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala took this issue out of our hands. It does not require us to make a judgment call – am I too miserable to pray or fast? He in His Mercy gives relief to all, even though some of us are more or less unaffected by the pains of that time of the month and could continue with our normal routine unaffected.
I hope this has helped to clarify a bit for those of my sisters who feel that they COULD pray or fast. Think about all the women for whom trying to pray or fast at this time would be a misery and a burden. Know that Allah will never cause any of our good deeds to be lost, and if we can’t pray or fast at this time, still we can do other acts of worship, such as making dhikr, feeding a fasting person, reading educational books or listening to lectures, and lots more. Remember that your menses is a BLESSING if it is normal and means your body is working as Allah designed it. It is not a “woman’s curse” as many are wont to call it.
Anything correct that I said is from Allah and anything incorrect is from the Shaitan and my own nafs.