Why are we hiding our periods during Ramazan?

Published: June 29, 2016
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Periods are gross, and (according to men) should not be seen or heard about because men don’t like or understand them. PHOTO: BUZZFEED

We’ve all been there, ladies. Don’t deny it. Who hasn’t taken a surreptitious look around before scoffing a bite of (insert chosen food here) while on your period in Ramazan?

Lately, I’ve been wondering why on earth we do this… Why are we hiding?

Clearly it’s because of the many social and medical benefits of pretending to fast while menstruating. Not to mention the frequent suggestions found in the Holy Quran and Sunnah that this is the best way to deal with the crimson wave cravings during the holy fasting month…

That last paragraph was total nonsense, just an FYI. So why do we ladies – suffering with stomach cramps, aching lower backs, low energy, volatile emotions, an intense need for chocolate-based snacks and all the other wonderful side effects of our monthly visitor down below – put ourselves through the extra hardship of hiding our Allah-given right to eat when others fast?

I’ve asked this question to a wide range of Muslim sisters, and received explanations ranging from the vague, yet formidable declaration that it is ‘an issue of modesty’, to not wanting to expose the inner workings of your nether regions, to it being entirely disrespectful to those who are fasting.

In my friendship group and beyond, there are ladies who have no issue with eating openly in public, outside of their homes, to women who feel obliged to pretend to their own brothers and fathers that they are, in fact, fasting or even praying!

I have to admit I have a hard time understanding this need to hide.

I am of a mixed race (Welsh/Arab) heritage, and come from a household where it was completely acceptable for me to call my brother to bring me a sanitary pad while in the loo, or beg my dad to bring me home my favourite chocolates because nothing else will help lessen the pain.

The idea that our periods are shameful, or something that must be kept from the menfolk, is quite alien to my experience.

Having said that, I am a curious person, and have attempted to unravel this concept, and pinpoint its origin.

The subject of menstruation is one of the most written about topics in the area of fiqh simply because of the individual nature of each woman’s experience. You can find a ruling on pretty much anything to do with periods from fairly common sense issues like how long should it last right up to the almost-farcical “can I prepare my husband’s food?”

You would be safe to assume that a topic so heavily scrutinised would have no taboos left, especially when you pair this with the fairly nonchalant attitudes towards women’s periods we find in the Sunnah.

The Prophet’s (PBUH) wife, Aisha (RA), used to lie stretched out in front of him praying while on her period. He would also lay his head in her lap and recite the Holy Quran all while she was ‘of the blood’. He (PBUH) even made a joke about her going to grab a mat from inside the masjid when she hesitated due to her being on her period. His humorous, “You don’t have menstrual blood on your hands,” summarises the kind of attitude I thought we were supposed to have towards the subject. But we can no longer be naïve enough to think that the culture of the Sunnah is the only kind of culture that shapes how the Ummah thinks nowadays.

The world is getting smaller, and for most of us living in the west, our identity as a Muslim is a complicated issue, loaded with facets pertaining to identity and a general desire to belong.

Most western Muslims, I would argue, are suffering from a form of the Welsh term hiraeth. The word doesn’t really have a direct English translation and, although I boast Welsh heritage, the most Welsh I can remember is mostly to ask whether you like coffee. But what I can gather from Sheikh Google is that hiraeth means to be homesick for a time or place you cannot get to, or may never have visited in the first place. We feel hiraeth for the time of the Prophet (PBUH).

But as a Muslim living in the west, it’s silly not to admit that we aren’t in any way affected by the latest goings on of the Kardashians, just like everyone else on the planet. Popular culture is all around us, and does, to some extent, shape the way we think, and how the society we live in views the intimate goings-on of a woman’s body is no exception.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate and discussion on the topic of breastfeeding in public. A lot of people feel uncomfortable at the sight of a woman nourishing her child from her breast in a public place. This has led to a number of incidents where new mothers have been forced to hide away, move seats, or even leave establishments because of this.

When you look at the reasons given, it comes down, ultimately, the sexualisation of a woman’s breasts. There’s no denying that boobs are sexual, but considering the fact that Allah (swt) decided these would be the instruments mothers would use to feed their children, I find it quite interesting how this natural function is being superseded in priority by what men find sexual in society.

The message is clear: If it’s sexy, and fulfilling the concept of male sexual desire, it’s all good. If it is somehow tarnishing this idea, it is unpleasant, uncomfortable, and should be kept hidden. Periods are not sexy. In fact, periods are mostly gross, and for most women, warrant comfy pj’s, a hot water bottle, and a Netflix subscription rather than a night of passion.

And this is my point.

Periods, like breastfeeding, remind us of the uncomfortable truth that women’s bodies are not just objects of sexual desire.

We don’t have to look far to see examples of this suppression in the wider society. The tampon tax is not directly related, but does highlight a general disregard for the importance of sanitary necessities. Likewise, a woman’s decision to run the London marathon without a tampon or sanitary pad to raise awareness was met with such disgust and outrage, both in the media and on social media, that the original message she wanted to promote was lost.

Whether you agree with her tactics or not, the reaction her protest was met with shows how much the general population opposes such an open representation of female fertility.

I always remember being told, in an English literature lecture, about the origins of the word ‘gossip.’  The term comes from the words ‘god’s sib’, i.e. ‘god’s sibling,’ and was used to refer to women who assisted with a birth, essentially midwives, because they were helping God to bring life into this world. Childbirth was historically the realm of women, with fathers-to-be relegated outside the birthing room to wait. Along with the evolution of western medicine came the suppression of female education, which meant the role of doctor was predominantly, if not exclusively, reserved for men.

As the roles reversed and women became the helpless onlookers, the term ‘gossip’ emerged as one associated with women who liked to pass the time with idle, pointless, chatting. To a biracial on-the-fence feminist Muslim woman such as myself, it all makes sense. The fact that the area of medicine most controversially dominated by men – gynaecology – literally means ‘the study of women,’ implies that men still feel the need to know and control the unknown; in this instance, what’s going on in a woman’s lady garden.

If I’ve lost you at this point, I’ll summarise what I’m trying to say:  Periods are gross, and (according to men) should not be seen or heard about because men don’t like or understand them.

To go back to my original question, about why our Muslim sisters hide, I don’t actually think it’s us Muslims that were originally to blame for our espionage-esque Ramazan routines.

The society we live in thinks periods should be hidden, so we hide them.

Over time, we Muslims have added our own individual spice to the culture of period-hating. I’m not here to discuss the various rulings on what the correct Islamic etiquette is because

a) I am not a scholar, or even a remotely knowledgeable student and

b) There isn’t very much evidence either way.

I’m more interested in why hiding is our default response, and the repercussions of both showing or hiding. The most obvious result of eating in public during Ramazan is announcing the arrival of your Aunt Flo. This, in itself, is seen as reason enough to not do it. Fair enough, if women feel this is a private matter (literally) and should be kept that way, but still – why?

Every woman on the planet, excepting the mature and the ill, has a period. Every one of these women will not be fasting at some point over the 30 days unless they opted for the ‘no period’ month with the assistance of modern medicine. Why does something so common, so every day, still need to be kept hidden like a dirty secret? Aren’t we simply basking in our own fertility? I leave the answer up to you.

But it definitely seems to be a topic decided by personal preference, and each individual’s interpretation of the M word: Modesty. The variation in the degree of this modesty is noteworthy. Although our faith does not always dismiss culture and cultural norms, we are advised to remain balanced and on the middle path.

Whether you feel comfortable tucking into your lunch in front of work colleagues, or a grill house full of brothers is up to you, but I do think there is one area we can all give our sisters of the world a helping hand.

It still surprises me when Muslim women, especially those who classify themselves as feminist or community activists, encourage their male family members to believe they are still fasting while on their period.

Some will even go to the extent of actually fasting or lying to avoid awkward questions.

This is where I need to get real.

Sisters, Allah (swt) gave you the right to take a break. Your iron is low, and most of you is hurting; don’t make it any harder than it has to be. The real issue is not that your dad or brother will find it uncomfortable; it’s that you find it uncomfortable. And this is not okay.

This is your body, and periods are something that will affect you for most of your adult life. So you really need to suck it up, think about it, and get comfortable with what’s going on down there.

Once you do that, you can decide on a way that is comfortable for you to explain why you are tucking into that samosa before iftar. You do not need a standard, one-size-fits-all response. You can, most definitely, tailor it to your audience.

My guess is, your dad is going to have a pretty good idea already… if he doesn’t, I’m worried. Brothers, depending on age, may or may not have a clue, but judging by how readily available knowledge is nowadays thanks to the Internet, I’m pretty sure they have an inkling.

This is where you can actually do a service to the rest of womanity. At some point in the future, your brother will most likely get married. His future wife will most likely have periods. Imagine the shock on your poor bro’s face if this is a total revelation to him.

Warning: Major assumptions about to be made.

Picture his beautiful, adoring, wife that suddenly transforms into a shrieking harpy, demanding to know why he left the cap off the toothpaste, yet again, before crumpling into a flood of tears in a foetal position on the bathroom floor, demanding Midol. You have the power to do them both a favour by easing him into it gently. Ask him to make you a hot water bottle. Tell him your cramps are painful. Text him to bring you home some chocolate after work. By the time he gets married, he will be proficient in the potential period problems, and will be eternally grateful for your very useful training.

In all seriousness, I still don’t get what the big deal is. I appreciate people wanting to be respectful, as well as maintaining individual standards of modesty. However, I do feel it is something we have taken to extreme, and need to get back to the point where we can joke about the fact that the blood from Shark Week is not “on our hands.”

To quote Othello “O bloody period!” but, then again, so what?

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This post originally appeared here.

Hanan Issa

Hanan Issa

The author is a writer, spoken word artist and poet.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • tribune has no limits

    then paste ur pad on ur front doorRecommend

  • Fatımah Khan

    i doubt anyone agrees with u. im muslim, im female. but id rather keep my personal body works to myself then air them in public thankyou. why hang out your dirty laundry in public. and asking your brother to give u a sanitary napkin. Good God. woman. does he ask u to grab a condom from the shop on your way home? and u give an example of the prophet and his wife. there is no example of being so vulgarly open infront of your brother or father.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    so liberals have started using names like “Muslim Girl” so that conservatives can read this article and become shameless.Recommend

  • adnan

    its the same analogy . many people feel a bit uncomfortable saying in public i want to go to toilet… or when men urinate to the side of the toilet so there is no sound….. what wud u say to tat?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Why are we hiding our periods during Ramazan?”

    Because as you said, you are a Muslim girl and not just any other girl.Recommend

  • Chandravanshi

    I never knew that woman “show” their periods when its not ramazanRecommend

  • Sardar Hashmat Khan

    Tell your Dad and Brothers that you are having periods and also email and sms your relatives and friends when you go through this session.Recommend

  • MR.X

    Ur also right. But the author is also right that women should not pray and fast during menses.PArt of hadith from sahih Bukhari:” Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”
    http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_1_06.php, read hadith number 301Recommend

  • Mariyam

    Why so much hate?Recommend

  • Dipak Mehta

    No one can change natural thing God gave us. Be happy with the way things are. Every one should be grateful for the women God created. Every Muslim male should pray their women folks and be grateful.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    How is this article even a piece of literary work or how does it qualify for a public publish, even as a personal opinion, when it uses words like boobs and freely mocks religious concepts in implicit terms? How is this not frustration over a religion?Recommend

  • S25

    It’s sad that I know many girls who pretend to fast during menstruation in ramadan. They pray that they don’t have menstruation during the weekends because their father will be home from work hence the role playing will have to go on for longer hours. I don’t get. How hard is it to say “I am not fasting because I don’t feel well.”Recommend

  • Looking for Freaks

    Don’t you think Allah Almighty gave the concept of filth and disgust pertaining to girly days of the month? It all started there.. Sensible people don’t agree with the disgust given birth to by the religionRecommend

  • TruthPrevailsYes

    whats’ there to show off about? Pathetic Article – and we know why its on ET!Recommend

  • Sd Ad

    Author is right but at the same time unwise to pen such a paper.

    She must understand that in our [muslim societies] openly showing that one has periods is a taboo. It has something to do with “HAYA” nothing else.

    We all are fathers, brothers, sons…and we all know these things. Ladies in our homes are respected and loved. Yes we all expect that they shall exercise that modesty [driven from HAYA]…

    I shall avoid going into lengths on it. Only hope the point is conveyed.

    Agreed thhat web has given us liberty and freedom to write whatever we wish to, and share with masses….only should only be careful in writing, for such papers are also read by comparatively younger, neive [not so mature yet] kids who may be led away by these papers in an undesired manner.Recommend

  • Waqar

    Blogger hiding her name talking about hiding periods. Cute.Recommend

  • http://about.me/ahsan.mansoor Ahsan

    Aren’t we supposed to show some respect to those who are fasting by not eating in front of them, if we are not fasting ourselves for any reason? If you want to eat, feel free to do that in private. If you are asked about fasting, just say you’re not. Do you really have to announce your periods to the world? How exactly do you want the society to behave? Make jokes about your periods? I’m not sure how that is helpful.Recommend

  • Idiotic Blog

    wear one and sew the older one onto a necklace and wear that too.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    “Aren’t we supposed to show some respect to those who are fasting by not eating in front of them, if we are not fasting ourselves for any reason?”

    No. you’re not. nothing in religion about this.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    as evident from the comments, men are still unable to come to terms with the problems women go through… and then they say that they care about women …Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    In Bedouini, Aurat means one with shameful and stinking private organ. But Islam allows contracts/nikah for that private organ. Listen to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-88L_zb364&t=6m45sRecommend

  • S Khan

    No He does not give concept of filth and disgust to girly days of the month. It’s the people who do it following centuries long perceptionsRecommend

  • MR.X

    Dosent matter in arabic Nisa is used and it means women, so please dont spread misinformation. You can google the translation.Recommend

  • Sd Ad

    There is no dispute on it. In this condition nimaz roza things are excused. All know it.Recommend

  • Sd Ad

    Good point.Recommend

  • http://insaf.pk/ Atta ur rahman

    Too much on this in Islam. Probably you much read out and conduct some research on the above said.

    ALLAH is all knowingRecommend

  • Rose Mary Marlow

    Loved the picture of the sanitary pad. Excellent. Lets have more such pictures, maybe a couple of pictures of used toilet papers too, please?Recommend

  • ajeet

    Good idea. But don’t steal it Recommend

  • http://about.me/ahsan.mansoor Ahsan

    I am not even going to relgious discussion. I was referring to a personal courtesy practised in muslim majority countries. But maybe a personal courtesy to fellow muslims is an unknown phenomenon to you?Recommend

  • Momina

    It’s a pad with red glitter on it.Recommend

  • Cannot have a better reply than this. Excellent sister!Recommend

  • Sane

    Put a label ‘I am with periods’ and cover your body with stained pads. Isn’t this a bright idea. Don’t need to hide, display as much as possible. ‘Change’ this world and apply for immigration to a foreign country who will welcome you with open arms. This is also a shortcut for getting another nationality.Recommend

  • Sane

    One of the most nonsense thoughts.Recommend

  • Looking for Freaks

    Salat and Roza not allowed during the days, what does this mean? That one is too dirty to present herself before the Almighty. I’m just saying what issue the Almighty and Islam could possibly have if women were allowed to pray and fast irrespective of their biology. Nothing, right? Centuries old customs and beliefs creep into the religions and are termed as the still-followable word of God today. This issue, that you and I are talking is no different. Belief that women are too dirty to pray during specific days of the month is of the gone days, religion is not letting it die and rest in dust for all of us to keep spirit of subduing ourselves before God above the biology and petty things.Recommend

  • Gowpeet

    No. He is a Hindu writing under a Muslim name.
    Just Muslim hating Hindu.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    provide proof ? references?Recommend

  • Ex Tribune Reader

    dear author, if you think it is good to hide, then keep discuss these stuffs with your relatives i.e. father, brother or son, we will never mind, but don’t try to impose your ill logic on others. thanks.Recommend

  • rational khan

    Religion make you go crazy and feel proud: cut your body parts (circumcision), your sons throat (ismail), injure body (shia mourning) burn women (sati), kill non belivers, what not……it will make you feel guilty for normal body physiology. Secretions are normal guys! they are with us when we had no clothsRecommend

  • Saher

    Actually, even if you are not on period and not fasting due to some other medical condition, you still don’t go on eating in front of people who are fasting. Its common courtesy.Recommend

  • Afreen Naz

    She has mentioned chocolates so many times, why don’t anybody bring her chocolates?

    Sister, my brothers do the same. they make me coffee, get me the pills and pads when i ask. and I am not a big fan of chocolates so yeah, keep that. But trust me the way men do not like this. We, as women would not like men to masturbate in public, right? Somethings are required to remain personal, although everybody knows about them. Boasting is not the solution, awareness is.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    we do show courtesy even non muslims living here.. BUT there is no compulsion …Recommend

  • Nana

    Glad to know that women in your religion do not hide and display their blood stained sanitary pads (days) publicly. Which religion is that by the way?Recommend

  • PJ

    YOU are a VERY sick man.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    It is the religion which you just cannot hate enough. BTW would Muslim women not hide their periods if it is not Ramzan?Recommend

  • marriam

    So, lets celebrate..Recommend

  • Nana

    Not in my house. Do people you know announce it whenever they have it? And thank you for assuming too much about us. Keep on living in your la la dream world. Recommend

  • mazharuddin

    A Hijabi woman writing such a crap. she has dramatically changed the definition of feminism. at the one side she warped her head off and another term herself as Feminist.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Truth about alien criminal rapist marauder is indeed sickening.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Aurat is Arabic word. Stree & Mahila are native organic words with divine meaning. Enslaved Desis have started using this dirty Aurat word. For natives Shabd/word has to be divine. Shalom is organic native word of Hebrew speaking people. Romans corrupted to militarilistic Salute which can be used to motivate armed legion (religion) to kill, rape & loot natives in the name of Jesus, to whom they had persecuted. Bedouin Koresh perfected this Roman technique of hijacking everything native for their devilish motives. That is how corrupting and enslaving Salam came about.Recommend

  • kumar

    Eh? Circumcision is scientifically proven to lower the chance of STD’s. Burning women (SATI), is a HINDU custom …
    Use your brains before commentigRecommend

  • Eddied

    You are hiding your hair. That is hypocritical. You can parade your menstrual blood in the streets for all I care but at least be true to yourself.

    Feminism is the best thing that happened to men. It made their dreams come true. Now take off that hijab and parade all you want. I for one would like it.Recommend

  • Talha

    for a week more or less all this ? now this doesn’t make any sense .
    not only women who are menstruating are supposed to take care while eating infront of other who are fasting but men are too , those who cant fast becasue of their ill health health or any other issues. Don’t agree with the lady…Recommend

  • Damini Gulati

    Condom is an item to be used during sex. Sex is by choice, while menstruating is not. There is no comparison between a condom and a pad. She is not suggesting girls to ask their brothers to bring them contraceptive pills. Even though their is nothing wrong in doing so. If you have a good bond and are comfortable around your brother, you could ask him for those pills. But I could understand it being difficult for most people to admit that they are having sex. But asking for tampons is as natural as asking your brother to bring your particular pack of women’s facewash that is available only in the supermarket. Or for him to be asking you to get his favourite aftershave as it is available in the store right next to your office. Recommend