July 23, 2024

Whole Family

Trailblazing Family Excellence

When Wombs Speak: Period Positivity in Islam

8 min read
When Wombs Speak: Period Positivity in Islam

Earlier this year, I read an Amaliah Muslim Twitter roundup where a sister tweeted: “Women don’t get their fair share of ibadah…”. The comment haunted me the entire month, as I went on to read sisters lamenting about menstruating and “missing the first days of Ramadan”. Days later, I heard female scholars answering questions on Instagram like: “Do I get less reward for not fasting due to menstruation?”, “Do women earn rewards for Qur’an recitation while menstruating?”, “Is getting your period during Hajj or Umrah a punishment from Allah?” 

I was heartbroken at the sentiment made evident by these questions and inquiries – some Muslim women seriously see their periods as an obstacle in their path to Allah.

Perhaps a concoction of cultural biases, menstrual difficulties, and legal rulings of ritual purity stir conflict in the hearts of Muslim women about how to receive their monthly bleed. However, honoring the womb is written in the timeless revelation of the Qur’an and demonstrated in the Walking Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad , as he regularly and lovingly interacted with menstruating women. He even narrates an intimate conversation between Allah and the womb as narrated by Abu Hurayra:

“Allah created the creations, and when He finished from His creations, the womb said, ‘(O Allah) at this place I seek refuge with You from all those who sever me.’ Allah said, ‘Yes, won’t you be pleased that I will keep good relations with the one who will keep good relations with you, and I will sever the relation with the one who will sever the relations with you.’ It (i.e. the womb) said, ‘Yes, O my Lord.’ Allah said, ‘Then that is for you’.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 5987]

This hadith affirms what Allah, the Exalted, reminds us in the Qur’an:

“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allāh, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allāh is ever, over you, an Observer.” [Surah al-Nisa 4:1]

The lofty mention of the womb might sound ethereal and incomprehensible, but the Prophetic biography manifests honouring the womb through keeping family ties, recognising the sanctity of motherhood, and positively interacting with menstruating women. How then can we revive the sunnah of period positivity in societies where menstruation is neither acknowledged nor celebrated?

When I entered Islam at 19 years old, I was unabashedly period-positive. I felt liberated after discovering that vegetarianism relieved my painful and heavy periods. I sat in monthly circles with women of colour where we spoke of our wombs as significant and sacred. We openly discussed the use of menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, and organic period products. As I encountered the Muslim community, I assumed that my sisters in faith would also share my reverence for the womb and concern for the planet, but I rarely heard menstruation mentioned in a positive way, nor a discussion of period products and their environmental impact. Instead, I learned about all the acts of worship that menstruation prevented.  

I limited my period-positive views to my circle of friends and associates for many years until 2020, when my in-person womb steaming practice pivoted to an online educational platform called Honored Womb. Speaking openly on Instagram about periods garnered the attention of sisters from around the world who were seeking holistic ways to have healthy, pain-free periods, no longer wanting to resent their time of the month. Many of them knew who to contact for their fiqh questions, but had little space to discuss or learn about menstrual health in their families and communities. Instead, there were recurring stories of being expected to conceal their period from male family members, being shamed for wanting to slow down while menstruating, and being told that having a period during Umrah and Hajj was a sign of their sinfulness.

To combat these misconceptions and misunderstandings about menstruation and Islam, I hosted an online event in July 2023 to bring together Muslimah scholars and wellness practitioners to bridge the gap I saw between the world of womb wellness and women of faith. 

According to popular culture, one might assume that honouring your womb means dancing nude under moonlight, painting with menstrual blood, or calling yourself a goddess. But as Muslim women, we have our own unique ways to express reverence for our wombs while honoring the Giver of Wombs, al-Rahman. Much like the Ansari women of Medina, we can celebrate first periods, knowing that to be a bleeding woman is a blessing, not a curse.

In conversation with Shaykha Shaista Maqbool about Menstruation in the Seerah, she shared the tender story of Umayyah bint Qays (Allah be pleased with her), a girl who became a woman while riding on the she-camel of Prophet Muhammad en route to the battle of Khaybar. Though she tried hiding traces of her menstrual blood that soiled the luggage she sat behind, our beloved Prophet noticed both the stain and her discomfort.  He lovingly acknowledged Umayyah’s circumstances, instructed her in how to cleanse herself, and later gifted her with a necklace from the battle that he placed on her neck with his own blessed hands. This gift was so dear to her, she never removed it and asked to be buried with it [1]. 

When our mother Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) was saddened by the fact that she was menstruating during Hajj, our Prophet comforted her by saying, “This is a matter Allah has decreed for all the daughters of Adam.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 5559] She was then encouraged to continue fulfilling the other rites of Hajj with the exception of tawaf (circumambulating the Ka’bah).  

Islam recognises that menstruation is the biological and spiritual reality of bringing forth life.  How then can it be concluded that the physiological states decreed for the creation of life is something shameful? In stark contrast, we know that our blessed Prophet extended tenderness and affection to his wife Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) while she menstruated.  The infamous narrations about drinking from where she drank and eating from where she ate were while she menstruated [Sunan an-Nasa’i 70].  Laying his blessed head on her lap while he recited Qur’an was also while she menstruated [Sunan Ibn Majah 634]. The prophetic path doesn’t ask women to deny their nature but to embody worship in all states.

When I asked artist and chaplain Mona Haydar about menstruation, she replied:

“The word haydh in Arabic is really beautiful. It comes from the idea of a current or a flow, a flowing water. And in English, it’s so interesting because it’s a period. It’s the end of something. Whereas in Arabic, it’s something that’s moving with life. Menstruation is not an enemy, it’s not an ending, it’s not a period.  

It’s an ineffable sacred blessing and responsibility, and so when we look at it in that way through the lens of the Qur’an, through the Arabic language instead of through Western civilization and culture, we come to understand actually that our haydh (menstruation) and our nifas (postpartum period) are opportunities to connect to Allah (SWT).” [2]

In conversation with Ustadha Iffet Rafeeq, she further emphasized how our spiritual work is directly impacted by our relationship to our wombs. She reflects:

“I have seen how many women’s spiritual journeys are hindered because of their unhealthy womb, irregular periods, fertility issues, hormonal problems, and all of the mental health issues that come with hormonal health issues. When we work on hormonal health, when we restore balance back into our wombs, I’ve seen how women can then travel so much faster in their journey to Allah and in their spiritual journey because the body is back in reset. Even if there are other health problems going on, the womb problems or the hormonal issues connected to the womb seem to have a massive impact on spiritual journey and spiritual improvement. [3]

When our hormonal health is chaotic…we have poor sleep, we have mental health issues, we have gut issues, we have adrenal fatigue, women can get thyroid issues, we can have so many diet problems. When the endocrine system is out of whack, so much chaos is happening inside the body. So when we decide to attend a spiritual gathering or take on an Islamic studies course, we can’t seem to tap into the strength to do the work because of the chaos happening inside of us. 

Biologically speaking, what Ustadha Iffet mentions speaks to the far-reaching effects that our menstrual cycles have on an array of body systems – including our mood, mental focus, digestion, metabolism, immunity, hair and skin quality, libido, communication, organisation, self-analysis, etc. Varied levels of hormones literally shift our physiology, such that our desire for acts of worship like fasting, night vigil prayers, marital intimacy, community service, or Qur’an memorization can literally be facilitated in certain menstrual phases and challenged when hormones are imbalanced. If we have grown attached to static ways of worship that revolve around a fixed daily routine, we might feel disappointed when our female design demands that we orient to Allah in other ways.  

When Shaykha Dr. Tamara Gray encourages women to call their time of menstruation “dhikr week”, it reflects the type of reframing that allows us to shift from what we can’t do to what we can do.  She encourages students to have beautiful baskets and sacred spaces of worship prepared for this special time with uplifting books, litanies of remembrance and supplication, and translated copies of the Qur’an or Tafseer texts, so we can deepen and widen the breadth of our worship, enriching both its quality and feminine tenderness.

Aside from intentionally seeking out ways to draw closer to Allah while we menstruate, we can also tend to our wombs in the following ways to encourage a more easeful and peaceful period:

  • Prioritise warmth while menstruating to support improved circulation. Slow and sluggish blood, also known as blood stagnation, is more likely to turn dark, form clots, and result in uterine cramps. Drinking and eating warm beverages and foods, while sipping on warming teas like ginger, saffron, and turmeric can help move blood throughout the body.
  • Intend rest as an act of worship. When our wombs are menstruating, we are literally carrying a heavier load, as they are engorged with blood and thickened lining. Laying down can slow down heavy bleeding and long periods by relieving pressure on our uterine arteries. Naps, gentle walks and stretching, and longer nights of rest help us emerge rejuvenated and refreshed for the month ahead.
  • Be particular about your period care. Opting for non-toxic period products is an act of self-care for your vulva and womb. Choose organic, chemical-free pads, reusable cotton pads, or period panties to receive your bleed. Some of my clients report that simply swapping to more natural period care products alone helped relieve their infections, irritation, heavy bleeding, and pain.

The idea of Allah speaking to the womb is a conversation and connection that we may not fully comprehend. But our wombs are continually talking to us through our monthly periods and associated symptoms. If we can start to approach our period care as being in conversation with our womb, perhaps we will be written amongst those who kept good relations with the womb and find Allah keeping good relations with us in return.


References

  1. Al-Muhaddithat; al-Tabaqat al-Kubra by Ibn Sa’d.  Nadwi, M. K. 2007. Al-Muhadithaat: The Women Scholars in Islam. London and Oxford: Interface Publications, pp. 59, Gifting our Daughters with the Necklace | HEART (hearttogrow.org)
  2. Day 5: Sacred Menstruation with Mona Haydar – YouTube
  3. Day 3: Honoring the Womb with Ustadha Iffet Rafeeq – YouTube

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