Allah has not forbidden any rituals of worship for a menstruating woman in any of the verses of the Qur’an. Commonly practised are many different prohibitions during menstruation such as:
* Prohibited to perform salah prayers
* Prohibited to keep the prescribed fasts in the month of Ramadan
* Prohibited to hold or touch a copy of the Qur’an
* Prohibited to recite a single verse of the Qur’an
* Prohibited to enter a mosque
* Prohibited to perform the Pilgrimage (Hajj)
Almost every act of worship is forbidden. The underlying understanding in these highly restrictive prohibition in worship appears to be considering women in menstruation to be highly ‘spiritually’ impure and unclean to the level that even touching the Qur’an, the book which is meant to be a believer’s guide, is considered prohibited.
The Qur’an establishes the purpose of the creation of both men and women: to serve Allah. It applies fully to both sexes.
“Our Lord! We have heard someone calling us to faith – “Believe in your Lord” – and we have believed. Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, wipe out our bad deeds, and grant that we join the righteous when we die. Our Lord! Bestow upon us all that you have promised us through Your messengers – do not humiliate us on the Day of Resurrection – You never break your promise.’ Their Lord has answered them: ‘I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female, each is like the other.’ (Qur’an 3:193-195)
Allah has made all the restrictions or prohibitions in the Qur’an. For example, for salah, one should pray, once complying with what is stated in the following verse:
“Believers, when you prepare for prayer, wash your faces, and your hands to the elbows; wipe your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, then purify yourselves. But if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you has relieved himself, or have been in contact with women, and find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand, and rub your faces and hands with it. Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favour to you, that you may be grateful.” (Qur’an 5:6)
Notice the several conditions Allah specifies which believers should meet before performing salah. This would be a suitable place to mention the restriction for menstruating women if Allah wished so – that believing women should wait till they finish their menstruation, yet it is not found there nor anywhere else in the Qur’an.
We can see a similar scenario with the verses on fasting where Allah has not prohibited believing women from fasting during menstruation.
However Allah has spoken of menstruation in the Qur’an and has placed one restriction on them:
“And they ask you about the menstruations? Say: ”It is harmful, so keep away from women during the menstruations, and do not approach them until they are cleansed. When they are cleansed, then you may approach them from where you are commanded by Allah.” Indeed Allah loves the repenters and He loves the cleansed.” (Qur’an 2:222)
Allah has only prohibited sexual intercourse for menstruating women and nothing else. The verse starts off with “They ask you about menstruation”, which further emphasises that only Allah makes such prohibitions in the Qur’an, which is the message of the prophet. The prophetic prohibitions are the Quranic prohibitions since Allah is the One Who provides the answers. “They ask you about…, Say…” are frequent occurrences in the Qur’an. The reason pointed out in the verse for the prohibition of intercourse during menstruation is biological i.e. “it is harmful” and no spiritual indication is given.
What is important to know is that Allah does not consider women, his creation, as spiritually impure during menstruation anywhere. This is the root belief which has led to all the innovated restrictions we listed, even touching a copy of the Qur’an and studying from it as well as prostrating to her Creator is considered prohibited! One would appreciate the severity of this if it could be fully understood the huge role the Qur’an should play in the true believer’s life, which is not understood by many people today. A believer reading this can imagine just how much Quranic wisdom she would be kept away from if she cannot come near the Quran for up to seven days! Another verse in which menstruation is mentioned is the following in prescribing the time period that should be considered before a divorce:
“In the case of those of your wives past the age of menstruation, if you have any doubt, their waiting period should be three months, and that also applies to those who never menstruate. The time for women who are pregnant is when they give birth. Whoever has fear of Allah – He will make matters easy for him.” (Qur’an 65:4)
Let us appreciate the detail in which Allah describes certain matters in the Qur’an where He deems it necessary. He has laid all the details needed in the Qur’an including details on menstruation. Allah permits believing women to carry out all the acts of worship He has recommended in the Qur’an even during menstruation, except for what he has forbidden in verse 2:222. If however, pain is experienced during menstruation, we apply our understanding of any ill person where Allah is Oft-Forgiving and merciful “Allah does not wish to place any hardship on you” (Qur’an 5:6), and follow the advice of verses such as this:
“If any of you is ill or travelling, then the same number from different days; and as for those who can do so but with difficulty, they may redeem by feeding the needy.” (Qur’an 2:184) (Verse is in the context of fasting in the month of Ramadan)
Bible on Menstruation
In the Bible we see a stark contrast with in the attitude towards menstruating women compared to the Qur’an. In the Bible, we find that ‘spiritual impurity’ is an issue with women in menstruation:
“And if a woman have an issue (her period/menses), [and] her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it [be] on [her] bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she [shall be] unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe [himself] in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one [for] a sin offering, and the other [for] a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.” (From the King James Version Bible, Leviticus 15:19-30)
There is a great parallel in these very Biblical ideas and what is being practiced. For example, menstruating women have been forbidden to go inside a Mosque, which is just like how the Bible considers any place a menstruating woman sits on to be dirty: “everything she sitteth upon shall be unclean”. Or for example, she is forbidden from touching a copy of the Qur’an, which parallels with the Biblical idea that whoever touches something which a menstruating woman has been in contact with, he also becomes unclean: “And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean”.
Origin of these Ideas into Islam
During the era of hadith development, that is, 200 to 600 years after prophet’s death, one of the prevalent sources of the era’s rampant hadith fabrications were what are known as Isaraliyat fabrications. These originate from Jewish or Christian sources who wished to insert their ideas into the Quranic religion of the time. Muhammad Hashim Kamali writes in his “The Textbook of Hadith Studies”:
“Qur’an commentaries (tafsir) in both the tafsir bil-mathur (commentary based on precedent) and tafsir bil-ray varieties have not escaped forgeries especially in regard to what is known as Jewish anecdotes (Israliyat). It is noted in this connection that prior to Islam when the Bedouin and illiterate strata of the Arabian people wanted to learn more about certain subjects such as the origins of creation and its mysteries, turmoil and fitna, and so forth they asked the Jews and Christians who has known of such subjects from the Torah and the Bible. Later when these people converted to Islam they conveyed the information they had in their commentaries and elaborations on the Qur’anic passages, especially on subjects outside the area of the ahkam. Some of the recognised names among the ahl al-kitab such as Abd Allah b. Sallam, Kab al-Ahbar, and Wahb b. Munabbih were famed for their anecdotes and stories some of which then found their way into the context of the Qur’anic commentaries. Since these were stories and anecdotes outside of the ahkam, their veracity was often overlooked. “The Qur’an commentaries treated these relatively lightly and filled their tafsir works with such anecdotes … ” that were of questionable origin and content. ” (Chapter 7: Hadith Forgery, Paragraph 19)
Argument of not being able to maintain ablution / wudhu during menstruation
The Qur’an does not say a believing woman cannot make ablution while in menstruation (the purpose of ablution is symbolic and not to physically clean). Therefore, salah may be performed as normal. The Qur’an also does not require believers to make ablution in order to touch or hold a copy of the Qur’an to begin with for ablution to be a concern.
One may argue that traditionalists only prohibit these rituals of worship due to physical not spiritual uncleanliness. This is not true. If it is not for spiritual uncleanliness, then what is wrong with a menstruating woman simply sitting inside a mosque, when she can function and be everywhere else? Ablution is not required in order to be inside a mosque! Why can she not observe the fasts if she wants to keep them and feels fit to do so? Ablution is not required while keeping fasts either (in both cases, neither by Quranic nor traditional standards).
Believing women in menstruation are permitted to carry out all forms of worship the Qur’an advises on. The only prohibition in the Qur’an during menstruation is sexual intercourse.