Muslim Women Redefining Period Conversations

Written by Mariam Seme

As a Muslim woman, I have always felt anxious during Ramadan, worrying about my period arriving during the 30 days period of fasting. If it does, I have to explain why I am not fasting or praying, and it’s exhausting always having to explain to people the reasons why I am not fasting or praying because they will always ask. And even when I do, I am seen as unclean. Many Muslim women face stigma and shame during their periods, being seen as “unclean” and “unworthy” of worship.

One time, I wasn’t allowed into the mosque because I was on my period.  The stigma that comes with having periods is not talked about enough; one would think it has been normalized by even the victims. Who wants to normalize shame? A shame taught from having periods.

Islam prohibits women from engaging in certain religious activities, such as prayer, fasting, and reading the Qur’an, when they are menstruating. But Islamic beliefs do not disregard women, even if they refrain from participating in some religious practices while they are menstruating. However, the people practicing Islam have made Muslim women feel cast out when they are on their period and this has been normalized in Muslim society. 

Menstruation is often seen as a private matter, not to be discussed openly. Women are expected to suffer in silence, hiding their pain and discomfort behind a mask of dignity. But this cultural expectation has led to a culture of shame and silence, where women feel embarrassed to discuss their periods even with their own families.

A lot of Muslim women are reluctant to acknowledge the existence of this issue because of the way it reflects Islam. But it is a problem, we can’t keep denying that. A new generation of Muslim women is determined to change that by breaking the silence and challenging cultural taboos surrounding menstruation. Muslim women are driving conversations that can kill the shame and advocate to be seen as worthy because that is what we are. We need to remember that Islam encourages women to welcome their periods, and it’s not a thing to be ashamed of.

Hearing from some Muslim women who shared their thoughts with me on this topic, I realized that most of them are aware of this problem and are taking action to speak up for themselves because in the end we only have ourselves.

Asmau, a 23-year-old Muslim woman, shared her experience during the last fasting period: “I spent Ramadan with my aunty and her family. Just one time she overslept and her husband criticized her for sleeping. Meanwhile, she was on her period and needed to rest, and she couldn’t even mention it. When I asked her why she didn’t say anything, she said it wasn’t important. How’s your health and wellbeing not important?” she said.

In many Muslim communities, openly talking about periods is heavily frowned upon. But we need to start having these conversations, especially in our homes. Women can start by discussing period symptoms, ways to ease discomfort, and encouraging women to speak up about their periods without shame or feeling less. By doing so, we can break the stigma and create a safe space for Muslim women to talk about their menstrual well-being.

“There has been a long-standing connotation that periods are dirty, or even shameful, as well as a deep misunderstanding that periods make women and menstruators unpredictable, unreasonable, or moody,” Hayley Merrick, Hormone Health Coach said when discussing the way menstruation is viewed. 

Angelica Lindsey-Ali, a Muslim Sexual Health Educator also added that “Muslim women are often afraid to talk about their periods openly because they have been taught that they are dirty during this time.” A notion believed by many. 

“I was led to believe that I would be seen as shameless if I am so open about getting my period, especially during Ramadan,” Kudi, a 20-year-old student said, when I asked her if she freely talked about her period. She also added that she hides to eat during Ramadan, and is always excited when her period finishes so she can feel normal again.

“I feel like I am seen as unclean and unworthy of worship when I am on my period. It’s like I am less of a Muslim woman,” Fatima, a 30-year-old Muslim woman lamented.

Islamically, women abstaining from praying and fasting during periods has been clarified for a reason; it’s a natural thing for women to menstruate, and it’s not a thing to be ashamed about. This is something that needs to be taught going forward. Muslim women should be able and unashamed of having conversations about their menstrual well-being.

“It begins in the home. Women can start by having discussions about their period freely amongst themselves. Stigma is often bred and grown in homes. Stopping it has to begin there too.” Angelica Lindsey-Ali said. 

One of the leading voices in this movement is Amaliah, a 25-year-old activist who actively talks about the struggles of Muslim women during periods with the theme: “Periods Without Shame.” Amaliah grew up feeling ashamed of her periods, hiding her pain and discomfort from her family and friends. But when she began to research Islamic teachings on menstruation, she discovered that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged women to speak openly about their periods.

Armed with this knowledge, Amal began to speak out about her own experiences, sharing her story with others and encouraging them to do the same. She organized workshops and events, creating a safe space for women to discuss their periods without fear of judgment or shame.

This kind of work all over the world has inspired Muslim women to speak out about their periods. They are sharing their stories on social media, writing blog posts and articles, and organizing events to raise awareness and challenge cultural norms.

We have women who are speaking up for themselves because they have the encouragement and support they need. Like this article by Niloufar Haidari, an author at Hyphen who talked about period shame, and Imaan Asim, who talked about the effect of period stigma on menstrual health

As Habibat, a 30-year-old mother of two, explained, “I used to feel so alone in my struggles with periods. But now, I know that I am not alone. I have a community of sisters who understand me, who support me, and who encourage me to speak out.”

Muslim women redefining period conversations is not only about challenging cultural norms but also promoting a more inclusive and compassionate understanding of Islam. By speaking openly about their periods, Muslim women are reclaiming their bodies and their experiences, and challenging the patriarchal norms that have silenced them for too long.

As Dr. Fatima, a scholar of Islamic studies, explained, “Islam teaches us to honor and respect our bodies, and to prioritize our health and well-being. By speaking openly about their periods, Muslim women are embodying these values and challenging the cultural norms that have distorted them.”

We are not just redefining period conversations; we are redefining what it means to be a Muslim woman. We are claiming our bodies, our experiences, and our voices. And we will not be silenced.

By sharing our stories and experiences, we can break the stigma surrounding periods and create a more inclusive and supportive community for Muslim women. Let’s work together to create a world where we can feel proud and empowered, even during our periods.

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