There’s been a lot of talk amongst Muslim women, both in person and on social media, around the stigma of being on your period during the holy month of Ramadan. While there are many women on their period who do not eat in front of those who are fasting out of respect, there are others who feel guilt and shame. Time and time again, I hear the same stories from women, that they are too “ashamed” of eating in front of their male relatives, or they are too afraid to eat or drink in front of others, or worst yet, that they have to resort to hiding themselves from others when they do out of shame and feelings of guilt.
The more I hear these stories, the more alarming it becomes for me. It’s bad enough having to deal with excruciating cramps and back pains, but now, women have to be shamed for it too? The topic of periods is still considered touchy and taboo and many are reluctant to admit that there is a stigma attached, instead it is always hushed up or brushed under the carpet. A lot of people don’t want to admit that this problem exists, out of fear of causing more negativity around Islam, but this is a conversation that needs to be had and we as women, need to be heard.
As we all know, Ramadan is a holy month, observed by millions of Muslims around the world. That means abstaining from food, water, intimacy & smoking from dawn to sunset.
However, women are exempt from fasting whilst they are on their period. Not just from fasting, women are also exempt from praying Salah five times a day whilst they are menstruating. In fact, it is acceptable not to fast during Ramadan if you are pregnant, nursing, have a physical or mental illness, are elderly, experiencing severe thirst or hunger or are travelling. So, if that’s the case, then why do menstruating women get such a hard time?
In Muslim communities, the stigma that a woman on her period is “unclean” or “impure” still remains, and it is this very deep-rooted mentality that sadly continues to trickle down today. I heard a friend from Dubai mention that her mother gives her food and drink to eat in her room, so as not to offend her brothers or male relatives. I heard another friend who is from London say, that she has to pretend she is fasting out of shame of admitting she is on her period. Hiding your period and feeling ashamed just further perpetuates misogyny and more than that, it chips away at your femininity.
If Islam and the holy scriptures clearly commands menstruating women to not fast or pray, so, then why does society feel it okay to give women such a hard time? Why should women feel bad or ashamed for something that occurs naturally? And just to be clear, no woman actually enjoys being on her period. Believe me, it’s no picnic.
If you are on your period and feeling the pressures of shame or guilt, don’t. In fact, open up, have a conversation, be honest about why you are not fasting, and if they truly are your family they will understand, and if they don’t, well that’s on them. The subject of menstruation needs to be discussed both at home and at school. We need to educate those who have distorted judgements about periods and correct them and start the process of normalising.