menstruation and prayer

The last time I had my period (two weeks ago) I woke up at 2:30 AM with a slight throb in my temples: I’d cried lightly the night before. I made my way to the bathroom sighing inwardly at the possibility of not being able to fall back asleep until morning when I wouldn’t have time, and before I flushed the toilet I noticed thin pools of blood strung through the water.
I was somewhat relieved to see I was menstruating. Taking care of it is much easier when I catch its arrival early in the morning than later in the day when it’s already made a mess on my panties and I’m nowhere near a clean pair.
Rummaging through the cabinet for a pad, I thought about taking a couple of Motrin but decided it may be unnecessary and went back to bed, a decision I soon came to regret:
Two hours later I was in so much pain I could hardly breathe.
I stared blankly at the dark ceiling. The intense pain was in both my lower abdomen and the full length of my legs. To make matters worse, right before the sun rises is the coldest part of the night. I was in blankets that trapped the heat of my own aching, and outside it was freezing. I couldn’t find the strength to bring myself painkillers. The pain and cold together produced a prickly sensation. I felt feverish. I hoped my body wasn’t reacting the pain with fever. There was no virus or infection to burn out.
Only iron deficiency. I had ceased taking supplements. I usually remembered to take them in the morning, when I’m on an empty stomach because I seem to never have time for breakfast. And iron on an empty stomach makes you want to vomit. One can imagine my inclination to avoid such an uncomfortable sensation by skipping the supplements. And once I got into that habit, well, it was done. I haven’t popped iron pills for years.
My thoughts were running loose. I closed my eyes and attempted to pull them together. I dug my fist into my lower back.
Eventually, I would force myself up and take some Motrin. An hour later I’d feel much better. I apply my makeup and consider a French manicure, because I don’t have to pray. Or so it’s believed.
In the prayer area, I sit while other women perform their prayers. One of them approaches me.
“Why aren’t you praying?”
“Menstruating,” I said simply.
“Then you can’t sit here.”
“Um. Why not?” I asked to be polite. In my head the reply was something like, No, actually, I’m pretty sure I can.
“You’re contaminated.” I’m not kidding. She actually said this. “There are couches in the hall.”
“I’m pretty sure menstruating isn’t contagious.” I forced a laugh.
“You’ll ruin everyone else’s prayers.”
“Really? Says who?”
She stopped, checking herself. I don’t think she actually knew the origin of this ridiculous idea. The question made her falter. “I was… told so, when I was a child.”
“It is incorrect. And I’m not moving.”
It is astounding to me, that of all the things that can make us impure, not only is this the only one that has no basis in the Qur’an itself but is taken to an extent that no other impurity is taken. What’s the difference between sitting in a mosque without wudu and sitting in one while on your period? Nothing, except for the latter you would have to be a woman, which means that you are filthy. FILTHY!
The verse that’s used to dictate that women should not pray whilst on their periods in the first place actually has nothing to do with prayer at all. This concept comes from hadiths, which I am fine with, because the Prophet meant for the rules of prayer to be passed down (unlike all other hadiths, the recordings of which he was against.) And since all we know of prayer as far as how to pray comes from hadiths, not the Qur’an, then I will hold that women don’t have to pray while their on their periods, to be consistent.
But don’t give me this bullshit about contamination. Or tell me the reason I don’t have to pray is because I’m “incapable” of it. Or that I just need a “break.” I will kick your patronizing ass.
A lot of women have horrible pain for the whole week, pain that isn’t easily treated with medication. Some have none. No change, mentally or physically. The symptoms of PMS vary from individual to individual. I don’t need any of your armchair doctoring.

The fact that it took so long for doctors to acknowlege that PMS is real and not just imaginary womanly hysterics, and the fact that it’s now used against us to “prove” that women are weak is just one example of how there is always going to be a war upon us.

3 thoughts on “menstruation and prayer

  1. I've had my fair share of women at mosques poking into my business, questioning me and trying to "rectify" my way of doing things, all being their hand-me-down theories, so annoying!

  2. I love your response to that woman. Just curious … do you believe the hadith means we should not pray during our periods, or just that we don't have to? To me the former does suggest that menstruation is viewed as contamination.

  3. What I was taught is that it is actually a sin to pray during our periods, but I haven't found the hadith from which that is derived, so I doubt it's true. Until I see it, I won't believe it. What further pushes my suspicion, is that we are not expected to make up the prayers, which tells me that even if it is a sin, it's not to be viewed as a contamination. If you are contaminated in other ways and miss prayer, you are still expected to make it up. Also, there are hadith that stress it is not a contamination:"The Prophet used to lean on my lap and recite Qur'an while I was in menses." –A'isha"While I was laying with the Prophet under a single woolen sheet, I got the menses. I slipped away and put on the clothes for menses. He said, 'Have you got 'Nifas' (menses)?' I replied, 'Yes.' He then called me and made me lie with him under the same sheet." –Umm SalamaWhat the woman said was that I was contaminating the entire place, and ruining everyone's prayer. Which is laughable, given these hadiths.

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