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Because Women Bleed

December 11, 2015
FYI: I didn’t make this post “outsider friendly.” I am assuming the reader has a basic understanding of female menstruation and prayer in the Islamic tradition.

I used to be the kind of Muslim who didn’t care much for rules. Matters such as how you fold your arms when you pray seemed to be a way to divide and police people. Isn’t it the spirituality, the intention, that matters? 

I have learned, however, that fiqh—the part of Islamic faith that has to do with legal rulings—IS a way of enacting spirituality. Rules are like rituals. They make the processes and methodology absolute so that one cannot be distracted, uneasy, or meek in their workship.

It was due to this newfound respect and adab for fiqh that I attended a workshop on the Fiqh of Taharah (Purity) at a mosque in Markham. It was specific to the subject of menstruation and was for females only.

What I grew up knowing about menstrual purity was based on what my mother told me and some scattered readings of religious texts. It had been over a decade since I received any formal instruction on the subject, and it turned out that there was much I hadn’t been aware of.

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Image credit: Stròlic Furlàn, flickr

Overall, I learned that Islamic legal rulings give a holistic, universal treatment of female bleeding that can be applicable to all women. For example, in the Hanafi school of thought, a period is only considered a true menstrual period if it is at least three days, and if the time that has passed since the last period is at least fifteen days. There is a specific way a woman is supposed to monitor the start and end of her period—for example, her period doesn’t start from the time she starts the bleeding, but the time she sees the blood. It may seem like common sense, but to know that this was the conclusion that legal experts sanctioned provides a strange kind of comfort and ease.

It was a revelation to me and many others that it is almost essential, religiously speaking, for women to track their periods and to know their normal cycle. The instructor (who happened to be a male using the audio system form a different room) emphasized that many of the Islamic legal implications on menstruation had to do with the women knowing her “habit,” or the usual course her cycle takes. Having this information is key for some of the conundrums that may come up when her bleeding is irregular, for she could be confused as to whether she should pray. We went on break not long after that point was made by the instructor, and I saw the room come alive with women discussing the lessons and sharing their experiences with one another. As part of this, we started talking about if/how we tracked our periods, and my sister leaned in and ended up showing me which she considers “the best app” for period tracking.

That was when everything would change.

I started using Clue right after that and have been consistent with it since. Clue has allowed me the uphold the injunction to know one’s cycle from both a fiqh and reproductive health perspective. The initiative was founded by a successful award-winning social entrepreneur who sees infinite possibilities in marrying data analytics and reproductive health.

The user experience is seamless and the app itself is a mini encyclopedia of facts related to things like menstruation, birth control and PMS. Without exaggeration, it has allowed me to get in touch with my body by observing and getting to know it. 

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I am one of the more fortunate women to have learned about reproductive health and menstruation in my biology and health classes. Even so, I was not given the tools to apply the facts to how my body worked. Clue, for me, serves as that missing tool. It encourages me to pay closer attention to myself. And, best of all, it gives me the means to uphold and apply the “fiqh of Taharah” by completing its most fundamental requirement—knowing my cyle. Thanks to its graphical representations, I know at a glance the length of my “tuhr,” or time between my periods.

Should my body behave differently, I will have my reference points for knowing my habit, knowing what is natural for me, because my body is not a machine.

Rituals and rules give us certainty and knowledge gives us power. Thanks to these beautifully simultaneous occurrences: attending the course and beginning to use Clue,  I now have a growing understanding of my body I didn’t have before, both in the worldly and in the spiritual realms.

Here are some notes from the workshop. 
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anees permalink
    December 17, 2015 9:14 pm

    Thanks for the informative post Sarah. Coming from the medical field and learning about things in more precise terms beneficial, even though I won’t be experiencing a cycle for myself 🙂 And as far as the tech side, very cool that there is an app out there as well.

  2. Hijaabiintherain permalink
    December 18, 2015 9:41 am

    Assalamu alaikum , I was looking over your notes and was a little confused and hoping you could clarify. If a womens period exceeds her normal habit but is within the 10 day slot does she then do ghusl once she is at the final day of her habit and start salaah ( making wudu before each salah because she is still bleeding) or does she wait until the 10th day/when her period finishes and do ghusl and start praying.

    And am i correct in saying any bleeding that begins before 15 days of tuhur is considered non-menstrual bleeding even if it extends for longer than three days ?

    • January 11, 2016 11:34 am

      Wsalaam, thanks for reading, and apologies for the delayed response.

      To address your first question: she does ghusl at the final day of her habit. But if she notices that the bleeding is continuing within that ten day timeframe, then she stops praying as it is still mensturation.

      To address your second question: that’s correct, it is considered non-menstural in this case.

      Both these answers are based on my understanding, and Allah knows best.
      Also, the notes link has been updated and now it contains the full set.

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