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Why Are We Hiding Our Periods During Ramadan?

Why Are We Hiding Our Periods During Ramadan?

We’ve all been there, ladies. Don’t deny it. Who hasn’t taken a surreptitious look around before scoffing a bite of [insert chosen food here] while on your period in Ramadan?

Lately, I’ve been wondering why on earth we do this…why are we hiding?

Clearly it’s because of the many social and medical benefits of pretending to fast while menstruating. Not to mention the frequent suggestions found in the Quran and Sunnah that this is the best way to deal with the Crimson wave cravings during the Holy fasting month…
That last paragraph was total nonsense, just an FYI.  So why do we ladies–suffering with stomach cramps, aching lower backs, low energy, volatile emotions, an intense need for chocolate-based snacks and all the other wonderful side effects of our monthly visitor down below–put ourselves through the extra hardship of hiding our Allah-given right to eat when others fast?

I’ve asked this question to a wide range of Muslim sisters, and received explanations ranging from the vague, yet formidable declaration that it is “an issue of modesty,” to not wanting to expose the inner workings of your nether regions, to it being entirely disrespectful to those who are fasting.

In my friendship group and beyond, there are ladies who have no issue with eating openly in public, outside of their homes, to women who feel obliged to pretend to their own brothers and fathers that they are, in fact, fasting or even praying!

I have to admit I have a hard time understanding this need to hide.

I am of a mixed race (Welsh/Arab) heritage, and come from a household where it was completely acceptable for me to call my brother to bring me a sanitary pad while in the loo, or beg my dad to bring me home my favourite chocolates because nothing else will help lessen the pain.

The idea that our periods are shameful, or something that must be kept from the menfolk, is quite alien to my experience.

Having said that, I am a curious person, and have attempted to unravel this concept, and pinpoint its origin.
The subject of menstruation is one of the most written about topics in the area of fiqh simply because of the individual nature of each woman’s experience. You can find a ruling on pretty much anything to do with periods from fairly common sense issues like how long should it last right up to the almost-farcical “Can I prepare my husband’s food?”
You would be safe to assume that a topic so heavily scrutinized would have no taboos left, especially when you pair this with the fairly nonchalant attitudes towards women’s periods we find in the Sunnah.
The Prophet’s wife, Aisha, used to lie stretched out in front him praying while on her period. He would also lay his head in her lap and recite Qur’an all while she was ‘of the blood.’ He (sal Allahu alayhi wa salam) even made a joke about her going to grab a mat from inside the mesjid when she hesitated due to her being ‘on.’ His humorous “You don’t have menstrual blood on your hands,” summarizes the kind of attitude I thought we were supposed to have towards the subject. But we can no longer be naïve enough to think that the culture of the Sunnah is the only kind of culture that shapes how the Ummah thinks nowadays.
The world is getting smaller, and for most of us living in the West, our identity as a Muslim is a complicated issue, loaded with facets pertaining to identity and a general desire to belong.
Most Western Muslims, I would argue, are suffering from a form of the Welsh term hiraeth. The word doesn’t really have a direct English translation and, although I boast Welsh heritage, the most Welsh I can remember is mostly to ask whether you like coffee.  But what I can gather from Sheikh Google is that hiraeth means to be homesick for a time or place you cannot get to, or may never have visited in the first place. We feel hiraeth for the time of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa salam).

But as a Muslim living in the West, it’s silly not to admit that we aren’t in any way affected by the latest goings on of the Kardashians, just like everyone else on the planet.

Popular culture is all around us, and does, to some extent, shape the way we think, and how the society we live in views the intimate goings-on of a woman’s body is no exception.
Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate and discussion on the topic of breastfeeding in public. A lot of people feel uncomfortable at the sight of a woman nourishing her child from her breast in a public place. This has led to a number of incidents where new mothers have been forced to hide away, move seats, or even leave establishments because of this.
When you look at the reasons given, it comes down, ultimately, the sexualization of a woman’s breasts. There’s no denying that boobs are sexual, but considering the fact that Allah decided these would be the instruments mothers would use to feed their children, I find it quite interesting how this natural function is being superceded in priority by what men find sexual in society.

The message is clear:  If it’s sexy, and fulfilling the concept of male sexual desire, it’s all good. If it is somehow tarnishing this idea, it is unpleasant, uncomfortable, and should be kept hidden. Periods are not sexy. In fact, periods are mostly gross, and for most women, warrant comfy PJ’s, a hot water bottle, and a Netflix subscription rather than a night of passion.

And this is my point.

Periods, like breastfeeding, remind us of the uncomfortable truth that women’s bodies are not just objects of sexual desire.

We don’t have to look far to see examples of this suppression in the wider society. The tampon tax is not directly related, but does highlight a general disregard for the importance of sanitary necessities. Likewise, a woman’s decision to run the London marathon without a tampon or sanitary pad to raise awareness was met with such disgust and outrage, both in the media and on social media, that the original message she wanted to promote was lost.
Whether you agree with her tactics or not, the reaction her protest was met with shows how much the general population opposes such an open representation of female fertility.
I always remember being told, in an English literature lecture, about the origins of the word “gossip.”  The term comes from the words “god’s sib,” i.e. “god’s sibling,” and was used to refer to women who assisted with a birth, essentially midwives, because they were helping God to bring life into this world. Childbirth was historically the realm of women, with fathers-to-be relegated outside the birthing room to wait. Along with the evolution of western medicine came the suppression of female education, which meant the role of doctor was predominantly, if not exclusively, reserved for men. As the roles reversed and women became the helpless onlookers, the term “gossip” emerged as one associated with women who liked to pass the time with idle, pointless, chatting. To a biracial on-the-fence feminist Muslim woman such as myself, it all makes sense. The fact that the area of medicine most controversially dominated by men–gynecology– literally means “the study of women,” implies that men still feel the need to know and control the unknown; in this instance, what’s going on in a woman’s lady garden.

If I’ve lost you at this point, I’ll summarize what I’m trying to say:  Periods are gross, and (according to men) should not be seen or heard about because men don’t like or understand them.

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To go back to my original question, about why our Muslim sisters hide, I don’t actually think it’s us Muslims that were originally to blame for our espionage-esque Ramadan routines.

The society we live in thinks periods should be hidden, so we hide them.

Over time, we Muslims have added our own individual spice to the culture of period-hating. I’m not here to discuss the various rulings on what the correct Islamic etiquette is because a) I am not a scholar, or even a remotely knowledgeable student and b) There isn’t very much evidence either way.
I’m more interested in why hiding is our default response, and the repercussions of both showing or hiding. The most obvious result of eating in public during Ramadan is announcing the arrival of your Aunt Flo. This, in itself, is seen as reason enough to not do it. Fair enough, if women feel this is a private matter (literally) and should be kept that way, but still – why? Every woman on the planet, excepting the mature and the ill, has a period. Every one of these women will not be fasting at some point over the 30 days unless they opted for the ‘no period’ month with the assistance of modern medicine. Why does something so common, so every day, still need to be kept hidden like a dirty secret? Aren’t we simply basking in our own fertility? I leave the answer up to you.
But it definitely seems to be a topic decided by personal preference, and each individual’s interpretation of the M word:  Modesty. The variation in the degree of this modesty is noteworthy. Although our faith does not always dismiss culture and cultural norms, we are advised to remain balanced and on the middle path.
Whether you feel comfortable tucking into your lunch in front of work colleagues, or a grill house full of brothers is up to you, but I do think there is one area we can all give our sisters of the world a helping hand.

It still surprises me when Muslim women, especially those who classify themselves as feminists or community activists, encourage their male family members to believe they are still fasting while on their period.

Some will even go to the extent of actually fasting or lying to avoid awkward questions.
This is where I need to get real.

Sisters, Allah gave you the right to take a break. Your iron is low, and most of you is hurting; don’t make it any harder than it has to be. The real issue is not that your dad or brother will find it uncomfortable; it’s that you find it uncomfortable. And this is not okay.

This is your body, and periods are something that will affect you for most of your adult life. So you really need to suck it up, think about it, and get comfortable with what’s going on down there.
Once you do that, you can decide on a way that is comfortable for you to explain why you are tucking into that samosa before iftar. You do not need a standard, one-size-fits-all response. You can, most definitely, tailor it to your audience.
My guess is, your dad is going to have a pretty good idea already…if he doesn’t, I’m worried. Brothers, depending on age, may or may not have a clue, but judging by how readily available knowledge is nowadays thanks to the Internet, I’m pretty sure they have an inkling.
This is where you can actually do a service to the rest of womanity. At some point in the future, your brother will most likely get married. His future wife will most likely have periods. Imagine the shock on your poor bro’s face if this is a total revelation to him.
WARNING:  Major assumptions about to be made.
Picture his beautiful, adoring, wife that suddenly transforms into a shrieking harpy, demanding to know why he left the the cap off the toothpaste, yet again, before crumpling into a flood of tears in a fetal position on the bathroom floor, demanding Midol. You have the power to do them both a favour by easing him into it gently. Ask him to make you a hot water bottle. Tell him your cramps are painful. Text him to bring you home some chocolate after work. By the time he gets married, he will be proficient in the potential period problems, and will be eternally grateful for your very useful training.
In all seriousness, I still don’t get what the big deal is. I appreciate people wanting to be respectful, as well as maintaining individual standards of modesty. However, I do feel it is something we have taken to extreme, and need to get back to the point where we can joke about the fact that the blood from Shark Week is not “on our hands.”
To quote Othello “O bloody period!” but, then again, so what?
Written by Hanan Issa

View Comments (25)
    • Yes and clearly her points in this article is not enough either to prove we can eat in public. No ones is ashamed of period people just doesn’t eat in public especially in Malaysia because they want to show respect. Thare is a proper way of eating in public and alot of explanation has been given you can just read in fb. Please as a muslim we would like to resemble islam and respect this holy month. Im a woman as well and we have elderly people who are not fasting and we disagree that you can simply dine in any where you like.

      • No, people don’t eat in Msia because of the sheer amount of peer pressure and policing.
        The idea that you should not eat in public to avoid offending others is absurd. Did *you* ever feel tempted to break your fast if a non- Muslim colleague eats in front of you? Probably not, right? Besides, fasting is about discipline and it’s not hard to keep that discipline if your heart is up to the task.

        • I studied at TARUC which is Chinese college and only few muslims. I had no problem at all they eat most of the time. I just ate my food at home besides they stare at me if i buy food at canteen and they are non muslims. Guess what i didnt make it viral or complained. I just ate at surau. They dont know your having period so you cant expect anything. Just be prepared and eat at home if you’re really felt sick than you could excuse your self saying im not able to fast. My grandparents doesnt fast and eat at public as well. Sorry for my poor English.

  • I’ve explained to my Christian coworkers (& managers) for years how I can eat during Ramadan when I’m on my period. I’ve never hidden it.. Why should I? If a man can’t handle a woman saying she’s on her period and therefore can’t fast, or pray, that’s his problem. But, it’s important to say I don’t (& no woman should) go around announcing it to everyone like it should be public knowledge. We don’t want someone like Dwight Schrute from The Office counting our menstrual cycle for us. 😉

  • I was forwarded this article after having a similar discussion with my wife. I agree a woman should feel free to eat during Ramadan whilst on her menses. Each person has a different level of modesty/hayya and I feel that you should act within that. For example if, as a woman, you do not feel comfortable with others knowing about your period then you should feel free to hide it. Similarly if you are comfortable with the outside world (your household SHOULD know of your period so that they may tend to your needs during this strenuous time) then go for it. Yet I would argue that modesty in the sight of Allah is a great virtue indeed but not the criterion for your choice of whether you eat publicly or not. Forgive me for any short comings in my comments or if I may have caused offence in any way.

    • The issue doesn’t end at if a woman is comfortable or not
      If someone is uncomfortable with their own period we need to question why. What beliefs influence this shame? What society messages support and strengthen it?
      No one is born feeling discomfort or shame about their body functions, and its not a feeling that develops in a vacuum
      We must challenge it

  • Faced this exact same problem this year. I don’t eat in public cos I’m afraid people will think I’m skipping the fast “for fun” or because I’m lazy.
    Yeah I know I’m being stupid but it makes me jumpy all the same.
    Would gladly wear an “I’m on my period” t-shirt actually, if that means I can eat openly and not be made fun of because people think I “forgot” to wake up for sahur.

    • What seriously? I had period and i did ate my food and my muslim friends didn’t say anything and im malaysian living at kl. I can give numerous place that you can eat.

        • My world haha Mariam lee is malaysian as well and im not melay but she is ..lol … we just dont simply dine in our food.. wow kid?? Your soo smart as if you know what true meaning of Ramadhan and Respecting it.. oh ya the place ahe ate is at malaysia as well and i used to eat there. Lol go and Research first before you talk to a kid otherwise its really shameful.

        • @Daniel: Not sure if ur aware, but it’s both rude and chauvinistic to refer to someone as “kid” when belittling their point.
          I hope u have the decency to apologise.

      • Cool! That’s good to know.
        Its not an issue on weekends, but at my workplace even the canteen sellers give u dirty looks if u buy food during Ramadan.
        But srsly during 1st and 2nd day it’s hard to not eat in the day cos ur period messes u up, and that kind of discrimination doesn’t help.
        Bless u and ur open friends! ?

    • I can relate to this! I was eating at work during my cycle and my my co-worker was like “what! you aren’t fasting!”. He was acting like I was falling off or something. Then I had to let him no that I actually was on my period, and that was the reason I wasn’t fasting. I don’t think he necessarily wanted to hear that, but he tried to call me out. I had to do what I had to do!

  • I’m so glad this was addressed. More Muslim women need to call out the patriarchal society. I don’t find any shame in having a period but it’a always difficult because my mom and aunties ask me why I don’t feel ashamed and not to mention the boys openly gawk or make fun if they have an inkling of doubt. The worst was when I go to a store to buy pads, I live in India, where the shopkeeper wraps the packet of pads in news paper. As if the world should never find out that I use sanitary napkins ?.

  • So yeah I had a night out with my friends the other day and we arrived before iftar, one of my friends offered me a chewing gum, I was on my period and I kept looking at the gum and thinking if o should take one and answer all the weird questions coming up or just refuse it and say that I’m fasting..
    I lied.
    After iftar I went to him and told him that I wasn’t actually fasting.. He didn’t get it first but once he did he asked me why I didn’t accept the chewing gum and I explained how weird would that look infront of my other Muslim friends who are fasting and actually it could be a little embarrassing, but since that day I am still over thinking about it and that I shouldn’t hide it but then I think of how embarrassing it would look! Idk I sometimes feel like I got the power to call it out but then when I do I feel so embarrassed and I want to hide myself from everyone, if it’s alright then why do I always feel this way?

  • I absolutely LOVE this piece. My friend and I were having a discussion about three days ago about this very topic and I’m so glad that you decided to voice this. Jazaka’Allah Khayr – May this be the most beneficial Ramadan for each of us. 🙂

  • I remember growing up my gran always use to say you shouldnt eat in front of others as you disrespecting the month of ramadaan. And in a way i agree. To us its normal, but in the western world its difficult for a woman to eat in public. We trying to teach the west about our faith and during the month of ramadaan we in “spotlight”. The non muslims know we fasting and if they see a woman in hijaab not fasting it creates questions and assumptions and creates a story of only some muslims do it. They dont understand gheid, they dont understand that time of the month we dont perform namaaz etc. Eating in front of your husband, brother, sis, father, mother etc is different

    • Looking at it from another point of view…
      Eating out in front of non Muslims may increase dialogue. It allows a persons’ curiosity to ask questions, hence share information about Islam.
      They would be able to see that Islam does not inflict hardships on a person.

  • There are a number of reasons for not fasting during Ramadan. Periods, pregnancy, breast-feeding, stomach ulcers etc. Islam frowns on people judging their fellow brothers and sisters. Use this holy month to read and understand Islam to get the most rewards and so ur ibaadah will be accepted insha Allah

  • This is funny because I have all brothers, and I’m far from shy about my period. Its nature, oys gonna happen. People need to get used to it. But when I say things about periods while I’m with family members, not in public(cause let’s be honest, whose gonna go out and tell the world “OH MY MENSTRUAL CYCLE IS HERE!”) , people say “Oh khuwaylah you should have more modesty.” I’m mean I wear an abaya and hijab for hours upon hours, I’m pretty sure I’m granted this one thing. And it’s not like they don’t know, so I don’t care……..But that’s judgemental-haram-police family members for you. Always wanting you to sugarcoat crap for people.

  • Last year I was on my period and I was eating a mango in Ramadan and ALL of the brothers within one block radius of the masjid felt the need to lecture me. I felt like burying myself. It was horrible

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