Answered by Ustadha Umm Ihsan
Question: I was hoping that perhaps you could help me understand why a menstruating women is not allowed to touch a Qur’an, or I suppose more so why a menstruating women is deemed “impure.” Somehow it has been bothering me that all women would be considered impure for so many days a month, such that they are too impure to touch Allah’s book. Even the verse that talks about nobody touching the Qur’an except the pure ones makes one feel so dirty to have no way at times of becoming part of the pure ones. I suppose it reminds me too much of the Hindu and Christian concept wherein a menstruating women is dirty. Is there wisdom that you have that would provide some comfort?
Answer: Bismi Llahir Rahmanir Rahimi
Thank you for your question. This is an important topic that needs to be addressed as many others may share similar sentiments.
It is understandable why these types of feelings may develop, especially if one is not familiar with Islam’s position on menstruation. Islam does not consider menstruation to be a punishment towards women, and it would be a grave error to compare this great religion to other faiths who do view menstruation in this horrible, derogatory manner. Islam’s perspective is that menstruation is normal and it is natural.
Additionally, a menstruating woman is not dirty, but rather from a legal perspective, she is ritually impure for the duration that she is menstruating. This has legal consequences and not spiritual consequences. As such, she is instructed by Allah to stop certain forms of worship, and every second that she obeys these commands, it is worship if done for Allah’s sake.
Furthermore, the Quran is revelation; it deserves to be exalted and Allah teaches us how to do so. The Quranic ayah of the ‘pure ones’ does not only refer to menstruating women, but to any person in a state of ritual impurity, whether minor or major, male or female.
Finally, women must work hard at establishing good habits of worship during their menstruation, as well as maintaining them when ritually pure. There are many acts of worship that a menstruating woman can perform that will gain her the pleasure of her Lord. These emotions of feeling ‘left out’ are an obvious result of not persisting to engage in habitual practices of devotion while menstruating. Most certainly, if one is in a constant state of remembering Allah, one will never feel far from Him.
Allah says in the Quran, “And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.” [al-Baqara: 186]
Islam’s Perspective on Menstruation
There is nothing in Islam that says menstruating women are ‘dirty.’ Rather, menstruation is viewed as a natural process that normal, healthy women experience throughout their lifetime.
A Syrian scholar once wrote a letter to his young daughter clarifying the details of menstruation to her. He gently explained to her, “…it is a healthy blood. Indeed, menstruation has a natural, physical connection with a woman’s body to enable pregnancy. Allah is most exalted in His wisdom. He made menstruation a means for pregnancy….Verily, the uterus is preparing itself to welcome (the ability for) pregnancy with this blood and whenever pregnancy does not occur, this blood exits from the uterus to the vagina…” [Fathi Ahmad Safi; Ahkam al-Hayd wa al-Nifas]
Medically-speaking it is impossible for a woman to become pregnant if she cannot menstruate, which is the case for young children and post-menopausal women. The blessing of being able to menstruate is quite clear for the one who reflects. The first time a girl sees menstrual blood in her life her body is signaling to her that she is growing into a young woman. She is now physically able to start conceiving. In fact, only by the occurrence of menstruation is a woman given the opportunity to begin and nurture a righteous family. For most women, Allah gives them this chance once a month for a series of years to attempt conception and enjoy the blessing of raising pious children. Surely, the wondrous joys experienced during parenthood would never be possible without first encountering menstruation.
Examples From the Prophet’s Life of How to Treat Menstruating Women
Furthermore, there are many examples in the Prophet’s life (Allah bless him and give him peace) instructing the believers of how to behave with menstruating women. He (Allah bless him and give him peace) told the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) to interact with menstruating women in their usual manner, with the exception of engaging in sexual intercourse which is prohibited in Islam by consensus. These are a few examples from the Prophet’s life:
1) The Mother of the Believers Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “We left with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for the pilgrimage. When we were in Sarif (a place close to Makkah) I began to menstruate. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) approached me and I was crying. He said, ‘Did you get your period?’ I said, ‘Yes’ He said, ‘Verily this is a matter Allah has written upon the girls of Prophet Adam (Allah bless him). Do all the actions of the pilgrimage except the tawaf.’ [Bukhari]
From this narration, it is quite clear that Allah did not will menstruation for specific individuals, but rather, He chose it to be for all women until the end of time. [Sharh ibn Batal] No healthy woman experiences life without menstrual blood. It’s normal and it’s natural.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) also comforted Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) by telling her that it is a ‘matter’ Allah has written for women, which completely refutes the idea that menstruation is a curse, a punishment, or anything else demeaning. This is a clear distinction between Islam and other faiths.
2) The conservative Jews at the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would not go near their menstruating wives. They did not eat with them, drink with them, or remain in the same house as them during their periods. The Companions (Allah be pleased with them) asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about these mannerisms and how should they behave with their menstruating wives. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Do everything with her except for sexual intercourse.” [Muslim; ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]
In another incident, the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about what was permissible to do with a menstruating woman. He responded, “For you is what is above the izar (lower garment).” [Abu Dawud]
These narrations demonstrate that a husband must still act favorably and loving towards his wife regardless if she is menstruating. A man should not ignore his menstruating wife but continue to live with her as companions for the sake of Allah.
Additionally, the given responses indicate that it is permissible to touch her, and even to sexually stimulate her, as long as the husband does not directly touch the skin between her navel and knee. The Hanafis allow the husband to touch the area between her navel and her knee upon the condition that there is a barrier covering this specific place, like with the use of a sheet or trousers. [ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
3) The Mother of the Believers Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would recline on my lap while I was menstruating and he would read the Quran.” [Bukhari]
She also said in another narration, “I would drink while menstruating, then pass the vessel to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He would place his mouth on the (same) place as my mouth and drink….” [Muslim]
These narrations prove that a menstruating woman is pure (tahira) and not filthy, aside from her being in a state of ritual impurity. [Mulla Ali al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih]
4) The Mother of the Believers Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) said, “I was lying down with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) under a black, wool cover (and) I started to menstruate. I left quietly to put on clothing worn for menstruation. He said, ‘Did you get your period?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He called to me to lie down again with him under the cover.” [Bukhari]
Ibn Hajar notes that this narration illustrates the permissibility of sleeping next to a menstruating woman in her clothing and lying with her under the same cover. [ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari] Women wore different clothing during menstruation in order to avoid affecting their everyday garments with filth, which is similar to what women do in today’s times. [ibid]
5) The Mother of the Believers Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, ‘Get me the prayer mat from the prayer area.’ I replied, ‘I am menstruating.’ He said, ‘Verily, your menstruation is not in your hand.’ [Muslim]
The meaning of the phrase ‘not in your hand’ is that there was no filth present on her hand, like blood, that would defile the prayer area. [Nawawi, Sharh Muslim] This narration further indicates that a menstruating woman’s limbs are not filthy but pure. She is only ritually impure. [Mulla Ali al-Qari, Sharh Musnad Abi Hanifa; al-Namari, al-Istidhkar]
6) The Mother of the Believers Maymuna (Allah be pleased with her) related that she would be menstruating and not praying. She would lie next to the Prophet’s prayer area while he would be praying on a prayer mat. She said, “When he prostrated, some of his clothing would touch me.” [Bukhari]
Similar to the narrations previously mentioned, this hadith ascertains that a menstruating woman is not filthy. [Sharh ibn Batal] One can only imagine how close Maymuna (Allah be pleased with her) must have been to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in order for his clothes to touch her while in prayer.
Menstruating Women & Lifting Ritual Impurity
Legally speaking, ritual impurity is a state that prevents one from performing certain acts of worship until the state is lifted by either ablution (wudu), the purificatory bath (ghusl), or dry ablution (tayammum). [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah; Tahtawi; Hashiayyat al-Tahtawi] This criterion has legal consequences and not spiritual consequences.
There are two types of ritual impurity: minor and major. Minor ritual impurity is when one is in a state that necessitates ablution (wudu), whereas major ritual impurity is a state that necessitates the purificatory bath (ghusl). These are both ritual acts of cleanliness that were taught to us by Allah and his Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Based on sound scholarship and clear evidences from the Quran and hadiths, a menstruating woman is of those who fall into the latter category. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah] Thus, the only way a menstruating woman can lift her state of ritual impurity is by performing the purificatory bath. However, the purificatory bath is not valid until she stops menstruating within the possible days of menses or her bleeding reaches the menstrual maximum. [Tahtawi; Hashiyyat al-Tahtawi; Hartford, Birgivi’s Manual Interpreted]
Who Can Touch the Quran
Undeniably, the Quran is revelation. It deserves to be exalted. If Allah and His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) teach the believers that the Quran cannot be touched unless one is in a specific ritual state, then a true servant of Allah only has one thing on their mind: obeying their Master.
Allah says in the Quran, “That (this) is indeed a noble Qur’an. In a Book kept hidden. Which none toucheth save the purified. A revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.” [al-Waqi’ah: 77-80]
There is a difference of opinion of what is meant by ‘save the purified.’ Some scholars declare that Allah is referring to the angels because they are free from all sins unlike humans. But most tafsir scholars agree that it is referring to someone who is free from ritual impurity. [ibn Abidin; Radd al-Muhtar]
There are other supporting evidences. For example, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Only a pure person may touch the Quran.” [Abu Dawud; al-Bayhaqi] In another narration he said, “Do not touch the Quran unless you are a pure person.” [al-Tabarani] The phrase ‘pure person’ means someone who is ritually pure. [al-Munawi; Fayd al-Qadir]
Therefore, in terms of touching the Quran, the same ruling applies for a man and a woman in a state of minor or major ritual impurity. Namely, neither of them can touch the Quran without first removing this state. However, lifting the state of ritual impurity may be done quicker for some than for others. For example, a woman who merely needs to perform ablution will relieve this state quicker than a menstruating woman.
Yet, there is nothing wrong with her if she takes a longer time. Allah has willed menstruation for her, alhamduLlilah, and He appoints its number of days for each woman. Glory be to Allah, every second that the menstruating woman obeys His command, she is rewarded if she does so for His sake. The Most Generous is never cheap with His generosity.
Being of the Pure During Menstruation
Feeling ‘left out’ is an obvious result of not striving to continue with other forms of devotion while in this state. Indeed, there are many acts of worship that a menstruating woman can perform. Menstruation is not an excuse that justifies vacation time from worship.
Allah says in the Quran, “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me.” [al-Dhariyat: 56]
In the Hanafi madhhab, it is an overall recommendation that a menstruating woman make ablution (wudu) for each prayer time, sit in her usual place of worship, and make dhikr for the time it takes for her to normally pray so that she does not lose her habit of worship while in this state. [ibn Abidin, Manhal al-Waridin]
Thus, menstruation is a prime time to establish good habits and demonstrate the strength of one’s faith to one’s Creator. The following are a few suggestions.
A menstruating woman can:
1) Listen to the Quran, ponder about its meanings, and cry.
2) Buy a supplication book and make constant dhikr.
3) Send blessings on our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
4) Spend time with her family and loved ones for the sake of Allah.
5) Attend religious lectures and classes.
6) Read about the righteous and pray to be of them.
7) Supplicate for whatever she wishes.
8 ) Beg for forgiveness and the pardon of her sins.
9) Get involved in her local community and help others.
10) Reflect about her life and thank Allah for all her blessings.
Though these acts may seem simplistic, no one knows how Allah will weigh one’s works on the Day of Judgment. Surely, a deed that is done with an open heart and presence of mind for WHO one is worshipping is most deserving of reward.
May Allah make us of those who are constant in worship and obedience to Him.
Barak Allah fikum
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani
Ustadha Umm Ihsan is a female student of Islamic knowledge from the US. She studies with leading Hanafi scholars from Syria and elsewhere.