IntersectionalityReligion Ramadan, Women and Menstruation: Forcing Virtues Down The throat

Ramadan, Women and Menstruation: Forcing Virtues Down The throat

Religion never preached fake fasting while one is menstruating but we ourselves created this impression of shame around menstruation that now we have to hide it even when it is as natural as respiration.

‘Forced’ is such a strong word that it changes the meaning of everything it is added to. Feed, add force to it and it becomes a torture technique. Endurance, add forced to it and it becomes what?

Oddly, Ramadan is becoming a reminder of forced endurance for me. The principle of the practice of fasting is to teach one virtues of patience but what happens instead of being patient, you muffle with space of others? Such subduing happens only when Ramadan is looked at from a singular perspective and in this case, from a male perspective. And again, it is not only Ramadan, almost everything that concerns religion or society is looked at from a male perspective. Islam has made fasting compulsory, something every Muslim has to do, with a very few exemptions. Amongst these few exemptions, some pertain to women who are menstruating, breast feeding mothers or pregnant women. But the societal structures deliberately overlook all these women, as if they don’t exist.

When I first started fasting regularly, I would be forced by others in the family to wake for Sehri, the predawn meal, even when I was menstruating lest the male members would sense that I was menstruating. I would then have to fake fast and say prayers before the elder males in the family. I followed the sequence for a long time. Till I realized that these men were adults and were supposed to know about menstruation, if not by virtue of their education, by means of religion at least. Many of the women I know did the same and still do the same. I can’t figure appropriate reason for the practice but when I asked my mother why I was being asked to wake for sehri and fake fast even when i wasn’t, she said it was shameful to give everyone a hint about your periods. I experience it, my mother did and every woman does. Yet there is more shame in discussing it than the act of a man passing sexually explicit comments on a roadside.

The practice of trying to bury this little uncomfortable conversation at home in turn buries a women in public.

Religion never preached fake fasting while one is menstruating but we ourselves created this impression of shame around menstruation that now we have to hide it even when it is as natural as respiration.

A few days back, I noticed how major eateries across the city were closed and even the cafeteria in University of Kashmir. I called up one of the restaurant owners to ask about the reason for being shut and I wasn’t surprised to know that his reasons were based on economic concerns. The owner said that he didn’t see many customers turn up during day and hence opened up for evenings alone. I didn’t question his decision or his judgment but there he was, he had just missed a customer and so had the university cafeteria.

This sort of overlooking happens not only in Ramadan. I remember sitting with a couple of my female friends in a cafe in the city center when we were asked to leave because it was Friday prayer time. For me, the move was expected but for my other friends who were non-locals, it was offensive. While men went to pray, was there any mosque nearby we could go for prayers? No. So we were left with no where to go and in the end settled on a footpath completing our reports.

The question here is not about mensuration but the fact that structures from top to below have been designed and are functioning in a way that makes women feel excluded. Living with these undercurrents of exclusion from the beginning, it becomes hard to see through maligning character of the structures.

This forced endurance is hurting not just women. The shut cafe during Ramadan also denied existence of a religious mix which is more prominent in the summer season due to tourist inflow. What exists at the top is the point of view of a man who views everything in andro-centric and homogeneous way. And this trickles down to all other members of society, including women who then feel ashamed to talk through their bodily phenomena. It starts at home, perpetuates through societal structures and the circle completes when women succumb to compliance and endure what is brought upon them.

Featured Image Credit: Shepard Fairey


  1. Qysar Afzal Sofi says:

    Genesis of this male chauvinism in religious affairs is due to the preaching of Islam by selfish Mallas.

  2. Munira says:

    Dear Arshie Qureshi

    So sorry to hear that you have been forced to fake fast. Its not because that your mother and women in society follow it, but it because they (including men) have not followed Rasulla SAW completely. The very first verse of Quran says read and write & become literate. But more importantly seek education through guidance. That is where the Ummah is lacking behind.

    Anyways I am also a Muslim women and no one in my community including myself fake fast. Even if we are menstruating we dont hide it and men dont make a fuss out of it.

    Secondly about eateries not being open during daytime during Ramadan. Please dont give it a religious bias. People want business and dont want to spend labour hours and aother tangibles in non profit hours. Its more of a business sense than religion.

    Thirdly I am blessed to be in community where women are allowed in mosque for prayers. however even when you dont have mosque nearby to pray it does not mean you cannot pray. You can find a secluded clean place & pray. And your friends being offended did you really ask them they got offended. If its a friend he/she will be more welcoming of your religion and respect it not get offended. I have non Muslim friends who go beyond their comfort to help me I observe my prayers and fast. Think about it.

  3. Sehar says:

    My dearest Arshie
    Asalam Alaikum
    After reading your blog I really feel sorry for whatever you went through as a child or a teenager. But this is something that happens only because of very little knowledge or no knowledge. Muslims across the world spend the Blessed month of Ramadan praying, but very few understand that essence.
    I have never ever experience or witnessed something like this in my life. In fact there was a time when I started my mesntrual cycle during the fast , I wanted to continue the fast but my family told me that I could eat and drink. Faking swaum and namaaz is I believe a sin. I feel deeply saddened to see the state of affairs and can only wish that Muslims across the world spare some more time reading and getting enlightened. Educated Muslim men never question their female family members as to why they are not fasting. That is what I have witnessed. And as far as shops are closed it is mainly concerned with economic conditions. I have personally seen many food joints serving non vegetarian food shut down on Tuesdays as they expect slow sales. I hope you would understand my point.

  4. AYESHA KHALID says:

    Very well written, the thought behind the piece is realistic …. given me ideas abt scientifically researching few concepts that are experienced. …
    Women like the writer has an inquisitive mind to think nd question … many find the ” forced endurance” natural way of living their lives as women …..

  5. mz says:

    The Quran says nothing about women not being allowed to fast during menstruation. Unless your symptoms are equivalent to a what one would have when they’re too sick to fast.

  6. arif says:

    i too am from kashmir so can connect with what you are saying.. regarding ur fake fast its actually due to non interaction of our adults regarding these things which puts must of the girs in such a situation .. regarding the fact that cafe are closed it has no links to religion its purely due to buisness as the demand is low during day time.. with regard to your third part of not being allowed prayers in a masjid well there is segregation in islam and for right reasons women are supposed to offer their prayers at home and men at masjid so complaining there is no masjid for women is a little over the top beacuse women get more sawaab in offering prayers at home not to be linked as womens dont have freedom in islam just for segregation ..

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