The Prophet Mohammad said women are "deficient in intelligence and religion," in part because they can't pray while menstruating. That's a "go-to passage" for Islamic scholars who want to "want to make the point that men are somehow superior to women [in Islam]," Celene Ayat Ibrahim-Lizzio of the Andover Newton Theological School told VICE. But, she adds, "The most reliable opinion is that it was completely and utterly said in jest."For Ibrahim-Lizzio, that means it's absolutely absurd to think the prohibition on worship while menstruating puts women at a second-tier status in Islam. In fact, having studied the issue extensively, she interprets the rule very differently."I think it's a profound affirmation of the experience of womanhood," she says. Ibrahim-Lizzio notes that the only verse of the Quran where the period is mentioned outright—a line demanding abstinence during its course—bids men to steer clear of their wives during their periods because, as Ibrahim-Lizzio puts it, menstruation causes "pain and trouble"—not because it brings about defilement and impurity."If you take the position that [the prohibition on worship] is meant to be a mercy, then it's something to be very joyous about, actually," Ibrahim-Lizzio tells VICE, "To think that the divine considered my needs even down to the details of my physiological being."
God told Eve, "I shall give you intense pain in childbearing, you will give birth to your children in pain."
"The whole issue was when receiving communion," he explains. "You're receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and then it was thought was that the blood was coming out of you then, through the period. It's just one of those traditions that's been passed down." Damaskos adds that it's one that is not formally upheld by the church anymore.
According to Orthodox Judaism, a woman must refrain not only from having sex, but also kissing, hugging, or touching her husband for the five days of her period, plus an additional seven days. Only after she's immersed herself in a mikvah—a small pool with water from a natural source—can she and her husband reconnect physically.In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, the construction of a mikvah takes precedence over building a house of worship. It's easy to see why. The schedule laid out by the Orthodox laws around ritual purity lines up pretty seamlessly with a woman's fertility cycle: The return to intimacy coincides with the peak days for conception.For many couples, spending half of their time without any physical contact was just too much. As a way to reinterpret the ritual for modern times, the Conservative tradition cut those two weeks down to one and allowed for non-sexual touching during the time of time of separation.
Talking about menstruation like the normal, healthy, and even miraculous thing that it is might help separate it from the shame it's come to bear.
For some, menstruation offers a time of rest—and also reward. Among the Beng people of Cote d'Ivoire, with whom Gottlieb lived for several months, menstruating women are not allowed to work in the fields. Their periods give them time to relax with other women and prepare a special sauce."The more it cooks, the thicker it gets and the sweeter it gets. So when they're sitting at home with their periods, they'll stir this sauce all day long and by evening, it's the best sauce that anybody's ever eaten," Gottlieb explained to VICE in a phone interview. "So everybody is really excited about menstruating women making this really delicious palm nut sauce."Gottlieb's work on how the period is perceived in various cultures around the world led her to believe that it's often "Western traditions where menstruation is seen as disgusting or something that should be banished and rendered invisible."Although there are efforts to reform restrictions around menstruation or to do away with them as outdated, the period still has an outcast place in many religions. Whether it's a prohibition from entering houses of worship or a ban from the marital bed, the commands of many faith traditions seemingly seek to hide away a bodily function that stands unavoidably at the root of existence.The notion of menstrual "impurity" is not one I've yet managed to come to terms with myself, but I'm determined to at least strip menstruation of the secrecy. I now believe that it's only considered impolite to talk about our bleeding because it's seen as impure. Talking about menstruation like the normal, healthy, and even miraculous thing that it is might help separate it from the shame it's come to bear. Although my period will keep me from fasting, I don't think it should be kept from dinner table conversations with my brothers, who should have to reconcile the exclusion of women from worship while menstruating with their beliefs, too.Follow Beenish on Twitter.
Although my period will keep me from fasting, I don't think it should be kept from dinner table conversations with my brothers.