The Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims worldwide traditionally fast between sunrise and sunset. Not eating and drinking during the daytime is seen as a way to learn self-discipline, clean the soul and thank Allah. This year, Ramadan will start around Friday, April 24. It will end around Saturday, May 23 (depending on where you live) with the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr.
Menstruating women (haa’idh) are not allowed to fast during Ramadan. They have to make up for the missed days of fasting, but not for the missed prayers (as these occur five times a day and the fasting only happens once a year). Women who want to make up for the missed days, first have to be absolutely certain that their bleeding has stopped at night. Only then they can start abstaining from food and drink the next day. If the period stops during daytime, the woman should still eat and drink normally that day and begin fasting the day after.
Menstruating women (and their husbands) have to adhere to more rules in Islam; sexual intercourse, for example, is forbidden during the monthly period. Hugging, kissing or touching outside the genital area is still permitted (in pre-corona times). In some Muslim societies, women are discouraged from using tampons. This is a cultural thing rather than a religious one and has to do with the taboo on premarital sex. Bloodstained sheets are (wrongly) considered a proof of virginity. Fearing inserting a tampon will break their hymen, girls rather use sanitary pads.
Other options: doing dhikr, using prayer beads, volunteering
So why can’t you fast, pray or enter a mosque on your period? In Islam, which has a strict hygiene regime, menstruating women are considered ritually impure for the duration of their bleeding. Afterwards they have to do a full body ceremonial wash, called a Ghusl. Another point of view is that menstruation temporarily releases women from their religious duties. Especially when suffering from heavy, painful periods, with low iron levels and fatigue, it’s important to nurture and nourish your body. Not only menstruating women have to abstain from fasting. Also small children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and the sick should keep on eating during Ramadan.
Ramadan is about more than just fasting. Instead of praying and fasting, menstruating women are encouraged to participate in a different way. For examply by doing dhikr (repeating ‘Allahu Akbar‘, ‘Alhamdulillah‘, and ‘Subhanallah‘ 33 times each), using prayer beads or volunteering. Seeing as eating during daytime while all others don’t is the equivalent to screaming ‘I’m on my period!’, some women hide the fact they aren’t fasting. Not the Whelsh-Arab Hanan Issa – read her story on The Express Tribune. And on Patheos.com, Rana S. explains why she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s on her period during Ramadan anymore.
Ramadan menstruation studies
Back in 2013, a study into the effects of Ramadan fasting on menstrual cycles was published in the Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine. For this study, data on the cycles of 80 female college students was analysed from three months before until three months after Ramadan. Researchers found that menstrual abnormalities such as oligomenorrhea (infrequent menstruation), polymenorrhea (cycles with intervals of 25 days or fewer), and hypermenorrhea (menstruation with heavy or prolonged bleeding) increased during Ramadan, especially in participants who had fasted for more than 15 days.
Also this study from 2017, which was published in the Middle East Fertility Journal looked into the relation between Ramadan fasting and menstrual changes among teenagers. Here, data about the menstrual cycle of 85 female students was collected over a period of four consecutive months. This study showed there were changes in the menstrual cycle during Ramadan fasting, especially in menstrual blood volume. Researchers believe these changes have to do with the change of both dietary and sleep pattern during this month.
Good to know: there’s of course a big chance you need to break your fasting routine during Ramadan because of your menstruation. Ramadan lasts 29 to 30 days whereas the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, of which you spend about 5 being on your period.