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A (Spiritual) Pondering
What is the spiritual purpose of your period? Have you ever thought about that? What about getting a regular course of abstinence from spiritual daily practice could possibly enhance your spiritual life? I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and I don’t feel like I started to have any ideas about it until I became a mother.
For a lot of my mature life, getting my period felt like a spiritual punishment of sorts. I remember vividly, one Ramadan when I was extremely stressed out studying for final exams, and anticipating their end so I could finally get to participate in the night long prayers everyone else was enjoying. Lo and behold, days prior to its expected arrival, my period arrives. I remember crying to my mother and feeling so much that Allah didn’t want me. He didn’t want me to pray with everyone else because I wasn’t good enough. Because, instead of trying to worship in these past days, I had been wasting time. I kept telling myself, oh later when exams are over I will make time for worship. It felt like Allah was telling me, if I wasn’t prepared to pray when it was hard, I didn’t deserve to pray when it was easy. My tears flowed heavily.
But, as my mother kept consoling me, a punishment is not the only way to see your period. She kept saying things like: you were really stressed, you really needed a break; your body was overwhelmed, this was its way of sorting itself out. She kept trying to assure me that it wasn’t some sort of terrible omen, but rather a planned Mercy from Allah.
And more recently I’ve heard other voices echoing this same idea. In recent lectures, speakers1Check these video out for a short explanation of how a period doesn’t mean impurity here and here have been trying to combat the idea of menstruation being linked to inherent female impurity. They speak about it as a time when a woman needs rest. Because of that reason, Allah excuses women from their religious obligations and gives them a pass. Further, because the strains on women can be heavy while many juggle responsibilities to so many, having a rest from religious obligations shows that while others might not let up in their requests, Allah, the most Merciful, will always be understanding in what He asks of His female slave.
These explanations go a long way in debunking the idea that menstruation is a punishment or sign of inherent uncleanliness. It doesn’t however, answer the question posed initially: how does menstruation facilitate a better spiritual life. Allah swt, our Creator, created us in the best fashion. As part of His divine Wisdom, He knew to create in us, women, this cycle. He also tells us that He created us so that we may worship Him2Quran 51:56: ‘And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.’. We show our devotion to Him through these acts of worship and grow our longing to meet Him in the afterlife. Most prominently, He asks to call out to Him and stand in His presence 5 times daily , but then asks us to stop doing so during this menstrual cycle which He created in us. This means, that in addition to menstruation functioning as a sign of Allah’s perfect wisdom in our physical creation, it also should reflect His wisdom in our spiritual creation.
So,what about taking a break from praying on a regular basis would cause you to be able to grow your relationship and feeling of closeness to Allah? When I started to think about this, I considered the most intense of loving relationships I experience, which is that between myself and my children.
I am a stay at home mom. I spend many hours daily with my children. I delight in their presence and hope to attend to their needs as wisely as I can. I really try to devote myself to them as best I can, and I do this out of love, not as an obligation to be home, or an inability to go back to work. That being said, there are (many) days where the demands of being with my children wear on me. I feel that I really need a break! When I am able to take time away from my children, I return to them renewed with a sense of giving that had worn away in me. The break allows me to process my feelings and rethink things about myself as a mother. It helps me get better vision over the issues I’m facing with my children and how to solve them. And, afterward, I feel like I want to be around them more. I feel that I miss them and wish to expand our time together.
A period can function the same way for your most important spiritual relationship. It offers an opportunity for each woman to emotionally deal with how her relationship with Allah has been going. If you consider that your feelings about Allah should be more intense and more devotional than those you feel towards your own children, then, drawing the comparison can work. It is not that Allah is unfailingly demanding as children can be, but rather that being in an intense relationship can push you to need time to take a break from it to process it. Your period offers you a ‘break’ from ‘giving’ to the relationship, and time to think about where it is at, and what is working and what isn’t.
Use Your Period Break Wisely and Make it Personal
If you buy my argument above, then there are some extensions that apply. Namely that your period isn’t just a time to forget about Allah and indulge in all the guilty pleasures you have, like late night movies and bright manicures. Your period is a time to consciously be considering how things are ‘working’ between you and Allah. While you are on your period, consider that you’re on a trip away from your Loved One, knowing you’ll be returning soon.
Taking a trip away from someone can manifest multiple emotions based on the nature of your relationship with that person at the moment. If you’re living in a household with constant negative feelings towards your partner and then need to take a trip for work, what might you experience? Excitement? Anticipation for the trip? Relief? Escape? Dread at the thought of return? How about if you’re in an intensely loving relationship? Would you be excited to get away from your love? Wouldn’t you wish to spend even the mundane moments with him?
Your daily salawat are your constant meetings with Allah. It is the time for you to engage with Allah intimately3Salah is an intimate conversation with Allah per the Prophet’s ﷺ hadith found here. If your relationship with Allah is strong you will gain so much from these daily meetings. Love, gentleness, and growth can all arise from this daily practice. The inverse is also true. Holes in your faith and being overwhelmed by religious duties can weaken feelings of love towards Allah. Prayers quickly become a drag and a ritual to be endured. The 5 daily prayers are where your period break’s effect is most apparent. How you experience your period break can indicate how stressed your relationship with Allah is. Do you feel relieved when you can take rest from meeting Allah or dismay at the parting? In either case some reflection is cautioned.
Before. As the date of your period arrives closer (if you know when it is) mentally gear yourself up to the feeling that you will soon be traveling away from Allah. Think about how you will be saying goodbye; that these prayers you are praying these days might be the last ones you get a chance to pray. Take stock of how your feelings around your prayers have been lately. Think about how you will be using this break and what you need from it.
Also be conscious of how regular/irregular your period is and its length. All of these can be spiritual indicators. Maybe you are the type of person who needs a break consistently to feel refreshed and that’s why Allah has offered you a system where your period comes regularly. Maybe the spontaneity of the break is more useful to your spiritual life, sort of like a forced vacation, and your periods are irregular. If your period shows up unexpectedly or doesn’t, reflect on what that can say about your relationship with Allah. Consider what your period is telling you about your spirituality, and use what you already know about yourself to unpack how things have been measured exactly for you.
During. You’ve begun your break, so now is the time to begin reflecting on how your last month passed between you and Him. All the feelings you are having about your worship practices and starting/stopping them can be helpful in unpacking how well your relationship with Allah is going. . How you are feeling on this break will also indicate to you how your relationship is going. Some questions to ask yourself might be:
- Do I feel relieved that I no longer have to meet with Allah?
- What are the worships I fell in or could continue to improve?
- Am I relieved to have an excuse not to read Quran?
- Do I feel a difference in my day when I don’t pray? If I do, in what way?
- Do I miss Allah?
- What are worships that I enjoy? When did I enjoy them?
- When did my prayer truly uplift me this past month/stretch and what caused that?
The point is, your period is the time to stop and think about your feelings toward Allah and what He asks of you. Once you have processed these emotions, then you can consider what action items are needed to move yourself to a better state with your Lord.
You can think about your personality and what kind of break you need. Maybe you have been doing a lot of worship and not feeling spiritually connected, so a total pause on them can help you. For someone else, maybe they need to hold on to their daily Quran reading or supplications in order to maintain that connection. Maintaining that connection allows them a sense of relief (like reading letters from loved ones).
Your self reflection should also help you when choosing what worships to engage in while on your period and even moving forward. Look into what spiritual acts are allowable and which would be most helpful in guiding your way back to a revitalized spiritual experience4For some ideas on what worships you can do while on your period check out this link. Maybe you have been doing a lot of Quran reading but not looking into the meanings of verses so you can devote your break to reading exegeses of the Quran. Or maybe your duaa practice is weak and now is the time to strengthen it. There are many worships which are allowable during a period break. Most important is that you have an active outlook on how you will be spiritually using this break to (re)build your relationship with Allah.
Ending. Finally, as you near the end of your period, think about how you will return to Allah. Consider what kind of ‘gift’ you can take ‘back’ to Allah when you return from your break. Maybe you did more supplication of Allah or made a point of doing some community service. Think of the ways that you are going to work harder on devoting yourself to Allah once your period is over. Have you worked through the feelings you have towards your duties? Create a plan for how you are going to address the underlying reasons you may be stressed by your worships. If you’re doing fine with your daily practices then consider adding a new worship to your routine. Build that anticipation of meeting Him inside of you. Do you feel butterflies at the idea of standing in front of Allah again??
Your Period Guides You Back
Whenever I think about that story above, I come back to that same dark feeling that maybe Allah wasn’t pleased with my procrastination and that’s why I didn’t get the chance to join in the prayers that Ramadan. The fact of the matter is, maybe, my period was a spiritual punishment of sorts. Maybe I did need to reorganize my priorities and this was the message I needed to hear. A punishment is not, in and of itself, negative. In this life, a punishment is a chance to learn. So my period, showing up unexpectedly can be Allah’s way of forcing me to take a break and reexamine our relationship. Am I taking Islam for granted? Am I taking Him for granted? These are the questions that I could have pondered in those bitter moments.
That is the beauty of this system, it can both answer questions and allow for newer ponderings. Allah gives this window to allow for self assessment and many don’t realize it and just let it pass without really taking advantage of it. But really, your period is just as important to your spiritual life as is your daily salah practice. There is a lot going on in your relationship with Allah and only you know how your heart is leaning, but you need to take the time to reflect. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of daily salah and forget the meanings and feelings behind why we stop and redirect towards Allah so often. When you get off course, your period is Allah’s gift to help you find your way back to Him.