Duke Medical Ethics Journal
Ethics to Mitigate the “Menstrual Cycle of Shame” During Ramadan
by Sonya Eason
For Muslims everywhere, Ramadan comes with its own set of adversities. The Islamic month evokes images of fasting, praying, studying, and reflecting. But one struggle that is little known--or often only talked about in quiet whispers behind doors between women--is what Sameera Qureshi, a sexual health expert, deems the “Menstrual Cycle of Shame.” During menstruation, Muslim women are exempted from fasting and praying. While this is a burden lifted in numerous ways, there is often an emotional struggle that comes with women not fasting or praying. Shame-based thoughts along the lines of “Menstruation disconnects me [or prevents me from worshiping] from Allah,” are common in Muslim women .
Throughout this paper, I hope to illustrate scenarios in which parties can limit their contributions to the menstrual cycle of shame.
“Instead of seeing a non-fasting woman as being not practicing, the friend may consider that a non-fasting Muslim woman may not be able to fast.”
Let’s consider an encounter between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman. A moderately-practicing Muslim man plays music on his computer loudly in a space where a Muslim sister sits. The sister offers her headphones to the man. He asks if she doesn’t listen to music to which the sister responds that one of her Ramadan resolutions is to stop listening to music. The man catches sight of her water bottle in the corner of her backpack and says, “Oh so you can’t listen to music, but you can drink water and not fast, huh?”.
Let’s assume the Muslim woman is on her period. She is irritated that her peer didn’t assume the best of her—that is, that she was not fasting because she was not able to. Not only does she find herself to be blamed for not fasting, but she personally is reminded by her lack of control in the process, wishing she was able to fast. On her part, she may feel disconnected from both Allah and the ummah.
To avoid the said circumstance, one would benefit from assuming the best of intentions and not singling a woman out for not fasting or praying. Although a person could be tempted to encourage a peer to pray or fast, encouragement is best done to groups, not to individual women, where menstruation is a likely cause for not engaging in these practices. In this situation, the man highlights the fact that the woman is not fasting out of retaliation, appearing offended that the woman does not want to listen to music. Doing so is inappropriate, because his goal is not to improve her worship rather to be mean, which is against the spirit of Ramadan.
Oftentimes, Muslim men realize that women may be unable to pray or fast because of menstruation, which is why social contribution to the menstrual cycle of shame largely comes from interactions outside the Muslim community. Let’s look at an example.
A friend runs into her Muslim friend, who is drinking from a water fountain. Aware that fasting during Ramadan includes not eating nor drinking, the friend says, “hey you’re not fasting today?”. The Muslim friend considers explaining that women on their period do not need to fast but finds herself worried that saying so is oversharing. She responds indicating that she is not fasting.
It’s common for Muslim women on their periods to worry about
being caught not fasting because it presents like fasting is not
important to them even when it is. In this circumstance, the
friend is curious about her friend and the process of fasting. It
may be beneficial for the Muslim friend to explain that
menstruation exempts one from fasting and praying. Not only
will the friend understand that her friend is actually following
what she’s supposed to, but it may also change how the friend
approaches other Muslims they interact with. Instead of seeing
a non-fasting woman as being not practicing, the friend may
consider that a non-fasting Muslim woman may not be able to
fast. In similar circumstances where a friend is curious and willing
to learn, it’s beneficial to share that there are times when Muslim
women do not fast.
Regardless of the scenario, Qureshi encourages spiritual-based thoughts in women, adopting the mindset that “Menstruation is a sacred process created by Allah. There are numerous ways to worship besides praying and fasting.” As she says, “the only way to get out of the cycle is to do the inner work and trust in Allah.”
Review Editor: Danika Dai
Design Editor: Ariha Mehta
 Qureshi, S. (2023, March 24). Sameera Qureshi on Instagram: "Are you trapped in a "menstrual cycle of shame" during Ramadan? Instagram. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from https://www.instagram.com/p/CqLD1w2OGn6/