Menses and Prayer
Q. Where is it written in the Qur'an that a woman cannot pray or fast while having her menses? I cannot find a verse relating to this matter. Perhaps it is in the hadith? If so, what is the validity of such hadith. Thank you.
A. The question you pose regarding the issue of menses and prayer and fasting is an interesting one. There are indications in the Qur'an of the prohibition of fasting and prayer for the menstruating woman. We shall touch on this later. On the aspect of other proofs, be they sunnah or ijma, let us quote what Ibn Quddama wrote in "Al Sharh al Kabir" (1.156: From Muhammad b. Saud University, Riyadh, no date), "(The menses) forbids 10 things, (1) the act of prayer (2) its obligatory status..." Ibn al-Mundhir said: "The scholars are unanimous in the menstruating woman being free from the injunction of prayer during the time of such menstruation, and that the prayers which she has missed are not to be made up later, this being based on the statement of the Prophet to Fatima bint Abi Hubaysh. If the days of your period come upon you, then leave aside the prayer." (Bukhari and Muslim). Muadha reported: "I asked Aisha: what is the case of the fasting woman, she makes up for the missed fast and not for the missed prayer?... She said: "When we had our periods at the time of the Messenger of Allah, we were ordered to make up the missed fasts, and we were not ordered to make up the missed prayers." (Bukhari and Muslim). (Aisha is supposed to have said this to her, because according to the Khawarij, women have to make up for the missed prayers).
The act of fasting, although its obligatory status does not… / suffice it to say that aside from what has been reported from the Khawarij, the matter is one of consensus. If we were to rely on the Qur'an only, and this, for the most part is quite problematic, since the Qur'an presupposes a knowledge of the Jewish law, and its continuance in cases where it is not expressly changed. For example, in the case of the prayer, we are not told exactly how to pray, but wherein we have Salman telling us that he used to pray two years before he met the Prophet. This means that except for certain minor specifics, his prayer was not any major change from that of the Jewish form he had been taught. This is evidenced by the Qur'an talking about ruku and sujud in the case of Maryam, and about Qiyam in the case of the Children of Israel.
Now in the verses on wudu, it says that (Q5:6) when one is in a state of sexual impurity, or has had intercourse, he should purify himself. So here we have the case of sexual impurity being a barrier to performing the prayer. In Q2:187, it says that one is allowed to approach his wife on the nights of the fasting month, thereby informing us that he is not allowed to do so during the day. In Q2:222, on menstruation, the Qur'an tells us that it is something that causes discomfort, and that one should not have sex with a menstruating woman until she has purified herself. What do these verses show? That to approach prayer one has to be in a state of ritual purity, and that sexual intercourse nullifies this purity. In the verses on menstruation, it speaks of the women purifying themselves, therefore telling us that they are, during the state of the menses, not in a state of ritual purity. This therefore leads to the logical conclusion that they cannot pray.
In the case of fasting, since the sex is something forbidden during the hours of fasting, and since the menstruating woman cannot fast, then she is clearly not being addressed in the verses. This means that she is not among those who are seen to be fasting, and the conclusion is that menstruating women may not fast. Legal reasoning also tells us that the acts of worship all require a state of purity, and anything that detracts therefrom, and renders one outside of such a state, would automatically free one from such responsibility.
As far as the hadith on the matter go, there are many, and they are from Bukhari and Muslim. Our stance on hadith, however, is that notwithstanding their presence in these two books, they should be investigated. In this case, we have shown ijma on the issue, and this is beyond investigation. Regarding the hadith of Aisha that we mentioned earlier, we see a problem in the case as to why a woman is free from making up the prayers but then has to do so for the fasting. If the premise is because in the verses on fasting, it says to make up the days missed in sickness, then know that the period is not a sickness, for Allah uses the word "adhaa" for it, and not "marad". On the aspect of judging Allah not wanting that which is difficult for us and wanting that which is easy, our problem is this: The menses are what distinguishes a man from a woman. She has no choice -- or at least until recently did not have. But the matter is one she cannot avoid, and even if she wants to fast, cannot. Her Lord forbids her to because that Lord has caused her to be in that state.
Why should she then have to make up for these days, and not for the prayer? The hadith of Aisha seems to solve the issue, but it does not absolutely do so. Of course, one answer against our position is that Allah's rulings are not subject to legal reasoning. But then our answer to that is that in all such rulings, Allah clearly says that He does not want to impose burdens upon us. And yet again, in answer to us, it may be pointed out that the Khawarij position is strong evidence for the early position that the days missed for fasting had to be made up, for they were exhibiting some sort of legal reasoning when making the days missed for the prayer like those missed for the fast. Suffice it to say that the matter is problematic for us, and indeed all the rulings for menses are as such.
It was reported that Imam Malik said that this was the most difficult fiqh subject to study. We know from the Qur'an and Sunnah and Ijma that the woman in her menses must not fast or pray. In the matter of possibly erring on the side of following that which seems to be supported by a preponderance of evidence, we will say that the traditional position seems formidable -- that she must make up for the days missed for the fasting. Our problem still presents itself, however, and having raised it, we leave the matter to each individual Muslimah to research on her own, and pray to Allah to guide her to make her own decision on the matter. We welcome any further discussion that our readers may have, as long as such discussion is presented with objective analysis of the evidence, and not underlined by any purely dogmatic concepts. May Allah guide us.
Posted December 11, 2000
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