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What Does the Qur'an Say About Menstruation?

Menstruation is the periodic process in women when discharge of blood and uterine tissue occurs on a monthly cycle. Many women experience pain in the lower abdomen just before and during menstruation due to contraction of the uterine muscles, commonly known as 'menstrual cramps'. The Qur'an refers to menstruation as 'Adan', based on the trilateral root letters A-Da-Ya أ ذ ي , literally meaning something which is a 'hurt' or possibly a 'harm'. In the context of menstruation as a process of discharging blood and tissue from the body, the 'hurt' can simply be understood as the biological effect this process has on the body:

They ask you regarding menstruation; say, 'It is a hurt. So avoid intercourse with women during
menstruation, until they become free from it. When they are free from it, you may have intercourse with them as
God has ordained. God loves those who are repentant and those who are pure.' (2:222)

 وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَٱعْتَزِلُوا۟ ٱلنِّسَآءَ فِى ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ
 أَمَرَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ

In the above verse, the word 'Adan' has no suggestion of any level of physical or spiritual impurity. If it was intended for menstruation to be viewed as a physical impurity, an alternative word could be used, as has been used elsewhere in the Qur'an, to refer to physical impurity. For example, the word 'Junub', based on the trilateral root letters Ja-Na-Ba ج ن ب , has been used in the Qur'an to refer to a state of physical impurity when a physical cleansing is recommended:

Oh believers, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated, until you know what you are saying, or when
you are in a state of JUNUB (physical impurity) unless you are just passing through, until you have cleansed
yourselves. (4:43)

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنْتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ وَلَا جُنُبًا إِلَّا عَابِرِي سَبِيلٍ حَتَّىٰ تَغْتَسِلُوا
Oh believers, when you rise for prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows, wipe over your
heads and wash your feet to the ankles. If you are in a state of JUNUB (physical impurity), cleanse
yourselves. (5:6)

ا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى
الْكَعْبَيْنِ ۚ وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا

As seen above, verse 2:222 only advises against intercourse with women during their periods, on the basis that it is some form of 'hurt' for them. There is no other prohibition during their periods, including fasting or praying, entering mosques or touching holy scriptures. The verse does not state that women are impure during their periods, neither physically nor spiritually. It continues to state that when women become 'free' from menstruation, it becomes permissible for them to have intercourse. The word 'free' used here, based on the trilateral root letters Ta-Ha-Ra ط ه ر , can mean to become 'clean', but also to become 'free from something' or 'rid of something'. Since the Qur'an does not refer to menstruation as a form of physical or spiritual impurity, it would be unreasonable to interpret this as referring to uncleanliness or impurity. Instead, we find in the Qur'an that the same word (Ta-Ha-Ra ط ه ر) has been used with the said alternative meaning. In verse 3:55, Jesus is told he will become 'free from the disbelievers' when God raises him to Himself, effectively Jesus becoming 'rid of the disbelievers':

When God said, 'Oh Jesus, I will raise you to Myself and FREE YOU from the disbelievers and make those who
follow you superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection.' (3:55)

إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَىٰ إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا

In the same way, the advice is to avoid sexual intercourse until women are free from active menstrual discharge. The verse ends by stating that 'God loves those who are pure', with the same root letters Ta-Ha-Ra ط ه ر . To understand what is meant with this expression, we should look at other verses in the Qur'an where the same word has been used to refer to human beings as 'pure'. Subsequently, we may draw a general pattern of intended meaning for verse 2:222.

The following verse states that people who attend the mosque from their righteousness 'purify themselves' in the sight of God. Notice that the verse ends with the same expression, 'God loves those who are pure', as in verse 2:222:

A mosque founded on righteousness from the first day is more worthy for you to stand in. Within it are those
who love to PURIFY THEMSELVES, and God loves those who are PURE. (9:108)

لَمَسْجِدٌ أُسِّسَ عَلَى التَّقْوَىٰ مِنْ أَوَّلِ يَوْمٍ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَقُومَ فِيهِ ۚ فِيهِ رِجَالٌ يُحِبُّونَ أَنْ يَتَطَهَّرُوا ۚ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُطَّهِّرِينَ

In the following verse, Mary is referred to as a pure woman by virtue of God choosing her 'above the women of the worlds' and by her submitting to God:

When the angels said, 'Oh Mary, God has CHOSEN YOU and MADE YOU PURE. He has chosen you above the women 
of the worlds. Oh Mary, SUBMIT YOURSELF to your Lord, prostrate and bow with those who bow.' (3:42-43)

وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ		 
يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ

When the people of Lot disapproved of homosexuality, the response they received was of expulsion and mockery for being morally 'pure':

The answer of his people was that they said, 'Evict them from your city; they are people who KEEP THEMSELVES 
PURE.' (7:82)

وَمَا كَانَ جَوَابَ قَوْمِهِ إِلَّا أَنْ قَالُوا أَخْرِجُوهُمْ مِنْ قَرْيَتِكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُمْ أُنَاسٌ يَتَطَهَّرُونَ

The following verse states that giving charity also makes a person pure:

Administer charity from their wealth, by which you PURIFY THEM and cause them increase. (9:103)

خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِمْ بِهَا 

The Qur'an also refers to the revelations sent to God's messengers as 'pure scriptures'. Given the context, this cannot possibly mean anything physical, as it is referring to the sanctity and purity of God's message:

A messenger from God, reciting PURE SCRIPTURES. (98:2)

رَسُولٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ يَتْلُو صُحُفًا مُطَهَّرَةً

Referring to the hypocrites who lie about their faith, the Qur'an states that these people have hearts which are impure:

These are people whose HEARTS God does not intend to PURIFY. For them there is disgrace in this world and
great punishment in the Hereafter. (5:41)

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُطَهِّرَ قُلُوبَهُمْ ۚ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

From the above verses, we can see that the general meaning of 'purity' throughout the Qur'an is that of purity of the heart in relation to faith in God. This is especially true when the expression is used in a positive manner asserting the approval of God. Accordingly, the expression 'God loves those who are pure' in verse 2:222 refers to men and women of pure heart, without any direct relation to menstruation. Worth noting is that grammatically, the Arabic word for 'those who are pure' in verse 2:222 is not gender-specific; it includes both men and women who have acquired purity of the heart.

Other than verse 2:222, another verse which speaks of menstruation is verse 65:4, in which the waiting period for divorce is outlined for women who are not menstruating:

Those women who are not menstruating, if you are unsure, their waiting period is three months. Those who
are not menstruating, but are pregnant, their waiting period is until they give birth. (65:4)

وَاللَّائِي يَئِسْنَ مِنَ الْمَحِيضِ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَاللَّائِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ ۚ وَأُولَاتُ الْأَحْمَالِ أَجَلُهُنَّ أَنْ يَضَعْنَ

Important to note is that this verse may be perversely misinterpreted if read incorrectly – by separating the clauses of the sentences in the wrong places. When the verse states, 'Those who are not menstruating', this does not refer to pre-pubescent girls who have never menstruated; it refers to 'women' (not girls) as stated at the beginning of the verse. The Arabic word for 'women' used here is 'Nisa', based on the trilateral root letters Na-Sa-Wa ن س و , whereas the Arabic word for 'girls' is 'Fatayat', based on the trilateral root letters Fa-Ta-Ya ف ت ي . When reading the clauses correctly, the part 'Those who are not menstruating' connects with the next clause about pregnancy, referring to women who are pregnant and have not menstruated recently. There are two possible situations this could apply to. Firstly, with pregnancy in general, menstruation ceases due to changes in the hormones as the uterine lining is not shed in preparation for having a baby. Secondly, perimenopause is a transitional period before menopause when menstruation may stop for several months, although pregnancy is still possible. This is because despite hormone levels changing, regular ovulation may continue during this period. There may be a duration of up to 12 months without menstruation when pregnancy is still possible.

The Qur'an considers menstruation to be a biological and natural process in which all women experience some physical changes to their bodies. The only prohibition during menstruation is that of sexual intercourse, with the word 'hurt' suggesting the reasoning for this is to protect women from physical harm. There is no suggestion that menstruation itself is an 'impure' process, neither physically nor spiritually. It would be a lie against God to forbid menstruating women from practising any act of their faith, including praying, fasting, attending mosques or reading religious scriptures. The endorsed quality of 'purity' praised throughout the Qur'an applies to both men and women, relates to purity of the heart and is acquired through submission to God, doing of good and avoiding evil.

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