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What Does Islam Say About Delaying Menstruation

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What does Islam say about artificially delaying menstruation (via contraceptive pills or the like) in order to complete religious duties?

Modern medicine offers various ways to manipulate the human body's natural processes. Female menstruation is a natural process, one which Allah created in order to make reproduction possible. One may feel that Allah gives us natural rhythms and we should not alter these. Others may feel that in some cases, at some times, it may be beneficial to make use of modern medicine for our own convenience.

What's All the Fuss About?

Muslim women are exempt from some religious duties during times of menstruation or post-natal bleeding. Prayers, fasting, and certain pilgrimage rites are not performed unless one is in a ritual state of purity. Bleeding of any kind breaks the ablutions, and the Quran mentions specifically that women are exempted from certain religious activities while bleeding.

For convenience, or because they feel it is more "pious," some women may want to stop or temporarily delay menstruation so that they can participate in such religious duties.

Arguments For

Some women complain that they feel "disconnected" from the community, or even from God Himself, when they are not actively engaged in religious duties such as prayer.

Many women find it difficult to fast alone; i.e. at a time when the rest of the community is not fasting as well. Since fasting is a religious duty which must be "made up" later, day for day, some women find it more convenient to delay their period until after Ramadan, so that fewer or no days need to be made up at a later time.

Finally, many women save for years (or even their entire lives) in order to travel for the pilgrimage to Mecca. They don't want their religious rites "ruined" or changed because of an "untimely" period.

In these situations, some argue, there is nothing wrong with using artificial means to delay the period temporarily.

Arguments Against

Women were among the earliest and most devoted companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and artificial means of delaying menstruation were not available to them. They recognized that menstruation is a God-given, natural process and that the rules God has made are meant as a mercy for us.

Lady Aisha found herself in the situation of starting her period during the pilgrimage time, and was distressed by it. The Prophet Muhammad gave her this direct advice: "Allah the Almighty has prescribed this for the daughters of Adam, so do what other pilgrims do except tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka`bah) until you take ghusl (purificatory bath)." While first reminding her that this is a natural process, he did not advise her to withdraw from the pilgrimage but merely advised her to make adjustments.

What Do Islamic Scholars Say?

When it comes to daily prayers, most Islamic scholars advise against interfering with the natural processes that Allah has created. Rather, they advise that women see this as a God-given mercy, a time to rest and reflect without required duties. Women are encouraged to listen to recitation of Qur'an, make private remembrance of Allah, and do private prayers (du'a) during this time.

When it comes to fasting and prayers, which have a defined period of time for their performance, Islamic scholars rely on the Islamic principle of making religious duties simple and not a burden: "“Allah does not charge a soul with more than it can bear” (Qur'an 2:286). If a woman feels that she will have a difficult time making up the missed days of fasting, or that her pilgrimage will be incomplete, then she may (with doctor's consultation and permission) seek to temporarily alter her menstrual cycle.

Under no circumstances is it permitted for a woman to harm or cause permanent disability to herself. Any decision must be made by the woman, in close consultation with a family doctor.

All women are urged to remember that menstruation is a natural cycle and nothing to be ashamed of. If one can allow it to take its course and still meet religious obligations, one should do so. Indeed, it is neither required nor "more pious" to go to such lengths.

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