Ramadan is a holy time in Islam dedicated to fasting and prayer, but some Muslim women are speaking out about the shame they feel during the religious holiday, which runs from May 15 to June 14 this year.
In certain communities, it’s expected that women, who are exempt from fasting while menstruating, will hide the food they’re allowed to eat or skip prayer services.
Some women on social media say it makes them feel separated from what’s supposed to be an important time.
Jackleen Ibrahim, a student in Australia, was one of the women to sound off on Twitter about the practice.
“I first started my period I was attending an Islamic school in Melbourne,” she says. “Every girl felt the same. We dreaded having our period during Ramadan because we felt we had to be secretive about it. If you ate in the courtyard then everyone would know you were on your period.”
The young women, already self-conscious in this newfound stage of adulthood, took to eating in secret to avoid being talked about.
Fortunately, Ibrahim found support from her dad.
“He sat me down and said, ‘You shouldn’t feel ashamed. Islam allows you to not fast during your period, so you’re just practicing your rights, please don’t feel as if you need to hide this part of your life,’” she says.
Huda Fahmy, illustrator of the webcomic, “Yes, I’m Hot in This,” explains that there are multiple reasons people may not be fasting, including those who are sick, and women who are pregnant or on their period. She says Allah spoke openly about the rules of menstruation, so it shouldn’t be a taboo topic.
Privacy was a main concern for many of the women who felt singled out by prying questions. “I’m not about to go hide in a cupboard under the stairs to have a snack during Ramadan,” says Fahmy.
Amina Hassan, a fashion and lifestyle influencer, tweeted out her support for women who didn’t want to hide when they were eating. “When people notice you aren’t fasting they may be quick to make a judgment call on your character.”
“I think that in order to combat the stigma attached to menstruation we have to think about the ‘why’ questions,” she says. “Why are women taxed for buying things such as tampons? Why is a healthy bodily function perceived as an embarrassment?”
How women are treated during their period is not the same throughout the faith. “How you’re treated or expected to do depends on local context and culture, even social class,” Niloofar Haeri, a professor at John Hopkins University, explains. “If you read different websites from Iran, where I’m from, they say you’re not expected to fast but that does not mean you can’t get closer to God. It does not mean you can’t do practices that make you remember God.”
Ibrahim says that people should simply stop asking.
“Constantly questioning a Muslim woman’s faith becomes tiring and old,” she says. “I think during Ramadan it’s amplified because it seems to ostracize us from the rest of the community. Islam doesn’t teach you to do that in the first place, so I believe it’s been culturally embedded in our society and community rather than Islam itself.”