"You didn't go to the surau today?" Mrs. Tan (not her real name) asked me.
"Nope, I'm having my day off."
"Menses.. monthly period."
"Oh... It's degrading isn't it, the way women are treated in Hindu and Islam. You can't pray when you're having your periods."
I was shocked at her comment. Recovering quickly, I replied, " Well actually no. Islam treats women so well that we are given the days off when we're having our monthly menses."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, as we all know, having menses can be very messy and physical tiring for women. Some suffer from cramps. Allah is merciful, so Muslim women are excused fom performing the prayer and fasting when she is coping with the monthly menses. In fact, it's a sin for the woman to perform the 5 times a day solat during this time of the month. It's not a punishment but rather, a compassionate gift for women."
"But I thought women can't pray at this time because they're unclean?"
"Muslim women can still pray or doa to Allah, and recite the zikir or praises to Him. It's just that she doesn't need to perform the 5 times a day prayer ritual or solat, because it's physically taxing on her during her menses. Allah in His wisdom lifted the load of solat prayer and the burden of fasting for Muslim women during these times of her life. Uncleanliness is only in her menstrual blood, not her physical self. She can still be with her husband, except having sexual intercourse."
"But why prevent a woman from praying as usual? Isn't menses a natural part of a woman's biological cycle that God makes for a woman?"
"Tell me, are you in a good mood when you're having your menses? Would you voluntarily wake up at the early hours of dawn, or you'd prefer to sleep a little longer? Do you like to perform exercises when you're suffering discomfort from menstrual cramps? Do you want to go hungry for hours when you're having your menses?"
"Of course I'd prefer to sit and rest if I can."
"Naturally. So Muslim women are exempted from observing prayer or solat, and fasting during her menses because both these tasks are difficult and physically demanding. It's not a punishment. It's actually Allah's gift for the Muslim woman during her menses, to remove hardship and religious obligations from her and allow her space to focus on what she is experiencing during her monthly cycle."
"So you mean it's actually to help the women, not as a form of treating women as second-class worshippers?"
"Women are respected in Islam, contrary to what many people prefer to believe. Allah in His wisdom and mercy has ordered women to stop performing her prayer and fasting at such times. So a Muslim woman who does not perform prayer and fast during her menses is actually worshipping Allah too. She obeys His commands and submit to Him."
"But why can't she go to the mosque and read the Quran at these times?"
"Actually anyone who is impure, like a man who has just made love to his wife, can't read the Quran or go to the mosque unless they wash themselves clean first through ablution or mandi hadas. It's nothing to do with being a woman or a man. In Islam, we show great respect and reverence for the Creator, which is why we wash ourselves clean first and wear clean clothing when we perform the prayer before Him, as well as touch the Holy Quran."
"So a Muslim woman is actually respected when she's having her menses?"
"Yes, of course. Muslim women are prevented from praying not because she's dirty/unclean during her menses. Actually she's given the holidays from God AlMighty so that she can rest and regain her strength. Allah does not intend to place any difficulty on the shoulders of His servants. When a person is experiencing difficulty, Islam will give him or her some concessions that make life easy."
" I see.."
"Do you know how many days a woman is exempted fom performing the solat every month?"
" As long as she's having her menses.Maximum is 14 days. And she doesn't have to replace the number of prayers she doesn't perform at those times. That'show merciful Allah is to Muslim women."
"Ok... now I understand."