It is halfway through one of the holiest months in the Islamic Calendar.
During Ramadan, Muslims around the world are avoiding drinking and eating from sunrise to sunset.
But, there are a list of people who are exempt from fasting during this time, among them are women who are menstruating, and there’s one question some dread getting: “Why aren’t you fasting?”
Erin Clegg, a Muslim woman from Virginia, recently tweeted out a video where she expressed frustration over bring questioned on why she was eating during Ramadan.
She said she wanted to address this cultural taboo and start a conversation.
“When a girl is on her period, she can’t fast and we know this,” she said in the video that was tweeted out to her followers. “So tell me why we’re looking at girls who are obviously Muslim and are eating like they’re doing haram. Stop looking at me, stop asking me why I’m not fasting.”
— Erin 🏳️🌈 (@stanakmu_) June 2, 2018
The 21-year-old said she was encouraged to make the video after she felt unwell while out with friends, one encouraged her to eat, while the other told her not to be vocal about why she wasn’t fasting.
“There’s a lot of guys especially, who will be like just eat in private and go, you’re wasting everyone’s time,” Clegg explained. “I don’t understand why it’s problematic to eat in public when we need to eat. That’s just telling women to stay in small spaces, to not be outside, to not be at work. I don’t understand why a normal thing like our periods should hold us back from eating in public. ”
Clegg, who is a convert to Islam, says she was open about responding to people who asked why she wasn’t fasting, but friends quickly told her that being open like that wasn’t appropriate.
“But then I studied it and I was like there’s no rule about how to converse about that, so where did it come? Culture,” she said. “Now I’m just like ‘I’m on my period’, flat out.”
Having friends, family, and even strangers asking them the dreaded question. Shazlin Rahman, who lives and works in Toronto, can relate to Clegg’s frustrations.
“It has been my experience, I come from a majority Muslim country so I did grow up with the stigma around being on my period and being ashamed of talking about it,” she said. “Especially in Ramadan, it manifests in a tangible way where we’re not allowed to eat in public and Muslim women have to hold that back and do a delicate dance around telling people why we’re not fasting or pretending to be fasting so that we don’t have to talk about it.”
The topic was also discussed by various social media users. One user, Asmaa Hussein started a conversation:
Emphasizing that there’s nothing for a Muslim women to be ashamed of, about not fasting during her periods, she says: “If I have my period I’m going to sit at the table and eat, not hide and cower in the washroom with a bag of chips, with the tap on so no one hears the bag making noise. I’m a human being with dignity for God’s sake.”
She adds that the girls and the boys of the community need to be educated about this: “Allah said I don’t have to fast during this time, so I refuse to lie about it or make it seem like something unnatural. It is perfectly natural and normal, and we should be teaching our girls AND boys about this.”
The facebook post drew varied responses with some users denying any experiences of period-shaming. One such user, Saadia Ashraf said, “My son and husband are surrounded by females in our house(daughters/sisters and nieces/cousins). We are not ashamed when we have our periods- we don’t make a public announcement about it, but my son and husband know that if someone is not joining for prayer or eating during Ramadan- there’s a reason and they know why. There’s no vulgarity about it- but there’s no shyness either. What is there to be ashamed of?”
A few women observed that the whole phenomenon was ‘cultural’:
Some others like this one disagreed with non-fasting women eating in public, during Ramadan:
One user described how she had to educate her young son who asked why his elder sister wasn’t fasting:
Many others felt that while it’s important for men to understand that there are times when women can’t pray or fast, this shouldn’t mean that women openly eat and drink in front of them.
Apart from menstruating women, others who are exempt from fasting during Ramadan include pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who are sick, and the elderly.
If possible, Muslims will make up any fasting days they miss at a later date. If not, they can make a charitable donation.
With inputs from City News