The role of Language; interpretation and meanings of scriptural texts on menstruation

The role of Language; interpretation and meanings of scriptural texts on
menstruation

Guterman et al., (ibid) state that in Muslim cultures, “impure” (i.e., menstruating) women are to be avoided by men (Whelan, 1975 in Guterma et al., 2007). They then go on to state that these “laws” are derived from the Qur’an (2:222), which reads, “They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation. Say it is an illness so let women alone at such times and go not into them til they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you.”

There are several different translations with words ranging from illness, harm and pollution to more palatable interpretation of Muhammad Asad (2003) who uses the word ‘vulnerable’ to describe the condition of menstruation. Unfortunately, however, over the centuries ideas of women being harmful, impure, ill and the like have created distorted realities and robbed women of the beauty of this cyclical time in tune with nature and forgetting the meaning of the word which refers to the womb in Arabic that was mentioned in the introduction- Rahm (Loving tenderness, Grace, affection). At this critical juncture, it would be useful to draw on Naguib’s (2010) very rare paper discussing the hermeneutics of the menstruation verse. Naguib (2010) aims to converse with feminist readings of the Qur’an in light of the traditional exegesis of the Qur’an by focusing on the ‘menstruation’ verse (Qur’an chapter two verse 222). She purports to examine the limitations of the binary opposition in which interpretations of gender are either modern, feminist and egalitarian, or traditional, male and misogynistic. She proposes a third possibility for reading from a Muslim feminist hermeneutic which reaffirms the original purity of humanity as a horizon for the divine (Naguib 2010).

Steinem (1986 in Guterman et al., 2007) suggests that the relationship between religion and biases against women are bi-directional. This juxtaposition of attitudes towards menstruation have been explored by Jackson and Falmagne (2013), Kumar and Srivastava (2011), Stubbs and Costos (2004), Ussher (2003), and Gahagan and Orringer (2010), the latter who discovered that “social and cultural factors play an important role in transmission of menstrual knowledge”. This is very important in the context of this thesis and highlights the critical role of understanding social and cultural contexts. Burrows and Johnson (2005) found that many negative representations of the menstrual cycle were revealed in both traditional and feminist research and theorising. They carried out research on nine, 12-15 year olds and findings included that the menstrual period was largely constructed as embarrassing, shameful and something to be hidden. Menstruation was also constructed as illness (Burrows and Johnson, 2005).

Muslim women are juxtaposed between the gender dynamics and patriarchy enforced through cultural traditions and the western world’s medicalised-illness model. In Islam being a mother is considered an honour higher than being a father as depicted in this famous saying, ‘heaven lies under a mother’s feet’ (Bhatti, Fikree, and Khan, 1999 in Burrows and Johnson 2005). In reality unfortunately this can be far from being applied.

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