I am deeply religious and spiritual and I see Islam as a way of life so it affects every decision I make. Externally, I don’t look very religious as I don’t wear a headscarf or cover up, so people are often surprised when I tell them I pray five times a day.
However, I think it is a personal connection between oneself and God. It has helped me through very tough times and keeps me grounded as a person.
My mum has always been quite open about periods. I remember a great celebration when I first started my period at the age of 12 – my mum would shower me with gifts, as well as calling up and telling other family members, embarrassingly enough, as it was celebrated as an entrance to womanhood.
My dad never really spoke about it at all, except to congratulate me when I first started. He was outnumbered by females (my mum, sister and myself) so there was plenty of period talk but he never really got involved.
I’d been quite desperate to start my period so I could feel more ‘adult’ and join in with friends who had already started. However, I remember when I first noticed I was bleeding, there was an unexpected sense of sadness and loss which made me cry. I think it was a mourning for my childhood and I regretted having been so desperate to start. Seeing how positive and celebratory my mum was made me feel a lot better.
I was taught how to calculate when my period was due and my mum encouraged me to write the dates of my period in a diary, which I am so grateful for as I have a brilliant awareness of my body and when I am ovulating. I’m always prepared for my periods before they start and aware of how they’ll affect my mood.
The Quran mentions menstruation several times, so I think that normalised it for me and I felt less embarrassed asking questions as it wasn’t a taboo subject. During Eid, if I’m on my period, I don’t pray – although I still attend Eid prayers in the mosque. I also don’t fast or pray on my period but I’m still able to join in any celebrations and will still cook and eat with the family during Ramadan, so I don’t feel exempt.
As a young teen it was sometimes embarrassing when I had to sit out of prayers; I’d get teased by male cousins and friends as they knew the reason why. As I got older though, I felt a sense of importance.
I think that the body is in a state of constant worship when we’re menstruating so we don’t need to pray when we’re on our periods. I’m aware some people believe that women aren’t allowed to pray or have sex during their period because they’re ‘dirty’ but this isn’t the case. It’s actually a blessing to be able to take a paracetamol and have some chocolate when I’m on my period, instead of fasting from sunrise to sunset, so it’s definitely not a form of oppression.
This makes me feel respected and well looked after by the religion as I’m still able to worship, but in a way that honours my body at a time when it may be feeling more run-down and tired or weak.