It is Obligatory to Learn the Fiqh of Menstruation
Many women are unfamiliar with the rulings relating to menstruation. The fuqaha mention that these rulings are personally obligatory for every Muslim woman to know. Whether or not one is in a state of menstruation is sometimes the dividing line between something obligatory (e.g., if a woman is not menstruating, it is obligatory for her to pray, fast the month of Ramadan, and allow her husband to have intercourse with her) and something unlawful (e.g., if a woman is menstruating, it is unlawful (haram) for her to pray, fast, or allow her husband to have intercourse with her). A woman who does not understand the fiqh of menstruation thus runs the risk of displeasing Allah by leaving something that is obligatory or performing something that is unlawful.
This short post summarizes the fiqh of menstruation. Most of this material is not found in the Reliance or al-Maqasid. Women should read this carefully and ask questions if there is anything that they do not understand.
The Cotton Ball Test
Blood does not have to flow or exit in large quantities to be of consequence. If a woman inserts a cotton ball (or something similar) into her vagina and it comes out stained (either black, red, orange, yellow, or creamy), she is considered to be bleeding. If it comes out unstained (white), she is considered to be in a state of non-bleeding.
(Tuhfat al-Muhtaj; Hashiyat al-Sharqawi)
Conditions of Menstruation
A woman who is bleeding (according to the cotton ball test described above) is in a state of menstruation if three conditions are satisfied:
1. The bleeding must last at least 24 hours. If the bleeding is intermittent, the sum of all intermittent bleeding periods must add up to at least 24 hours.
2. The period of menstruation must not exceed 15 days, regardless of whether the bleeding is intermittent or continuous.
3. There must be at least 15 days of purity between two periods of menstruation.
Whenever a woman sees blood that fulfills the above conditions, she must assume that she is in a state of menstruation. Whenever she stops bleeding, she must assume that her menstruation has stopped. In certain cases, she might later discover that her initial assumptions were wrong, in which case she would have to take appropriate corrective measures. The example below illustrates this more clearly.
Jan 1, 10.00 am: Aisha sees blood coming out of her vagina. More than 15 days of non-bleeding have elapsed since the last time she saw menstrual blood. It is therefore possible that this blood could be menstrual blood, since it does not violate any of the conditions of menstruation. Because of this possibility, Aisha must assume that this is menstrual blood and immediately refrain from everything that a menstruating woman must refrain from (e.g., she must not perform the prayer (salah), she must not fast, she must not have intercourse with her husband, she must not recite or touch the Qur’an, etc.).
Jan 1, 6.00 pm: Aisha notices that she may have stopped bleeding. To check, she washes herself of blood, waits a while, and then inserts a cotton ball into her vagina. The cotton ball comes out unstained. Once again, she must act according to what she sees and assume that the blood she saw in the morning was abnormal blood (dam fasad) and not menstruation (because she only bled for 8 hours, she cannot assume that the blood was menstrual blood, since menstrual blood must last for at least 24 hours, as per condition 1 above). She does not need to take a purificatory bath (ghusl) (since she did not have a valid menstruation). There is half an hour left before the time for Aisha enters, so she must pray maghrib. In addition, she must make up the dhuhr and asr prayers that she missed earlier in the day because she has now discovered that her earlier assumption was incorrect. She must now act as if she was not menstruating.
Jan 3, 10 am: Aisha sees blood again. She must assume that she is once again menstruating and avoid everything that a menstruating woman avoids. She has also discovered that the assumption she made on Jan 1 at 6.00 p.m. was incorrect: she was actually in a state of menstruation all along, so any prayers or fasts she performed in that period of non-bleeding were actually invalid.
Jan 4, 10 am: Aisha notices that her blood is not flowing like it was yesterday. She decides to check if she has once again stopped bleeding. She cleans herself of blood, waits a while, and then inserts a cotton ball into her vagina. It comes out yellow, so she must still consider herself in a state of menstruation (according to the more correct (asahh) position in the Shafii school, yellow discharge is considered menstruation). Nothing has changed.
Jan 5, 10.00 pm: Aisha again thinks that she might have stopped bleeding, and checks by inserting a cotton ball into her vagina. The cotton ball comes out stained with a non-transparent liquid, almost creamy in colour. She must still consider herself in a state of menstruation (just like yellow discharge, creamy or non-transparent (kadir) discharge is also considered menstruation according to the more correct (asahh) position in the Shafii school). Once again, nothing has changed.
Jan 6, 10.00 am: Aisha performs the cotton ball test again and this time, the cotton ball comes out unstained. She must act according to what she sees and assume that she has stopped menstruating. Since she has bled for more than 24 hours (8 hours on Jan 1 from 10.00 am until 6.00 pm and then another 72 hours from Jan 3, 10.00 am until Jan 6, 10.00 am, making a total of 80 hours), she must perform a purificatory bath and then start praying again. She must now act like a woman who is not menstruating.
Jan 10, 10.00 am: Aisha sees blood again. It is possible for this blood to be menstrual blood, since it does not violate any of the conditions of menstruation. Therefore, she must act according to what she sees and again assume that she is in a state of menstruation. She has now discovered that the assumption she made on Jan 6, 10.00 am was incorrect and any prayers or fasts that she performed during the last 4 days were actually invalid.
Jan 14, 10.00 am: Aisha thinks she has stopped bleeding. To check, she washes herself of blood, waits a while, and then inserts a cotton ball into her vagina. It comes out unstained, so she must assume that she has stopped menstruating. She must perform a purificatory bath and start praying again. She must now do everything that a woman in a state of purity does.
Aisha does not see any more blood until Feb 1. She was in a period of menstruation for 13 days (from Jan 1 until Jan 14). This was followed by a state of purity for 16 days (from Jan 14 until Feb 1).
Had she seen blood on Jan 15 or on Jan 16 before 10.00 am, she would again have to have assumed that it was menstrual blood. However, if she had seen blood after Jan 16, 10.00 am, this blood would not be considered menstrual blood. She would have to apply the rules of chronic vaginal discharge (also called abnormal uterine bleeding, or AUB for short) to work out her periods of menstruation and purity.
(sources: Tuhfat al-Muhtaj; Hashiyat al-Jamal ala Fath al-Wahhab bi Sharh Manhaj al-Tullab; Fath al-Allam bi Sharh Murshid al-Anam)
The rulings of menstruation in the Shafi’i school are very simple. The key rule that women must remember is: act according to what you see. Note that a womans regular cycle (adah) is of no consequence. She must always act according to what she sees. If blood that she sees does not violate any of the conditions of menstrual blood, she must assume it is menstruation even if she does not normally bleed at that time of the month. Likewise, if she stops bleeding, she must assume that she has stopped bleeding even if she normally bleeds at that time of the month.
Sometimes, women will retroactively discover that their initial assumption was incorrect. In such a case, they simply take the appropriate measures to “fix” their mistake (e.g. by making up prayers missed because they thought they were in menstruation).
The rulings of chronic vaginal discharge (istihada), however, are not so simple. These will in-sha’Allah be dealt with in separate posts.
And Allah knows best