Ramadan brings with it many challenges, including the challenge for women to manage the façade of fasting while on their monthlies. The menstrual cycle is as real as the beating heart in ones chest; however it is a disconcerting issue for most, including Muslim men who skirt around the proverbial elephant in the room. EVERYONE is well-aware of this biological phenomenon yet chooses to be blatantly ignorant.
Ask any girl and she would tell you that she would happily trade in these monthly mood swing-inducing, gut-wrenching, nauseous days of bloating for dropping an anvil on her toes. They are not enjoyable for us but happen to be very much a necessary part of the existence of the human race.
There are many euphemisms that we women use to share our plight when that time of the month arrives. These names, shrouded in secrecy are nothing short of covert military operations code names. My most recent discovery was Shark week-aptly termed given the torture, pain and the bloody gory mess involved in being a victim of a shark attack.
In my younger days, dealing with my monthlies during Ramadan was always tricky. It usually involved a one-sided hide and seek vis-a-vis food intake from my two brothers. Muslim women with brothers can relate to the secrecy that shrouds our biological clocks status. This therefore would prove to be a time for adventure- searching for moments to steal a bite or sip without being detected by the male members of your family.
Feeling nothing short of Indiana Jones, I used to time my food/drink intakes to coincide perfectly with the timings when the boys were out. I came up with creative emergency exit strategies mastering the art of eating a plate of briyani in two minutes flat, or dropping to my feet pretending to search for something in an effort to hide the bulge in my cheek, or sliding quickly underneath the dining table to eat something quick, or a combination of all three. It added a little bit of excitement to my otherwise boring day.
I am sure most Muslim women can also relate to the awkwardness they felt during academic years. I have often been caught in the interfaith center at prayer time when the brothers started a Jamat and my only escape route was a door that required walking directly through the congregation. Needless to say, I have been guilty of offering fake prayers. Those of you unaware of what fake prayers entail of, it is following through the motions of Salat, without actually uttering any of the verses, except for the much needed Astaghfar (forgive me Allah). I sincerely hope Allah will forgive my insanity!
I did notice that hunger-pangs would only seem to strike when all the Muslim brothers on campus were somehow collectively within meters of me and I couldnt just eat my chicken chocolate avocado sandwich (yes, my culinary skills were weak during university years). What made matters worse was getting caught in that passionate moment of sinking my teeth into the tasty delights that I lovingly made for myself with absolutely NO escape route available to redeem.
Lying about being selectively hypoglycemic and requiring to skip fasts at some point during Ramadan seemed like a viable option. Luckily, the topic is exceedingly uncomfortable for most Muslim men and they would continue walking as if you did not exist. For that courtesy, I guess, I should be thankful to our brothers in Islam.
The reality is when the lady in red strikes, she cant be ignored. You are moody, snappy, and often overly sensitive about everything. A possible conversation on the weather can all of a sudden be overly offensive about your momma; leaving most men bewildered at best. This obvious dead give-away to a womans menstrual period would make it impossible to fly under the radar. Despite the obvious: Proceed with caution signs, it was amazing to me, how many brothers would ask the rude question of Why are you not fasting?
Obviously, this sort of question made the rebel in me want to respond with: I am in agonizing pain from bleeding to my demise however, being branded a Heathen was not on the list of things to achieve this Ramadan, so like many others I opted for the rambling excuses spree.
This sheer reluctance to address this taboo topic even caused me to be deluded for a large part of my desi existence believing that men were perhaps completely unaware or just insensitive. Speaking about the monthlies is a battle of modesty vs. honesty. That thought is so deeply entrenched into our psyche that I had to actually think twice about writing this post. Word of advice, sisters, if you are looking to take over your MSA, I suggest start talking about the monthlies out loud, since for men it seems to be a topic that could lead to an early death.
Women need to realize that playing ostrich isnt an option. It is not a matter of immodesty, or shamefulness, but rather a reality to embrace gracefully. The actual problem is the greater repercussions of not teaching sensitivity to the Muslilm men in our lives. Since silence is the go-to-method pertaining to these painful times, most Muslim men remain oblivious to the plight of their women-folk until after marriage. This lack of communication on the matter renders them handicapped in being sympathetic. But if we, as sisters and mothers, were vocal about our distress, it would stop them from uttering to the wife such nonsense as: well, I dont know what the big deal is; my mother or my sister never complained and still managed to put a big Iftar on the table. If we taught them (read: whined about it) every time, they would be a lot better equipped in handling the emotional upheavals and down-swings, perhaps realizing and not putting excessive demands of a table full of iftar on their spouse/mother/sisters. Word of advice to the single men out there-empathy is the greatest and most attractive trait in a man. Remember that, come time to woo a woman off her feet. This of course is not an invitation to start keeping tabs on her monthly cycle that would be very stalkerish and weird!
Perhaps, what we need is to reach a healthy and respectful medium where we dont cross the bounds of sharam (modesty) without also being insensitive. Being honest and open does not mean discussing the gory details of the monthly ordeal, but rather accepting the biological reality during Ramadan for those few days, we could finally have our cake without guilt?