The physical and emotional changes of menopause vary from woman to woman, although there are some strong correlations between social influences and the menopause transition. For Islamic women, menopause presents many of the same challenges which all women experience with additional religious laws important to daily life.
Currently there are approximately 220 million Muslim women undergoing menopause. It is impossible and unethical to attempt to compartmentalize all Islamic women into a convenient category. A woman living in Riyadh may very well have a different menopause compared to her peer living in Detroit. Yet understanding some of the distinctive characteristics of how Islam acknowledges menopause allows for greater awareness of women’s health issues, increased insight into aging and social values, and ultimately aim to help break down prejudices and stereotypes.
Menopause according the Qur’an
‘Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them is they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make no wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest; and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things.’ Qur’an, Surah An-Nur 24:60
This passage shared on Mission Islam’s Website refers to the end of a woman’s childbearing years, and her general eligibility for marriage. Similar to the medical definition of menopause, Islam recognizes that once a full year or twelve consecutive months marked by the absence of menstruation have passed, a woman is considered menopausal. Typically, this occurs anywhere between ages 40 to 60, with the average age of 51. Some localized differences may emerge based on life expectancy rates, a woman’s personal overall health, and family history of menopause.
Menopause and the Iddah
At this point, Islam teaches the significance of the ruling of Iddah or a mandated structure of purity that women adhere to for varying lengths of time depending on her situation. This important topic is well beyond the scope of this article, but bears mention because menopausal women must follow custom, especially if she has been widowed or divorced before she is eligible for marriage. Normally, the Iddah period is three periods of purity between menstrual cycles.
There are different dictates according to the difference sects within Islam, again stressing the importance of knowing the views of menopause and women within the Muslim communities. One Website www.shafiifiqh.com explains this view on menopause:
‘In this instance, her waiting period will also be three months. Note should be taken that according to Shafi‘i Islamic law, and contrary to modern medicine, a lady will only be considered menopausal once she reaches the age of 62 lunar years.’
After learning the Islamic teachings of menopause and their interconnections with women’s lives readers should appreciate the minor differences in upholding social values and traditions. Menopause for Islamic women is an end to the traditional role of raising children, but it is also a time for women to take on new roles of mentoring younger generations and instilling strong cultural teachings.
‘President of FIGO – Menopause is Islamic Culture’ Serour Gamal (EG) – Director International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research, Al Azhar University, presented at the 13th Congress on Menopause, Rome 2011.