Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life. Yet many dread the aging process and fear declining health. Talking to your doctor about menopause is important but difficult to discuss, perhaps more so for Islamic women. All women deserve quality healthcare and understanding the physical and emotional changes during menopause.
The Muslim Women’s League is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women, Islamic and non-Islamic, to the values of Islam and sharing knowledge to help eradicate false assumptions and negative stereotypes. Their Website features a variety of topics, including health to help women learn more about menopause and treatment options.
Islamic women, as women everywhere, must face the inevitable changes in their bodies. The end of the childbearing years may bring feelings of sadness and loss for women. Traditional female roles in many societies stressed motherhood and family nurturing. Particularly distressing is the thought that without this purpose, a woman’s status will be drastically reduced, not to mention the acceptance of getting older.
The Muslim Women’s League suggests that menopause does not have to be a negative phase in or the end of a woman’s life. Indeed, it can be a time of rejuvenation after the childbearing years. Their menopause pamphlet states “However, menopause is a normal stage in a woman’s life and may be seen as a mercy from Allah, as He gives the body a break from the difficulty of bearing and raising children.”
“Allah says in the Qur’an, ‘And he whom We grant long life, We reverse him in creation (weakness after strength). Will they not then understand?’ (Qur’an 36.68)
This is not meant to diminish that some women will experience physical and emotional symptoms during menopause. But some women, regardless of cultural background, fare better than others do during menopause. Women who have support from their families and communities tend to have experiences that are more positive. Feelings of loss or insecurity can lead any woman to question her new role. The ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’ explains how some women take on new responsibilities associated with being an older and wiser member of the community. This applies to women of various backgrounds.
‘Culture is a socially shared, tran(s)-generationally communicated, system of implicit values, beliefs and attitudes, and explicit behavioral codes of practice.’*
Islamic women living in the West are navigating a path between adhering to traditional teachings and dealing with the conflicting socio-cultural values regarding women. Far too often, Western minds cling to outdated ideas about Islam that are based on little more than fear.
Muslim women face the additional challenge of finding a healthcare provider that can rise above labels. Ignorance leads to beliefs that all Islamic women are oppressed and lack basic human freedoms. Media reports help to aggrandize these views out of minimal evidence, and offer little in the way of counterarguments.
Islamic women and menopause
As a starting point, the Muslin Women’s League explains the basics of menopause as a natural transition in life. Similar to advice offered elsewhere, menopause symptoms are explained, as are brief overviews of treatments options. Additionally, proactive health advice such as getting regular exercise and adopting healthy eating habits informs women that they can enjoy healthier years during and beyond menopause.
To best summarize the gains we need to make for all women, ‘It is important that healthcare professionals be nonjudgmental and respectful of the traditions of other cultures.’*
The Muslim Women’s League offers a free menopause pamphlet on their site http://www.mwlusa.org/topics/health/menopause.pdf
*‘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.