They ask you concerning menstruation (mahid) Say: it is a hurt (adha). Therefore keep away from them during their menstruation and go not unto them until they have become clean (tahara) and when they have cleansed (tatahhara) then go to them as Allah has ordained for you. (2:222)
What if we were to say that, in this instance, the Qur’an is a woman? A woman that we relate to according to a cycle of reading/revelation/understanding. It is recommended to complete a cycle of reading of Qur’an every month. This reading should not be stagnant, static, unthinking. It should follow a revelatory, generative cycle of ascent.
Thus within this verse we find the universal, spiritual aspect to the sign of the Feminine’s purification/renewal, transcending her constitution within the multiplicity of systems within which she finds herself momentarily captured.
We normally consider only the socio-biological reality of a woman’s cycle, limiting the Feminine by definition of her constitution. Biology defines what a woman is (and what menstruation is) according to a constitution of the womb, of linear temporal measure, of sexual organs, hormones, blood, etc. Cultures, religious traditions, societies have a related — but separate — notion of what a woman is, including an understanding of her menstrual cycle — these understandings are somewhat more amorphous and entail all kinds of often widely different feminine subjectivities: in some cultures, menstruation (and having a womb) is taken as a key mark of difference between a woman’s capabilities and social function and those of a man, in some traditions, menstruation is considered to be a form of purification, in other societies (such as our own), it is played down as a slight inconvenience (but one that is slightly taboo to mention in polite conversation) and becomes linked (curiously) to a capitalist industry of feminine hygiene, linked in with a media of advertisements that configure a particular feminine subjectivity. In all cases, ”woman” and “menstrual cycle” are signs that figure within systems of power, systems of constructed sexuality.
But the menstrual cycle — like everything in life, everything in all systems — is also a Divine sign that indicates something that exceeds biology, society and culture: and the Qur’anic verse, read correctly, leads us to the realisation of what “she” really is, what a woman really is, beyond those familiar symbolic power-systems of society and biology.
Those who engage with Qur’an (and those men who love their wives and those women who love their husbands) know that repeated reading brings boundless reward. Each cycle of re-reading elicits new facets, nuances, depths, beauty. And her cycles are necessary to purify and renew all those family members within her house. It is she — the spoken revelation of God — that is signed by the “woman” and by “cycle” within the systems. The woman is the sign of the Qur’an and, bidirectionally, for the biologically/socially/traditionally situated female seeker, the Qur’an is the sign system that leads her to understand what a woman truly is, what she is, beyond her particular symbolic situation.
And she is a shariah that dictates, herself, that this engagement — this understanding — is not continual. There are moments when we abstain from revelation, do not have it face-to-face but, instead, must keep distance from it. This is a movement of turning face-to-face, productive reading, followed by abstinence, withdrawal, hardship. Why is this dictated by shariah? Because this cyclical movement is exactly what constitutes renewal, the Qur’an as a womb/birthing, if renewal is the womb. The process of engagement, the process of understanding is driven by the seasons of our journey with her: of co-garmenting masculine/feminine negotiation of signs. Without this cycle of abstinence and return, new meanings, new depths of understanding would not be possible for us to gain in our engagement with her, in our engagement with the Qur’an.
And therein lies the hardship. Though we read Quran over a full lunar cycle, there is, encoded within this reading, the hardship, the abstinence, specifically within the sign complex of this particular verse.
This is the Tradition’s Fiqh relating to Menstruation.
At the most important level, this works for everyone, “physically” male and “physically” female: we engage with the Revelation, at this point in its unfolding, as husbands.
2. God and Gender
God’s blessing to us: an earthly journey as a Cosmic Romance, mediated via the primordial relationship signed by gendered relationships. Or rather, the primordial gendered relationship is exactly what signing is, what language is.
But ultimately Islam is submission/love to the Love of the Unnamable Beloved, a Beloved Beyond any attribution, particularly gender. So are we saying that this love for God should take on a gendered form? Isn’t this a form of shirk (polytheism)?
I do not intend to frame the relationship with the Beloved Creator in gendered terms, even as a secondary reflective signed stage. In Islam, gender is always “below” Allah.
We don’t mean that the cycles of engagement are to some idol of a feminine God. We are speaking about God’s scripture here, not God. God’s revelation is feminine. While Allah is beyond gender, the Qur’an, as a written text, is gendered.
According to the Prophetic narrations, we understand that the womb is not simply a biologically situated symbol: rather, there is a real Womb that has existed before the creation of Adam, and it is this Womb that is signed by the biological sign of the womb. The existence of the primordial Womb as a dogma of Islam is something that is a currently glossed over concept, to the detriment of our engagement with the verses. The primordial Womb is that from which mankind derives. It is gendered. Then, above the the Womb and gender, there is the Creator: as Prophecy has informed us, the Creator is literally above the Womb, to the extent that Womb that can only reach to the Creator’s waist.
We know from the hadiths that this primordial Womb (Rahm, deriving its name from Rahman) existed before the creation of mankind, and, in fact reached out to God’s waist and begs God not to create man because of the mischief it would make. God then decreed “Fear Allah through Whom you demand (your mutual rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you.” (An-Nisa 4:1) With this, the hadiths tell us that the primordial womb was satisfied.
(Many Muslims take this simply as a story of the ancients, a metaphor to mean that we should retain strong bonds to our family members, particularly to our mothers. This is great, if a little obvious: clearly we should be kind to our mums and family members. If you are not kind to your mum, then perhaps you should sort yourself out before thinking about reading the Qur’an? I don’t take the narrations of Prophecy metaphorically. I think it literally happened.)
Biologically “physical” women are the successive derivative of this primordial womb. The Qur’an is also something like this: but is not a successor derivative but is, in fact, a projection of it into our 4 dimensional time-space of existence/perception/differentiation.
And within its projection, the Qur’an possesses the womb’s cycle is of reading/interpretation/comprehension/rebirth. This cycle is signed exactly by this verse, self-reflexively.
There is longing for the Beloved, which is a genderless longing. It is largely wordless (I think the Sufis would agree with me). But there is a secondary, existential longing: and for me this is a gendered longing for the words of the Beloved. It seems to me that this gendered aspects of the words must be addressed — simply because so many of the words of the Beloved happen to be shariah concerning male-female relations.
3. Masculine-feminine engagement
Engagement with the Qur’an, the process of unfolding, productive, renewed revelation, requires a lunar cycle to complete and a time for renewal until the process recommences — for the womb of revelation to give birth to the signs of scripture, for the zahir (exteriority) of our masculine reading to garment the batin (interiority) of the feminine scripture, then for that feminine batin to be married with our reading, so as to transmogrify into the corporeality of a masculine zahir of a garment over a secondary female formed from the inner expectation of the first feminine. Our negotiation predicates over the inscription, but then the inscription predicates over us: and by this marriage, we learn a little bit more about exactly what the Divine is saying to us and exactly who we are that is being spoken to.
Over the course of the month, this process of revelation produces meaning and shelter (for meaning and shelter are nothing more nor less than co-garmenting), a cycle of productive masculine and feminine interplay.
Then it completes and is renewed.
The cycle of co-garmenting is thus a cycle of understanding life. Repeating the cycle is a repetition of understanding that is dynamic, not static: meaning is intensified and renewed, differentiated, revitalized, reborn.
4. Back to biology.
When all is said and done, I am still a male (physically or astrally, it doesn’t matter) saying this, claiming this verse is universal. So the desire for a woman — desire to read the Qur’an — and the hardship of renewal as the drive of my interplay with her — is of course, from one perspective, an utterly masculine trope. One that I can appreciate physically due to my biological masculinity. This may be precursory to the trope or a derivative manifestation of the trope, again it doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, as a male at the biological level, I have a particular “direct” connection to the masculine desires, suffering hardship within this tafsir.
At the level of biological connections (whether biology is imaginary or not, derivative or the source of the trope or not), there is a difference in how a physical man or woman approaches this verse.
The Fiqh is universal, but the biological connection entails a different form of embodying the sunnah, so to speak.
For men, this goes beyond simply not approaching their wives during menstruation: it means appreciating the intimate (co-garmenting!) complex of cycles of reading, marriage, Qur’an and women. Such a male will be following a Prophetic sunnah, will understand exactly what the female body Really is (beyond biology, but intimate with the corporeality signed by his biological connection). He will change the way the Ummah treats its wives, mothers and daughters: change the way he lives his life, to understand the primordial embodied Truth that his life is itself subject to their cycles.
But what of the sisters? I am saying all this as a man. For Islam to progress, we must also hear this “physically” female reading, so as not to fall into the trap of being another beard telling the sisters their fiqh.
So don’t take my word for it, take my wife’s (though admittedly she affirms the point that follows, anticipating it, by adopting a masculine voice, that of my own speaking for her in this blog, in secondary reflection of herself). She says she reads the verse as a husband, putting on the Muhmmedean virtual reality headset, which is undoubtedly masculine.
But then, if the Qur’an is the precedent archetype of the Feminine, then her reading is also of herself as a successive function of that primordial precursor, so this process of engaging with Qur’an becomes an externalized, out-of-body understanding/reading of herself and her cycles of existence-as-Qur’an, engendered by the Nur, and, via the marriage of co-garmenting, leading to engendering of meaning via the womb, the maintenance of a tie of kinship that tells her what she is, as a woman.
The sister reads correctly as a masculine reader. But she possesses a biological connection to the trope. Again, it doesn’t matter what came first, the trope or biology. The sign of the biological connection itself should likewise sign the corporeal Reality of what her body really is, exceeding biological or commercial science of culture and tradition: her body as an upper and lower, a mother and a daughter, a body that co-garments masculinity by being batin to his reading and then as maternally wraps a zahir to the a secondary interior daughter, the actual descent of comfort born in productivity of the marriage of their reading, the comfort of gnosis, the comfort of embodied, felt understanding: in this case, self-understanding that the woman is a Qur’an, literally, embodied now, fully, bodily true at the end of her cycle of comprehending her comprehension as a cycle. Importantly, there is no masculine reading at all by the end, it was an illusion of interpretation: both the interior daughter contained within the exterior is pure Qur’anic ayat, deriving from the original batin of the (momentarily assumed) masculine gaze.
Now, I feel the same way about myself as a biological male, but this is, from a biological perspective, an indirect drag queen act, because I don’t possess a biological womb.
But there is a double perspective for her: seeing herself as revelation by reading herself, by “being” masculine reading, by being the cycles of the womb. She comes to directly comprehend herself as a mirror to the Nur, through indirectly reading this verse as husband.
For me the process is different. Engaging with revelation does not immediately reflect upon my being as truth. Instead, I am the sign of reading alone, while woman is impossibility. I learn of the cycles of this impossibility through loving her and so, signed by biology, indirectly, I comprehend an exteriorized Feminine nature of the mirror. My character becomes the Qur’an: its sign is as a garment to my masculinity. But then, through this, I come to indirectly comprehend the Feminine engendered aspect of myself by directly reading this verse as husband.
But this whole differentiation of biologically determined reading is, itself, a sign of the universal process of reading we stated before. For the sign of the biologically/socially/traditionally situated woman, her inner feminine essence (batin), is wrapped by an exteriorized masculine gaze, so that she can embody this gaze, predicating upon her own signs as a masculine (zahir) gaze, reading herself, what she really is by this secondary, out-of-body relationship to the Qur’an. She realizes that everything is hijab: there is nothing that is not clothed by hijab. But her realization of her biological signs involves being clothed (as a woman) and then clothing (herself). Ultimately the masculine gaze falls away as illusion. On the other hand, for the biologically/socially situated male, his gaze is oriented toward an objectified text, that, through reading, he locates the role of a near-transcendent Feminine that somehow, almost, leads him out of the function of hijab through. But this impossible exception, this externalized Feminine (the woman I am speaking about all this time), my Wife of Prophecy, is an route precisely because she is the encoding of her own impossibility.