Although most women will experience irregular bleeding (istihada) at some point, it’s often confusing and leads to uncertainty in prayer, fasting and sexual intimacy. The paradox of carrying out an act of worship that requires purity, whilst experiencing vaginal bleeding can seem contradictory and even unnatural. Women often doubt whether their worship is valid and or whether it should be redone. Moreover, married women have the added concerns regarding sexual intimacy and what is permitted. Prolonged istihada that is not well-managed can have adverse effects on intimacy in one’s marriage.
The confusion that istihada causes is quite normal. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) described istihada as a ‘kick from Satan’ (Nasai: 221) because of the disorientation it causes in matters of religion, especially ritual purity and prayer. However, the confusion is avoidable. By simply learning a few basic principles of istihada and adhering to them, a woman can effectively ease doubts and continue her worship.
Rulings Related to Istihada
- Istihada is irregular vaginal bleeding. It occurs outside of the parameters of what can be legally determined as menstruation (hayd) or post-natal bleeding (nifas).
- A woman experiencing istihada is not ritually impure. Therefore, she should continue fasting and praying. She is also permitted to touch and recite Qur’an, offer supererogatory (nafl) prayer, enter the masjid and perform tawaf of the Ka’ba.
- A woman experiencing istihada may fall into the category of an excused person (ma’dhur). This is if her bleeding is continuous, to the extent that she does not have enough time to perform the essential acts of ablution (wudu) and perform her obligatory (fard) prayer. If she determines this is the case, she is a ma’dhur and her wudu will remain for the duration of the entire prayer time, regardless of how much or how often she bleeds. Thereafter, if she bleeds even once during each subsequent prayer time, she will remain a ma’dhur. Whilst she is a ma’dhur, her wudu is only invalidated by the expiration of the prayer time or if she experiences another nullifier.
- If she determines that she does have enough time to make wudu and pray her obligatory prayer, she will not be classed as excused. Consequently, her wudu will be invalidated whenever she bleeds.
- Sexual intimacy is permitted during istihada.
- A woman experiencing istihada should attempt to stem the flow of blood and prevent it from exiting the vagina for the duration of the prayer. She can do this either by inserting something into her vagina, such as a moon cup, tampon, or kursuf that blocks the vaginal passage. If praying in a sitting position stops the blood from flowing, she is required to sit and pray.
Sexual Intimacy in Istihada
A woman may feel uneasy at the idea of sexual intercourse during istihada. Not only can it feel disconcerting, it also has hygiene implications. Couples may also experience a decrease in the inclination to engage in penetrative sex during istihada.
To practically manage this situation, it is recommended that husbands first understand how their wives feel about the issue before initiating intercourse. A woman will better understand her body and the flow of blood; she will be better able to decide. Istihada is irregular bleeding that is usually indicative of a hormonal imbalance or underlying illness and as a result, can cause discomfort and weakness. A temporary break from sexual intercourse may allow her to regain her energy and recuperate. However, this shouldn’t dissuade a couple from other methods of intimacy, such as caressing, kissing, and even non-penetrative sexual intercourse.
If istihada is a recurring issue, a couple may decide in the long-term that they will continue with intercourse, despite the bleeding, especially if the flow is light and sporadic. Either way, clear communication between a husband and wife, coupled with consideration for the emotional and physical needs of each other can prevent istihada from becoming a matter of contention and frustration.
If a woman experiences rectal bleeding it is recommended (mustahab) to abstain from sexual intercourse. This is because of the slight possibility that rectal bleeding may be confused with menstruation (hayd) due to the proximity of the orifices. Sexual intercourse in hayd is strongly prohibited in Islam and scholars have issued grave warnings for the one who considers it permissible or knowingly engages in it.