Recitation of the Quran by Menstruating/Post-Partum Women:

It has been ordained by Allah that the vast majority of women experience menstruation. It has also been ordained by Allah that the vast majority of women who bear children will have a period of bleeding after childbirth (postpartum bleeding). The length of menstruation and postpartum bleeding differs among different women and even for the same woman from one time to another. Is it a requirement for women not to recite the Quran during such times? This is an important question because, for some women, those times may be quite lengthy and the effects of not being allowed to recite the Quran during that lengthy period are quite obvious.

On this particular question, there are, once again, two major opinions: prohibition and permission. Each opinion shall be analyzed separately followed by a conclusion. However, in this case, the opinion of prohibition will be treated first.

Note that the issue here is that of such women reciting the Quran without actually touching the Quran.

Analysis of the First Opinion: It is Not Permissible for the Menstruating/Post-Partum Women to Recite the Quran:

It is the opinion of the Hanafis, Shafis and one narration from Ahmad that it is forbidden for a menstruating woman [23] to recite the Quran. This has also been narrated from Umar ibn al-Khattab and Ali ibn Abu Talib, [24] from among the Companions. From the Followers, this was the opinion of al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Zukhri, Ibrahim al-Nakhai and Qatadah.[25] The proofs for this opinion are the following:

The First Proof:

The first proof is the following hadith narrated from ibn Umar:

"The sexually defiled person and the menstruating woman do not recite anything from the Quran." (Recorded by al-Tirmidhi and ibn Majah.)

However, there is general agreement among the scholars of hadith that His hadith is weak. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bukhari, Abdul Rahman ibn Mahdi, Ali ibn al-Madini, al-Baihaqi and Abu Hatim all rejected this narration. Since there does not seem to be much dispute about the weakness of this hadith, it will not be discussed in detail here.[26]

The important conclusion is that it is not acceptable as a proof.

The Second Proof:

There is also another hadith that is cited as evidence. This is narrated from Jabir with the wording:

"The menstruating woman and the woman with postpartum bleeding are not to recite anything from the Quran." (Recorded by al-Daraqutni.)

This hadith contains Muhammad ibn al-Fadhl in its chain. Muhammad has been called a liar by the scholars of hadith, including ibn Hajr [27]. Hence, this hadith cannot be used for proof nor as supporting evidence for any other narration.

The Third Proof:

The third proof is an argument from qiyas or analogy. This is where an analogy is made between the menstruating woman and the sexually defiled person. Since it is not permissible, these people argue[28] for the sexually defiled person to recite the Quran, it must also not be permissible for the menstruating woman.

However, in order for qiyas to be invoked, there must be a similarity between the original case (the sexually defiled person) and the parallel case (the menstruating woman). If it can be shown that they actually are not similar, in that the Law treats them differently then the analogy is not valid.

In this particular example, many differences can he mentioned concerning the treatment by the Law of the sexually defiled person and the menstruating woman. The sexually defiled person may purify himself at any time through the use of water or soil. This opportunity is not available to the menstruating woman who must wait for her menses to finish. The menstruating woman has been ordered to attend the Eid Prayers while the sexually defiled person may not do so. The menstruating woman may also perform most of the rites of the Pilgrimage while the sexually defiled person is not allowed to perform those rites. The sexually defiled person may fast while the menstruating woman may not do so.

Hence, this analogy cannot be considered a valid analogy because there is truly a difference between the menstruating woman and the sexually defiled person in the eyes of the Law.

Analysis of the Second Opinion: It is Permissible for the Menstruating/Post-Partum Women to Recite the Quran:

The Malikis, Dhahiris, Shafis (in one of their opinions) and Hanbalis (in one narration from Ahmad) state that it is permissible for the menstruating woman to recite the Quran. Ibn Taimiya mentions that this is the opinion of Abu Hanifah as well as the best known opinion of al-Shafi and Ahmad. (This also seems to be the opinion that ibn Taimiya himself supports.) One narration from Malik and Ahmad, ibn Taimiya mentions, states that it is permissible for the menstruating woman to recite the Quran but not the sexually defiled person [29]. This opinion of permissibility has also been narrated from ibn Abbas and Saeed ibn al-Musayyab [30]. Among later scholars, this was the opinion of al-Bukhari, al-Tabari, ibn al-Mundhir[31], ibn Qudama [32], and al-Shaukani [33]. Their proofs for this position are the following:

The First Proof:

Al-Bukhari and Muslim record the following from Umm Atiya,

"We used to be ordered to come out on the Day of Eid and even bring out the virgin girls from their houses and menstruating women so that they would be behind the people and say the takbir with the people and invoke Allah along with them and hope for the blessings of that day and for purification from sins."

In this particular hadith, it is demonstrated that the menstruating women would make takbir, a type of remembrance of Allah, and supplications with the masses on the Day of Eid. This kind of remembrance of Allah cannot be considered any different from reciting the Quran, also a kind of remembrance of Allah (dhikr), unless there is some explicit proof to show that they must be treated differently.

The Second Proof:

Al-Bukhari records the following from Aisha,

"I was menstruating when I reached Makkah, so I neither performed the circumambulation of the Kaaba nor the going between mounts Safa and Marwa. I informed the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) about it and he said, 'Perform all the ceremonies of the Pilgrimage like the other pilgrims, but do not circumambulate the Kaabah until you become pure from your menses."'

It is well-known that the pilgrims make remembrance of Allah (dhikr) and read the Quran while performing the pilgrimage. The Prophet (peace be upon him), it seems, did not object to Aisha doing any of those acts. In fact, he explicitly told her to perform all the acts that the pilgrims performed save the circumambulation of the Kaabah. This implies that it is permissible for the menstruating woman to do all of the other acts that are customary for the pilgrimage.

The Third Proof:

Women do not have the ability to remove the state of impurity from themselves like the sexually defiled person may do so by simply making ghusl. Furthermore, the length of time of the menstruation and postpartum bleeding may be quite long. This would require the women to spend a great deal of time without reciting anything from the Quran. This would lead her to forget what she has memorized of the Quran. Furthermore, the Quran is a guidance for her life and she needs to turn to it and ponder over it even during such times. Therefore, al-Mutairi writes:

"If the Law prohibited [such] women from reciting the Quran, they would lose a great matter that they are in need of, and that is the matter of worship. She may also forget what she had memorized of the Quran. Islamic Law is based on bringing about beneficial matters and preventing harmful matters. What harm will come from a woman reciting the Quran while she has her menses or has postpartum bleeding and what harm will come to Islam due to that? [34]

Obviously, this argument is only valid if there is no clear text forbidding such an act. If there were a clear and authentic text forbidding menstruating women from reciting the Quran, the above argument would be rendered void. However, from the earlier discussion it can be seen that there is no clear, authentic proof of prohibition. Therefore, this argument has some validity to it.

The Fourth Proof:

There is no evidence that it is forbidden for the menstruating woman to recite the Quran. The burden of proof is upon those who say that such an act is forbidden. Otherwise, the original position or the position in the face of no evidence is one of permission. All of the evidences presented by those who say it is forbidden are seen as unsatisfactory and unacceptable.

This fourth proof must be given even more weight when one considers the Companions' devotion to the Quran and how often they would recite it. This was an act that they all took part in frequently. Hence, if there is no record whatsoever of the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibiting it for menstruating women, although there would have been a need for him to mention it, this is strong evidence that there is no prohibition of this matter.

In this vein, Ibn Taimiya wrote:

"The women used to menstruate during the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). If reciting the Quran was forbidden for them, like the prayers, that would have been something that the Prophet (peace beupon him) would have clarified for his community. He would have taught that to the Mothers of the Believers. That would have been transmitted to the people. Since no one ever transmitted such a prohibition from the Prophet (peace be upon him), it is not acceptable to consider it forbidden with the knowledge the he did not forbid it. If he did not forbid it although many women menstruated dunng his time, it becomes known that it is not forbidden." [35]

Conclusion Concerning the Menstruating/Postpartum Woman Reciting the Quran:

There is no clear and sound evidence that it is forbidden for the menstruating woman to recite the Quran, without actually touching the Quran. However, there is some evidence, although not completely direct or explicit, that can lead one to conclude that it is permissible for such women to read the Quran. However, once again, the burden of proof lies on those who say that it is forbidden. Since they offer no acceptable proofs on this question, the conclusion must be that it is permissible for menstruating women to recite the Quran.[36]

Furthermore, since such women cannot free themselves from their impurity, it cannot even be argued that it is disapproved for them to recite the Quran. Their case is not the same as the person who simply needs to make ablution or ghusl to purify himself. If one can easily purify himself, it is considered disliked for them to recite the Quran, as was mentioned earlier. However, since this option is not available to these women, it cannot be considered disliked for them to recite the Quran or make dhikr while having their menses or postpartum bleeding. Allah knows best.