With Ramadan approaching, I was searching for ways to be real with my Muslim friends about our relationships with God. As I chatted with a friend one morning, in between bringing in the washing and kicking a ball with her toddler, she shared what Ramadan means to her. It is a time of year when she seeks favour and merit from Allah, when her good works are mercifully multiplied by Allah—a time for her to pray, fast, give and read the Quran for merit.
She also told me how a woman’s purity affects her prayer and fasting. My friend is not able to pray or fast during her menstrual cycle. This is so different to me. As a biologist, I celebrate daily how God made the world (she does that too), how a Holy God made me a woman who is able to reproduce and give life, and that a natural part of this life-giving creation is a monthly cycle. So I shared in a vulnerable way how I did not understand how our monthly cycle makes us impure or unclean; how I can understand how someone might consider a dead animal unclean with the decay, smell and germs, but that God created the natural cycle of our bodies.
My dear friend gently looked at me, confused that I could not understand that our bodies each month were unclean and impure to God. She then graciously said, “Well, that’s just it, each month it is the result of something dead, where life has not been created, and it is being cleansed and cleared out. That is why we are unclean, it is something dead”.
Well, ‘the biologist’ in me, ‘the woman’ in me stopped: something had clicked. I had been vulnerable with my friend and learned something from her. I thanked her. “That makes more sense now”.
Then ‘the Christian’ in me remembered that the Bible has recorded, for me and for all other women, Jesus’ response to a woman’s bleeding. Her bleeding was not just five days each month; she had been bleeding for 12 years… non-stop, unclean, smelly and shamed. “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all the money she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”
I couldn’t help but share this story with my friend. Well, to tell you the truth, I stumbled my way through telling it. I had not read it recently and was telling it in another language. “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”(Mark 5:25–30, NIV)
Our conversation continued about how this story shows us that uncleanliness could not be transmitted to Jesus but that out of Him flowed cleansing wholeness. This is why, for women who have come to Jesus, we see that we are no longer unclean before God because he has made us clean.
The author served long-term with Interserve in the Arab world, and now works with CultureConnect in Australia.