Zahra approaches the warm pool of water in a calm manner. She mutters a few words to herself, takes a deep breath in and dives into the water confidently yet cautiously. After a few seconds, she emerges from the water with a soft smile on her face.
“That’s one of my favourite parts of the month,” she said.
This is one way to do ghusl, a ritual in Islamic law which is performed to purify oneself. Ghusl means a full ablution as opposed to a wudu which is known as partial ablution. It should be done for various reasons, such as after intercourse, and once your menstrual cycle is complete.
Many women across the world take part in a ritual bath once their period is finished. This is usually done once a month and is a feature of many faiths. In some, like Islam, it is absolutely necessary to wash yourself and perform a specific procedure once your period is finished, and in others like Christianity, it is not necessary to have a bath once your period is finished.In Islam, this ritual bath can be done in many ways, as there are different types of baths for different causes. This bath is compulsory, so the woman is completely purified after her menstrual cycle is complete. The procedure can differ depending on the school of thought the Muslim follows, but generally, the procedure usually starts with an intention to purify oneself.
Once the intention is said as a vow, you usually rinse your mouth and start with washing your head and neck, and then proceed to wash the right side of your body, from your shoulders down to your feet. Then, you proceed to wash the left. While you put water on each part of your body, you usually use your other hand to wipe each part.
Another way to purify yourself in Islam is by immersing yourself in a pool full of water. The water should be clean, and deep enough so that the person is fully immersed in it, with their whole body covered. This would mean going inside a lake or sea so all the parts of a person’s body have been reached by water. But, it’s not necessary for the water to be completely pure as it could be difficult to identify how pure the water in use is, so it isn’t a must.
Taking a bath to purify yourself may seem unusual to some, but for others, it helps them feel connected to their faith and helps them with their spirituality. Zahra, a practising Muslim, purifies herself each month, she does so because it is compulsory in her religion.
“Purifying myself after my period is a way for me to feel clean, but also fulfil my duties within my faith. Doing it feels like I’m washing all my problems away because of the specific procedure, and it’s something I can’t wait to teach my little girls about.”
Huma Bukhari, who also takes a ritual bath after her menstrual cycle, agrees, saying that purifying herself each month through Ghusl, “helps me stay connected to Islam and fulfils me spiritually. It also makes me feel even more clean than I would through a normal bath.”
Having a bath as a way of purification isn’t only a feature of the Islamic faith, as it is also a part of Judaism. Here, the way women clean themselves once their period if finished is by doing a mikveh (also known as mikvah). This is a bath Jewish women have been doing for centuries, with old mikveh still existing today.
It usually involves the woman going into pure water and immersing herself inf it. Tap water cannot be used as a primary source of water for the mikveh, because there are certain rules based on rabbinical literature which everyone has to follow for the mikveh to be accepted.
Some get rainwater, and some use lakes and rivers as a source of water. This ritual is also done with a woman supervisor, but the women in Israel did petition for there to be no supervisors for the bath, and this petition ended up allowing Jewish women being able to choose whether they want to do the mikveh alone or not.The difference between two is that ghusl can be done in your home or anywhere else, as long as it’s done somewhere clean. Whereas a mikveh requires the water to come from a pure source, and must meet the water level requirements.
This is why there are centres that provide women with the right resources to do mikveh so that they have access to a place which meets the correct requirements. This way, women can do the mikveh bath in the way that the rabbinical literature states it should be done. Otherwise many women would not be able to do it.
According to mikvah.org.uk, a mikvah allows a woman to relax and helps a woman contemplate the immersion itself, and the blessing which it can bring. Some women even immerse themselves in the water twice more because of it being a custom.
On the website Kveller, a woman wrote about her experiences doing the mikveh. “When you go, it’s a beautiful moment of physical and emotional cleansing during which time you can feel truly and completely ‘pure’. I enjoy taking the time to prepare for the mikveh, remembering each part of my body and how it needs to be cared for more than once a month.”
Cleaning oneself after their period seems to be a ritual which many women enjoy, and look forward to. For many, it is very much a significant part of their lives and something they do that helps them spiritually, allowing them to feel clean and pure.