It is well known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was extremely resolute in defending Islam and the Muslim community. He would not accept any compromise in matters of faith and would stand firm in resisting any injustice that may be aimed at even the weaker elements in the community. In fact he would defend the rights of non-Muslim people, provided that they did not participate in war against Islam and Muslims. Yet with all this firmness and courage, the Prophet was a very shy person when it came to his own personal matters or when the discussion involved some intimate matters such as body discharges.

Ayesha reports: “A woman asked the Prophet about the form of taking a bath after she has finished her period. ‘How do I conduct my bath,’ she said. He replied: ‘Take a piece of cotton, perfumed with musk, and use it to purify yourself.’ She asked: ‘How do I purify myself with it?’ He said: ‘Well, use it and purify yourself.’ She said: ‘How?’ He said: ‘All glory be to God! Do purify yourself.’ I pulled her toward me and said to her: ‘Use it to remove any traces of blood.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

Muslims used to ask the Prophet about every little detail. They realized that Islam meant much more than a belief or a conviction that certain principles are true. It is a complete way of life, which required them to conduct all their life affairs in accordance with its principles. Purification is an essential part of Islamic worship. A Muslim always keeps himself clean, washing off all impurity. Muslims are required to perform ablutions before they stand up in prayer. Likewise, they are required to wash all their bodies and their heads when they are in the state of ceremonial impurity. The Prophet told them this and they knew what is required. Hence, the woman’s question was not seeking this elementary information. She was asking for more intimate information concerning the cleanliness of the place where menses is discharged.

The Prophet understood what she meant. He, however, was too shy to speak to a woman explicitly about this. He had already told women how to take a purification bath. As he explained, a woman who has finished her period should bring enough water and whatever else she needs for cleanliness, washing her private parts. Then she performs the ordinary ablutions normally needed for prayer. Then she pours some water over her head and rubs her scalp, pushing her fingers through her hair. Then she pours water over all her body. After that, she uses a piece of cotton or wool and wet it with some perfume or musk and use it for purification. As the woman in this case, Asma bint Shakal, felt that purification meant ablution, in its two forms, she wondered how could she do the ablution with a piece of cotton or wool. The Prophet tried his best to make her understand what was beyond his words, but she was persistent, asking for more details. Here Ayesha realized the difficulty of the situation, pulled the woman aside and explained to her what the Prophet meant.

There is nothing embarrassing in all this. We only note that the Prophet was too shy to discuss such matters with a woman, even in the presence of his wife. However, Ayesha praised the woman and her people generally. She said: “Blessed be the Ansari women. Shyness has not stopped them from seeking better knowledge of their religion.”

– By Adil Salahi