Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
My menstruation continues for more than 15 days. After strong red and yellow bleeding, I experience a pale yellow discharge that continues until the next cycle when the strong red and yellow bleeding returns. My pattern of bleeding is described below.
Day 1 to Day 5 – Red bleeding that is thick and has a stench.
Day 6 to Day 7 – Dark yellow bleeding that is thick and has a stench
Day 8 to Day 28 – Pale yellow discharge that is not thick and does not have a stench.
This pattern continues every month, for the most part in a very regular way.
According to the Shafi‘i school, the maximal period of menstrual bleeding is 15 days and the minimal period of purity between menstrual periods is also 15 days. If I try to apply these rules to my situation, I get results that seem incorrect. This is illustrated in the figure below, which is a visual representation of the pattern of bleeding described above.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
According to the Shafi‘i school, for the case you describe above, the periods of thick and smelly red and dark yellow bleeding (day 1 – day 7) should be considered menstrual bleeding, and the periods of pale yellow bleeding (day 8 – day 28) should be considered abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB). In the period of abnormal uterine bleeding, you are not considered to be menstruating and must pray, fast, and do everything else that a non-menstruating woman does. Section e13.6 of Reliance of the Traveller describes how a woman experiencing AUB should pray. This section is reproduced as a footnote.  Note that Reliance refers to AUB as chronic vaginal discharge.
The unintuitive results that you obtained were a result of incorrectly applying some fiqh rulings described in reliable books such as Reliance of the Traveller and al-Maqasid (both books are an essential part of any Shafi‘i library). These books do not explain all the rules relating to a woman in AUB, and the results you obtained are not representative of the position of the school. A more complete answer to your question that explains the rulings of the Shafi‘i school is provided below.
Before reading further, readers are encouraged to refresh their memory on the fiqh of menstruation according to the Shafi‘i school by reading The Fiqh of Menstruation (Act According to what you See) available in the shafii archives at: The Fiqh of Menstruation
This question involves AUB. Broadly speaking, the most common cases when a woman’s blood is classified as AUB are two:
(1) When a woman experiences menstrual bleeding that ceases and then returns before a 15 day period of non-bleeding. The fiqh behind this type of AUB has been previously described in Insufficient Purity between Two Menstruations at the link:Insufficient Purity between two Menstruations
(2) When a woman experiences menstrual bleeding that continues beyond 15 days without any intermittent period of non-bleeding. The fiqh of this type of AUB is quite complicated, and what follows is a simplified version that covers the vast majority of practical cases. It is advisable for women who experience this type of AUB to post a question to the list to confirm that they are correctly interpreting their blood as either menstruation or AUB.
The First Time
The golden rule that a menstruating woman must follow is “act according to what you see.” (This has been dealt with in detail in a previous post to the list. Readers who are unfamiliar with this rule are advised to refresh their memory by reading the shafii list archives at the link provided above.) Let’s assume that Aisha has experienced a normal period of menstrual bleeding (i.e., more than 24 hours of bleeding in a period less than 15 days) followed by a normal period of non-bleeding (i.e., at least 15 days of non-bleeding), and that she then experiences the pattern of bleeding described in the question above. She would apply the golden rule as follows.
Day 1 – Aisha sees red blood that is thick and has a stench. It is possible for this blood to be menstrual blood (since she has previously undergone a 20 day period of non-bleeding), and hence she must assume that it is menstrual bleeding and immediately refrain from everything that a menstruating woman refrains from.
Day 6 – The colour of Aisha’s blood changes to yellow. The blood is still thick (thakhîn) and has a stench (muntin). According to the Shafi‘i school, yellow (asfar) discharge can be menstrual blood (as can non-transparent (akdar) discharge such as creamy-coloured discharge), so she must continue to assume that she is in a state of menstruation.
Day 8 – The colour of Aisha’s blood remains yellow, but decreases in strength. It is no longer thick and no longer has a stench. As mentioned above, yellow discharge can be menstrual blood according to the Shafi‘i school, and she must therefore act according to what she sees and continue to assume that she is in a state of menstruation. As explained below, Aisha will later realize that this assumption actually turned out to be incorrect and this blood will be retroactively judged to be AUB. She does not know the future, however, and must therefore continue to assume that it is menstrual blood.
Day 16 – 15 days of bleeding have now elapsed. According to the Shafi‘i school, the maximum period of menstrual bleeding is 15 days. Aisha has now discovered that she is experiencing AUB.
At this point, Aisha does not simply assume that everything prior to day 16 was menstruation and everything after it is AUB. Rather, she must reexamine the last 15 days of bleeding according to the fiqh of AUB (istihâdah). Based on this examination, she will discover that some of the last 15 days of bleeding were menstruation and some of them were AUB. This retroactive evaluation process is described below.
Retroactive Calculation of Menstruation and Purity
Determining which periods of bleeding are periods of menstruation and which are periods of purity (i.e., AUB) is a two-step process. The first step is to try and apply differentiation (tamyîz) and classify the bleeding according to the strength of the blood. Periods of strong bleeding will be considered menstruation and periods of weak bleeding will be considered purity. If this is not possible, then one applies the second step, which is to apply one’s habitual cycle (‘âdah), which is determined from the last menstrual cycle.
Step 1: Differentiation based on strength of blood (tamyîz)
The fuqaha classify blood according to its strength using three factors: (1) colour, (2) thickness, and (3) smell.
In terms of colour, black (aswad) bleeding is considered to be the strongest menstrual bleeding, followed by red (ahmar) bleeding, followed by brown (ashqar) bleeding, followed by yellow (asfar) bleeding, followed by non-transparent (akdar) discharge.
In terms of thickness, thick (thakhîn) blood is considered to be stronger than blood that is not thick.
In terms of smell, blood that has a stench (muntin) is considered to be stronger than blood that does not.
A woman who bleeds for more than 15 days must first attempt to classify her bleeding as either menstruation or purity based on its strength. For example, a woman who sees 10 days of red blood followed by 10 days of yellow discharge will consider the days of strong bleeding (i.e., red blood) to be menstruation and the 10 days of weak bleeding (i.e., yellow discharge) to be purity. To take another example, if she sees 10 days of red blood that is thick followed by 10 days of red blood that is not thick, she will consider the first 10 days of bleeding to be menstruation and the next 10 days to be purity (since thick blood is considered to be stronger than blood that is not thick).
The case described in the question is more complicated, since the blood can be classified into 3 degrees of strength. The first 5 days of bleeding are the strongest because the blood is red, thick and has a stench. The next 2 days of bleeding are weaker than the first 5 days because the blood is now yellow and yellow blood is considered weaker than red blood. The next 21 days of bleeding are weaker still because the discharge in this period is neither thick nor does it have a stench. Ibn Hajar and Ramli agree that in the case described above, the first two types of bleeding (the strongest—red bleeding—and the second strongest—yellow bleeding that is thick and has a stench) should be lumped together as menstruation and the last type of bleeding (the pale yellow discharge that is neither thick nor does it have a stench) should be considered AUB.
In the case described in the question, we can successfully resolve the bleeding by differentiating it based on its strength and hence we need not go any further. On day 16, Aisha will apply the rules described above and discover that the first 7 days of her bleeding were menstruation and the next 8 days where she refrained from praying were actually periods of AUB and it was obligatory on her to pray. She must now make up all the prayers that she missed during those 8 days and continue praying until her bleeding becomes stronger in the next cycle.
Step 2: Application of one’s habitual cycle (‘âdah)
Situations may occur where it is not possible to successfully resolve the bleeding by applying differentiation based on strength. For example, a woman who bleeds for 18 days without any variation in the strength of the blood cannot apply differentiation based on strength. There are many other examples where differentiation would also not be possible. In such cases, one should differentiate between menstruation and AUB by referring back to one’s last normal menstrual cycle. For example, if during one’s last menstrual cycle one bled for 5 days followed by 16 days of purity, one would consider the first 5 days of one’s bleeding to be menstruation and the next 16 days to be purity.
The Second Time
As you can see, applying the golden rule, “act according to what you see” can often lead to a retroactive correction of past mistakes. In cases where AUB can be resolved by differentiation based on strength, one applies this rule differently. When the next cycle comes, the default assumption now is that red and thick yellow blood is menstruation and that thin yellow discharge is purity. One no longer needs to wait for 15 days to elapse before making this assumption. In other words, the moment when one sees red or thick yellow blood, one would assume that it is menstruation and stop praying, and the moment when one sees thin yellow discharge, one would perform a purificatory bath (ghusl) and assume that one is in a period of purity.
When one returns to a normal cycle by bleeding for less than 15 days, one may once again have to retroactively correct one’s past assumptions. For example, if Aisha’s AUB pattern continues as described above for several months, and then one month she sees 5 days of red blood, followed by 2 days of thick yellow discharge, followed by only 5 days of thin yellow discharge, followed by a cessation of bleeding, she would retroactively discover that the entire period of bleeding was menstruation and her assumption that the last 5 days were AUB has turned out to be incorrect. Any prayers or fasts she performed during these 5 days are hence now invalid.
The rules of AUB are quite complex, and it is often difficult to fully understand them by just reading about them. Complete understanding requires the traditional method of reading a fiqh text with a qualified teacher who understands the subject matter and can impart it to the student. Although I have tried to simplify things as much as possible in the preceding discussion, readers may still be vague on some points. If you are confused about something, please post a follow-up question. There are several Shafi‘i women in North America who can teach the fiqh of menstruation and AUB according to the Shafi‘i school. If any sisters are interested in covering a basic text with them over the phone, please email the list and we will try and connect you.
And Allah knows best.
All of the above can be found in Ibn Hajar’s Tuhfat al-Muhtaj and its accompanying Hawashi.
 e13.6 A woman with chronic vaginal discharge should wash her private parts, apply something absorbent to them and addressing, and then perform ablution (N: with the intention discussed above at e5.3). She may not delay (N: commencing her prayer) after this except for reasons of preparing to pray such as clothing her nakedness, awaiting the call to prayer (adhan), or for a group to gather for the payer. If she delays for other reasons, she must repeat the purification.
She is obliged to wash her private parts, apply a dressing, and perform ablution before each obligatory prayer (N: though she is entitled, like those mentioned below, to perform as many nonobligatory prayers as she wishes, carry and read the Koran, etc. until the next prayer’s time comes (n: or until her ablution is broken for a different reason), when she must renew the above measures and her ablution).