The Prophet's wife 'Umm Salamah relates: "Back when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was alive, women used to wait out their postnatal bleeding for forty days."

This hadîth is found in Sunan Abî Dâwûd (311), Sunan al-Tirmidhî (139) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (648), among other sources.

The Strength of the Hadîth

There is disagreement about whether this hadîth is authentic or weak.

Al-Tirmidhî says after relating the hadîth: "This hadîth is strange, since we only know of it by way of Abû Sahl from Mussah al-Azdiyyah from Umm Salamah… Abû Sahl is a reliable narrator."

He identifies the difficulty with this hadith to be Mussah al-Azdiyyah, saying: "No hadîth is known from Mussah alAzdiyyah asidfe from this one." [al-`Ilal al-Kabîr (59)]

Ibn Hazm also points out this problem: "Narrations of this hadîth come from Umm Salamah by way of Mussah al-Azdiyyah, and she is an unknown narrator." [al-Muhallâ (1/413)]

Ibn Kathîr explains: "All of the narrators of the Hadîth are reliable. However, Mussah al-Azdiyyah was an elderly woman who is only known by this hadîth she narrated fom Umm Salamah. Abu Sahl is the only person to relate this hadîth from Mussah, though he is a narrator whose reliability is widely attested." [Irshâd al-Faqîh (1/80)]

Therefore Mussah is the only problem with this hadîth. Ibn Hajar says about her: "She is an acceptable narrator (for supporting narrations). Otherwise, she is weak as a narrator." [Taqrîb al-Tahdhîb (8682)]

The hadîth is corroborated by other hadîth narrated from other Companions, including `A'ishah, Anas b. Mâlik, `Uthmân b. Abî al-`As, Abd Allah b. `Umar , Abû Hurayrah, and Abû al-Dardâ'. All of these other hadîth are very weak.

However, al-Shawkânî argues:
The various pieces of evidence that shows postnatal bleeding can go on for up to forty days support each other. Together, that body of evidence is strong enough, and it should be followed. Women after childbirth should refrain from prayer for a maximum of forty days unless their bleeding stops before that time. [Nayl al-Awtâr (1/283)]
The strongest view is that the hadîth is a good (hasan) narration. Al-Nawawî declared it to be a good (hasan) hadîth in al-Khulâsah (1/240) and al-Majmû` (2/525). Among contemporary scholars, al-Albânî declared it to be a good hadîth in Irwâ' al-Ghalîl (1/222)

The Meaning of the Hadîth

This hadîth concerns postnatal bleeding. This is the blood that flows for a period of time after childbirth. Sometimes, it appears shortly before or during childbirth.

In Islamic Law, blood from the womb only takes the ruling of postnatal blood if a child is delivered, alive or stillborn, that shows some human features. If a pregnancy ends in miscarriage before that time and only a lump of flesh appears, then the associated blood will not take the ruling of postnatal bleeding. Usually, this is the case when a miscarriage occurs during the first eighty or ninety days of pregnancy.

Its Legal Implications

The hadîth raises the question if the duration of postnatal bleeding, which is a time in which a woman must refrain from prayer, fasting, and sexual intercourse. There are two distinct questions. One is the minimum duration of postnatal bleeding, and the other is the maximum duration.

The Minimum Duration of Postnatal Bleeding

Scholars differ on this issue. Many say that the minimum duration of postnatal bleeding is a single instance of blood. This is the position of the Mâlikî, Shâfî`î, and Hanbalî schools of law. It is also one of the opinions expressed by Abû Hanîfah.

There are two other opinions that have been narrated from Abû Hanîfah. One is that the minimum duration of postnatal bleeding is eleven days. The other is that the minimum duration is twenty-five days.

There is a narration from Ahmad b. Hanbal that the minimum duration of postnatal bleeding is one full day. Other scholars have expressed views like three days or four days.

The truth is that there is no minimum time period for postnatal bleeding. She might only experience a single instance of blood after childbirth, If that is the case, she should bathe and then resume her prayers.

It may be that she sees no postnatal blood whatsoever. Though this is rare, it has been known to happen. In this case, scholars differ as to whether she has to bathe at all before offering prayers. Some argue that she should bathe before she can pray, and this is due to the childbirth itself. It seems that he stronger opinion is that bathing is not required for her to be allowed to pray, since the bath becomes incumbent due to the flow of blood from her private area. And Allah knows best.

The Maximum Duration of Postnatal Bleeding

What does it mean in Islamic Law when we say the "maximum duration of postnatal bleeding"? It means that this is the maximum period that a woman abstains from prayer and fasting, even if the flow of blood persists for longer than that. Further blood will be considered to be due to an injury or illness, and not be considered postnatal bleeding.

Scholars have suggested numerous different timeframes for the maximum duration of postnatal bleeding. Some suggestions have been fourteen days, fifty days, seventy days, and thirty if a boy child is delivered but forty if it is a girl. The official position of the Shâ'fi`î school of law is that the maximum duration of postnatal bleeding is sixty days. However, there are only two opinions that base their arguments in textual evidence, and these are the ones we shall discuss.

The first opinion is that the maximum duration of postnatal bleeding is forty days. This is the opinion of the vast majority of scholars. It is the ruling adopted by three of the four schools of law: the Hanafî, Mâlikî, and Hanbalî schools. This view has also been narrated as an alternative opinion of al-Shâfi`î.

Scholars who hold this view base ther argument on the hadîth of Umm Salamah which we are discussing in this article, as well as the great number of supporting narrations which strengthen that hadîth.

They also cite the undoubtedly authentic narration from Ibn `Abbâs that he said: "Women in their postnatal bleeding wait for forty days." This is the opinion of that Companion. We do not know of any Companion to have expressed another opinion.

Ibn `Abd al-Barr asserts:
There is no other opinion about the maximum duration of postnatal bleeding that can be followed – either with evidence or blindly – other than the view of those who say that it is forty days. This is what the Prophet's Companions said, without exception. All the other opinions came from those who were not Companions. It is not right to adopt such opinions in contradiction with what the Companions asserted. This is because the unanimous consensus (ijmâ`) of the Companions is solid evidence for later generations. How can anyone neglect what they say without even bringing a scrap of evidence from the Sunnah? [al-Istidhkâr (1/400)]
Al-Tahâwî says: "None of the Companions ever said that it was sixty days. This was said by people later on." [Mukhtasar Ikhtilâf al-`Ulamâ' (1/166)]

This period of time has been affirmed by medical specialists at the Third Conference for Islamic Medical Law which was convened in Kuwait in 1987.

The second opinion whose proponents cite hadîth evidence is that of Ibn Hazm. He argued that he maximum duration for postnatal bleeding is the same as that for menstruation. He cited as evidence the various hadîth which discuss the duration of menstruation, like the one narrated by Himnah: "…so she menstruates for six or seven days…" [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (287), Sunan al-Tirmidhî (128) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (627)]

However, Ibn Hazm was a later scholar and he was the first person known to express this opinion. No one else ever compared the duration of postnatal bleeding to that of menstruation. If this deduction were a valid one, then it should not have gone unnoticed by all the scholars of Islam before his time.

And Allah knows best.