Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
When a woman is in menstruation, it becomes forbidden for her husband to have skin-to-skin contact with what is between her navel and knee. This is the only thing that is forbidden. Deriving pleasure by means of touching through a barrier or by means of looking is not forbidden.
Imam Nawawi used two expressions in this context. In some of his books, he said that what is forbidden is istimta', or "deriving sexual pleasure" from what is between the navel and then knee. In other books, he said that what is forbidden is mubashara, or "skin-to-skin contact" with what is between the navel and the knee.
As you have noted in your question, each wording has different implications. After thoroughly investigating the matter, the later scholars of our school, such as Ibn Hajar al-Haytami in the Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, ruled that the most correct wording is mubashara, therefore only skin-to-skin contact is forbidden (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, 1.396). Many of the study-texts of the Shafi'i school--such as the Reliance--still use the term istimta'. This is an inaccuracy that teachers will often correct when one reads the text with them.
And Allah knows best.
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