The Arabic word IDDAH or Iddat woman's prescribed waiting period after divorce or death of husband. One of the Wisdom behind Iddah is: If there was no period of iddah and the woman married another man and discovered she was pregnant then she would be unable to tell who the father of the child was. Iddah solves this potential problem. Iddah is obligatory upon every woman who leaves her husband, or whose husband leaves her, whether the cause is talaaq (divorce)or Khula, annulment of the marriage or the death of the husband, except when the divorce occurs before the marriage has been consummated. Islam guides in every department of life, even the procedure of separation between husband and wife is defined.
‘Iddah’ (pronounced as ‘Iddat’ by Urdu linguists) literally means to keep a count.
In Islamic terminology, it is known as ‘the waiting period’ i.e. the period a woman should wait before she can re-marry.
وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنْكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَاجاً يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْراً فَإِذَا بَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَلا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا فَعَلْنَ فِي أَنفُسِهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
“And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait for four months & ten days, then when they have fulfilled their term, there is no sin on you if they dispose of themselves in a just and honourable manner. And Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” Surah Al-Baqarah 2:234
Therefore, a woman whose husband dies should observe ‘Iddah’ for a period of four months and ten days. This is required to be followed even by those women who become widow even before their marriage could be consummated i.e. a case where the husband dies without having made a sexual relation with his wife.
A woman who is divorced by her husband is supposed to observe ‘Iddah’ for a period of three menstrual cycles. This ruling is established as per following ayath of the Qur’an:
وَالْمُطَلَّقَاتُ يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ ثَلاثَةَ قُرُوءٍ
“And divorced women shall wait for three menstrual periods….”Surah Al-Baqarah 2: 228
However, if the divorce takes place before the marriage is consummated i.e. if the husband divorces his wife before he has had a sexual relation with his wife, then the woman does not have to observe any ‘Iddah’. In such a divorce, the woman has the right to go and marry immediately to anyone if she wishes to, without observing any ‘Iddah’. This is based on following ayath:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نَكَحْتُمْ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ طَلَّقْتُمُوهُنَّ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ فَمَا لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ عِدَّةٍ تَعْتَدُّونَهَا فَمَتِّعُوهُنَّ وَسَرِّحُوهُنَّ سَرَاحاً جَمِيلاً
“O you who believe! When you marry believing women, and then divorce them before you have sexual intercourse with them, no ‘Iddah’ have you to count in respect of them. So give them a present, and set them free in a handsome manner.”Surah Al-Ahzab 33: 49
However, this does not apply to a woman whose husband dies before consummation of her marriage.
Refer to following two narrations:
Ubadah bin Al-Walid bin Ubadah bin As-Samit narrated from Rubayy bint Mu’awwidh. He said: I said to her, “Tell me your hadith.” She said: I was separated from husband by ‘Khul’; then I came to Uthman (RA) and asked him, “What ‘Iddah’ do I have to observe?” He said, “You do not have to observe any ‘Iddah’ unless you had intercourse with him recently, in which case you should stay with him until you have menstruated.” He said, “In that I am following the ruling of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) concerning Mariam Al-Maghaliyyah, who was married to Thabit bin Qais and was separated by ‘Khul’ from him.”,Book of Divorce, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 4 : 3528; Chapters on Divorce, Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 3: 2058
It was reported from Nafi, from Ibn Umar (RA), who said, “The waiting period of the woman who asks for a ‘Khul’ is one menstrual cycle.”Book of Divorce, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 3: 2230
Based on these narrations, it is inferred that a woman separated from her husband by ‘Al-Khul’ should observe ‘Iddah’ for a period of one menstrual cycle.
‘Iddah’ for a woman who does not have menstruations (i.e. due to medical/health reasons) or is past her age of menstruation (i.e. menopause)
وَاللاَّئِي يَئِسْنَ مِنْ الْمَحِيضِ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ إِنْ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَاللاَّئِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ وَأُوْلاتُ الأَحْمَالِ أَجَلُهُنَّ أَنْ يَضَعْنَ حَمْلَهُنَّ وَمَنْ يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَلْ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِ يُسْراً
“And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the ‘Iddah’, if you have doubt (about their periods) is three months; and for those who have no courses, their ‘Iddah’ is three months likewise, except in case of death. And for those who are pregnant (divorced or widowed), their ‘Iddah’ is until they lay down their burden; and whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make his matter easy for him.” Surah At-Talaq 65:4
Based on this, all women who are past their age of menstruation (i.e. into menopause) or women who are not old but do not have menstruations due to any medical/health reasons, their ‘Iddah’ period in case of divorce (or ‘Al-Khul’) shall be three months.
However, in case of ‘Iddah’ because of death of husband, all women should observe it for four months and ten days even if they are of old age and/or has no menstruations.
Based on Aayah No. 4, Surah At-Talaq, 65 of the Qur’an, mentioned in previous section also, the ‘Iddah’ period of a pregnant woman (whether divorced or widowed) shall be until she delivers her baby. And this is applicable to all cases, whether a woman is observing ‘Iddah’ due to a divorce, or due to ‘Al-Khul or Khula’ or due to the death of her husband.
This means that if a pregnant woman becomes a widow (or a divorcee), for example, at 10 o’clock in the morning, and she gives birth to her baby 12 noon (i.e. after 2 hours of start of her ‘Iddah’), her ‘Iddah’ ends after that i.e. after two hours.
This also means that if a woman becomes a widow (or a divorcee), and is pregnant, and shall deliver the baby, let us say, after eight months, her ‘Iddah’ period shall be that much long.
This should be understood very clearly by all of us so as to act accordingly.
It is not allowed for a woman to do adornments etc. during her period of ‘Iddah’. This is authenticated by following hadith:
Narrated Umm Atiyya: “We were forbidden to mourn for more than three days for a dead person except for a husband, for whom a wife should mourn for four months and ten days. (While in mourning period) we were not allowed to put kohl in our eyes, nor perfume ourselves, nor wear dyed clothes, except a garment of ‘Asb’. But it was permissible for us that when one of us became clean from her menses and took a bath, she could use a piece of certain kind of incense. And it was forbidden for us to follow funeral processions.” Book of Divorce, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 7: 5341
Refer to following hadith: Jabir bin Abdullah (RA) said: My maternal aunt was divorced and she wanted to harvest her date palms. A man rebuked her for going out, so she went to the Prophet (PBUH), and he said, “No, go out and harvest your date palms, for perhaps you will give charity or do an act of kindness.” Book of Divorce, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4 Hadith No. 3721 (1483)
Therefore, a woman observing ‘Iddah’ is allowed to go out for works where she is required to go out. These works could be related to her family, her children and even her personal works. For example: she could be the solo bread-earner for her children, and as such shall require going for work. Such cases are permitted.
However, unnecessary going out, like going to meet relatives just as routine, attending marriages & other functions among relatives and other similar outings etc. are not permitted for a woman in ‘Iddah’.
There might be many reasons with Allah for ordaining the requirement of ‘Iddah’, for His wisdom is infinite. However, our careful study can help us understand some reasons, BizniAllah, which can explain why ‘Iddah’ is ordained for us.
Firstly, it is required to establish the state of the womb i.e. to ascertain whether the woman has conceived prior to that or not. That’s why the period of ‘Iddah’ in almost all cases is calculated on the basis of menstrual cycles.
The second reason could be understood in terms of the mourning period for a woman. Refer to the hadith of Umm Atiyya reported in Sahih Bukhari and mentioned above in Section of this article; it clearly states that a woman is allowed to mourn for her deceased husband for a period of four months and ten days. We should understand that the relation of husband-wife is one of the closest relations on this earth. Allah develops a strong bond of love and affection in this relationship. The death of husband (or parting with husband through divorce) is a sort of setback and a shocking event for the woman; the pain of such a shock is immense. Therefore, the ‘Iddah’ serves as a period of consolation; the woman gets some time to get back to normal from the pain of getting away from her husband; she gets time to make up her mind to take decisions for future course of action related to her life. This reason can be understood by the obligation of ‘Iddah’ ordained upon the women who are of old age and past their age of menstruation.
Along with the reasons explained above, the biggest reason for us to respect the requirement of ‘Iddah’ should be that it is an instruction from Allah; and for a Muslim, this reason alone should be enough to accept and observe this requirement.
All Muslim women should observe ‘Iddah’ piously. Its observance should not be influenced by modern thought-process which tends to misguide us on the basis of woman’s age or her status in the family or status of her children in society etc. Rather, this should be observed with utmost sincerity, devotion and as a mark of respect to the word of our Creator.