By Muftī Ebrahim Desai
Upon the husband’s death, or divorce, or the termination of the marriage contract through Khulʿ (divorce at the instance of the wife), or the annulment of the marriage by some other manner, the woman has to remain staying in one house for a specified period of time. Until this period expires, it is not permissible for her to go elsewhere. The act of passing this period is called ʿIddah.
If the ʿIddah, or waiting period, is observed following the death of the husband, it is called ‘The ʿIddah of Death’. If observed following Ṭalāq (divorce), Khulʿ (divorce at the instance of the wife) or for some other reason, it is called ‘The ʿIddah of divorce’. There are some differences in the rules and periods of the two types of ʿIddah.
ʿIddah of Death
Allāh Taʿālā mentions the ruling of this ʿIddah in the Holy Qurʾān:
For those men who die amongst you and leave behind wives, they (the wives) must confine themselves (spend ʿIddah) for four months and ten days. (al-Baqarah)
A woman whose husband dies should remain in ʿIddah for four months and ten days. She should live in the house she used to live in at the time of her husband’s death. Leaving the home is incorrect.
This rule applies equally whether
- A woman has had intimacy with her husband during his lifetime or not
- She had any kind of privacy with him or not
- She had come to live with him or not
- She menstruates or not
- She is old or young
- She reached the age of puberty or not.
However, if the woman was pregnant at the time of the demise of her husband, she should remain in ʿIddah until the child is born. This applies irrespective of the number of days or months. Even if the child was born just an hour after the husband’s death, the ʿIddah will be over.
A woman in ʿIddah may move freely in the house. She does not have to restrict herself to just one room.
If at the time of receiving the news of her husband’s demise, a woman was away from the house, for example, to take care of some family chore, or was away visiting neighbours, or visiting her own parents/relatives for a few days (with or without the husband), she should immediately return home. This rule applies irrespective of where the husband passed away, at home or away.
A woman whose displeased husband had sent her to her parental home should, upon her husband’s demise, return to the home of her husband and complete her ʿIddah there. As a rule, ʿIddah is completed in the house which was the permanent residence of the wife at the time of her husband’s death. Her temporary residence is not taken into consideration. It is obvious that her visit to her parent’s home was temporary.
If the husband died on the first of the lunar month and the woman is not pregnant, she will have to complete the period of four months and ten days in accordance with the lunar calendar. And if the husband died on a date other than the first, she would have to complete the period of one hundred and thirty days (four months of thirty days each and ten days) – Ma’ārif al-Qurʾān.
ʿIddah begins from the time of the husband’s death even if the woman is not aware of his death and even though she had made no intention to observe ʿIddah.
If she only received the news of her husband’s demise four months and ten days thereafter, her ʿIddah stands completed. She will not have to observe ʿIddah all over again.
If for instance, a woman hears about the death of her husband several days later, but there is uncertainty about the exact date of his death, ʿIddah will be counted from the later date. For example, there is a doubt whether the husband died on the first of November or first of December, the ʿIddah will be counted from the first of December.
ʿIddah of Divorce
When the husband divorces his wife, she will have to spend her ʿIddah in the matrimonial home. She must not leave the house during the day nor at night, nor can she make Nikāḥ with anyone else. Once she completes three Ḥayḍ periods, her ʿIddah will be complete and she can now stay wherever she wishes. This rule will apply irrespective of whether the man issued one two or three divorces, and irrespective of whether he issued a Ṭalāq Bā’in (irrevocable divorce) or a Ṭalāq Rajʿī (revocable Ṭalāq). The same rule will apply in all cases.
The ʿIddah for divorce is only compulsory on the woman who is divorced after her husband had engaged in sexual intercourse with her or, they did not engage in sexual intercourse but they met in privacy and thereafter her husband divorces her. If they did not meet in privacy and the person divorces her, she does not have to observe the ʿIddah.
If a young girl who had not experienced Ḥayḍ, or an old woman whose Ḥayḍ had terminated is divorced, then their ʿIddah will be three months.
A young girl who has not experienced Ḥayḍ as yet was divorced. She therefore commenced her ʿIddah on the basis that it will be three months. However, after a month or two she began experiencing Ḥayḍ. Her ʿIddah will now be calculated from the time her Ḥayḍ commences. She will therefore have to remain in ʿIddah until the completion of three Ḥayḍ periods. Her ʿIddah will not be complete until the completion of three Ḥayḍ periods.
If a woman is pregnant and her husband divorces her, she will have to remain in that house until she delivers her child. When she delivers her child, her ʿIddah will expire even if she delivers her child a few days after being divorced.
If a woman is divorced while she is in her Ḥayḍ, this Ḥayḍ will not be considered. Her ʿIddah will be complete up on the expiry of three Ḥayḍ periods after the Ḥayḍ that she is presently experiencing. However, it should be noted that it is a sin to divorce a woman while she is in her Ḥayḍ.
If she is observing her ʿIddah in the same house wherein the man who issued a Ṭalāq Bā’in to her is also living, she will have to observe strict Pardah with him.
Maintenance During the Period of ʿIddah
The maintenance and providing of shelter for a woman observing the ʿIddah of Death are not the responsibility of her in-laws. She also does not have the right to take her maintenance out of the estate of her deceased husband. However, she will be entitled to her share of Inheritance.
The maintenance and providing of shelter for a woman while she is observing her ʿIddah of divorce are wājib on the very man who divorced her.
ʿIddah in the Case of Pregnancy or Miscarriage
As stated earlier, the ʿIddah of a pregnant woman ends with the birth of the child. The ruling however differs in the case of a miscarriage. If any body part of the miscarried foetus was formed, e.g. the mouth, the nose or the fingers, the ʿIddah will end upon the miscarriage. If there was no formation of any limb, the woman will be regarded as not being pregnant, and as a result, her ʿIddah will be four months and ten days.
The maximum period of pregnancy in the Shariah is two years. Shariah does not recognise pregnancy beyond the period of two years. If a woman was pregnant at the time of her husband’s demise, but did not deliver the child within two years thereafter, she would be regarded as not been pregnant. Her ʿIddah had ended four months and ten days after the demise of her husband.
In the case of a multiple conception, e.g. twins, ʿIddah terminates at the birth of the last child.
The Death of the Husband and the ʿIddah of Ṭalāq
If the ʿIddah of Ṭalāq expires and the former husband passes away, there is no ʿIddah of Death. Such a divorcee does not inherit from her former husband’s estate.
If the husband passes away before the expiry of the ʿIddah, the ruling will be as follows:
- If the husband gave his wife a revocable divorce (Ṭalāq Rajʿī) the wife should observe her ʿIddah of Death and she will inherit from his estate.
- If the husband had given his wife an irrevocable divorce (Ṭalāq Bā’in) while he was in good health, and the husband dies before the expiry of the ʿIddah of Divorce, the woman will complete the ʿIddah of divorce. She will not observe the ʿIddah of Death nor will she inherit from the husband.
- If the husband, with the consent of the wife, gave her an irrevocable divorce (Ṭalāq Bā’in) during his final illness (Maraḍ al-Mawt) the woman will complete the remaining period of the ʿIddah of Divorce. She will not observe the ʿIddah of Death nor will she inherit from the husband.
- If the husband had given his wife an irrevocable divorce (Ṭalāq Bā’in) during his final illness (Maraḍ al-Mawt) without the consent of the wife, then her ʿIddah will be the longer of the two ʿ She will inherit from the husband’s estate.
Things That Are Not Permissible During ʿIddah
A woman observing the ʿIddah of Death should neither go out of the house nor remarry, nor indulge in beautifying herself through make-up. During ʿIddah, all these things are Ḥarām (Forbidden) for her.
The Holy Prophet (Ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) has said that it is not permissible for a believer to mourn for anyone for more than three days, except the widow whose period of mourning (when not pregnant) on the death of her husband is four months and ten days.
Observing a Period of Mourning is Wājib
- It is necessary (Wājib) upon every adult and sane Muslim woman to observe ʿIddah (mourn) the death of her husband. It is not necessary upon a woman who is a disbeliever, insane or did not attain puberty.
- It is Ḥarām (strictly prohibited) to make an express proposal of marriage to a woman observing the ʿIddah of Death. It is also Ḥarām to contract a Nikāḥ with such a woman. Such a Nikāḥ will be null and void.
- It is Ḥarām upon a female observing ʿIddah to apply perfume; to don ornaments, jewellery or decorations of any sort; to wear eye makeup, such as Kuḥl (antimony) or galena; to chew or apply colour on the lips, teeth or gums; to apply oil on the head; to comb the hair (in order to beautify herself); to use henna; to wear silken or other gaudy dresses.
- It is permissible to bath and wash the hair during ʿIddah
Using Beauty Aids as Medicine
- If there is a need to apply oil to the head because of a headache or lice, only such oil may be used that has no scent.
- If there is a need to use Surmah (antimony) as a balm for the eyes, it will be permissible. In such a case, it should be applied at night and cleared in the morning.
- A female in ʿIddah will be excused to wear silken clothes due to itchy skin.
Leaving the Home Due to Necessity
- It is compulsory upon the divorcee or widow to complete the ʿIddah in the same home which was her permanent residence at the time of divorce or her husband’s demise. However, if does not have enough money to pay basic needs, shelter and food, she will be excused to leave the house during daytime to work. She should ensure that she adheres to the laws of Ḥijāb and spends the nights at her house. It is also imperative that, during the day, she returns home immediately upon being free from her work. Spending any time outside the house over and above that which is necessary is not permissible. If her employment takes up some part of the night as well, she will be excused, but she should spend the major part of the night at her own home.
- A woman who owns a cultivated land, farm, property or business which requires her personal attention and management and there is no family member available to assist her, she will be excused to leave the house.
If such a place is equivalent to the distance of Safar (88 km or more), then she may travel there with her Maḥram (person with whom marriage is permanently unlawful).
- If a woman observing the ʿIddah of Death is ill and it is not possible to arrange for a house-call by a physician, or if there arises an emergency for her admission to a hospital, it will be permissible to take her to a hospital or another city if there is a need.
Shifting Residence During ʿIddah Under Compelling Circumstances
A woman may move to another home in order to complete the ʿIddah in the following situations:
- If the house was rented and she does not have the means to pay the rent.
- If her share of the house which she had inherited from her husband is insufficient for her to live in and the other inheritors do not allow her to use their share.
- If she cannot observe Pardah in the home.
- Any such situation in which her life, wealth or chastity are not safe.
- If the house in which she is observing ʿIddah collapses, or there be the danger that it will.
- If there is a strong apprehension that she is likely to lose her honour, life, property or health if she stays there.
- If she fears living alone and she does not have a trustworthy person to live with her. If the fear is not severe, then it will not be permissible to move out of the house.
- Similarly, if the house in which she is passing her ʿIddah be haunted and she has a strong fear of demons, so much so that she cannot bear the very thought of living in a haunted house, or there is some open evidence of harm caused by such evil presence.
In a situation where shifting from the house of ʿIddah is permissible, it is necessary the woman shift to the closest possible house where her life, wealth and chastity are safe. Unless necessary, she should not move to a more distant house. She should pass the remaining days of her ʿIddah in the house to which she shifted.
A Woman on Journey at the Time of Her Husband’s Demise
Different situations have different rulings, the details of which follow:
I. If a woman receives the news of her husband’s death, whilst she is on Safar and was within 88 km from her hometown, she should immediately return home and complete her ʿIddah there, irrespective of how far her destination is. This applies whether or not she has a Maḥram with her.
II. If she had already covered 88km, then
A. If her destination is within 88 km, she may continue her Safar and upon reaching the destination, she should complete her ʿIddah there, whether or not she has a Maḥram with her.
B. If her destination is more than 88 km away and
- If the place is uninhabited she has the choice of either returning to her hometown or continuing her journey to her destination and complete her ʿIddah there. It is advisable for her to return to her hometown.
- If it is an inhabited place where she could stay, she should remain there.
If in case no. II.B.1, en route to her hometown or her destination, she passes by such an inhabited town where she could stay and her life, wealth and modesty are safe, she should stay there and complete her ʿIddah.
Negligence of ʿIddah
Many widows and divorced women do not observe the laws of ʿIddah. Going out openly, visiting Bazaars and attending social functions are activities undertaken in absolute disregard to this injunction of the Shariah. That is a major sin.
Leaving the House Without a Shar’ī Reason
The excuses under which going out of the house during ʿIddah are permissible have been listed earlier on. If a situation of a different nature arises under which going out of the house appears to be necessary, the situation should be discussed with a trustworthy ʿĀlim in order to ascertain the Shar’ī validity of the excuse.
Many women observing ʿIddah leave the house on flimsy excuses, such as to show up at a meeting, ceremony, function, etc.
Going Out in ʿIddah Without Valid Excuse Does Not Annul the ʿIddah
Some people assume that the ʿIddah of a widow who comes out of the house without a valid excuse breaks the ʿIddah and it would be necessary for her to commence her ʿIddah again. That is incorrect.
Edited for transliteration and diacritics under the permission of Muftī Ebrāhim Ṣāḥib (May Allāh Ta’ālā protect him)