Iddah by Any Other Name
Written by: Sophia Ali Iddah is a word that most Muslim women cringe at upon […]
Written by: Sophia Ali
Iddah is a word that most Muslim women cringe at upon hearing. It is welcomed by most women with confusion, closed heartedness, bitterness, resentment, and the dread of how l-o-n-g it will take.
Our non-muslim friends may ask, “What? What’s iddah? Why do you have to do that?” We generally respond with, “Oh, it’s just a waiting period to make sure we aren’t pregnant.” It’s something we have to pencil into our planners or input into our iPhones like a doctor’s appointment. Once it starts, the countdown begins! We happily cross off each day knowing we are 24 hours closer to being a “free” woman.
I know there will be people who read this article and will quote verses saying, “Oh, but it is about making sure you aren’t pregnant. No man wants to marry a woman and find out she is carrying another man’s child. Think of the rights of fathers and children!” Though this is true, I am challenging you to open your mind, as a woman or as a man, and try to understand that this is surface level wisdom.
What lies below the surface is much deeper and pierces the heart, mind, and soul.
Terminology is Everything
I do have one issue or complaint about iddah: the way it is defined in English. Most translate iddah as a “waiting period.” The term “waiting” is absolutely dreadful! The word itself invokes terror for most.
Waiting, waiting room, waiting in line, waiting for a doctor, waiting in the emergency room, waiting for summer vacation; waiting is associated with so many negative situations. Waiting is sedentary – staying in one place, not doing anything, all of which sound horrible to any woman who is single and lonely! We, as women, just don’t react to emotional stress like this- we do the opposite.
I think we need to find a better way to translate iddah into English – this will be half the battle. I believe if we call it a “recuperating” period, “me-time” period, “finding yourself again” period, or even a “healing period”, it is a million times better than a “waiting” period!
I believe as women we are much more emotional and susceptible to words than men are – we are constantly analyzing them when others speak – so of course when we are put into what feels like a time-out corner and told to wait, we stomp and scream and say no! “I don’t wanna! Why should I when he doesn’t have to?! It’s not fair!”
Naturally our defenses go up, battle-walls built in rage, and nothing can change our damaged hearts and minds when we are already in a sensational, unstable emotional state. We need to address our emotionally vulnerable women properly and use an interpretation/translation that will build them up and empower them as women.
Let me give you an example which most people can sympathize with: When a woman leaves work to give birth we don’t call it a “waiting” period – we call it maternity leave. Yes, she is waiting to have her baby, and to be healed enough to get back to work, but again, “waiting” just doesn’t resonate with us nor express what is happening on a deeper level.
The literal meaning of the Old Arabic word iddah is “to keep count”. Unfortunately, the predominantly male scholars have come up with the terminology we now use today for iddah which is “waiting period”.
From their male perspective, this is what it is perceived and communicated to us: mere waiting to see the status of our womb. From a female perspective, however, there is so much more depth and breadth to iddah, so to have this label slapped on that she is just “waiting”, “it’s just to protect her honor”, etc.- is too simple and even oppressive.
Why wait then?
The concept and implementation of iddah has seemed oppressive, up until this past week of my life. I used to envision iddah as this black hole of stagnant time, but now I see it as a retreat for soothing the soul. A time to focus on my relationship with God.
It truly saddens me that so many of our women have lost the deep meaning of iddah, along with this merciful time in their life without getting healing and love from the Divine when they most need it.
Let’s get real for a second: with all of our modern day science, iddah is something we no longer have to observe just to prove we are not pregnant. We can implement various forms of birth control, DNA testing, and get back into the game of searching for love much quicker than a few months. We feel like we shouldn’t have to have an iddah because we have desires just like men do and they don’t have to wait.
May God forgive us and guide us all. Truth be told, I don’t know any woman going through or anticipating their iddah who did NOT have this conversation in their mind or with a close girlfriend. This argument is out there and rampant nowadays because we have lost the true mercy and beauty of God’s commandments.
Allah’s Wisdom Above Ours
If this is what we have minimized and marginalized Allah’s command to observe iddah as something so easy to be thrown out of our deen/sunnah (as something that only has scientific surface value), then it is NOT what we think it is, ladies! There is so much more wisdom and mercy behind this God-given decree. We just have to put on our God-conscious spectacles to see what’s truly there in our midst: A gift. A gift from the Most Loving, Most Merciful Lord of the Worlds.
As we read in the Quran 2:186,
“God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but [Allah/God desires] that you complete the number [of days required], and that you extol God for being divinely guided, and that you render your thanks [unto Allah/God].”
If we truly believe that one of the names of Allah (subhannahu wa ta’ala) is Al-Aleem, a.k.a. “The All-Knowing, The Omniscient” then it is easy to accept iddah as something full of beauty and wisdom and not cultural baggage – or worse – archaic. Allah knows the tiniest details of all things hidden and manifest. The knowledge of Allah is complete, perfect, and covers the past, present, and future.
“And it becometh not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, he verily goeth astray in error manifest.” – Qur’an 33:36
We need to try our best to have our thoughts, actions, and worship of Allah align with our beliefs as Muslimahs. The truth is we are all human who are made in weakness to turn to Allah. I encourage you to embrace your iddah as a time to reconnect with Allah the Protective Friend (Al-Wali), The Loving One (Al-Wadood), and The Comforter (Al Mumeen).
Focusing on Allah and creating a stronger foundation of iman can only help you stand strong in this time of iddah and going forward, insha’Allah. Asking Allah for Guidance, clarity, and wisdom to make the right decisions and believing Allah will respond to you is very helpful during this healing period.
Sophia Ali is an American Muslim revert who was born and raised in the proverbial Midwest and now resides in Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by her larger-than-life journey in this dunya she hopes to inform and inspire people of all walks of life with her passion for writing and continual thirst for knowledge. She loves traveling, adventure, fashion, art, food that her husband cooks, and philanthropy. She is an advocate for building bridges within the Muslim Community, along with interfaith initiatives.