The Fiqh of Iddah
Written by: Annie Ahmad The literal meaning of iddah is “keeping count”, but most commonly […]
Written by: Annie Ahmad
The literal meaning of iddah is “keeping count”, but most commonly it is defined as the waiting period for the widow or divorcee during which she cannot remarry.
It is obligatory for every woman whose marriage ends with her husband–either through divorce or khul– or whose husband leaves her by way of death, to observe iddah. The number of days is different for each circumstance. For example, in the case of a woman who is pregnant, her iddah ends when she gives birth, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala ordains in the Quran, Surah Talaq 65:4;
Iddah is not obligatory upon the woman whose marriage ended before consummation, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says in the Quran, Surah Ahzaab 33:49;
“O You who have believed, when you marry believing women and then divorce them before you have touched them, then there is not for you any waiting period to count concerning them. So provide for them and give them a gracious release.”
Iddah for Widows (waiting period after the death of one’s husband)
The widow waits for four months and ten days after her husband’s death, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala commanded in the Quran, Surah Baqarah 2:234;
“And those who are taken in death among you and leave wives behind – they, [the wives, shall] wait four months and ten [days]. And when they have fulfilled their term, then there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable manner. And Allah is [fully] Acquainted with what you do.“
Iddah by way of death is a sudden, shocking occurrence and most of the time, she wasn’t expecting to lose her loving husband and the father of her children and was not prepared for this. Therefore, this unexpected blow of life requires lengthier time to grieve, recover, and heal from it. The woman grieving the loss of her husband needs time to collect herself and to plan to move ahead after this big change which has caused a havoc in her life.
Iddah for Divorce by Talaaq (initiated by Husband)
The iddah in case of talaaq (or divorce uttered by the husband) is three menstrual cycles, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala declares in the Quran, Surah Baqarah 2:228;
and she must continue staying at the marital home, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says in the Quran, Surah Talaq 65:1
“O Prophet, when you [Muslims] divorce women, divorce them for [the commencement of] their waiting period and keep count of the waiting period, and fear Allah , your Lord. Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses, nor should they [themselves] leave [during that period] unless they are committing a clear immorality. And those are the limits [set by] Allah . And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah has certainly wronged himself. You know not; perhaps Allah will bring about after that a [different] matter.”
If the muslimah does not menstruate or her period is irregular typically, then her iddah is three lunar months, as Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says in the Quran, Surah Talaq 65:4
Iddah is meant to lengthen the time before full divorce and the wisdom behind spending the waiting period in the house of the husband is so that his heart may soften by seeing his wife daily. He may rethink the matter and perhaps reconsider his decision of divorce and contemplate taking his wife back.
In case he doesn’t take his wife back and the waiting period ends, then the three menstrual cycles spent as iddah also serve to establish whether she is pregnant or not.
In talaaq divorce, the muslimah is not the one deciding to end the marriage with her husband, but she is submitting to her husband’s decision of divorce, which is a very devastating experience for the woman and her children, so this requires time to heal and recover from the agony of divorce.
Iddah for Divorce by Khul (divorce initiated by the wife)
Khul can occur only at the request of wife and the husband’s subsequent agreement to end the marriage.
The ruling of iddah in case of a marriage ending by khul is one menstrual cycle as derived from the hadith narrated from Ibn Abbas that the wife of Thaabit ibn Qays ended her marriage to her husband by means of khula’ at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) asked her to return the garden which her husband had given her as mahr, and when she had, he commanded her to observe an ‘iddah of one menstrual cycle. (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1185; Abu Dawood, 2229. Also narrated by al-Nasaa’i (3497)
In the case of khul where the wife has taken the decision to leave the husband and is not going to go back to her husband, the iddah of one menstrual cycle is sufficient to establish whether she is pregnant or not and to give her time to heal from the previous unsuccessful marriage experience.
In the end, this life is temporary
Iddah is meant to be a very secluded, private, personal time for a muslimah. The wisdom behind this solitude is to find yourself. It is invested in rethinking, re-organising and re-planning her life, her goals, and her pursuits after her husband leaves. She is now single again, free to decide for her life and to grow, to learn, and to pursue things she wants.
It is meant to strengthen your relationship with Allah, to hear your inner voice, to remember and see your shortcomings in order to avoid repeating them, and to make yourself understand that at the end, this life is temporary. What you lost was just a temporary loss and what you will gain from exercising patience and obeying Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala in face of this calamity will be permanent happiness in Jannah, inshaAllah, where there will be no heartbreak, only love and happiness between spouses.
Annie Ahmad is a writer & blogger. She is an accountant by profession, a single parent and homeschooling mother of 2, based in Karachi, Pakistan. She is an avid reader in the time she gets after work and homeschooling her children.