Why the Waiting Period (iddah) of Widow & Divorcee is Different? Why is the iddah so Long in this Scientific Age? By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi


Why the difference between ‘iddah of widow and divorcee? When pregnancy can be determined immediately then why there is a long term of waiting period?


The waiting period of a widow is four months and ten days whether her husband has had a sexual intercourse with her or not.

 Some people contend that this observation is mere obedience and intelligence has no say in the matter. But this contention is invalid because if it were a case of mere obedience then it would have been a form of worship, and we know that iddah, is not a mere act of worship because it is prescribed for all young and old, mentally sound and unsound, a Muslim and a Dhimmi (1). All of them are bound to observe the iddah, were they all are not obligated to observe the duties of worship. further, it is not necessary to form an intention when observing the iddah when worship is preceded by forming an intention. So, without a doubt, there are reasons for prescribing the iddah, or waiting period. With that in mind, these should be a firm intention to obey Allah with full faith which is tantamount to worship.

There are some reasons in it pertaining to meeting the rights of the spouse and children and of the husband of which we shall soon speak:

  • 1) The first respect for the husband lines in remembering the ties that had existed between the two.
  • 2) The second respect lines in being faithful in some ways to the agreement of a close relationship with him.
  • 3) The third is the making known and removing doubts concerning lineage.

The right of the husband to respect and honor is worthy of observing even after his death. It tells us also that after the death of the Holy Prophet ﷺ these rights to respect and honor were retained in forbidding marriage with his widows. It is also forbidden because his wives in this world will continue to be his wives in the hereafter.

However, this is not for other people because no husband is respected in that manner (as the Prophet ﷺ was) and this right is not assured about them either.

Thus, if every woman was forbidden a second marriage after the death of her husband then it would have been much difficult for her. However, a second marriage is allowed but there are certain injunctions that must be obeyed to protect the right of the first husband.

In the Days of Ignorance, the people were very unfair in the restrictions they placed on a widow to respect her husband and honor the marriage ties. She was not allowed to contract another marriage for a full year or to go out of her house. Even then she was not without blame. Allah has been very Merciful and Kind in having favored with a concession that is not without wisdom behind it.

In the Islamic Shari’ah, the unjust and cruel pre-Islamic restrictions have been replaced and the woman now has to wait for four months and ten days with a wide range of wisdom behind it. This period is enough to reveal if the womb carries a child because the sperm stays there for forty days, then it turns into a clot of blood for forty days, and the child forms in another forty days. This process adds up to four months. After this period, the fourth stage is the blowing of the spirit into the body, which is estimated at ten days during which movement of the child will let the mother know of her pregnancy. This one reason why the period of ‘iddah, is as it is.

In short, the waiting period of a widow is fixed at four months and ten days. The four months have three stages and in this duration, Life is given to the child in the womb and it begins to move inside it. The additional ten days make the presence of a child move apparent because of its sure movements. Besides, this duration is half of the known period of pregnancy, and the woman’s state is very clear to everyone. In the case of a divorced woman, the waiting period is not linked to her feeling the child inside her body. Rather, her ‘iddah, is related to her menstruation. The widow’s period, as we have seen, is four months ten days.

The reason for the difference in the two waiting periods is that in the case of the divorced woman the owner of rights is alive and he knows his family and can assume such matters. So, it is possible that the woman is asked to mind whatever she is capable of knowing and her husband must trust her in this matter, and her waiting period is fixed accordingly. In the case of a widow, her husband is not alive and no one else can know the private condition of the woman as a husband would know. Hence, her iddah, is fixed to such a limit that everyone may know equally well the state she is in and that is the time in which the presence of a child is felt.

Let not anyone doubt from this difference that the iddah, of the divorced woman, should have been her first menstruation which is enough to reveal that she is not pregnant. As we have seen, the iddah, of a divorced woman is not fixed to determine surely whether she is pregnant but only to know that she is not and that is known from the first menstruation.

The classification of this doubt is that the aim is not merely to know the absence of pregnancy. That is one of the reasons for fixing the period of iddah, but these are other reasons for that and they depend on the rights that are linked to it:

  • 1) One of these is the right of Allah that is obedience to His command and seeking His pleasure.
  • 2) The next is the right of the husband who has given the divorce and that is to give him ample time to think over and reconcile with her either through revocation of divorce (ruj’at) or renewal of marriage.
  • 3) The third right pertains to herself and it is the duty of the husband to provide her sustenance and living accommodation as long as she is in the waiting period.
  • 4) The fourth right belongs to the child and it is make known his parentage so that he is not wrongly related to anyone else.
  • 5) The next husband has the fifth right and it is to guarantee that he “does not waste his water on anyone else’s field”.

The Holy Prophet ﷺ has prescribed commandments for each separately. Thus in giving the rights of the husband a woman should not go out of the house either should the husband turn her out of the house. Besides, if the husband had given a revocable divorce and revokes it during the waiting period then the woman must not stand in the way of reconciliation.

Then, her right over the husband is that he provide her maintenance sustenance and lodging.

The right of the child must be respected by revealing his parents and relating him to his father and to nobody else. The right of the next husband (after second marriage) is that he should be allowed to have sexual intercourse with his wife, the marriage with him taking place after the absence of pregnancy is guaranteed lest thereby a child in the womb belonging to the former husband and an intercourse with the new husband would cause confusion of parentage.

Thus, the limit of three menstrual periods as iddah (for a divorced woman), is to guarantee fulfillment of all these rights together, some of these cannot be fulfilled after the first menstruation. Of the rights mentioned in the waiting period of a divorcee, some are common to the waiting period of a widow. These can be known by a little reflection. This clarification that we have made in the foregoing lines fulfills our promise to explain this thing later.

footnote: (1) Dhimmi : a non-Muslim living under the protection of an Islamic government. A Dhimmi should pay a tribute for security accord to him or her.


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