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In Islam, iddah or iddat (Arabic: العدة; period of waiting) is the period a woman must observe after the death of her spouse or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man. A woman who is divorced before consummation does not have any ‘iddah. But a woman whose husband has died must observe iddah whether the marriage had been consummated or not. The period, four months and ten days after the death of a spouse, is calculated on the number of menses that a woman has. Iddah was intended to ensure that the male parent of any offspring produced after the cessation of a nikah would be known.
Qur'an prohibits widows to engage themselves for four lunar months and ten days after the death of their husbands. Islamic scholars consider this directive to be a balance between mourning of husband's death and protecting the widow from criticism that she might be subjected to from re-marrying too quickly after her husband’s death. This is also to ascertain whether a woman is pregnant or not, since four and a half months is half the length of a normal pregnancy.
Husbands should make a will in favor of their wives for the provision of one year’s residence and maintenance, unless the wives themselves leave the house or take any other similar step.
The Qur'anic verse relating to the period of iddah is:
- Al Baqarah 2:234 If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait concerning themselves four months and ten days: When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just and reasonable manner. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do. (Yusuf Ali)
The directive of the Qur'an regarding the waiting period of a widow, is as under.
- Whoever from amongst you dies and leaves behind wives, the wives will hold themselves [from marriage] for four months and ten days. Then, when they have expired this period, there is no blame upon you in whatever they do regarding themselves, according to the recognized traditions. And God is fully aware of whatever you are doing. And there is no blame upon you in proposing [marriage] to these women or in keeping such proposal to yourself - God is aware that you would mention it to them - but do not make with them any secret commitments, except that you say a noble word to them. However, do not commit the marriage-contract with them, until the law has reached its prescribed time... (Al-Baqarah 2: 234 - 235)
The following is a summary of the main directives entailed in these verses:
- The waiting period (Iddah) of a widow is four months and ten days;
- During this period, the woman is not to marry another man;
- During this period, a person may declare his intentions of marrying the widow - in a socially acceptable manner - or he may keep such intentions to himself, yet he should not make a secret commitment of marriage with the widow; and
- The time and place of the marriage-contract should be finalized and committed to only after the period of four months and ten days has expired.
These are the basic directives of the Sharia regarding the waiting period of a widow. It is also clear from another directive of the Qur'an that during this waiting period, the woman should not be turned out of her house.
Comparing this waiting period with the one prescribed for a divorced woman (three menstrual periods of the divorced woman), one sees that the waiting period prescribed for a widow exceeds that, which is prescribed for a divorced woman by at least a month and a half. It is also clear from the stipulations of the Qur'an that the prescription of the waiting period for a divorced woman is with the basic purpose of ascertaining her condition with reference to pregnancy as well as to provide the divorcing couple adequate time to review and, if possible, to revise their decision. Thus, in view of the increased prescription of waiting period in the case of a widow, it seems that the waiting period prescribed for a widow entails other purposes, besides merely ascertaining the woman's position with reference to pregnancy.
Different waiting periods for different groups, including prepubescent girls
The Quran surah (Chapter) 65, entitled Divorce, starts by God telling Muhammad not to caste out women from the house before their waiting period is up. The 4th line dictates the waiting period for different age groups.
- Al Talaq 65:4 Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same): for those who carry (life within their wombs), their period is until they deliver their burdens: and for those who fear Allah, He will make their path easy. (Yusuf Ali)
The following is a summary of the main directives entailed in this verses:
- The waiting period of a woman after menopause (no longer having her menstrual cycle) is three months;
- The waiting period of a girl who has not started having her menstrual cycle (prepubescent) is three months;
- The waiting period for a pregnant woman is until after they deliver the child.
The second group, "for those who have no courses", is taken to mean prepubescent girls rather than medically abnormal women, as shown by the following:
Other translations of the Quran such as: -
- And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the 'Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death]. (Muhsin Khan)
- And as for those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, in case you have any suspicion, then their (fixed) spell shall be three months, (along) with those who have not menstruated (as yet). (Dr Ghali)
Commentaries of the Quran, including the most respected Sunni commentary: -
- Allah the Exalted clarifies the waiting period of the woman in menopause. And that is the one whose menstruation has stopped due to her older age. Her Iddah is three months instead of the three monthly cycles for those who menstruate, which is based upon the Ayah in (Surat) Al-Baqarah. ﴿see 2:228﴾ The same for the young, who have not reached the years of menstruation. Their Iddah is three months like those in menopause. (Quran Tafsir Ibn Kathir) 
Law/fiqh manuals, including the Shafi handbook, Reliance of the Traveller: -
- n9.2 A waiting period is obligatory for a woman divorced after intercourse, whether the husband and wife are prepubescent, have reached puberty, or one has and the other has not
- n9.9 The waiting period for a woman who does not menstruate, whether prepubescent or postmenopausal, is three months.
Rulings from Islamic scholars (fatwas): -
- The waiting period (idda) for a female who does not experience menstruation due to childhood (saghira), who is on menopause (a’yisa) and who has reached the age of puberty (baliga) without experiencing menstruation, will be three consecutive Islamic months. (Hanafi scholar, Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam, Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK) 
"Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods." Al Baqarah 2:228 (tr. Yusuf Ali). This shorter waiting period after divorce is also referred to by Qur'anic translator Yusuf Ali as an 'Iddat, the same as for the longer waiting period after the husband's death; e.g. "When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their ('Iddat), do not prevent them from marrying their (former) husbands." Al Baqarah 2:232.
||This article possibly contains original research. (August 2012)|
Muslim jurists and thinkers have generally construed this additional purpose entailed in the prescription of the waiting period for widows to be that of the widow's 'mourning' her deceased husband. The prescription of a specified 'waiting' or 'mourning' period is for the purpose of safeguarding the woman against defamation, slander and ill-repute in society.
It is specifically for this purpose that others are directed against making a 'secret' commitment of marriage with the widow or deciding about the time and place of the marriage-contract, during the prescribed period. It is reported that Muhammad advised widows to be extra modest in their appearance and to even refrain from wearing any fragrance, during this period. All these directives and advice seem to point to the fact that a woman should not only be but also appear to be in a state of mourning so that her social circles do not get a chance to say a negative word about her.
No other restrictions apply to a widow during her waiting period.
- Esposito, John, ed. (2003), "Iddah", The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-512558-4
- "And those of you who die and leave widows behind, they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days. Then when they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you about what they do with themselves in accordance with the norms [of society]. And Allah is well acquainted with what you do. And there is also no blame on you if you tacitly send a marriage proposal to these women or hold it in your hearts. Allah knows that you would definitely talk to them. [Do so] but do not make a secret contract. Of course you can say something in accordance with the norms [of the society]. And do not decide to marry until the law reaches its term. And know that Allah has knowledge of what is in your hearts; so be fearful of Him and know that Allah is Most forgiving and Most Forbearing." [Quran 2:234]
- Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Quran, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 546
- Shehzad Saleem. The Social Directives of Islam: Distinctive Aspects of Ghamidi’s Interpretation, Renaissance. March, 2004.
- "And those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s provision and [bequeath] that [in this period] they shall not be turned out of their residences; but if they themselves leave the residence, there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves according to the norms of society. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise." [Quran 2:240]