Laws of the Iddat

Q: Could you please explain all the details pertaining to a woman in iddat (widow). How should she receive visitors including non-mehrams?

A: Whether the woman is in Iddat or not, only those classified as ‘Mahram’ i.e. those who can never marry her, e.g. brother, uncle, etc. are allowed to see her.

The iddat of wafaat or death commences from the date of death of the husband. Hence, if the wife only learns of his death a few days later, she is still obliged to calculate her iddat period from the day he died, not from the day she learnt of his death. It should be remembered that in the iddat-e-wafaat consummation of marriage is not a necessity. So even if the husband passes away immediately after marriage, before coming together with his wife, she still has to observe the iddat-e-wafaat.  In this case the iddat has been imposed as a period of mourning and grief, not to determine any state of the womb.

Duration of this iddat
The iddat-e-wafaat is four months and ten days. If she is pregnant then her iddat expires as soon as she delivers her child. (See details of a pregnant woman’s iddat under a separate heading further on.) It should however be noted here that delivery of the baby will only be considered as termination of the iddat if the wife was already pregnant at the time of her husband’s demise. If this was not the case, and the pregnancy only became apparent after the husband’s death then she will have to observe iddat of three months, which is the iddat of a woman who does not menstruate. This is because during pregnancy a woman does not have her menses. Her iddat will, therefore, be three months.

Here we mention certain prohibitions upon the wife which come into force during the iddat.

The confines of the home in this context include the front and backyard.

a) A woman who has been divorced is not allowed to leave the confines of her home during the iddat for whatever reason, be it to visit friends or relatives or to attend the funeral of even her parents. If however, there is some danger to life or limb and leaving the home becomes necessary then she is allowed to leave but must return as soon as the danger is over. Similarly, if a spiteful husband evicts her from the house then too, she is allowed to go and spend her iddat elsewhere, preferably at her parents home. In this case the husband is guilty of a major sin, since he is flouting a law of The Holy Quran. Allah has commanded the husbands in Surah Talaaq: “Do not evict them (from  the home) nor should they emerge (on their own)..”

b) A woman who has lost her husband is allowed to emerge from the home to earn a living if there is no one to support her, in which case she may go out during the day but must be back by sunset. However, if she does have an income or there is someone to support her then even the widow is not allowed to leave the home. Besides earning a living when there are no other means of income, the widow is not allowed to go anywhere else during the iddat, as stated in (a) above. Furthermore, if she can operate her business or earn her livelihood from within the confines of the home then also she is not allowed to emerge.

c) The woman in iddat may go into the front or backyard of the home. She may not proceed beyond this area.

d) Hajj is not fardh upon a woman who is in iddat even though she may have a substantial amount of funds. Hence she is not allowed to go for Hajj or Umrah.

It must be remembered well that to emerge from the home during iddat for no valid reason is indeed a severe crime in Islam. The same prohibition and reprimand for this violation appear in the hadith for a woman (married or spinster) who leaves the confines of her home for no Shar’ee reason. Allah commands in the first verse of Surah Talaaq: “Do not evict them from their homes, nor should they leave on their own accord, except if they bring forth an open act of lewdness.” In the tafseer of this verse Hazrat Abdullah bin Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) comments: “Her leaving the home prior to the expiry of iddat is an act of open lewdness.” This is similar to the hadith of Rasoolullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) which states that a woman who applies perfume and goes out into public is like an adulteress. We can therefore see how serious a matter this is. Today our ladies have abandoned these important and compulsory teachings of Islam. No wonder that they are having such a great difficulty in following the Shariah. In this era, a woman is divorced today, and tomorrow she is once more out on the street. Since they have become so used to being outside the home, it is asking too much of them to remain indoors for three months, a period which for some seems a lifetime!

Some women work, hence they do not  observe iddat for fear of losing their jobs. Has material gain become so crucial to us that we are prepared to sacrifice the Law of Allah? Surely we need to think and ponder carefully over the state of our Deeni affairs. Where Allah discusses the laws of iddat, it is significant that He emphasis the qualities of taqwa and tawakkul. He says: “And whosoever will adopt taqwa, Allah will open up a way for him and will grant him sustenance from avenues which he himself will not perceive. And whoever will have trust in Allah, Allah will suffice for him.” (Surah Talaaq) In another verse Almighty Allah specifically assures the couple who are divorced: “And if the two separate, Allah will enrich each one of them from His Bounty.” Our sisters should therefore realise that they too are required to inculcate taqwa and trust in Allah. These are injunctions of Shariah, so at which stage of our lives will we practice on these teachings?  Surely these teachings apply to us as it does to the rest of the Ummat. There must be some time in our lives where a small sacrifice is made solely and sincerely for the sake of Allah. In return, the rewards for such sacrifices are immense. Allah has Himself promised to provide income to the divorcee.

Another aspect of emergence during iddat which must be considered, is the interaction of the practice of hidaad and observance of iddat. This practice, which is outlined in detail later on, entails the abandonment of beauty and jewellery.  This too is wajib during iddat. But if a woman emerges from the home during iddat, she is forced to neglect the practice of hidaad for she will most certainly adorn herself and apply cosmetics, which is haraam during iddat. Hence, coming out of the home during iddat leads to other haraam acts being committed. This is another reason why a woman must not leave her home during iddat. For the working woman we must stress that during iddat the husband has to provide for his divorced wife, as he would for her during their nikah. If he fails to do so then in cases of dire need, the women may leave the home to earn a living. However, she must return to the house before sunset.

There is also the great danger that through her emergence from the home in iddat a woman is exposing herself to the glances and advances of menfolk. Allah forbid, this can lead to zinaa (adultery), for it becomes known that this is a divorcee (and experience has shown that such people are more prone to elicit affairs than those who have yet to taste married life). If not zinaa, then there is the possibility of marriage that may arise during iddat, which is also a haraam act. A nikah performed during the iddat of a woman is not valid, and the couple that marry in this way are living in sin. So a host of evils are created just through the neglect of a basic Shar’ee injunction, the command to remain indoors for the duration of the iddat. Several cases have been brought to our attention, of women entering into marriage while the iddat is still in progress. Only Allah knows whether these marriages were repeated again (to legalise it) after the iddat ended.

a) Hidaad means: to avoid beauty and adornment. A woman in iddat is not allowed to do the following:

She is not allowed to apply perfume, to wear jewellery and ornaments, to apply surma or cajel to the eyes, to wear flowers, to wear attractive clothing, to apply henna (mehndi), to apply cosmetics, to apply oil to the head, to comb the hair, or to resort to any other form of adornment women normally do to make themselves attractive.

All the above are haraam during the iddat for a widow or a woman who has been given three Talaaq or one baa-in Talaaq. (Baa-in talaaq is a type of divorce that breaks the nikah with immediate effect and the couple can only reconcile by making a new nikah.) Except for a woman who has been given Talaaq Raj’ee, this practice of hidaad is wajib upon every other woman in iddat. (Raj’ee talaaq means a divorce after which the couple can still reconcile and come back to each other without making a new nikau.)

b) Combing the hair will be allowed if it is done out of necessity, such as to avoid knots and tangles in the hair, but not for attraction and appeal. (Also see note ‘f’further down)

c) The purpose of hidaad is to dispel any intentions men may have of marriage, since it is haraam to marry while in iddat. So when a woman adorns and beautifies herself, she is inviting the attentions of men, especially now that she is without a husband. Such is the strict ruling of the Shariah about marriage during iddat that Allah has forbidden all such activities that may directly or indirectly lead to marriage while the divorcee or widow is still in her iddat. So much so, that the Quran has even forbidden a proposal of marriage in iddat, as well as any negotiations about nikah with the woman. These are all indications of how serious a crime it is to contract a nikah with a woman who is in iddat.

d) A woman who has been given Raj’ee Talaaq, i.e. the husband has the right to take her back without a new nikah in the iddat, does not need to avoid beauty and adornment since the Shariah encourages reconciliation. Perhaps through her adornment and beautification, the husband will be persuaded to take her back. In this type of Talaaq the nikah is still intact, so this divorcee is not bound by the practice of Hidaad.

e) Besides the above type of divorcee, all other women as well as those who have lost their husbands, must compulsorily observe hidaad.

f) She is allowed to use medication, and to bath and clean herself. If oil or surma has to be used for medicinal purposes then this is allowed provided she uses oil which has no fragrance and applies the surma at night and wipes it off in the morning. Similarly if the need arises to comb the hair (such as in the case of lice) then this too is permissible. In short, these prohibitions become lawful if there is a pressing need, such as illness for example. Otherwise, these activities will not be permissible.

g) Upon the death of any other close relative (besides husband), it is permissible, with the husband’s permission only, to observe the practice of hidaad as an act of mourning. But this will be done for only three days and it is haraam to observe this practice for longer than three days. And if the husband forbids the wife then it will not be permissible at all.

Mufti Siraj Desai