Can you clarify the roles and responsibilities of a woman during her iddah1 period, i.e. when her husband had just passed?
Can you especially clarify the purpose, i.e. the philosophy, of the waiting period? What I mean to imply by this is that it seems from my understanding of the Islamic viewpoint the main purpose of the waiting period for a woman is to determine if she is pregnant by her husband that just died. This seems to be opposed to cultural traditions of even Islamic countries where it seems such stringent rules are meant as a period of mourning for the woman. This purpose seems to define the certain restrictions a woman is bound to after the period of her husbands death, such as when she can leave the house and for what purpose.
The directive of the Qur’an regarding the waiting period of a widow, are 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 husband;
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 Shari`ah 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 (i.e. three menstrual periods of the divorced woman), we see 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. The 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. In my opinion, the understanding of the Muslim jurists and thinkers seems to be quite logical and in consonance with sayings ascribed to the Prophet. However, it seems important to add that the prescription of a specified ‘waiting’ or ‘mourning’ period is for the purpose of safeguarding the woman against defamation, slander and ill-repute in the society. It is specifically for this purpose, in my opinion, that others have been 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. Furthermore, the Prophet (pbuh) is ascribed to have advised the widows to be extra-modest in their appearance and to even refrain from wearing any fragrance, during this period. All these directives and advices 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.
The above should summarize the directives of the Shari`ah regarding the waiting period of a widow as well as the purpose of these directives. No other restrictions apply to a widow, during her waiting period.
I hope this helps.
- ‘Iddah’ refers to a woman’s waiting period after divorce or after the death of her husband.