In this article, Priyanship Pandey discusses the provision of Iddat under Muslim Personal Law.

Introduction

Iddah or Iddat is an Arabic term which means period of waiting and is observed by Muslim women. It is a period of chastity which a Muslim woman is bound to observe after the dissolution of her marriage due to the death of her husband or by divorce before she can lawfully marry again. The reason behind observing iddat period is to ascertain whether the woman is pregnant or not and to acknowledge the certainty of paternity.

Iddat period varies in different cases

  • a divorced woman observes it for 3 months whereas a woman whose husband has died observes it for four lunar months and ten days after the death of her husband, whether the marriage was consummated or not.
  • Iddat period lasts for divorced woman who is pregnant till the time she gives birth or miscarriage.
  • If a woman is pregnant at the time of husband’s death, she observes iddat for a complete year consisting nine months for pregnancy and three months of iddat period.

This period is considered as a balance by some Islamic scholars by providing sufficient time to mourn for the death of her husband and also protects the widow from criticism that she might be subjected for remarrying too quickly after her husband’s death. This period mainly helps in determining whether a woman is pregnant or not, since four and a half months is half the duration of a normal pregnancy if there is any. In Muslim law, husband shall make a will in favor of their wives for the provision of one year’s residence and maintenance, unless the wives leave the house out of their own free will.

(Al-Baqarah 2: 234 – 235) of Quran enlists the following things about Iddah in the form of verses –

  1. The observing period for a widow is four months and ten days,
  2. During this period, a woman cannot marry another man
  3. If a person wants to marry a widow or divorced woman, he may declare his intentions in a socially acceptable manner while iddat period is running, there shouldn’t be any secret commitment of marriage with the widow.
  4. Once the period of four months and ten days has completed, a marriage contract can be finalized containing time and place for marriage rituals.

Place to observe Iddah 

  1. It is compulsory to observe iddat period in the same house where the woman was residing permanently at the time of her husband’s death or in case of dissolution of marriage.
  2. If a woman receives the news of her husband’s demise while she was on journey, she is supposed to immediately return to the place of her residence to observe her iddah, provided that her home is within the reach not beyond, else she could return back upon reaching the destination.
  3. A woman who was sent to her parental home should return to the home of her husband, upon her husband’s demise to complete her Iddat there because according to the rule, Iddat is completed in the house which is the permanent residence of a wife. Her parents’ house is not considered as permanent residence.

Rules of Iddat

Certain things are forbidden to muslim women during the period of iddat. In Muslim Personal Law, the term ‘Haraam’ is used for strictly prohibited things such as –

  • It is Haraam upon a woman to indulge into the activities of beautifying herself through makeups or any other ways during iddat.
  • She is forbidden to wear silken clothes or other gaudy dresses. No particular colour is specified to wear during this period like black or white or any such, just a simple and plain clothing would suffice.
  • She is not allowed to leave house till the completion of iddat period unless there is some emergency like requirement of basic needs or medical illness to such extent that  it is not possible to arrange for a house-call by a physician.
  • She is obliged to mourn for her husband by praying to Allah (God) and supplicating Allah-Subhanahu for her husband and for herself.
  • There is no restriction of seeing the moon or the mirror as some people in the name of islam try to enforce these restraints.

Commencement of Iddah/Iddat 

Iddah period starts right after the death of husband or after a divorce for muslim wife. Despite of her ignorance to observe iddah, it would not be held due or affected in anyway.

  1. If she didn’t receive the news on time of her husband’s demise but got to know about it within the prescribed iddah period, then she is obliged to observe it for the remaining days of iddat period.
  2. In case if she receives the news at later stage when iddah period has already passed, she is not bound to experience it. The time counts from the time of husband’s demise or the time when divorce is given.

Prohibition of marriage during Iddat

The Quran permits only the socially acceptable manner to declare the intentions of marrying a woman observing iddat, all the other direct proposals or secret commitments are strictly prohibited. Once the completion of iddah period, the women can lawfully enter into a contract of second marriage. A marriage done during the period of iddah is not recognised in the islamic law and considered as void.

Staying at home during Iddat

  1. During the iddah period, the wife gets deprived of everything outside the premise of her deceased husband’s house. She is not allowed ( Haraam) to leave her house if she has sufficient resources of basic needs.
  2. She is allowed to leave the house only in case if she is the sole breadwinner with no other source of income to maintain her livelihood. She is permitted to work during the day time only and must return home before the nightfall.
  3. She is not required to confine herself to a certain room or stay silent, she may carry out household works or occupy herself in virtuous acts or praying to Allah.
  4. She is allowed to leave the house for any emergency medical treatment accompanied by Mehram (a male member of the family whom she cannot marry under Islamic Law).
  5. She is forbidden from attending any funerals or visit the ill though they might be close relatives or immediate neighbours.
  6. She is allowed to shift from deceased husband’s house in case there are no proper accommodations inside the house, or the remaining heirs do not permit her to use the deceased’s property or she faces troubles in maintaining the purdah required under Islam.
  7. If the wife is unable to pay for the rented house, she can shift to the nearest safe place available where she must complete her Iddah period.
  8. In case she is the sole occupant of the house where iddah has to be passed but fear of being alone is to that extent that might cause mental illness or any defects, she is allowed to shift to another house. Reasonable amount of fear does not permit to shift from the house.
  9. If the house is in dilapidated condition and there is a risk that it might mall down or collapse any time soon or it is not unsecured which might put a threat to woman’s chastity or honour or life, she is allowed to shift from that place. But as soon as the cause of risk is removed, she is obliged to return to her house.

In all the instances mentioned above, utmost care must be taken like –

  • The cause must be true and genuine
  • She must move to the nearest available safe place.
  • After changing the house once, she may not move to another place before completion of her iddah without a valid reason.

Maintenance during Iddat

During the iddah period, a muslim wife is not entitled to claim maintenance out of her husband’s estate as she is herself an heir to it. This is because the liability of maintaining the wife lies only on the husband and not on the other heirs. If she did not receive her dower (Mehr) nor did she renounces it, she would be entitled to receive it as a first charge from his estate.

Rules for the observance of Iddat 

There are two verses in the Quran regarding the observance of ‘iddah of death’ known as ayahs. These ayahs signify the importance of iddah –

  1. According to (AI.Baqarah – 234) –

‘and (as for) those of you who die and leave wives behind, such women should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days’

  1. For pregnant women, according to (Al-Talaaq – 4) –

‘And the pregnant women, their prescribed time is that they lay down their burden’

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