‘iddah (waiting period) refers to the period of time that follows a woman’s divorce or death of her husband. The length of this waiting period varies somewhat based on the situation.
The wisdom behind the waiting period:
- Identify pregnancy
The ‘iddah gives sufficient time to a woman to make sure she isn’t pregnant. This is necessary to prevent confusion that could arise on who the father of the child is if the woman were to remarry and get pregnant right away.
- Time for reconciliation
When a divorce takes place, ‘iddah offers time to the couple to cool down and give the divorce a second thought.
- Exemplify the gravity and sanctity of marriage
‘Iddah prevents people from taking marriage to be a light affair. Marriage is so sacred and significant that its dissolution results in a waiting period.
- Time to express grief
In the case of the husband passing away, the wife has been given to grieve. (al-fiqh al-islami wa adillatuhu)
The different waiting periods of different women:
1) 3 menstrual cycles
For that divorcee who is mature, menstruates and isn’t pregnant.
For example, Khalid divorced his wife Sa’eeda. Sa’eeda was a mature woman who wasn’t pregnant. Sa’eeda will now have to observe the ‘iddah in her matrimonial home. Upon the expiry of her third period, she will be now free to leave the house of her former husband and can marry whom she wants.
2) Three consecutive ISLAMIC months
For that divorcee who isn’t menstruating. This will include those women who have entered menopause. Likewise, for some medical reason, those young women who don’t experience menstruation will also be obliged to observe three months as the waiting period.
If her husband divorced her on the first day of a lunar month, she will calculate three months from that date. This will be irrespective of whether the months are of 29 days or 30 days.
For example, Halima was divorced and was in her late 50’s on the 1st of rajab. She wasn’t experiencing menstruation as she had entered menopause. She will now observe three consecutive lunar months as her waiting period. Hence, for the whole of Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadhan, Halima will have to observe ‘iddah. On the 1st of Shawwal, her ‘iddah will end.
If she wasn’t divorce on the first day of an Islamic month, then she will calculate 30 days for each month. So, after 90 days, her ‘iddah will expire.
For example, Aneesa was divorced on the 20th of Rabi al-thani. Her iddah begins from that moment; hence she will be in her ‘iddah for the rest of Rabi al-thani, the whole of Jumada al-ula, the whole of Jumada al-ukhra and the first 20 days of Rajab. On the 20th of Rajab, 90 days will have passed which brings the ‘iddah of Aneesa to an end.
3) Duration of pregnancy
That divorcee which was pregnant will be in ‘iddah until delivery.
For example, Mariam was divorced in the state of pregnancy with approximately 5 months to the delivery of the child. Until she delivers the child, Mariam will have to observe ‘iddah.
4) Four months and ten days
When a husband passes away, his wife will have to observe the ‘iddah of four months and ten days.
Once again, if the husband passed away on the first day of a lunar month, then she will count each month and then add ten days to complete her ‘iddah.
For example, Aaliya’s husband passed away on the 1st of Rabi al-awwal. So aaliya will be in ‘iddah for Rabi al-awwal, Rabi al-thani, Jumada al-ula, jumada al-ukhra and the first ten days of Rajab. Thus, on the 10th of Rajab, Aaliya’s ‘iddah will expire.
However, if the husband passed away during the month, then his wife will calculate each month as 30 days and add a further 10 days to complete the prescribed four months and 10 days. So in essence, the ‘iddah will be for 130 days.
For example, Yasmin’s husband passed away on the 12th of dhul qa’da. Yasmin will count 130 days from here to complete her ‘iddah. Her ‘iddah will come to an end during Rabi al-awwal.
She should live in the house she used to live in at the time of her husband’s death. Leaving the home is incorrect.
This rule applies equally whether
a) a woman has had intimacy with her husband during his life-time or not
b) she had any kind of privacy with him or not
c) she had come to live with him or not
d) she menstruates or not
e) she is old or young
f) she reached the age of puberty or not.
However if the woman was pregnant at the time of the demise of her husband, she should remain in ‘Iddah until the child is born. This applies irrespective of the number of days or months. Even if the child was born just an hour after the husband’s death, the ‘iddah will be over.