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QnA Snapshots: The wisdom of observing Iddah


by: Mufti AK Hoosen

Cii Radio | 05 February 2014/04 Rabi ul Akhir 1435

The meaning of Iddah:

In the dictionary the word Iddah means counting in terms of quantity.

But for all intents and purposes Iddah in the context of when a husband has divorced his wife or when a husband has passed on – according to the jurists and fuqaha – will mean the lady has to observe Iddah. The waiting period until the counting period ends.

The Iddah for a divorced lady:

Whenever clarity on any issue is sought, the first point of reference is the Noble Quran. All Mighty Allah SWT states: the ladies who have been divorced will wait with themselves for three qurooh. Because the Arabic language is so unique and rich, certain words have two opposite meanings. In the Hanafi and Hanbali madhabs, when the husband divorces his wife by giving one or two or three talaqs, the Iddah will be the duration of three menses. So the ideal situation will be for the husband to divorce his wife in the period of cleanliness and in that period he has not fulfilled the conjugal rights with his wife, he issues the talaq either verbally or in writing. After the third menses ends, the Iddah has concluded. However another meaning of qurooh is tuhur which means cleanliness theretofore according to the Maliki and Shafi madhabs three periods of cleanliness have to pass. That is if a husband gave his wife talaq during her period of cleanliness, her Iddah begins, counting that period as the first period of cleanliness. Once the third period of cleanliness ends, the Iddah has concluded. The reason for differences of opinion in verdict between the different schools of thought is because Arabic words have different meanings and to understand this text and context need to be looked at. Another interesting issue connected to this: a husband has married his wife but he has not gone into Khalwah (privacy) with her and they have not consummated their marriage, and just after the nikah they have a heated argument in the presence of some people and the husband issues talaq. All Mighty Allah has addressed this issue also, “O you who believe! When you marry believing women, and then divorce them before you have sexual intercourse with them, no iddah (divorce prescribed period) have you to count in respect of them. So give them a present, and set them free (i.e. divorce), in a handsome manner.” (Al-Ahzab-49) Immediately after the divorce the woman is able to marry another man. It is important to note that even if the marriage was not consummate but the married couple were alone, in privacy together, and then Iddah becomes necessary.

The Iddah for who is pregnant and given talaq:

Whenever a lady is pregnant and the husband passes away or the husband issues a talaq or a fasakh takes place then:
When the husband passes away – the woman becomes a widow.
When the husband issues a talaq – the woman becomes a divorcee.
When fasakh takes place – fasakh means that the husband is oppressing the wife, and he does not maintain and sustain her, give her food, shelter, clothing, and he wants her to work, he could be assaulting her, and he refuses to divorce her because of ignorance and arrogance, the woman seeks assistance from Ulama or other scholars, a court case is held, he is found guilty and the marriage is annulled.

In all these cases –once the woman gives birth, irrespective of the time from which either death of the husband takes place, divorce was issued or annulment given, her Iddah expires.

Iddah for a widow:

There are three different scenarios in the case when a woman’s husband passes away.

The Quraan Kareem addresses this issue and says that it is a period of four months and ten days. Example if a woman’s husband passes away on the 28th Rabbi ul Awwal or February 1, the counting of 130 days will begin from the day of death on either the Gregorian or Islamic calendar.

However the fuqaha and jurists note: if a woman’s husband passes away on the beginning of the Islamic lunar month, the first of any of these months, in these cases one will take into consideration the months and the days Islamically. For example if the death occurred on Ramadaan 1, then Ramadaan, Shawwaal, Dhul Qadah and Dhul Hijjah and ten days of Muharram form part of the Iddah period. After the 10th of Muharram the Iddah is then complete. Therefore months and days are taken into consideration when death occurs on the first of an Islamic lunar month.

If the husband passes away and the wife is pregnant Iddah expires after the woman gives birth, irrespective of the time left for birth to take place.

The rationale behind Iddah

Many people want to know why islam has “imposed” Iddah on the lady and not the man. There is no Iddah upon men. When a man’s wife passes away he doesn’t have a waiting period. There are multiple reasons why a woman has to sit in Iddah when her husband passes away or when she is divorced. When the wife has been divorced, it might be the first talaq or the second, there is still room for reconciliation and reconciliation is the best. The Quran encourages the husband, “take back your wife but with equity and justice,” not to cause her harm. The first rationale is that if one or two talaqs have only been given the marriage can still be salvaged. During the Iddah differences can be resolved and there is room for reconciliation to take place. In the Iddah a new nikah does not need to be performed.  The two people are still able to reconcile after the Iddah has expired but a new nikah then has to be performed, this is after one or two talaqs have been given.

Sometimes it occurs that after a woman’s husband passes away or she has been divorced that she learns she is pregnant. A woman must first deliver her baby as she cannot before she can enter a marriage with a man while carrying another man’s child.

Islam says this institution of marriage is so sacrosanct that it is in this world and will continue in the year after. The dichotomy is that while specific people in this world perform the nikah, there Allah SWT performs the nikah. To maintain and retain the sanctity of nikah, Allah says that when nikah takes place Iddah must take place when it ends. It proves that marriage is not a play thing, where one can be married to different people at any time. Being able to enter and leave a marriage at any time undermines the sanctity and importance of marriage.

When a woman’s husband passes away or she has been given a divorce, it is the husband’s right upon the woman that she sits in Iddah. When she wants to resettle she will need time and not be caught on the rebound and manipulated to enter another marriage during a moment of difficulty.

Rules of Iddah:

The rules differ slightly in difference cases:

When a husband gives his wife one or two revocable divorces, according to all scholars, the husband has to provide his wife with shelter, food and clothing. The woman has to stay in the house of her husband after the first or second talaq. She should adorn or beautify herself and try to rebuild the marriage. There is room for reconciliation.

When a husband gives his wife three talaqs, the Iddah will be according to the three qurooh as explained above. According to the Hanafi madhab, the husband has to provide the woman with shelter and food etc. The Shafi madhab states the husband has to only provide the woman with shelter and nothing else in this case. In the Hanbali madhab the husband does not have to provide the wife with either of these, shelter or maintenance during the Iddah. During her Iddah the woman is not able to adorn herself, and it must be looked at as a sad time because a marriage has just been totally broken. There is no room for reconciliation because three talaqs have been issued.

Going out to work during Iddah:

If the husband issues the talaq there is no need for the woman to work when the husband is responsible. Islamically she must be aware that the husband is responsible for maintenance during the Iddah period. After the Iddah has expired the husband is no longer responsible for maintenance.

When a woman’s husband passes away, the inheritance a woman receives should maintain and sustain her or the woman’s children (sons) should be responsible.

The affluent community is able to provide the woman with zakaah during her Iddah period. There are isolated cases when a woman is given permission to work during the Iddah period but in most circumstances permission is not given for the woman to work during the Iddah period because there are other alternatives.

If a woman does not observe Iddah correctly either after divorce or after death then she is guilty of a major sin. All the loopholes used to try and justify are unacceptable and regarded as feeble excuses.

If a woman marries someone while she is in Iddah either after divorce or after death, the nikah is null and void and is unaccepted, according to all four madhabs . The man and woman are regarded as living in sin.

If a husband issues a diivorce, a suitor is able to approach the woman who has been issued the divorce – through his mother or sisters etc – and speak about marriage implicitly and not in a direct manner

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