What is the length of the iddah period?

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Last Updated on 16th July 2021

Recommendations of Majlis Iftaa regarding the iddah period for women who obtain khul‘a were presented to Huzooraa

In a letter dated 21 November 2017, Huzooraa gave the following reply regarding the jurisprudential aspect of this issue: 

“As far as the jurisprudential aspect of this issue is concerned, I too hold the view that the length of the period of iddah in case of khul‘a and talaq is different. 

“In addition to the arguments put forward in the report by Majlis Ifta, one should also bear in mind that just as there are differences in the constituent elements of talaq and khul‘a, there are also differences in the related commandments. 

“Allah the Exalted has given the right to divorce to the man. As soon as he makes use of this right, the period of iddah commences. On the other hand, khul‘a is the right of a woman which she makes use of through qaza and her period of iddah does not start until qaza has made a decision. The proceedings of qaza include the submission of the report by the woman, the process of the two arbiters [hakamain], hearing of the two parties and the judgment etc. 

“These matters usually take about two to three months to complete. Thus, one of the pearls of wisdom behind keeping the length of the iddah period after khul‘a relatively shorter is that a woman may only be obligated to the extent that her not being pregnant becomes evident.” 

In addition to the above-mentioned reply to the report submitted by Majlis Ifta, later, Huzooraa also shed further light on the difference between the length of the iddah period after talaq and khul‘a and on the length of the iddah period of a widow. Huzooraa said: 

“With regard to the iddah after talaq, there is detailed guidance in the Holy Quran: The length of the iddah under normal circumstances is equal to three menstrual cycles as it is stated:

وَ‭ ‬الۡمُطَلَّقٰتُ‭ ‬يَتَرَبَّصۡنَ‭ ‬بِاَنۡفُسِهِنَّ‭ ‬ثَلٰثَةَ‭ ‬قُرُوۡٓءٍ

“‘And the divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three courses.’ (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.229) 

“As for those women who do not menstruate, the Holy Quran states: 

وَ الّٰٓيِۡ يَئِسۡنَ مِنَ الۡمَحِيۡضِ مِنۡ نِّسَآئِكُمۡ اِنِ ارۡتَبۡتُمۡ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلٰثَةُ اَشۡهُرٍ ۙ وَّ الّٰٓيِۡ لَمۡ يَحِضۡنَ

“‘And if you are in doubt [as to] such of your women as despair of monthly courses, then [know that] the prescribed period for them is three months, and [the same is for] such as have not had their monthly courses [yet].’ (Surah al-Talaq, Ch.65: V.5) 

“As for those women who are pregnant, the Holy Quran states:

وَ‭ ‬اُولَاتُ‭ ‬الۡاَحۡمَالِ‭ ‬اَجَلُهُنَّ‭ ‬اَنۡ‭ ‬يَّضَعۡنَ‭ ‬حَمۡلَهُنَّ

“‘And [as for those] who are with child, their period shall be until they are delivered of their burden.’ (Surah al-Talaq, Ch.65: V.5) 

“The textual precept for the iddah after khul‘a, on the other hand, is based on the ahadith of the Holy Prophetsa

“Hence, it is narrated by Hazrat Ibn Abbasra that during the time of the Holy Prophetsa, the wife of Hazrat Thabit Ibn Qaisra obtained khul‘a from her husband. The Holy Prophetsa instructed her to wait for one menstrual cycle as her iddah period. (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab at-Talaq, Bab maa jaa‘a fil khul‘a)

“Thus, it is evident from the above-mentioned references from the Holy Quran and the ahadith of the Holy Prophetsa that the length of the iddah period for talaq and khul‘a is different. The reasoning and wisdom behind this has been elaborated above. 

“As far as the iddah of a widow is concerned, Allah the Exalted states in the Holy Quran:

وَ الَّذِيۡنَ يُتَوَفَّوۡنَ مِنۡكُمۡ وَ يَذَرُوۡنَ اَزۡوَاجًا يَّتَرَبَّصۡنَ بِاَنۡفُسِهِنَّ اَرۡبَعَةَ اَشۡهُرٍ وَّ عَشۡرًا ۚ فَاِذَا بَلَغۡنَ اَجَلَهُنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ فِيۡمَا فَعَلۡنَ فِيۡۤ اَنۡفُسِهِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ؕ وَ اللّٰهُ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ خَبِيۡرٌ,

“‘And those of you who die and leave wives behind, these [wives] shall wait concerning themselves four months and ten days. And when they have reached the end of their period, no sin shall lie on you in anything that they do with regard to themselves according to what is fair. And Allah is aware of what you do.’ (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.235) 

“There has been an ongoing disagreement since the time of the Companions regarding the iddah of a pregnant widow. Hence, in light of:

وَ‭ ‬اُولَاتُ‭ ‬الۡاَحۡمَالِ‭ ‬اَجَلُهُنَّ‭ ‬اَنۡ‭ ‬يَّضَعۡنَ‭ ‬حَمۡلَهُنَّ

“(Surah al-Talaq, Ch.65: V.5), some Companions were of the opinion that the iddah period of a pregnant widow was to last until the delivery of the child, even if that took place just a moment after the husband’s death. They base their argument on the incident of Hazrat Sabi‘ah al-Aslamiyyahra.” 

The incident is as follows: Hazrat Sabi‘ah al-Aslamiyyahra was the wife of Hazrat Saadra Ibn Khaulah. He passed away on the occasion of Hajjatul Wada‘, while Sabi‘ahra was pregnant. She gave birth a few days later. 

Once she had recovered after the postpartum bleeding, she adorned herself for those who had sent a marriage proposal for her. Abu as-Sanabil Bin Ba‘kakra, a man from the tribe of Abd al-Daar, said to her, “Have you adorned yourself for those who have sent you a marriage proposal and are you hoping for this marriage to go ahead? By God, you cannot marry at all until you have waited for four months and 10 days.” Hazrat Sabi‘ahra states, “Upon this, I went to the Holy Prophetsa and asked him about the matter at hand. The edict that the Holy Prophetsa issued for me was that after the birth of the child, I was free to remarry if I so desired.”

“However, some other companions, which includes Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with all of them, were of the view that in case of the widow being pregnant, either the time until the delivery of the child or the period of four months and ten days – whichever of the two was longer – would constitute as the iddah period. 

“The proponents of the view that iddah period for a pregnant widow ends immediately with the birth of the child, do not have any other argument apart from the incident of Hazrat Sabi‘ah al-Aslamiyyahra

“In any case, there are countless discrepancies in the books of ahadith regarding the narrators of this incident, the name of the husband of Hazrat Sabi‘ah al-Aslamiyyahra, the time of his death, the mode of his death [natural or murder] and the time when Hazrat Sabi‘ah al-Aslamiyyahra gave birth to the child. These discrepancies cast doubt on the authenticity of this incident. 

“Moreover, it is also significant that in the Islamic battles that took place during the time of the Holy Prophetsa and the rightly guided Khilafat, hundreds of Companions of all ages were martyred and there would certainly have been several among them whose wives would have been pregnant at the time of their martyrdom. However, the absence of even a single such incident in the books of history and sirah, showing a pregnant widow remarrying immediately after giving birth, makes this view ambiguous and doubtful. Thus, the clear view of the waiting period being four months and 10 days, as derived from the Holy Quran cannot at all be ignored on the basis of this one incident. 

“Moreover, the Holy Prophetsa, while giving general advice with regard to the mourning of the dead, said in a hadith that, it was not allowed to mourn for a dead person for more than three days except for a widow who should mourn for her deceased husband for four months and 10 days.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitabul Janaiz, Bab ihdadul mar‘ati ala ghairi zaujihaa)

“The Holy Prophetsa has not made any such exception for pregnant women in this hadith that they should mourn until the delivery of the child. 

“Likewise, where the Holy Quran instructs to finish the iddah period with the birth of a child, it is describing the case of talaq. There is no mention of the death of a husband. 

“The Promised Messiahas, while translating the verse:

وَ‭ ‬اُولَاتُ‭ ‬الۡاَحۡمَالِ‭ ‬اَجَلُهُنَّ‭ ‬اَنۡ‭ ‬يَّضَعۡنَ‭ ‬حَمۡلَهُنَّ

“(Surah al-Talaq, Ch.65: V.5) in his book, Arya Dharam, has tied the verse to talaq. Thus, he has guided us that this commandment of the Holy Quran is for those women who have been divorced through talaq and not for widows. Hence, the Promised Messiahas states:

وَأُولَاتُ‭ ‬الْأَحْمَالِ‭ ‬أَجَلُهُنَّ‭ ‬أَنْ‭ ‬يَضَعْنَ‭ ‬حَمْلَهُنَّا

‘This means that the iddah for pregnant women who have been divorced through talaq is that after the talaq, they should refrain from remarrying until the delivery of the child. The wisdom behind this is that if she remarries during pregnancy, then there is a possibility of her being pregnant from the other man as well. This would be tantamount to wasting the previous pregnancy because one will not be able to identify as to which of the two children belongs to which father.’ (Arya Dharam, Ruhani Khaza‘in, Vol. 10, p. 21)

“Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, while interpreting this verse of Surah al-Talaq during his Dars-ul-Quran, has also mentioned the iddah that lasts until delivery, in relation to the women who wait for three months (which is the period prescribed in case of a talaq and not widowhood). He has not mentioned it in relation to the widowed women who spend an iddah period of four months and 10 days. Hence, he states:

‘Such of your women as despair of monthly courses …: It includes those 1. who have reached menopause, 2. who do not menstruate i.e. have not reached the mature age or 3. those who are ill i.e. have an irregular menstrual cycle. 

‘The iddah period for them is three months while the iddah for pregnant women is the length of their pregnancy. Once they have given birth to the child, their iddah will come to an end. 

‘People have extensively debated this issue. They raise the question, whether the iddah would come to an end if the child was born before three months? Some say that the iddah would be at least three months. However, there was an incident during the time of the Holy Prophetsa when a lady gave birth to the child before the three month period had passed and the Holy Prophetsa gave her permission to remarry. Hence, this matter has already been settled.’ (Al Fazl [Qadian], 4 May 1914, p. 14)

“Thus, in my view, a pregnant widow, whose pregnancy continues after four months and 10 days, would complete the entire length of the pregnancy as her iddah. If she delivers the child before four months and 10 days, she would still complete four months and 10 days as her waiting period. My argument is based on that hadith which mentions that it is not allowed to mourn for a dead person for more than three days except for a widow who should mourn for her deceased husband for four months and 10 days. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitabul Jana‘iz, Bab ihdad-ul-mar‘ati ala ghairi zaujihaa)

“This hadith clearly elaborates that although the condition of talaq or pregnancy does not apply here, the waiting period for a widow is prescribed as four months and 10 days. If the intention had only been to see that any possible pregnancy may come to light in that period, then the conditions of talaq could have been applied in this case too. 

“The purpose of Allah the Exalted behind prescribing a period of four months and 10 days seems to be that this period can bring a pregnancy to light and a sufficient period of grieving can also pass. Hence, in case of a talaq, the period of iddah has been prescribed to last until the delivery of the child or three months. However, in the case of a woman being widowed, a period of four months and 10 days will definitely have to be completed. 

“Thus, in my view, the iddah period in case of a woman being widowed is four months and 10 days regardless of whether she is pregnant or not. If she is pregnant, even if she delivers the child before four months and 10 days, her iddah period would still be four months and 10 days for which she would have to wait. 

“This is in accordance with the instruction of the Holy Prophetsa that the period of mourning undertaken by a widow should be four months and ten days. And that is also the commandment of the Holy Quran.”

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