What is ‘Iddah and what is the wisdom behind it?

In the name of Allah,


Iddah literally means number, to keep count[i]. It means a legally prescribed period. The word is used in the Quran and Sunnah. It is also used in situations unrelated to the waiting period for women.


‘Ramaḍân is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard ˹to distinguish between right and wrong˺. So whoever is present this month, let them fast. But whoever is ill or on a journey, then ˹let them fast˺ an equal number of days ˹after Ramaḍân˺. Allah intends ease for you, not hardship, so that you may complete the prescribed period and proclaim the greatness of Allah for guiding you, and perhaps you will be grateful’.[Translation 2:185]



What is ‘Iddah?


Iddah is the time period a woman is obliged to wait after she separates from her husband (due to divorce or his death), during which she is not permitted to get married or be exposed to any marriage proposals. The length is calculated using menstrual cycles, months, or delivery.



What is the ruling of ‘Iddah?


The iddah is a religious obligation for all women who have lost their spouses through a divorce or the death of a spouse. The proof of this obligation is from the Quran, Sunnah, and the consensus of the scholars. Allah says:


‘And divorced women shall wait (as regards their marriage) for three menstrual periods. [Al-Baqarah 2:228] Allah also says:


‘And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait (as regards their marriage) for four months and ten days.” [Al-Baqarah 2:234]


The exception is a woman who has already been divorced before seclusion with her husband. She is not required to observe any “Iddah in her situation. Allah said,


O, believers! If you marry believing women and then divorce them before you touch them, they will have no waiting period for you to count, so give them a ˹suitable˺ compensation, and let them go graciously. [Translation 33.49]


Why was ‘Iddah ordained, and what is the wisdom behind it?


The legislation of the Iddah period is based on divine wisdom. The scholars deduced what they believed to be the cause, based on the fundamental tenets of Islam regarding the preservation of lineages and honor. These are:


  1. If the divorce is reversible, gives the husband a free opportunity to get back together with his wife.
  2. Assessing the womb’s purity (from pregnancy) to prevent lineages from mixing.
  3. If the “Iddah” is for the husband’s passing, it gives the woman the chance to express her commitment to her spouse and the family of her husband while also allowing her to express her sadness[ii].


Shaykh Salih Al- Fawzan said,


‘The right of the fetus is highly observed through the prescription of the waiting period when the divorced wife is pregnant. In general, the waiting period is considered protective of the previous marriage’[iii].


The likelihood of pregnancy is the reason why the ‘iddah in the case of the husband’s death is four months and ten days, according to Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him).

As indicated in the hadeeth of Ibn Mas’ood, which is related in al-Saheehayn and other places:

Narrated `Abdullah:

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), the truthful and truly inspired, said, “Each one of you collected in the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot for an equal period (of forty days) and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period (of forty days) and then Allah sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age, and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed (in the Hereafter). Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allah, a person among you (or a man) may do deeds of the people of the Fire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Fire, but then that writing (which Allah has ordered the angel to write) precedes, and he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it.”[iv]


These three forty-day intervals total four months; however, ten extra days are included to be safe in case some of the months are less than four months and to account for the fact that the motions of the fetus start once the soul is breathed into it.

And Allah is the wisest[v].



Compiled from the sources:


[i] A word for Word meaning of the Quran, Vol 1, Mohar Ali, page 88

[ii] Encyclopedia of Islam (Concerning Muslim Women) Volume – 2, Yusuf Al-Hajj Ahmad, Published By: Darussalam Publishers, Page- 150

[iii] A summary of Islamic Jurisprudence by Dr. Salih Al-Fawazan, Vol 2- page 468

[iv] Sahih al-Bukhari 6594

[v] Fatwa 81139 Islamqa.info

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