Misconceptions About Waiting Period for Widows

By Ayeza Nadeem

I am going to highlight one misconception prevalent in our society about the Idat or waiting period of widows. It is the common belief that a widow cannot leave her house and has to stay inside for a period of 4 month and 10 days. I did some research and my prime source is the holy Quran which is without any ambiguity or complication but unfortunately Muslims as a whole have stopped understanding it and seek other sources to “compliment” it before following the clear instructions. I pity the day when we realize too late that the complaint in the Quran made by our Prophet (s) to Allah was about us when he said,
“O My Lord! These are my people, the ones who had disabled this Qur’an making it of no account.”
Al Furqaan 30 .
The word used in the verse is Mahjoor which means, disabled, abandoned or neglected. The complaint is that Muslims had immobilized Quran like a villager who binds a cow by tying her front foot to her horn. The first verse of this Surah Furqan says,
“Most sacred is He who, step by step, bestowed upon His servant, Furqan, the standard by which to discern the true from the false, so to the entire world it might be a warning”
What we need to do first and foremost is to understand our Book in its actual Arabic text. If that is not possible, then read the translation in a language we understand and see if we get the actual command or not. If both attempts fail than there are Ahadeeth but the only rule to be followed here is that if any Hadeeth contradicts with any command of Quran, then it has to be put aside no matter where we find it or how credible we are told it is. Quran clearly states that our Prophet (s) did not speak from his own will and everything he told us was from Allah alone and He Almighty will never tell him to say anything that contradicts His word in the holy Quran. So we have made this small journey which again brings us back to square one and that is, to know our Quran in a way like we know our text books from which we prepare for our worldly exams. If we don’t know our book, the Furqan, then we will be misguided by ignorant, malicious and arrogant people.
My struggle is against all those who have assumed the position of interpreters of Islam according to their own views. Quran was given to our holy Prophet (s) alone and no one else has the right to elaborate any verse which was not elaborated by him. There are clear black and white commands in the Quran and then there are some grey areas. Allah never forgets anything and if He almighty has chosen to leave a grey area, it means that it has some flexibility for us in that matter. We find in the Quran that Allah has shown strict displeasure in one of the verses about the attitude of asking unnecessary questions about certain matters when the Quran was being revealed because that meant going into details that makes commands difficult for a person to obey. It still hold truth for us because if we are hell bent on going in minute details, which are not there in the first place, we not only make matters complicated for us but also for people coming after us and make Islam too unnatural and hard system of life to follow.
In the matter of Idat or waiting period of widows, there are some practices that are not found in the Quran or the main body of Ahadeeth. Idat or waiting period simply means that a woman who is divorced or widowed has to spend a specific amount of time before they can remarry. That is all there is to it! A divorced woman has to wait for three months and a widow has to wait for four months and ten days. If the woman is pregnant at the time of divorce or when her husband died, she has to wait for the child to be born and as soon as she gives birth, her waiting period ends! It could be more that 3 or 4 months or less than 3 or 4 months. If we claim after reading the specific commands of our Lord that we have still not understood what is being said about Idat then let us see the two books of Ahadeeth; Bukhari and Muslim. All I could find in details was that a widow in her waiting period should not use make up like Surma (used to darken the eyes) or Perfume (even allowed in certain conditions) or very colorful clothes. That is all! There is no command of them not getting out of their homes to run errands or anything about going out but returning before nightfall.
A dear sister of mine painstakingly found a particular hadeeth in Tirmizi on my request which states that once a woman asked permission from our holy Prophet (s) in a particular circumstance, the Prophet (s) misunderstood her for the first time and then again called her and gave the command to stay in her home for the waiting period. It could be an exceptional case and even though I have learnt from different scholars that no verdict in the matter of Ahkamaat can be deducted from a single hadeeth but for arguments sake, let us see what the hadeeth states,
“ Zaynab bint Ka’b ibn ‘Ujrah reported that al-Furay’ah bint Maalik ibn Sinaan, the sister of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, told her that she came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and asked him whether she should go back to her people among Banu Khudrah. Her husband had gone out in pursuit of some rebellious slaves of his, and when he caught up with them at the edge of al-Qadoom, they killed him. She said: “I asked the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) whether I should go back to my family, because my husband had not left me a place to live that belonged to him, or any money for provisions. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said yes, so I started to leave, and I had reached the hujurah (room) or the mosque, when the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) called me or told someone to call me. So I came back, and he asked me, ‘What did you say?’ I repeated the story I had told him about my husband. He said: ‘Stay in your house for the specified length of time.’ So I spent my ‘iddah there, four months and ten days. At the time of ‘Uthmaan, he sent word to me asking about this, so I told him, and he followed what I said and judged in accordance with it.” Muhammad ibn Bashshaar told us that Yahyaa ibn Sa’eed informed us that Sa’d ibn Ishaaq ibn Ka’b ibn ‘Ujrah informed us of something similar. Reported by al-Tirmidhi, who said: This is asaheeh hasan hadeeth. The majority of scholars among the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and others followed this hadeeth and did not allow a widow to move out of her husband’s home until her ‘iddah was over. (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 1125)
They say it’s a “Sahih Hasan” hadeeth, meaning it is very credible and on its basis it is said, “This is the view of all four Imams and most of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH).” “The majority of scholars among the companions of Prophet (s) and others followed this hadeeth and did not allow a widow to move out of her husband’s home until her iddah was over.” Now I don’t know who Muhammad ibn Bashshaar, Yahyaa ibn Sa’eed, Sa’d ibn Ishaaq ibn Ka’b ibn ‘Ujrah or Tirmidhi was or whether the above hadeeth narrated was put in the book by him or not because there is much ambiguity about the compilation and protection of hadeeth. I know one fact for sure and that is, no companion or any Imam had the right or authority to settle a problem according to their own opinion if its answer was already there in the Quran. The Imams were not prophets and never claimed to be prophets so their opinion was to guide someone in a problem in which they found no answer from Quran or Sunnah, to a person who trusted them enough to guide him. It is also my firm belief that the companions of our Prophet (s), especially the 3rd pious Khalifa Usman Ghani (r) who was one of the closest companions and the son-in-law of the holy Prophet (s), knew more about Quran than any other ordinary companions of his time. He would not give a ruling that contradicts a direct verse of the holy Quran. For me, I will put aside this dubious hadeeth and follow my Allah in which He is giving crystal clear command with no ambiguity. Al Baqarah 240,
“And those people who die and leave behind them their wives, they should put in their will that their wives will not be forced out of their homes for one year and their basic needs will be provided to them. But if the women want to leave their homes in their own accord, there shall be no sin on you at whatever they chose for themselves in a lawful manner! And Allah is Azizun Hakeem.” (Allah is Almighty and Wise).
This verse is so profound that it makes me cry whenever I read it and praise Allah for all his Wisdom and Mercy. On one hand, He Almighty is protecting a frail woman from being forced out of her home when her husband/protector dies and she is left alone by commanding that no one should force her out, give her plenty of time to regain her emotional balance in a familiar house, while providing for her basic needs in order to stabilize her life. At the very same time, He Almighty is also giving complete authority in the hands of that widow to do whatever she wants to do according to her wishes with a condition of (Mim Maroof). If she wants to leave the house of husband or in-laws and spend her waiting period at any other place, she is free to do that and the family members are told not to stop her and let her use her better judgment by telling them that they are not responsible for any decision that she makes for herself. Can any sane Muslim, after reading this clear cut verse, imagine that Usman (r) would give a ruling in which the companions “did not allow a widow to move out of her husband’s home until her iddah was over?” I as a borderline Muslim would never believe that because I know that all companions knew their Quran and were not dependent on the narration of one person to give a ruling against a clear verse of Quran. It is as simple for me as that because I have now refused to be brainwashed and led by false scholars and unreliable sources when I have my ever green Quran to counter check authenticity of any statement.
The first command of Allah with regards to a widow is in verses 233/234/235 of Al Baqarah. The commands are not only crystal clear but also the most emancipated ones for women if we compare how widows were treated in other parts of the world like for example, the Sub-continent. A widow was told to take her own life in the form of Satti if her husband died and burn herself in the fire of his Chitta because she had no purpose to her meaningless life after him. If she was not bold enough to take her life, then she could never remarry, always wear colorless clothes, no makeup or participation in any happy occasion and remain at the bottom of a society all her life as an outcast. Islam on the other hand, just asks her to wait for 4 months and 10 days before she can remarry and lead a perfectly normal life. The waiting period is most probably there just to make sure if she is carrying a child and avoid confusion at the paternity of the child if she marries at once after the death of her first husband. This could be the wisdom behind it but the most emancipated command is, even in the waiting period, a woman can receive a proposal from a potential spouse who wants to make sure that she knows he is interested in marring her! The command is not to formalize anything until the waiting period is over. The verse goes,
“Those of you who die and leave behind wives, these widows should keep themselves in check for four months and ten days. When the waiting period is over, there is no sin on you in whatever they decide for themselves in a lawful manner (Bil Maroof) and Allah is aware of whatever you do. And there is no sin on you if you send a proposal of Niqah or hide it in your heart. Allah knows that you will disclose it to them but don’t make a hidden promise apart from saying something in a decent manner. Don’t tie the knot till the waiting period is over. Allah knows what is in your hearts so fear Him. And know that Allah is all Forgiving and Forbearing.”
There is no monasticism in Islam which restricts a woman to shun her routine life and impose undue restrictions on her. For example, if a working woman is widowed and now has to take care of her family on her own, should she just quit her job if she does not get a leave for four month and ten days? Is that natural and helpful in her crisis or should she just continue with her regular job keeping in mind that her dress and overall physical appearance should be dignified and not give a person any wrong ideas about her status? I strongly believe that Allah has clearly left this choice to the widow. If she wants to stay in her home for four month and ten days, it is her decision and it should be respected. If she wants to go outside her home for any valid reason, she also has that God given right to do so. Society, family members or other well-meaning people have no right what so ever to impose any restrictions on her. That is the one thing Allah has strictly forbidden them to do but unfortunately, that is exactly what our society has been doing for ages. Overbearing brothers, sons, uncles or self-proclaimed defenders and preachers of Islam force women to let go of this right given to her by Allah and make her face a most emotionally traumatic time in isolation, away from a normal life, making her believe that it is what Allah wants her to do. Astagfirullah!
I hope we make our Deen clear from ambiguity, know our Quran and take our precise guidance from it. One of the greatest philosopher/thinker of our time, Allama Mohammad Iqbal, who was a most intellectual and learned person, shunned all kinds of books in his mature age and read only the holy Quran for true guidance. He felt that a lot of dust had fallen on the real face of Islam in the times when Islamic Khilafat changed into Kingship. The Muslim kings and their officials in the guise of Islam, used different scholars to change Islamic rulings, create a lot of deviations to suite their own whims and wishes. So much of the stuff we have now in our libraries is untrustworthy and polluted.
Islam is the sweetest, gentlest and most natural way of life chosen for us by our Allah. It was sent to liberate the oppressed and create a balance which makes it easy for people to live a righteous life. It is my firm belief that only by returning to the original, genuine and unpolluted form of guidance in the form of Quran, can we truly please our Lord and practice our Deen in the true spirit in which it was revealed to our holy Prophet (s). May Allah guide our hearts and minds and accept all our sincere deeds. Ameen!

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