In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 234
“And those who are taken in death among you and leave wives behind – they, (the wives, shall) wait four months and ten (days). And when they have fulfilled their term, then there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable manner. And Allah is (fully) Acquainted with what you do.” [al-Baqarah 2: 234]
This ayah contains a command from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to the wives whose husbands die. The widow should observe a period of ‘Iddah [waiting period] of four months and ten nights, including the cases where the marriage was consummated or otherwise, according to the consensus (of the scholars).
The proof that this ruling includes the case where the marriage was not consummated is included in the general meaning of the ayah. In a narration recorded by Imam Ahmad and the compilers of the Sunan, which At-Tirmidhi graded Saheeh, Ibn Mas’oud radhiAllahu ‘anhu was asked about a man who married a woman, but he died before consummating the marriage. He also did not appoint a Mahr [dowry] for her. They kept asking Ibn Mas’oud about this subject until he said, “I shall give you my own opinion, and if it is correct then it is from Allah, while if it is wrong it is because of my error and because of (the evil efforts of) Satan. In this case, Allah and His Messenger are innocent of my opinion. She has her full Mahr.” In another narration, Ibn Mas’oud said, “She has a similar Mahr to that of the women of her status, without stinginess or extravagance.” He then continued, “She has to spend the ‘Iddah and has a right to the inheritance.” Ma’qil ibn Yasar Ashja’i then stood up and said, “I heard Allah’s Messenger issue a similar judgment for the benefit of Barwa’ bint Washiq.” `Abdullah ibn Mas’oud became delighted upon hearing this statement. In another narration, several men from Ashja’ (tribe) stood up and said, “We testify that Allah’s Messenger issued a similar ruling for the benefit of Barwa’ bint Washiq.”
As for the case of the widow whose husband dies while she is pregnant, her term of ‘Iddah ends when she gives birth, even if it occurs an instant (after her husband dies). This ruling is taken from Allah’s statement: “And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth.” [at-Talaq 65: 4]
There is also a hadeeth from Subay’ah Al-Aslamiyah in the Two Saheehs, through various chains of narration. Her husband, Sa’ad ibn Khawlah, died while she was pregnant and she gave birth only a few nights after his death. When she finished her nifas [postnatal period], she beautified herself for those who might seek to engage her (for marriage). Then, Abu Sanabil ibn Ba’kak came to her and said, “Why do I see you beautified yourself, do you wish to marry? By Allah! You will not marry until the four months and ten nights have passed.” Subay’ah said, “When he said that to me, I collected my garments when night fell and went to Allah’s Messenger and asked him about this matter. He said that my ‘Iddah had finished when I gave birth and allowed me to get married if I wished.”
The Wisdom behind legislating the ‘Iddah
Sa’eed ibn Musayyib and Abu Al-‘Aliyah stated that the wisdom behind making the ‘Iddah of the widow four months and ten nights is that the womb might contain a fetus. When the woman waits for this period, it will become evident if she is pregnant. Similarly, there is a hadeeth in the Two Saheehs narrated by Ibn Mas’oud stating:
إنَّ خَلْقَ أَحَدِكُمْ يُجْمَعُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا نُطْفَةً، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذلِكَ، ثُمَّ يُبْعَثُ إِلَيْهِ الْمَلَكُ فَيَنْفُخُ فِيهِ الرُّوح
“(The creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of his mother in forty days in the form of a seed, and next he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and next a morsel of flesh for a similar period. Then, Allah sends an angel who is ordered to breathe life unto the fetus.”
So, these are four months and ten more days to be sure, as some months are less (than thirty days), and the fetus will then start to show signs of life after the soul has been breathed into it. Allah knows best.
The ‘Iddah of the Slave Mother whose Master dies
We should state here that the ‘Iddah of the slave mother is the same in the case of death, as the ‘Iddah of the free woman. Imam Ahmad reported that ‘Amr ibn Al-‘Aas said, “Do not confuse the Sunnah of our Prophet for us. The ‘Iddah of the mother, who is also a servant, when her master dies, is four months and ten nights.”
Mourning is required during the ‘Iddah of Death
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “And when they have fulfilled their term, then there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable manner.” This ayah indicates that mourning for the dead husband is required until the ‘Iddah is finished. It is also reported in the Two Saheehs that Umm Habibah and Zaynab bint Jahsh radhiAllahu ‘anhum narrated that Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
لَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرَأَةٍ تُؤْمِنُ بِاللهِ وَالْيَوْم الآخِر أن تُحِدَّ عَلى مَيِتٍ فَوْقَ ثَلَاثٍ، إِلَّا عَلى زَوْجٍ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرًا
“It is not lawful for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to mourn for more than three days for any dead person except her husband, for whom she mourns for four months and ten days.”
It is reported in the Two Saheehs that Umm Salamah radhiAllahu ‘anha said that a woman said, “O Messenger of Allah! My daughter’s husband died and she is complaining about her eye, should we administer kohl in her eye?” He said, “No,” several times upon repeating this question. He then said:
إنَّمَا هِيَ أَرْبَعَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرٌ، وَقَدْ كَانَتْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ تَمْكُثُ سَنَة
“It is four months and ten (nights)! During the Jahiliyyah, one of you would mourn for an entire year.”
Zaynab the daughter of Umm Salamah said (about the pre-Islamic era of ignorance), “When the woman’s husband died, she would go into seclusion and would wear the worst clothes she had. She would refrain from wearing perfume or any adornments until a year passed. She would then come out of seclusion and would be given dung that she would throw. Then an animal would be brought out, a donkey, a sheep, or a bird. Then some blood would be drained from it, usually resulting in its death.”
In short, the mourning required from a wife whose husband dies, includes not using beautification aids, such as wearing perfume and the clothes and jewelry that encourage the men to seek marriage from the woman. All widows must observe this period of mourning whether they are young, old, free, servant, Muslim or disbeliever, as the general meaning of the ayah indicates.
When the ‘Iddah finishes that there is no sin on the wali [guardian] of the woman as to what the woman chooses to do with herself Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu commented, “If the woman is divorced or if her husband dies and then her ‘Iddah term ends, there is no sin that she beautifies herself, so that she becomes ready for marriage proposals. This is the way ‘that is just and honorable.’” It was reported that Muqatil bin Hayyan gave the same explanation. Ibn Jurayj related that
Mujahid said that there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable manner refers to allowed and pure (honorable) marriage.
‘Iddah is the healing stage for woman. It is a mercy from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He revealed ayaat in the Qur’an whereby instruction has been given to the woman’s family and the community at large to not harm a person who is already undergoing intense mental and emotional hardship.
The ‘Iddah is her private time to reflect on our life, to mourn the death of her husband and to decide what she wants to do with her (in an acceptable way).
During this time she is prevented from stopping out of the house not because she is a captive but so that she is protected from the taunts and hurtful comments of the people. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala provides the woman privacy and solace, SubhanAllah!
Some might ask why the ‘Iddah is four months long when pregnancy can be determined within days or weeks of conceiving. Remember that the Qur’an is not exclusively for the rich and those who have access to the latest medical resources. There are still millions of people across the globe who are deprived of clean water and basic healthcare facilities. The Qur’an gives a general rule – wait for four months – to confirm whether one is pregnant or not, thereby preserving the child’s lineage.
The woman is to spend her ‘Iddah in her husband’s home so that she can cherish the memories she made their living with her spouse. She should not be thrown out right with the husband’s death. It is also incorrect to take start talking about division of property while the woman is still mourning. Let her grieve her pain. Do not her in arguments and court matters. Give her some time to plan her life.
If she wishes to remarry, she should be allowed to do so. She should not be criticized or harmed for her decision. Remember that in Islam you are encouraged to preserve your chastity than live as an independent person where there is a Fitnah of being harmed. When a woman loses her husband, people treat her as a property. In the days of ignorance, she would be inherited by the husband’s brothers, sons and even fathers-in-law. Islam protected a woman’s honor and instructed the guardians to leave her alone. She is free to take decisions about her life, and as long as it is not something displeasing in Shari’ah the family should support her in her decision about her life.
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