The widows have to observe the following directives of the Sharī’ah
during the ‘Iddah (i.e. waiting period).
Generally the ‘Iddah for divorced women are three menstrual cycles. However,
in case of widows the period is extended and stipulated as four months and ten
days (Al-Baqarah 2: 234). If a woman is pregnant, whether she is a widow or is
divorced, the waiting period is prescribed to be till the birth of the child
(Al-Talāq 65: 6). The ‘Iddah is generally believed to have been prescribed so
that the couple can get together again (Rujū‘) or, in case of husband’s death,
women can mourn the death of their husbands. However, we believe that the basic
purpose of the ‘Iddah is to make sure that the lady is not pregnant. This is
corroborated by the fact that there is no ‘Iddah for the woman who is divorced
by her husband before the consummation of the marriage. In normal circumstances,
a believer is supposed to divorce his wife keeping in view her menstrual cycle
and thus the status of the womb becomes ultimately clear after three menstrual
cycles – the period beginning after divorce which is given in a period of purity
without having sex.
Hence the requirement to observe ‘Iddah is to determine pregnancy. As an
obvious corollary, ‘Iddah period would not be observed where it can be evidently
determined after the demise of the husband that the wife is not pregnant.
The extended period of ‘Iddah in the case of a widow denotes extra care taken
because death can strike anyone anytime. While in usual cases of divorce, the
divorce is ordained to be given in the period of purity, the separation caused
by death can be anytime. Since a couple could possibly have had a conjugal
contact – where divorce is not planned rather separation is caused by death –
Allah has increased the period of ‘Iddah so that pregnancy can be determined.
There is no specific directive of the Sharī‘ah regarding dress code or
jewelry for the widow. She may express her feelings of grief in an appropriate
manner. She should also respect the feelings of the parents whose son has been
lost or of the sisters whose brother has passed away.