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What Are the Iddah Rules for Widows?

09 December, 2023
Q Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. My relative has recently passed away. My question is this: What is his widow supposed to do? We have been told that for four months and ten days, she must wear white clothing and also that she must not put any oil in her hair. Is this an obligation under Islamic law? Jazakum Allah khayran.


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger. 

In this fatwa:

  • Immediately after the death of her husband, a widow should observe iddah for four months and ten days.
  • In case, the widow is pregnant then her iddah should continue until she delivers.
  • During that time, she is not allowed to wear kohl, perfumes, or put on colorful dresses. But she is allowed to wear light perfume when taking a bath after menses.

In his response to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: 

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Your relative is supposed to observe a mourning period of four months and ten days. This is mandated by the order of Allah in the Qur’an, “Widows shall wait, keeping themselves apart (before they remarry) for a period of four months and ten days, after their husbands’ death. When they have completed this set time, you will not be blamed for anything they may reasonably choose to do with themselves. Allah is fully aware of what you do.” (Al-Baqarah 2:234)

The above period is applicable only to those who are not pregnant, for in the case of those who are pregnant, “As for pregnant women, their term will be the time they deliver their burden.” (At-Talaq 65:4)

The purpose of iddah (waiting period) is manifold: While allowing widows sufficient time for expressing grief of separation and time for healing and overcoming the loss of their life partner, it stresses the solemn nature of marriage; it also precludes and rules out forging of unlawful or secret liaisons or unions, besides ensuring there is no pregnancy from previous marriage.

The following are the iddah rules for widows:

1. A widow must observe the above waiting period in a state of mourning, while avoiding all forms of merrymaking;

2. She should preferably spend as much time as possible at their marital residence; however, if she is alone and is afraid of being alone due to various circumstances, she may move into the house of her closest male relative such as father, son, brother, or uncle.

3. She should avoid all zeenah (beautification) and shun donning colorful and attractive clothes and jewelry. She should keep to her simple appearance, shunning makeup and beautifications.

4. She must never entertain any marriage proposal until the waiting period is over.

5. She is allowed to go out of her home for her essential chores such as groceries, medical treatment, regular walks, or even simply to chat with her neighbors in order to fight boredom and loneliness, so long as she retires to her home for sleeping.

We read in the sources that in the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud, “the widows of the martyrs came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and enquired, whether they can venture out of their own homes to chat with the women of the neighborhood in order to fight boredom and loneliness. … The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Of course you can go out and chat as much as you want, but you should retire to your homes for sleeping!”

6. If a widow is working or a student or teacher, she is allowed to go to work or school as long as she returns home upon finishing her work or school.

7. The majority of scholars and jurists are of the opinion that widows, while observing their iddah, are not allowed to travel for Hajj or Umrah; but a minority of them, including `A’ishah, the Mother of the Faithful, are of the opinion that they are allowed to do so provided they observe the proper etiquettes associated with iddah while venturing out.

Having stated the requirements of iddah, it is important to point out that there are a number of misgivings or misunderstandings among ordinary people concerning the dos and don’ts during iddah, most of them, however, have no basis in the authentic teachings of Islam: Among them are the following:

1. A widow in iddah must never talk to any men. This is not correct; she is allowed to talk to men, regardless of whether they are her close relatives or not, so long as they observe the proper etiquettes and manners.

2. She must confine herself to the sanctum of her home. This is also absolutely incorrect, as we have already stated above that widows observing iddah during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were in the habit of going out to chat with their neighbors and he approved it.

3. She is not allowed to put any oil in her hair. This is also incorrect, as she is allowed to use ordinary oils. She is only required to avoid scented oils, sprays, perfumes, and fragrances.

4. Finally, it is important to point out that Islam, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has repeatedly told us is “simple and easy to follow; whoever makes it hard will only be defeating himself.”

 Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.