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IDDAT Uner Muslim Personal Law

Iddat or Iddah, is one of the mandatory rituals under Muslim personal law that every married Muslim woman is bound to follow. In simple words, Iddat basically means period of waiting or chastity that a married Muslim women is supposed to observe, following the separation from her husband either due to death of the husband or divorce. And only after observing the mentioned period, she is allowed to remarry again. In other words, her second marriage, if she does so will only be held lawful when she successfully observes the following period of waiting or chastity.

Section 2(b) of Muslim Women Act, 1986 deals with Iddat period of woman in case of divorce.

Now, the Iddat period differs in various cases, as mentioned below:

When the marriage is dissolved due to divorce:
In cases, where husband and wife are separated through divorce, and have had physical contact before getting separated then in this case, the woman has to observe Iddat for three months. It is said by the jurists that three cycles of menstruation are required for determining that the woman is pregnant or not and therefore the period is kept for three months. And in case, she is pregnant during divorce then she has to observe Iddat for till she delivers the child. Also, one thing is to be kept in mind that woman is entitled to maintenance by husband only till the Iddat period gets over according to the Muslim law.

When the marriage is dissolved due to the death of the male partner:
In cases, where the husband dies and the marriage gets dissolve, then the woman is supposed to observe Iddat for the time period of four months and ten days and been in physical contact or not is not in the question. And if the woman becomes pregnant during that period, then woman is supposed to observe Iddat for the period of one year, that is nine months in order to deliver the child and three months of Iddat.

When the husband dies, and the woman is still in her Iddat period, when Iddat is due to the divorce.

As mentioned above, in the case of separation due to divorce the woman has to observe Iddat period of three months and in case, the husband dies during that Iddat period then a fresh Iddat of four months and ten days will start, right from the date of the death.

Now let us discuss in what all places the woman can observe Iddat.

When the woman's husband dies, or the marriage get dissolved due to divorce then she has to observe the Iddat period in the same house where she was living permanently during the death of her husband or divorce.

In case, when the woman is not at her permanent home, for example, out for some work or is travelling and meanwhile gets the news of her husband's demise, then she has to return to her permanent house as soon as possible in order to observe the Iddat period.

In case, she gets the news of his husband's demise when she was paying visitation or was living in her parents' home then also, she has to come back to her permanent house and observe Iddat period there. She is not allowed to observe Iddat at her parents' home as under Muslim law, the parents' home is not considered as permanent house.

Therefore, in any case, whatsoever, the woman is supposed to observe the Iddat period in the permanent house that is his husband's house. No matter where she is, she has to come back to her permanent house.

Now, let us know that when does the period of Iddat starts, so in case of death of the husband it starts right from the date of death, it does not depend on when the news has reached the woman, she has to start right from the date of death and same goes with that of divorce, the woman has to start right from the date of divorce.

Now in case if she gets to know about her husband's demise, post the date of the death, then she is required to start observing Iddat for rest of the days, and in case she gets to know about it post Iddat period for whatsoever reasons, then she is not required to observe it.

And the list of dos and don'ts does not end her, apart from all the things mentioned above, there are certain rules and regulations that the woman observing Iddat has to follow.
The woman is forbidden or prohibited to do many things while observing Iddat, the term which is often used for the things that are strictly prohibited is known as Haram under Muslim law.
So, the following things are considered Haram under Muslim law, that is if the woman does any of the following things, then it will be considered Haram.

The woman observing Iddat is not allowed to do makeup, apply lipstick etc. in simple words the woman is supposed to not do anything to beautify herself in any way whatsoever.
The woman is not allowed to dress herself up nicely, put on silk clothes or blingy or gaudy dresses.

The woman is not allowed to step outside the house until she successfully accomplishes the Iddat period, she has to be inside the house whole time, surrounded by the four walls of the house all the time.

She is supposed to mourn her dead husband through praying to Allah.

She is not allowed to attend any funerals; be it be of any close relatives or neighbors.

Some of the people even prohibits woman to see herself in the mirror or experience the moon in the name of Iddat period.

Let us discuss, the major reasons or motive behind such period.

The first reason or motive is to determine whether the divorced or widowed woman is pregnant or not. This is one of the most important reason behind observing Iddat period, because if woman will marry soon after separating from her husband either due to death or divorce and gets pregnant then it would be difficult to determine the real father of the baby. And therefore, it is made sure that the woman follows the Iddat period.

The second reason to make woman observe the Iddat period is, to provide the husband and wife with another opportunity to resolve the issues, that caused them to opt for divorce, as family has a very great value in Islam. So, this period gives enough time to the couple to rethink and prevent family form breaking apart.

The third reason to observe the Iddat period is to provide the widowed woman enough time to mourn to the demise of her husband and to make sure that the woman does not marry soon after the demise of her husband and do not mock the society, as according to them, the society will look down upon the woman who does so.

So far, I have discussed all the important provisions with respect to the matter of Iddat, and I do not think that this ritual is any way benefiting the married women of Muslim community.
Let us discuss why, according to me, marriage is a very sacred, auspicious and important part of one's life, and dissolution of the same due to partners death is not in the hands of the either partner, dissolution of the same through divorce on the other hand is in hands of human beings, but when marriage does not work, due to any circumstances the partners have all the right to dissolve the same and under Muslim law, post dissolution by either of them, the women has to pass through the Iddat period, and she is allowed to remarry post the Iddat period which according to me, is not fair with the Muslim women at all.

The reason being firstly, it is only the women who has to bear the Iddat, and no such provision is there for men, the contention here is not why men are not subjected to such provisions, the contention is why only women are supposed to observe such period. Apart from this, the strict rules, and regulations that does not play any role in favor of women such as like that of confinement to house only, not allowed to step a foot outside, not allowed to wear makeup, not allowed to attend funerals. These regulations are so dreadful as they violate the women right to life and liberty, there is no reasonable justification at all behind performing such rituals and imposing restrictions.

The demise of one's husband is not something that a wife can foresee and mourning to the same is completely justified but not by confining her to the house, and in cases where the woman turns out to be pregnant, post-divorce then she has to stay in the house for whole one year that is three months for Iddat and nine months for pregnancy, and in case of death, she has to observe Iddat till she delivers which is not justified at all.

We cannot deny the fact that there are women who are not financially independent and are not able to stand for themselves and therefore they need some sort of financial support from their husband, but provision of allowing maintenance only till the period of Iddat is again not justifiable. The women are also not allowed to remarry other men, before completing the Iddat period, as it will be considered irregular under Muslim law, is again violation of their rights. In this era, where women are and trying to be independent themselves, socially and financially, such regulations and provisions are nothing but hurdles in their life. So, according to me the ritual of Iddat is nothing but a bane in lives of women.

Let us discuss some case laws, relating with provisions of Iddat.
In case of Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum[1], the wife had divorced and had five children, and was still unmarried, she was not able to support herself and her children and thus filed a petition for maintenance, under section 125 of CrPC[2]. It was held that the wife is entitled to maintenance by husband post Iddat period if she is not able to support herself. The husband argued that this section is in conflict with Muslim law, the court stated that there is no conflict because even Muslim law states to maintain the wife, but however in any case if former conflicts latter, then section of CrPC will prevail as it is secular law. And thus laid two grounds on the basis of which the woman can claim compensation even after Iddat. That is when she is not remarried and is not able to support herself in any condition.

But unfortunately, soon after this decision the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 came into existence and tend to nullify the above judgment.

"According to the section 3(1)(a) and section 4(1) of the Muslim Women Act, a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to "reasonable and fair provision" and maintenance by her husband only "within iddat period" and if she is not able to support herself after iddat, her relatives would be asked to take her. And if she does not have relatives who could maintain her, the Judicial Magistrate would order the Waqf Board of the state to pay her maintenance under section 4(2) of the Muslim Women Act."[3]

Many cases like that of A. A. Abdulla v. A. B. Mohmuna Saiyadbhai,[4] ,Danial Latifi v. Union of India[5], Shabana Bano v Imran Khan,[6] have given judgements in favor of women relating to matters of maintenance.

Also, Delhi high court in one of its judgement held that the second marriage during Iddat period is not void.
So, we can clearly observe that the Indian courts have done enough to uplift the women, by giving judgements in their favor, but still there is long way to go as patriarchal society still prevails.

  1. Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, 1985 AIR 945, 1985 SCR (3) 844
  2. (Visited on June 5, 2021)
  3. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.
  4. A. A. Abdulla v. A. B. Mohmuna Saiyadbhai, AIR 1988 Guj 141, (1988) 1 GLR 452.
  5. Danial Latifi v. Union of India, 2001 SC SCC 740.
  6. In Shabana Bano v Imran Khan, (2010) 1 SCC 666.

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