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Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men


10.  Widows


from the Qur’an, major hadith collections and Islamic jurisprudence




        From the Qur’an


The Qur’an says that when a man dies, his wife is to stay apart from men for four months and ten nights. After that, she is free from this restriction and may engage in any lawful activity.[1] A man should leave behind enough provision for his wife to house and maintain herself for one year. But if his widow chooses to leave his house, there is no blame on her dead husband for that.[2]


The Qur’an forbade any man from marrying one of Muhammad’s widows.[3]




From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim




Iddah period of mourning for dead husband (hadith)


Maintenance of widows (hadith)



Iddah period of mourning for dead husband (hadith). A widow cannot remarry until her waiting period (iddah) is completed. The hadiths say that the waiting period (iddah) before marriage after the death of one’s husband,[4] which is the mourning period for a husband,[5] is four months and ten days. However, if a woman is pregnant when her husband dies, she may remarry as soon as the baby is born.[6]


Hadiths report that Muhammad married Safiyya, a captured woman whose husband had been killed in battle, after waiting only for her menstrual period to end.[7]


A man should not declare his desire to marry a woman during her iddah period after her husband’s death. He may, however, hint at it and she should only hint that she is open to that suggestion. However, if she makes a clear promise of marriage at that time and then they marry, the marriage is valid.[8]


Mourning by a woman for anyone other than her husband is limited to three days.[9]


A woman must abstain from adorning herself during the mourning period of either three days[10] or four months and ten days.[11]


Women mourning for their husbands were forbidden not only to use kohl[12] or collyrium[13] on their eyes but also to use perfume or wear dyed clothing.[14] They were also forbidden to follow a funeral procession.[15] Hadiths say that Muhammad forbade a woman to apply kohl[16] or collyrium[17] to her eyes during the period of mourning for her husband though she was suffering from an eye disease and these were considered beneficial treatments.


According to the hadiths, women were forbidden by Muhammad to wail loudly over their dead husbands[18] and other people as well.[19] This directive was not very successful.[20] Muhammad said that wailing is one of the things that was done in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance that Muslims persist in doing and that a wailing woman must repent or she will be punished for her wailing on the Day of Resurrection.[21]


Muhammad said that a dead person is tortured when there is weeping over that person.[22] But Muhammad’s wife Aisha said that such punishment of the dead caused by weeping relatives applied only to non-Muslims[23] or specifically to Jews.[24] Some hadiths report that Aisha said that Muhammad did not say that weeping causes the dead person to suffer. Rather, Muhammad was just saying that the dead person,[25] specifically, a Jew,[26] was suffering because of sins committed in life and the person’s relatives are weeping.


Muhammad permitted a woman to wail over the relatives of another woman to reciprocate for the wailing that the other woman had done for her relative.[27] Similarly, a woman was permitted to wail over members of another tribe which had helped her wail in pre-Islamic times.[28] Of course, crying or weeping over the dead was permitted, as Muhammad himself wept over the dead.[29]



Maintenance of widows (hadith). The Qur’an requires a man to provide enough for his widow to house and maintain herself for a year after he dies. But if his widow chooses to leave his house, there is no blame on her dead husband for that.[30] According to the hadiths, however, the responsibility of the husband to provide for his wife’s housing for a year after he died was abrogated[31] by the rules concerning inheritance.[32]




From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§):  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller


Following the death of her husband, a widow begins a waiting period (iddah). Reliance of the Traveller says that the waiting period after husband’s death is four months and ten days. If woman is pregnant, waiting period ends at the birth of the child.[33]


The scholars* agree that it is forbidden to marry a woman during her waiting period (iddah) following divorce or the death of her husband.[34] According to Reliance of the Traveller, it is also forbidden to make a direct proposal of marriage to a woman during her waiting period following divorce or the death of her husband.[35] When the waiting period following a pronouncement of divorce is completed, the woman may marry another man.


The scholars agree that mourning is required for Muslim women and for women of the People of the Book during the iddah following their husbands’ deaths. They also agree that a woman who is a disbeliever is not required to mourn her husband’s death. Malik says that a female slave is not required to mourn her dead master even if she bore his child, while Abu Hanifa says that a married slave woman is not required to mourn her dead husband.[36]


During mourning, a woman is forbidden from adorning herself in such a way as to attract men, such as by wearing jewelry or colorful clothing other than black. Using kohl to darken the eyes is prohibited when a woman is in mourning unless it is medically necessary.[37] Al-Shafiʽi adds that a widow in mourning is not to use perfume.[38]


Reliance of the Traveller (Shafiʽi school) says that weeping for someone who is about to die is permitted, but weeping after the person’s death should be avoided.[39] Saying a eulogy for a dead person or showing such signs of mourning as lamenting loudly or tearing one’s clothing are not permitted.[40] While men are encouraged to visit graves,[41] it is offensive for women to do so.[42]


According to Reliance of the Traveller, a widow is entitled to housing but not to maintenance (food, clothing) during the waiting period (iddah) following her husband’s death.[43]




*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.



Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.


Updated October 12, 2016


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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.

[1] QR 2:234

[2] QR 2:240

[3] QR 33:53

[4] BK 5:59:326, BK 6:60:54

[5] BK 2:23:370, BK 2:23:371, BK 7:63:251, BK 7:63:252, BK 7:63:254, BK 7:63:257, ML 9:3539, ML 9:3540, ML 9:3544, ML 9:3550-3551

[6] BK 5:59:326, BK 6:60:55, BK 6:60:432, BK 7:63:237, BK 7:63:239, BK 7:63:240, BK 7:63:241, ML 9:3536, ML 9:3537-3538

[7] BK 3:34:437, BK 4:52:143, BK 5:59:522

[8] BK 7:62:56

[9] BK 2:23:369, BK 2:23:370, BK 2:23:371, BK 7:63:251, BK 7:63:252, BK 7:63:253, BK 7:63:254, BK 7:63:255, BK 7:63:257, ML 9:3539, ML 9:3540, ML 9:3544, ML 9:3545-3546, ML 9:3549, ML 9:3550-3551

[10] ML 9:3544

[11] ML 9:3544, ML 9:3547-3548

[12] BK 7:63:254, BK 7:63:255

[13] ML 9:3550-3551, ML 9:3552

[14] BK 7:63:254, BK 7:63:255, ML 9:3550-3551, ML 9:3552

[15] BK 7:63:254

[16] BK 7:63:251, BK 7:63:252, ML 9:3539

[17] ML 9:3539, ML 9:3541, ML 9:3542, ML 9:3543

[18] ML 1:187-188, ML 4:2007

[19] BK 2:23:392, BK 2:23:393, BK 9:89:322, ML 1:186, ML 4:2034-2035, ML 4:2036, ML 4:2037

[20] BK 2:23:392, BK 2:23:393, ML 4:2034-2035, ML 4:2036, ML 4:2037

[21] ML 4:2033

[22] BK 2:23:375, BK 2:23:377, BK 2:23:378, BK 2:23:379, BK 2:23:380, BK 2:23:391, ML 4:2015, ML 4:2016-2017, ML 4:2019, ML 4:2020, ML 4:2021, ML 4:2022, ML 4:2023-2024, ML 4:2025, ML 4:2026, ML 4:2027-2028, ML 4:2029, ML 4:2030-2031-2032

[23] BK 2:23:375, ML 4:2022, ML 4:2023-2024

[24] BK 2:23:376, ML 4:2020

[25] ML 4:2027-2028

[26] ML 4:2026, ML 4:2029

[27] BK 6:60:415

[28] ML 4:2038

[29] BK 2:23:391, ML 4:2008-2009, ML 4:2010

[30] QR 2:240

[31] BK 6:60:53, BK 6:60:54, BK 7:63:256

[32] BK 6:60:54, BK 7:63:256

[33] RT n9.11 (page 569)

[34] DJP (Vol 2, pages 54-56), RT m6.9 (page 530)

[35] RT m2.12-m2.13 (page 515)

[36] DJP 23 (Vol 2, pages 150-152)

[37] DJP 23 (Vol 2, pages 150-152)

[38] SR 162 (page 172)

[39] RT g6.3 (page 243)

[40] RT g6.4 (page 243)

[41] RT g5.8 (page 241)

[42] RT g5.9 (pages 241-242)

[43] RT m11.10 (page 546)