Women: Waiting period - reasons for regulating the period

Q711 :1. After a relative of mine was divorced, she had a new proposal. Because of certain circumstances, the man who has put in the proposal is in a hurry to get the marriage officially recorded. The problem is that she has not yet finished her waiting period. Since the waiting period is intended to establish whether there is a pregnancy or not, is it not practical to establish that fact through pregnancy tests? If she determines that she is not pregnant, can she go ahead with the marriage, before the waiting period is over? 2. You have explained in the past the restrictions that apply to a woman in her waiting period. I am rather confused about the duration of the waiting period of a woman who is divorced when she has attained old age, say, when she is 70. Is she to observe the same waiting period as a widow of the same age, i.e. three months? If the answer is in the negative, could you please explain the reasons. I understand that in the case of a woman in the child-bearing age, the waiting period for a divorcee is shorter than that of a widow. Your explanation of this question in detail will be highly appreciated.


A711 : 1. While it is true that an important purpose of the waiting period is to establish whether a woman is pregnant or not, it is by no means the only purpose. In this particular point, there is a difference between the waiting period of a widow and that of a divorcee. In the case of a widow, the waiting period is longer in order to be absolutely certain whether there is a pregnancy or not. Moreover, the waiting period shows that the widow values her past relationship with her deceased husband. She does not immediately join with another man. In the case of a divorcee, there are certain rules of paramount importance. To start with, the waiting period is not calculated by months or days, but by periods of menstruation or cleanliness from it. If the woman is not pregnant, her waiting period extends for three menstrual periods. If she is too old or too young to have the period, then she waits for three months. If she is pregnant, her waiting extends until she has given birth. Whichever is the length of a woman's waiting period, she stays during that time in her husband's home. He is not allowed to turn her out and she need not leave. She is entitled to full maintenance by her husband throughout this period. He has the right to have the marriage resumed if both agree on that. In this case, they need not have a new marriage contract or have a fresh dower. This is a very important factor. When a woman is in her waiting period, she may not receive a new proposal by anyone. Nor is a man allowed to promise marriage to a woman who is in her waiting period. All that he can do is to give an implicit hint. On this basis, the answer to your particular question is that a doctor's opinion may establish that a divorcee is not pregnant, but that is not sufficient for her to have a new marriage. The rights which her first husband continues to have during her waiting period cannot be easily dispensed with. Even if he agrees to her new marriage, the rules cannot be changed. 2. The waiting period of a divorcee should not be confused with that of a widow. There are differences between the two in several respects. What is common to both is the fact that while they last, no new marriage can be initiated. The duration of the waiting period is the same for both a widow and a divorcee only when the woman concerned is pregnant, or when the marriage has not been consummated. In the case of pregnancy, the waiting period lasts until delivery. If the marriage is terminated before consummation, whether by divorce or by the death of the husband, no waiting period is observed. Otherwise, the rules that apply in the two cases differ a great deal. In the case of a widow who is not pregnant, her waiting period is four months and ten days. This applies whether she is of the child-bearing age, an old woman past her menopause, a young girl who has not yet attained the age of puberty, or a woman who has missed her period and may be in the early days of pregnancy. In this last case, she would either prove to be pregnant and wait until she delivers, or that she is not pregnant by having her menstruation period, and then she would wait the same as other women, i.e. four months and ten days. At no time the waiting period of a widow may last three moths only. In the case of divorce the duration of the waiting period differs according to her personal circumstances. In the normal situation of a woman who is in the child-bearing age and who has her menstruation period regularly or irregularly, the waiting period lasts for either three menstruation or three periods of cleanliness from menstruation. We have explained in our review of the various rules that are applicable to divorce that when a man wishes to divorce his wife, he must choose the time so that divorce takes place when the woman can start her waiting period immediately. This means that it is forbidden to divorce one's wife when she is in menstruation or in a period of cleanliness during which they have had intercourse. If we take the interpretations that a divorced woman waits for three periods of cleanliness, then her waiting period lasts until she has completed her third cleanliness and started her third menstruation after her divorce. If she is to wait for three menstruation, then her waiting period is not completed until she has finished her third menstruation. Some scholars are of the opinion that the point of completion is the stoppage of the discharge, while others say that the waiting period is over only when she has performed the grand ablution by taking a bath or a shower. In case the divorced woman is either too old or too young to have the period, which means that she is either past menopause or has not attained puberty yet, then her waiting period lasts for three months. This shows clearly that there is considerable difference between the cases of a divorcee and a widow in these age brackets. A widow will continue her waiting period for four months and ten days, while a divorcee waits only three months. Our reader asks why the two cases are not the same. This is the wrong line of question to ask. With regard to legislation enacted by God, we do not ask why this is made so or should it not have been made differently. We simply accept it knowing that God only wants what is best for us. We certainly try to understand the wisdom behind it, but when that is not readily apparent we still implement it. The waiting period of a divorcee does not only ensure that the divorced woman is not pregnant, it also gives the separating couple a chance to reconcile their differences and reunite in marriage. In the case of an elderly lady, who may be 70 years of age as our reader suggests, there is simply no chance of her being pregnant. She might have not had her period for 20 years or more. Still she has to wait for three moths. Who knows but her stay at her husband's home may be necessary to give her and her husband a chance to review their situation and iron out their differences. If that elderly lady has lost her husband, she waits for four months and ten days, not to ensure that she is not pregnant but to complete a process of marriage that might have lasted for 50 years or more. She may have some claims to make and she needs to be in mourning for her deceased husband. In both cases of divorce or death of the husband, the waiting period of a pregnant woman ends with delivery, whether this takes place after a few days or nine months. This is only right because the birth of the child creates a totally new situation which must be taken into consideration. A divorcing husband will have to consider the new position particularly with regard to the upbringing of the new-born. The fact that his former wife's waiting period lapses with her delivery puts on him an additional pressure to decide on whether or not he wants to reinstate his marriage. In the case of a widow, different factors apply but these are equally important. What we have to understand is that God's law is specially designed to promote the well-being of mankind. What is more is that God looks at what serves the interest of all individuals concerned as well as the interests of the whole community. We have already mentioned that a widow should remain in mourning during her waiting period. What I would like to stress is that mourning in Islam does not have the type of restrictions that social traditions impose in many communities. A Muslim accepts that death occurs by God's will and that it is merely a prelude to a new and different type of life. If the deceased has spent his life on earth in a manner that is likely to earn him God's pleasure, then death means a step toward a happier and more enjoyable life. What is the point of mourning in such a situation? If he was a different type of person, then he does not deserve that anybody should be in mourning for him. Hence the Prophet says: "It is not lawful for any woman who believes in God and the Last Day to be in mourning for more than three days except for her husband whom she mourns for four months and ten days." The mourning then has some social and family aspects that are different from those of the traditions of other communities. Needless to say that a divorcee is not in mourning although some scholars prefer that she observes the restrictions of mourning as well. I would like to stress the fact that there is more to the waiting period than the proof of pregnancy or otherwise. Had this been its only purpose then one menstruation would have been sufficient. God certainly knows best what suits human society and He has chosen for us what ensures the best interests of individuals and communities alike.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )