Muslim Divorces – An Overview of Iddah


  1. The Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (AMLA) defines iddah as “the period within which a divorced woman or a widow is forbidden by the Muslim law to remarry”.1 It follows that if a divorced woman or a widow remarries during or before the expiry of the iddah, the remarriage is invalid under Islamic law. In the Arabic language, iddah simply means waiting period and is sometimes written as ‘iddah or ‘iddat.
  2. The obligation upon a divorced woman to observe the iddah is laid down in Verse 228 of Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah) of the Quran.2 The same obligation upon a widow is to be found in Verses 234-235 of the same chapter of the Quran.
  3. Yusuf Ali’s translation of the aforesaid verses are as follows:

228: “Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods nor is it lawful for them to hide what God hath created in their wombs if they have faith in God and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them and God is Exalted in Power Wise.”

234: “If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait concerning themselves four months and ten days: when they have fulfilled their term there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just and reasonable manner. And God is well acquainted with what ye do. 235: There is no blame on you if ye make an offer of betrothal or hold it in your hearts. God knows that ye cherish them in your hearts: but do not make a secret contract with them except in terms honourable nor resolve on the tie of marriage till the term prescribed is fulfilled. And know that God knoweth what is in your hearts and take heed of Him; and know that God is Oft Forgiving Most Forbearing.”

  1. Islamic scholars take the view that the main purpose of iddah is to ascertain whether a divorced woman is carrying her former husband’s child at the time of her divorce or whether a widow is carrying her late husband’s child at the time of his death. This is to avoid any confusion or dispute over the parentage of any child born after the divorce or death of the husband.3
  2. In revocable divorce (talak raj’ie) cases, the iddah gives room for both husband and wife to reflect upon their failed marital relationship, their past actions and mistakes as well as the consequences of the divorce. At the same time, it gives the husband opportunity to reconcile (rujuk) with the wife without the need for him to enter into a fresh marriage contract (akad nikah) with her.
  3. For the widow, the relatively longer iddah allows her to settle down and compose herself after experiencing the loss of her husband and to mourn his death in accordance with the teachings of the Quran and the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).4
  4. In what situations does the iddah obligation arise? Generally, a woman is required to observe iddah when:
    (1) she is divorced, unless the marriage was not consummated;5
    (2) her husband dies;6 and
    (3) she converts to Islam after leaving or divorcing her non-Muslim husband, unless the marriage with the non-Muslim husband was not consummated.7
  5. How long is the iddah? The oft-cited statement that the iddah is “3 months” is an oversimplistic representation of the rules. As shown in the tables below, different ‘causal situations’ – divorce, death of husband and conversion to Islam – give rise to iddah of different lengths of time. Also, within each causal situation, different circumstances attract iddah of different periods.


CAUSAL SITUATION 1 Marriage Consummated? Woman Menstruating/Pregnant? Length of Iddah Remarks
Talak Raj’ie8 or Talak Ba’in9
(a) No

(b) Yes

(c) Yes

(d) Yes

(e) Yes

(a) Irrelevant

(b) Regular menstrual cycles/no istihadhah + not pregnant

(c) Irregular menstrual cycles/istihadhah + not pregnant

(d) Not menstruating/ceased menstruation (menopausal)

(e) Pregnant

(a) No iddah

(b) 3 periods of purity10

(c) 3 lunar months

(d) 3 lunar months

(e) Until child is born11/upon miscarriage

CAUSAL SITUATION 2 Marriage Consummated? Woman Menstruating/Pregnant? Length of Iddah Remarks
Death of Husband
(Not during divorce iddah)
(a) Irrelevant

(b) Yes

(a) Menstrual status irrelevant + not pregnant

(b) Menstrual status irrelevant + pregnant

4 lunar months and 10 days

(b) Until child is born/upon miscarriage12

In addition to observing the iddah, the widow has to undergo mourning (berkabung) 13
CAUSAL SITUATION 3 Type of Divorce Woman Menstruating/Pregnant? Length of Iddah Remarks
Death of Husband

(During divorce iddah)

(a) Talak raj’ie14

(b) Talak ba’in15

(a) Menstrual status irrelevant + not pregnant

(b) Per causal situation 1(b), (c) or (d)

(a) 4 lunar months and 10 days

(b) Per causal situation 1(b), (c) or (d)

(a) Iddah starts from the date of death of husband

(b) Iddah is not extended by reason of death of husband

CAUSAL SITUATION 4 Marriage16 Consummated? Woman Pregnant? Length of Iddah Remarks
Conversion to Islam

(After leaving or divorcing non-Muslim husband)17

Yes No 3 lunar months Iddah starts from the date of conversion to Islam


  1. Needless to say, knowledge of when exactly the iddah starts and ends in any given situation is important. It helps determine when a woman who has been divorced or whose husband has passed away or who has converted to Islam after leaving or divorcing her non-Muslim husband may lawfully remarry. It also helps determine the period within which a divorced couple may revoke a talak raj’ie and reconcile.
  2. It should also be remembered that spouses who have undergone a revocable divorce are entitled to inherit from each other should either of them pass away during the wife’s iddah. Ignorance of the relevant iddah rules can cause a lawful heir (waris) to be deprived of his/her entitlement under faraid.


1 Section 2
2 See also Verse 49 of Chapter 33 (Al-Ahzab) and Verse 4 of Chapter 65 (Al-Talaq) of the Quran
3 The same rationale would apply to conversion cases, i.e. to ascertain whether a woman who has converted to Islam is carrying her non-Muslim husband’s child. The iddah in conversion cases is also intended to give the non-Muslim husband opportunity to embrace Islam. If the non-Muslim husband does so during the iddah, the marital relationship between the spouses is preserved. This is the opinion of the majority of Muslim jurists including Imam Syafi’ie and is premised on a hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him): see Bidayatul Mujtahid Wa Nihayatul Muqtasid by Ibnu Rusyd.
4 The Arabic word for mourning is ihdad. In Islam, a widow is obliged to undergo a period of mourning following the death of her husband, during which she is prohibited from, inter alia, wearing jewelry, putting on colorful clothes, leaving her home unless by reason of necessity, etc.
5 Paragraphs 2 and 3 above
6 Ibid.
7 Ameer Syed Ali, Student’s Handbook of Mahommedan Law (6th Edition, 1912) at Page 82: “When a non-Moslem female… married to a husband who also is a non-Moslem adopts Islam, her marriage becomes dissolved under the following circumstances… (b) should the conversion take place in a non-Islamic or alien country… the marriage would become dissolved on the expiration of three months from the date of the woman’s adoption of Islam.” In OS 44193 Mohd Amin Bin Eusoff v Emmy De Leon Maungca (unreported), the Syariah Court nullified a marriage between a man (a born-Muslim) and a woman (a Muslim convert) on the ground that the marriage was solemnized just 1 month after the woman’s conversion to Islam. At the time of her conversion, the woman (who was a Christian) was married to another man (also a Christian) in the Philippines. Their marriage was consummated.
8 1st or 2nd talak (including 1st or 2nd talak decreed by the Syariah Court for breach of taklik) and talak tafweed/tafwidh
9 3rd talak or 3 talak uttered at once (triple talak), talak pronounced by hakam (talak wajib), khuluk/khulu’ and fasakh
10 If the talak occurs during a woman’s period of purity, that period of purity counts as the 1st period of purity in the iddah. Therefore, the iddah ends on the day the 3rd menstrual cycle after the divorce starts On the contrary, Imam Abu Hanifah’s view is 3 menstrual periods and not 3 periods of purity.
11 If the woman is carrying more than 1 child, until all are delivered
12 Supra note 11
13 Supra note 4
14 Supra note 8
15 Supra note 9
16 Marriage with the non-Muslim husband
17 Supra note 7

About the author

Mohamed Baiross
Mohamed Baiross

Founding Partner

Baiross is the managing partner of IRB Law LLP. He is an experienced lawyer with an excellent reputation across a broad selection of practice areas including divorce, insolvency, crime, probate, syariah, and civil litigation.

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