The law of Iddah (waiting period)

Examining the Marriage of Muhammad () and Safiyya (رضي الله عنها)

In regard to the Waiting Period for Widows

It is argued that Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) broke the rules of iddah (waiting period) when he married Safiyya (رضي الله عنها). The following is quoted in this regard:

وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَجًا يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرًا فَإِذَا بَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا فَعَلْنَ فِى أَنفُسِهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ – وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا عَرَّضْتُم بِهِ مِنْ خِطْبَةِ النِّسَآءِ أَوْ أَكْنَنتُمْ فِى أَنفُسِكُمْ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ سَتَذْكُرُونَهُنَّ وَلَـكِن لاَّ تُوَاعِدُوهُنَّ سِرًّا إِلاَّ أَن تَقُولُواْ قَوْلاً مَّعْرُوفًا وَلاَ تَعْزِمُواْ عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّى يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَـبُ أَجَلَهُ وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِى أَنفُسِكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُ وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ حَلِيمٌ

And those who are taken in death among you and leave wives behind – they, [the wives, shall] wait four months and ten [days]. And when they have fulfilled their term, then there is no blame upon you for what they do with themselves in an acceptable manner. And Allah is [fully] acquainted with what you do. There is no blame upon you for that to which you [indirectly] allude concerning a proposal to women or for what you conceal within yourselves. Allah knows that you will have them in mind. But do not promise them secretly except for saying a proper saying. And do not determine to undertake a marriage contract until the decreed period reaches its end. And know that Allah knows what is within yourselves, so beware of Him. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing.[1]

When a woman becomes a widow, she needs to wait for four months and ten days till she can remarry. This is the case whether marriage was consummated or not. As for the iddah of pregnant widow, it ends when she gives birth:

وَأُوْلَـتُ الاٌّحْمَالِ أَجَلُهُنَّ أَن يَضَعْنَ حَمْلَهُنَّ

And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth.[2]

The allegation against Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is that he married Safiyya (رضي الله عنها) after a month instead of four months and ten days:

فَأَصَبْنَاهَا عَنْوَةً فَجُمِعَ السَّبْيُ فَجَاءَ دِحْيَةُ الْكَلْبِيُّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ فَقَالَ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ أَعْطِنِي جَارِيَةً مِنْ السَّبْيِ قَالَ اذْهَبْ فَخُذْ جَارِيَةً فَأَخَذَ صَفِيَّةَ بِنْتَ حُيَيٍّ فَجَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ أَعْطَيْتَ دِحْيَةَ صَفِيَّةَ بِنْتَ حُيَيٍّ سَيِّدَةَ قُرَيْظَةَ وَالنَّضِيرِ لَا تَصْلُحُ إِلَّا لَكَ قَالَ ادْعُوهُ بِهَا فَجَاءَ بِهَا فَلَمَّا نَظَرَ إِلَيْهَا النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ خُذْ جَارِيَةً مِنْ السَّبْيِ غَيْرَهَا قَالَ فَأَعْتَقَهَا النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَتَزَوَّجَهَا فَقَالَ لَهُ ثَابِتٌ يَا أَبَا حَمْزَةَ مَا أَصْدَقَهَا قَالَ نَفْسَهَا أَعْتَقَهَا وَتَزَوَّجَهَا حَتَّى إِذَا كَانَ بِالطَّرِيقِ جَهَّزَتْهَا لَهُ أُمُّ سُلَيْمٍ فَأَهْدَتْهَا لَهُ مِنْ اللَّيْلِ فَأَصْبَحَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَرُوسًا فَقَالَ مَنْ كَانَ عِنْدَهُ شَيْءٌ فَلْيَجِئْ بِهِ وَبَسَطَ نِطَعًا فَجَعَلَ الرَّجُلُ يَجِيءُ بِالتَّمْرِ وَجَعَلَ الرَّجُلُ يَجِيءُ بِالسَّمْنِ قَالَ وَأَحْسِبُهُ قَدْ ذَكَرَ السَّوِيقَ قَالَ فَحَاسُوا حَيْسًا فَكَانَتْ وَلِيمَةَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ

“We conquered Khaibar, took the captives, and the booty was collected. Dihya came and said, ‘O Allah’s Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.’ The Prophet said, ‘Go and take any slave girl.’ He took Safiya bint Huyai. A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! You gave Safiya bint Huyai to Dihya and she is the chief mistress of the tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir and she befits none but you.’ So the Prophet said, ‘Bring him along with her.’ So Dihya came with her and when the Prophet saw her, he said to Dihya, ‘Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.’ Anas added: The Prophet then manumitted her and married her.” Thabit asked Anas, “O Abu Hamza! What did the Prophet pay her (as Mahr)?” He said, “Her self (i.e. freedom) was her Mahr (dower) for he manumitted her and then married her.” Anas added, “While on the way, Um Sulaim dressed her for marriage (ceremony) and at night she sent her as a bride to the Prophet. So the Prophet was a bridegroom and he said, ‘Whoever has anything (food) should bring it.’ He spread out a leather sheet (for the food) and some brought dates and others cooking butter. (I think he (Anas) mentioned As-Sawiq). So they prepared a dish of Hais (a kind of meal). And that was Walima (the marriage banquet) of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh).” (Bukhari, Hadith 358)

أَقَامَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم بَيْنَ خَيْبَرَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ ثَلاَثَ لَيَالٍ يُبْنَى عَلَيْهِ بِصَفِيَّةَ

The Prophet (ﷺ) stayed for three rights between Khaibar and Medina and was married to Safiya.[3]

عَنْ أَنَسِ …فَاصْطَفَاهَا النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لِنَفْسِهِ فَخَرَجَ بِهَا حَتَّى بَلَغْنَا سَدَّ الصَّهْبَاءِ حَلَّتْ فَبَنَى بِهَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ

Narrated Anas bin Malik: …The Prophet (ﷺ) selected her for himself, and set out with her, and when we reached a place called Sadd-as-Sahba’, Safiya became clean from her menses then Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) married her.[4]

It is argued that the Qur’anic verses do not distinguish between free women and captives and if the duration for a captive woman was one menstrual cycle (as stated in Ahadith), then that rule is against the Qur’an. This is not true at all. The Qur’an says:

وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكْتَ أَيْمَـنُكُمْ

And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess.[5]

The marriages of captives are annulled as soon as they are made captive.[6][7] The former husband of Safiyya (رضي الله عنها) had waged war against the Prophet (ﷺ) and killed a companion of the Prophet (ﷺ); he was taken into captivity and hence his marriage became annulled. If his former wife later decided to marry, she would not observe her waiting period as that of a widow (i.e. four months and ten days) but that of a captive woman and her situation is unique where her marriage has been annulled and she is neither a widow nor a divorcee. The Qur’an and the Hadith are harmonious on this rule and there is no contradiction.

Conclusion and summary

  • The waiting period for a widow, till she can remarry, is four months and ten days, or the delivery of her child if she is pregnant at that time
  • The waiting period of a divorcee, till she can remarry, is three months or the delivery of her child if she is pregnant at that time
  • The waiting period for a captive woman is one menstrual cycle or the delivery of her child if she is pregnant at that time
  • A woman that becomes captive gets her marriage annulled unless both the husband and wife are taken together

Further reading: Slander against the Prophet (ﷺ) | On physical relations with slave-women in Islam

Indeed, Allah knows the best.

References and Footnotes:

[1] Qur’an 2:234, 235

[2] Qur’an 65:4

[3] Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 64, Hadith 253

[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 64, Hadith 251

[5] Qur’an 4:24

[6] A captured woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled [Umdat al-Salik].

[7] According to some schools, if the husband and wife are taken into captivity together, they retain their marriage; however, if one of them is taken as a captive, then their marriage is annulled.


2 thoughts on “The law of Iddah (waiting period)

  1. “The marriages of captives are annulled as soon as they are made captive” it is written above. Now if you were married, would someone you do not know have any right at all to annul your marriage? YES OR NO?

    • The question is problematic in a number of ways. When some non-Muslims find Islamic punishments excessively harsh, it is because they picture themselves in the place of the culprit. Why imagine yourself to be the thief, the kidnapper, the murderer? If you do so, you’ll find even the most lenient punishments to be harsh. ‘Man is a product of his surroundings’ and you would agree that after the massive rape epidemic in India, many Hindus have been calling for punishments similar to Islamic ones. In fact, if given a free hand, the angry people may even go many steps ahead and torture the rapists before a slow death. So a basic start is to not imagine oneself as the criminal and then take a look at things from a clear perspective and from the perspective of the victim.

      As for your specific question, before that I’d like you to go through these links: and I hope much of your concerns will subside.

      Now to your specific question, the answer is no; however, I would not want to be in a position of an aggressor or be on the side of injustice. This marriage annulment is in the case when the woman is taken as captive and her husband ran away leaving her behind alone. Would you do that? Even then she is not passed around among the soldiers for their entertainment – Islam strictly forbids this.

      When the husband and wife both come as captives, their marriage remains intact. So, if the forces have surrounded an area and everyone surrenders, those who did not partake in the battle would not be affected and those who did will be affected only depending on their situation and that situation is reasonable and fair, as mentioned. These conditions were laid down by Islam when no rules of war existed. In a lawless environment, Islam still worked with rules and ethics. When your enemy does not abide by any rule and may do to your womenfolk as he pleases, how would you feel? Today, we live in an environment where there are global rules of combats and rules relating to prisoners. Islam does not forbid us from following them.

      So to sum it up, if your enemy follows no rules, you still have to follow rules and if they have laid out rules which they also follow, then the Muslims are not stopped by Islam to follow and honour them.

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