The Qur'an does instruct that the woman whose husband has passed away must maintain an idha period of four months and four days. 'And make not God's (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for God is One Who heareth and knoweth all things.' (H.Q 2:224). What is the purpose behind this legislation? The purpose is actually two fold. One is that she, thereby, mourns her separation from her life partner. The other is to clear all doubts pertaining to her possible pregnancy through her now deceased husband.
What is she to do during the period of idha? She is not to marry during this period. Marriage proposals, too, are prohibited during this period. She is neither to attract men by enhancing her beauty nor is she to encourage sexual passions within herself. During this period she is also prohibited from using ostentations ornaments, facial colouring, eyeliners or perfumes. However, there is nothing to prevent her from moving about for urgent or pressing matters and from using clean and decent clothing. In short, therefore, the woman is duty bound to abstain from all things that serve to generate sexual passions in her.
If, after four months and ten days of her husband's demise - she is found pregnant and delivers her child - she is free to do as she pleases. She can either re-marry or she can decide not to do so for the time being. The decision, in any case, must be left to her choice..
During the 'Age of Ignorance', the widows of Arabia used to maintain a mourning period of one year. It was a way of mourning wherein they clothed themselves in the filthiest of clothes and went about without bathing or cleaning themselves. It was Islam which brought about a sea change in such a state of affairs.
What must the Hindu woman, who has lost her husband, do? Observe the ruling of the Manu Smrithi:
'Kamanthuksha paye dehan pushpa moola Falai Shubai
Nathu namapi grahanee yaath pathyow preda parasyathu
Aaseetha maranaal Kshantha niyatha brahmacharinee
Yo Dharma Aekapathni namkamk shanthi thamanuthamam.'
'After the death of the husband (she) is to while away time by wasting her body on a diet of pure tuber, fruits, flowers etc. She is not to utter the name of another man with the intention of lust. After the death of the husband, the woman is to remain steadfast, patient and pure; as one ever conscious of the Brahma; as one abstaining from the consumption of wine and flesh and as one who is ever desirous of the dharma of the righteous woman bereft of her husband'.
This is the ruling of the Manu Smrithi. The situation that prevailed in India was, however, even more appalling. The woman was instructed to immolate herself at the funeral pyre of her husband. This was the cruel tradition of Sati. Those women who refused to comply with the demands of this tradition were to shave their heads and to live in isolation within the society. The law stipulated that even the six and seven years olds were forced to shave their heads and to live like after the death of their husbands imposed upon them through child - marriage. The only facility that was allowed them was one meal each day!
The Qur'an does not prohibit widows from remarrying. The only condition that it does put forth is that they are to wait four months and ten days. Indeed, this waiting term is wholly scientific and beneficial for the woman. For it is possible that the fathership of the child born to the woman who remarries before the expiration of this waiting period can come into question. Such doubts could lead to cracks in the solidarity of the family and to the associated mental torture that goes with it. But for the woman who remarries after completing the waiting term prescribed by the Qur'an such problems never arise. The child born can be confirmed to be that of the second husband himself. Here it is clear that the law of idha prescribed by the Qur'an is beneficial to the woman and is one that seeks not to put her in any difficulty.