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Aspects Of Islamic Faith - 74: Mourning For Deceased Relatives

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

Different communities have different traditions with regard to mourning for close relatives and friends. Some are very strict, while others are not. However, a period of mourning is acceptable in most societies. Mourning is mostly associated with women and traditions impose certain behavior on women mourners. Islam has much to say on this matter.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, a woman faced a very difficult period of time when her husband died. She was expected to wear her worst clothes, stay in terrible accommodation, refrain from taking a bath, cleaning herself or clipping her nails for a full year. When she came out, she looked horrible. Islam put an end to all such cruel traditions. As usual, Islam respects human nature, recognizes people's feelings and sets its own rules that steer a middle way.

Umm Habeebah, a wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), quotes the Prophet as saying: "It is not permissible for a woman who believes in God and the Last day to mourn for a deceased person for more than three days, except for her husband, in which case she mourns for four months and ten days". (Related by Al-Bukhari).

What is meant by ‘mourning' in this context is that a woman refrains from wearing makeup, fine clothes, and attending to her appearance in a way that is socially recognized as consistent with situations of happiness and joy. When a relative or a close person, a neighbour or a friend dies, a woman is unlikely to be interested in her appearance. Her grief takes over. The closer the relative is, the longer such grief lasts. In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) makes clear that a woman must not observe mourning traditions for more than three days, even though the deceased be her child, brother, sister or parent. Three days are enough to express one's grief in a changed appearance. After that, a woman must not show any physical indications of that grief. She must reflect her acceptance of God's will as He is the one who grants life and deals death.

The Prophet makes clear that a longer period of mourning is inconsistent with faith. Hence, he speaks of ‘a woman who believes in God and the Last Day', i.e. a woman who knows that she is accountable for her deeds before God on the Day of Judgement. This is not to do with her grief for the loss of a loved one, but with the physical expression of that grief.

The only exception is the case of a woman who loses her husband. It is well known that when a man dies, his wife must observe a waiting period of four months and ten days when she cannot marry anyone else, unless she is pregnant when her waiting period lasts until she gives birth. This Hadith makes clear that such a widow observes mourning for the duration of her waiting period. Scholars make clear that mourning is not a duty in the case of relatives and friends, even though its period is only for three days. However, it is a duty in the case of a husband. His widow must observe such mourning for four months and ten days. She is allowed to go out for her essential business and to clean herself, take a bath at any time, etc.

A question arises in the case of a pregnant widow who gives birth within a few days or a few weeks after her husband's death? Should she continue her mourning after her waiting period has expired upon delivery? How about the one who gives birth after six, seven or even nine months? Scholars have linked the allowed period of mourning with the waiting period. When the waiting period is over, so is mourning, regardless of whether the waiting period is shorter or longer than the normal duration of four months and ten days.


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