How is the ‘iddah period calculated for a woman who does not menstruate (due to menopause or due to a health condition)? I know that normally a woman’s idda period is 3 periods of purity between menstrual cycles.
Divorcees who do not experience menstruation fall into one of two broad categories with regards to their ‘iddah (waiting period).
1. She never experienced menstruation in the past or
2. She has experienced it in the past, but her menses came to an end.
Irrespective of the cause, women in category 1 will remain under ‘iddah for three lunar months. The waiting period for category 2 on the other hand is dependent on the cause for the ceasing of her menses. These causes are:
In this instance, her waiting period will also be three months. Note should be taken that according to Shafi‘i Islamic law, and contrary to modern medicine, a lady will only be considered menopausal once she reaches the age of 62 lunar years. A lady whose menses ceases before this age will be discussed under cause iii.
ii. Breastfeeding or a health condition
A divorcee belonging to this category will remain under ‘iddah until she experiences menstruation or, alternatively, reaches the age of menopause. When experiencing menstruation her ‘iddah will be calculated according to three tuhrs (periods of purity between menstrual cycles); when reaching the age of menopause, her ‘iddah will be three months.
iii. No apparent course
Regarding this category, Imam Shafi‘i expressed two opinions. The latter and also preponderant position is that she is to be treated the same as the previous category. That is, she remains under ‘iddah until she experiences menstruation or reaches the age of menopause. This category would include women who are considered menopausal medically, but not Islamically. Further, the 16th century scholar, ibn Hajar al-Haytami, advises women belonging to this category to seek medical assistance, so as to hasten the return of menstruation.
An alternative view
The problem posed by categories 2 ii and 2 iii is that a lady’s menses might cease at a young age. For example, a lady whose menses ends at 30 years of age would possibly have to remain in ‘iddah for 32 years plus 3 months (30 + 32 = 62 the age of menopause). The types of difficulties such a lady will undergo are unimaginable. It will thus be advisable for her to adopt alternative views within the Shafi‘i school.
One such alternative is an opinion attributed to the Shafi‘i jurist, al-Zarkashi. He holds that the waiting period with regards to a lady who suffers from a perpetual health condition and consequently does not experience menstruation, is three months. Another alternative with regards to category iii above is the qadim (old) opinion of Imam Shafi‘i as well as the opinion of Imam Malik rahimahumAllah. This opinion states that the divorcee’s waiting period is 9 months + 3months which equals 1 lunar year. Women are strongly advised to consult the scholars before adopting any of these alternative views.
And Allah knows best
Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan of Dar Al-’Ulum Al Arabiyya wal-Islamiyyah for Shafiifiqh.com