Martyrs, Minorities, Faith and Fidelity:
Exploring ‘Loyalty’ in Christianity and Islam

Professor Mona Siddiqui

Lesson #4Faith and Fidelity: Islamic Law and Widowhood

February 15, 2022

Summary: This lesson explores the intersections of ethics and Islamic law through the lens of widowhood. The Arabic word ‘sharia’ is often translated as ‘Islamic law’ and perceived as a set of strict rules that are imposed on Muslims. But sharia is more an evolving and often flexible set of practices that have been discussed and debated by Islamic scholars for centuries. Prof. Siddiqui considers how the observance of ‘idda’ – the period of time after a woman divorces or becomes a widow – can reflect a woman’s personal agency and responsibility, not just her ‘misplaced loyalty’ to strict rules and cultural expectations. 

Recommended readings:

Siddiqui, Mona, “Widow”, in: Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC. [Enroll now to access this reading for free!]

Reflection and Discussion Questions:

  1. Prof. Siddiqui suggests that, for many people, religious practices and behaviors are shaped by a combination of “textual, ethical, and cultural” factors. What does she mean by this?
  2. This lesson highlights some of the tensions that a widowed Muslim woman might feel as she tries to observe religious customs while also mourning and addressing her everyday needs and responsibilities. Which loyalties are at stake in a situation like this?
  3. Whether we are religious or not, most of us do not know the full history of the rules and rituals we observe. In light of the ‘idda’ example discussed in this lesson, does that mean we should not follow these rules?