It is generally held that divorced or widowed women must spend their ‘iddat while being permanently confined to their homes and wearing white clothes. Moreover, the ‘iddat period is generally not spent at the husband’s house.
In this regard, the following points must be clearly understood:
Firstly, the basic reason for observing this period is to ascertain whether a lady is pregnant or not. It is to protect the lineage of the husband that she undergoes this wait. The words فَمَا لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ عِدَّةٍ(no period of ‘iddathave they for you which you can ask them to complete) of Sūrah Ahzāb clearly point to the fact that if pregnancy is a possibility, then observing the ‘iddat is an obligation imposed on the wife from the husband. Consequently, if a lady is past her child bearing age or if it can be determined through scientific means that a lady is not pregnant, she will not be required to observe the ‘iddat. On these very grounds, the Qur’ān has exempted newly married women who have not gone near their husbands from ‘iddat:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا نَكَحْتُمْ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ طَلَّقْتُمُوهُنَّ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ فَمَا لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ عِدَّةٍ تَعْتَدُّونَهَا (49:33)
Believers! When you marry believing women, and then divorce them before you have touched them, no period of ‘iddathave they for you which you can ask them to complete. (33:49)
Secondly, during ‘iddat, neither should a wife leave her house nor is the husband authorized to turn her out from her house. Living together might hopefully be beneficial for both and they might reconcile and thus save a family from breaking. The only exception to this is that if a wife is guilty of fornication in which case neither is it proper to demand from the husband to keep the wife in the house nor can the benefit be attained for which this directive had been given.
Thirdly, as far as the restrictions of ‘iddat are concerned, all of them are based on protecting the lineage of the child that a widow or a divorced lady might be carrying. She can go out for any purpose which includes activities as austere as the hajj and as light as an amusement park if she has made sure that this basic objective is not sacrificed.
Fourthly, for a widow, ‘iddat has its own sanctity and she should observe this period with solemnity and austerity. So natural is this observance that widows of most societies are not required to be told to dress and behave in accordance with the norms of society due to the circumstances that they are faced with.