Widows in Hinduism and Islamic Rules

By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

While reading a series of Hindu blogs, we came across the following article highlighting the plight of widows in India entitled “A life of ashes – The story of India’s widows”:


The rendering of the matter in this article is indeed very heart-wrenching. Seeing the pitiful state of Hindu widows described in this tract convinced us that it is imperative to contrast their state with what it is when the laws of Islam are applied. Before we start though, two things are to be kept in mind:

1.     We are very much aware that there are a myriad of problems with respect to the treatment of widows in Muslim countries. However, this has to do with Muslims not knowing what the Islamic rules are, or not doing enough to go back to the pristine teachings of Islam-the traditional Muslim way of life. In the case of Hinduism though, the traditional Hindu lifestyle is the one that is the driving force for such problems, and moving away from these traditions is the only logical solution for these problems as mentioned in the article itself.

2.     It has to be stressed that the treatment of Hindu widows is not the basic reason why Hinduism is incorrect as a belief system. The basic reasons are theological in nature, and they will, God willing, be dealt with in their proper place. However, highlighting this aspect of Hindu society and contrasting it with what the original Muslim teachings say is one of the ways in which to show what Islam is and how it deals with different topics, be they theological or social.

Now, the article starts off by mentioning the journalist’s mother and how she was lucky to have been able to leave India and go to Australia after she became widowed. It then mentions:

Think then of the life of a woman like Nargis who lives in a poor village in West Bengal. She was married off in her teens to a man already diagnosed with TB. Her parents couldn’t afford a decent dowry so they settled for the first marriage offer that came their way for their daughter. Her husband died a couple of years later, leaving her a mother and a widow in her early 20’s.

Comparing this with Islam, we see that the Islamic rules state that it is obligatory for the male to give Mahr (a monetary gift) to his wife upon the time of marriage. In the Islamic books concerning family laws, there is no mention at all of any obligation for the female side to give any obligatory gift to the male or to his relatives. So in an Islamic setting, such a situation would have been avoided from the get-go, and the parents of the girl would not have had to be worried that their dowry could only afford a terminally ill man for their daughter.

The article then states:

Hindu widows especially are faced with a battery of societal taboos; the general rule of thumb is that the higher their caste, the more restrictions widows face. Traditionally when a man dies, his widow is expected to renounce all earthly pleasures.

Widows should no longer look attractive, and are expected to wear only simple white saris for the rest of their lives. On news of their husband’s death, they break their bangles and can no longer wear jewellery or use sindhoor – the red powder women wear in their parting and on their foreheads to denote their married status.

An orthodox widow may be expected to cut her hair or even shave her head. A widow from the south of the country may not even be able to wear a blouse under her sari.

The above is totally unimaginable from a pure Islamic viewpoint. From the Islamic perspective in general, when the husband dies, the woman has to keep a number of restrictions only for four lunar months and ten days. After this period is completed, then she is free to marry and live her life as before. With respect to the restrictions placed on her and on any of the men-folk directly approaching her for marriage, the wisdom behind this is mostly to keep her protected during a period of great emotional distress for her. Otherwise, she would be vulnerable to any man who would want to take advantage of her emotional state for marriage, without her being able to judge the decision in a proper mental and emotional state.

The article continues, saying:

Her diet is also strictly restricted – she is forbidden from eating meat, fish and eggs, as well as anything touched by Muslim hands. And as traditionally, bakeries were run by Muslims, bread, biscuits or cakes are banned. Orthodox Hindus also believe that vegetables like onions, garlic and certain pulses heat the blood and are impure foods, so they’re also on the list of forbidden foods. She’s expected to fast several times a month, sometimes eating nothing but fruit for days on end…

A widow is sometimes called “pram” or creature, because it was only her husband’s presence that gave her human status.

Keeping the negative views Hindus have about Muslims to one side, this again shows a huge set of restrictions being placed on Hindu widows, restrictions that would have no place whatsoever in an Islamic community which follows Islamic rules to the best of their abilities.

Of all the things to disrespect a human being and bring down the honor they rightly deserve, nothing could be more horrible than to call someone a creature no different than an animal only because she has become widowed. Additionally, the idea that a woman becomes a human being or is a human being only because she is married is precisely the type of mindset that the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and give him peace) came to eradicate when Allah appointed him as a Messenger to all of humanity. The Qur’an and all Islamic texts makes it clear that a woman is a human being just like the man, and that any additional degree that is afforded to the male is related to their increased responsibilities with respect to discipline and other obligations, and does not constitute an intrinsic superiority in the human nature of the male over the female.

Additionally, it is stated:

In some Indian languages, a widow is referred to as “it” rather than “she”; in others, the word doubles as an abuse or is barely differentiated from the word for prostitute.

The above should be a shocking statement to all sensible persons: To use epithets which barely differentiate between a widow and a prostitute is the height of insult and disregard to the humanity of women as a whole. The fact that she had no negative role to play in her husband’s death and that now she has no means to take care of herself should be enough to shame any sensible human from even thinking of such comparisons. To compare this to the Islamic mindset, it is absolutely forbidden to call a human being (let alone a Muslim woman) by alluding to insults, such as making fun of their humanity. In addition, to even hint that some innocent woman is an immoral lady or has the qualities of an immoral lady is a sin that would have the accuser lashed in public and ostracized by the community if he is not able to bring proof of his assertions.[2]

The article also states about the situation in the state of Bengal, where it says:

Traditionally, Bengal has been particularly harsh in its treatment of widows, especially when coupled with the centuries-long tradition of child marriage in the region. Copying the myth that the god Siva took Parvati as his wife when she was only eight, girls were married off as young as eight or nine years old and as Hindu India was polygamous, a man could have several wives.

Often the girls were married off to much older men, and there was even a tradition of giving daughters in marriage to travelling Brahmin priests who would come to visit a family for a night, marry the daughter, before moving on and leaving her behind.

Girls married off as children stayed in their parents’ house until puberty and only then could the husband come to claim them. Unsurprisingly, these girls were often left widowed and even if they were still barely children, the restrictions still applied.

Moitri Chatterjee remembers an aunt who had been married off at eight years old, only to find herself widowed at nine. “Imagine, without even tasting married life, she became a widow and had to undergo all that penance, fasting, not eating, cutting her hair, wearing a white sari.”

There are a number of things to consider about this tract:

1.   Here the emphasis is on how very young brides had to undergo all the pains and sufferings associated with a Hindu widow’s life, which were exacerbated by the fact that they would marry men much older than them, meaning the possibility of them being widows at a young age were very high. This would not apply to Islamic marriages with a young Muslim girl, since Islam has no rules regarding widows in Islam besides the restrictions she is to keep and which were mentioned before.[3]

2.   With respect to the tradition of travelling Brahmins taking a wife for one day and then leaving them behind, if one contrasts this with Islam, we would see that in Islam the husband has an obligation to take care of his wife during the marriage, as well as the fact that an explicit temporary marriage is disallowed in Islam.

Towards the end of the article, we read:

I visited many ashrams and homes in India, talked to an endless stream of women like Lakhi Pal. There was Malti Mishra who said she had burnt all her hopes on her husband’s pyre, Priti Yadha Bhai who 30 years ago was married for only ten days, Margeret whose three adult daughters in Australia think she’s dead, Anwara Bibi who bore nine children but still begs food to survive. They all had their different sorrows but every one of them ended with the same sentence. “I want nothing more now from life. I’m just waiting for death.”

This final piece captures all the problems that are associated with the traditional Hindu code for widows, and how this can potentially affect each and every single Hindu woman at some point in her life until the time she dies. One can easily deduce from the above that the Hindu society as a whole abandons widows and makes an effort to keep them at the edge of society. Comparing this with the Islamic rules, one would see that a woman’s nearest relatives – such as her brothers, uncles, and male children- would be obliged to take care of her, as this is part of their responsibilities, not merely part of their extra kindness which they may or may not do. If such relatives are not present, then it would be the obligation of the Muslim community as a whole to take of any widows that have no one else to take care of them. It should be noted that if the community fails to do this, then in the Sight of God, the whole community is sinful on account of neglecting their collective responsibility towards those who have no one else to take care of them.

To conclude, it can be said that the conditions described about Hindu widows above are either due to very restrictive codes imposed on them by the Hindu religion, or to the fact that Hinduism does not place importance on delimiting what are the rights and responsibilities of husbands towards their wives, and of society at large towards those who lose their husbands. In contrast, the pristine Islamic teachings place an emphasis on the rights and responsibilities that each side in the marriage has towards the other, as well as what the society as a whole is obliged to do for those who are in need of help.


[1] Accessed on February 26,2012

[2]Some people may bring up the matter that the Prophet Muhammad’s (may God bless him and give him peace) wives did not remarry after his death. In this case, we have to remember that it was a specific case restricted only to the Prophet’s (may God bless him and give him peace) wives and to nobody else after him. Moreover, according to sound historical sources, four of the Prophet’s (may God bless him and give him peace) wives (Sawda bint Zam’a, Hafsa bint Umar, Zaynab bint Khuzayma, Umm Salama Hind bint Abi Umayya, Safiyya bint Huyayy) had previously been widowed before he married them, so there was absolutely no ban on widows being married according to Islam. Also, there was absolutely no attempt to belittle their status after the Prophet’s (may God bless him and give him peace) death; rather, the Qur’an and all other Islamic sources, as well as Muslims even to this day refer to them as “Ummahatul Mu’minin” (Mothers of the Believers), which is one of the highest titles of honor any woman may hope to achieve. So any attempt to link the situation of Hindu widows to that of the Prophet’s (may God bless him and give him peace) wives after his death is improper and incorrect.

[3]According to the scholars of Islam, if the girl whose husband dies is a prepubescent girl, her waiting period is three months instead of 130 days.


2 thoughts on “Widows in Hinduism and Islamic Rules

  1. Salaam, once again i must apologize for having to ask you another question, my hundredth time i know, but do you know anything about why some Hindu’s have such an intense hatred of Muslims, like at the level of Evangelical new atheists and Evangelical Christians, i know that the Mughals conquered Hindustan and I’m sure there were some bad rulers, but the Hindu religion and other Indian religion were spared because of Muslim tolerance, unlike say the many native American and Meso-American religious traditions that were wiped out by the Spanish and Americans, with very few exceptions of course. I also know that the colonial powers at the time did their best to divide and conquer in order to control the populace, as the European powers excel at, many fanatics want to erase the rich Mughal history and culture and exterminate the Muslims, there have been enormous efforts it seems by right wing groups in India in order to spread hatred of Muslims there and spread Hindu supremacy and incline towards ancient India’s legacy (while ignoring India’s rich history in the middle ages ignoring the Muslim contribution to Hindustan), the question is what should be our responses to these attacks on Islam, some Hindus claim that the Muslims slaughtered 80 million Hindus when they took over India (highly exaggerated I know) but there are many claims that Muslims were oppressive and intolerant towards the native populations when in reality the Muslims tolerated and even allowed the native religions to continue their practices, I have no doubt that there were some cruel and corrupt rulers but the fanatics seem to generalize greatly. So again I must ask how should we respond to such accusations of being intolerant and downright evil, and why do some of them hate us so much?


    • Salam Alaykum,

      I will answer the question based on what I currently know and can express, but if there is any new information or suggestions I receive then I will include these as well Insha Allah.

      Concerning the hatred towards Muslims, there is something to be said about the ‘theology’ of Indian traditions that would make their adherents highly suspicious of

      those traditions whose holy sites are outside of India, such as Islam and Christianity.

      But I personally do not see this as a major issue, since hatred of Muslims is increasing exponentially all over the non-Muslim world, and I would first blame

      ourselves, especially how we are uncritically using modern [i.e. Euro-American] socio-political constructs and concepts to define Islam to anyone who asks us about our religion, and as far as I see this matter, this is extremely damaging to us whether it is done in Europe, America, India or anywhere else.

      This is akin to the ‘Scientific Miracles in Islam’ and how problems arise there, since a discipline developed outside of Islam is being used to judge Islam. The problem with the ‘Modern Liberal Secular Miracles in the Quran and Sunnah’ as I might call it is even worse, since at an abstract level the status of Allah as the Lawgiver is something totally rejected in post-Enlightenment political thought [again, we might find some points of agreement in some specific laws, but this is arrived at coincidentially so as to say].

      So then this has an effect on how we judge Empires of the past and their actions: In this particular case, we would need to have a very thorough study of different Muslim and non-Muslim polities existing in the Indian Subcontinent and how they conducted themselves, along with the socio-political troubles that each Muslim or non-Muslim kingdom or polity had to deal with. These figures of 80 million deaths do not mean much unless we can take understand Muslim-Hindu relations, the management of political rebellion in different kingdoms, and many other related facets of real life on the ground during all of these centuries. [As a modern-day comparison, we saw the huge graphical difference between ‘terrorism-related’ deaths versus ‘gun-related’ deaths in the United States – and this would have to be considered when assessing the reality of the “American Deen” and how this “Deen” reacts to different threats, without denying that there are Muslims who do perpetrate evil things].

      If I have more to add I will Insha Allah include it as well.

      Wa Salam

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