Could you please give some direction as to the Islamic ritual for a woman whose husband has just died, for example, the mourning period and the dress code etc.
The widows have to observe the following directives of the Shari'ah during the 'Iddah (i.e. waiting period).
Generally the 'Iddah for divorced women are three menstrual cycles. However, in case of widows the period is extended and stipulated as four months and ten days (Al-Baqarah 2: 234). If a woman is pregnant, whether she is a widow or is divorced, the waiting period is prescribed to be till the birth of the child (Al-Talaq 65: 6). The 'Iddah is generally believed to have been prescribed so that the couple can get together again (Ruju') or, in case of husband's death, women can mourn the death of their husbands. However, we believe that the basic purpose of the 'Iddah is to make sure that the lady is not pregnant. This is corroborated by the fact that there is no 'Iddah for the woman who is divorced by her husband before the consummation of the marriage. In normal circumstances, a believer is supposed to divorce his wife keeping in view her menstrual cycle and thus the status of the womb becomes ultimately clear after three menstrual cycles – the period beginning after divorce which is given in a period of purity without having sex.
Hence the requirement to observe 'Iddah is to determine pregnancy. As an obvious corollary, 'Iddah period would not be observed where it can be evidently determined after the demise of the husband that the wife is not pregnant.1
The extended period of 'Iddah in the case of a widow denotes extra care taken because death can strike anyone anytime. While in usual cases of divorce, the divorce is ordained to be given in the period of purity, the separation caused by death can be anytime. Since a couple could possibly have had a conjugal contact – where divorce is not planned rather separation is caused by death – Allah has increased the period of 'Iddah so that pregnancy can be determined.
There is no specific directive of the Shari'ah regarding dress code or jewelry for the widow. She may express her feelings of grief in an appropriate manner. She should also respect the feelings of the parents whose son has been lost or of the sisters whose brother has passed away.
1. However, we understand, as long as medical science does not make such advancement as to be able to tell for sure that whether a particular woman is pregnant, the 'Iddah should be observed since this is a serious matter and cannot be decided by conjecture.