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The Meaning of the word Qar

Malik records that during Muawiyas reign a man named al-Ahwas76 divorced his wife but
then died shortly afterwards, just after his wife had begun her third menstrual period after
beginning her idda, Muawiya [who according to al-Shaybani’s transmission had been
asked to judge between the wife and the sons on the Question of inheritance] was not
clear whether she had the right to inherit in such a circumstances or not [i.e whether she
was still his wife or not] and so wrote Zyad Ibn Thabit in Madina to ask him for his
opinion on the matter.

Zayd wrote back saying that once she had begun her third menstrual period she was no
longer connected to him nor he to her, and so she would inherit from him nor he from
her.77

This problem arose from an ambiguity in the phrase ‘thalathata quru’ in Q 2:228’s wa-l-
mutallaqatu yararabbasna bi-anfusihima thalathata quru [And divorced women should
wait for three courses]. Did the word quru refer to menstrual periods [hiyad] or to the
periods of purity [athar] between menses, both of these meanings being acceptable from
a linguistic point of view?78.

If it referred to the periods of bleeding, a divorced woman would still be considered


married to her husband, and thus entitled to inherit from him, until the end of her third
menstrual period, but if it referred to periods of purity, i.e the beginning of the third
menstrual period, at which point she would no longer be his wife and thus no longer
entitled to inherit from him. This latter was the judgment that Zayd had given to
Muawiya.

In the chapter where this report occurs, Malik notes that this latter judgment, as well as
being that of Zayd, was also that of Aisha and Ibn Umar among the companions, of al-
Qasim ibn Muhammad, Salim ibn Abdallah ibn Umar, Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-Rahman and
sulayman ibn Yasar among the older successors, and that it was the generally accepted
position in Madina [wa-huwa l-amr ‘indana’]; he also cites Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-
rahman’s observation that all the Madinan Fuqaha he had met agreed with Aisha’s view
that the word quru in Q 2:228 reffered to periods of purity.79

Such consensus, however, had not always been the case in Madina. Not only does Malik
only claim that this is al-amr indana rather than al-amr al mujtama alayhi indana, which
thus allows for at least some difference of opinion, but he records dissent from this albeit
dominant view in the same chapter: certain [unspecified] people, he notes had disagreed
with Aisha about her taking her niece hafsa into her house as soon as Hafsa had begun
her third menstrual period after starting her idda, citing as their authority the thalathata
quru verse of Q 2:228, to which Aisha replied that that was exactly her argument also,
only the word quru [she uses the plural aqra] reffered to periods of purity.80
It is not stated who these people were who held the view that Aisha denied, but the view
that the three quru referred rather to menstrual periods was said to have been held by over
ten prestigious companion, including, Umar, Ali and Ibn Masud, and also, among the
Madinian Successors, Said ibn al-Musayyab, and it later became that of the Iraqis.81
Nevertheless, despite Sa’id Ibn al-Musayyabs contrary opinion [which would seem to
limit the generality of Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-Rahmans comment mentioned above], there
would seem to have been a large measure of agreement in Madina by the turn of the
century that the three quru referred to three periods of purity rather than three menstrual
periods.

Malik himself, as so often in the Muwatta, gives no clear explanation for the Madenan
view beyond the fact that it is Madinan amal[wa-huwa l-amr indana]. However, he does
include prophetic Hadith at the beginning of the same chapter which gives us a clue to the
reasoning behind this amal, namely the hadith referred to earlier about ibn umars
incorrect divorce [he divorced his wife while she was menstruating and was told by the
Prophet to take her back as his wife, wait until she became pure again after her next
menstrual period, and then divorce her if he wished at the beginning of that second period
of purity, this being the idda at which Allah has commanded that women be divorced]82.

This was seen as a clear statement that it was not correct for a man to divorce his wife
while she was menstruating; rather, he should do so during a period of purity in which he
has not had intercourse with her. [indeed, divorce should preferably take place at the
beginning of such a period of purity, this being the judgment contained in Ibn Umar’s
reading of ‘fa-talliquhunna li-qubuli iddatihinna’, i.e at the beginning of the time when
their idda may correctly begin, and not just at any acceptable time]83.

Since this showed that the idda should begin during a period of purity, the conclusion was
that menstrual periods themselves were not what was ‘counted’ [as in Q65: l’s wa-ahsu l-
idda- and count the idda] in order to determine when the idda was over. Rather it was the
periods of purity that were important, and the ‘three quru’ were therefore taken to refer to
three periods of purity, with no consideration being given to the menstrual periods.84

This judgment is further emphasized by a report at the end of the chapter to the effect that
the wife of one of the Ansar had asked her husband for a divorce and he told her to let
him know firstly when her period began and then when it finished, at which point he
divorced her, after which Malik sums up the chapter by saying, ‘This is the best that I
have heard about this.’85

Al-Shafii who agreed with malik on the Madinan view, adduces this same argument in
his Kitab al-Umm, but adds the linguistic argument that the original meaning of the root
qara’a was ‘to gather’, as in the expressions huwa yaqri l-ma fi hawdihi [He is gathering
food in his jaw’],86 and that this meaning was much better suited to periods of purity,
during which the blood ‘gathered’ in the womb, than to menstrual periods, when the
blood was released.87 ……………………………
The Iraqis for their part had no objection per’se to the hadith mentioned above about ibn
Umar’s divorce with regard to the time when the idda should begin,90 but they favored the
idea that since the purpose of the idda was to detect pregnancy and since it was
menstruation that indicated absence of pregnancy it was the menstrual periods that were
important.91

This argument was backed up by various hadith and verses from the Quran, but, as al-
Baji points out, it really works both ways, since nobody denied the importance of the
menstrual cycle in counting the idda, and the beginning of a menstrual period was as
good an indicator of the absence of pregnancy as was its end.92

More importantly, they felt that taking the word quru to refer to menstrual periods
allowed the word ‘three’ to be taken literally: since a woman could be divorced at any
time during a period of purity, it could be, if the meaning of three menstrual periods was
not assumed and the woman was divorced towards the end of a period of purity, that the
quru in question would only amount to two and a bit rather than the specified three;
taking the meaning as being three menstrual periods, however, allowed a literal
interpretation of the word three.93 [ibn al Arabi gives the counter argument that a part of a
thing is often counted as a whole, as in the example of Q 2:197- ‘the Hajj is [during]
known months’- which reffered to shawwal, Dhu l-Qa’da and only part of Dhu l-Hijja].94

Furthermore, in addition to these arguments, there where also hadiths in which the word
qar was unambiguously used in the sence of menstrual period’95 but these only went to
show that both meanings were a priori possible, which was already accepted.96

This, then, was an instance of where a mushtarak word with two equally feasible
meanings inevitably raised differences. What the sources suggest is that this was a case
where a major divergence of opinion arose during the time of the companions which was
then later systematized into the Iraqi and Madinan views.