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Relations Prohibited for Marriage
Social Issues
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)


وَلَا تَنكِحُوا مَا نَكَحَ آبَاؤُكُمْ مِنْ النِّسَاءِ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَمَقْتًا وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا  حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَاتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُكُمْ وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ وَعَمَّاتُكُمْ وَخَالَاتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُ الْأَخِ وَبَنَاتُ الْأُخْتِ وَأُمَّهَاتُكُمْ اللَّاتِي أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ مِنْ الرَّضَاعَةِ وَأُمَّهَاتُ نِسَائِكُمْ وَرَبَائِبُكُمْ اللَّاتِي فِي حُجُورِكُمْ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ اللَّاتِي دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُونُوا دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَحَلَائِلُ أَبْنَائِكُمْ وَحَلَائِلُ أَبْنَائِكُمْ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَابِكُمْ وَأَنْ تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا  وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنْ النِّسَاءِ إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ (٤: ٢٢-٢٤)

And marry not women whom your fathers married – except what has been done in the past: it was shameful and odious – an abominable practice indeed. Prohibited to you [for marriage] are your mothers, daughters, sisters, your maternal and paternal aunts, the daughters of your brothers and sisters; your mothers who have suckled you and your sisters through fosterage, the mothers of your wives, your step-daughters raised under you born of your wives with whom you have lain – no offence if you have not lain with their mothers, and the wives of your begotten sons, and two sisters in wedlock at the same time, except for what has already happened. God indeed is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Also [prohibited are] women already married, except those whom your right hands possess; this is a written obligation upon you from God. (4:22-4)

The above quoted verse enlists women with whom marriage has been prohibited. The list begins with the step mother and ends with women who are married to someone. In between these two, the prohibited women mentioned are based on the three bases of relationship: Lineage, Fosterage and Marriage.

In certain sections of the Arab Jāhiliyyah, there was a tradition according to which a son inherited the wife of his father and he would feel nothing wrong with inheriting her. The Qur’ān refers to it as open lewdness and a shameful and abominable practice. Consequently, it prohibited this practice and declared that whatever happened in the past shall be overlooked but in future no Muslim should perpetrate such an indecent act.

Similar is the case of the woman who is married to someone. No person has the right to marry her unless she is legally divorced from her husband. It is obvious that such a practice totally negates the very reason for which the institution of family has been set up. Consequently, it has been prohibited. Slave ladies of those times, however, were exempted from this rule because as soon as they married anew their previous marriage stood annulled automatically. The Qur’ān has referred to this exception by the words ‘إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ’.

The matter of the remaining prohibitions shall now be taken up.

Relationships by Lineage

The verse first of all mentions the seven relations prohibited because of lineage viz: mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal aunts, maternal aunts and the daughters of the brothers and sisters (nieces). These relations are possess such sanctity that a person whose nature has not been perverted cannot even think of any sexual inclination towards them. There is no doubt that it is this sanctity which is the fountainhead of the pure and unadulterated emotions of affection and gentleness. On such emotions is based the foundation of a community and it is these emotions who play a primary role in the development of family. They are the source of a civilized and cultured society. The Almighty wants that gaze of a son for his mother, of a father for his daughter, of a brother for his sister, of a nephew for both his maternal and paternal aunts, of a maternal and a paternal uncle for their niece should remain free from the slightest trace of sexual leaning. Sense and reason also bear witness that any sort of sexual proclivity between these relations is devastating for human dignity and honour and is totally against the unadulterated state of chastity and purity that distinguishes man from animals.

The directive stated in these verses regarding these relations is very clear. However, three aspects about this directive should remain clear:

Firstly, the words used for these relations in Arabic entail that no distinction be made between step and real relations. Consequently, both a real mother and a step mother, a real sister and a step sister, for example, would equally be addressees of this directive. Similar is the case for the real or step sister of a father and mother. Likewise is the case of the daughters of brothers and sisters. Whether they are real or step, their daughters will be regarded as addressees of this directive.

Secondly, the word ‘mother’ also connotes the ‘the mother’s mother and the word ‘father’ connotes the ‘father’s father’. Likewise the word ‘daughter’ also implies the ‘grand daughter’. No discrimination can be made between them regarding this directive.

Thirdly, the sister of the maternal grandfather and the sister of the paternal grandmother are like paternal and maternal aunts respectively. Hence, they shall also be included on equal basis in the application of the directive.

Relationships by Fosterage

Foster relationships have a similar sanctity as the real ones. While commenting on this aspect Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, writes:

In our society, people do not consider foster relationships as strong as what the Arabs considered them to be. This is because of the difference in customs between their society and ours. The truth of the matter is that this relationship has deep resemblance with the maternal relationship. A mother who suckles and brings up a child is his half mother if not a full one. Moreover, how is it possible that a child not be influenced by someone whose milk nourished and sustained him. An absence of such influence would mean that his nature has been perverted and it was necessary for a religion like Islam which conforms to human nature to reform such perversion.1

While explaining how exactly a foster relationship is formed, Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

Such a relationship is not formed by some incidental episode of suckling a child. The words of the Qur’ān stated in this verse clearly testify that this relationship is established only with the full intent of those involved. In other words, a chance happening does not establish this relationship; it only comes into being after it is planned and is well thought of. Consequently, in the first place, the words used are ‘وَأُمَّهَاتُكُمْ اللَّاتِي أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ’ (your mothers who have suckled you). Secondly, the word ‘رَضَاعَة’ (Radā‘ah) is used: ‘وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ مِنْ الرَّضَاعَة’. People conversant with the subtlety of the Arabic language know that the verb ‘اِرْضَاع’ (Irdā‘) is from the If‘āl category which in general has an element of emphasis in it. Moreover, the word ‘رَضَاعَة’ (Radā‘ah) is absolutely inappropriate to be used when a lady suckles a crying child to soothe him.2

The Prophet (sws) has also explained the above purport of the Qur’ān in the following words:

Ā’ishah (rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws): If one or two drops are drunk by chance, then this does not prohibit a relationship.3

Ā’ishah (rta) narrates: Once when the Prophet (sws) came over to my house, a person was sitting there. He disliked this situation and I could see a feeling of disgust on his face. I said: ‘O Messenger of God this is my foster brother’. The Prophet (sws) replied: ‘Do consider all such brothers because a foster relationship is only established in the time when a child is suckled in the age when he needs milk.4

Here no one should misconceive the case of Sālim, the adopted son of Abū Hudhayfah (rta), who was suckled in mature age. What at most can be said about this case was that the Prophet (sws) had suggested a way to deal with the situation that had arisen after the newly revealed directive of the Qur’ān regarding adopted children. It cannot be made the basis of a permanent directive. The case of Sālim is thus:

فجاءت سهلة بنت سهيل بن عمرو القرشي ثم العامري وهى امرأة أبي حذيفة فقالت يا رسول الله إنا كنا نرى سالما ولدا وكان يأوي معي ومع أبي حذيفة في بيت واحد ويراني فضلا وقد أنزل الله عز وجل فيهم ما قد علمت فكيف ترى فيه فقال لها النبي أرضعيه (ابو داؤد ‘ رقم ١٧٦٤)

Sahlah who was the wife of Abū Hudhayfah (rta) and the daughter of Suhayl Ibn ‘Amr Qarshī ‘Āmirī once came to the Prophet (sws) and said: ‘O Messenger of God, we do consider Sālim as our son. He used to live with me and with Abū Hudhayfah in the same house and would see me in my house clothes. You are well aware of the directive which the Almighty has revealed about such boys. Now, what is your opinion regarding this matter?’ The Prophet (sws) replied: ‘Feed him with your milk’. (Abū Dā’ūd, No: 1764)

Hence, it is absolutely certain that for fosterage it is essential that the child be in the suckling age and that the matter be a planned one and not an incidental one. Moreover, foster relations become prohibited for marriage just as the ones through lineage are. This is the very purport of the Qur’ān. However, the style in which this directive is stated – peculiar to the sublime language of the Qur’ān – is such that what is self evident because of intrinsic evidence or because of some logical outcome is not stated in words. The words used are: ‘وَأُمَّهَاتُكُمْ اللَّاتِي أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ مِنْ الرَّضَاعَةِ’ (your mothers who have suckled you and your sisters through fosterage). As stated, together with foster mothers, foster sisters are also regarded as relations prohibited for marriage. Had the directive ended with foster mothers, nothing further could have been understood from it; however, if the relationship of fosterage with a mother makes her daughter a foster sister, then it is but logical to regard other relations of the foster mother to be also included in this directive. If being suckled through the same mother can make someone a foster sister, why can’t the sister of the foster mother be regarded as the maternal aunt, her husband as the father, the sister of her husband as the paternal aunt, her daughter’s daughter and her son’s daughter as nieces. Hence, it is obvious that all these relations are also prohibited in marriage. This indeed is the  purport of the Book of God and the words

وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ مِنْ الرَّضَاعَةِ’ testify to it. It is evident to any person of knowledge who deliberates on these words.

The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

يحرم من الرضاعة ما يحرم من الولادة (مُؤَطّا رقم ١١٠٢ )

Every relationship which is prohibited [for marriage] owing to lineage is also prohibited owing to fosterage. (Mu’attā, No: 1102)

Relationships by Marriage

After a mention of relationships prohibited for marriage on the basis of lineage and fosterage, relationships which are prohibited for marriage on the basis of marriage itself are mentioned in the verse quoted above. Such is the obviousness of the sanctity of these relationships in human nature that no reasoning is required. Consequently, the daughter in law is prohibited for the father, and the mother in law, the wife’s daughter5, the wife’s sister and both nieces6 of the wife are all prohibited for the husband. However, since these relationships are formed through the husband and the wife, a degree of weakness is found in them. Owing to this reason, the Qur’ān has imposed the following three conditions on the prohibitions of these relationships:

Firstly, only the daughter of that wife is prohibited with whom one has had conjugal contact.

Secondly, only the daughter-in-law of a begotten son is prohibited.

Thirdly, the sister of a wife and her two nieces are only prohibited if the wife is in wedlock with the husband.

The first of the above mentioned conditions is referred to in the Qur’ān in these words: ‘وَرَبَائِبُكُمْ اللَّاتِي فِي حُجُورِكُمْ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ اللَّاتِي دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُونُوا دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ’ (your step-daughters raised under you born of your wives with whom you have lain – no offence if you have not lain with their mothers). Here, together with the condition of conjugal contact, it is also said that step daughters who are raised under the guardianship of the husbands. It is evident that this last qualification is not a condition. While explaining this aspect, Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

In the Arabic language not every attribute is meant to impose a condition such that if the attribute does not exist, the directive would stand null and void. Intrinsic evidence and the context of the verse shows which attribute signify a condition and which merely portrays a situation. In this particular instance, it is not only the context and intrinsic evidence but explicit words which testify that the daughter of a wife from the previous husband is only prohibited if the husband has had conjugal contact with the wife. It is thus evident that the real reason of prohibition for such a daughter is conjugal contact with her mother. If this is the case, then the husband cannot marry such a daughter whether she has been raised under his guardianship or not. It must be kept in consideration that in the lofty classical Arabic, especially that of the Qur’ān, a negation after a positive assertion or vice versa is never without purpose: they are indeed very meaningful. Mostly, such a style is meant to remove ambiguity from a statement. Hence, the view of some people that marriage with only that daughter of a wife7 is also forbidden who is raised by the husband’s is incorrect.8

The second condition stated in the verse is mentioned by the words ‘وَحَلَائِلُ أَبْنَائِكُمْ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَابِكُمْ’ (and the wives of your begotten sons). The reason for this condition of ‘begotten sons’ is that in the time of the Prophet (sws) people used to consider marriage with the wives of the adopted sons as prohibited. By imposing this condition, the Qur’ān has elucidated the fact that mere adoption does not give the child the status of a begotten child and nor does this adoption entail any prohibition regarding marriage. The  words of the Qur’ān are:

وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَاءَكُمْ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ ذَلِكُمْ قَوْلُكُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَقُولُ الْحَقَّ وَهُوَ يَهْدِي السَّبِيلَ  ادْعُوهُمْ لِآبَائِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَعْلَمُوا آبَاءَهُمْ فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَمَوَالِيكُمْ (٣٣: ٤-٥)

And nor has He made your adopted sons yours sons. Such is your speech by your mouths and Allah says the truth, and only He shows the right way. Call them after [the names of] their fathers: that is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you know not their fathers, then they are your brothers in faith and your friends. (33:4-5)

The third condition is stated in the words: ‘وَأَنْ تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ’ (and two sisters in wedlock at the same time). A little deliberation shows that this expression is of the same style as the one which has been discussed before under foster relationships. Although the Qur’ān has only stated the prohibition of two sisters in simultaneous wedlock, it is evident that if combining two sisters in wedlock is a lewd thing as far as the relationship of marriage is concerned, then combing a paternal aunt with the brother’s daughter in wedlock and the maternal aunt with the sister’s daughter in wedlock is like combining a mother and a daughter in wedlock. Hence, though the words used are: ‘وَأَنْ تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ’, the purport of the Qur’ān no doubt is: اْلمَرْاةِ بَيْنَ اْلمَرْاةِ وَ عَمَّتِهَا وَ بَيْنَ وَ وَأَنْ تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ وَ خَالَتِهَا (and two sisters in wedlock at the same time and the paternal aunt with the brother’s daughter at the same time and the maternal aunt with the sister’s daughter at the same time). However, all these words are suppressed after ‘بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ’, because what is mentioned points towards this suppression as obviously understood. So obvious are the words of this suppression that no student of the Qur’ān can err in understanding them.

The Prophet (sws), consequently, is reported to have said:

لا يجمع بين المرأة وعمتها ولا بين المرأة وخالتها (مُؤَطّا رقم ٩٧٧)

Neither can a lady and her paternal aunt nor can a lady and her maternal aunt can be combined in wedlock. (Mua’ttā, No: 977)

(Translated from ‘Mīzān’ by Shehzad Saleem)








1. Islāhī, Amīn Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 275

2. Ibid

3. Muslim, No: 2628

4. Muslim, No: 2642

5. This implies the daughter from her previous marriage

6. that is both her sister’s daughter and her brother’s daughter.

7. this implies the daughter from her previous marriage

8. Islāhī, Amīn Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 276

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