An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Women Prohibited for Marriage [Part 1]

In the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 22 & 23

There are three kinds of permanently prohibited women referred to in the first category. They are those by kinship by fosterage and by relationship through marriage and are permanently prohibited. The kind mentioned at the end remains prohibited until they are bound in marriage with someone else.  An explanation of the ayaah follows:

وَلاَ تَنكِحُواْ مَا نَكَحَ ءَابَاؤُكُمْAnd do not marry those of women whom your fathers had married. During the days of jahiliyyah, people had no qualms when they went ahead and married the wife of their father after his death. In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has prohibited this shameful practice: an evil which invites His wrath. How can someone keep calling a woman his mother for a long time and yet stoop so low as to make her his wife after death of the father?


  1. Marrying the legally wedded wife of the father has been declared unlawful in this ayah. There is no restriction here to indicate marital consummation by the father. So, the fact that the father has married a woman is enough to forbid the son from entering into marriage with that woman. It will never be lawful. Similarly, it is not correct for the father to marry the wife of his son, even if the marriage of the son is limited to formal nikah and his wife has not yet come to live with him. [Ibn Abideen]
  2. If the father has fallen into illicit relations with some woman, even then it will not be permissible for the son to marry that woman.

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَـتُكُمْ  Prohibited for you are your mothers. It means that it is unlawful to marry one’s own mother and the word, ummahatukum (your mothers), includes all grandmothers, paternal or maternal.

وَبَنَـتُكُمْ  And your daughters means that it is unlawful to marry one’s own real daughter, and the daughter of the daughter, and the daughter of the son.

In short, marrying a daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, maternal granddaughter, paternal granddaughter is all unlawful. As for marrying a step-daughter, from a different husband, whom the wife has brought with her there are details which will appear. As regards the son or daughter who are not real but have been adopted, it is permissible to marry them or their offspring, subject to the provision that such marriage is not unlawful due to some other consideration. Similarly, if a person fathers a daughter by indulging in zina with a woman, the girl thus born will be governed by the rule which applies to a daughter and marriage with her too will not be correct.

وَأَخَوَتُكُمْ  And your sisters: Marrying one’s own real sister is unlawful, as well as marrying as allati sister (half-sister from the same father but different mother), and also marrying an akhyafi sister (half-sister from the same mother but different father).

وَعَمَّـتُكُمْ  And your paternal aunts: Marriage with the real sister of one’s father, his half-sister from their father’s side and his half-sister from their mother’s side is unlawful. It means that one cannot marry any paternal aunt from the three kinds described above.

وَخَـلَـتُكُمْ  And your maternal aunts: Marriage with a sister of one’s mother, whether real (haqiqi) or half-sister from their father’s side or half-sister from their mother’s side is unlawful.

وَبَنَاتُ الاٌّخِ  And daughters of brother: It means that marriage with one’s nieces is also unlawful, whether they be haqiqi, allati or akhyafi. Marriage with the daughters of all three types of brothers, real or half, as given above, is not lawful.   

وَبَنَاتُ الاٍّخْتِ  And daughters of sister: It means that marriage with one’s maternal nieces is also unlawful, whether the sisters be haqiqi or allati or akhyafi. The daughters of such sisters cannot be taken in marriage.

وَأُمَّهَـتُكُمُ الْلاَّتِى أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ  And your mothers who suckled you: This refers to women who, even though they are not the real mothers, are treated in Shariah like mothers in the sense that marriage with them is as prohibited as with one’s real mother. The quantity or the frequency of feed makes no difference; the said unlawfulness stands established under all eventualities. Muslim jurists refer to this as the unlawfulness through fosterage.

However, it is necessary to remember that this unlawfulness through fosterage gets established when suckling takes place at a time which is the usual time for it during childhood. The Prophet sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam has said, “Fosterage is only from hunger.” which means that the unlawfulness that becomes established through suckling shall come into effect only when suckling has taken place at a time when the child has no other option but to suckle and grow through it. [al-Bukhari and Muslim]

According to Imam Abu Hanifah, this period ranges between the birth of the child and when he or she is two and a half years old. According to other Muslim jurists which includes his special disciples, Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad the period of suckling is two years only, therefore if a boy or girl suckles at the breast of a woman after the age of two years, the prohibition of marriage due to fosterage will not come into effect.

وَأَخَوَتُكُم مِّنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ  And your sisters through suckling: It means that marriage with sisters related through the bond of fosterage is also unlawful. Going in details, it works out that a woman who suckles a boy or girl during the days of suckling becomes their foster mother, and her husband becomes their foster father, and the offspring of that woman become his brothers and sisters, and the sisters of that woman become their maternal aunts and the elder and younger brothers of her husband become the foster uncle of these children, and the sisters of the husband of that woman become the paternal aunts of these children; and this, in between all of them, the relationship of fosterage resulting in prohibition of marriage is established. The marriage which is mutually unlawful as based on the relation of kinship becomes equally unlawful as based on the relation of kinship becomes equally unlawful as based on the relation of suckling. The Prophet has said, “That which becomes unlawful by kinship becomes unlawful by fosterage”. [Bukhari]. Another narration from the Saheeh of Muslim as in Mishkat, p. 273, says, “Surely, Allah has prohibited through fosterage what He has prohibited through kinship.”


1. If a boy and a girl were suckled by a certain woman, the two of them cannot be married to each other. Similarly, marriage with the daughter of a foster brother and foster sister is also not possible.

2. Marriage with the lineal mother of foster brother and foster sister is permissible. It is also lawful to marry the foster mother of the lineal sister of foster sister; and the foster sister of the lineal sister.

3. The unlawfulness of marriage becomes established if the feed is received by the child during the days of suckling either through the mouth, or the nose. Should it be that the feed is given to the child by any other inlet, or it is injected in, then, the unlawfulness of fosterage will not come to be established.

4. No feed other than the feed from the woman suckling the child (for example, milk from animals), establishes fosterage.

5. If the feed is mixed in medicine or in milk from a goat, cow or buffalo, the unlawfulness of marriage as based on suckling shall be established only when the quantity of the woman’s feed measures more, or when it is at least equal. But, if the woman’s feed is less than that, this unlawfulness shall not come to be established.

6. If a woman lets a child mouth her nipple, but there is no certainty that the child has sucked the feed in, then this will not establish the unlawfulness through suckling and it will not affect the lawfulness of marriage, because the prohibition of marriage is not established where actual suckling is doubtful.

7. If a man marries a certain woman while some other woman claims that she has suckled both of them, then, should both of them confirm it, it will be decided that the marriage was incorrect. However, should both of them reject the claim it will not be mandatory on the spouses to vacate the marriage, however, if the woman appears to be God-fearing and a practicing Muslim, it is preferable for the spouses to opt for separation through divorce.

9. The witness of two practicing Muslims is necessary in order to prove unlawfulness through suckling. This will not be proved by the witness of one man or one woman. But, since this is a very serious matter involving the while life being halal or harram a precautionary attitude will always be advisable.

10. Therefore, some Muslim jurists have ruled that if one intends to marry a woman, and only one practicing Muslim testifies that they are foster brother and sister, it will not be permissible for them to contract marriage. And if the evidence of one witness, male or female, comes forth after they have married each other, even then, it will safe and prudent for them to opt for voluntary separation.

According to the recognized rules of evidence, the testimony of one man and two women is equal to that of two male witnesses. Therefore, even if one man and two women testify the fact of suckling, the foster-relationship will stand proved.

(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)


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