Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayah 23
This ayah gives details of muharramaat – women with whom marriage is prohibited. Some of them are prohibited forever, never becoming lawful under any condition. Some are not permanently prohibited. They become lawful under some particular circumstances.
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.
Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “(Allah said) I have prohibited for you seven types of relatives by blood and seven by marriage.” He then recited this ayah.
Ibn Katheer writes “…your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing…” means just as your mother who bore you is prohibited for you in marriage, so is your mother from suckling prohibited for you.
Imam Bukhari and Muslim recorded that ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
إِنَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا تُحَرِّمُ الْوِلَادَة
“Suckling prohibits what birth prohibits.”
Suckling that Establishes Prohibition for Marriage
Less than five incidents of suckling will not establish prohibition for marriage. In his Saheeh, Muslim recorded that ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha said, “Among the parts of the Qur’an that were revealed is the statement, ‘Ten incidents of suckling establishes the prohibition (concerning marriage).’ It was later abrogated with five, and the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam died while this statement was still recited as part of the Qur’an.”
A hadeeth that Sahlah bint Suhayl narrated states that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam ordered her to suckle Saleem the freed slave of Abu Hudhayfah with five.
We should assert that the suckling mentioned here must occur before the age of two, as we stated when we explained the ayah in Surah Al-Baqarah,
يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلَـدَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كَامِلَيْنِ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُتِمَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ
“Mothers may nurse their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period]…” (2:223)
The Mother-in-Law and Stepdaughter are Prohibited in Marriage
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said next,
وَأُمَّهَاتُ نِسَائِكُمْ وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّاتِي فِي حُجُورِكُم مِّن نِّسَائِكُمُ اللَّاتِي دَخَلْتُم بِهِنَّ فَإِن لَّمْ تَكُونُوا دَخَلْتُم بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ
“…your wives’ mothers, and your step-daughters under your guardianship [born] of your wives unto whom you have gone in. But if you have not gone in unto them, there is no sin upon you.”
As for the mother of the wife, she becomes prohibited for marriage for her son-in-law when the marriage is conducted, whether the son-in-law has sexual relations with her daughter or not. As for the wife’s daughter, she becomes prohibited for her stepfather when he has sexual relations with her mother, after the marriage contract is ratified. If the man divorces the mother before having sexual relations with her, he is allowed to marry her daughter. So Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “…your step-daughters under your guardianship [born] of your wives unto whom you have gone in. But if you have not gone in unto them, there is no sin upon you,” to marry the stepdaughter.
The Stepdaughter is Prohibited in Marriage Even if She Was Not Under the Guardianship of Her Stepfather
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,
وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّاتِي فِي حُجُورِكُم
“…your step-daughters under your guardianship…”
Ibn Katheer writes that the majority of the scholars state that the stepdaughter is prohibited in marriage for her stepfather who consummated his marriage to her mother, whether she was under his guardianship or not.
The Two Saheeh recorded that Umm Habibah radhiAllahu ‘anha said, “O Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam! Marry my sister, the daughter of Abu Sufyan (and in one narration ‘Azzah bint Abu Sufyan).” He said,
أَوَ تُحِبِّينَ ذلِك
“Do you like that I do that?”
She said, “I would not give you up for anything, but the best of whom I like to share with me in that which is righteously good, is my sister.” He said,
فَإِنَّ ذلِكِ لَا يَحِلُّ لِي
“That is not allowed for me.”
She said, “We were told that you want to marry the daughter of Abu Salamah.” He asked, “The daughter of Umm Salamah?” She said, “Yes.” He said,
إِنَّهَا لَوْ لَمْ تَكُنْ رَبِيبَتِي فِي حِجْرِي مَا حَلَّتْ لِي، إِنَّهَا لَبِنْتُ أَخِي مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ، أَرْضَعَتْنِي وَأَبَا سَلَمَةَ ثُوَيْبَةُ، فَلَا تَعْرِضْنَ عَلَيَّ بَنَاتِكُنَّ وَلَا أَخَوَاتِكُن
“Even if she was not my stepdaughter and under my guardianship, she is still not allowed for me because she is my niece from suckling, for Thuwaybah suckled me and Abu Salamah. Therefore, do not offer me to marry your daughters or sisters.”
In another narration from Imam Bukhari, it appears that he said,
إِنِّي لَوْ لَمْ أَتَزَوَّجْ أُمَّ سَلَمَةَ مَا حَلَّتْ لِي
“Had I not married Umm Salamah, her daughter would not have been allowed for me anyway.”
Consequently, the Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam stated that his marriage to Umm Salamah radhiAllahu ‘anha was the real reason behind that prohibition.
Prohibiting the Daughter-in-Law for Marriage
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,
“…And [also prohibited are] the wives of your sons who are from your [own] loins…”
Ibn Katheer explains that this means therefore, you are prohibited to marry the wives of your own sons, but not the wives of your adopted sons, as adoption was common practice in Jahiliyyah. It is because of this reason that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was instructed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to marry his cousin, Zainab bint Jash radhiAllahu ‘anha, and abolish the practice of pre-Islamic era. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said in Surah al-Ahzab ayah 37,
فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَراً زَوَّجْنَـكَهَا لِكَىْ لاَ يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِى أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَآئِهِمْ
“So when Zayd had no longer any need for her, We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. And ever is the command of Allah accomplished.” (33:37)
The Prohibition of Taking Two Sisters as Rival Wives
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,
وَأَن تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ ۗ
“…and that you take [in marriage] two sisters simultaneously, except for what has already occurred.”
Ibn Katheer explains that the ayah commands that it is prohibited to take two sisters as rival wives except for what had happened during the time of ignorance, which Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has forgiven and erased.
Therefore, no one is allowed to take or keep two sisters as rival wives, according to the consensus of the scholars of the Companions, their followers, and the Imams of old and present. They all stated that taking two sisters as rival wives is prohibited, and that whoever embraces Islam while married to two sisters at the same time is given the choice to keep one of them and divorce the other.
Imam Ahmad recorded that Ad-Dahhak bin Fayruz said that his father said, “I embraced Islam while married to two sisters at the same time and the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam commanded me to divorce one of them.”
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani further explains this in his Tafseer, Ma’arif-ul-Qur’an. He writes just as one cannot combine two sisters in his marriage, it is also unlawful for him to combine an aunt and her niece. They too cannot be combined in marriage with any one person.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ends the address by reminding us that He is the Most Forgiving and the Most Merciful. Anything that people did erroneously before the advent of Islam will be overlooked by Him after they have embraced Islam. He will not only forgive their past sins but also turn to them with His mercy. SubhanAllah!
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