The Quran

Commentaries for 4.23

An Nisa (The women) - النساء

4.23 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
He said: (Forbidden unto you are your mothers) your blood mothers, (and your daughters) your blood daughters, (and your sisters) your blood sisters, whether from both parents or from either one of them, (and your father's sisters, and your mother's sisters, and your brother's daughters) the daughters of your blood brother whether he is a full brother or half brother from the father or the mother (and your sister's daughters) and the daughters of your sister whether she is a full sister or half sister from the father or mother, (and your foster mothers) who suckled you within the first two years, (and your foster sisters, and your mothers-in-law) whether you have consummated the marriage with their daughters or not: in both cases you are forbidden from marrying them, (and your stepdaughters who are under your protection) who are brought up in your homes ((born) of your women unto whom ye have gone in) with whom you are married and consummated this marriage (but if ye have not gone in unto them) if you have not have consummated the marriage with their mothers, (then it is no sin for you) to marry their daughters after you divorce their mothers (and the wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins) your sons who are born in wedlock. (And (it is forbidden unto you) that ye should have two sisters together) whether they are free or slave sisters, (except what hath already happened (of that nature) in the past) before Islam. (Lo! Allah is ever Forgiving) of that which ensued from you in the pre-Islamic era, (Merciful) regarding that which ensues from you in Islam, provided that you repent.
4.23 Asrar - Kashf Al-Asrar
Forbidden to you are your mothers and daughters, your sisters….
The allusion in this verse is that the Shariah is built on making oneself a servant, not on self-exertion; the canon of the religion is transmitted, not rationally derived; and the basis of the Sunnah is surrender, not looking for reasons.
Surrender is an easy road, its domicile flourishing, its goal the approval of the All-Merciful. Self-exertion and self-determination are a difficult road, their domicile in ruins, their goal unwholesome. Watch out! Jump away from the road of self-exertion and cling to surrender. Avoid self-determination and looking for reasons. Whatever the Shariah has declared forbidden, consider it forbidden-a consignment by the Desire, built upon the Will. If it had been permitted in place of forbidden, the same would be the case, for it would have been current in the holy Shariah and would have no cause or ambiguity. For He is the Real-majestic is His majesty! He does whatsoever He wills [3:40] and decrees whatsoever He desires [5:1]. He forbids what He wills to those whom He wills and He allows what He wills to those whom He wills. His artisanry has no cause and His decree no protester.
4.23 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
Forbidden to you are your mothers, in marriage, and this includes the paternal and maternal grandmothers; and daughters, including their children, if they should lower themselves [to such standards]; your sisters, from your fathers and mothers; your paternal aunts, that is, the sisters of your fathers and grandfathers; and maternal aunts, that is, the sisters of your mothers and grandmothers; your brother’s daughters, your sister’s daughters, including the children of these daughters; your foster mothers who have given you milk, five times within the first two years, as pointed out in a hadīth; your foster sisters, and, according to the Sunna, the daughters of these; and these foster-sisters include those suckled by a woman with whom the man has had intercourse, those suckled by the man’s paternal aunts, or maternal aunts, or those suckled by his brother’s daughters, or his sister’s daughters, on account of the [Prophet’s] hadīth that, ‘What kinship makes unlawful suckling also makes unlawful’, as reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim; your mothers-in-law, your step-daughters (rabā’ib, plural of rabība, the daughter of one’s wife from another husband), who are, being brought up, in your care (allātī fī hujūrikum is an adjectival qualifier, reiterating the obvious, without any additional import); being born of your wives you have been in to, in sexual intercourse — but if you have not yet been in to them you are not at fault, if you leave them, to then marry their daughters — and the spouses of your sons who are of your loins, as opposed to those whom you have adopted, whose spouses, in contrast, you may marry; and that you should take to you, in marriage, two sisters together, [sisters] by kinship or by suckling: the Sunna adds that you may not marry her together with her paternal or maternal aunt; it is permissible to marry each of these separately or to own them [as handmaidens] together, but only have sexual intercourse with one of them; unless it be a thing of the past, from pre-Islamic times, when you may have married in one of the ways mentioned: you are not at fault. God is ever Forgiving, of what you have done in the past, prior to this prohibition, Merciful, to you in this matter.
4.23 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
Degrees of Women Never Eligible for One to Marry
This honorable Ayah is the Ayah that establishes the degrees of women relatives who are never eligible for one to marry, because of blood relations, relations established by suckling or marriage. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, "(Allah said) I have prohibited for you seven types of relatives by blood and seven by marriage.'' Ibn `Abbas then recited the Ayah,
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَـتُكُمْ وَبَنَـتُكُمْ وَأَخَوَتُكُمْ
(Forbidden to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters...) At-Tabari recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, "Seven degrees of blood relation and seven degrees of marriage relation are prohibited (for marriage).'' He then recited the Ayah,
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَـتُكُمْ وَبَنَـتُكُمْ وَأَخَوَتُكُمْ وَعَمَّـتُكُمْ وَخَـلَـتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُ الاٌّخِ وَبَنَاتُ الاٍّخْتِ
(Forbidden to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father's sisters, your mother's sisters, your brother's daughters, your sister's daughters) and these are the types prohibited by blood relation.'' Allah's statement,
وَأُمَّهَـتُكُمُ الْلاَّتِى أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ وَأَخَوَتُكُم مِّنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ
(Your foster mothers who suckled you, your foster milk suckling sisters) means, just as your mother who bore you is prohibited for you in marriage, so is your mother from suckling prohibited for you. Al-Bukhari and Muslim recorded that `A'ishah, the Mother of the Faithful, said that the Messenger of Allah said,
«إِنَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا تُحَرِّمُ الْوِلَادَة»
(Suckling prohibits what birth prohibits.) In another narration reported by Muslim,
«يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ مَا يَحْرُمُ مِنَ النَّسَب»
(Suckling establishes prohibited degrees just as blood does.)
`Suckling' that Establishes Prohibition for Marriage
Less than five incidents of suckling will not establish prohibition for marriage. In his Sahih, Muslim recorded that `A'ishah 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 died while this statement was still recited as part of the Qur'an.''' A Hadith that Sahlah bint Suhayl narrated states that the Messenger of Allah ordered her to suckle Salim 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 Surat Al-Baqarah,
يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلَـدَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كَامِلَيْنِ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُتِمَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ
((The mothers) should suckle their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling) 2:233. The Mother-in-Law and Stepdaughter are Prohibited in Marriage Allah said next,
وَأُمَّهَـتُ نِسَآئِكُمْ وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّـتِى فِى حُجُورِكُمْ مِّن نِّسَآئِكُمُ اللَّـتِى دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَإِن لَّمْ تَكُونُواْ دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ
(Your wives' mothers, your stepdaughters under your guardianship, born of your wives unto whom you have gone in - but there is no sin on you if you have not gone in unto them,) 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 said;
وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّـتِى فِى حُجُورِكُمْ مِّن نِّسَآئِكُمُ اللَّـتِى دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَإِن لَّمْ تَكُونُواْ دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ
(Your stepdaughters under your guardianship, born of your wives unto whom you have gone in -- but there is no sin on you if you have not gone in unto them,) to marry the stepdaughter.
The Stepdaughter is Prohibited in Marriage Even if She Was Not Under the Guardianship of Her Stepfather
Allah said,
وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّـتِى فِى حُجُورِكُمْ
(...your stepdaughters under your guardianship,) The majority of 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 Sahih recorded that Umm Habibah said, "O Messenger of Allah! Marry my sister, the daughter of Abu Sufyan (and in one narration `Azzah bint Abu Sufyan).
He said,
«أَوَ تُحِبِّينَ ذلِك»
؟ قالت: نعم. لست لك بمخلية، وأحب من شاركني في خيرٍ أختي، قال:
«فَإِنَّ ذلِكِ لَا يَحِلُّ لِي»
قالت: فإنا نتحدث أنك تريد أن تنكح بنت أبي سلمة، قال:
«بِنْتَ أُمِّ سَلَمَة»
؟ قالت: نعم. قال:
«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»
("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, "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, "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 Al-Bukhari,
«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 stated that his marriage to Umm Salamah was the real reason behind that prohibition.
Meaning of `gone in unto them
The Ayah continues,
اللَّـتِى دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ
(Your wives unto whom you have gone in), meaning, had sexual relations with them, according to Ibn `Abbas and several others.
Prohibiting the Daughter-in-Law for Marriage
Allah said,
وَحَلَـئِلُ أَبْنَآئِكُمُ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَـبِكُمْ
(The wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins,) 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. Allah said,
فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَراً زَوَّجْنَـكَهَا لِكَىْ لاَ يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِى أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَآئِهِمْ
(So when Zayd had accomplished his desire from her (i.e. divorced her), We gave her to you in marriage, so that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of (the marriage of) the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them (i.e. they had divorced them).) 33:37 Ibn Jurayj said, "I asked `Ata' about Allah's statement,
وَحَلَـئِلُ أَبْنَآئِكُمُ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَـبِكُمْ
(The wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins,) He said, `We were told that when the Prophet married the ex-wife of Zayd (who was the Prophet's adopted son before Islam prohibited this practice), the idolators in Makkah criticized him. Allah sent down the Ayat:
وَحَلَـئِلُ أَبْنَآئِكُمُ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَـبِكُمْ
(The wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins),
وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَآءَكُمْ أَبْنَآءَكُمْ
(nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons.) 33:4, and,
مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مّن رِّجَالِكُمْ
(Muhammad is not the father of any of your men) 33:40.''' Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Al-Hasan bin Muhammad said, "These Ayat are encompassing,
وَحَلَـئِلُ أَبْنَآئِكُمُ
(the wives of your sons), and,
وَأُمَّهَـتُ نِسَآئِكُمْ
(your wives' mothers). This is also the explanation of Tawus, Ibrahim, Az-Zuhri and Makhul. It means that these two Ayat encompass these types of women, whether the marriage was consummated or not, and there is a consensus on this ruling.
A Doubt and Rebuttal
Why is the wife of one's son from suckling prohibited for him for marriage - that is, if she is no longer married to his son from suckling - as the majority of scholars state, although they are not related by blood The answer is the Prophet's statement,
«يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّضَاعِ مَا يَحْرُمُ مِنَ النَّسَب»
(Suckling prohibits what blood relations prohibit.)
The Prohibition of Taking Two Sisters as Rival Wives
Allah said,
وَأَن تَجْمَعُواْ بَيْنَ الاٍّخْتَيْنِ إَلاَّ مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ
(...and two sisters in wedlock at the same time, except for what has already passed;) The Ayah commands: you are prohibited to take two sisters as rival wives, or rival female-servants, except for what had happened to you during the time of Jahiliyyah, which We have 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 commanded me to divorce one of them.''
4.23-24 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
This prohibition applies both to the real mother and to the step-mother and both are unlawful. It also applies to the mother of the father and to the mother of the mother.
Experts have differed as to whether the woman with whom the father has had illicit relations is also unlawful for the son or not. Some of the earlier jurists do not consider her unlawful, but some others not only consider her unlawful for the son but also the woman whom the father has touched lustfully with the hand. There has also been a difference of opinion as to whether the woman with whom the son has had an illicit relation is unlawful for the father and whether the man with whom the mother or the daughter has had illicit relation becomes unlawful for both the mother and the daughter. There have been lengthy controversies concerning the legal niceties of this matter, but a little thinking will show that the existence of a wife who is also coveted by the husband's father or his son, or whose mother or daughter is also coveted by the husband himself, cannot bode well for a righteous society. Divine Law in this matter does not tolerate the legal hair splitting on the basis of which fine distinctions are made between marriage and after marriage, touching with the hand and casting of looks, etc. The simple thing is that in family life existence of sexual relations of the father and the son with one and the same woman, or of the mother and the daughter with one and the same man, is bound to corrupt the family, and the Divine Law cannot tolerate it. This is supported by the following two Traditions of the Holy Prophet:
(1) "The mother and the daughter of the woman become unlawful for the man who cast a look at her sexual organs."
(2) "God does not like even to look at a man who casts a gaze at the sexual organs of the mother and of her daughter."
The prohibition about daughter also applies to the daughter of the son and the daughter of the daughter. There is, however, a difference of opinion in regard to a girl born of an illicit relationship. Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik and lmam Ahmad-bin-Hanbal (may Allah bless them all) are of the opinion that she too is unlawful like the lawful daughter, but Imam Shafi 'i does not consider an illegitimate daughter unlawful. But the very idea is repugnant that one should marry a girl about whom one has the knowledge that she is of one's own seed.
This applies to the real sister as well as to the foster sisters from the father's and the mother's side.
All these relations are prohibited, irrespective of whether they are real or step from the father's side or from the mother's side. The sister of the father or mother, whether real or step, is unlawful for the son. Similarly the daughters of the brothers and sisters whether they are real or step are unlawful for a person like his own real daughter.
The consensus of opinion is that the woman who suckled a boy or a girl should be treated as the real mother and her husband as the real father with regard to this prohibition. All those relations that have been made unlawful in respect of the real mother and real father are also prohibited in respect of the foster mother who has suckled and in respect.of her husband. This is based on a Tradition of the Holy Prophet which is to this effect: "Suckling makes unlawful what blood makes unlawful. " There is, however, a difference of opinion as to the minimum quantity of milk that is suckled. According to Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik, if the child suckles milk equal to that minimum quantity that breaks the fast, the woman shall be treated as its real mother for marriage relations. But Imam Ahmad is of the opinion that the prohibition shall take place if the child suckles the woman at least three times and according to Imam Shafi `i at least five times. There is also a difference of opinion as to the age of the child at the time of suckling that brings prohibition. Below are given the opinions of the jurists:
(1) Hadrat Umm Salamah, Ibn `Abbas, Zuhri, Hasan Basri, Qatadah, `Ikrimah, and Auza`i are of the opinion that if the child is suckled during the period when it has not yet been weaned and it lives only on suckling, the prohibition shall be effective; but if it is suckled after it has been weaned, it will not apply; for this is like drinking water. There is also a saying of Hadrat `Ali to the same effect.
(2) Hadrat `Umar, Ibn Mas`ud, Abu Hurairah and Ibn `Umar (Allah be pleased with them) are of the opinion that the prohibition will be effective if the child is suckled at any time up to the age of two. Imam Shaafi `i, Imam Ahmad, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad and Sufyan Thauri from among the jurists also agree to this. There is also a saying of Imam Abu Hanifah to the same effect. Imam Malik also agrees to this, but he says that the prohibition shall apply even if a month or two exceeds the time limit of two years.
(3) According to a well-known saying of Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Zufar, the prohibition shall apply if the child is suckled during the suckling period, which extends `up to the age of two years and a half
(4) Hadrat 'A' ishah is of the opinion that the prohibition shall apply, if one is suckled at any time whatsoever, irrespective of age. An authentic saying of Hadrat `Ali also supports the same and 'Urwah bin Zubair, 'Ata', Laith bin Sa'd and Ibn Hazm from among the jurists have adopted the same opinion.
There is a difference of opinion as to whether the mere event of nikah (marriage ceremony) with a woman makes her mother unlawful or not. Imam Abu Hanifah, Malik, Ahmad and Shafi `i are of the opinion that this alone makes her mother unlawful but Hadrat "Ali is of the opinion that unless one has had any conjugal relation with her, her mother shall not become unlawful for him.
The wife's daughter is unlawful in any case, whether she has been brought up in the house of the step-father or not. Allah has used these words only to show the great delicacy of the relation. There is almost a consensus of opinion among the jurists that the step-daughter is unlawful in any case whether one has brought her up or not.
The significance of "who are from your loins" is that the widows or the divorced wives of those whom one has adopted as sons are not unlawful. The prohibition applies only to the wives of the sons who are of one's own seed. Likewise, the wives of the grandsons are also unlawful.
Likewise it is unlawful to keep the aunt and her real niece as wives at one and the same time. The principle is that no two women who would have been unlawful for each other if one of them had been a man should be kept as wives at one and the same time.
That is, "No action will be taken for the transgression committed during the days of 'ignorance', by keeping two sisters as wives at one and the same time." (Please also see E.N. 32 above). However, one shall have to divorce one of the two sisters thus married during the time of un-belief after one has become a Muslim.
That is, those women who become prisoners of war, while their unbelieving husbands are left behind in the War Zone, are not unlawful because their marriage ties are broken by the fact that they have come from the War Zone into the Islamic Zone. It is lawful to marry such women, and it is also lawful for those, in whose possession they are, to have sexual relations with them. There is, however, a difference of opinion as to whether such a woman is lawful, if her husband is also taken a prisoner along with her. Imam Abu Hanifah and those of his way of thinking are of the opinion that the marriage tie of such a pair would remain intact but Imam Malik and Shafi 'i, are of the opinion that it would also break.
As there exist many misunderstandings in the minds of the people concerning the slave-girls taken as prisoners of war, the following should be carefully studied:
(1) It is not lawful for a soldier to have conjugal relations with a prisoner of war as soon as she falls into his hands. The Islamic Law requires that all such women should be handed over to the government, which has the right to set them free or to ransom them, or to exchange them with the Muslim prisoners in the hands of the enemy, or distribute them among the soldiers. A soldier can cohabit only with that woman who has been formally given to him by the government.
(2) Even then, he shall have to wait for one monthly course before he can cohabit with her in order to ensure whether she is pregnant or not; otherwise it shall be unlawful to cohabit with her before delivery.
(3) It does not matter whether the female prisoner of war belongs to the people of the Book or not. Whatever her religion, she becomes lawful for the man to whom she is formally given.
(4) None but the one to own the slave-girl is given has the right to "touch her." The offspring of such a woman from his seed shall be his lawful children and shall have the same legal rights as are given by the Divine Law to the children from one's loins. After the birth of a child she cannot be sold as a slave-girl and shall automatically become free after her master's death.
(5) If the master marries his slave-girl with another man, he forfeits his conjugal rights over her, but retains other rights such as service from her.
(6) The maximum limit of four has not been prescribed for slave-girls as in the case of wives for the simple reason that the number of female prisoners of war is unpredictable. The lack of limit does by no means provide a license for the well-to-do people to buy any number of slave-girls for licentious purposes.
(7) The proprietary rights over a slave, male or female, as given to a person by the government are transferable like all other legal proprietary rights.
(8) The handing over of the proprietary rights over a slave-girl to a man formally by the government makes her as much lawful for him as the giving of the baud of a free woman to a man by her parents or guardian through nikah (marriage ceremony). Therefore, there is no reason why a man who does not hold marriage in detestation should hold sexual intercourse with a slave-girl in detestation.
(9) When once the government hands over the female prisoner of war to someone, it has no right whatever to take her back from him, just as the parent or guardian has no right to take back a woman after she is handed over to a man through nikah.
(10) It should also be noted well that if a military commander temporarily distributes female prisoners of war among the soldiers for sexual purposes, or permits them to have sexual relations for the time being, such an act shall be unlawful and there is absolutely no difference between this and fornication, and fornication is a crime according to the Islamic code. (For detailed discussion please refer to my books, Tafhimat II and Rasa `il-o-Masa 'il I).
4.23 Qushairi - Al-Qushairi
Forbidden to you are your mothers and daughters your sisters your paternal aunts and maternal aunts your brother's daughters your sister's daughters your foster mothers who have given you milk your foster sisters your mothers-in-law your step-daughters who are in your care being born of your wives you have been in to-but if you have not yet been in to them you are not at fault-and the spouses of your sons who are of your loins and that you should take to you two sisters together unless it be a thing of the past. God is ever Forgiving Merciful. The attempt to find the meanings behind the prohibitions is an impossible matter because the law does not need to be justified ghayr al-muʿallal. Rather the Real سبحانه prohibits what He will for whom He will and likewise gives permission. There is no underlying cause ʿilla for the laws at all: if the prohibited women were to be the permissible ones or the permissible women were to be the prohibited ones then that would be allowed.