Marriage is the most essential social bond that maintains human society. It is the key step to establishing a family, which is the nucleus of society. Since the ultimate goal of creating human beings is to worship Allah Almighty, a Muslim has to look at marriage as a means of ‘producing’ human beings who will be future worshippers of Allah, which is a religious commitment, apart from being a physical, social and psychological need.
When planning for marriage, one has to ask himself who he should marry. Allah mentions most of the categories of women involved in this question in the following verses, (which means):”And do not marry those [women] whom your fathers married, except what has already occurred. Indeed, it was an immorality and hateful [to Allah] and was evil as a way. Prohibited 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, your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing, 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. And [also prohibited are] the wives of your sons who are from your [own] loins, and that you take [in marriage] two sisters simultaneously, except for what has already occurred. Indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful. And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess [i.e., slaves or war-captives who had polytheistic husbands]. [This is] the decree of Allah upon you. And lawful to you are [all others] beyond these, [provided] that you seek them [in marriage] with [gifts from] your property, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse…” [Quran 4:22-24]
WOMAN TO WHOM MARRIAGE IS PROHIBITED
It is permanently haram for a Muslim to marry a woman who belongs to one of the following categories:
A man cannot marry his father’s wife, whether she is divorced or widowed. During the period of jahiliyyah such marriages were allowed. Then Islam prohibited them, for once a woman is married to a man’s father she acquires the status of his mother, and this prohibition is out of honor and respect for the father. Moreover, as this inviolable prohibition leaves no room for sexual attraction between the son and his step-mother, they are able to develop a relationship of respect and honor.
A man cannot marry his mother, including the grandmothers on both sides.
A man cannot marry his daughter, including the granddaughters from his son or daughter.
A man cannot marry his sister, including the half, and step-sisters, paternal aunt, whether she is the real, half, or step-sister of the father.
Likewise a man cannot marry his maternal aunt, whether she is the real, half, or step-sister of the father.
A man is also prohibited to marry his brother’s daughter or sister’s daughter, i.e., his niece.
All these female blood-relatives are a man’s muharramat and he is mahrem to his corresponding female relatives.
Marriage to any mahrem is permanently prohibited. The reasons for this prohibition are as follows
Entertaining any sexual thoughts concerning such close relatives as one’s mother, sister, and daughter is instinctively abhorrent to human nature; there are even certain animals which avoid mating with such closely-related animals. The respect a man feels for his aunts is like the respect he has for his mother, and likewise uncles are regarded as fathers.
Since the family must live together in intimacy and privacy but without incestuous relations, the Shari’ah intends to cut at the roots of any sexual attraction among such close relatives. Since there is natural love and affection among such close blood relatives, the intent of the Shari’ah is to expand the circle of love and kinship by prohibiting incest and thereby directing the man’s search for women outside the family. Thus each marriage extends the sphere of love, bringing new people within this ever-expanding network of affection: “And He has put love and mercy between you.” (Surah 30: Verse 21)
The natural sentiments of love and affection between a man and the above-mentioned female relatives must be kept strong forever. If marriage were permitted between such relatives, it would cause jealousies, dissensions, and the disruption of families, destroying the very sentiments of love and affection which give cohesiveness and permanence to the family structure. The offspring of marriages to such close blood relatives would most probably be defective and weak. Moreover, if physical or mental defects are present in the members of a family, they would become more pronounced among the children of such marriages. The woman needs someone to champion her rights and support her case against her husband, especially when relations between the two of them become strained. If those women who could defend her became rivals, how would this be possible?
Marriages Prohibited by Reason of Fosterage
The foster mother: It is haram for a Muslim to marry a woman who has suckled him during his infancy, for suckling makes her like his real mother, since milk has gone into the making of his flesh and bones. Nursing consciously or unconsciously produces feelings of motherhood in a woman and of kinship in a child, and although these feelings might seem to disappear as the child grows and becomes a man, they remain hidden in the unconscious.
However, the prohibition of marriage based on fosterage is effective only if the suckling occurred before the time of weaning; that is, when milk was the primary source of food. Another condition is that the child has suckled his fill on five separate occasions, a fill being defined as when the child leaves off suckling of his own accord. After a survey of all the ahadith on this subject, the fixing of five suckling as the minimum seems to be the preferred view.
Foster sisters: Just as a woman becomes a mother to a child by virtue of suckling, likewise her daughters become his sisters, her sisters his aunts, and so on. The Prophet (peace be on him) said: “What is haram by reason of genealogy is haram by reason of fosterage.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.) Thus the foster-sisters, foster-aunts, and foster-nieces are all muharramat and marriage to them is permanently prohibited.
The mother-in-law: Marriage to the wife’s mother is permanently prohibited from the time a man enters into a marriage contract with her daughter, whether he and his wife have engaged in sexual intercourse or not. The act of marriage itself gives the mother-in-law the same status as the mother.
The step-daughter: A man cannot marry his step-daughter (his wife’s daughter by a previous marriage) if sexual intercourse has taken place with her mother, his wife. However, if a man divorces his wife without having had intercourse with her, it is permissible for him to marry her daughter by a previous marriage.
The daughter-in-law: That is, the wife of the real son, not that of the adopted son. In fact, Islam abolished the permissibility of the system of legal, formalized adoption, because this is contrary to fact and to reality, resulting in the prohibiting of what is essentially halal and the permitting of what is essentially haram. Allah Ta’ala says: …Nor has He made your sons by adoption your (real) sons. Those are simply words from your mouths… (33:4) meaning that it is merely an expression of the language which does not alter reality nor transform an outsider to the family into a blood relative.
These three types of female relatives are forbidden in marriage in order that peaceful relationships may be maintained among the in laws
Sisters as Co-Wives
As opposed to the practice of the period of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era), Islam forbade taking two sisters as co-wives at the same time, because the feeling of love and sisterliness which Islam wants to maintain between sisters would be destroyed if one sister became the co-wife of the same husband.
While the Qur’an mentioned the two sisters, the Prophet (peace be on him) added, “A man may not be married to a woman and her paternal aunt (at the same time), nor to a woman and her maternal aunt”. (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim) and he said, “If you do this, you will sever your ties of kinship.” (Reported by Ibn Hibban) And how could Islam permit the breaking of such kinship ties when it places so much importance on them?
As long as a woman is married, her marriage to any other man is prohibited. She may marry another man only when two conditions are fulfilled: Her marriage tie is broken either because of the death of her husband or because of divorce; she has completed the period of waiting (‘iddah) ordained by Allah. For a pregnant woman this period ends when she delivers the baby. If she is widowed but not pregnant, the period of ‘iddah is four months and ten days, while if she is divorced and it is not known whether or not she is pregnant, the ‘iddah is three menstrual cycles. This ‘iddah relates to the woman who has menstrual periods; for a woman who does not menstruate, the ‘iddah is three months.
Allah Ta’ala says: “And divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. And it is not permissible for them to conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (Surah 2: Verse 228)
“…and As for those who have no further expectation of menstruation among your women, if you are in doubt, the waiting period is three months, as well as for those who have no menses. And for those who are pregnant, their period is until they deliver their burdens.” (Surah 65: Verse 4)
And, “For those of you who die and leave behind widows, they shall wait concerning themselves for four months and ten days…” (Surah 2: Verse 234).
Of these fifteen categories of female relatives to whom marriage is prohibited, fourteen are mentioned in Surah al-Nisa:
“And do not marry those women whom your fathers married, except what is past; indeed, it was an indecency and an abomination, and an evil path. Forbidden to you are your mothers and your daughters, and your sisters and your father’s sisters and your mother’s sisters, and your brothers’ daughters and your sisters’ daughters, and your foster mothers and your foster sisters, your wives’ mothers, your stepdaughters under your guardianship born of your wives to whom you have gone in—and if you have not gone into them there is no blame on you—and the wives of your sons proceeding from your loins, and that you should marry two sisters at one time, except what is past; indeed Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah 4: Verses 22-23)
The prohibition against being married to a woman and any of her aunts at the same time is derived from the hadith cited.
A woman who is neither Muslim nor Jewish nor Christian.
TEMPORARILY PROHIBITED WOMEN
These are women that are not allowed for a man to marry in some special cases but when the case was over the prohibition is gone. These women are:
A- TWO SISTERS AT A TIME
It is not permissible to wed two sisters in a wedlock at the same time, but if his wife died or he divorced her, he can marry her sister. It has been narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Ummu Habibah, the prophet’s wife, may Allah be pleased with her, that she said:
قلت يا رسول الله: هل لك في أختي ابنة أبي سفيان؟ فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ” فاعل ماذا؟ قالت: تنكحها قال: أختك؟ قالت: نعم قال: أو تحبين ذلك؟ قالت: نعم لست لك بمخلية وأحب من شركني في الخير أختي قال: إنها لا تحل لي قالت فقلت: والله أخبرت أنك تخطب بنت أبي سلمة قال بنت أم سلمة؟ قالت نعم قال: فوالله لو لم تكن ربيبتي في حجري ما حلت لي
“I said O Messenger of Allah! Marry my sister, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. The Prophet SAW said, “Do you like that? I replied, ‘yes, for even now I am not your only wife and I like that my sister should share the good (of being a wife the prophet) with me’. The Prophet saw said, but that is not lawful for me”.
B- WEDDING A WOMAN AND HER AUNT AT A TIME
It is not lawful for a man to marry a woman and her parental or maternal aunt in a wedlock at the same time. The Prophet saw said:
«لا تنكح المرأة على بنت أختها، ولا تنكح المرأة على عمتها، ولا تنكح على عمتها، ولا تنكح المرأة على خالتها، ولا تنكح المرأة على ابنة أخيها»
“A woman is not to be had in wedlock along with her paternal aunt at the same time nor is that to be between a woman and her maternal aunt” Albukhari and Muslim
Like the case of two sisters, if his wife died or he divorced her, he can marry her aunt.
C – A MARRIED WOMAN
In no situation a Muslim will be allowed to marry a married or divorced woman during her iddah (waiting period) Allah says:
وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ۖ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ
Also (forbidden unto you are) all married women save those (captives) whom your right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. Q. 4:24
D- A WOMAN WHO WAS DIVORCED THREE TIMES
It is not lawful for the husband who divorced his wife three instances to remarry her, except after she marries another one validly and the later divorced her. Allah says:
الطَّلَاقُ مَرَّتَانِ ۖ فَإِمْسَاكٌ بِمَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ تَسْرِيحٌ بِإِحْسَانٍ ۗ ..
Divorce must be pronounced twice and then (a woman) must be retained in honour or released in kindness. Q.2:229
The verse shows that a husband has only two instances to remarry his wife, when he goes to the third one he has no right to remarry her. Allah says:
فَإِنْ طَلَّقَهَا فَلَا تَحِلُّ لَهُ مِنْ بَعْدُ حَتَّىٰ تَنْكِحَ زَوْجًا غَيْرَهُ ۗ فَإِنْ طَلَّقَهَا فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا أَنْ يَتَرَاجَعَا إِنْ ظَنَّا أَنْ يُقِيمَا حُدُودَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَتِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ يُبَيِّنُهَا لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ
And if he hath divorced her (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she hath wedded another husband. Then if he (the other husband) divorce her it is no sin for both of them that they come together again if they consider that they are able to observe the limits of Allah. These are the limits of Allah. He manifesteth them for people who have knowledge. Q. 2:230
D – POLYTHEIST WOMAN
Believing in one God is part of the basis of building a decent home, in this regard, Islam prohibited marriages between Muslims and polytheist women. Allah says:
وَلَا تَنْكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنَّ ۚ وَلَأَمَةٌ مُؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ مُشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ ۗ وَلَا تُنْكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَتَّىٰ يُؤْمِنُوا ۚ وَلَعَبْدٌ مُؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ مُشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ ۖ وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ ۖ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ
Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! a believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you. These invite unto the Fire, and Allah inviteth unto the Garden, and unto forgiveness by His grace, and expoundeth His revelations to mankind that haply they may remember. Q. 2:221
Yet, this rule has exception, a Muslim can marry a Christian or a Jewish woman. Allah says:
الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَهُمْ ۖ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ ۗ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. Q. 5:4
F- A PROSTITUTE
An indecent woman who is selling her dignity cannot make a good mother or help in forming a decent home, it is therefore right for Islam to make it unlawful for a Muslim to marry a prostitute. Allah says:
الزَّانِي لَا يَنْكِحُ إِلَّا زَانِيَةً أَوْ مُشْرِكَةً وَالزَّانِيَةُ لَا يَنْكِحُهَا إِلَّا زَانٍ أَوْ مُشْرِكٌ ۚ وَحُرِّمَ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
The adulterer shall not marry save an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress none shall marry save an adulterer or an idolater. All that is forbidden unto believers. Q. 24:3.
Well written and insightful article. May Almighty Allah replenish your status in billion folds.
Ameen and thanks.