Surah an-Nisa' (Women ) 4 : 23

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَٰتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُكُمْ وَأَخَوَٰتُكُمْ وَعَمَّٰتُكُمْ وَخَٰلَٰتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُ ٱلْأَخِ وَبَنَاتُ ٱلْأُخْتِ وَأُمَّهَٰتُكُمُ ٱلَّٰتِىٓ أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ وَأَخَوَٰتُكُم مِّنَ ٱلرَّضَٰعَةِ وَأُمَّهَٰتُ نِسَآئِكُمْ وَرَبَٰٓئِبُكُمُ ٱلَّٰتِى فِى حُجُورِكُم مِّن نِّسَآئِكُمُ ٱلَّٰتِى دَخَلْتُم بِهِنَّ فَإِن لَّمْ تَكُونُوا۟ دَخَلْتُم بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَحَلَٰٓئِلُ أَبْنَآئِكُمُ ٱلَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَٰبِكُمْ وَأَن تَجْمَعُوا۟ بَيْنَ ٱلْأُخْتَيْنِ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
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, Allāh is ever Forgiving and Merciful.

Qur'an Dictionary

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Those whom a man is forbidden to marry because of lineage are divided into four groups:
Firstly, his parents and grandparents. A man is forbidden to marry his mother, his grandmothers, paternal or maternal, no matter how high their degree is. All these come under the statement: “Forbidden to you [in marriage] are your mothers.”
Secondly, his own issue of any degree. A man is forbidden to marry his daughter or the daughters of his children, of whichever degree they may be. This is included under “your daughters.”
Thirdly, the issue of his parents of any degree. A man is forbidden to marry his sister or the daughters of his own brothers and sisters, and the daughters of his nephews and nieces. All these are included under “your sisters... your brothers’ daughters and your sisters’ daughters.”
Fourthly, the immediate issue of his grandparents. A man is forbidden to marry his paternal or maternal aunt, his father’s aunt or the aunt of his maternal or paternal grandfather, his mother’s aunt or the aunt of his paternal or maternal grandmother. All these come under “your aunts, paternal and maternal.” Those who issue indirectly from grandparents, i.e. cousins, whether on the father’s side or the mother’s side, are permissible marriage partners.
Women forbidden in marriage through other marital relationships fall into five categories:
1. The parents of one’s wife, regardless of their degree. It is forbidden for a man to marry the mother of his wife or her grandmothers, maternal or paternal, no matter how high their degree is. This prohibition comes into effect once his marriage contract to his wife is made, whether the marriage is later consummated or not. This prohibition comes under the reference to “the mothers of your wives.”
2. The issue of one’s wife, regardless of their degree. A man is forbidden to marry the daughter of his wife, or the daughters of her sons or daughters, of any degree whatsoever. This prohibition, however, does not come into effect unless his marriage to his wife is consummated: “your stepdaughters — who are your foster children — born to your wives with whom you have consummated your marriage; but if you have not consummated your marriage with them, you will incur no sin [by marrying their daughters].” 
3. The former wives of one’s father or grandfathers of either side. A man is thus forbidden to marry his stepmother or the former wife of any of his grandfathers, of whichever degree they may be, whether on his father’s side or his mother’s side. This prohibition is stated in the verse preceding our present passage, which states: “Do not marry women whom your fathers have previously married, unless it be a thing of the past.” (Verse 22) In pre-Islamic days, the ignorant Arabians permitted such marriages.
4. Wives of one’s own children, or their children. Thus, a man is forbidden to marry the wife of his own begotten son, or the wife of his grandson or great grandson, of any degree. This prohibition comes under the reference to “the wives of your own begotten sons.” This prohibition abrogates the tradition of pre- Islamic Arabian society, which forbade marriage with the former wife of one’s adopted son. This prohibition is hereby restricted to the wife of one’s own son. Furthermore, adoption was stopped by Islam, which demands that all children be called after their own fathers.
5. The sisters of one’s wife. The prohibition in this case is conditional on the wife being alive and the man remaining married to her. In other words, it is forbidden to marry two sisters at one and the same time: “[You are forbidden] to have two sisters as your wives at one and the same time, unless it be a thing of the past.” Again, this sort of marriage was permitted in pre-Islamic Arabia.
The third cause of marriage prohibition is suckling. This includes all those categories one is forbidden to marry through lineage and marital relationships. Hence, the women that men are forbidden to marry through suckling include nine groups:
1. One’s suckling mother and her mother and grandmothers, of any grade. This comes under “your mothers who have given suck to you”.
2. Daughters through suckling and their daughters and granddaughters, regardless of their grade. (A man’s daughter through suckling is a girl who was breast-fed by his wife when she was married to him.)
3. Sisters through suckling and their daughters and granddaughters of any grade. This prohibition comes under “your suckling sisters”
4. Paternal and maternal aunts through suckling. (A maternal suckling aunt is the sister of one’s suckling mother and a paternal aunt through suckling is the sister of that suckling mother’s husband.)
5. One’s wife’s suckling mother, i.e. the woman who breast-fed one’s wife when she was a child. The same applies to the mother and grandmothers of that woman, of any degree. Here, the same conditions as in prohibition through lineage apply, which means that the prohibition comes into effect the moment the marriage contract is made.
6. One’s wife’s suckling daughter, i.e. a girl who was breast-fed by one’s wife before she was married to him, and her granddaughters of any degree. This prohibition, however, does not come into effect until one’s marriage with one’s wife has been consummated.
7. The former wife of one’s father or grandfather, of any degree, through suckling. One’s father through suckling is the man who is married to one’s suckling mother. In other words, it is not only forbidden for a person who was breast-fed in his childhood by a woman other than his mother to marry that woman who is his suckling mother, it is also forbidden for him to marry any woman who his suckling father married.
8. The wife of one’s son or grandson, of whatever degree, through suckling.
9. To be married at one and the same time to one woman and her sister, or paternal or maternal aunt through suckling or indeed any other woman whose relationship to her through suckling is equivalent to a prohibiting relationship through lineage.
Having explained this legislation in detail, we have to conclude with a few general remarks about the subject of forbidden marriages. Marriage with all these groups of women was forbidden in pre-Islamic Arabia, with the exception of two: former wives of parents or grandparents, and marriage with two sisters at the same time. These were permitted, albeit with reluctance. When Islam forbids these marriages, it does not endorse a prevalent tradition in Arabia. It initiates its own prohibition, based on its own authority. Hence, the prohibiting statement: “Forbidden to you [in marriage] are your mothers...” (Verse 23).

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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This Surah comprises several discourses which were revealed on different occasions during the period ranging probably between the end of year 3 A.H. and the end of 4 A.H. or the beginning of 5 A.H. Although it is difficult to determine the exact dates of their revelations it is possible to assign to them a fairly correct period with the help of the Commandments and the events mentioned therein. A few instances are given below by way of illustration:

1. We know that the inheritance law for those martyred and protection for the rights of the orphans was sent down after the Battle of Uhud (in which 70 Muslims were martyred). From this we conclude that v. 1 -28 were revealed on that occasion.

2. We learn from the traditions that the ruling regarding the prayer (Salah) during war time was given on the occasion of the Zat-ur-Riqa’aan expedition. This took place in 4 A.H. From this we conclude that the discourse containing v. 102 was revealed on that occasion.

3. The last warning to the Jews was given before the Banu-Nadheer were exiled from Madinah in Rabi’-ulAwwal 4 A.H. It may therefore be assumed that the discourse containing v. 47 was revealed before that date.

4. The permission about performing ablution with dust in the event of no water (tayammum) verse 43, was given during the Bani-al-Mustaliq expedition which took place in 5 A.H. [REF: Mawdudi]

8. Reasons for Revelation

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Let us now consider the social and historical considerations of the period in order to understand the Surah. All the discourses in this Surah deal with three main problems which confronted the Prophet at the time. First of all he was engaged in bringing about an all round development of the islamic Community that had been formed at the time of his migration to Madinah. For this purpose he was introducing new moral cultural social economic and political ways in place of the old ones of the pre-islamic period. The second thing that occupied his attention and efforts was the bitter struggle that was going on with the polytheist Arabs, the Jewish clans and the hypocrites who were opposing tooth and nail his mission of reform. Above all, he had to propagate Islam in the face of the bitter opposition of these powers of evil with a view to capturing more and more minds and hearts.

Accordingly detailed instructions have been given for the consolidation and strengthening of the islamic Community in continuation of those given in Surah 2: Al-Baqarah (The Cow). Principles for the smooth running of family life have been laid down and ways of settling family disputes have been taught. Rules have been prescribed for marriage and rights of wife and husband have been apportioned fairly and equitably. The status of women in the society has been determined and the declaration of the rights of orphans has been made. Laws and regulations have been laid down for the division of inheritance and instructions have been given to reform economic affairs. The foundation of the penal code has been laid down, drinking has been prohibited and instructions have been given for cleanliness and purity. The Muslims have been taught the kind of relations good men should have with their God and fellow men. Instructions have been given for the maintenance of discipline in the Muslim Community.

The moral and religious condition of The People of the Book (Jews and Christians) has been reviewed to teach lessons to the Muslims and to forewarn them to refrain from following in their footsteps. The conduct of the hypocrites has been criticized and the distinctive features of hypocrisy and true faith have been clearly marked off to enable the Muslims to distinguish between the two. In order to cope with the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud, Inspiring discourses were sent down to urge the Muslims to face the enemy bravely, for defeat in the Battle had so emboldened the polytheist Arab clans and the neighbouring Jews and the hypocrites at home, that they were threatening the Muslims on all sides. At this critical juncture God filled the Muslims with courage and gave them such instructions as were needed during that period of war clouds. In order to counteract the fearful rumours that were being spread by the hypocrites and the Muslims of weak faith they were asked to make a thorough enquiry into them and to inform the responsible people about them. Then they were experiencing some difficulties in offering their prayer during the expeditions to some places where no water was available for performing their ablutions etc. In such cases they were allowed to cleanse themselves with pure earth and to shorten the prayer or to offer the “Prayer of Fear” when they were faced with danger. Instructions were also given for the solution of the puzzling problem of those Muslims who were scattered among the unbelieving Arab clans and were often involved in war. They were asked to migrate to Madinah the abode of Islam.

This Surah also deals with the case of Banu nadir who were showing a hostile and menacing attitude in spite of the peace treaties they had made with the Muslims. They were openly siding with the enemies of Islam and hatching plots against the Prophet and the Muslim Community even at Madinah itself. They were taken to task for their inimical behaviour and given a final warning to change their attitude and were at last exiled from Madinah on account of their misconduct.

The problem of the hypocrites, who had become very troublesome at that time, was involving the Believers in difficulties. Therefore, they were divided into different categories to enable the Muslims to deal with them appropriately. Clear instructions were also given regarding the attitude they should adopt towards the non-belligerent clans. The most important thing needed at that time was to prepare the Muslims for the bitter struggle with the opponents of Islam. For this purpose greatest importance was attached to their character building, for it was obvious that the small Muslim Community could only come out successful, nay, survive, if the Muslims possessed high moral character. They were, therefore, enjoined to adopt the highest moral qualities and were severely criticized whenever any moral weakness was detected in them.

Though this Surah mainly deals with the moral and social reforms, yet due attention has been paid to propagation of Islam. On the one hand, the superiority of the islamic morality and culture has been established over that of the Jews, Christians and polytheists; on the other hand, their wrong religious conceptions, their wrong morality and their evil acts have been criticized to prepare the ground for inviting them to the way of the Truth. 

9. Relevant Hadith

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