Marriage from the Quranic Texts
Before the revelation of the Quran, there were no set guidelines on marriage and who one could marry. People lived in ignorance and had animalistic tendencies. For example, it was not abnormal for someone to marry their own stepmother after their Father’s passing given the complete lack of guidelines.. The following verses from Surah Al-Nisa were revealed to inform the people on those who are forbidden to marry, mainly as a way to protect and respect familial bonds.
Below are the verses and their translations, as well as a thorough explanation of each verse. I have analyzed the words of the Quran linguistically, in order to further emphasize and make clear those who God listed as forbidden to marry.
وَلَا تَنكِحُواْ مَا نَكَحَ ءَابَآؤُڪُم مِّنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ إِلَّا مَا قَدۡ سَلَفَۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ ڪَانَ فَـٰحِشَةً۬ وَمَقۡتً۬ا وَسَآءَ سَبِيلاً ( ٢٢ ) حُرِّمَتۡ عَلَيۡڪُمۡ أُمَّهَـٰتُكُمۡ وَبَنَاتُكُمۡ وَأَخَوَٲتُڪُمۡ وَعَمَّـٰتُكُمۡ وَخَـٰلَـٰتُكُمۡ وَبَنَاتُ ٱلۡأَخِ وَبَنَاتُ ٱلۡأُخۡتِ وَأُمَّهَـٰتُڪُمُ ٱلَّـٰتِىٓ أَرۡضَعۡنَكُمۡ وَأَخَوَٲتُڪُم مِّنَ ٱلرَّضَـٰعَةِ وَأُمَّهَـٰتُ نِسَآٮِٕكُمۡ وَرَبَـٰٓٮِٕبُڪُمُ ٱلَّـٰتِى فِى حُجُورِڪُم مِّن نِّسَآٮِٕكُمُ ٱلَّـٰتِى دَخَلۡتُم بِهِنَّ فَإِن لَّمۡ تَكُونُواْ دَخَلۡتُم بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيۡڪُمۡ وَحَلَـٰٓٮِٕلُ أَبۡنَآٮِٕڪُمُ ٱلَّذِينَ مِنۡ أَصۡلَـٰبِڪُمۡ وَأَن تَجۡمَعُواْ بَيۡنَ ٱلۡأُخۡتَيۡنِ إِلَّا مَا قَدۡ سَلَفَۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُورً۬ا رَّحِيمً۬ا ( ٢٣ )
22. Do not marry women whom your fathers married, except what is already past. That is improper, indecent, and a bad custom.
23. Forbidden for you are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your paternal aunts, your maternal aunts, your brother's daughters, your sister's daughters, your foster-mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing, your wives' mothers, and your stepdaughters in your guardianship—born of wives you have gone into—but if you have not gone into them, there is no blame on you. And the wives of your genetic sons, and marrying two sisters simultaneously. Except what is past. God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
The following are those listed in the Quran that one is forbidden to marry. The verses are directed towards males to make it clear to them that these are the women who they should never look for marriage with. However, what is stated for males also applies for females in the reverse, for example when it states that men should never marry their mother, it also implies that women should never marry their fathers, and etc.
Ayah 22 states one cannot marry the woman that your father had married, excluding those who have done so before the revelation came stating this prohibition. Keep in mind that at the time of revelation this was a common practice, which is why God gives the exception to those who were already married to their stepmother. The verse uses the word “salf” which translates to “what has happened already”, basically stating that what has been done is in the past and will be forgivable. After the revelation however, marrying one’s stepmother is seen as an obscene and unacceptable act.
2. Your mothers
In the Arabic language, there are two words that translate to mother: “walidah” and “um”. The term “walidah” refers to biological mothers; the one who physically gave birth to you. However, “um” doesn’t specifically mean your biological mother, as it refers to the mother that raised you from childhood, whether they are your biological mother or not. This will be explained later in further detail when discussing the topic of Adoption in Islam, however for now keep in mind that the verse refers to “umuhatukum” as your mothers that are forbidden to marry. Hence describing your biological as well as your adoptive mothers.
3. Your daughters
Both biological and adoptive
4. Your sisters
5. Your paternal and maternal aunts
6. Your brother’s and sister’s daughters
Basically, your nieces
7. Your mothers that nursed you, and your sisters through nursing
Note how traditional translations describe her as a foster mother. However the term “foster” is not even present in the Arabic text, it is simply referring to mothers (again using the term “um” instead of “walidah”) who you nursed from. If you continue to dig deep into the language used in this verse, you’ll notice that the word “radha’” is used to describe the act of nursing. However, in the Arabic dictionary, the verb “radha’” comes from the root word “r-dh-h” which translates to something soft. This indicates that nursing can include from the breast that is naturally soft, or using a bottle to feed. At the time of revelation bottles were created using soft animal skin.
8. Your mother-in-law
9. Your stepdaughters
10. Your daughter-in-laws
Here it is made clear that it is forbidden to marry the wives of your biological sons
11. Two sisters simultaneously
۞ وَٱلۡمُحۡصَنَـٰتُ مِنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُڪُمۡۖ كِتَـٰبَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيۡكُمۡۚ وَأُحِلَّ لَكُم مَّا وَرَآءَ ذَٲلِڪُمۡ أَن تَبۡتَغُواْ بِأَمۡوَٲلِكُم مُّحۡصِنِينَ غَيۡرَ مُسَـٰفِحِينَۚ فَمَا ٱسۡتَمۡتَعۡتُم بِهِۦ مِنۡہُنَّ فَـَٔاتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً۬ۚ وَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ فِيمَا تَرَٲضَيۡتُم بِهِۦ مِنۢ بَعۡدِ ٱلۡفَرِيضَةِۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمً۬ا ( ٢٤ ) وَمَن لَّمۡ يَسۡتَطِعۡ مِنكُمۡ طَوۡلاً أَن يَنڪِحَ ٱلۡمُحۡصَنَـٰتِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ فَمِن مَّا مَلَكَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُكُم مِّن فَتَيَـٰتِكُمُ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِۚ وَٱللَّهُ أَعۡلَمُ بِإِيمَـٰنِكُمۚ بَعۡضُكُم مِّنۢ بَعۡضٍ۬ۚ فَٱنكِحُوهُنَّ بِإِذۡنِ أَهۡلِهِنَّ وَءَاتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِ مُحۡصَنَـٰتٍ غَيۡرَ مُسَـٰفِحَـٰتٍ۬ وَلَا مُتَّخِذَٲتِ أَخۡدَانٍ۬ۚ فَإِذَآ أُحۡصِنَّ فَإِنۡ أَتَيۡنَ بِفَـٰحِشَةٍ۬ فَعَلَيۡہِنَّ نِصۡفُ مَا عَلَى ٱلۡمُحۡصَنَـٰتِ مِنَ ٱلۡعَذَابِۚ ذَٲلِكَ لِمَنۡ خَشِىَ ٱلۡعَنَتَ مِنكُمۡۚ وَأَن تَصۡبِرُواْ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّكُمۡۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمٌ۬ ( ٢٥ )
24. And all women that create a barrier, except those you rightfully possess. This is God’s decree, binding upon you. Permitted for you are those that lie outside these limits, provided you seek them in legal marriage, with gifts from your property, seeking wedlock, not prostitution. If you wish to enjoy them, then give them their dowry—a legal obligation. You commit no error by agreeing to any change to the dowry. God is All-Knowing, Most Wise.
25. If any of you lack the means to marry free believing women, he may marry one of the believing maids under your control. God is well aware of your faith. You are from one another. Marry them with the permission of their guardians, and give them their recompense fairly—to be protected—neither committing adultery, nor taking secret lovers. When they are married, if they commit adultery, their punishment shall be half that of free women. That is for those among you who fear falling into decadence. But to practice self-restraint is better for you. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.
The list of those who are forbidden are continued as:
12. The women who put up a barrier declaring they have zero interest in marriage with you
Traditional translations of this verse state that this verse is referring to already married women, stating that it’s forbidden to marry a woman who’s already married. However, linguistically the term “muhsan” that is utilized in this verse has the root word “h-s-n”, which translates to “protection or barrier”. This verse is describing all women who have protected themselves from others declaring that they are not open for marriage with you; a woman who is already married falls under this category, as well as an unmarried woman who is simply uninterested in marriage with you. Both of these types of women have put up a barrier to protect themselves, however traditional translations of this verse can be misleading as it only states that it’s forbidden to marry an already married woman, when the actual Arabic text is much deeper than that. We can prove that the term “muhsan” doesn’t exclusively apply to married women through other verses in the Quran.
وَمَرۡيَمَ ٱبۡنَتَ عِمۡرَٲنَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَحۡصَنَتۡ فَرۡجَهَا فَنَفَخۡنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتۡ بِكَلِمَـٰتِ رَبِّہَا وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَكَانَتۡ مِنَ ٱلۡقَـٰنِتِينَ ( ١٢ )
And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her womb, and so We breathed into her of Our Spirit; and she believed in the truth of her Lord’s Words and His Books, and was one of the devout. (Al-Tahreem ayah 12)
The above verse uses the term “h-s-n” to describe Maryam, and it is known that Maryam was never a married woman, so from this we can deduce that “muhsan” cannot exclusively refer to married women.
The verse continues by stating that the exception to this command is if the woman is in your possession, i.e. a slave, then she is still permissible to marry. This exception was given because at the time of the Prophet (S) slavery was such a common practice that both free women and slave women existed, however Islam came to eradicate slavery slowly over time. What’s important to know is that Surah al-Nur, verse 33 actually states that slave women cannot be forced into marriage, so if they want to remain protected the man has to respect her wishes. Slavery in regard to Islam will be described in more detail in another section, but for now just focus on the fact that it is forbidden for a man to marry any woman who puts up a barrier declaring no interest in marriage. The verse concludes by stating that all of those who were not listed are women that are permissible to marry.
يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَكُمۡ وَيَہۡدِيَڪُمۡ سُنَنَ ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِڪُمۡ وَيَتُوبَ عَلَيۡكُمۡۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ۬ ( ٢٦ ) وَٱللَّهُ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتُوبَ عَلَيۡڪُمۡ وَيُرِيدُ ٱلَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ ٱلشَّہَوَٲتِ أَن تَمِيلُواْ مَيۡلاً عَظِيمً۬ا ( ٢٧ ) يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ أَن يُخَفِّفَ عَنكُمۡۚ وَخُلِقَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنُ ضَعِيفً۬ا ( ٢٨ )
26. God intends to make things clear to you, and to guide you in the ways of those before you, and to redeem you. God is Most Knowing, Most Wise.
27. God intends to redeem you, but those who follow their desires want you to turn away utterly.
28. God intends to lighten your burden, for the human being was created weak.
Age of Marriage
Now if we go back and concentrate on verse 22 we notice that the verse includes the women that are prohibited to marry, therefore all others that aren’t mentioned are permissible for marriage. When discussing the women in terms of marriage, the verse uses the word “nisaa” which refers to adult women. Many scholars believe that women are able to get married at the age of puberty, however this is not a Quranic statement but rather a cultural act before Islam. In fact, the Quran differentiated between the age of puberty and the age of marriage.
The age of puberty is mentioned below in surah al-Noor, verse 59:
وَإِذَا بَلَغَ ٱلۡأَطۡفَـٰلُ مِنكُمُ ٱلۡحُلُمَ فَلۡيَسۡتَـٔۡذِنُواْ ڪَمَا ٱسۡتَـٔۡذَنَ ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِهِمۡۚ كَذَٲلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَڪُمۡ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَڪِيمٌ۬ ( ٥٩ )
59. When the children among you reach puberty, they must ask permission, as those before them asked permission. God thus clarifies His revelations for you. God is Knowledgeable and Wise.
Based on the prior verses, verse 59 is referring to the fact that once a person reaches the age of puberty, they should start to ask permission before entering the parents’ bedroom rather than just walking in the way they used to as children.
The age of marriage, however, is mentioned below in surah Al-Nisa, verse 6:
وَٱبۡتَلُواْ ٱلۡيَتَـٰمَىٰ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغُواْ ٱلنِّكَاحَ فَإِنۡ ءَانَسۡتُم مِّنۡہُمۡ رُشۡدً۬ا فَٱدۡفَعُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ أَمۡوَٲلَهُمۡۖ وَلَا تَأۡكُلُوهَآ إِسۡرَافً۬ا وَبِدَارًا أَن يَكۡبَرُواْۚ وَمَن كَانَ غَنِيًّ۬ا فَلۡيَسۡتَعۡفِفۡۖ وَمَن كَانَ فَقِيرً۬ا فَلۡيَأۡكُلۡ بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِۚ فَإِذَا دَفَعۡتُمۡ إِلَيۡہِمۡ أَمۡوَٲلَهُمۡ فَأَشۡہِدُواْ عَلَيۡہِمۡۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِٱللَّهِ حَسِيبً۬ا ( ٦ )
6. Test the orphans until they reach the age of marriage. If you find them to be mature enough, hand over their properties to them. And do not consume it extravagantly or hastily before they grow up. The rich shall not charge any wage, but the poor may charge fairly. When you hand over their properties to them, have it witnessed for them. God suffices as a Reckoner.
Based on this verse, the age of marriage is connected with the maturity and ability to manage wealth. Historically, men and women universally are not mature enough by the age of puberty to manage wealth, only physiological changes occur during puberty. Scientifically speaking, maturity is more around the age of 22 for females and 26 for males, as the prefrontal cortex of the brain that is responsible for a lot of our judgment and decision making doesn’t fully mature until we reach our 20s.
Surah al-Anam verse 152 also discusses the age of maturity:
وَلَا تَقۡرَبُواْ مَالَ ٱلۡيَتِيمِ إِلَّا بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحۡسَنُ حَتَّىٰ يَبۡلُغَ أَشُدَّهُ ۥۖ وَأَوۡفُواْ ٱلۡڪَيۡلَ وَٱلۡمِيزَانَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ لَا نُكَلِّفُ نَفۡسًا إِلَّا وُسۡعَهَاۖ وَإِذَا قُلۡتُمۡ فَٱعۡدِلُواْ وَلَوۡ ڪَانَ ذَا قُرۡبَىٰۖ وَبِعَهۡدِ ٱللَّهِ أَوۡفُواْۚ ذَٲلِڪُمۡ وَصَّٮٰكُم بِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَذَكَّرُونَ ( ١٥٢ )
152. And do not come near the property of the orphan, except with the best intentions, until he reaches maturity. And give full weight and full measure, equitably. We do not burden any soul beyond its capacity. And when you speak, be fair, even if it concerns a close relative. And fulfill your covenant with God. All this He has enjoined upon you, so that you may take heed.
Note how this verse does not state maturity is equal to puberty. If you are responsible for orphans and are taking care of their wealth, you must wait until they grow older and become mature enough to be able to manage their own wealth. Once they are able to manage their wealth, then they have reached the age of marriage. When you get married, it is incredibly important that you know how to manage your wealth in order to raise a family, people shouldn’t get married if they don’t know how to manage their wealth and income.
In the above verses the age of marriage is connected with the age of maturity and the ability to manage wealth, not the age of puberty. So, in regards to the orphans, if we are asked not to let them manage their wealth until the age of maturity, how can we trust a young girl to manage an entire family by the age of puberty? Unfortunately, most scholars are basing their opinions on a weak Hadith and cultural ideologies that existed before the Quranic revelation. The Quran’s teachings are against the culture before Islam and was revealed to pull humanity out from darkness and guide them to the truth.
People use the age of puberty equaling that of marriage to justify that the Prophet (S) married Aisha when she was only 9 years old. However, this is an incredibly inaccurate statement. Aisha was actually more around the age of 18 when she married the Prophet (S). Aisha was born before the revelation (~610CE), and it was recorded that she accepted Islam on her own-a child would not have been be capable of making such an important decision on their faith. She was married in 622CE which was 12 years after she had accepted Islam. Aisha was also present in the Battle of Badr and it was recorded that no one under the age of 15 was allowed on the battlefield. Asma, Aisha’s older sister, was 10 years older than her and died at the age of 100, 72 years after Aisha’s marriage. By simple mathematical reasoning we deduce that Aisha was in fact 18 years old when she was married. Additionally, there is no way Muhammad (S) would marry a girl that was unable to manage her wealth, while the Quran states that being able to manage your wealth is a sign of maturity, which is one of the criteria for marriage.