Know Your Mahrams


Within Islam there is an aspect that looks to prevent zina among the sexes. It also looks to protect society by introducing certain measures, i.e. minimum interaction between non mahrams. Every restriction or barrier in Islam is placed to achieve a sustainable community, For Muslims, the Quran contains wisdom sometimes we overlook. Those, devout implement even the ‘smallest’ rulings.

Mahram – This is a category that refers to anyone a man or a woman cannot marry at anytime in their life..

Ghayr Mahram – This is a category that refers to anyone a man or a woman can marry at anytime in their life whatsoever or anyone who is temporarily forbidden for them (I.e your wife’s sister). If a man marries a Ghayr Mahram woman, she will become a mahram (inc her relations, see below) as she is his wife now and vice versa.

Importance Of Mahram & Ghayr Mahram

Firstly, one of the main purposes of this distinction between people is to safeguard them from immoral acts i.e. fornication/adultery that may occur because of unnecessary interacting and intermingling. Allah the All-knowing, the Most wise, knows the causes of corruption and shameless acts, therefore has placed such safeguards. Society struggles to deal with corruption, deceit and immoral acts between people, its difficult to identify the cause; in some way everyone is the victim, even the perpetrator. Islam tackles these problems from their root i.e. in this case unnecessary interacting and intermingling of specific men and women.

It serves as a boundary to maintain a balanced and pure society and religious life, which in turn will help a person focus on his or her life without the horrid distraction of the other sex. Islam doesn’t say you can’t work together, or a woman can’t teach a man but when the interaction is unnecessary and possibly ‘flirty’, it is better for you to drift.

There are certain circumstances where the rulings of Mahram & Ghayr Mahram are important and very. As part of a woman’s Hijab, she wears a headscarf. This scarf is a veil to be worn in public, i.e around Ghayr Mahram men but also non muslim women, they are not mahram for women. There is even a hijab for the Mahram men in your home, but to a lesser extent, i.e you can’t be walking round in your underwear. Similarly one of the main conditions, which make Hajj compulsory for a woman, is the presence of a Mahram throughout her journey/pilgrimage. If she does not find a ‘Mahram’ to accompany her during Hajj, then she is not permitted to go do Hajj nor is it compulsory upon her until she finds a Mahram that can accompany her. Again, there is a wisdom behind this and there are difference of opinions.

Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A woman is not to travel except with a mahram, and a man is not to enter upon her except if she has a mahram.

A common mistake is the brother in Law, most couples feel comfortable around the Brother in Law, The husband thinks, “He’s my brother, I trust him.” And the wife thinks, “He’s my husband’s brother, like he’s going to look at me like that? But humans are weak, its not that the Brother in Law has ill intention, but one thing can lead to another no matter how slim the chances are. 

Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: “Beware of getting, into the houses and meeting women (in seclusion).” A person from the Ansar said: “Allah’s Messenger, what about the husband’s brother?” Whereupon he said: “The husband’s brother is like death.” [Muslim]. 

If your husband were to pass away, it is completely halal for his brother to marry you. An example of this would be ‘Uthmaan radiyallahu ‘anhu – he married one daughter of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. When she passed away, the Prophet married him to another one of his daughters.

Within other daily situations, it is recommended for you to avoid being alone unecesarily with Ghayr Mahrams. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade men and women from being alone together. He said: “Never is a man alone with a woman except that Satan is the third party with them.” There are times when you have to be in the same room with a woman all alone, at times times like this, one should take other precautions such as lowering your gaze. In a professional environment, you’d think nothing of the sort will happen, but as the hadith states, Satans temptations can lead you the back of your car. An important note to mention is your intentions do not dictate the level of Shari’ah, humans are fallible, the Quran is divine. However Allah is Just and Forgiving, only you know your real intention. You will be dealt with accordingly.

List Of Mahrams & Ghayr Mahrams

It is stated in the famous Hanafi Fiqh treatise, al-Hidaya:

“A Mahram (for a woman) is he, between whom and her marriage is permanently unlawful, whether this is due to the relationship of lineage/kin (nasab) or because of some other reason, such as foster relationship (radha’a) or relationship by marriage (musaharah).” (al-Hidaya, Kitab al-Karahiyya, 4/461-462)

Let us now look at these relationships in detail

Relationship of family/lineage (qarabah)

It is permanently unlawful for a man to marry the following (hence he will be considered a Mahram for them):

a) Mother, grandmother, and on up;

b) Paternal grandmother, and on up;

c) Daughters, grand daughters, and on down;

d) All type of sisters (whether full or half),

e) Maternal and paternal aunts,

f) Nieces (brother’s or sister’s daughters),

Thus, besides the abovementioned relatives, marriage with others relative will be lawful, thus they will not be considered to be mahrams, such as cousin brothers, cousin sisters, mother’s sister’s husband, etc.

Relationship of fosterage (radha’a)

Whosoever is a Mahram through the relationship of lineage, will also be considered a Mahram by fosterage.

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said about Hamza’s daughter: “I am not legally permitted to marry her, as foster relations are treated like blood relations (in marital affairs). She is the daughter of my foster-brother.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 2502)

Therefore, the relationships that are unlawful through blood and lineage will also be unlawful through fosterage. As such, a foster-father (foster mother’s husband), foster-brother, foster-uncle, foster-nephew, etc will all be considered to be a woman’s Mahram, and one will be a Mahram to a foster-mother, foster sister, foster niece, etc. However, one should remember that this is only when breastfeeding takes place in the period designated for it, which is two and a half years (according to Imam Abu Hanifa) and two years (according to Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad). One should be careful in determining who is a Mahram through foster relations, for determining this, at times, can be complex and complicated. One must refer to a scholar before coming to a judgement.

3) Relationship of marriage (sihriyya or musahara)

The third relationship with which marriage becomes permanently unlawful and consequently the relationship of being a Mahram (mahramiyya) is established is that of marriage.

There are four types of people with whom marriage becomes unlawful permanently due to the relationship of marriage:

a) One’s wife’s mother (mother in-law), grandmother and on up: Marriage with her becomes unlawful by merely contracting marriage with the daughter, regardless of whether the marriage was consummated or otherwise.

b) One’s wife’s daughter (from a previous marriage), grand-daughter and on down: Marriage with her becomes unlawful (permanently) if the marriage with her mother was consummated.

Also included in the above will be one’s wife’s son’s (stepson’s) daughter, for she is also considered to be a stepdaughter (rabiba).

c) The wife of one’s son, grandson, and on down: This is regardless whether the son consummated the marriage or otherwise.  But not ones foster sons wife.

d) One’s stepmother, step grandmother and on up: Meaning those women who have been in the marriage of one’s father or paternal or maternal grandfather.

Technically your husband or wife isn’t your mahram but there is a special relationship therefore included in the list, as you can show your awrah or perform hajj.

A List:



– Wife
– Father’s wives (Mother, Step mothers)

– Mothers and above (i.e. grandmothers, great grandmothers etc, maternal or paternal)
– Daughters and below (i.e. granddaughters, great granddaughters, etc, step daughter (only after the couple have consummated)
– Sisters (Real sister, Half sisters)
– Aunts (Paternal/Maternal, their half sisters)
– Nieces (Daughters of brother/sister and any half/ daughters)

– Foster* Mother (A lady by whom one was breast fed before the age of two)
– Foster* Sister (A female who was breastfed by the same lady as one was)
– Mother-in-law and above (i.e. grandmother-in-law, great grandmother-in-law etc, maternal or paternal)
– Daughter-in-law and below (i.e. son’s wife, grandson’s wife etc)

The women listed above are women he is not allowed to marry (exception of wife) therefore his mahram, any woman not mentioned are listed as ghayr mahram. Some women are temporarily a mahram, i.e a man can not marry his sister in law, but if his wife passes away, then that restriction is lifted, he is now able to marry.



– Husband
– Step father (with the condition that both stepfather and one’s mother have consummated)
– Fathers and above (grandfathers, great grandfathers etc, maternal or paternal)

– Sons and below (grandsons, great grandsons, step sons)
– Brothers (real brothers, half brothers)
– Uncles (Paternal/Maternal, their half brothers)
– Nephews (Sons of brother/sister and any half daughters)
– Foster son (i.e. a boy who a lady has breastfed before the age of two)
– Foster Brother (i.e. a male who was breast fed by the same lady as one was)
– Father-in-law and above (i.e. grandfather-in-law, great grandfather-in-law etc, maternal or paternal)
– Son-in-law and below (i.e. daughters husband, granddaughters husband etc)

Similarly as men, The men listed above are men he is not allowed to marry (exception of husband) therefore his mahram, any man not mentioned are listed as ghayr mahram.

*Foster: Milk mothers who nursed you before the age of two. Whoever is made forbidden through genealogical relation is forbidden through fosterage. In simple terms, one’s foster mother is like one’s mother and her children become one’s foster brothers and sisters and her father becomes one’s foster grandfather and similarly all those types of people normally forbidden are also forbidden in fosterage (i.e. foster father/mother, foster brother/sister, foster uncle/aunt, foster daughter/son etc).

** A half brother or sister shares one parent biologically. A step brother or sister is where 2 people who already have kids, marry, there is no blood relation.

The list above is a summary of:

Surah: 4 An-Nisaa, Verse: 22-23

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.

Surah: 24 An-Noor, Verse: 31

And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.

It is stated in the famous Hanafi Fiqh treatise, al-Hidaya:

A Mahram (for a woman) is he, between whom and her marriage is permanently unlawful, whether this is due to the relationship of lineage/kin (nasab) or because of some other reason, such as foster relationship (radhaa) or relationship by marriage (musaharah).” (al-Hidaya, Kitab al-Karahiyya, 4/461-462)

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7 thoughts on “Know Your Mahrams

  1. Step brothers and sisters aren’t mahrams, as in the kids of your father’s wife from a different man or the kids of your mother’s husband from a different woman.

    Half-brothers and sisters are mahrams because they are blood.

    Foster siblings and children and parents are also not mahrams. A woman that breastfed you five seperate times before the age of two is like your mother and she and her husband and children and brothers are your mahrams.

  2. What is the difference if the mahrams are Muslims or non-Muslim? Does one need to wear hijab in front of non-Muslim family members?

    1. I know the answer but i wanns clarify, Give me a bit of time.

      Compassion towards non muslim family is important, so if your behaviour is extreme, it may push them away.. which is discouraged.

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