Composed by Maulana Sultan, UK
Allah Ta’aala has given us a religion called Islam. Not just as a religion, but also as a complete way of life. A system of life which tackles and provides solutions for every immoral aspect of life and sets boundaries so that mankind does not exceed nor fall below the levels required to live a healthy, balanced and pure life and above all, a life in obedience to Allah. Anyone who has studied Islam in depth and seen the different aspects of life covered by Allah in the Qur’aan and by the Prophet (Sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) in Ahadeeth, will have no choice but to stand in awe and amazement as to how great and true these solutions of life are, that are taught to us by Islam.
One of the aspects of life covered in Islam is the interacting of males and females. As mentioned above, this aspect of life also has boundaries set in place. With certain things in life, there must be boundaries so that we can know the extent of what we can and cannot do since we are not wild and reckless but rather, civilised people. Also so that we know how far we can go in a matter before problems occur.
With regards to the interacting of males and females, the males are classed into two groups.
This category refers to all those males whom a woman cannot marry at anytime in her life whatsoever. In other word a male who is forbidden permanently, forever (i.e. one’s father, brother or son etc).
This category refers to all those males whom a woman is permitted to marry (e.g. a cousin or just a random Muslim male) or a male whom it is forbidden to marry at that moment in time but may become permissible to marry in the future due to a change in circumstances. In other word a male who is temporarily forbidden (e.g. a Muslim female who is already married is temporarily forbidden to marry another Muslim male as long as she is married. But once she divorces her current husband and passes her ‘Iddah’ (waiting period after divorce), she may now marry another Muslim male and he is no longer forbidden for her).
Often, in Islamic law, the above categories are required to establish certain Islamic rules. This is why one will find that the above categories are sometimes conditions, requirements or the basis of several Islamic laws.
Regards the Islamic topic on marriage, the above categories i.e. being a ‘Mahram’ or ‘Ghayr Mahram’ define who a person can and cannot marry.
Likewise regards the Islamic topic on ‘Hijaab’ and whom a woman must cover herself a certain amount in front of, again will be determined by whether the male is a ‘Mahram’ or not.
Also, with regards to the permissibility of women travelling more than the distance of a ‘Shar’ee safar’ (Islamic journey approximately 48 miles from one’s city’s border) depends on whether she can find a ‘Mahram’ to accompany her or not. If found then her travelling that distance or more is permissible otherwise not.
Similarly one of the main conditions, which make ‘Hajj’ compulsory for a woman, is the presence of a ‘Mahram’ with her throughout her journey. Again, if she does not find a ‘Mahram’ to accompany her during her journey to do ‘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.
As it is obvious from the above examples, the knowledge of the term ‘Mahram’ and ‘Ghayr Mahram’ are very important, as they are the conditions or the basis of several Islamic rules as shown above, hence all the more reason to know and understand who is a ‘Mahram’ and who is not.
As mentioned above, the terms ‘Mahram’ and ‘Ghayr Mahram’ play an important role within Islam under different Islamic topics but regardless of this its purposes within these different topics are similar. In other words the purposes of this separation of ‘Mahrams’ and ‘Ghayr Mahrams’ whether it be during matters of ‘Hijaab’, an Islamic journey, marriage or even ‘Hajj’, are similar. There are many purposes and wisdoms behind this separation a few of which will be mentioned.
Firstly, one of the main purposes of this separation is to safeguard people from immoral acts that occur because of unnecessary interacting and intermingling of certain males and females. Allah the All-knowing, the Most wise, knows the causes of corruption and shameless acts and helps people safeguard themselves from these by setting rules in place. Society struggles to deal with corruption, immoral acts and problems such as arguments, affairs, trust between husband and wife, attacks on women and so on. Whereas Islam tackles these problems from their root i.e. unnecessary interacting and intermingling of certain males and females, which without doubt is the cause of many problems in society. For example, many arguments are caused through unnecessary interacting and intermingling of certain males and females. Likewise affairs occur due to unnecessary interacting and intermingling of certain males and females. Also, often a lack of trust between husband and wife is created because of things that happen during unnecessary interacting and intermingling of certain males and females. Then later on, a lack of trust leads to arguments. Similarly, attacks that are carried out on women are mostly brought about through unnecessary interacting and intermingling with males. People constantly search themselves for a way or system that they think will solve these problems and fail to follow the system given by Allah that actually deals with these problems since he is All-knowing, Most wise.
Another purpose and wisdom behind separating ‘Mahrams’ and ‘Ghayr Mahrams’ is that it protects the honour and chastity of women. Through unnecessary interacting or intermingling of women and men, if a woman falls prey to corruption and commits a shameless act, then this will be the cause of her losing her real honour and chastity. In this modern day and age, society wishes to grant women freedom, honour and rank but fail to realise that real honour is not achieved by granting women freedom but rather by protecting them from the corruption and shameless acts of life, which Islam does, if followed. Even women themselves have fallen for this false idea of honour and try to fight for more freedom and rights, thinking that this will give them honour and rank. Islam is often criticized for its degrading and lack of honour of women, but as shown above, this could not be any further from the truth. Women want honour and rank and it is what Allah wants for them also but their idea of how to achieve it is different from that of Allah’s. If women wish for honour and rank, then remember that honour lies in the obedience of the laws of Allah, who himself is the one who gives honour.
“…and you (Allah) grant honour to whom you will and you disgrace whom you will.”
(Surah: 3 Al-Imraan, Verse: 26)
Lastly, another wisdom behind this separation is that 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 sole purpose in life i.e. the obedience and worship of Allah. Wherever the unnecessary interacting and intermingling of genders is found, then one will clearly see that without doubt, this is something that diverts a person’s attention from the purpose of life and the fulfilment of one’s Islamic duties as well as from the remembrance of Allah. Hence, by creating these restrictions, Allah aims to help us focus on the reality of life and bring this to our attention. Once a person understands this then these restrictions no longer seem like restrictions but rather a mercy from Allah.
Allah the All-knowing, the Most wise, out of his mercy has given us these laws to follow only for our benefit and success and so that we do not stray from the straight path and fall into corruption as people before us have done. Should we then not be truly grateful? If so, then we should show our gratitude through our actions by obeying Allah. Whether we take heed and become obedient to him by following the laws set by him or not, Allah will not be affected the slightest. He does not need nor depend on our obedience nor does he benefit from it. The only ones who will benefit will be ourselves with success in this world and the hereafter…if only we knew.
“Indeed, this is no less than a reminder to mankind, for whomsoever wishes to walk straight.”
(Surah: 81 At-Takweer, Verse: 27-28)
Who is more merciful to mankind than one who continues to help those who are obedient to him as well as those who are disobedient to him but gains nothing from it?
From a male’s perspective, women he is permitted to marry or who are temporarily forbidden and with whom Islamic restrictions apply are:
(The list above and below is a summary of Surah: 4 An-Nisaa, Verse: 22-23 &
Surah: 24 An-Noor, Verse: 31)
Please note that regards to one’s foster mother, there is a narration of the Prophet, which mentions that 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)
Please note there are a few more detailed rules regards the above and below but have not been mentioned in an attempt to keep this article simple. Where detail has been given, then it is in order to answer common and important queries.
Mahrams (i.e. forbidden to marry permanently forever at anytime):
From a female’s perspective, men she is permitted to marry or who are temporarily forbidden and are those with whom Islamic restrictions apply:
Ghayr Mahrams (i.e. permitted to marry or temporarily forbidden):