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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 4 (Al-Nisa’ - The Women) > Section 4 (Verses 23 to 25)



Section/Ruku Ruku 4 [Verses 23 to 25]: What women may be taken in marriage:
Chapter Chapter 4: (Al-Nisa’: The Women)
(Revealed at Madinah: 24 sections; 176 verses)

1. Translation:

23 Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your paternal aunts, and your maternal aunts, and brother’s daughters and sister’s daughters, and your mothers that have suckled you, and your foster-sisters, and mothers of your wives, and your stepdaughters who are in your guardianship (born) of your wives to whom you have gone in — but if you have not gone in to them, there is no blame on you — and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins; and that you should have two sisters together, except what has already passed. Surely Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful,

24 And all married women except those whom your right hands possess (are forbidden);a (this is) Allah’s ordinance to you. And lawful for you are (all women) besides those, provided that you seek (them) with your property, taking (them) in marriage, not committing fornication. Then as to those whom you profit by (by marrying), give them their dowries as appointed. And there is no blame on you about what you mutually agree after what is appointed (of dowry).b Surely Allah is ever Knowing, Wise.

25 And whoever among you cannot afford to marry free believing women, (let him marry) such of your believing maidens as your right hands possess. And Allah knows best your faith — you are (sprung) the one from the other. So marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; then if they are guilty of adultery when they are taken in marriage, they shall suffer half the punishment for free married women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil. And that you abstain is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.a

2. Commentary:

23a. For prohibited marriage relations in the Mosaic Law see Lev. 18:16–18. [Back to verse 23]

24a. It is thus forbidden to a man that he should marry a woman who is already married. An exception is made, however, regarding those whom your right hands possess, by which expression are generally meant in the Holy Qur’an those who are taken prisoners in war. It sometimes happened that such prisoners became converts to Islam, and therefore they could not be sent back. Such women it was lawful to take in marriage, even though they might not have been divorced formally by their former husbands. The words ma malakat aimanu-kum may, however, also mean those whom you have lawfully taken in marriage, because lawful possession is clearly implied in the word aiman, which signifies covenant, marriage also being a covenant. The meaning of the passage may therefore be that all free women are prohibited to you except those whom you have lawfully married. [Back to verse 24]

24b. The husband and the wife are free to increase or decrease the amount of dowry fixed at the time of marriage by agreement among themselves. It should also be noted that Islam does not allow temporary marriage. It recognises only ihsan, taking a woman in permanent marriage, from the root hasuna, it (a place) was inaccessible, or (a woman) was chaste or married (LL), ihsan thus meaning fortifying a place or marrying. Whatever sexual relations are outside ihsan are denounced as musafihat or giving oneself up to debauchery, from the root safh, meaning spilling. Ihsan gives rise to certain rights and obligations, which are established for life, but such rights and obligations do not arise in musafihat or fornication and mut‘ah which was a temporary marriage recognised in Arabia before the advent of Islam. It seems that resort was had to mut‘ah in one or two battles by some Muslims but it was expressly prohibited by the Prophet in the battle of Khaibar (B. 64:40). [Back to verse 24]

25a. This verse lays down the conditions under which those taken prisoners in war may be taken in marriage. I do not find any verse in the Holy Qur’an or any instance in the Prophet’s life, sanctioning what is called concubinage. On more occasions than one, when the establishment of conjugal relations with slave-girls is mentioned, their taking in marriage is clearly laid down as a condition as in v. 3, v. 24, and this verse. Here marriage with those taken prisoners in war is allowed under certain circumstances, the first of these being that they should be believing women or Muslims. There are two more conditions: (1) that a man has not the means to marry a free woman as the opening words show, and (2) that he fears to fall into evil as stated in the concluding words. If, then, even marriage with her is allowed under exceptional circumstances, it is quite unreasonable to suppose that her master is allowed to have conjugal relations with her without taking her for a wife. She was no doubt placed on a lower level in Arab society than a free woman, but that is all. Perhaps the strictness of the rules regarding marriage with a female slave is due to the consideration that he who seeks her in marriage may first have her freed from slavery.

It may be said that this verse speaks of others than the masters of the slave-girls, because it requires the permission of the masters. The only right the master could reasonably claim is that he does not require the permission of anybody else, yet he must still take her as a wife, not as a paramour. But see the Prophet’s hadith quoted in 5c, according to which the master is required to educate the slave girl, giving her the best education, then set her free and then marry her. One more point arising out of this verse may be noted. It is plainly laid down here that if a married slave-girl commits adultery, her punishment is half of the punishment prescribed for the free married woman who commits adultery. This shows that the Holy Qur’an never contemplated stoning as the punishment for adultery because it could not be halved, and as a matter of fact the Holy Book nowhere speaks of stoning; the only punishment for adultery that it speaks of is a hundred stripes (24:2). [Back to verse 25]


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Chapter 3: Al-'Imran (The Family of Amran)

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 4 (Al-Nisa’ - The Women) > Section 4 (Verses 23 to 25)

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