Incest in Islam
01 Dec. 2010
(Caution: This essay may offend some readers)
Prophet Muhammad's incestuous marriage to his daughter-in-law Zaynab in well known. But not many people know that Quranic verses also leave scope for marriage with one's biological daughter and Shafii Islam, indeed, allows it...
The Oxford Dictionary defines
incest as sexual intercourse between near relations.
Elaborating on this Encyclopaedia
Britannica (CD ROM version) writes:
speaking, the closer the genetic relationship between two people,
the stronger and more highly charged is the taboo prohibiting or
discouraging sexual relations between them. Thus, sexual intercourse
between a father and daughter, a mother and son, or a brother and
sister is almost universally forbidden. Sexual relations between an
uncle and niece or between an aunt and nephew are also generally
taboo, and relations between first cousins are prohibited as well in
On the harmful effect of incestuous
relation Encyclopaedia Britannica also writes:
populations have diminished reproductive success and become gene
pools for hereditary disorders.
Incest in the Qur'an: Marriage between father and his biological daughter
Muslims will find it hard to believe that Allah in the Qur'an has violated the universal condemnation of incest. Let us read verse 4:23-24 which lists the categories of women that a Muslim man may not marry.
Q 4:23: Prohibited to you (For marriage) are:- Your mothers, daughters, sisters; father's sisters, mother's sisters; brother's daughters, sister's daughters; foster-mothers (Who gave you suck), foster-sisters; your wives' mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone in,- no prohibition if ye have not gone in;- (Those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful;-
Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your
right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against
you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them
in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not
lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their
dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is
prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you,
and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.
One might think that verse 4:23
specifically prohibits a man from marrying (that is, to have sex)
with his biological daughter. However, this may not be so. Hashim
Kamali, one of the most eminent scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence
and currently the Professor of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence at
International Islamic University Malaysia writes:
An example of the zanni in the Qur'an is the text which reads, ‘prohibited to you are your mothers and your daughters’ (al-Nisa’ 4:23). The text is definitive in regard to the prohibition of marriage with one’s mother and daughter and there is no disagreement on this point. However, the word banatakum (‘your daughters’) could be taken for its literal meaning, which would be a female child born to a person either through marriage or through zina, or for its juridical meaning. In the latter sense ‘banatukum’ can only mean a legitimate daughter.
The jurists are in disagreement as to which of these meanings should be read into text. The Hanafis have upheld the first of the two meanings and have ruled on the prohibition of marriage to one’s illegitimate daughter, whereas the Shafis have upheld the second. According to this interpretation, marriage with one’s illegitimate daughter is not forbidden as the text only refers to a daughter through marriage. It would follow from this that the illegitimate daughter has no right to inheritance, and the rules of guardianship and custody would not apply to her. (Hashim Kamali, pp. 21-23)
Note: The Qur'an scholars divide the Qur’anic verses into two classes: qati—definitive, no speculation and zanni—speculative. Even the eminent Sharia expert Professor Hashim Kamali admits that the Qur'an is ambiguous. (Hashim Kamali, p. 33.)
This will be a bombshell to the
Muslims. Hashim Kamali testifies that at least one sect of Islam
(that is, Shafi) allows a Muslim man to marry his biological
daughter and have sex with her if the daughter has been born
We may wonder how a Muslim man
could have an illegitimate daughter since in Islam all sex out of
marriage, except sex with one’s sex-slaves, is forbidden. Let us
ponder on the following situations:
A Muslim unmarried man has sex with a Muslim unmarried woman.
The woman gives birth to a
daughter. Because of their Zina, both of them receive one hundred
lashes. The punishment over, they depart---going their own way, or
they decide to marry, but the daughter remains illegitimate. When
the daughter turns eight or ten the biological father marries his
This incestuous marriage is allowed
by the Shafi rule, according to professor Kamali. If they are Hanafi
or other sect the father may not marry the illegitimate daughter.
A Muslim unmarried man (of Shafii
sect) has sex with a Kafir woman. She gives birth to a daughter. The
father receives the Islamic lashing. The woman may go scot free
depending on which Islamic country she resides, because in some
Islamic countries non-Muslims are exempt from Sharia laws. The
illegitimate daughter lives with her mother. When the illegitimate
daughter turns eight or more she becomes halal for her biological
father. He marries his biological daughter.
A Muslim unmarried man commits
adultery with a married Muslim woman. She becomes pregnant. As per
Sharia law the man receives one hundred lashes and the woman is
sentenced to be stoned to death. However, her stoning is postponed
until she gives birth to her child and weans the baby of
breastfeeding. This condemned woman gives birth to a daughter. At
age two the baby girl is taken away from her mother. Then the mother
is stoned to death. The hapless child may be sheltered in a foster
home or even live with her biological father. When the daughter
turns eight her biological father marries her.
Let us ponder on what might happen
if a Hanafi unmarried man has illicit sex with a Shafi married woman
Presumably, Malaysia follows Shafi,
Bangladesh follows Hanafi.
Malaysian married Muslim woman +
Bangladesh unmarried man = Zina and adultery.
Malaysia's religious police catch
them in action. Both of them receive Islamic punishment as per Shafi
law. The woman may not receive stoning--as it is not enforced in
The woman gives birth to a
girl--this is the illegitimate daughter to the man. Let us call her
What about the woman? Will the
daughter be illegitimate to the mother? As per Islamic rule, yes.
Later, the woman's husband divorces her. She moves on, along with
her illegitimate daughter.
The sex offender man marries the
woman. May be, the wife gives birth to another daughter--this time
legitimate. Call this daughter B.
Now, as per Islamic Law can we say
A and B are sisters? Nope.
The entire family lives under one
roof. When A, the illegitimate daughter, turns 8 or more, the
biological father marries her.
He now has two wives--his sex
partner wife + his own illegitimate daughter. That is, the man is
simultaneously married to the mother and the daughter.
So, Islamically, he may have sex
with his biological daughter and her mother—perfectly legal as per
I am not sure if this incidence
happened, say in Bangladesh or India or Pakistan, what would happen
as these countries follow Hanafi Muslim laws.
We must remember when a Muslim
lives in Malaysia whether he is a Malaysian citizen or not he must
abide by the Islamic Sharia of Malaysia which is largely Shafi.
Sex between sons and their
Stepping further on verse 4:23-24,
it may even be Islamically possible for a son to have sexual
intercourse with his father’s concubines or father’s sex partners.
In this case the mother is not a biological mother, but still a
mother, no matter what—just as step mother.
On the restrictions women who can
be married as depicted in 4:23-24 Maulana Maududi writes:
'mother' applies to one's step-mother as well as to one's real
mother. Hence the prohibition extends to both. This injunction also
includes prohibition of the grandmother, both paternal and maternal.
There is disagreement on whether a woman with whom a father has had
an unlawful sexual relationship is prohibited to his son or not.
There are some among the early authorities who do not believe in
such prohibition. But there are others who go so far as to say that
a woman whom a father has touched with sexual desire becomes
prohibited to the son. (Maududi 4/34.)
Incestuous marriages among close
Here is another verse from the
Qur'an that may suggest that incestuous marriages are permissible in
YUSUFALI: It is He Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things).
Eminent tafsir writer Jalalyn
And it is He
who created human beings from water (sperm) and then gave them
relations by blood and marriage—because men and women marry to seek
progeny. Your Lord is All Powerful, possessing the power to do
whatever He wills. (Tafsir Jalalyn, Tr. Aisha Bewley, p. 781).
Some scholars say this verse allows
Muslim men to have sex with their daughters [incest]. See this video
(Reader may find the video has been removed from the first link.
When I tested I found the second link working.)
Marriage between father-in-law
and wife of an adopted son
In the Arab society in which
Muhammad lived the tradition of adoption was noble and sanctified.
Their adopted sons were like their own biological sons and the wives
of adopted sons were like their own daughter-in-laws. Zayd bin
Haritha was Muhammad’s adopted son. Muhammad even got Zayd married
to his (Muhammad’s) cousin sister Zaynab bt. Jahsh (Tabari, p.
ix.134). But later, when Muhammad saw her beauty and sex appeal, he
became passionate to have sex with her. In the Arab society this
kind of marriage between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, whether
of adopted son or not, was considered incestuous. But Muhammad did
not care. He sought Allah’s help, and Allah promptly sent down
appropriate verses to let Muhammad satisfy his desire. Zaynab became
Muhammad’s eighth wife. Accordingly, Allah also changed the adoption
rule—He permitted Muslims to marry their adopted sons’ wives after
they obtain divorce from their husbands (33:37). Even Tabari and
Waqidi admit that Muhammad married his cousin sister Zaynab bt Jahsh
out of last (Tabari, p. viii. xii). Here is what the eminent Islamic
historian Tabari writes about this ‘incestous’ marriage of Muhammad.
Muhammad had uncontrolled fascination for Zaynab bt. Jahsh
The Messenger of God came to the
house of Zayd b. Harithah. (Zayd was always called Zayd b.
Muhammad.) Perhaps the Messenger of God missed him at that moment,
so as to ask, “Where is Zayd?” He came to his residence to look for
him but did not find him. Zaynab bt. Jahsh, Zayd’s wife, rose to
look for him but did not find him. Because she was dressed only in a
shift, the Messenger of God turned away from her. She said: “He is
not here, Messenger of God. Come in, you are as dear to me as my
father and mother!” The Messenger of God refused to enter. Zaynab
had dressed in haste where she was told “the Messenger of God is at
the door.” She jumped up in haste and excited the admiration of the
Messenger of God, so that he turned away murmuring something that
could scarcely be understood. However, he did say overtly: “Glory be
to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn!” (Tabari,
While the Messenger of God was
talking with A’ishah, a fainting overcame him. When he was released
from it, he smiled and said, “Who will go to Zaynab to tell her the
good news, saying that God has married her to me?” Then the
Messenger of God recited: “And when you said unto him on whom God
has conferred favour and you have conferred favour, “Keep your wife
to yourself…” (33:37)—and the entire passage. (ibid, p. viii.3)
Inbreeding: Cousin Marriages
In Islam cousin marriage is quite
popular and widely acceptable. Cousin marriages, especially among
first cousins, are a potentially harmful practice because the
children born out of such marriages suffer from many genetic
disorders. A comprehensive article about this debilitating practice
among Muslims can be read here: Muslim Inbreeding: Impacts on
intelligence, sanity, health and society
Let us find out why Muslims are
more likely to indulge in first cousin marriage than other
Q 33:50: O
Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast
paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of
the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters
of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal
uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any
believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet
wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers
(at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their
wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order
that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
This verse unabashedly permitted
Muhammad to have sex with his first cousin sisters even without
marrying them. Why Allah permitted Muhammad to indulge in such a
reckless incestuous relationship? For the answer, we need to know
the context of this verse. A hadis in Tirmidhi (print version) tells
Muhammad proposed Umm Hani, his cousin sister, to marry him. She declined. So Allah revealed that Muhammad could have sex with his cousin sisters who had migrated to Medina without marrying them (33:50). Umm Hani said though she was Muhammad's cousin sister, Muhammad could not have sex with her as she did not migrate to Medina. She only embraced Islam after Muhammad had conquered Mecca. (Daif)…(Tirmidhi 5.3214)
Here is the complete Hadis: Tirmidhi, vol. 5, Hadis 3214, p. 522
Umm Hani bint
Abu Talib said: “The Messenger of Allah proposed to me, but I asked
him to excuse me, so he did excuse me. Then Allah [Most High]
revealed: “Verily We have made lawful to you your wives, to whom you
have paid their due, and those whom your right hands possess—whom
Allah has given to you, and the daughters of your paternal uncles,
and the daughters paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal
uncles, and the daughters of your maternal aunts, who migrated with
you, and a believing woman, if she offers herself to the Prophet…
(33:50). She said: “So I was not lawful for him because I did not
perform Hijrah; I was one of the Tulaqa.(Daif)
[Abu ‘Eisa said:] This Hadith is
Hasan [Sahih] we do not know of it except from this route as a
narration of As-Suddi
[In a footnote the translator describes the Tulaqa are those who accepted Islam after the conquest of Makkah.]
The readers should note that Abu
‘Eisa is Imam Tirmidhi’s kunya (that is, father of ‘Eisa). According
to Imam Tirmidhi this Hadis is Hasan, meaning it is a reliable Hadis.
Umm Hani was the daughter of Abu
Taleb, Muhammad’s uncle. AbuTaleb brought up Muhammad in his home.
Muhammad fell deeply in love with Umm Hani, but was greatly
aggrieved when he asked to marry her but Abu Taleb refused. This
meant Abu Taleb, a Meccan pagan, did not like first cousin marriage.
But, as demonstrated in the above verse, Allah found a way to
satisfy Muhammad’s desire to have sex with his old flame.
The truth was: although Allah said
in the verse that those of Muhammad’s first cousin sisters who had
migrated with him to Medina were eligible to have sex with him,
Muhammad never followed Allah’s instruction. The great Islamic
scholar Maulana Maududi writes:
from among his first cousins, who emigrated along with him. The
words "who emigrated with you" do not mean that they accompanied the
Holy Prophet in his migration journey but this that they also had
migrated in the way of Allah for the sake of Islam. The Holy Prophet
was given the choice to marry any one of them he liked. Accordingly,
in A.H. 7 he married Hadrat Umm Habibah. (Incidentally, in this
verse it has been elucidated that the daughters of one's paternal
and maternal uncles and aunts are lawful for a Muslim. In this
regard the Islamic Law is different both from the Christian Law and
from the Jewish Law. Among the Christians one cannot marry a woman
whose line of descent joins one's own anywhere in the last seven
generations, and among the Jews it is permissible even to marry
one's real niece, i.e. daughter of one's brother or sister. (Maududi
To justify the marriage between
first cousins among Muslims, Maulana Maududi cites irrelevant
matters of the Jews and the Christians. While currently, the first
cousin marriage among the Jews and the Christians is indeed rare,
the same may not be true for the Muslims as the statistics from the
above article demonstrates.
In fact, Dr. Mahathir the former
Prime Minister of Malaysia was so concerned about the first cousin
marriages among the Muslims in Malaysia that he wrote a book, The
Malay Dilemma. In this book Dr Mahathir postulated that one of the
main reasons for the absolute backwardness of Malays is due to their
practice of inbreeding. He was a medical professional. He wrote that
because of inbreeding the Malays have a very limited genetic pool.
Here are a few excerpts from Dr
Mahathir’s book The Malay Dilemma.
Generally speaking, modern ideas on
the evolution of man are not acceptable to Muslims and therefore to
Malays. But even Malays admit that certain characteristics are
passed from parents to offspring. “Bapak borek, anak beritek” is a
well-known Malay saying which means “A spotted father begets a
speckled son.” The meaning is obvious. If this is so for an
individual then hereditary influence must play a role in the
development of a collection of individuals which constitutes a race.
What is not generally known by the Malays is the effect of
In this book I have explained how
the laws of genetics, which govern the transmission of hereditary
characteristics, are affected adversely by inbreeding and other
There has been a lot of scientific
thinking on the subject of inbreeding and the effect on human
society. Cyril Dean Darlington, a British geneticist, in his book,
The Evolution of Man and Society, takes the extreme view that the
evolution of human society is the product of genes. According to
him, civilizations flourish and decay in obedience to genetic
decrees. He pointed out that once a ruling class fixed itself in
power, it sought to conserve that power by inbreeding, thus denying
the infusion of fresh stock. It was this habit, according to
Darligton, that expedited the decline of the Pharaohs, the Ptolemies
and the Caesars.
This interesting hypothesis is perhaps too extreme to be generally accepted even by non-Muslims. In any case, Darligton was referring mainly to incest, a practice which is unknown among the Malays. However, the modern definition of inbreeding includes marriages between first cousins and other close relatives, a practice fairly common among the Malays. Hereditary influence also produces an adverse effect in a society which, abhorring celibacy, insists that everyone, fit or unfit, should marry. Thus, the deformed in mind and body are somehow paired off and reproduce.
While it must be admitted that
inbreeding is not general among the Malays, what cannot be denied is
that the instances of inbreeding are greater among them than among
the other major races in Malaysia—the Chinese. In fact Chinese
marriage customs specifically prevents inbreeding. And so it is
correct to say that inbreeding together with forced marriages of the
unfit produce a much greater percentage of human failures among
Malays as compared with other races.
This explanation is offered in
mitigation and defence of my views. Nevertheless it is not expected
that they will be easily accepted. The implications are too
depressing and hold no promise of easy or rapid remedies. (Dr
Mahathir Mohamad, The Malay Dilemma, p. 1, 2.)
Mendel’s law states that offspring
are not intermediate in type between the two parents, but that the
type of one or the other is predominant according to a fixed law.
The importance of this law lies in its rejection of the popular
concept that offspring must be a dilution of the opposing characters
of the parents.
Mendels’s Law is best illustrated
by experiments in breeding white and brown mice. Provided that a
sufficiently large series of experiments is carried out, the mating
of white and brown mice will produce not spotted or brownish white
mice but white mice predominantly. But if this (sic) first
generation of white mice are mated among themselves, the offspring
are not all white but a mixture of pure white and pure brown in the
proportion of three whites to one brown. The point this illustrates
is that white is a dominant characteristic which shows up in the
first generation. However, even though the first generation appears
pure white, it has a hidden brown factor which is transmissible to
the next generation. But this brown factor is weak as shown by the
fact that only one in four of the second generation is brown in
colour. (Dr Mahathir Mohamad, The Malay Dilemma, p. 17)
A dominant characteristic tends to
cancel a recessive characteristic, and it is clear that if the
parents have different sets of dominant characteristics, then the
offspring will have a combination of all the dominant
characteristics of the parents. It follows therefore that the best
offspring are those resulting from parents with different good
dominant characteristics. Thus since close relatives tend to
resemble each other and the chances of carrying similar recessive
characteristics are greater, marriage between such relatives will
not produce the best offspring. On the other hand, as unrelated
people have more differences in characteristic, a marriage between
such people would tend to produce ideal offspring with good dominant
characteristics of both parents, while the recessive characteristics
are cancelled. (Dr Mahathir Mohamad, The Malay Dilemma, p.
Predictably, after the first
publication of The Malay Dilemma, the Malaysian Government banned
it, and Dr Mahathir was expelled from the Malaysia’s most dominant
Muslim party UMNO (United Malays National Organisation). Malaysian
Law stipulates that all Malays are, by definition, Muslims. A few
years later, Dr Mahathir was again admitted into UMNO, and he
finally became the UMNO president, but his book The Malay Dilemma
remained proscribed. Only after Dr Mahathir became the Prime
Minister of Malaysia, the ban on this controversial book was lifted,
and republished in 1981.
Admittedly, Dr Mahathir is very
knowledgeable in genetics and his courage to tell the truth is
But Dr Mahathir did not have the
supreme intrepidity to blame the genetic root of Malay backwardness
to Islam—more precisely that the Malays, being deeply Islamic
religious, are simply following Islamic rules on first cousin
marriage and emulating their prophet, Muhammad. Dr Mahathir was too
fearful to be seen as anti-Islam. He blamed the Malays for their
proclivity towards inbreeding and not Islam. It was too dangerous
for him to do so.
Like it or not, Incest in Islam is
alive and kicking well as can be illustrated from several verses of
the Qur'an. The various interpretations, often contradictory, just
prove that these words could not be from Allah. Allah cannot be so
dim-witted not to know what is best for His Ummah. All-knowing,
almighty Allah cannot be so careless that He would leave His words
in such a manner that what one group of Muslims means to be halal
may be death to another group of Muslims. The topic of incest in
Islam is such a dangerous game. It also possible that the inherent
backward of the Muslim in general might be rooted in their limited
genetic pool because of incestuous marriage practiced in many
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al-Tabari, Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. Jarir. The Last Years of the Prophet, vol. ix. Translated by Ismail K. Poonwala. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1990. ISBN 0-88706-692-5.
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite CD ROM version.
Imam Hafiz Abu ‘Eisa Mohammad Ibn ‘Eisa At Tirmidhi, Jami’ At Tirmidhi (vol. 1-6), Tr. Abu Khaliyl, Final review by Islamic Research Section Darussalam, Darussalam, P.O. Box 22743, Riyadh 11416, Saudi Arabia, First Ed. November 2007.
Jalalu’d-Din Al Mahali and Jalal’ud Din As Suyuti. Tafsir Al Jalalyn, translated in English by Aisha Bewley. Dar Al Taqwa Ltd. 7A Melcombe Street, Baker Street, London NW1 6AE, 2007. ISBN: 1 870582 61 6
Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. PRINCIPLES OF Islamic JURISPRUDENCE.First published by the Islamic Text Society of Cambridge, U. K.1991. Second Revised Edition, sixth printing, 2009. ILMIAH PUBLISHERS SDN. BHD. Regalia Business Centre, no. 33, Jalan USJ 1/1C, USJ 1, 47620 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.
Mohamad, Mahathir Dr. The Malay Dilemma. FEDERAL PUBLICATIONS SDN BHD. 8238 Jalan 222, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. 1981. First published 1970.
The three translations of the Qur’an: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/reference.html
Abul Kasem is an Bengali ex-Muslim and academic. He has contributed in Leaving Islam - Apostates Speak Out and Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside and Why We Left Islam.. He has also written extensively on Islam in various websites and is the author of five e-Books: A Complete Guide to Allah, Root of Terrorism ala Islamic Style, Sex and Sexuality in Islam, Who Authored the Quran? and Women in Islam. Mr. Kasem leaves in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.