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...



(Caution: This essay may offend some readers)


The Oxford Dictionary defines incest as sexual intercourse between near relations.

Elaborating on this Encyclopaedia Britannica (CD ROM version) writes:

Generally 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 some societies.

On the harmful effect of incestuous relation Encyclopaedia Britannica also writes:

Highly inbred 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.

004.023  (Yusuf Ali)
YUSUFALI: 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;-
YUSUFALI: 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 illegitimate.

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 daughter.

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 Malaysia.

The woman gives birth to a girl--this is the illegitimate daughter to the man. Let us call her daughter A.

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 Shafi rule.

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 father’s concubines

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:

The word '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 blood relations

Here is another verse from the Qur'an that may suggest that incestuous marriages are permissible in Islam.

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 writes:

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, p. viii.2)

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)

In‑breeding: 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 communities.

YUSUFALI: 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 us this:

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:

The ladies 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 33/87.)

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 in‑breeding. He was a medical professional. He wrote that because of in‑breeding 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‑breeding.

In this book I have explained how the laws of genetics, which govern the transmission of hereditary characteristics, are affected adversely by in‑breeding and other marriage practices.

There has been a lot of scientific thinking on the subject of in‑breeding 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 in‑breeding, 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 in‑breeding 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 in‑breeding are greater among them than among the other major races in Malaysia—the Chinese. In fact Chinese marriage customs specifically prevents in‑breeding. And so it is correct to say that in‑breeding 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. 18‑19)

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 admirable.

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 in‑breeding and not Islam. It was too dangerous for him to do so.

Conclusion: 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 Islamic nation.



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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:


Abul Kasem writes from Sydney. Send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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