A mahram is an unmarriageable kin with whom marriage or sexual intercourse would be considered haram, illegal in Islam, or people from whom purdah is not obligatory or legal escorts of a woman during journey longer than a day and night, 24 hours.
People with whom marriage is prohibited
- permanent or blood mahrams include:
- parents, grandparents and further ancestors
- children, grandchildren and further descendants
- siblings of parents, grandparents and further ancestors
- children and further descendants of siblings
- in-law mahrams with whom one becomes mahram by marrying someone:
- parents, grandparents and further ancestors of spouse
- Children, grandchildren and further descendants of spouse
- spouse of parents, grandparents and further ancestors
- spouse of children, grandchildren and further descendants
(Note: Marriage with stepfather is prohibited only if the man has consummated with her mother)
- Rada or "milk-suckling mahrams" with whom one becomes mahram because of being nursed by the same woman.
- foster mother and further female ancestors
- foster sibling
- When a woman acts as a wetnurse (that is she breast feeds an infant that is not her own child for a certain amount of time under certain conditions), she becomes the child's rada mother and everything concerning blood mahrams applies here, like rada father/mother, rada sister/brother, rada aunt/uncle and so on. In English these can be referred to as milk brother, milk-mother, and so on. For a man, mahram women include his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, grandaunt, niece, grandniece, his father's wife, his wife's daughter (step-daughter), his mother-in-law, his rada mother and any other rada relatives that correspond to the above-mentioned blood relatives. As the Prophet said, "What is forbidden by reason of kinship is forbidden by reason of suckling."
These are considered mahram because they are mentioned in the Quran (An-Nisa 22-23):
"And marry not women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed; indeed it was shameful and most hateful, and an evil way. Forbidden to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your paternal aunts, your maternal aunts, brother's daughters, sister's daughters, your foster mothers, your sisters from suckling, mothers of your spouses, your step-daughters from your those spouses you have entered into them but if you have not entered into them then there is no blame on you, spouses of your sons from your own loins and that you add two sisters except that has passed; indeed God is forgiving and merciful.
All of the man's female relatives mentioned in these two verses are considered his maharim, because it is unlawful (haram) for him to marry them, except the wife's sister mentioned last, who is not a mahram because he can marry her if he divorces her sister, or if his wife dies. The notion of mahram is reciprocal. All other relatives are considered non-maharim and they fall under the category of strangers.
Legal escorts of women during journey
A woman's male mahrams fall into four categories (three categories in the strict-sense definition that does not count one's spouse). Mahrams for a man can be derived in a similar manner.
- However legal escorts of a woman during journey are her husband and with whom she cannot marry due to blood and he is adult and sane relation that include
- father, grandfather and further male ancestors
- son, grandson and further male descendants
- brother of parents, grand parents and further ancestors
- son, grandson and further male descendants of sibling
- some also include milk relatives
Some rules regarding mahrams and ghayr mahrams (non-mahrams)
- Theoretically, a Muslim woman's mahrams form the group of allowable escorts when she travels.
- An adopted brother (adopted sister) of a woman (man) is ghayr mahram to her (him) and they can marry each other. The term "adopted" means those children who are adopted by one's parents for the purpose of providing shelter and upbringing and who do not fall under the relationships outlined under the section "Who is mahram?" above.
Exception: an adopted brother who suckled from the mother of the woman is axiomatically a mahram.
- Except for the spouse, being mahram is a permanent condition. That means, for example, that a man will remain mahram to his ex-mother-in-law after divorcing her daughter. One is ghayr mahram to one's ex-spouse.
- One must not stay with a ghayr mahram in seclusion where none of their mahrams is present (see also proxemics).
- If wives of a man each become a rada mother of a child, all children and all rada mothers will be mahram to each other.
- The Quran, al-Baqara, 2:221
- Abdul-Rahman, Muhammad Saed, Islam: Questions and Answers - Jurisprudence and Islamic Rulings, London: MSA Publication Limited, 2007, pp. 22-23.
- Packard, Gwen K., Coping in an Interfaith Family, New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1993, p. 11.