Is it permissible for a husband to ...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Is it permissible for a husband to call his wife “sister” or “mother”?


Is it permissible for a husband to call his wife “sister” or “mother”?


It all depends on the man’s intention when he said this. In pre-Islamic Arabia, some men punished their wives by telling them something of similar import. An Arab would tell his wife, “You are to me like my mother’s back.” God the Almighty condemns this practice in Surah 58 and He describes it as invalid in Surah 33.

It is forbidden for any Muslim to do this, and if he does, he is blameworthy and must expatiate for the sin. The expiation is mentioned in Surah 58 and comprises freeing a slave. If this is not possible because the person cannot buy and free a slave, or because slavery has been, by God’s grace, abolished, then he must fast for two months before his wife becomes lawful to him again. If he is physically too weak to fast, and there is no hope of his recovery in the foreseeable future, he should feed 60 poor people.

Now, if this man called his wife ‘sister’ in jest and had no intention of refraining from sexual relations with her, then nothing is required and he should refrain from doing this in the future. But if he intended to make his wife unlawful for himself, then the case is the same as that of the Arabs of the past. This is known in Islamic jurisprudence as zihar and it carries the punishment of fasting for two consecutive months before marital relations could resume between them.


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