Alleged Qur’an Inconsistency: Can I call her mother?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Gabriel Al Romaani & Abdul Wahab Saleem
There are those who try to attack the linguistic details in the Qur’an, in an effort to prove certain concepts incorrect. These arguments often ignore the actual context of the situation or they even ignore what the Qur’an specifically says about these situations. One such issue has arisen regarding who exactly the Qur’an allows us to call ‘mother.’
The missionaries have written an article claiming that the Qur’an contradicts itself when it comes to who “one can call mother.” This article will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that such a claim is not only lame but unfounded and unreasonable. To do so we will cover the verses that deal with the usage of the word ‘mother.’ We will look at the so-called contradiction as well as the usage of the word ‘mother’ in the Arabic language.
The Qur’an was revealed over fourteen centuries ago in the Arabic language, a language that is very structured, accurate and rich in meaning. The Qur’an claims that the Arabic language is imperative for the correct understanding and clarity of the scripture:
الر تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ * إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
“Alif. Lam. Ra. These are messages of a revelation clear in itself and clearly showing the truth: behold, We have bestowed it from on high as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason.” (Qur’an 12:1-2)
On a secondary note the Quran also makes a very bold claim and opens itself for examination; it claims that it has no contradictions in it. Contradictions in a so-called divine scripture only indicate that the author of the scripture is a human being, and not God:
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
“Will they not, then, try to understand this Qur’an? Had it issued from any but God, they would surely have found in it many contradictions.” (Qur’an 4:82)
Having said that, it is very surprising when missionaries and other so-called academics do not take their time to digest the information that is presented in the Qur’an, and are hasty in making false accusations. The quality of the accusations only reflect their poor scholarship which goes back to discredit them. Any sincere seeker of truth and objective thinker will realize that.
This article discusses the issue of mothers in the Qur’an. The missionaries have written an article claiming that the Qur’an contradicts itself when it comes to who “one can call mother.” This article will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that such a claim is not only lame but unfounded and unreasonable. To do so we will cover the verses that deal with the usage of the word ‘mother.’ We will look at the so-called contradiction as well as the usage of the word ‘mother’ in the Arabic language.
2. Alleged Contradiction
Let us look at the so-called contradiction. The missionaries claim that the Qur’an states that a man’s mother is only the one who gave him birth, and that elsewhere it contradicts itself by saying that a nursing mother is also a mother and that the Prophet’s wives are also mothers. The absurdity of the claim is only matched by the absurdity of the claimant. Actually the entire article is based on this weak premise.
Here is the verse:
الَّذِينَ يُظَاهِرُونَ مِنْكُمْ مِنْ نِسَائِهِمْ مَا هُنَّ أُمَّهَاتِهِمْ إِنْ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ إِلَّا اللَّائِي وَلَدْنَهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمْ لَيَقُولُونَ مُنْكَرًا مِنَ الْقَوْلِ وَزُورًا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُو
“If any men among you divorce their wives by dhihar (calling them mothers), they cannot be their mothers: None can be their mothers except those who gave them birth. And in fact they use words (both) grave and false: but truly Allah is one that blots out (sins), and forgives (again and again).” (Qur’an 58:2)
The central point of their rather silly assertion is that in this verse is a declaration that a person has no mother except the one who gives him birth whereas at other instances (Qur’an 4:23 and 33:6), the Qur’an refers to some other women as “mothers” for the people.
Before we actually look into those verses, it is important to first understand the historical context and the true import of this verse.
Dhihar was a way to pronounce divorce to one’s wife. Classical exegetes have recorded that in doing so a person would say to his wife, “You are unto me like the back of my mother.” This way a person would make his wife permanently unlawful to him.
Commenting on the words, “And in fact they use words (both) grave and false,” Al-Qurtubi says:
أي فظيعا من القول لا يعرف في الشرع
“Horrendous saying; not recognized in Islamic law (Shari‘ah).”
We shall come back to this towards the end of the article.
3. Catching the twist
Note, here it is not just calling someone as mother but rather saying to make something lawful unlawful. Therefore, we see that hooking the whole issue on just “calling” is a twist involved to derail the understanding from the outset.
4. Islamic Principle on Relationships
In Islam there are only two ways in which a relation and limits to it are legally established. They are the natural blood relations and explicit scriptural injunctions but they are not mutually exclusive. Rather it is the Islamic law that determines the limits and scope of mutual rights, obligations and the lawful and unlawful between the relations.
Other than that, mere wish or utterances do not establish any legal relationship. This is especially true for the relations that basically established through uterine connections, blood bonds or any sanctioned extension of the same.
Allah Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an:
مَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِرَجُلٍ مِنْ قَلْبَيْنِ فِي جَوْفِهِ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَزْوَاجَكُمُ اللَّائِي تُظَاهِرُونَ مِنْهُنَّ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَاءَكُمْ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ ذَلِكُمْ قَوْلُكُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَقُولُ الْحَقَّ وَهُوَ يَهْدِي السَّبِيلَ
“Allah has not made for a man two hearts in his interior. And He has not made your wives whom you declare unlawful your mothers. And he has not made your adopted sons your [true] sons. That is [merely] your saying by your mouths, but Allah says the truth, and He guides to the [right] way.” (Qur’an 33:4)
5. The other two verses considered vis-à-vis Qur’an 58:2
In the following lines, we first consider 33:6 and 4:23 separately against 58:2.
5.1 Qur’an 33:6 – its meaning and significance
The verse reads:
النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَأَزْوَاجُهُ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ وَأُولُو الْأَرْحَامِ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلَى بِبَعْضٍ فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُهَاجِرِينَ إِلَّا أَنْ تَفْعَلُوا إِلَى أَوْلِيَائِكُمْ مَعْرُوفًا كَانَ ذَلِكَ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَسْطُورًا
“The Prophet is more worthy of the believers than themselves, and his wives are [in the position of] their mothers. And those of [blood] relationship are more entitled [to inheritance] in the decree of Allah than the [other] believers and the emigrants, except that you may do to your close associates a kindness [through bequest]. That was in the Book inscribed.” (Qur’an 33:6)
This verse only speaks of a relation of spiritual nature and not the lineal one. The late Pakistani scholar, Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, writes:
“Here, the reference to the blessed wives of the Holy Prophet as mothers of the Muslim community means being mothers in terms of their respect and honor. Injunctions relating to the mother and her children, and those of the forbiddance of marriage, and the absence of hijab due to having the status of a mahram, and holding a share in the inheritance are injunctions which have nothing to with it- as made explicit towards the end of the verse.
As for the forbiddance of the marriage of the blessed wives with anyone in the Muslim community, this has been declared in a separate verse. Therefore, it is not necessary that even this forbiddance of marriage may be for the reason of being mothers.”
Another evidence for solely the metaphorical import of this verse is the below mentioned narration:
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها أن امرأة قالت لها: يا أمه، فقالت: ” أنا أم رجالكم لست بأمك “
It is narrated from ‘A’ishah – may Allah be pleased with her – that a woman said to her: “O mother!” She said, “I am the mother of your men (only). I am not your mother.”
Even though many scholars have stated that their status as such is true even with respect to women also, simply the fact that some scholars have restricted its implication to men is enough evidence that it is merely metaphorical in nature; and for itself, this verse has no legal implications.
5.2 Qur’an 4:23 – its meaning and significance
The verse reads:
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أُمَّهَاتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُكُمْ وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ وَعَمَّاتُكُمْ وَخَالَاتُكُمْ وَبَنَاتُ الْأَخِ وَبَنَاتُ الْأُخْتِ وَأُمَّهَاتُكُمُ اللَّاتِي أَرْضَعْنَكُمْ وَأَخَوَاتُكُمْ مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ وَأُمَّهَاتُ نِسَائِكُمْ وَرَبَائِبُكُمُ اللَّاتِي فِي حُجُورِكُمْ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمُ اللَّاتِي دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُونُوا دَخَلْتُمْ بِهِنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَحَلَائِلُ أَبْنَائِكُمُ الَّذِينَ مِنْ أَصْلَابِكُمْ وَأَنْ تَجْمَعُوا بَيْنَ الْأُخْتَيْنِ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا
“Prohibited to you [for marriage] are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father’s sisters, your mother’s sisters, your brother’s daughters, your sister’s daughters, your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing, your wives’ mothers, and your step-daughters under your guardianship [born] of your wives unto whom you have gone in.
But if you have not gone in unto them, there is no sin upon you. And [also prohibited are] the wives of your sons who are from your [own] loins, and that you take [in marriage] two sisters simultaneously, except for what has already occurred. Indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:23)
It is absolutely ridiculous to say this verse anyway contradicts Qur’an 58:2 discussed above. Let’s understand this with an example. I hold a pen in my hand and say, “This is the only pen I have.”
And the next moment I say, “My pen that was broken.” Naturally, there is no contradiction because in the second statement the words “that was broken” are qualifying the pen that I mentioned in it and these words show that that particular pen is no more with me and therefore there is no contradiction with the first statement.
In the same way the words “who nursed you” are qualifying the word “mother” in Qur’an 4:23 and these words show the person referred to is someone other than the biological mother because when a person refers to his biological mother he doesn’t need to say “who nursed me” even if she actually has. This is true because a word like ‘mother’ in true and original sense needs no qualifying statements.
A qualifying statement with it will be introduced only if it used in some secondary or figurative sense. This is precisely the case in Qur’an 4:23 and therefore it is nothing but pure absurdity to see some contradiction here.
6. Appeal to emotion
Most likely on realizing the weakness of his argument, the missionary attempts to move the readers by attacking their emotions. Adoption is a very emotional topic and the missionary tries to make Islam look bad by saying that Islam does not allow adoption. This is a lie, a distortion and a cruel attack on Islam. Islam takes in consideration the emotions of every person; however such emotions do not override truth and facts.
A child who is not related to the parents cannot be made so through pretending. Islam protects the child and his or her lineage and makes sure to allow the child to understand his or her past and where he or she comes from.
This has legal bearing and consequences – something that missionaries do not care to think about. How many missionaries go to third-world countries and adopt children, lying to them, changing their names and confusing their ancestry and lineage?
They convert them from their religions and alienate them from their culture. Islam allows for the process of taking care of a child and treating them with love and kindness, but when it comes to the truth and facts Islam makes sure that the child is protected. We read the verdict of Mufti Taqi Usmani that clearly refutes the lie of the missionary:
“Adoption of a child has no legal effect in Shari‘ah. One can adopt a child for his emotional and psychological satisfaction. He can treat him as his own son in the matters of love, affection and general behavior. Adoption of a child to provide shelter to him is a virtuous deed which carries much reward in the Hereafter.
But so far as the legal aspects are concerned, adoption has no consequence. The child should not be attributed except to the natural father, and not to the one who has adopted him. Even in the matter of hijab, adoption has no effect whatsoever.
If a male child is adopted by a woman, she will observe hijab from him after he reaches the age of puberty, unless she is related to him in a prohibited degree. An adopted child can marry a daughter of his adoptive parents, because she is not his real sister. In short, adoption does not create a new legal relationship which did not exist before.
All these rules are inferred from the principle laid down by the Holy Qur’an in this respect. The people in jahiliyyah used to treat an adopted child as the real one in all respects. The Holy Qur’an condemned this practice and the following verses were revealed:
وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَاءَكُمْ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ ذَلِكُمْ قَوْلُكُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَقُولُ الْحَقَّ وَهُوَ يَهْدِي السَّبِيلَ
“And Allah did not make your adopted children your sons. That is only your words coming out from your tongues. And Allah says the truth and He guides you to the right path. Call them with reference to their (real) fathers. It is more just in the sight of Allah.” (Qur’an 33:4)
However, it should be remembered that although an adopted child cannot inherit from his adoptive father, but it is permissible, rather advisable, for him that he, in his lifetime, makes a will in favor of his adopted son. Through such a will, he can bequeath up to one third of his property to his adopted child who cannot otherwise share his inheritance.”
The Holy Prophet said in a hadith:
عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: «أنا وكافل اليتيم في الجنة هكذا» وقال بإصبعيه السبابة والوسطى
“I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him, will be in Paradise like this,” putting his index and middle fingers together.
7. Summary and Conclusion
1- The issue is not merely about “calling” someone mother. Rather it is about using the words to make something lawful unlawful which is forbidden.
2- The lawful and unlawful among the relations is established either due to lineal bond or a Shari‘ah ruling. Blood relations are naturally known. Shari‘ah extends the same to foster relations and has a specific title and some specific rulings related to wives of the Prophet.
3- The lineal bonds, foster relations or Shari‘ah rulings cannot be established through one’s words.
References & Notes:
 Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, (Cairo: Dar ul-Kutab al-Misriyyah, 1964) Vol.9, 17:279
 Shafi‘i, Muhammad, Ma’ariful Qur’an, Translated by Muhammad Shamim (Karachi: Makatab-e-Dar ul-‘Uloom) Vol.8, 95
 Al-Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyyah, 2003) Vol.7, 111, Hadith 13422
The same is reported in Masanid Firas al-Mukattib and its researcher Abu Yusuf Muhammad bin Hasan al-Misri graded it as sahih. See: Ibn Hasan al-Misri, Abu Yusuf Muhammad, Masanid Abi Yahya Firas ibn Yahya al-Mukattib al-Kufi, 85, Hadith 25
al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Isma’il, as-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 6005