Zihar and story of Khawla bint Thalaba

Zihar and story of Khawla bint Thalaba

Islam came to reform society, to bring justice and rid the community of myths, delusions and harmful practices. It confronted these head on. In Surat al Ahzab Allah Almighty specifically mentioned three claims which people made commonly but were untrue.

Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his chest cavity, nor did he make your wives whom you subjected to Zihar, your mothers, nor did he make your adopted sons your (real) sons. That is (merely) a word uttered by your mouths. And Allah says the truth and He shows the (right) way. (33:4)

Having two hearts in one chest

First Allah Almighty said that He did not put two hearts in any chest. At that time, anyone who was considered smart, such Alwalid Ibn al Mughera was said to have two hearts in his chest. A person from Fihir claimed he had two hearts and knew more that the Prophet (peace be on him).

Allah Almighty revealed that having two hearts is a phoney claim. All communities have myths and fairy tales and superstitions which become real in the public’s imagination. However this has no basis in fact.


Zihar was the jahili practice that one would say to his wife you are like the back of my mother: i.e Haram like her to me. The words zihar is from the word zahr meaning back. It was an Arab expression meaning that they could not have intimate relations because their wives were like their mothers’ back to them. It was a way of divorcing them in Jahiliyyah times, but which did not allow them to remarry or ever resume conjugal relations.

Allah Almighty stated plainly that wives are not like mothers and brought an end to this oppression towards women.

In Islam if someone makes this declaration, it is a major sin. However, it can be corrected by giving expiation (kaffarah) as mentioned in Surat al Mujadalah. It would require freeing a slave or fasting two consecutive months or feeding 60 poor people.

In Surat al Mujadalah we see the story of Khawla bint Tha’labah who complained that to the Prophet (peace be on him) that her husband had done this to her. She narrated:

By Allah, concerning me and Aws Ibn al-Samit, Allah revealed the beginning of Surat al-Mujadilah. I was married to him, and he was an old man who was bad-tempered. One day, he came in and I raised a particular issue with him again. He became angry and said, ‘You are to me as the back of my mother.’ Then he went out and sat for a while in the meeting-place of his people. Then he came back, and wanted to resume marital relations with me.

I said, ‘No way! By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Khawla, you will never get what you want from me after saying what you said, until Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) decide between us.’ He tried to force himself on me, but I was able to resist because I was a young woman and he was a weak old man. I pushed him away.

Then I went to one of my (female) neighbours and borrowed a cloak from her and went to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). I sat before him, told him what my husband had done to me, and began to complain to him about my sufferings because of my husband’s bad temper.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, ‘O Khawlah, your cousin (i.e. your husband) is an old man, so fear Allah with regard to him.’ I did not leave him until Qur’an was revealed concerning me. He was overcome as he usually was when Qur’an was revealed to him, and when it was over, he said: ‘O Khawlah, Allah has revealed Qur’an concerning you and your husband.’ Then he recited to me:

“Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues [i.e., pleads] with you, [O Prophet Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah. And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing. Those who pronounce zihar (i.e. the saying by a husband to his wife, “You are to me like the back of my mother,” meaning unlawful to approach.

This was a type of divorce practiced by the Arabs before the prophethood of Muhammad) among you [to separate] from their wives – they are not [consequently] their mothers. Their mothers are none but those who gave birth to them. And indeed, they are saying an objectionable statement and a falsehood. But indeed, Allah is Pardoning and Forgiving.

And those who pronounce zihar from their wives and then [wish to] go back on what they said – then [there must be] the freeing of a slave before they touch one another. That is what you are admonished thereby; and Allah is Acquainted with what you do. And he who does not find [a slave] – then a fast for two months consecutively before they touch one another; and he who is unable – then the feeding of sixty poor persons. That is for you to believe [completely] in Allah and His Messenger; and those are the limits [set by] Allah. And for the disbelievers is a painful punishment.” (Al Mujadalah: 1-4)

The Prophet told me, ‘Let him release a slave.’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), he does not have the means to do that.’ He said, ‘Then let him fast for two consecutive months.’ I said, ‘By Allah, he is an old man, he is not able to do that.’ He said, ‘Then let him feed sixty poor people with a wasq of dates.’ I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, he does not have that much.’ He said, ‘Then we will help him with a faraq of dates.’ I said, ‘And I will help him with another faraq, O Messenger of Allah.’ He said, ‘You have done right and done well. Go and give it in charity on his behalf, then take care of your cousin properly.’ And I did so.” (Ibn Hibban)


Here Allah is clarifying that one cannot change a child’s lineage. If you change their name, you are obscuring that reality. Their genetic make up does not alter when they take your name, nor does their lineage. Therefore Allah Almighty wants us to protect their lineage by not changing their surname. He said:

Call them by (the name of) their (real) fathers; It is more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if you do not know their fathers, then they are your brothers in faith and your friends. There is no sin on you in the mistake you make, but in that which you do with intention of your heart; and Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful. (33:5)

Kafalat al-Yateem

Islam encourages us to care for children who do not have parents or cannot be looked after by their parents for any reason, this is called kafalat yateem.

In the UK, we have fostering and adopting but adopting is very similar to kafalat yateem, so is not prohibited in Islam. Essentially you become a guardian to that child.


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.