sisterparkTides of disagreement & inquisitiveness emanated from her beady eyes as she unflinchingly stared towards me with disagreement & distaste.

My auntie was obviously not 100% happy with the idea of Muslim women practicing segregation from their brothers-in-law. I emphatically stressed that a Muslim woman should try her best to practice segregation from her brother-in-law, even if they live in the same home and even if he is years younger than her and  even if the sister-in-law sees him like her brother or son.  Baffled and perplexed, she hesitated at first then spoke with determination (obviously not agreeing with what I said), ‘I think that’s too extreme; a brother in law is like a brother!!?’

I decided to reply with words which outweigh the words I would have spoken out of my own accord, because they are the words of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him). I said ‘The Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) said that,

“The brother-in-law is Death.”

Although clearly stunned and baffled by hearing this hadeeth, her face still showed signs of disagreement. This surprised me, as Allah [azza wa jall] has said in the Qur’aan, with regards to the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him),

{Nor does He speak of (his own) desire.

It is Only an Inspiration that is inspired.}[1]

Just as she was going to have her round two, my husband called me, since it was getting late and it was time to go home.

I wondered whether having to go home was a blessing for me…


'Uqba bin 'Amir [RadhiAllahu a’nhu] narrated that the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) said,

"Beware of entering upon the ladies."

A man from the Ansaar[2] said, "Allah's Apostle! What about Al-Hamuw?” The Prophet replied, “The Hamuw is death.”[3]

In Arabic, the ‘Hamuw’ refers to ‘the husband’s brother or his relatives; for example, his paternal uncle’s son or his maternal uncle’s son.’[4] It can also refer to the sister’s husband.[5] Let’s quickly re-cap…

Hamuw means:

1. The Husband’s brother & male relatives.

2. The Sister’s Husband

wowsceneryTherefore, ‘Hamuw’ in Arabic has more of a general meaning than in English. In English the ‘brother-in-law’ refers specifically to the husband’s brother and does not include his relatives, such as his cousins or the children of his cousins. In English the phrase ‘brother-in-law’ only refers to the husband’s brother or the wife’s sister. It is important to keep in mind that in Arabic the term Hamuw refers also to the husband’s and wife’s cousins.

In Islaam the ‘Dhu Mahaarim (sing: Mahram)’ have been clearly defined; A Mahram is a woman’s husband or a man with whom that woman cannot marry at all according to Islaamic Jurisprudence. This can be due to blood relationship (such as father, son, brother, paternal uncle etc) or due to a foster relationship. For no other Non-Mahram has the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) used such clear and categorical wording of caution as he has for the brother-in-law. Even if our culture and traditions allow the mixing of a sister-in-law with her brother-in-law openly as if were her real brother, in Shari’ah (Islamic Law) the Hamuw is not considered a blood brother or like a blood brother. Therefore, the added ‘in-law’ in ‘brother–in–law’ is not referring to the Islaamic law.

Why the Similitude of ‘Death’?

From the words of the scholars (and some of my own contemplations) we learn some of the reasons as to why the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) referred to the brother-in-law as ‘death’:

  • Just as a woman would run away from death, she should run away from mixing spending time and being in the presence of her brother-in law, as much as she possibly can.
  • Just as death is inevitable, it is also inevitable that at times, due to the brother-in-laws strong relationship with the husband, a woman may be put in a situation with him in which seldom would she have to face with anyone else.
  • His (i.e. the brother in law) coming near the wife of his brother resembles death in repulsiveness and mafsadah (cause of corruption & evil). Such as the brother-in-law may resemble her husband in looks and character or the sister-in-law may find her brother in law attractive, or vice verse. Such cases would be a cause of great problems arising; resulting in:
  1. The marriage coming to an end, just as death brings an end to life.
  2. Results in the death of her modesty and religiosity.
  3. Resulting in her death metaphorically, when her husband’s protective jealousy (gheerah) leads him to divorcing her.
  4. By her being stoned to death if she commits adultery with him.
  • She should have caution with the Hamuw as you would have caution from death.
  • Just as a person flees from death, it is incumbent that the husband flees from allowing entrance of his relatives upon his wife and his family which aren’t mahram to her.

We come to see how brief, concise and eloquent the words of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) are. Every believing woman’s heart should fill with caution and she must take heed to this.

Let’s add strength to what has been said by diving into the explanations of this Hadeeth given by some of our leading great scholars of Islaam.

Statements Of The Scholars

Imaam Al Qurtubi

Imaam al Qurtubi said regarding the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) statement, ‘the brother-in-law is death’:

“In other words: his entering upon the wife of his brother resembles death in repulsiveness and mafsadah (cause of corruption & evil). Therefore, he (the Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him) has prohibited (it with a) clear prohibition. He (the Prophet [prayers and peace be upon him]) has emphasised the caution from that.

He (described it as) death, due to the indulgence of people in it (openly) from (both) the husband's and wife's side, because it has become the norm…the Hamuw entering upon the women necessitates towards the death of her deen (religion), or to her death by means of her (husband) divorcing her, when he becomes jealous, or by her being stoned if she commits adultery with him.”[6]

Imaam Al Baghawee

“Al Hamuw: its plural is ‘Al Ahmaa’ and they are the brothers-in-law (including his cousins etc) from the husbands side, and the sister-in-laws (including her cousins etc) from the wife’s side… the Arabs say this phrase (i.e. something is death)... like they say, ‘the Sultan is fire'.

The wording of this (hadeeth) means: certainly solitude with the Hamuw with her (the wife) is more severe than her solitude with any other stranger…it also means: have caution with the Hamuw as you would have caution from death.”[7]

Imaam An-Nawawi

“Layth bin Sa’d said: Al-Hamuw is the husband’s brother and whoever resembles him (the-brother-in-law) from the relatives of the husband, like his paternal uncles son etc. The Scholars of Language have unanimously agreed that Al-Ahmaa (trans. this is the plural of Al-Hamuw) are the relatives of a woman’s husband, like his father, his  paternal uncle, his brother, the son of his brother, the son of his paternal uncle and their like.  Also, the Akhthaan: the relatives of a man’s wife and the Ashaar: husband of ones sister. So it occurs for both types.

As for the Prophet’s (prayers and peace be upon him) statement ‘the brother-in-law is death’ then it means that apprehension from him is more than from other than him. And the evil which occurs from him and the fitnah (trial/temptation/discord) is more due to him being able to reach the woman and be alone with her,- without disapproval [being levied] upon him-, unlike the ajnabee (stranger)…Ibn Arabee said that it is a phrasing used in Arabic, like they say, ‘the lion is death’ i.e. meeting him is like death. And Qaadhi said it means that seclusion with the Ahmaa’ (trans. this is the plural of Al-Hamuw)  leads to fitnah and destruction in deen (religion), that’s why he referred to it as like the destruction of death. Therefore the phrasing shows weight (i.e. the weightiness of the issue at hand).”[8]

Imaam As-Suyooti

“'The Brother-in-Law is death’ means: certainly fear from him is more than from others and the evil which occurs from him in privacy is more, due to his being able to gain access to the woman and be alone with her without it being disapproved of him, unlike the ajnabee (stranger). Even though, he is more deserving of being prohibited (from access) than the stranger!”[9]

Imaam Ibn Hajar Al Asqalaani

“Seclusion with the Hamuw certainly brings about destruction of the deen (of a person) if a sin occurs or death if a evil occurs, (in which case) stoning becomes waajib (incumbent) [trans. here Ibn Hajr is referring to if they commit adultery together], or (it brings about) the destruction of a woman by being separated from her husband, when his protective jealousy [gheerah] leads him to divorcing her.”[10]

Shaykh 'Uthaymeen

“‘The Brother-in law is death’ are the gravest words of caution. It means, just as a person flees from death, it is incumbent that he (the husband) flees from (allowing) entrance of his relatives upon his wife and his family which aren’t mahram (to her). This shows the extreme reprimand of (allowing) relatives of the husband to enter the house of the husband, (which is more) serious than the entrance of strangers, because these people enter with the recognition that they are relatives, so no-one disapproves. And when they come to the door, seeking permission to enter, no-one denies them.

That is why it is haraam on a person that he gives his brother a chance to be alone with his wife. Some people take this matter lightly; you’ll find him (the husband) with his wife and he has a brother who has reached the age of puberty and he (the husband) goes to work, leaving his wife and his brother in the home alone. This is haraam (prohibited), because satan runs in the son of Adam like the running of blood.

(The question arises): how do we separate them when the house is one (i.e. if they are living in the same house)? (The answer:) It is waajib (incumbent) to place a locked door between the quarter of the man (brother-in-law) and the quarter of the woman. The husband (must) take the key with him (of the door). Then he (should) say to his brother, ‘This is your place.’ and to his wife, ‘This is your place.’ and he (should) say to his family, ‘This is your place.’.

It is not allowed that the door be left opened, since he (the brother-in-law) may enter upon her and the satan may mislead him and he may rape her and maybe he will delude her to concord, then it will be like she is his (the brother-in-law's) wife, entering upon her (like a husband would) and leaving and he doesn’t (even) care. We ask Allah to forgive…”[11]

Shaykh Atiyyah Muhammad As-Saalim

"Al Hamuw: the husband’s brother.

It (i.e. this hadeeth) means: his entering (upon his brother’s wife) in the absence of his brother. The Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) clarified that he is the most severest of dangers that is why he said, ‘The brother in law is death’, because the ajnabee (stranger) does not dare to enter and if he does enter he finds caution. As for the husband’s brother, then he enters the house of his brother and there is a no care, so there is what resembles death.

Therefore, in this hadeeth the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) makes clear for us that it is upon the man (i.e. brother in law) to (exercise) caution from the woman (brother’s wife), and likewise for the woman (to exercise caution from her brother in law)."[12]

Muhammad Al-Ameen Ash-Shanqeetee

This great Scholar wrote in his tafseer, regarding the explanation of the Hadeeth, ‘the brother in law is death’ proving that segregation & partitioning must be established between the-brother-in-law and his sister-in-law:

“…without a doubt that his (the Prophet's, prayers, blessings and peace be upon) phrasing is the gravest phrasing of caution, because death is the most horrid event which come upon a person in the world. Just as the poet said,

And Death is the greatest of events

Of which (comes to) pass upon his creation.

Therefore, the Prophet’s (prayers and peace be upon him):

1/ Gravest phrasing of caution regarding the entering of men upon the women (non-mahrams) and

2/ His expressing the relative entering upon a wife by calling it ‘death’

is authentic prophetic proof that the statement of Allah,


 {… ask them from behind a screen…}[13]

is general for all women, as you saw (i.e. in its tafseer which preceded).  If its hukm (ruling) was specific for His wives (i.e the Prophet’s (prayers and peace be upon him) wives), then why did He (the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him) ) caution the men (with) this general (and not specific) phrasing of grave caution of entering upon women (and not just the Prophet's wives)?

Also, from the apparent meaning of the Hadeeth is that the caution is from entering upon them even if seclusion does not occur between the two. And it is so; hence, entering upon them and seclusion with them are both haraam (prohibited) with a severe prohibition …Imaam Muslim (may Allah have mercy on him) quoted this hadeeth in his chapter on the prohibition of solitude with strangers and (their) entering upon her (i.e. the woman). This shows both are haram…

the ‘iyyaakum’ (in the hadeeth)… means be fearful/cautionary (ittaqoo) and implies the meaning ‘save yourselves [ittaqoo] from entering upon women, and women entering upon you'. In the narration of Ibn Wahb (of this hadeeth, comes) with the wording, “Do not enter upon women” and includes the prohibition of entering (aswell as the) prohibition of seclusion with her by means of the first way (i.e. by entering upon her).”[14]




[1] Suratun-Najm [53]: 3-4
[2] A Companion who was from Madinah, who believed in the Prophet [sallallahu a’lyhi wa sallam] and helped him and his Companions when they left Makkah and came to Madinah. That’s why Ansaar means ‘Helpers’.
[3] Bukhari, Book 7, Volume 62, Hadith 159. The Hadeeth is also mentioned in Saheeh Muslim
[4] Darakaat an-Naar, volume 1, pg 94
[5] Sharh An-Nawawi A’lal Muslim, volume 14, pg: 154] &  Sharh Saheeh al Bukhaari li Ibn Butaal, vol 7 pg: 359
[6] Al Mufham [5]: 501 and also quoted in ‘Al  Mufassil Fi Ar-Radd A’laa Shubuhaat A’adaa’ Al Islaam’, volume 14 pg: 267
[7] Sharh as-Sunnah, volume: 9 pg 27
[8] Sharh An-Nawawi 'Alal Muslim, volume 14, pg: 154]
[9] Sharh As-Suyooti 'alal Muslim, Chapter 5 pg: 193
[10] Fath al Baari, vol 9, pg 332
[11] Sharh Buloogh al Maraam, Volume 3, pg: 163
[12] Sharh Riyaadhus Saliheen by Shaykh Uthaymeen, Volume 1 pg: 1932
[13] Al Ahzaab [33]: 53
[14] Adwaa’ al Bayaan Fi Eeydhaah Al –Qur’aan Bil Qur’aan, Chapter 6 pg 249