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Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Food


13.  Support of Nursing Mothers and Wives


from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections

and Islamic jurisprudence



Support of Nursing Mothers and Wives

From Islamic Source Documents: Qur’an and Hadith


The period for nursing is stated in the Qur’an to be two years[1] or thirty months[2]. The parents can decide to wean the child earlier by mutual consent.[3] The father is obligated to support the mother through the period of nursing or pay for a wet-nurse[4] even if the couple is divorced or divorcing.[5] One of the signs of the day of final judgement will be that nursing mothers will forget their suckling children.[6]  


In one story repeated in many compiled hadiths, Muhammad gives permission to a woman, Hind, to take from her miserly husband, Abu Sufyan, without his knowledge or permission in order to feed her children, as long as the amount she takes is reasonable.[7]


Support of Nursing Mothers and Wives

From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§):  the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller


Islamic scholars* disagree over whether a mother must nurse her baby.  Some say yes; others say no.  Malik says that a lower status woman must nurse, but a high status woman is not required to.[8]


In his Risala, al-Shafi‛i quotes the Qur’an concerning the two-year period of nursing, the right to find someone other than the mother to nurse the children and the obligation of the father to provide for the children. He also cites the story from the hadiths, summarized on this page, above, in which Muhammad says that Hind may take from her husband without his permission to feed their children. Using his legal reasoning methodology, al-Shafi‛i concludes that since the father must provide for the children, it is also the obligation of the children to provide for their fathers, and even distant forefathers, who are unable to provide for themselves. Thus, according to al- Shafi‛i, those who are not working should be supported by those who are working and have wealth.[9]


The scholars agree that a wife inherits one-quarter of her husband's estate if he has no children (which includes children of a son) and one-eighth if he does have children to inherit his wealth. A husband inherits one-half of wife's estate if she has no children (including children of a son) and one-quarter if she does have children to inherit her wealth.[10] A daughter inherits one-half the amount that a son does from their father or mother.[11]


The scholars agree that a husband is required to pay for his wife's maintenance and clothing.[12] Malik and Abu Hanifa agree that the amount of maintenance a wife is entitled to is not set by law; it depends on the status of the wife and of the husband. Al-Shafiʽi says that the amount of maintenance required depends upon how wealthy of the husband is, the amounts being 1, 1˝, or 2 mudds.[13] Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) specifies the amount of grain a husband must provide for his wife each day: 0.51 liters (one mudd), 0.77 liters or one liter, according to his wealth. The husband must also pay for grinding and making bread from the grain as well as providing meat, oil or other things that are customary in the town to make the bread savory and good to eat. By mutual agreement of the husband and wife, the husband may compensate the wife with money in place of food.[14]

Reliance of the Traveller says that housing provided to one's wife must be as good as other similar women receive.[15]




*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.



Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.


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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC/CMJE website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


[1] QR 2:233, QR 31:14

[2] QR 46:15

[3] QR 2:233

[4] QR 2:233

[5] QR 65:6

[6] QR 22:2

[7] BK 3:34:413, BK 3:43:640, BK 7:64:272, BK 7:64:277, BK 7:64:283, BK 8:78:636 ,BK 9:89:275, BK 9:89:291, ML 18:4251-4252, ML 18:4253, ML 18:4254

[8] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[9] SR 590-592 (pages 309-310)

[10] DJP 51.1.2 (Volume 2, page 415)

[11] DJP 51.1.1 (Volume 2, pages 413-415)

[12] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[13] DJP 18.4 (Vol 2, pages 63-67)

[14] RT m11.2 (pages 542-543)






















































































[15] RT m11.8 (page 545)