Regarding the hadith

Ibn Juraij narrated this hadith with the same chain of transmitters, but he made no mention of it: "No person (man) should be alone with a woman except when there is a Mahram with her." -- Sahih Muslim 1341 c (sunnah.com)

I don't understand what the exception means here, i.e., in what circumstances this exception would apply:

  • If there is a man and a woman together, and there is a third person (the woman's Mahram), then they are by definition not alone. So, it's not an exception.

  • If there are two people alone, and one is her Mahram (e.g., her father), I don't think that is forbidden. This is neither an exception.

Question: What does the exception in this hadith mean?

All of this may depend on the translation from Arabic. Maybe "No man should be alone with a woman except if he's her Mahram" is a better translation (?).

  • my deleted comment was not very correct. math also can use "fuzzy logic".
    – qdinar
    May 5, 2017 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


It is a matter of interpretation of the word ella (إلا) from the original text of the hadith:

لاَ يَخْلُوَنَّ رَجُلٌ بِامْرَأَةٍ إِلاَّ وَمَعَهَا ذُو مَحْرَمٍ

The word ella in the Arabic language can be used as an exception word (estethna'), or as a restrictive or limiting word (hasr or qasr). In this hadith, it is a command not to do an act (negation, command) except when certain conditions are fulfilled (restriction). This means the word ella is used in its conceptual restrictive form.

In other words, the hadith is saying it is absolutely restricted and not allowed under any condition for a man to be alone with a woman, and that a woman needs to have a Mahram with her when meeting a non-Mahram.

Note that يخلون is a strong form of the command يخلو (being alone with). The word لا is a negation (means do not).

Note also that there is a scholarly difference of opinions about:

  1. What constitutes not being alone: If there is a third person, man or woman, would that negate being alone in a religious interpretation of the word (of course, not the linguistic meaning of the word)?
  2. Which mahrams are qualified (e.g., can the woman bring her baby brother and then this would be considered as not being alone)?

For further explanation on the classifications of the use of the word ella, please refer to the brief summary below.

Ella as an exception

Ella acts as exception of what follows it (the exception) from what precedes it (the general basis), and can be an affirmation or a negation (based on common attributes of the general basis and the exception). For example:

Qur'an 2:249: فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِنْهُمْ

This verse (affirmation) means the majority of the Israelites drank from the river, except very few. The general basis for comparison is the drinking, and the exception is not drinking.

Quran 43:67: الْأَخِلَّاءُ يَوْمَئِذٍ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ إِلَّا الْمُتَّقِينَ

This verse (affirmation) means that on Judgment Day, the close friends will become enemies to each other, except the ones who are righteous and fear Allah. The basis is the enmity, and the exception to having this enmity is the righteous people.

Qur'an 4:66: وَلَوْ أَنَّا كَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَنِ اقْتُلُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ أَوِ اخْرُجُوا مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ مَا فَعَلُوهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ مِنْهُمْ

This verse (negation) means that if Allah had decreed upon the Israelites to kill themselves or abandon their homes, they would not have done it (negation) except for a few of them. The basis is disobedience to the command (killing themselves or abandoning their homes), and the exception is the group that obeys.

In all of the above cases, the general basis precedes ella, then the exception follows it, with the basis for comparison being attribute(s) mentioned in the preceding phrase(s).

Ella as restrictive or limiting

When ella is used as a restrictive or limiting word, it is always preceded by a negation (نفى), a command not to do something (نهى), or a question (إستفهام). The exception does not have common attributes between what precedes ella and what follows it. For example:

Qur'an 4:171: يَاأَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ

In this verse (command form), Allah warns people of the scripture not to exaggerate in their religion and not to say anything about Allah except the truth. This is restriction: Limit what you say about Allah to being exclusively the truth.

Qur'an 5:99: مَا عَلَى الرَّسُولِ إِلَّا الْبَلَاغُ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تُبْدُونَ وَمَا تَكْتُمُونَ

This verse (negation form) means that the responsibility of the messenger is restricted to (or limited to) notification. The word ella (except) is used in this case to express a restriction in responsibility, not an exception to what precedes it.

Qur'an 46:35: كَأَنَّهُمْ يَوْمَ يَرَوْنَ مَا يُوعَدُونَ لَمْ يَلْبَثُوا إِلَّا سَاعَةً مِنْ نَهَارٍ بَلَاغٌ فَهَلْ يُهْلَكُ إِلَّا الْقَوْمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

In this verse (negation and question), Allah describes what the disbelievers will feel on Judgment Day — had not remained (negation) in the world except an hour of a day, and does any get destroyed (question) except those who defy and disobey.

The restrictive forms can be either conceptual (قصر حقيقى) or contextual (قصر إضافى). In conceptual restrictions, the restriction applies at all times, e.g., if one says there is no creator from nothing except Allah, this is a negation that limits the ability to create from nothing to Allah and no one else. In the case of a contextual restriction, if one says the responsibility of the messenger is restricted to notification, this is applicable to the matter of adoption of the religion (the messenger is responsible to notify, but is not responsible that those notified obey or follow). The messenger is obviously responsible for many matters other than notification: praying, fasting, supporting his family, visiting the sick, etc.

  • the question is about contradiction of "alone" with "with mahram", but there is no such additional contradiction in your examples. if there was used word "be" or "be together" in the hadith instead of "be alone", that would be like your examples (there would be no contradiction). (i think, resolving of the contradiction is not in word "illa", but by slightly modifying meaning of word "alone").
    – qdinar
    Apr 20, 2017 at 8:01

well, the second situation is not what the hadith is talking about.

* If there are two people alone, and one is her Mahram (e.g., her father), I don't think that is forbidden. This is neither an exception.

which includes woman's mahrams like father, son ...etc

but the situation hadith is talking about is for example traveling (in old days woman might need to travel with someone who can protect her so she has to bring a Mahram with her). or cases when a man needs to talk to a woman alone maybe for a private talk, for instance. the Mahram does not need to hear them but he has to be there so they will not be alone.


it is simple, the word "be alone" ( http://www.almaany.com/ar/dict/ar-en/%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7/ ) can be unerstood not so much strongly. there can be a mahram at some distance, so that they can be named "being (comparatively) alone".

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