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In Islamic religious law there are two words:
1- mahram
2- namahram

A woman’s mahram is a person whom she is never permitted to marry because of their close blood relationship (such as her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, her son, grandson, etc.) and namahram or non-mahram is someone to whom she is not related such as in-laws, strangers, cousins.

Are there English equivalents to these words?

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  • 2
    "blood relative". But this may include cousins.
    – GEdgar
    May 30, 2017 at 12:35
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    Hi Pesare Biseda. i have added the translation tag to your question to help your question reach the right audience. That being said, in my opinion, your family is 'mahram' and your extended family is 'namaharam'. I would be surprised if you'd find closer equivalents in English. May 30, 2017 at 12:35
  • Does 'namahram' mean 'those who you are allowed to marry'? That is, does 'namahram' specifically refer to marriageability or is it primarily about how closely related someone is and one can then infer that they are marriageable or not?
    – Mitch
    May 30, 2017 at 12:53
  • Also, does the concept involve people who are so distant they are not marriageable (eg foreign or another race or religion)?
    – Mitch
    May 30, 2017 at 12:55
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    Not an answer since it's not English, but Irish has a very good word for this: col means an impediment or prohibition to marriage based on consanguinity. It's not the persons themselves, but the notion. Cousins are named after this prohibition, depending on how many ‘steps’ they are from you in relation; a regular cousin is col ceathrair (four steps), a second cousin is col seisir (six steps), etc. May 30, 2017 at 22:16

5 Answers 5

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Modern American English has a term for individuals who are related, but distantly enough that marriage is not entirely taboo: kissing cousins. The meaning of this term has evolved over time1, and it is the rare example of a word whose meaning has largely not been updated in most dictionaries, but you can see examples of it used in a way similar to namahram:

NOTE: In most states, second cousins are known as "kissing cousins" and can marry, while first cousins are covered by the incest statute and can't legally marry. (Ralph Warner et al., California Marriage & Divorce Law, 1983, snippet view)

If it weren't for the Delacorte coloring and dainty stature, he'd have thought her a kissing cousin—the relationship close enough to be considered kin, but distant enough to marry without worrying about three-eyed offspring. (Day Leclaire, Shotgun Bridegroom, 1997)

Duncan, the idiot, just smiled at her and said, “It was just a friendly kiss. Though we both took the name McMurray, we're not related by blood. I guess you might say we're just kissing cousins.” (Jodi Thomas, Wild Texas Rose, 2012)

As far as a word for mahram, in the US that would probably just be relative, as we are a very incest-averse culture, in general.


1 "Kissing cousins" apparently originally, back in the nineteenth century, meant people who were closely enough related that they could kiss without scandal; for some reason, this is the definition still reflected in virtually all standard dictionaries. Probably in both meanings of the term it would refer to 2nd-degree cousins or further, and also to non-blood-relations who grew up together or had other close, family-like ties.

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English Language and Islamic religious law are not really parallel bases. English has historically been a language of government and heavily influenced by Christian religions (the modern language got a jump start from early translations of the Bible). So most of the common words that relate to marriage reflect Christian or secular constructs.

Virtually all laws governing marriage, both secular and the major religions, have exclusions based primarily on kinship, but often flavoring that with additions and exceptions based on social mores or political influence. Under the umbrella of the English language, there are countless different religions and governments, each with different standards for what is prohibited.

So there are likely other words directly equivalent to mahram and Namahram used within their respective communities, but the English words tend to be more generic, reflecting the concept of prohibition based on kinship rather than "the" specific, actual prohibition.

"Consanguinity" is the generic English term for kinship or blood relationship. The degree of relative consanguinity is a measure of how closely two people are related. This can be laid out in table form and the steps of separation (degree of consanguinity) can be counted. The prohibitions of the different religious and secular laws governing marriage are roughly based on different acceptable degrees of consanguinity (See Wikipedia discussion here).

"Consanguineous marriage" is essentially a technical term for marriage of two people of the same blood or origin, i.e., descended from the same ancestor (see M-W). Like the term "consanguinity", it has degrees. However, people sometimes use "consanguineous marriage" as a shorthand way to refer to marriage prohibited due to laws based primarily on degree of consanguinity.

If I understand correctly, mahram and Namahram are terms for the people who would be marital partners. I'm not aware of individual, common English words meaning the people one is or isn't permitted to marry based on laws of consanguinity. That's commonly a religious perspective but doesn't correlate well with secular law. Conceptually, secular law looks at the marriage and whether the requirements are met rather than the perspective of each person.

English discussions of prohibited vs. non-prohibited marriage typically just use qualifier words like "prohibited" and "non-prohibited". I think the closest you will come to the English equivalent of mahram and Namahram is consanguineous and non-consanguineous, which at least get you to the general concept but would require different sentence construction. The alternative is words that are more generic or multi-word phrases as Harsh Sharma suggests.

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As far your word "mahram" is concerned you can use the word "unmarriageable kin" in order to talk about a person with whom a woman is not permitted to marriage.

Also, have a look at "consanguineous" (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consanguineous).

To talk about the ones with which she can marry, simply use the word "marriageable"(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/marriageable).

P.S. To talk about in-laws you can use the word "affinal"(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/affinal)

To have a limpid understanding of every type of kinship, I would recommend you to have a look at Wikipedia(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinship).

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I believe the short term we use for when family relationships bar a marriage or romance is:

  • a taboo relationship

When someone is merely too close of a friend, perhaps a close friends ex-girlfriend(a line often crossed), a child of a family "enemy" they are often described as

  • off limits
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Yes, there is an equivalent to "mahram" in English which is "chaperone or chaperon". A chaperone or chaperon is someone who looks after and supervises another person or a group of people. It originally meant a woman whose duty was to accompany a younger woman and make sure she wasn't harmed and didn't get into trouble, especially when she was with a man.

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