What Are the Rules Related to My Non-Muslim Grandparents?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


My parents (may Allah bless them) converted before I was born, Alhamdulillah. However, I understand that they were both born from parents who were not married, as is unfortunately common in Western culture. Does this mean that ONLY my grandmother’s parents (if they were married), relatives, siblings, and children are mahram to me? What about my biological grandfather?

Please answer from the perspective of implications on gender interactions like khalwa, touching/hugging, etc., as well as on inheritance and taking the last name or recording family lineage. Because my family, outside of my parents and siblings, is non-Muslim, I may fall into haram practices if I don’t clearly understand the red lines.


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him. Amin.

Based on your unique circumstances, it is probably best to adopt the Hanafi School’s view that biological relations establish unmarriageable kinship, and Allah knows best.

Your question reflects a sincere concern about understanding the rules of Islamic etiquette and boundaries within your family situation. May Allah reward you for seeking clarity on matters that pertain to your faith and practice. I will attempt to address your queries regarding gender interactions, inheritance, family lineage, and other related aspects based on Islamic jurisprudence. The Shafi‘I School, while more precautious, may be a bit difficult for your circumstance, and Allah knows best.

Gender Interactions

In Islam, there are specific guidelines for interactions between unrelated members of the opposite gender to ensure modesty and respect. The concept of “mahram” refers to those individuals with whom marriage is permanently prohibited due to close family ties. If your grandparents on your mother’s side were married, their relatives, siblings, and children (including your mother) would be considered mahram to you. However, this does not include your biological grandfather, as he is not directly related to you through marriage. Therefore, interactions such as khalwa (being alone with a non-mahram person of the opposite gender), touching, hugging, etc., should be avoided with him.


Islamic inheritance laws are designed to ensure the fair distribution of wealth among heirs. While your parents’ conversion to Islam brings them under Islamic inheritance laws, your biological grandfather, a non-Muslim, would not be eligible to inherit from your Islamic estate, and vice versa. However, there are alternative views on this matter.

Family Lineage and Last Name

Maintaining a clear record of family lineage is essential in the Islamic tradition. Even if your parents converted, your lineage is traced back to them. While taking the last name of your parents is a common practice, it is not a strict requirement in Islam. What is essential is to accurately preserve and document your lineage for legal and religious purposes.

In situations where non-Muslim relatives have practices inconsistent with Islamic teachings, it’s crucial to uphold your faith and values. Engaging in haram practices or adopting customs that contradict Islamic principles should be avoided, as your commitment to Islam is paramount, and Allah knows best.

Shafi‘i Sacred Law on Non-Marriageable Kin

It is unlawful to marry one’s ancestors, descendants, parents’ descendants, or the first generation of one’s grandparent’s offspring, meaning one’s paternal or maternal aunts (or uncles, if one is female). One’s unmarriageable kin (mahram) are those whom one is forbidden to marry forever. [Misri, ‘Umda Al-Salik]

It is unlawful (meaning both sinful and legally invalid) for a man to marry his:

  1. mother.
  2. grandmothers (O: from his mother’s or father’s side) and on up.
  3. daughters.
  4. daughters of his children, children’s children, and on down.
  5. sisters.
  6. daughters of brothers or sisters, their children’s daughters, and on down.
  7. mother’s sisters, grandmother’s sisters, and on up.
  8. father’s sisters, father’s father’s sisters, and on up.
  9. wife’s mother.
  10. wife’s grandmother.
  11. the wives of his father, father’s father, and on up.
  12. the wives of his children, children’s children, and on down.
All of whom ((9) through (12)) are unlawful for him to marry by the mere fact of marriage. As for a man’s wife’s daughter (from a different husband), it is not unlawful for him to marry until he has had sexual intercourse with her mother. Were he to divorce the mother before intercourse, it would be permissible for him to marry the daughter.
  • 13. (and all those considered unmarriageable kin to him by having been breastfed by a particular wet nurse in infancy). [ibid.]
It is unlawful and invalid for a woman to marry her:
  1. father, grandfather, and on up.
  2. son, son’s son, daughter’s son, and on down.
  3. brother.
  4. father’s brother, meaning the brother of any male ancestor.
  5. mother’s brother, meaning the brother of any female ancestor.
  6. brother’s son, sister’s son, or any other descendants of brothers or sisters.
  7. the husband of her mother, grandmother, and up.
  8. the husband of her daughter or other female descendants.
  9. her husband’s father, grandfather, and up, and husband’s son and descendants.
  10. and unmarriageable kin to her by having been breastfed by a particular wet nurse in infancy. [ibid.]
It is unlawful for a man to marry both:
  1. a woman and her sister.
  2. a woman and her father’s sister.
  3. or a woman and her mother’s sister.

But if a man is no longer married to one of the above and the waiting period has expired, then he may marry the other.

The same categories of relatives who are unlawful for one to marry because of one’s kinship relation to them are also unlawful to one by “foster relationships,” through having been breast-fed by a particular wet nurse in infancy since someone nursed in infancy by a woman is prohibited from marrying those whom her offspring and her husband’s offspring are prohibited from marrying. [ibid.]

May Allah grant you wisdom, understanding, and the ability to navigate your path within the framework of Islamic teachings.

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.