Zihar means a husband telling his wife: "You are to me like the back of my mother." The schools concur that if a husband utters these words to his wife, it is not permissible for him to have sex with her unless he atones by freeing a slave. If he is unable to do so, he should fast for two successive months. If even this is not possible, he is required to feed sixty poor persons.
The schools also concur in considering a husband who has intercourse before the atonement a sinner, and the Imamiyyah also require him to make a double atonement.
The Imamiyyah consider zihar valid if it takes place before two just male witnesses hearing the husband's pronouncement to the wife in a period of purity in which she has not been copulated with, exactly as in the case of divorce. Similarly, researchers among them also require her marriage to have been consummated, otherwise zihar will not take place.
The reason for opening a separate chapter for zihar in Islamic law are the opening verses of the Surat al-Mujadilah. The exegetes describe that Aws ibn Samit, one of the Prophet's (S) Companions, had a wife with a shapely body. Once he saw her prostrating in prayer. When she had finished, he desired her. She declined. On this he became angry and said: "You are to me like the back of my mother". Later he repented having said so. Zihar was a form of divorce amongst the pagan Arabs, and so he said to her: "I presume that you have become haram for me. She replied: "Don't say so, but go to the Prophet (S) and ask him". He told her that he felt ashamed to question the Prophet (S) about such a matter. She asked him to permit her to question the Prophet (S), which he did. When she went to the Prophet (S), ‘A'ishah was washing his (S) head. She said: "O Apostle of God! My husband Aws married me when I was a young girl with wealth and had a family. Now when he has eaten up my wealth and destroyed my youth, and when my family has scattered and I have become old, he has pronounced zihar, repenting subsequently. Is there a way for our coming together, by which you could restore our relationship?"
The Prophet (S) replied, "I see that you have become haram for him." She said, "O Prophet of God! By Him Who has given you the Book, my husband did not divorce me. He is the father of my child and the most beloved of all people to me." The Prophet (S) replied, "I have not been commanded regarding your affair." The woman kept coming back to the Prophet (S) and once when the Prophet (S) turned back she cried out and said: "I complain to God regarding my indigence, my need and my plight! O God, send upon Thy Prophet (S) that which would end my suffering". She then returned to the Prophet and implored his mercy saying, "May I be your ransom, O Prophet of God, look into my affair." 'A'ishah then said to her: "Curtail your speech and your quarrel. Don't you see the face of the Apostle of God?" Whenever the Prophet (S) received revelation a form of trance would overtake him.
The Prophet (S) then turned towards her and said: "Call your husband." When he came, the Prophet (S) recited to him the verses:
قَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّتِي تُجَادِلُكَ فِي زَوْجِهَا وَتَشْتَكِي إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ يَسْمَعُ تَحَاوُرَكُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ بَصِير * الَّذِينَ يُظَاهِرُونَ مِنْكُمْ مِنْ نِسَائِهِمْ مَا هُنَّ أُمَّهَاتِهِمْ إِنْ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ إِلاَّ اللاَّئِي وَلَدْنَهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمْ لَيَقُولُونَ مُنْكَراً مِنْ الْقَوْلِ وَزُوراً وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ * وَالَّذِينَ يُظَاهِرُونَ مِنْ نِسَائِهِمْ ثُمَّ يَعُودُونَ لِمَا قَالُوا فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يَتَمَاسَّا ذَلِكُمْ تُوعَظُونَ بِهِ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ * فَمَنْ لَمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ شَهْرَيْنِ مُتَتَابِعَيْنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يَتَمَاسَّا فَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَإِطْعَامُ سِتِّينَ مِسْكِيناً ذَلِكَ لِتُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ وَلِلْكَافِرِينَ ٌ عَذَابٌ أَلِيم .
God has heard the speech of her who disputes with you concerning her husband and complains to God. And God hears your colloquy. Surely God is the Hearer, the Seer. Those among you who pronounce zihar to their wives, they (the wives) are not their mothers. Their mothers are only those who gave them birth; and they indeed utter an ill word and a lie, and indeed God is Pardoning, Forgiving. And those who pronounce zihar to their wives and then recant their words, should free a slave before they touch each other. Unto this you are exhorted; and God is aware of your actions. And he who does not possess the means, should fast for two successive months before they touch each other. And he who is unable to do so, should feed sixty needy ones. This, that you may put trust in God and His Apostle. These are the limits set by God; and for unbelievers is a painful chastisement. (58:1-4)
After reciting these verses the Prophet (S) said to the husband: "Can you afford to free a slave?" The husband replied: "That will take up all my means." The Prophet (S) then asked him, "Are you capable of fasting for two successive months?" He replied: "By God, if I do not eat three times a day my eyesight becomes dim and I fear that my eyes may go blind." Then the Prophet (S) asked him, "Can you afford to feed sixty needy persons?" He replied: "Only if you aid me, O Apostle of God." The Prophet (S) said, "Surely I will aid you with fifteen Sa’ (a cubic measure) and pray for blessings upon you." Aws, taking what the Prophet (S) had ordered for him, fed the needy and ate along with them and thus his affair with his wife was settled.