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Muslim Women Can Marry Outside the Faith

By Junaid Jahangir


He created for you mates to find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy ~ 30:21

Last month, CBC reported the news of an interfaith couple, Shaaz, a Muslim woman, and Jarred, a Jewish man, who live in Airdrie, Alberta. While they found a Cantor, they were unable to find an Imam for the interfaith marriage ceremony.

Muslim institution stakeholders may forbid Muslim women from marrying outside the faith. However, amongst others, Muslims for Progressive Values in the U.S and across the globe, Imam Daayiee Abdullah and Dr. Khaleel Mohammad in the U.S., Universalist Muslims and myself in Canada have offered same-sex and interfaith marriage services.

The objective of this blog is to resist juristic opinions that forbid Muslim women from marrying outside the faith. Many Muslim scholars and Imams affirm interfaith marriages of Muslim women to non-Muslim men. Ten such voices follow.

1.       Khaled Abou El Fadl

According to Dr. El Fadl, the Qur'an does not expressly prohibit Muslim women from marrying men from the People of the Book, often Jews and Christians. However, past jurists argued that express permission was not given to Muslim women as it was given to Muslim men in verse 5:5.

Given the Qur'an's silence, jurists used extra-textual reasoning to prohibit Muslim women from marrying outside the faith. They were concerned about children not being raised as Muslims and coercion on the Muslim woman to convert.

El Fadl also raises concerns about children growing up as faithless or agnostics. As such, he argues that such marriages for both men and women in non-Muslim countries, while not technically forbidden, would be Makruh (detestable).

However, the category of Makruh rests on human intellect as opposed to divine mandate. This indicates that the prohibition on Muslim marrying outside the faith is not textually sustained.

2.       Khaleel Mohammad

The strongest case for Muslim women marrying outside the faith perhaps comes from Imam Khaleel Mohammad's religious edict. He opines that the issue of the divinity of Jesus is moot as Muslim men were allowed to marry Christian women. Therefore, the main issue for past jurists was coercion on the Muslim woman to convert.

However, he argues that interfaith marriages can proceed based on stipulations against conversion of either spouse in the marriage legal contract. He also opines that children can make informed decisions on their own faith when they come of age.

The scholars affiliated with Imam Khaleel Mohammad also feel that the category of the People of the Book goes beyond Jews and Christians to incorporate Parsis, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and atheists.

3.       Asma Lamrabet

Dr. Asma Lamrabet opines that general viewpoints on interfaith marriage are not always true. She argues that the main values of marriage lie in honesty, decency and mutual respect. Her article evokes the question of cultural and nominal Muslims who identify as atheists or agnostics but get married in the Muslim community. It allows one to question the supposed marriage prohibition of Muslim women outside the faith.

4.       Al Ajami

Dr. Al Ajami argues that there is no authentic Hadith that mentions the prohibition of Muslim women marrying outside the faith. He feels that Muslims are dependent on their respective social cultures and therefore do not undertake an impartial reading of the Qur'an.

He opines that verse 5:5 was a late revelation, three months before the Prophet's death. Since the verse allows men to marry outside the faith and does not forbid women, he construes the permissibility opinion on interfaith marriage.

He juxtaposes the pagan Arabs with those who give into current day materialism. Like Lamrabet's article, this allows raising the question that if Muslim women get married to such people, the alleged prohibition of marrying faithful non-Muslims seems absurd.

5.       Hassan Turabi

The late Hassan Turabi argued that not a single word in the Qur'an or the Sunnah prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside the faith. He counselled women who converted to Islam to remain married to their non-Muslim husbands. He also opined that one can not use past juristic consensus to prohibit such marriages, as such juristic rulings were issued during times of political disputes.

6.       Moiz Amjad

Moiz Amjad asserts that none of the extra-textual reasoning against such marriages is based on the Qur'an or the Prophet's teachings. Moreover, such prohibitions are dependent on their interpretations. He concedes the possibility that prohibition to polytheists can be restricted to just the seventh century Arab pagans or it could cover Muslims deemed as heretics by other Muslims.

He opines that any socially acceptable method of marrying like through a registry office would be Islamically sufficient. Furthermore, he believes that there could be difference of opinion on the issue and that the eventual decision of interfaith marriage should be left to the Muslim woman.

7.       Taj Hargey

Imam Taj Hargey opines that no Qur'anic verse bans Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men and that Allah would have revealed express verses had that been the case.

8.       Usama Hassan

Dr. Usama Hassan officiates the marriages of Muslim women outside the faith. Citing the marriage of the Prophet's daughter Zaynab, he has refuted opinions of hardliners who want Muslim women converts to annul their marriages to non-Muslim husbands.

9.       Siti Musdah Mulia

Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia opines that "the whole marital law is manmade" and that "none of it is a fax from heaven." She is concerned that people forsake reason when it comes to religion despite the fact that the Qur'an admonishes people who fail to reason. She argues that patriarchal interpretations were inevitable as there have been very few female scholars of the Qur'an. Furthermore, she calls for Muslim interpretations in support of interfaith marriage and benefit of humanity.

10.     Daayiee Abdullah

Imam Daayiee Abdullah, who officiates interfaith and same-sex marriages, sums it up well:

I have been having an exchange with a young man in Europe who is from mixed faith background. Kamal is 19. His father is Belgian and his mother is Moroccan. They met and fell in love in Belgium. Kamal was born in Belgium and was raised as a Muslim for the first 14 years of life. These days Kamal is not officially affiliated with any faith. Yet he is conflicted between the faiths of his parents, and there is a significant pain in his story.

“Some members of my mother’s family did not accept the marriage of my parents,” Kamal told me, saying his maternal family’s argument was “that Islam does not recognize women marrying outside of the faith.”

Then Kamal asked me if this was true. The following is part of what was my response to him:

Thank you for writing and providing me some background information about your family. As you indicated, and over your 19 years of life, you had seen and experienced the tug-of-war that sometimes occur when there are interfaith marriages. Some families would prefer to go through the tug-of-war with their child rather than face the criticisms of their family and coreligionists in their community. This is, of course, not unique to Muslims alone; whenever there are interfaith marriages the couple breach an unspoken “rule” that one should marry within their own faith. It is very similar to interracial marriages, where families of different ethnic backgrounds are challenged with integrating their lives with the lives of their children. Thankfully, some who are challenged with such a situation – whether religious or racial – come to realize that they can either be supportive of the couple, or they can continue the animosity that they have promoted prior to the actual marriage of their coreligionists in their family.

Sadly, members of the Muslim faith – as in your particular situation – are strongly linked to their traditions. Although they considered these cultural traditions as part of their religious faith, the two are not synonymous with the Islamic faith. From a Progressive Islamic viewpoint the Islamic faith encourages marriage, but it does not limit to whom a person should marry, i.e., their particular faith, race, and even sexual diversity. What the Qur’an requests from the believers who wish to marry is to (1) marry from the single among you, and (2) be amicable towards your spouse and all things that you do, even in divorce.

The demands of the couple are specific assurances related to age, mental health, understanding the type of contract they are entering for marriage, verbally articulating their acceptance of the marriage contract, and not being coerced into the marriage by a relative for personal gain. When a couple meets those minimum standards, the couple generally announces to the community that they are a married couple and puts the community on notice that they are contracted and uphold the responsibilities of their contract to each other, their families, and their communities.

Therefore, Kamal, it is not true that the Islamic faith would promote such limitations on humankind. What you are facing are human limitations that were originally limiting property rights of family and tribal groups. This was a method of agrarian and pre-modern societies where one’s security was based upon their tribal associations. Therefore, intermarriage between the tribal groups established the diversity of interfaith marriages, but also highlighted the reasons why such marriages were supported and maintained. As we moved through Islamic history, however, the reasons for marriage have changed significantly.

In modern times, husbands are not fully responsible for their wives – frequently due to the change in economic stability within the household because women are better educated and sometimes earn more money than their husbands – and men are taking on different roles in how their households and family lives are carried out. What is so important from this aspect, and has a more positive reflection upon modern families, is that gender role models have changed and our attitudes towards them must also evolve, for men who are house-husbands are just as capable and supportive of raising their children as would traditional mothers at home could do.

One additional thing that is very important for you as a teenager to understand, although your parents are your mother and father, at this age you should recognize that your parents were adults before they became your parents. This means that your parents were a man and woman prior to your birth, and had all of the possibilities of greatness and weaknesses of being human. As we grow older and are able to see our parents as human beings, we come to understand that our parents usually tried their best – even when they were not successful – and their intentions were for the best outcome, at least we can always accept that fact even if in actuality it was not that clear cut.

What is very important, and is stuck out in your conversation, is that you are challenged that your understanding of Islam, and what you’ve come to understand as being standards that you admire as a human being, are not being met by Muslim standards either demonstrated in your family, extended family or community. But what I can encourage you to do is to become more familiar with the Islamic faith and its diverse of opinions – for it is never been a monolithic faith – and come to understand that one has an array of opinions from different schools of Islamic theological thought from which to choose to follow, or utilize Ijtihad (individual thinking) in assessing your particular situation.

Daayiee Abdullah is the Executive Director of MECCA Institute and the author of the forthcoming book A Dialogue With the Muslim Youth. He lives in Washington, DC.