By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
16 Oct 2012
One of the most common misconceptions about Islam is that it prohibits Muslims from marrying non-Muslims. Most people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, believe this to be true, and the Ulema insist that that is the case. They commonly cite verse 2:221 from the Quran to make their point:
“Do not marry unbelieving women, until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden of Bliss and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.”
The Ulema interpret “unbelieving” as “non-Muslim”, but that is not quite correct. The Arabic word used in this verse is “al Mushrikun”, which means pagans. It obviously refers to pagans at the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These were people who often buried their daughters’ right after their birth, for whom women were merely for carnal pleasures. Women among the pagans had no rights, they lived entirely on the mercy of men.
So it was specifically for the protection of (Muslim) women that the Quran forbade marriages with the pagans – and them alone. As no divine faith preaches such treatment for women, even a literal interpretation of this verse does not prohibit marriage with a man or woman belonging to any other religion.
Abduallah Yusuf Ali says: “Marriage is a most intimate communion, and the mystery of sex finds its highest fulfillment when intimate spiritual harmony is combined with the physical link. As religion is a real influence in life to both parties or to either party, a difference in this vital matter must affect the lives of both more profoundly than differences of birth, race, language, or position in life. It is therefore only right that the parties to be married should have the same spiritual outlook. If two persons love each other, their outlook in the highest things of life must be the same. Note that religion is not here a mere label or a matter of custom or birth. The two persons may have been born in different religions, but if, by their mutual influence, they come to see the truth in the same way, they must openly accept the same rites and the same social brotherhood. Otherwise the position will become impossible individually and socially.”
During a question-answer session, a woman asked televangelist Dr Zakir Naik about marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. He said: “For a car to run smoothly it requires nice tyres, clean machine and good maintenance. Sister, I want to ask you, what if one tyre is of the tractor and the other is of a bicycle? Will the car run properly and smoothly?”
In his inimitable style, Naik avoided getting into the details of the issue, and instead cited a vague and irrelevant analogy by way of answer. Like many other Ulema, he cited verse 2:221, but did not interpret it correctly. Nor did he say anything about the Quran’s express permission to marry among the People of the Book – people who have been recipients of divine revelations.
In verse 5:5, the Quran says: “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. Lawful unto you in marriage are not only chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues.”
This clearly means that marriage with a Christian or a Jew is allowed. It also means that marrying Hindus, Buddhists and members of various other faiths is not prohibited either. The Quran says that “In every age have We sent a revelation… to every nation have We sent a Warner”. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said that Allah has sent 1, 24,000 prophets to the face of the Earth. Only 25 of them are mentioned by name in the Quran. The rest are not, but that does not make them lesser prophets, and nor should it deny their followers the status of People of the Book.
Let’s look at Hinduism. The Hindu scriptures also teach the concept of One God, who begets not and nor is he begotten. The Brahmasutra says: “There is only one God, and not a second.” Yajur Veda adds: “Of thy God there is no image, no idols.” This is exactly like the concept of Allah in Islam. It is not such a big leap of faith, then, to conceive of Ram, Krishna and other “avatars” of Vishnu as prophets, and of Vedas and Upanishads as divine revelations. Ditto for Buddhism. Even Mughal emperor Akbar considered these books to be the word of Allah, and his concept of “sulh kul” embraced all religions into a common fold that was “peace to all”.
Clearly, then, the received wisdom that Islam forbids Muslims to marry non-Muslims is incorrect. This notion is little more than another means by which the Ulema seek to divide the world and build walls between Muslims and their brethren.
Differences among communities have their own significance. In verse 22:40, the Quran says: “…had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.”
But we must always remember that, as the children of Adam and Eve, we are all eventually members of one big human family, and that makes us more similar than different from each other.