Saturday, September 25, 2010

Part 2: Why can't Muslim women marry non-Muslim men

This is a reply to a comment by Pamela Taylor on my previous posting.  She referred to her posting on the Washington Post On Faith, and to an interview with the Sudanese scholar, Al-Turabi.  
 It grew too long to be a comment, so I ‘promoted it’ to a post status!

Hi Pamela:
Thanks for the link to your article on the Washington Post On Faith blog.  I enjoyed reading it and I do encourage reader of this posting to do that.

I agree with most of the thoughts and sentiments you expressed (especially about the lack of association between what I call 'religious concordance' between spouses and the likelihood of success of marriage.  I disagree with you on a couple of points though.

On principle, I believe in religious freedom, which as you well know, is a principle very strongly endorsed by the Quran.  So, as individuals, we have the right to do what we feel is appropriate for 'us', knowing what is in our hearts, which God knows as well. 

Others should not intervene by imposing religious opinions on us, although for all practical purposes, civil and criminal laws in any society have their own constraints that limit freedoms to what is deemed appropriate by the state. For example, a woman may practice polyandry in the USA, but the state would recognize only one marriage and holds her accountable if she officially marries a second husband while still officially married to the first one.  Polygamy, underage marriage, incest marriage are similar examples in this aspect of social life. 

And to that extent, civil law may impose constraints on what is officially accepted; constraints that may or may not be derived from religious beliefs of the majority. I can accept that only as long as it is clear that the rules are CIVIC RULES and not considered religious rules (i.e., enshrined by God).

The complementary side of that is this: while an individual should be free to judge for themselves what they want to do; they need to be careful about adding their own preferences to the core religious rules.  By that I mean, trying to establish their practice as a “religiously-endorsed or enforced practice” for co-coreligionists.

The reason is that I believe a religion, any religion, has to have some minimal sacred core that is immutable. If people do not agree with the core principle, they should be free to start their own religion, but not confuse theirs with the original.  And people can choose which one to follow.

For me, that core text is the Quran, and the small collection of Mutawatir Hadith that does not contradict the obvious of the Quran (i.e., Mutawatir  متواتر with non-problematic Matn, i.e., content متن ).  Establishing Aqueeda (i.e., religious creed  عقيدة) based on other texts is tantamount to accepting and individual’s authority as equivalent to God’s..

And the Verse of interest here (5:5) strongly sounds like it is a retraction of an earlier position, or an earlier practice by Muslims.  And if it seems straight forward enough to understand it that way in Arabic (which is my mother tongue), I have difficulty if anyone 'legislates' for an apposing position and MAKING IT religion.  They are free to practice the way they want. And I will defend their right to do that, and not even judge them or their intentions.  But I would not think adding their preference to Islam as a religion is an appropriate thing.
Second, an edict that is genuinely ‘patriarchal’, as you alluded to in your article, should not be accepted as religion under the same logic I presented in the previous paragraph.  I want God to legislate, not the patriarchs, no matter how scholarly and/or good intentioned they were.  But to judge a practice as patriarchal requires that one proves there is no explicit evidence for it in the Quran or Mutawatir Hadith.
And in the situation we are interested in this post, that is not the case, in my humble opinion and in my humble understanding of the Arabic text of Verse 5:5.

I also read the article you linked to by H  Al-Turabi.  I would like to bring to your attention that the initial segment about the article which talked about the situation of a recently converted woman who was still married to her non-Muslim husband.  That situation has been discussed initially in the first or second decades of Islam and at least nine different opinions exited.  The most interesting is by no less of an authority than Ali ibn Abi Taleb, who thought that a convert woman DID NOT have to leave her non--Muslim husband to become a Muslim, and that their marriage was still valid (details can be found in Jurisprudence for Muslim Minorities, By Qaradawi, page 105 – Sorry, but it is Arabic). Interestingly he mentioned Al-Turabi in the book, and supports his opinion on that issue (i.e., validity of previous marriage of a new 'Muslim convert' woman to a non-Muslim husband).

However, Al-Turabi's opinion on the second situation - on whether an already Muslim woman can marry a non-Muslim man - does not explain the way the Quranic verse 5:5 is worded (although I would be interested in reviewing his research work on the topic if you can provide me with links to relevant material).
And as such, I would be not comfortable adopting it, with all due respect to his scholarly credentials.
I guess that is what it boils down to: comfort level so we can face God knowing that we followed our hearts after sincere search of the truth.


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