Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why can't Muslim women marry non-Muslim men

In a previous posting I brought up the issue of the difficulty facing many Muslim women finding husbands.  Many Muslim women (and men) are raising the question about the discrepancy between the rules of marriage outside the faith that has - so far - been undisputed amongst Muslims.
I recently received this email from a non-Muslim reader:
"One of the most misunderstood areas in Islam is that of the position of women in the religion. The general perception in the West is that Muslim women are subjugated and almost seen as property. While not all Muslims deal with women as inferior, this is unfortunately true in some segments of the Muslim world and this treatment is supposedly justified by the religion. However, when we look at the basis of the religion, the Quran, we see a very different picture. In the Quran God makes it very clear that men and women are equal.

If this is true then why is it okay for men to Marry outside Muslim and not women ? This is not seen as equal but as lesser or lower than that of a man.

For the record I am an american male in love with a Muslim woman from [an Arab country] and am reading alot to try and understand the cultural differences.    ..DK".
The past blog post Wanna be a bride was meant to raise some discussion about the issue, and it did that only in  a very limited way.  So, I thought that by posting my 'indecisive response' to this gentleman's email, I may get the discussion stirred again.  Here is my reply to that reader, with some editing:
Dear DK:
I am a Muslim man who tries to understand the word of God in the Quran believing that the Quran should be the overriding gold standard for Muslim behavior. The accumulated practice legacy of many Islamic cultures and societies that frequently are loaded with non-Quran based cultural and social traditions should not be part of the religion, even when they are not considered wrong. That is the only way we keep religion pure from ethnic and social perspective that may be accepted in one place and at one time, but not in another.
The issue you raised has been a focus of interest for the last couple of months because of social stresses in many Muslim communities in the West and even in some Arab countries, where an increasing number of Muslim women are not getting married, apparently as a result of many Muslim men marrying outside Islam. Some Muslim women now are discussing whether they should be allowed to marry outside the Islamic faith.
The Quran, in my opinion has been fair and equitable to men and women 'on the whole', but there are definite difference and not every issue is 'split 50-50'. Looking at womens advantage in issues related to post-divorce financial support, and support for child care and women's overall financial entitlements, it seems balanced when considering men's advantage in inheritance (especially in son's and daughter's inheritance from a parent).
My point is that fairness does not come for exact equality, but usually from overall equality.
Having said that, it is not very easy to understand the restriction on Muslim women marrying outside the faith. Some people justify it by explaining that it is a result of Islam recognizing other Abrahamic faiths as divinely inspired and legitimate, while Jews and Christians do not have a similar opinion about Islam. And assuming the husband may have stronger influence on family spiritual life, it would be 'safer' for a Christian woman to marry a Muslim man and still keep her faith, than for a Muslim woman to marry a Christian or Jewish man and still keep her faith and her/there children as Muslims.
This argument made more sense in past times, but may not be undisputed in modern time when the balance of power and control in the family is less likely to be male dominated in many societies. A small minority of Muslim clerics in Lebanon (and I believe in few European countries) have ventured and performed marriage contracts between Muslim women and non-Muslim men based on that logic.
I believe marriage is a personal issue. And individuals have some leeway deciding what they want to do depending on their comfort level. But when I consider the Quranic verse dealing with inter-religious marriages, it is almost impossible to understand it in any way other than it giving an exception to Muslim men to be able to cross that line (with significant constraints, I may say), while not explicitly including women in that exemption.
I am aware that the situation does not make for an exact 50-50 kind of deal, but the clarity of that Quranic verse makes it difficult for me -personally - to ignore it and go the other way.
As a believer, I accept the fact that religion, being a structure decided by God, may have constraints that do not make obvious sense to everyone, everywhere and in every era, but they are still part of the faith. Examples would include not only rituals, but also extend to social behavior such as absolute prohibition of gambling (even for fun and in trivial amounts of money), alcohol (even in moderation), and eating pork (except to sustain life).

I am not a clergy and I do not believe in the authority of clergy [to force their opinions on society]. I am just a Muslim studying my Book. I would not judge anyone that behaves differently in their personal life, but this issue unfortunately is relevant to social acceptance. If a new couple or family cares about being accepted in a community, sometimes they have to consider how that community think. If the couple do not care for acceptance, then they should be free to do whatever they want.
These links (pro and con) were forwarded to me recently, are are of interest
And this was my comment on that debate:
".... I am sure that you also noticed that neither side is talking with a great deal of certainty. That is because the key verse on the topic is an indirect one and talks mainly about Muslim 'men' marrying women of the Book. So, it may boil done to one's comfort level with extrapolation and deduction from that verse.
And while historic legacy favors a particular argument, my support for that argument would not base on 'how long has the tradition been supporting it' but rather on the deduction from the Quranic verse in the context of the established norms of that time. Again, it is the level of comfort one has in logic of the the path taken to conclusion.
Whichever way someone chooses, should be something between them and God, not a subject for a new Fatwa. Just my opinion. "
---- end of my email.

I would be interested in knowing what you can add to this discussion.  Are you aware of any scholarly attempts to re-analys the marriage outside the faith rule in Islamic practices?  Do you have strong opinions one way or the other? what do you think is the better way to even the playing field for me and women?

Hope some of you will share their thoughts.



  1. While I am opposed to innovation and the argument that this is no longer relevant, it is questionable whether this prohibition is quranic based on the context. 60:9 deals with befriending those who are hostile to Islam and the following ayat speaks of believing women who abandoned the enemy and sought asylum. 221:21 deals with idolaters.

    I can certainly see why some question whether this is based on custom and tradition or the proper context of the Quran.

  2. The verse under study in this posting is 5:5 (chapter 5 AL-Maeda, verse 5).
    الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلُّ لَّهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلاَ مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
    "Today, all the good things of life have been made lawful to you. And the food of those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them. And [lawful to you are], in wedlock, women from among those who believe [in this divine writ], and, in wedlock, women from among those who have been vouchsafed revelation before your time - provided that you give them their dowers, taking them in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as secret love-companions. But as for him who rejects belief [in God] - in vain will be all his works: for in the life to come he shall be among the lost." (5:5)

    And you are correct, 60:10 (not 60:9) is applicable in a different situation not relevant to our discussion or even modern times.

    I am not sure which verse you meant with the typo 221:21.

  3. ...And do not marry (your girls) to idolaters until they believe....(2:221) And He said concerning the immigrant Muslim women, ...Then if you know them to be Believers, do not send them back to the unbelievers. They are not halal for them (as wives), nor are they halal for them (as husbands). (60:10).

    I have read where these verses have been used to justify the prohibition of muslim women marrying non-muslim men. I am not arguing for or against. Correct me if I'm wrong but 5:5 speaks to who men can marry but is silent on who women can marry and the other two ayats used to defend the prohibition are no applicable. Again, this is offered for discussion and not to argue for or against.

    1. Well, too bad those "girls" were actually created by Allah (swt) to have BRAINS and make their own decisions. You can't just "marry your gurrrrrlss" to people. In the end, they make their own decisions (just like Allah intended them to!). And remember, during the kiyamat days, there will be 72 wrong islamic segments/groups. Most of these false "hadiths" are made by Arab scholars who are in the false 72 segments.

  4. Muslim women can not marry non-Muslim men. Muslim men can marry only Christian and Jews (Ahl-e-Kitab) without converting them to Islam. But it is mandatory that children of the couple should be raised as a Muslim. This is in Holy Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet (Peace be upon him). Any other conversation/suggestion is Fitnah (trying to sabotage Islam). Your raising of question for Muslim women to marry a non-Muslim men is absolutely a Fitnah trying to deceive and to create division. Your act of such kind is totally unacceptable and a hineous against Islam and Muslims.

  5. To anonymous:
    Throwing in the words fitna and heinous do not scare me a bit. 'fitna' seem like the bogie man: used to scare muslims so they just shut up - so next time think twice before you use it, otherwise you look silly.
    Second: 'raising a question' is never fitna except for the ones scared of thinking.

    Thank God that the Prophet pbuh and his companions were different: they asked and discussed and even argued - they learned that from the way the Quran presents the arguments regarding faith and what is right and what is wrong.
    If you do not believe me, read the Quran - if you are informed as much as you think, then you know what i am talking about. If you are not, then you may want to get informed before using big words haphazardly.

    Lastly, it is highly recommended to READ BEFORE you RESPOND. If you cared to read the post before you threw a fit, you may have understood what it is about - which you missed altogether in the midst of you convusling.

    Now, if you manage to understand it, and have something to say that is well articulated and convincing, or even slightly illuminating, I am happy to post it. If you have nothing meaningful to say, then follow our beloved Prophet's tradition and teachings: keep your thoughts to yourself.

    If you tried to read it and you still could not get it, may be it is time to ask someone around for help. And hopefully, whomever you ask would not be the kind that develops a convulsion if they try to use their brain.

  6. I recently wrote an article about this very issue for On Faith.

    The article has a link to Hasan Turabi's ruling that it is permissible for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

  7. (please pardon my poor English)
    I just want to point out to one thing people do not usually notice. Sometimes we mix up the idea of "faith" and how it has been hugely affected by the "modernity" of this world. First, we must take into consideration the fact that God refers in both cases-for women and men-to "believers" and not people who came to this world with the word "Muslim, Christian, or Jew" on their birth certificates. Second, to get a full apprehension of the words of God, one must ask what is it that makes a believer?
    So what i am saying here, is that religious identity is, in our "modern" day, a political one. (that might or might not carry the truth of the inside of this person)
    Moreover, I, as a Muslim woman, would rather not marry at all-even though socially i would be condemned of such a decision-than marry a man who says he is Muslim, prays to God the way Muslims do, but does not understand what it is to be a Muslim-like most people are now a days-or what it is like not being a Muslim, and accepting the fact that people of other faiths are not of complete idiocy, and are not blinded, they too have their own logic and idea of what this life is about. When this person-whether it be a man or a woman-reaches those realizations, only then in my idea is a believer.
    I think that might lead me to the ironic conclusion that most, if not all but a significant few, women are in "wedlock" with men who are NOT believers, but mere followers of the social pressure they, and their ancestors have faced, and have been molded by the evolution of our societies (especially Islamic societies) into "the modern" (or at least the West's idea of modernity). How do you think a "Muslim" was experiencing the Ottoman Empire of Instance? They were too immersed in their political mess all through out that religion was soaked in this chaos, hence, causing all the confusions at the who said we are not confused as well?? The truth needs a lot of thinking of, and that is what God asked us to do as well.

  8. ...i would like to add, about that email u got from that american guy who's in love with the Arab, Muslim girl, being Muslim involves a huge range of acceptance in means of "طاعة" or submission. There is no explanation to why we pray the way we do, but we still do it anyway, because it is proof of our faith in the existence and prominence of God. and as such, this is also reflected greatly in our culture, sometimes we just do what we are told-only if it is directly told to us by God, and not any person. Acceptance is a great feature of the religion, hence, supposedly on the culture as well, since religion in itself is culture in Arab countries.

  9. Pamela:
    My reply got too big, so it moved it to be part 2 or this posting.

    Thanks for the though provoking links.

  10. Salaam Salma:
    "Pardon my poor English" - What poor English are you talking about? I see absolutely nothing to apologize for, and I am grateful you are participating in this conversation.

    I agree with your earlier comment 100%. This is the real dilemma we are living as Muslims: most of us have the label but not the content of being a Muslim, and most are not even interested in the content.

    'Muslim' has become almost like an ethnicity or a nationality where you have it because you were 'born in it', and you do not need to do anything to maintain it. 'Confused' is the mild word to describe what we are going through as Muslim. Our key struggle it to re-discover what Islam 'was' about when the Prophet, pbuh, taught it to his companions, to discover what God wants, versus what we think He wants because our parents and societies told us so.

    This is a tough battle unless we truly make tremendous effort to understand the Quran as it is, not through the eyes of others (AL-Qamar, Chapter 54, verse 17 - وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ).

    Your second comment is very valid. I think you make a statement for what I briefly referenced as the societal acceptance of the couple. That is an acceptance that is predominantly governed by the prevalent social tradition that influences our behavior, some of it comes from religion. That part of the culture which is 'religion-influenced' may make it more stressful for mixed_religion/mixed_culture marriages, regardless of which spouse is the Muslim one.
    Communication can be difficult if spouses are not speaking the same 'cultural language'; it is nothing that a loving couple should break apart over, but it is something to be aware of and handle in a conscious way.

  11. Salma: by the way, you did not give an answer as to what you think about the issue the email was about? Are you aware of any discussion in Egypt about non-Muslim men marrying a Muslim woman?
    What do you think your friends in Egypt, especially the younger ones, would say about that? Any difference between attitudes of men and women about that?

  12. The notion of Christian guys "transferring" to Islam just to marry the girl they want is starting to become more popular. Between people my age, discussions of religion are avoided for several reasons, and this topic specifically is quite sensitive...But there is one thing that is changing and is starting to become very obvious; the fact that "eastern" men are always jealous is very true, but Muslim men were never jealous of Christian men, because they were aware of the fact that they do not qualify as husbands to Muslim women, but this is changing with a great extent...the idea that a Christian man could end up with a Muslim woman is no longer found irrational as it used to, and i do not quite understand why..about the women, they condemn the whole idea, the idea is completely rejected until it happens with someone they know, and then they'r all sympathetic :D...i have reasons to think that media has to do with this change by the way..the topic until now is socially and morally rejected, but i think that could change in the coming 10-15 years...

    About what i think concerning the issue the email was about, i happen to think that the idea that women are treated like "property" is because the Arab world is a male dominant one. Islam does not promote discrimination between men and women and God certainly has not said so in any form, but its something like Mubarak not leaving office for the past 30 years because he got us to think no other human is ever capable of doing his job...Take Saudi Arabia for instance, they would not allow women to DRIVE! Men are choking the identity of women in their society so that they could maintain their control over them. The discrimination and treating women as property is not Islam, its just another form of corruption. Through out history, people have misused the name of God for hidden, personal advantages,hmmm "the devine right of kings" for instance? Kings were never sent from God, but they used God's name to stay in power...

  13. It is funny how you word it: "transferring to Islam". Sounds very technical, which it really is in this context.
    This comment is very enlightening as to some of the dynamics of the society of younger people in Egypt, and possibly it is similar to some of the changes in other Arab and Muslim societies.
    Male dominance is prevalent everywhere, though it may take different forms, and while Saudi Arabia is an extreme - and in my opinion very socially unhealthy - situation, significant discrepancies between men and women seem to be the rule rather than the exception in all societies (may be least in Scandinavia (and in few matriarchal societies in indigenous tribe in few places).
    If you want an example here, in the US, you can look at the wage discrepancy and the tremendous gap in women representation and senates in the US Congress for example. That is not to excuse the stupid social ills of the society in Egypt, but just making a statement. Islam does not endorse the oppression that women have suffered through over centuries, and neither does democracy. And yet, it seems human societies lean always to favor men over women.
    This seems VERY weird considering that in all those societies, women ARE IN CHARGE of upbringing men and women (as boys and girls). So, it seems counter-intuitive that they they bring boys up to exercise oppression and discrimination, and bring up girls to put up with them. Sounds weird, but true, and though sociology and anthropology are not my field, but I still find that interesting.
    One last comment on your comment: you should consider writing a social commentary blog or something like that. I am certain it will be successful.

  14. Salma. Both you and Khaled make very good points. If someone is so quick to answer with their opinion on a particular issue, when it can be possibly be interpreted in more than one way, they are often accepting what their culture has taught them. Anonymous quickly jumps to his conclusion and cites Quran and sunna as the reason but without quoting the specific source of what he is relying on. One can always say, "Quran and sunnah both support this" without citing the particular source. Again,I do not take a stand on this issue of non-Muslim men to Muslim women but I am considering both sides.

    Two more thoughts: is it important the reason a non-muslim man accepts Islam (e.g., to marry a Muslim woman)? does anyone but Allah (swt) know whether he will come to become strong in his iman, and in fact, stronger than those born into a Muslim culture. Secondly, anonymous' definition of fitnah is not necessarily on point.

  15. I am a muslim woman married to a non muslim man. We have been happily married for almost 4 years now. At first I didn't care because I love him and that trumps everything else. Allah(swt) knows whats in my heart and he knows what is best for me. Then I began to worry, thinking I wasn't following my faith, I was doing something wrong. We spoke to the Sheik at my masjid and he looked at us and asked " Do you love each other?" we said yes. "Do you want to have children together?" again Yes. " Does he treat you well, feed you, clothe you, show you love and makes sure you are the happiest woman in the world?" I said yes. " Does she show you love, cook for you, care for your home, cover herself to be protected from other mens eyes, and do her best to make sure you are the happiest man in the world?" he said Yes. The Sheik looked at us and said "that's what matters the most. don't worry about what everyone else thinks, don't worry about living up to other people's standards, just love each other and love Allah(swt) and your lives will be full of many blessings and happiness insh'allah." Since then we have had less troubles, many blessings( including our daughter), and have been truly happy together. In the long run Allah(swt) knows what is in your heart and as long as you believe in the one true God, your union will be blessed insha'allah(God willing).

  16. I absolutely LOVE it when the argument of why muslim men can only marry non-muslims----"to preserve the faith" is fired off as a logical reason. Give me a break. Having seen muslim men marrying outside the faith, they have no control over what faith the child will be, and most of the time these kids are raised non-muslim. Think about it....who is with the child from day one? the MOTHER.

    So really, nice excuse but it is unfounded and unsubstantiated since in actual life, the future of the ummah rests on the WOMAN not the man.

    Anyone who believes in one God is good enough for a muslim woman since the woman makes the home and raises not just the children but also her husband. nuff said

  17. To Anonymous: It is my belief that we all are free individuals when it comes to faith, belief, or how to serve and obey god if we want to. some faithful individuals like to 'explain' reasoning behind what they believe God wants, thus behaving as if they KNOW the logical reasoning in God's mind. That is pretentious. As far as I am concerned, any Muslim woman that wants to marry a non-muslim man is perfectly free to to whatever she wants. This is a free society. Of course, the others are free to react towards the couple anyway they want as well, within the bounds of the social norms and the law. The couple needs to be aware of that if they care about the perception of what they are doing.
    One thing I think is truly WRONG is when the couple try to convince themselves or others that their marriage is legitimate under a particular faith (Islam, in this case).
    It is OK not to follow rules you do not want to follow, but do not try to twist faith to fit their needs and desires. Doing the latter is intellectually dishonest, and disrespectful of God's scripture if one cares about it.

  18. I am kind of disappointed that no one mentioned parents in this conversation. My parents are devoted Muslims. I have never really been religious and kind of see myself more as an atheist/agnostic. I have been dating this Christian guy for the past year. My parents don't know about him yet. I just think that I have a duty to my parents since they raised me, provided for me when I was a baby, sacrificed their happiness for me and here I am ruining it all. However I don't see how it would be fair to me to live my life for my parents. My parents are aware of my religious beliefs but they keep thinking that I'll change after "marriage to a nice Muslim man". How am I suppose to spend my life with a Muslim guy? Am I suppose to pretend for rest of my life that I am Muslim even though I don't belief in religion? I just wish there was some way for me to keep my relationship with my parents while being who I am.

  19. Anonymous we are in same boat although i am not in a relationship with anyone. i love my mother and can't really see her upset but i just don't practice Islam and i don't think i can marry anyone from my culture or Islam. my mother has been recently pushing the marriage matter upon me because so many guys asked for my hand but i end up rejecting them.i think i as a woman born into a Muslim family should be able to believe in what i want and not have it forced upon me or forced into marrying someone i do not desire. i have the option to either marry a non Muslim or marry a Muslim man but i think we will have tough time because i don't believe or practice Islam. btw i don't fallow any religions but i respect them all.

    1. Well probably you can polietly tell your parents that you do not want to marry(whoever they choose) and that thier(ur parents) religion give you the right to do so. but u also dont want to loose them,,,make them understand and convince them.goodluck

  20. It may surprise you how many 'Muslims' do not practice their faith to any serious extend. For many it is not more than a social membership, not an ideology to follow. But that is beside the point the last comment is trying to make.
    I guess my initial comment still applies. I am sympathetic to those in the predicament that many Muslim women are, especial in the west where the odds are not in favor of finding a groom in their faith that is suitable. I am not aware of any 'clerical' effort -socially or academically - to help alleviate the problem, which is sad.
    But if one lives pretending they are members of a faith they do not believe in just to please their parents, their problem is bigger than just marriage in that faith.
    I think if they love and respect their parents, they owe it to them to study the faith seriously to see for themselves if it is worth following. If they end up convinced truly that it is not, they need to continue searching for the truth but they also need to assess if it is possible to be honest with their parents as well.
    I am not sure this honesty will be less stressful than living a lie, but it a dilemma that I have no clue how to approach. Honesty is better in the long run, but the social pressure and possible social isolation could be hard to bear.