I recently received this email from a non-Muslim reader:
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:
"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".
---- end of my email.
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:
- “Muslim Women Should NOT Be Able to Marry Non-Muslim Men”: The Goatmilk Debates
- “Muslim Women Should Be Able to Marry Non-Muslim Men”: The Goatmilk Debates #2
- “Muslim women should be able to marry non-Muslim men”: The Goatmilk Debates
".... 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. "
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.