Can a Muslim woman marry a believing non-Muslim?

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Can a Muslim woman marry a believing non-Muslim?

This essay draws on a recently published focused exegetic work, the Essential Message of Islam [Amana Publications, USA- 2009] that is duly approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif and endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCAL School of Law. 

The Qur’anic verses 2:221 and 5:5 as well as those on the criteria of divine judgment (2:62, 4:124, 5:69, 64:9, 65:11) may be considered conjunctly to probe whether the Qur’an allows a Muslim woman to marry a believing non-Muslim man, the way it expressly allows Muslim men to marry believing non-Muslim women (5:5).

Here are some irrefutable facts:

 2:221 permits both men and women to admire and choose a believing mate. Its gender neutral literalist rendition runs as follows:

“Do not marry women who associate (others with God), until they believe (in God). A believing maidservant (amah) is better than a woman, who associates (others with God,) even if she allures you. Do not marry men who associate (others with God) until they believe (in God). A believing male-servant is better than a man who associates (others with God,) even if he allures you…” (2:221).

The verse 5:5 expressly allows a Muslim man to marry any believing woman regardless of religion. No argument about it. The verse, however, remains silent about whether a Muslim woman is free to marry a believing non-Muslim man as suggestive in the verse 2:221, which predates 5:5 in the revelation calendar.   

The verses 2:62, 4:124, 5:69, 64:9, 65:11 consistently declare that God will judge all believing humanity on the basis of their deeds.

It thus follows that a believing non-Muslim man is spiritually sound to espouse a Muslim woman (2:221), and earn to divine approval (2:62, 4:124, 5:69, 64:9, 65:11) as well as a Muslim man. Hence, there should be no Qur’anic bar for a Muslim woman to choosing a good non-Muslim man, provided of course he commits, not to compel her to change or defy her faith, to love her with mercy and compassion (30:21), honour her as co-equal (9:71) and let her avail all the rights and perform all her duties and social obligations as enjoined by the Qur’an, which are fortunately largely covered in the human rights charters. The believing non-Muslim man also must undertake contractually to keep from extramarital sex, drugs, drinking bouts and moral abuse like ill temperament and harsh behaviour.   

This raises the question, why an explicit permission was not given for such interfaith marriage. The answer is obvious. Such a marriage during the Prophet’s era through to very recent times would have resulted in a Muslim woman’s losing all her Qur’anic privileges as well as individual legal status, and her non-Muslim husband may also have compelled her to convert to his religion, as until recent times, no major religion other than Islam accommodated inter-faith marriage. However, “with the permeation of Islamic values across the global multi-religious communities and the remoteness of the Qur’anic ideals from many Islamic societies, the table has turned and there have been cases of interfaith marriages between Muslim women and believing non-Muslim men.” [1]

1.    Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publication, Maryland, USA 2009, p. 218.]  
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
August 22, 2012.


Muslims like all other people follow the tradition, but when there is a new development, every one goes helter skelter, and worry about handling the situation (keeping it in control), the first response is usually a No. 

Back in the interior parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bangladesh and other nations, regardless of the religion, honour killings are happening. Neither the civil laws nor the religious laws mean much, even though religion is falsely quoted for their acts.

At least here in America, a nation with a can-do attitude, no one can kill the other without consequences, and no one can tell the other what to do. After all, no one is responsible for your acts other than yourselves on the day of Judgement. That is Islam

Interfaith marriages will be more common in the next decade, every other kid will be marrying a high school sweet heart or a college friend  – being good human will never be compromised.  We have a choice to see Islam as what Islam does to us internally (making the best of humans) and let it, or push the external appearance of Islam as Islam.

We need to prepare for the future.

 It is disappointing to many couples, that their clergy or a parent insists that the other person convert to their faith tradition, some do, and some fake it and some are not comfortable with the idea.

Muslims in America are culturally different but very independent,  our kids grow up with people whose life style is traditional American -i.e.,  participating in sports, camping, sleep overs, and living with friend’s, visiting each other on social occasions both religious and secular. Most of our kids are raised with openness and not averse to being a part of what their friends do. 

We do not have the worries, which are legitimate worries in Muslim societies.

What will others say about kids? No one will say a thing whether you are from mixed race or mixed religion, you live a fairly normal life  accepting others. Will some one marry them? That question does not arise at all.  Culturally, they are Muslims; wearing what Muslims wear in their parent lands, eating what they eat, and of course no one will eat pork, or drink alcohol. Pay with the same frequency as they  in Muslim lands. Not all Muslims worship five times a day, and fast 30 days. 

The couple is deeply committed to marry, they go ahead and get married any ways,  but sorely miss out on the ceremony, sometimes living with  a sense incompleteness in their lives.

Marriage is between two individuals, and their families and friends are supporters and cheerleaders to celebrate and complete their joy. God loves happy marriages.  
One must admire the couples that marry outside their tradition, ethnicity, faith, and race. Indeed, they are doing what the spiritual masters had done for thousands of years; to fall the barriers between people, and learn to respect the otherness of other and accept the God given uniqueness of each other.
I have seen disappointments, where couples from different faiths wishing to marry were not able to do that.  Either the parents or the guardians of the religions were not comfortable with the situation and did not want to be a part of it, which we must respect.  All that the couples wanted was a touch of their own tradition and I feel their anguish and a sense of in-completion in their marriage when the tradition is not followed.  I recall a situation where a Jewish mother disowned her daughter for marrying an “infidel” Baha’i, it happens with every religion including Atheists. 
Alhamdu Lillah, I have officiated many weddings with a variety of combinations;  Christian -Hindu,   Hindu- Muslim, Jain-Muslim and now this week, I will be officiating a Jewish-Christian wedding. Most couples, particularly Muslims do not want even invite their friends fearing that instead of cheering their marriage they will be tearing it apart live villains.  

The wedding next week between a Jewish Bride  a Christian Groom will be officiated by this Muslim. They want me to share the information after the wedding and Insha Allah,  I will. 
If you have some one who wants to get married happily without hassles, I will be happy to officiate their wedding. I do counselling to the parents about focusing on the happiness of their children and do talk with the bride and groom. 

Please remember Islam is not about imposing one’s will on others, being judgemental about others or acting as God to others and making declarations;  Islam is about making a better human, a Rahmat for humanity in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the ultimate peace maker and mercy to mankind. No one should be afraid of a Muslim, if one does, than we are a not a Rahmat to others. 

Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies where no one has to live in fear of the other. A vision of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

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