Marriage of Muslim Women with Non-Muslim Men: A Positive Perspective
Marriage of Muslim Women with Non-Muslim Men: A Positive Perspective
Dan Hajidah03 september 2008 – 20:35
In many romances in Europe now, one person is Muslim, and the other is by heritage a Christian or a Jew. The Qur'an says that a Muslim male may take a Christian or Jewish wife, though does not speak about a Muslim woman wishing to marry a Christian or Jewish man. This has been historically controversial, while some learned Muslim voices today take a positive view.
Today's Europe is increasingly Muslim. In the first few centuries of Islam, Islam quickly spread in all three continents which then formed the known world, Asia, Africa and Europe. Europe was a home to Muslims very shortly after the time of the Prophet (pbuh), and it is increasingly a home to Muslims today.
It is not only because of Muslims moving to Europe in increasing numbers, that the Islamic presence is growing here. And it is not only because of Muslim families having children. It is also true now, that many people in Europe are converting to Islam, finding their spiritual home in the Muslim community, via one path or another.
And Europeans are often coming to Islam quite on their own, without any urging or proselytising by the Muslims whom they know. Sometimes it is enough to simply feel the faith of other Muslims, or to follow the many threads of Islamic life that have always existed in Europe from the very earliest days of the faith.
The wonderful journalist Eric Walberg, of Al-Ahram Weekly, has written a quite nice historical survey, about European cultural figures who have found their way to the peace of Islam at various times over the last few hundred years. This lovely essay, "Finding the inner Muslim prince", dates from Ramadan in 2007:
One of the contemporary Muslim converts mentioned by Walberg, is of course the famous Yusuf Islam, at times better known by members of the 'hippie generation' under his previous name, Cat Stevens:
Among many people in Europe with whom I have spoken, the fact that Cat Stevens became a Muslim, was their first or most notable example of someone in the West converting to Islam. - I do like his old music that you can hear on YouTube, I feel the spiritual soul there in him.
But of course many people becoming Muslim, are not so famous as Cat Stevens. In many cases they are simply and quietly, as ordinary good people, joining the Muslim faith, adhering themselves gently but firmly to the life of daily prayer and to their local Muslim community.
Sometimes the path to Islam is hand-in-hand with the development of a romantic relationship. One person converts to Islam, as part of the process of falling in love with, and marrying a Muslim.
But there is something else as well, very significant and happening quite a lot around me, though perhaps not yet talked about enough. - There are many romances and marriages where one person is Muslim, and the other is by heritage a Christian or a Jew, and that party does not convert to Islam before marriage.
This is happening a lot, actually, in Europe, and around the world, a natural result of Muslims living in multi-religious societies, such as Europe is today.
Marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, raises some questions for Islamic practice and understanding. One in particular that I want to address here, is the distinctive situation, of a Muslim woman falling in love with a Christian or Jewish man, and wishing to marry that person. This has been controversial in Islam, but I think that the answer here may be as beautiful as I think Islam itself is beautiful.
The specifically controversial case, is where the woman is Muslim, and the man is Christian or Jewish. The precisely reverse case, where the man is Muslim and the woman is Christian or Jewish, is actually quite clear under Islamic law, and is covered by the holy Qur'an itself. A Muslim man may indeed clearly marry a Jewish or Christian wife, of course with due respect for the faith in the marriage covenant.
According to Islam, the Jews and the Christians are also 'People of the Book', people of the same religious heritage who share some of the same holy writings, sharing spiritual lineage in descent from the Prophet known in the West as Abraham (pbuh) of the Bible.
It makes me laugh sometimes, in speaking to people so un-informed or misled about Islam, that they do not realise that Islam views Judaism and Christianity as part of its own family. People often do not know that Islam also honours the Prophets of ancient Israel as its own, and not only Jesus (pbuh), but even his mother Mary (pbuh) - using the common Western spellings of their honoured names here.
For sincere prayerful Muslims living with sincere prayerful Christians, and with sincere prayerful Jews, I do not think there is any great conflict that needs to exist in this world. It is our role and nature and destiny to live in peace with one another. We share a heritage, and it is only evil forces that seek to put us into conflict and so-called 'clash of civilisations' nonsense.
The three Abrahamic faiths have lived together very closely over many centuries, and we have borne much fruit when living together in peace, as at times in the East of Europe, under the Ottomans, and in many other locales and places.
And the fruit is seen not just on the larger political and social scale, but also in marriages in our intimate personal lives. Over the centuries, a Muslim has often taken a Christian or Jew for a spouse, and lived together happily and spiritually, and the marriage has worked to the benefit of faith. It has been this way for centuries, from the earliest days of Islam.
It is specifically permitted in the Qur'an that a Muslim man, may take a Christian or Jewish wife. As long as she is a Person of the Book, a member of the monotheistic faith deriving from the ancient prophets of Palestine, the marriage is specifically permitted.
There is controversy, though, about the reverse-gender case, given that the Qur'an does not mention the marriage of a Muslim woman with a Christian or Jewish male, even though he be a Person of the Book.
And over the centuries, there is some scholarly opinion that, even though the Qur'an did not explicitly prohibit such a marriage, such a marriage was nonetheless to be avoided. - Perhaps because, in past eras, it was commonly thought that the male's greater relative power in society, and his authority in the home, might be used to sway the so-called 'weaker' Islamic wife away from the faith, if she were to marry a Christian or a Jew.
Today of course, in the modern world, we are much more used to respecting the strength and independence and power of women, who have in some cases even been the leaders of great national political movements.
And though there is a common view among Muslims that only the Muslim male has the freedom to enter into an Islamic marriage with a Christian or Jewish woman, it is important to note that there are indeed very serious and learned Islamic voices with exactly the opposite view.
I do not write here as someone who claims religious authority or leadership. I write more simply, as a Muslim journalist, to make note of the fact that there is indeed an alternate view within learned Islam, very respectful and positive about the case of the marriage of a Muslim woman with a Jewish or Christian man.
Here are some key texts.
In 1994 - the pre-internet era, now seeming as if a century ago! - there was a discussion of this topic in the January 1994 issue of a 'Voice of Islam' newsletter from the Islamic Society of the Washington Area. This discussion has now been copied online, and though the discussion takes a critical view, the discussion contains the following paragraph, very helpful, I think:
« Some jurists opine that if a non-Muslim person of the book (male) is of such a character etc., that we can be sure that he will not enforce the wife to accept his religion, that conversely the woman is of such fortitude that she will not be swayed by falsehood, and that she makes it a part of the marriage contract that she will in no way be forced to accept a religion other than Islam, that the children will be brought up according to her beliefs, and that no negative image of Islam will be presented to her etc., then such a contract is allowable. »
In other words, from the above, the key factor is the inner spiritual strength of the Muslim woman. And a Muslim woman can be very strong indeed. Not only strong, but in today's era and especially in Europe, it is easier than ever before, for Muslim women to have access to a community of support to nourish her own strength.
On this view, if the Muslim woman can genuinely know she is strong enough in her faith that she knows it will be preserved amid her love and devotion to her spouse, then the marriage can be considered as permitted.
And not just permitted - this 'mixed marriage' may even be an instrument by which, in'sh'Allah, the faith can be increasingly honoured and respected and transmitted to others. Love, and being a role model and example, are such beautifully powerful ways to spread faith and the truth.
Another voice, Moiz Amjad, a student of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, speaks as follows in response to a query on this very same topic:
« In one of my previous answers to a similar question, I had pointed out that a) the Qur’an has expressly mentioned the prohibition of marriage between a Muslim man/woman with a polytheist person; b) As far as the marriage between a Muslim man/woman and a Christian or a Jewish person is concerned, the Qur’an has expressly allowed marriage between a Muslim man and a Jewish/Christian woman but has not given any express directives regarding marriage between a Muslim woman and a Jewish/Christian man. This silence of the Qur’an regarding marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian/Jewish man, has generally been construed as a disapproval of the Qur’an regarding the particular issue. However, because of the silence of the Qur’an in the related issue, marriage between a Muslim woman and a Jewish/Christian man cannot be termed as prohibited by the Shari`ah. In my opinion, prohibition of a certain matter in the Shari`ah, requires express directives to the effect.
In view of the above explanation, it should be obvious that the ultimate decision regarding such a marriage (between a Muslim woman and a Christian/Jewish man) is left to the individual. »
Perhaps most personally, Shaykh Khaled Abu el Fadl, discussing this matter, writes as follows, speaking of the prospective Muslim bride:
« ... she must always remember that only God knows best; that she should reflect on the matter as hard as she can; then she should pray and plead for guidance from God; and then ultimately she must do what her conscience dictates. »
So one can see that learned sources on this issue, have an open mind as to what is taking place in reality in the communities of Europe, where marriages between Muslim women and Christian or Jewish men - yes, they do happen! - are working out wonderfully well.
It may serve the interests of Islam, and the honour and growth of the faith, if couples like this can see their love and marriage as truly a religious marriage, embraced by the wide Muslim and religious communities.
It may indeed be a lifelong wonder and joy and divine gift, in these marriages where one party does not convert, but where the two people, one of them Muslim whether man or woman, where the two people remain a respectful and loving couple in their respective faiths.
- Dan Hajidah
Abdan 'Dan' Hajidah can be reached via his blog at:
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