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Can Muslim Women Marry Non-Muslim Men?

Disclaimer: The views or opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the writer or Muslim Girl’s editors. It is not intended to be used for a substitute of Islamic jurisprudence.

“Can Muslim Women marry outside of their religion?” The belief that Muslim Women marrying someone outside of Islam is forbidden (haram) is deeply ingrained in the minds of young Muslim girls. However, within discussions led by women, some believe this Quran interpretation is incorrect. Yes, you understood correctly. There is now an argument that Muslim women are allowed to marry non-Muslim men. By examining the historical context of the specific verses of the Quran and the Hadith, some would argue that the notion of interfaith marriage for Muslim women being a sinful act is misinformation.

Dr. Daisy Khan, an Islamic reformer who passionately advocates for Muslim women’s rights, serves as the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE.) Through her influential position, she delves into numerous issues pertaining to contemporary Muslim women, including the rise of interfaith marriages. Dr. Khan emphasizes the importance of utilizing Quranic teachings and the teachings of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) to stay focused on accurate interpretations, preventing any potential distractions.

Understanding the social context and the influence of the Quran requires historical contextualization based on the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH.) According to Dr. Khan, before Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) became a prophet, his daughter was married to a Pagan man. The society at that time was predominantly Pagan, with minimal Christian and Jewish communities. When the Prophet (PBUH) and his family embraced Islam, Zainab was pressured to divorce her husband since he was not a Muslim. However, the Prophet (PBUH) believed in promoting love marriage and saw it as a means for Islam to permeate the family.

Generally, Islamic scholars hold a consensus that interfaith marriages should be avoided for women…

Dr. Khan notes that the Prophet (PBUH) never divorced his daughter, even though her husband remained a Pagan. The Prophet’s (PBUH) conviction was that by allowing people to be, their children would embrace Islam, thus ensuring the future generation’s adherence to the faith.

If the Prophet (PBUH) considered interfaith marriage forbidden (haram,) would he have permitted Zainab to remain married to her non-Muslim husband? It is my assumption that by preserving this marriage the Prophet (PBUH) displayed faith in Zainab’s ability to influence her husband’s religious beliefs and the faith of those who followed. Zainab possessed the capability to impart her own beliefs to her children and set an example for others to follow.

Generally, Islamic scholars hold a consensus that interfaith marriages should be avoided for women, while it is considered acceptable for Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women. This belief originates from the notion that men are the authoritative figures in households, implying that women have limited influence over the family’s religious beliefs. While this assumption might have been relevant in the 7th century, it is important to acknowledge that women now have a voice and cannot be presumed to lack leadership roles within families in the 21st century.

Dr. Khan discusses Quranic verse 5:5, which talks about the marriage of Muslim men to non-Muslim women. The verse from Surat-Al Ma’idah states:

“Today, all good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And lawful in marriage are chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking secret lovers. And whoever denies the faith – his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers” (5:5).

Dr. Khan analyzes this verse, beginning by explaining that the term “you” refers to men. She then distinguishes between “chaste women/believing women” and chaste women who were given the scripture.

In Surah Al-Baqarah, it is explicitly stated that the marriage of polytheists is not permissible. This was relevant to society during the time of the Quran. The verse reads:

“Do not marry polytheistic women until they believe, for a believing slave-woman is better than a free polytheist, even though she may appear pleasing to you. And do not marry your women to polytheistic men until they believe, for a believing slave-man is better than a free polytheist, even though he may appear pleasing to you” (2:221).

This verse specifically addresses powerful men who own slaves and have control over women’s decisions. Dr. Khan provides her interpretation of what the word “believe” means in the context of the passage. In Islam, the word Mu’min/Mu’mina refers to a person who embodies qualities of charity and possesses strong faith (Surat Al-Mu’minun.) However, it is important to note that being a believer does not necessarily equate to being a Muslim.

“So, where does it state that you cannot marry a person of the scripture [Christian and Jewish]?” queries Dr. Khan. These two verses are subject to interpretation, unlike those that explicitly prohibit certain actions, such as consuming pork or alcohol.

If it is highly likely that a marriage between a Muslim woman and a believing man (someone who has faith in God) is permissible, then why do scholars classify it as haram? To understand this, we need to consider the historical context, which was primarily influenced by the patriarchal society of that time. The concern was centered around preserving the spiritual lineage of the child, which was believed to primarily come from the father. Consequently, it led to the assumption that while the child of a Muslim man is automatically considered Muslim, the same does not apply to children of Muslim women. However, it is essential to recognize that this assumption undermines the agency of women in Islam.

In the 7th century, it is true that mothers had limited influence in the political or societal realms, resulting in a minimal role in shaping a child’s religious beliefs. Dr. Khan points out an important factor often overlooked in the West: there is no guarantee that a Muslim man married to a believing woman will raise their child as a Muslim. This contradiction challenges the assumption that a Muslim man will automatically pass down his belief system to his children while a Muslim woman wouldn’t. Dr. Khan further argues that many Muslim women she knows, who marry believing men, actively take full responsibility for raising their children as Muslims while remaining deeply committed to their faith. It is worth noting that the outdated viewpoint would have been more understandable in the societal context of the 7th or 10th century. However, in today’s world, women hold decision-making power and enjoy individuality.

If someone is a true believer in Islam, regardless of gender, their faith will always remain with them.

Scholars have established the notion that interfaith marriages for Muslim women may lead to the loss of their faith. In the early days of the Quran, scholars were concerned that women would be compelled to abandon Islam by their non-Muslim husbands who did not recognize it as a legitimate religion. However, in today’s nuclear family context, this influence is not a common occurrence. Although there was once a need to protect women, resulting in restrictions on interfaith marriage, it can be argued that such restrictions are no longer necessary. Based on Dr. Khan’s personal observations, she knows many Muslim women in interfaith marriages who play a leading role in the household’s spiritual belief system and guide the religious education of their children. If someone is a true believer in Islam, regardless of gender, their faith will always remain with them.

In many cases, when a woman falls in love with a non-Muslim, her family insists that he must convert. However, Dr. Khan points out that the Quran clearly states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” so this expectation is not justified, even though it may be seen as a potential solution. If the man willingly chooses to convert from his own faith to Islam, that’s great, but just as Prophet Mohammed did not force his son-in-law to convert, the woman’s family is not permitted to impose such a requirement either. Furthermore, from a young age, men are conditioned to believe that they are allowed to marry anyone they choose, which continues to limit the opportunities for Muslim women to find a Muslim man to marry, even if they desire one.

Love is the guiding force within Islam. By accepting interfaith marriages or engaging in discussions about them, we actively shape the perception of Islam, promoting religious tolerance and community-driven values. As women take on a more prominent role in religious spaces, their voices offer diverse perspectives and interpretations that deviate from the traditional narratives we were raised with.

By critically analyzing the context of Quranic verses, considering the words of the Prophet (PBUH,) and understanding the definition of a “believer,” there is no valid reason to view interfaith marriage for Muslim women as forbidden (haram.) This issue is not limited to the Western world but occurs globally where Muslim women and non-Muslim men interact, collaborate, and learn together.

Dr. Khan suggests that as long as women uphold their religious values and establish an agreement with their believing spouse (who embraces Islam,) ensuring that their children are raised with Islamic teachings and the woman’s faith is preserved, it is permissible for them to marry a non-Muslim man.