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Why Can’t Muslim Women Marry Outside the Faith?

August 4, 2016

I have spoken with many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, and they express how unfair it seems that Muslim men can marry women that are not Muslim, but the same right does not exist for women. It seems sexist too, they tell me. So, what is the deal then? Does Islam treat women differently than men when it comes marriage options? First to tell you: it is true, Muslim women cannot marry outside the faith. And yes, it is true Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women, but ONLY if they are Christian or Jewish women.

Let us take a look at why and where the limitations come from.

The Noble Qur’an commandments about marriage

In Qur’an surah (chapter) 2, verse 221 all Muslim, men and women, are told that they cannot marry:

  1. Polytheists/idolaters (unless they become Muslim)
  2. Unbelievers/atheists (unless they become believers)

In Qur’an, surah (chapter) 4, verses 22-24 lists prohibitions referring to men. However, the prohibition in turn stands for women too (e.g. Muslim women must not marry their fathers).  Per Qur’an, Muslim man CANNOT marry:

  1. Mother
  2. Stepmother
  3. Daughter
  4. Step Daughter (if he had sexual relationship with her mother)
  5. Sister
  6. Aunt (father’s and mother’s sister)
  7. Niece
  8. Woman who breastfed him (if other than his biological mother) and her daughters
  9. Mother-in-law
  10. Daughter-in-law (wife from biological son, not stepson)
  11. Marrying two sisters at the same time
  12. Married women (unless non-Muslim women captives of war and his maidservants)

Note: many will twist #12 above, claiming that Qur’an approves rape of women. If one reads Qur’anic verses in chapter 4, verse 22-24 it is clear that it is specified that female war captives/slaves can be married, not raped. Given the fact that Qur’an gives both men and women an option to reject marriage, then the war captives and slaves/servants do have a right to reject.

Further prohibitition explanation:

According to www.islamweb.net Muslim men are forbideen to marry:

“1. Descendants due to a relationship with a woman, regardless of how far (a man’s daughter, granddaughter, etc.).

  1. Ascendants of women, regardless of how far (mother, maternal and paternal grandmother, etc.).
  2. Descendants from a man’s parents, regardless of how far (sisters, half sisters, sister’s children, etc.)
  3. Siblings of male and female ascendants, regardless of how far (paternal and maternal aunts, great aunts, etc.).
  4. Wives of ascendants, regardless of how far (the father’s wife, grandfather’s wife, etc.).  Consummation is not a condition; the mere completion of the marriage contract makes this marriage forbidden forever.
  5. Wives of descendants, regardless of how far.  Again, the mere marriage contract is what is considered here with or without consummation.
  6. Ascendants of wives (such as the mother-in-law), regardless of whether the marriage was consummated or not.
  7. Descendants of wives (step-daughters and their children) only if the man consummated the marriage with the wife in question.  The phrase (which means) ‘…Under your guardianship…’ was mentioned here only to portray the usual case and not as a condition.  The ruling holds whether the step-daughter was ever under his care or not. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars.

One may notice that of these, the grandmother was not explicitly mentioned in the verse” (4:22-24).  “This is because frequently in Arabic and in the Quran (as in some of the verses on inheritance), the term ‘mother’ includes the grandmother and all her ascendants.”

Who Can Muslims Marry, Then?

For faithful Muslims, men and women, race, ethnicity, nationality or economic status do not matter. But the faith status of the future spouse is very important. According to Qur’an chapter 5, verse 5 and chapter 60, verse 10 Muslim men can ONLY  marry:

a. Muslim women

b. Believing Jewish and Christian women

  1. Marriage with Christian women who believe in trinity or consider Jesus a god/son of god is debatable as, according to Qur’an, belief in trinity is idolatry and Muslims must not marry idolaters. Qur’an is adamant that the original Message/Revelation of the Gospel promoted and preached pure monotheism and that Jesus pbuh, although Messenger and Messiah, was not divine. Therefore, by using the term “believing Christian women” it is understood that the woman can be a Christian, but monotheist and not Trinitarian. Therefore, many Muslim men make mistake and break the commandment by marrying women who still believe Jesus is god.

According to Qur’an chapter 60, verse 10, Muslim women can ONLY marry:

  1. Muslim men

Ok! So, the Ruling Seems Sexist! OMG! What Do We Do?

Different religious communities have certain beliefs that child may inherit a parent’s religion. Descendants are important factor in maintaining the faith and community, and this is why interfaith marriage has been an issue not just for Muslims but for others too. Especially in the old days, though even today it is a taboo subject. So, for example, according to the views of Orthodox and some other Jewish denominations a child born to Jewish mother is considered Jewish. For Muslims, if the father is Muslim then the child is Muslim. Serer, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism religions forbid interfaith marriages of any kind and generally do not recognize children from interfaith marriages belonging to their religious communities. Some religions even forbid interracial marriages and marriages where the partners are not of equal economic status. Although Christians have been flexible, some denominations do prohibit interfaith marriages in accordance to 2 Corinthians 6:14.

In Islam, child is Muslim if his/her father is a Muslim. Why the father? Well, Islam gives the man an enormous responsibility as the father: to be the provider, to acknowledge the child and give him/her his last name, to include the child in the inheritance, to raise the baby, etc.

Muslim woman has her role as a wife and that is to respect her husband and his wishes. Should she marry a non-Muslim man, not only will her child be non-Muslim (according to Islamic beliefs), but her husband may demand that she not practice her faith and other religious observances. She may also have to engage in non Islamic, under Islam sinful, acts such as buy and serve alcohol, cook with pork, having statues of idols in her house (if the husband has statues that he venerates), having anal intercourse (if that is what turns on her husband), etc.

In the old days, women were expected to be submissive to their husbands. Believing Jewish and Christian women, certainly were submissive, and for Muslim men to be allowed to marry them in 7th century Arabia and later meant that the women will not force their Muslim husbands to leave Islam. Since the submissiveness to husbands was a common expectation of women in general, no matter who they were or where they come from, then the prohibition for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims can be understood as the protection to help them keep their faith.

Throughout the ages, people have broken the limitations, married people of other religions. Their children commonly declare themselves atheists or simply convert to a faith of their choice. By today’s standards, does it matter? Love is love, right? I think that religious commandments will stand, and the only Judge that there is is Our God. If He thinks two people made a grave mistake, then He will judge them.

Peace be with all of you 🙂

Sources:

The Noble Qur’an

http://www.islamweb.net/en/article/135458/whom-one-is-allowed-to-marry

http://www.reformjudaism.org/practice/ask-rabbi/i-have-jewish-mother-and-christian-father-what-am-i

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interfaith_marriage#Hinduism

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