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Why Can’t a Muslim Woman Marry a Non-Muslim Man?

Why Can’t a Muslim Woman Marry a Non-Muslim Man?
The protection of the Muslim female’s rights in marriage is a wisdom, not the reason for the unilateral permissibility.

Every girl looks forward to her wedding day, to her dress, to new beginnings; actually, not all girls. A Muslim girl staring at her wedding dress, just learning that her wedding to a non-Muslim is not allowed in Islam, is torn between her religion and love. Why wouldn’t Islam allow such a marriage, anyway?

Love at first sight, this sudden and involuntary magnetic attraction, jolts those touched by it. Staying awake during the nights, forgetting appointments, and daydreaming at work, all fall under symptoms of love. While love seems to shelf rationality, onlookers usually respond with a chuckle: “never mind, they are in love.”

Lovebirds should fly wherever they desire. Placing regulations on them would be like binding them in a cage. Why should two people in love not be able to spend the rest of their lives together? A straightforward argument, so it may seem.

Logically, we can (1) allow all marriages to occur or (2) we can allow some to occur and disallow some or (3) we can disallow marriages altogether.

If we take the first option, allowing all marriages to occur without any restrictions, it would include scenarios like a person marrying their cousin or niece.

While these scenarios may cause some to cringe, others may not. If you are a Jew, you are good to go because Judaism gives a man the freedom to marry his niece.

Marriage and Cultural Norms

While it may sound like a romantic idea that anyone should be able to marry anyone, all in the name of love and freedom, it does invite contempt in many societies.

muslim-marriage-quotes-quranCousin marriages, for example, are incestuous, or so considered in some cultures, like the Chinese and Korean, but are legal in Hinduism, Judaism, Islam; Europe, Canada, and parts of the United States.

Advocates for the freedom of lovebirds will have to take into consideration that allowing all marriages includes even those resulting from consensual relationships between brother and sister, or father and daughter. Will they allow such marriages, since supposedly, love ought not to be limited or regulated?

If we entertain the second option, allowing some marriages and disallowing some, we will have to answer the obvious question, who will categorize for the lovebirds which marriages are allowed and disallowed?

“The People”, it appears would be the best answer. Societies live by standards of behavior called social norms and mores.

Marriage and Religion

The Old Testament prohibits marrying people of other faiths, so they will not be turned away from God nor receive His punishment:

“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” (Deuteronomy 7:3,4)

In addition, according to Jewish law, the children of a gentile woman are not considered to be Jewish even though the husband may be Jewish. For the children to be considered Jewish, the mother must be Jewish.

In Islam, the prohibition to marry people of other faiths also exists:

{And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember.} (Quran 2:221)

The previous verse prohibiting marriages to people of other faiths describes them as, “mushrikat” and “mushrikun”, meaning females and males who commit “shirk”- the antithesis of monotheism, loosely translated as “polytheist”.

According to the comprehensive understanding of monotheism in Islam, only one God should be worshipped without equating His lordship and identity to creation. Jews and Christians are seen to have compromised tenets of monotheism and are included in the marriage prohibition mentioned in the previous verse. The Quran describes their compromise to monotheism:

{They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and also the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.} (Quran 9:31)

{And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.} (Quran 4:171)

However, unlike Judaism, which maintained the marriage prohibition for both males and females, Islam later allowed males to marry female Jews and Christians:

{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 nor taking secret lovers.} (Quran 5:5)

Some efforts to rationalize this unilateral permissibility of marriage seem to lack strength. If the fear that a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man can be turned away from God serves as the rationalization, then the same can be said about the Muslim male married to a Jew or Christian.

MarryBoth Quranic and Old Testament verses that prohibited marriage to other faiths stated a rationalization- to not be turned away from God. However, the Quranic verse, stating the permissibility for a man to marry a Jewish or Christian woman, did not mention a rationalization.

Of course, this is not to say that a rationalization cannot exist simply because one was not mentioned. But, it does indicate that using the rationalization from the verse with the universal prohibition for the verse with the unilateral permissibility would be incorrect.

Likewise, misconstrued rationalizations for verses in both the Old Testament and the Quran, such as claiming the verses call for discrimination or unequal treatment of women also need to be rejected as they do not coincide with the spirit nor the letter of either law respectively.

However, the rationalization put forth that a Muslim woman is protected while married to a Muslim man by her Islamic rights, like the right to property ownership, the right to her identity (not changing her name), the right to vote, the right not to take on any financial burdens of the family if she so wishes, the right to inheritance, etc., seems to be a strong one, and even stronger in the past when women hardly had rights.

But, it can be argued that many societies have now caught up on many women’s rights, so why wouldn’t such a marriage be permissible today?

The question is actually based on an assumption that the wisdom of rulings (hikam) function like the reasons (asbab) and objectives (maqasid) of rulings, which of course is not the case. The absence of a wisdom does not legitimize the overturning of a ruling in Islamic jurisprudence.

For example, the wisdom for shortening prayers during travel is to accommodate for difficulty. However, if a luxurious vacation is taken, it is not a reason to disallow the shortening of prayer. The presence of difficulty is a wisdom for shortening the prayer, not the reason. The reason is travel.

Likewise, the protection of the Muslim female’s rights in marriage is a wisdom, not the reason for the unilateral permissibility. Therefore, even if a non-Muslim male can guarantee a Muslim female her Islamic rights, the prohibition is not overturned.

The Quran encourages believers to ponder and reflect about its verses. At certain times, scholars exhausted efforts in search of the rationalizations behind rulings only to come to a conclusion that while there exists a reason for every ruling, the human intellect cannot currently clinch all of them.

Lovebirds should have the freedom to choose whom they can or cannot marry according to the standards of behavior they freely choose. Disallowing marriages to be regulated, in the name of freedom, only violates the people’s freedom to choose the regulations they wish to live by.


About Shakiel Humayun

Shakiel Humayun, a dad, a husband, and an entrepreneur, was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Baruch College with a BBA in Business Administration. He then completed postgraduate studies at the Umm-ul-Qura University in Makkah al-Mukarramah receiving an Associate’s Degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies with honors. He continued his studies at the College of Shariah at Umm-ul-Qura University. During his stay in Makkah, he had the opportunity to benefit from many scholars.

He firmly believes in the importance of a strong community and as a result his non-profit endeavors include founding the Foundation for Knowledge and Development,Wellspring Elementary, the Hatebusters, and Masjid ‘Eesa ibn Maryam. He currently blogs at shakielhumayun.com.

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