Interfaith Marriages

Permissibility, precautions, and progeny

By Areena Ali Memon

Nov/Dec 2023

Whether Muslims immigrate to North America or have generations of their families born here, they are part of the rich tapestry of this diverse region. From neighborhood block parties to networking events, Muslims engage with individuals of diverse religious beliefs in various settings. Muslims are encouraged to be kind to neighbors and get to know people of other faiths. 

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another” (Quran 49:13)

This mingling can also result in individuals discovering someone with whom they share emotional and intellectual compatibility, leading them to desire a lifelong partnership.

Permissibility ≠ Encouragement

Muslim men are permitted to marry women from the “people of the book,” — in other words, Jews and Christians. This allowance does not encompass women of other non-Abrahamic faiths. 

“…(lawful to you in marriage) are chaste women from the believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture before your time…” (Quran: 5:5) 

However, it is important to exercise caution.

“Before committing to a lifelong partnership with someone who follows a different faith, it is crucial to ensure that your own faith is strong,” said Mawlana Arif Kamal, scholar at Darul Qasim in Glendale Heights, Ill. “Otherwise, this situation may present challenges and potentially compromise one’s religious beliefs.”

It is important to note that a permissible act is simply that — allowed —  rather than actively encouraged. This is because if an increasing number of Muslim men marry women from other faiths, it limits the options available for Muslim women. Also, it doesn’t go both ways. 

“Muslim women are only permitted to marry Muslim men,” cautioned Shaykh Noman Hussain, resident scholar at Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, Ill. “This is because in Islam, the man is considered the head of the family, and such a relationship dynamic may make it challenging for the woman to freely practice her faith.”

The Role of Intent

“Regrettably, a significant number of Muslim men are entering into relationships with non-Muslim women primarily due to happenstance,” said Shaykh Hussain. “Although such a marriage can be permissible, it’s prohibited for him to cross boundaries with any woman outside the sacred bonds of marriage.” 

Conversely, there are individuals who actively plan such marriages with specific intentions, rather than simply stumbling into a relationship. The first commonly stated intention is to bring the woman closer to Islam. Some may view this as an opportunity to potentially bring more women to Islam. However, such an approach can be detrimental. It is important to understand that true guidance comes solely from God.

“Not upon you (O Muhammad) is (responsibility for) their guidance, but Allah guides whom He wills” (Quran 2:272)

While a Muslim husband may serve as an influence, there is no guarantee that his wife will accept Islam. The influence can backfire. He could gradually stop practicing Islam, or potentially convert to his wife’s faith. There are alternative ways of introducing women to Islam without resorting to marriage, such as connecting them with other Muslim women and revert groups.

Placing pressure on a woman to accept Islam after marrying her is unfair and goes against Islam. A woman should never be emotionally blackmailed or coerced into accepting Islam. Pressuring someone could actually push them further away from Islam.

“There shall be no compulsion in (acceptance of) the religion” (Quran 2:256)

There are cases in which women embrace Islam later in their relationships. One such example is Lena Mae from Illinois. Her Egyptian husband was open and available to answer any questions she had about Islam, but he never pressured her. Mae conducted her own research and after 13 years, she felt drawn to Islam and willingly embraced it. They have now been happily married for 34 years. 

The second reason for such marriages revolves around seeking citizenship. It is an unfortunate reality that some individuals see marriage as a means to obtain legal status.  While there is nothing wrong with spouses supporting one another – which may include assisting with citizenship – marrying solely for that purpose is unethical and deceiving on multiple levels. With the institution of marriage being regarded as highly sacred,  such behavior is strongly condemned. This is particularly evident in cases where men exploit women by marrying them solely for the purpose of gaining nationality and then abandoning them. 

Purpose of Marriage: Peace

One of the fundamental aims of marriage is to bring peace into one’s life. As human beings, we naturally yearn for deep connection with our spouses. Therefore, it becomes essential for both individuals to evaluate the significance of their faiths in their lives. If both parties possess strong convictions in their respective faiths, it can potentially lead to conflicts within the home, undermining the peace they initially sought to establish through their relationship.

It ultimately boils down to a case-by-case basis. If both partners approach the situation with an open mind and heart, and proactively address potential challenges before entering the relationship, it may be feasible for them to navigate their differing beliefs successfully. In Islam, marriage is built upon the principles of mawaddah (love) and rahma (compassion). Therefore, regardless of whether a man chooses to marry a woman from another faith, he must take responsibility for his decision and provide her with the support and respect she deserves when it comes to integrating into his family.

Implications for Children

Another inherent purpose of marriage is to have children. Both parties must contemplate their stance on the upbringing of children and determine the primary faith to which they will be exposed. Islamic teachings advocate for children to be raised within the framework of Islam, necessitating the active involvement of the father in their tarbiyah (spiritual and moral upbringing), including taking them to the mosque and fostering connections with other Muslims. 

However, this is not always practical if the father assumes the role of the primary breadwinner.  That is the story of Qayyum Raheem, father of four. Although his wife accepted Islam just before their marriage, she had not acquired sufficient knowledge and strength in the faith to provide their children with the necessary foundation when they were young. Additionally, a special needs child made it harder for her to dedicate time to learn her new faith. 

“If I could give my younger self some advice, I would have hired a dedicated individual to come to my home and educate my children about Islam,” Raheem said. He had noble intentions as a dedicated father who truly aimed to foster a profound affection for Islam in his children. Yet, due to his demanding responsibilities in providing for the family, he recognized that he could not allocate as much time as he desired to instill Islamic principles in his children. In smaller towns, there are few – if any – active Muslim communities and regular faith-based activities. 

Even if technically in Islam, the mother does not hold exclusive authority over religious matters, she often possesses greater influence in the social upbringing of the children. Consequently, children may exhibit a greater inclination towards the faith of the mother. If the woman is steadfast in her own faith and desires equal exposure for the children to her religious beliefs, it can introduce confusion and generate conflicts within the household on various topics, ultimately impacting the marital bond.

However, it is imperative to also consider the other side of the coin. Sana Mohiuddin, an Alimah and therapist, highlighted that exposing children to different faiths from an early age, while fostering an environment of respectful coexistence, can broaden their worldview and enhance their understanding of diversity. Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that in contemporary times, when individuals face the choice between a perceived challenging lifestyle and a more flexible one, the youth are often inclined towards the latter. This inclination poses a higher risk of drifting further away from Islam. 

When evaluating the implications for children in mixed-faith marriages, it is vital to carefully weigh the potential challenges. Parents need to consider the long-term effects on faith development, while also recognizing the significance of nurturing an inclusive worldview that embraces respectful coexistence.

Factors to Consider

  • Raheem acknowledges that some women from Christian and Jewish backgrounds share similar values as Islam. However, he emphasizes the importance of remembering that children must be raised as Muslims. Therefore, it is crucial for a man to evaluate whether he can shoulder this responsibility before entering into such a marriage.
  • Shaykh Hussain reiterates that even when marrying a non-Muslim woman, the marriage must be conducted in accordance with Islamic principles. This includes fulfilling the requirements of mahr (dowry) and having witnesses present. They should also have an Islamic nikah (marriage contract). He specifically addresses men, encouraging them to actively participate in their children’s lives rather than passively allowing circumstances to unfold.
  • For those intending to marry someone from another faith, it is advised to consider premarital counseling. This involves both parties sitting together with a professional to explore crucial topics that can arise after marriage. 

Areena Ali Memon juggles various roles including homeschooling, blogging, YouTubing, freelance writing, photography, and managing an Islamic bookstore while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education.

Tell us what you thought by joining our Facebook community. You can also send comments and story pitches to Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.