Connect The Dots : Rethinking Interfaith Marriages for Muslim Women

Azira Aziz re-examines the interfaith marriage in Islam.

He’s friendly, intelligent and charming. You met him from somewhere, and he seemed like a decent enough fella So when he mustered up enough courage to ask you out or you decided to ask him out, you/he said yes.

It’s that first date.

On the first date, as Sania Nasim once sat me down and gave me the whole crash course on how to choose a potential boyfriend-cum-future hubby (in a much misguided though well meaning effort to “complete” my life), is when you determine:

a)    whether he is a person of questionable character

b)   what the other person’s likes, dislikes and life goals are

c)    whether b is compatible with yours and is workable, and

d)    decide if you can see yourself with the other person 5-10 years in the future.

So you got on well, conversation flowed, ambiance was just right, food was great. It was inevitable. He says at random, almost oh-so-casually,  “Eh, nanti kalau masuk Islam, orang lelaki kena potong kan?”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you get the circumcision question almost every single time you date a non-Muslim man. If the man happens to be the jolly sort: “Sakit tak?”

It is bound by Malaysian state Islamic laws nationwide that if a Muslim woman wishes to marry a non-Muslim man, the man is expected to convert into Islam. In Malaysia, the same applies to a non-Muslim woman even though she is technically a people of the Book i.e. a Jew or a Christian. No two ways about it. By the power of love and our reproductive organs, we Muslims shall convert the whole lot of ye.

So when I discovered Imam Khaleel Muhammed’s writings opining that it is not necessary for a non-Muslim future spouse of a Muslim to convert before marrying I was surprised. Who is this man? Imam Khaleel or Dr. Khaleel Mohammed studied Sharia at Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh (Sunni) and the Zeinabiyya in Damascus (Shia). He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic law from McGill University and is widely considered as an eminent scholar of Islam (Free Muslims Coalition) accepted by Shiah and Sunni schools alike.

The learned Imam opined that in the context of interfaith marriages, today’s time and age no longer justify the ruling that the non-Muslim partners must convert to become Muslims before marriage. The issues of concern to many is that (a) as traditionally men dominate women, the Muslim woman’s faith will be compromised should she marry a non-Muslim, and (b) the children will be exposed to the teachings of another faith and may not follow the religion of Islam.

The reason for issue (a) is because during the Prophet’s time, the social reality was that women were uneducated and played a mostly domestic role with very few exceptions to the rule. It is generally thought that should a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim man, her faith to Islam would be compromised because she would submit to the will of the husband. However, Muslim women enjoy equal legal and social status in these modern times, which is why multifaith marriages by Muslim women should be allowed.

His answer to issue (b) is that the archaic tribal Arab society was very patriarchal. The children would follow the religion of the Father, not the Mother’s, thus the reason why Muslim women were only allowed to marry Muslim men. The learned Imam believes that today, in this day and age, the influence of the Mother to a child is dominant and the issue that the Mother’s Muslim faith would not be taught properly to the child is no longer relevant.

He further suggests that the child of interfaith marriages should be taught both faiths and be allowed to make an informed choice later on. He even offered to officiate the wedding, i.e. be the kadhi personally (Mohammed). The full quote is as follows:

“The evidence indicates that the main hang-up is the problem I emphasized above – that the religion of the male spouse becomes dominant (as also evidenced in the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible). In our day, since Qur’anic Islam (as opposed to the Islam of the male jurists) must acknowledge the radical notion that women are equals of men, that women have legal rights, and that those rights include placing conditions on the marriage (what you and I would term a ‘pre-nuptial agreement’), then an inter-faith marriage can take place on condition that neither spouse will be forcibly converted to the other’s religion. As long as that condition is respected, you and she have my blessing.

On the question of children, certainly there will be some religious confusion. But as a Muslim scholar, I can tell you that the Qur’an advocates the use of the heart and mind in forming opinions. If both parents are faithful to their interpretations of the Creator’s will, then the children will make informed decisions when they come of age.  (Project Ijtihad)”

What then of the concept of nikah? Surely it should apply to Muslims only. But the learned Imam opined that during the Prophet Muhammad’s time, the concept of nikah in the Quran as well as in accordance with the hadith concerns a normal contract, just like any other transactions, and therefore it is possible to still have a taklid, or pre-nuptial agreement with your usual nikah in interfaith marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man.

When Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s aide married New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, the union raised quite a few eyebrows in the Muslim community as the man did not convert into Islam and remained a Jew. It unsurprisingly did not make it into the Malaysian news. (Mohammad) Nadia S. Mohammad, a writer commented “If a Muslim woman finds a practicing man of God who respects her better than the Muslim men around her and with whom she connects with better as well, why should anyone stop her from marrying him?”

In my humble opinion, I believe that if you enter into a relationship with someone, one should take the other as he or she is, the good, the bad, the ugly. If he or she is not someone you can live with, it is best to walk away. That condition should also apply to the person’s religion. I think it is unfair to ask a person to convert into your religion to marry you, especially since I, like many other Muslims, would never consider leaving Islam for any reason, and so to ask of it of another is quite selfish.

I do personally feel, however, that the question of faith should be individual, and cannot be imposed on another, especially if it is your own children. We adults and parents have done our duty teaching them what we know and understand the Quran and hadiths as Muslims, our way of life. It is up to the child, when he or she is grown, to make his or her own informed choices. Society, also, cannot impose that on anyone, as it does not harm anyone and affects only the said couple.

I know this may ruffle many folks’ feathers, who will then say who am I to apply freedom of thought on the teachings of Islam, and defy the traditional interpretations passed down to us by our learned Islamic authorities? Irshad Manji believes that there is a way to reconcile freedom of thought with the teachings of the Quran. She advocates that there is a longstanding tradition of questioning in Islam, and that the right to knowledge or determine choices in life is not strictly in the hands of the religious authorities.

She says “the Qur’an contains three times as many verses calling on us to think than verses that tell us what is forbidden or acceptable. In that sense, re-interpretation – which means re-thinking Qur’anic passages, not re-writing them – is an Islamic responsibility. The Illinois-based Nawawi Foundation even describes it as a “religious duty of the first magnitude” (Manji).

As do I. It is my duty to read the translations of the Quran (surely five learned ustazs’ English-Arabic language mastery cannot possibly be that bad and misleading), mindful of the context and time it was delivered, compare it to the hadiths, and apply it to modern life as I understand it. As Allah has no medium to speak directly to us anymore since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, it is reasonable to say, Allah gave us free will and thought to apply the essence and lessons into our modern life on our own.

It is time to rethink that criterion that non-Muslims must convert into Islam before marrying a Muslim in Malaysia.

Bibliography:

Free Muslims Coalition. Professor Khaleel Mohammed, Ph.D. 14 July 2012 <http://www.freemuslims.org/about/mohammad.php>.

Manji, Irshad. Islam needs an age of reason. 4 September 2007. 14 July 2012 <http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=21629&lan=en&sp=0>.

Mohammad, Nadia S. “Muslim women should be able to marry non-Muslim men”: The Goatmilk Debates. 24 August 2010. 14 July 2012 <http://goatmilkblog.com/2010/08/24/muslim-women-should-be-able-to-marry-non-muslim-men-the-goatmilk-debates/>.

Mohammed, Dr. Khaleel. Marriage to Non-Muslims. 3 November 1998. 14 July 2012 <http://www.forpeoplewhothink.org/Answers/Marriage_to_non-Muslims.html>.

Project Ijtihad. IMAM KHALEEL MOHAMMED’S DEFENSE OF INTER-FAITH MARRIAGE. 14 July 2012 <https://www.irshadmanji.com/sites/default/files/Eng_BothPages.pdf>.


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Posts by Azira Aziz

This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! (http://UndiMsia.com) and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (http://SayaAnakBangsaMalaysia.net)

Posted on 15 July 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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29 Responses to Connect The Dots : Rethinking Interfaith Marriages for Muslim Women

  1. Good article, thanks for sharing.

  2. Arun Paul

    This article, however insightful, will not reason or permeate the caged-mind of the religious romantics!

  3. khaleel mohammed

    We are too obsessed with ruling upon who is entitled to heaven, who is not. In the modern world, where human ethics are as such that our intelligence is respected by not having to look for divinely revealed directives, we ought to have transcended the limitations of bigotry and know that a GOOD human being is a GOOD human being. Belief is between an individual and GOd. Otherwise there would be no meaning to "No compulsion in religion." Many of the laws of the Quran are set when there are still tribes, or to maintain a social peace in medieval society. IF there are such rules and regulations in place that can establish harmonious coexistence with due respect to human rights, then we can honestly state that some laws are either in need of reinterpretation given the change of society and custom, or just plain null and void. After all, even the most fanatic faith believer will NOT argue that history is frozen. The ulama came up with the theory of abrogation precisely to show this….and if their arabcentric, chauvinist, androcentric worldview did not allow them to see things the way we now do, let us not forget that they were after all, man of a past era.

  4. khaleel mohammed

    Dear Atheist, allow me to answer for myself: A trinitarian christian is by no means a polytheist. And for this reason when people issue rulings about what is lawful/unlawful, they have to be well-versed in theology as well. Most Muslims…and it appears now at least one atheist..confuse tritheism and trinitarianism. Tritheism, that is there are three gods, separate and independent, would qualify as polytheism. The triune godhead, meaning ONE GOD, is a mystery. And so we have the Qur'an 2:62 saying categorically Christians are entitled to heaven. At this time, there were several different forms of christianity, and we are only concerned therefore with the fact that the Quran uses the umbrella term. Next: there does not have to be ANY verse in the Qur'an permitting ANYTHING for it to be lawful. Rather the opposite is the case: the role of the quran is to make specific what is FORBIDDEN. If it is NOT forbidden, it is ipso facto, allowable. That is the nature of law. As for your reference to "unlawful sexual intercourse" do understand that this refers to a situation wherein there are witnesses, four to a case of intercourse. To the best of MY mind, no modern society tolerates this sort of testimony today.

  5. Atheist

    Hi Azizra,
    Your holy book describes the laws of marriage on the following verses( 2.221 and 24.3) which basically say both Muslim men and women are not allowed polytheists or someone who has committed unlawful sexual intercourse. So if you or other Muslim women married a Christian who believes in the "trinity" or someone who had lots previous girlfriends, wouldn't this go against the laws of 2.221 and 24.3? Wouldn't you be worried about the consequences/ punishment from your God?

    I understand Khaleel Mohammed , Irshad Manji , Nadia S and your point of view that this world is completely different from the 7th century and this type of marriage will probably be successful. But I don't think they discussed whats going to happen verses 2.221 and 24.3.In other words if this type of marriage becomes legal, are they going to delete these verses from Quran or just ignore them and pretend they do not exist? Is there another verse from your book which clearly supports this type of marriage( apart from 5.5)?

  6. Ali

    Salaam

    Stop twisting the religion to suit your own needs and wants, its simple, there is no ahlu kitaab anymore, jews and Christians have changed their books so much that Christians commit open shirk when calling Jesus RAA a god, lets say you have kids, your spouse will want to raise the kids as a christian or a Jew, you want to raise them as Muslim, lets say you even give them a choice, do you know that if your kid chooses to be a Christian you have neglected that child and you will be held responsible in the day of judgement all because you followed something foolish like Love, As soon as you found out that the person you are talking to is Christian or a Jew you should have had no more contact with him making sure that you dont fall in love

  7. Maya

    Salam Azira, thank you for the interesting subject you have written in here, interesting but it is so taboo for some people I would say. I found it interesting cause it is happening to me, taboo cause we live in Malaysia. I am well educated single woman age 35 and hold a very senior high raking post in one of the bank in Malaysia. Born from a very traditional Malay family from my Dad side, I was send to private school for my conventional education, at the same time, I am attending religious school ( Sekolah Agama ) when I was in Standard 3 until Form 1, and I would say I can be quite religious, knowing what is Haraam, what is Halal. To cut the story short, last year I met a wonderful man, after a year and six months of courted, we make plans to go further, which is by marriage. He is Greek and Christian Orthodox, despite that he respect my believe and culture, he is a very loving gentleman, understanding, calm, patient and full of the qualities that woman can only dream of, now I have him. Some people may ask, why can't you find good muslim man, there are more out there, but for God's sake, it is not whether you can find or cannot find, this is something beyond expectation, beyond reach by the humble me. Can I just walk out from the door and pick anyone and ask them to marry to me? Is it how it works? Will it fair to ask him to give up his faith by converting into Islam in order to marry me? Will I do the same for him? My answer is NO WAY! I am born Muslim and will die as Muslim as well, and will never ever give that up. What options do I have? Intermarriage is not allowed in Malaysia, even if we got married else where, I can't register my marriage in here. I believe there are many other good muslim women experiencing the same, even if I enter into this inter-faith marriage and it makes all my children not recognized under the Islamic law, will that make me a bad muslim? Only Allah knows best… However I strongly believe Islam is a fair religion, and hope the ulamas in Malaysia can start to look into this area and find the best solution for woman like me.

  8. mike

    Very liberal stand. Unfortunately I feel Malaysia is too far away from endorsing interfaith marriage. Unfortunately there are talks of going in the opposite direction with hudud law. I for one don't believe the gov have a right to dictate your personal life and who you choose to love. Hopefully if more articles like this are published people will start open their minds.

  9. son of muhammad

    when a person get married he or she marry a person not the religion. so why bother about the religion? the gomen and religious authorities are the biggest hipocrates in this issue as many (those with principles) can see that all these so called laws, rules and regulations are only meant for the ordinary raayat.
    how about those so called civilised top, rich and powerful guns who do what they like and nothing happens? this issue only took place in malaysia cos malaysia BOLEH. it is all political issues. i personally have seen ustaz drink liquor. the greatest joke is i notice that most muslims both males and females can drink liquor like water and they do not get drunk. mind you

  10. marketrealist

    I am a Malaysian and was sitting in alone in a cafe in Jakarta. A Christian missionary came up to the table next to mine and started talking to the men there. He was greeted politely and they talked for about 10 minutes and all smiled and he walked to the next table. This happened two or three times. No issue – no drama. Muslims in Indonesia seem to be willing to hear about the faith of others and not find it threatening. Some may convert but the vast majority will not. I wonder why in Malaysia, we are hysterical about the possibility of conversion. We will not even hear about other religions. The hysteria would be comical if it weren't so potentially dangerous.

  11. Shafiq

    Azira, I have been doing research into this area of interfaith marriage as an affected representation of the common people and should you be interested to join me(us) in pursuit of the Truth do drop me a mail at [email protected].

  12. pepperlim

    Nice!

  13. awam

    As far as our religion ISLAM is concern we are not a religion which base on logic and thinking of human.ALLAH created us we follow what is instructed by Allah to us. NO question ask.Our mind is limited.How genious human is renember his brain was created by ALLAH.IF U r not happy with our religion PLS KEEP AWAY FROM US…..

    • Dear awam,

      You must have skipped your Islamic History classes, in particular the Golden Age of Knowledge in Islam. Questioning everything was the reason why the civilization flourished during the dark middle ages of Europe. We lost that culture, and thus we are paying the price for it. It is time to reclaim that level of intellectualism which had severely declined these past few centuries.

      I'm still learning myself.

      • ServantOfAllah

        But dont u remember, too busy questioning everything also ruined the civilisation achieved by Islamic world after several years during the Golden Age of Knowledge, since people started neglecting their faith. check your facts again.

        everything has its limit. even questioning has its limit. It's true that Allah stated that we should do a lot of thinking but He also stated that we should think based on Al-Quran and Hadith. If you disagree, dont start messing up other people's thoughts.

        • Shah

          the only reason why you would be afraid of questioning is the fear that you must be wrong. If what ever you believe is right then no fear.. question away. What are you afraid of exactly?

  14. Ramlah

    What does the Quran have to say about the Internet?

  15. Whysee

    I am a Buddhist Chinese and I fell in love with a Muslim Malay 5 years ago. We dated for a good 2.5 years before I finally called it quits. I couldn't bring myself into going into a religion which I do not believe in. Even when I loved her, I also (finally) realised that I love myself more.

    My most basic take on religion is: It is not something that you impose on someone but something that you discover from within.

    • Dear Whysee,

      I know how that feels, walking away from a possible relationship with a wonderful person because of religion. I could never bear sticking around knowing that for us to remain together it would mean I would have to ask of him something I will never do for him. That's not what love's about, impo. That's life. It happens. *hug*

    • crew

      Respect, you do right thing. Suffering is everywhere, unfortunately her self I, it is stronger than her love. She need time to find right path alone.
      _____ http://crew.im/islam

  16. Tony C

    I am Chinese and a Christian…now that it is out of the way, let me say this: If I fall in love with a Muslim girl …. anywhere in the world…. and if it is a requirement that I have to convert to Islam in order to be able to marry her, I would. Why ? It is because I love her enough to do so.
    However, let me ask this…is the requirement that of the country's Government or of the religion itself ? Is such a requirement stated anywhere in the Quran ?

    • Dear Tony,

      In any nation where there is Syariah law institutionalized and codified for Muslims, it is imposed by the State Islamic Authorities, e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. In most liberal-democratic countries like the USA, UK, etc, they don't impose, it's more of a personal choice and not imposed by the State.

      The Quran is sympathetic about Muslims marrying People of the Book, but it's quite sexist. Chaste and virtuous women must be married to Muslims only, while the unchaste women should be allowed to marry non-Muslims. Imam Khaleel has a very interesting interpretation of it:

      "Traditionally, only in one case can a Muslim woman marry outside of Islam, and this is the case where the woman is guilty of sexual transgression, as denoted in Sura An Nur of the Qur'an: "The adulterer may marry only an adulteress or an idolatress; and the adulteress may marry only an adulterer or an idolater…" [24:3] As stated in this verse, this rule equally applies to the Muslim man who is guilty of this same offense."

      Very sexist and offensive to women with any self respect, impo.

  17. leekh

    Most of our institutions are outdated. The world has changed. Tribal practices prevail. If a Malay woman or man is in trouble, will the “Malay” tribe go to help her/him? I dont think so. Today there is no tribe. When you feel that you are powerful and you want something done then you drag your tribe along. If you strike a lottery or get a project, are you going to share it with the tribe? Not likely. The people who talk about dying for the country, religion and race…they are talking for show. When UMNO or MCA ask you to vote for the Chinese or Malay, they are not in love with the race, they are in love with the position they are going to get.
    Imams or priests who shout about protecting their religion is claiming that they are relevant in society, they want to maintain their job, they want power. If we had been a little more respectful of each other by now we would have family homes like the one described to me by my Bali tour guide. His wife is a Muslim, his father and mother are Hindus and he is a Christian. His brother is not bothered by religion but is married to a Chinese woman following Chinese customs.And they live in the same house and share the same food. So there you go. Today life is neutral, you design your own life, you pick what is best, follow the golden rule.
    Those who talk big and want others to follow them..I say ok as long as you are willing to support and pay for the expenses of those following you. Otherwise – go and fly kites

  18. Soleh

    Salam Sister,

    When talking about things related to religion especially interfaith matters, it is better that you refer to the ulama. Al-Quran is not to be interpreted without extensive knowledge. When there is dispute, Rasullullah told us to refer back to both the Quran and the Hadiths. Think again, People of The Book that was referred in the Quran, do they still exist today in its original form and values as it were during the times when the revelations came?

    Make the age compatible with the Quran, not the other way round..

    wassalam

    • 1. By your logic, the People of the Book as based on FT Legislation (Source: Muslim / non Muslim marriages in Malaysia – http://bit.ly/PZdEkF) :

      "Kitabiyah means –
      (a) a woman whose ancestors were from the Bani Ya’qub; or
      (b) a Christian woman whose ancestors were Christians before the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad; or
      (c) a Jewess whose ancestors were Jews before the prophethood of the Prophet ‘Isa;"

      a true Muslim then is only those whose ancestors can be traced back and verified as were the first true Muslims during the Prophet Muhammad's time. Makes sense or not? I thought so. Next.

      2. The people I quoted in my article are not your random Bilal in a surau nearby your neighbourhood, but eminent Islamic scholar, Dr. Khaleel Muhammad who is very much a qualified ulama, his full Bio is in my Bibliography under Free Muslims Coalition if you could spare some time to read, Irshad Ali, a known Islamic intellectual and Ms. Nadia who is an established writer in her field. I sought to give a balanced view in my article, which I hope to have delivered.

      3. Make age compatible with the Quran?

      I give you one example, this verse on cavalry:

      "Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your disposal so that you can strike terror into the enemies of Allah and of the believers and others beside them who may be unknown to you, though Allah knows them. And remember whatever you spend for the cause of Allah shall be repaid to you. You shall not be wronged."
      —Quran, [Quran 8:60]

      So, by your logic, while facing off helicopters equipped with missiles and heavy arsenal, tanks with lasers and heat rays, navy ships and submarines loaded with torpedos, because the Quran says 'men and cavalry' and the Quran should apply to the age, not the other way around, we should only use cavalry, not similar fire power in response to modern warfare and army.

      Are you sure you are living in 2012?

      This is what I meant by Ijtihad.