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.


Free Muslims Coalition. Professor Khaleel Mohammed, Ph.D. 14 July 2012 <>.

Manji, Irshad. Islam needs an age of reason. 4 September 2007. 14 July 2012 <>.

Mohammad, Nadia S. “Muslim women should be able to marry non-Muslim men”: The Goatmilk Debates. 24 August 2010. 14 July 2012 <>.

Mohammed, Dr. Khaleel. Marriage to Non-Muslims. 3 November 1998. 14 July 2012 <>.


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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! ( and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (

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

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