A Closer Look at Mixed-Faith Marriages

Question and answer details
Jessi Scheffler
As-salam Alaykum. I read a verse in the Quran that says the following: "Do not marry women who do not believe, until they believe. A slave woman who believes is better than one who does not believe. Do not marry your daughters to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever." I question this because in this verse it says the same thing for a man and woman. I know Jews and Christians are People of the Book but why does it state the same thing then for man and woman? I also know that children inherit the religion of the man. I would appreciate a clear answer to this if possible. Just to add, this site is a wonderful site, I have learned so many things from it. Thank you.
Ahmad Saad
Salam Dear Jessi,

Thank you for your question and your interest in getting more knowledge and clear answers. Thank you also for your encouraging words about our web site and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Well, let me first explain some important facts which many people do not pay attention to. Islam, being a religion and a comprehensive way of life, cares a lot for the stability of family life.

In its quest to establish a very stable family, Islam stresses the importance of choosing a life partner. Muslims are encouraged to choose a partner who shares a lot of things with them, like language, experiences, background and, above all, religion. This, socially speaking, is meant to maintain a life-long marriage.

When a man and a woman from two different countries or backgrounds decide to get married to each other, Islam wants still to ascertain that there is something common between them.

Therefore, it says that they should at least believe in God, which means that a Muslim man and a Muslim woman cannot get married to a non-believer (i.e., someone who does not believe in God at all) since there is no common ground between them and thus the marriage will inevitably fail.

This is the reason for the verse of Surat Al-Baqarah, whose translation is this:

{Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.} (Al-Baqarah 2:221)

In this verse, Allah makes it clear that such a union involving a believing man and a non-believing woman, or a non-believing man and a believing woman is sure to fail and thus cannot happen.

When coming to the issue of People of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians), it is totally different because they believe in God, which shows that there is a background shared by the man and the woman who are willing to marry.

Yet, belief in God is not everything here because belief in God is a part of a whole, which is the belief in the messengers sent by God. Muslims believe in all messengers of God from Adam till Muhammad, including Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them all).

A Jew or a Christian does not believe in Muhammad as a prophet; rather, he or she sees Muhammad as a sorcerer or pseudo-messenger. This makes it clear that the Muslim owns the whole complete version of belief then, since he or she believes in the oneness of God and the oneness of the concept of prophethood.

Since the man is normally the head of the family and it is he who is required to win the bread for the family, it would be fair that a husband in a mixed-faith marriage is a Muslim because he will normally respect the religion of his wife since he accepts her prophet, while the opposite is not true. Still, a Muslim man will be able to manage the affairs of the family where the wife belongs to another faith than that of the husband.

But what will happen if the opposite is there, in other words, if the husband is non-Muslim (a Christian or a Jew) while the wife is Muslim? Simply, the head of the family will be the part that does not respect the concept of the unity of prophethood.

A husband who believes in Jesus and shows great respect for him will find no harm in his wife attending church services or having a Bible in the house and reading from it because he shares with her the respect for Jesus and he sees that Jesus and Muhammad are "graduates of the same school," conveying the same message and coming to work for the benefit of mankind.

On the other hand, a husband who sees Muhammad as a liar or a pseudo-prophet will not see the Qur'an as significant because he believes that it is a collection of fabrications. And he will not be supportive of his Muslim wife's observing her religious duties and wearing her hijab.

What is even more important is that when a family problem occurs, it would be easier for us as Muslims to talk to a Muslim husband, remind him of his responsibilities that are imposed on him by Islam, and ask him to fulfill such duties and responsibilities toward his wife.

          When the husband is a Muslim, then such a mission will not be difficult because an imam or a religious leader has an authority over him. Such a mission will be more difficult, of course, when the husband is a Christian or a Jew because a Muslim religious leader will have no authority over him to make him give his wife the rights that Islam gives her. Though his own religious leaders can talk to him, this may or may not end according to Islamic Laws. 

In addition, the very special relations between a husband and wife are amply explained in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Islam prohibits certain types of practices that are unhealthy; therefore, it prohibits anal sex and having intercourse when the wife has her period. A Muslim husband is bound by Islamic Shari`ah to respect such regulations and adhere to them.

Therefore, when a Muslim husband is married to a woman from the People of the Book, he will normally cause no problems because he will never require her to do these things.

But imagine if, instead of that Muslim husband, there was a non-Muslim husband and he required his Muslim wife to let him have anal sex with her. What would happen? From an Islamic viewpoint, she is not allowed to do this and thus her husband's requests will contradict her religious commitments. She will be torn apart and something serious will occur. Here, the teachings of Islam that prohibit marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim husband prove practical and very caring.

I would like to make a final point about whose religion the children will follow. Children should follow the religion that recognizes all prophets and respects all messengers. Being that religion, Islam should be the choice professed by the children. This has no relation with its being the religion of the man or the woman. Rather, it has relation with comprehensiveness and universality.

I hope this answer can give some satisfying insights to you. Please stay in touch.


Useful Links:  

Supportive Details for Interfaith Marriage

About Children of Interfaith Marriages and Gays

Building a Successful Interfaith Marriage

Seeking an Interfaith Marriage

Interfaith Marriage Rules

Why a Muslim Woman Is Not Allowed to Marry a Non-Muslim Man

Verses on interfaith Marriage: Still Binding?