Q. I was skimming through your website which certainly has enchanted me and I came across your FAQ section and read through some questions and answers. First of all, no doubt I was impressed by the answers but this FAQ concerned me. I don’t find myself agreeing with the answer from one point. Following is my stand and concern, so please let me know if my reading of the Qur’an is not correct in anyway.

First, when referring to Muslim women not being granted the permission to marry non-Muslim men, the writer points to one of the ahadith from Tirmidhi to support that. In that hadith, there was this woman who was already married before the advent of Islam and when she became Muslim later, she was ordered by the Prophet to leave her non-Muslim husband. I don’t accept this hadith which is attributed to the Prophet. Second, for further support from the Qur’an, the writer quoted half of the verse of 60:10 with regards to the refugee women as to not return them back to their disbelieving husbands, and that they are not lawful to them anymore. I do not find myself agreeing with the author’s interpretation of the verse; I feel it has been taken out of context. The author though has given a very thorough and acceptable answer overall to the question, but he has not done full justice in this special stance.

My reading of the Qur’an suggests the following (bold is mine):

Verse 2:221 (Pickthall): “...and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe…”

Verse 60:10 (Pickthall): “O ye who believe! When believing women come unto you as fugitives, examine them. Allah is Best Aware of their faith. Then, if ye know them for true believers, send them not back unto the disbelievers. They are not lawful for them (the disbelievers), nor are they (the disbelievers) lawful for them...”

Many people take verse 2:221 as also referring to People of the Book and state therefore that one cannot marry People of the Book because they shirk too. Let’s accept that as is for this moment (which I know the author does not and I agree with the author). First as per my reading, Q2:221 refers to only those women who were not married before and were already Muslims before even their marriage. From that stance, this verse does not apply to those who were already married before being a Muslim and only became Muslim sometime after their marriage to a non-Muslim, with whom they may even have children while not Muslim.

Second, again as per my reading, verse 60:10 refers to those women who are fugitives. If we look into the literal meaning of fugitive, we find that it means those who are escapees, runaways, etc. Why would a woman, after becoming a Muslim, wish to run away from her non-Muslim husband and perhaps leave her children whom she bore with him, especially if the husband does not oppress her? No women would, unless and only unless they are harmed, oppressed, and tortured.

Having said that, verse 60:10 to me suggests that it is only with regards to those women who are being oppressed and therefore came running to have shelter under the Prophet’s umbrella, and hence they themselves would not wish to go back, are the ones the Qur’an states not to return them because those husbands (who are oppressors) are not lawful anymore to them.

If my reading is correct, which I feel it is, then the hadith mentioned from Tirmidhi is also false as the Prophet Muhammad would be the best interpreter of the verses of the Qur’an than any other. The problem lies with us. Many lives have been destroyed and homes have been shattered because of this issue of marriage. There were loving and caring non-Muslim husbands (who had over 50% chance to see the light of Islam and become Muslim too through their wives if the ties were not broken by the Mullahs). Such husbands were abandoned or wives eventually gave up Islam for its harsh dictation and children were snatched or labeled haramed. Who could live through such dilemmas? What was their crime? Only that they became Muslims? What a huge price to pay? But doesn’t the Qur’an state that Allah has put no hardship in the religion, and that to give glad tidings and not let them run away?

A. Thank you for your observations. Actually, you will note that the date for the posting was in 1994, and there has been an update since. Regarding the observations you made: the issue of tafsir is based on sound common sense (which you certainly demonstrate) among other things. One of those things is also a reliable knowledge of the sitz im leben, as well as vocabulary. When this is not there, it could lead to unintentional errors. For example, you refer to Pickthall's version of Q2:221. What word in the verse may we translate as "daughters"? This is his interpretation; rather the word is "laa tunkihu" -- do not give in marriage to the polytheists. It assumes based on the practice of the time that men were in charge. It has nothing to do with distinction between women of the tribe and daughters (and by translating it as daughters, Pickthall allowed for a Hanafi interpretation which, knowingly or unknowingly, you seem to follow in this case).

Regarding Q60:10, I agree with all that you state for the most part. But the word muhajir does not only mean refugee -- it could simply mean someone who wishes to emigrate. Yet in context, refugee could be a meaning. Given that, it states: "and if you know them to be believers, then send them not back to the kufar." In the case of Zeinab's marriage to al-Aas, she had come to the Prophet Muhammad. And given the part of the verse that I just quoted, the Prophet would have, on examination of his adult daughter, found her to be a Muslim, and could not, by Qur’anic imperative, send her back to a kafir who was at war with the Muslims (her husband was fighting against the Muslims). Now it is true that the hadith may be forged, but to establish this, we must also establish (since we cannot find fault with its chain) that it is against the Qur'an, or the spirit of the Qur’an. We cannot do this, and so cannot reject the hadith on the basis that it seems to go against the Qur’an, for a full study of the verses show that it does not. I would agree, however, that we are speaking of kufar who were at war with Islam, which is different to a situation where there is NO war declared because of religious reasons, for then, the covenants made with those parties would have to be respected. Until that time, the Prophet had allowed her to stay with her husband; when there was war, and when she came to the Muslims to give her mother's bangle as ransom, she spoke to her father, now in the capacity of a Muslim woman whose husband and his tribe were at war with the Muslims -- in which case, her father had to follow the Qur’anic rule.

The hadith scenario, therefore, fulfills the Qur’anic stipulation of prohibiting the return of the muhajir to the Muslims. Do note too that in her case, the concept of muhajir was fulfilled linguistically. She was a Meccan, and the battle was at Badr. The point about a woman running away for her husband, etc., is well taken, but it is also possible that if her husband denies her new religion, fights against it, vilifies her, and teases her based on her conviction, she may choose to walk out. After all, the Qur'an does tell us that children, etc., under circumstances, could be a test. We are not justifying leaving children behind; we are simply stating that the depth of a woman's conviction could make the choice seem rather easy, religion over kin. How many Muslim converts to Islam have not given up their parents, etc.? And similarly, converts to Christianity have broken ties with their families.

The last paragraph of your question is to be taken in a contemporary context, for in medieval times, marriage meant more than just the creation of a family: it also had to do with clans, etc. In today's world, your suggestion is cogent: unless there is a situation where the wife is being belittled and denied, one should not seek to break a marriage, conducted wherein both parties respect each other, regardless of religion. Just a point: like you, I often quote that Allah has not created hardship in religion. But if you read in context, you will see that the verse is in regards to fasting: itself a difficult thing in certain circumstances. It is that same God who tells us that we must be witnesses for God, even against our parents. That latter one is a difficulty, understood by the verse that God does not tax anyone beyond his/her ability. I am trying to point out that "hardship and difficulty" are not to be avoided because they are problematic. Sometimes they are, and we have to face them, which is why there were martyrs, etc.

Fazlur Rahman's methodology states that the Qur’an never claimed its laws are permanent and that situations dictate judgments. Most scholars disagree stating that the rule only applies to non-Qur’anic rulings. Anyway, we have to be careful that we do not IMPOSE twenty-first century ideas when reading a seventh century text. I truly thank you for your observations and the fact that you drew to my attention that the article needs to be updated. Let me reiterate that along with your view, I feel that there is no need to end a marriage where there is respect, regardless of religious differences, on the sole condition that both parties agree not to force the other to convert, or disparage the other's religion.  We have evolved from the time when male values alone governed society, and it is time that we bring into play that which promotes harmony and pluralism.

Posted September 23, 2005