Q. I stumbled upon your site in my quest for the truth. There are a great number of questions I have for you, but for now I'll keep to this one infuriatingly ambiguous topic: Muslim women and interfaith marriages.

The issue is close and personal to my heart as I am a woman wanting to marry my best friend who is Catholic. He believes in the trinity which is concerning to me because some claim that it is shirk and completely violates Q2:221. However, he and Christians all around the world are adamant that it's one God. Q5:73 states that those who believe God is a third of a three have a painful punishment due to them, which I assume is hell. Q2:62 states that those who believe in Allah and do good deeds are due heaven, but many people tell me it's belief in ONE God, and the trinity negates that. They say it means any Christian who follows that ideology is not among those God refers to in Q2:62, so that's a concern in itself.

Some of my other concerns are as follows (and I have read what you have posted on your site, but my points are different than what is already posted):

Women in Islam, from what I've read and heard since I was a child, are second class citizens. Sure, we're treated better in the Qur’an than our Jewish and Christian counterparts are in their scripture. BUT there is still the issue of verses such as Q4:34 stating that men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other. While I do not doubt that IN GENERAL men are physically superior, intellectually that is not the case. Why would God say such a thing? Why make me a second class citizen like that?

Then there's Q2:228 claiming that men have a degree over them (women). Why? Why not give us equal status? God awards equal status in Islam to everyone regardless of the color of their skin. So why not their gender? Am I so low because God himself saw fit to not give me the Y chromosome? So it was my great misfortune to be born a woman?

Q2:223 states I cannot refuse my husband. What if I am sick or tired or simply not in the mood? I'm to submit myself to what in the Western world would be nothing short of rape?

Q53:27, what's so bad about naming the angels female names? Why is being female an insult? Without a female, how would anyone propagate?

What about the verse allowing men to strike their wives? What if your HUSBAND is the one who is not being dutiful and he needs to be put in his place. Why does nothing pertain to that?

What if a Muslim woman is rich enough to provide for multiple men and his motherless children? Can she marry more than once and be the children's caretaker and provider?

What of the woman's right to initiate divorce? What of her rights to child custody? She loses her children at 7 years old.

And then there is the hadith, which I personally take with a grain of salt because you cannot be sure of the veracity. However, the hadith is rife with blatant sexism. I find it hard to believe that the Prophet would have such a terrible opinion of women. At the same time from what I've read of Aisha, I cannot see how such an outspoken, intelligent female would say what she is reported to have said about women being given an inferior status, and how the believing women are suffering more than the other women.

I bring up these points not to be difficult, but for the following reasons:

People say that Islam guarantees women certain rights which Judaism and Christianity do not. They say that I am protected during divorce proceedings, etc. That while God asks me to obey my Muslim husband he does not wish for me to be in the place of obeying a non-Muslim. They say I am weak and will give up my religion, and will my children to grow up as non-Muslims. They use these as reasons why Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men in the eyes of God. In the Western world I have just as many rights as a man. But the issue is what AM I in the eyes of God?

If God has said many times that I am inferior, and that he has made these rules to protect me, then are the naysayers true? Am I to not marry outside of Islam? Because the idea is gender equality allows the same marriage privileges to me as a man, correct? No, incorrect, because Islam is not about gender equality. Islam is about granting women bare minimum rights while still maintaining that the man is to be respected, feared, admired, and obeyed.

If Islam is indeed a complete and true religion, and is meant to guide us for all of eternity, then why did God say such things about women? He knew there would come a time when we would be considered equals in many parts of the world.

Or was he aware of this, and expecting this to be the case he purposely did NOT prohibit us from marrying People of the Book. Is that why he spoke to both men and women in Q2:221, but left women out of Q5:5? At the time it would have caused major chaos if women had been expressly allowed to do so because their non-Muslim husbands would not have respected their rights, which is not the case today. So did God in his infinite wisdom leave that open for us, or did he expressly give men that right and not women?

I read an article about this on which someone had commented that as a lawyer, he was certain that God only granted this right to men. Apparently jurisprudence holds that: XYZ is mentioned in a law, but if ABC is not mentioned, therefore XYZ is allowed, but ABC is not since ABC was not included in that law. I know nothing of law so I don't quite know what to make of that.

There are many instances where non-Muslim men convert to be with Muslim women. I used to scoff at those couples because I doubted the man's devotion to God. I saw it as him converting for her and not God. Being in the same position myself I pray and wish he would convert. I am ashamed to say I resorted to tears and all sorts of pleas. He's adamant that he loves God in his way, in his religion. I respect that now, and I'm not trying to change that. I find it unfair that these men have to convert at all. God grants non-Muslim women the right to marry and practice their religion free of any pressure from the Muslim husbands. Does the man not have that right? Is it because he is the man? How many cases of domestic abuse happen daily where women are the aggressors against men? How many men have been raped by women? Who is standing up for their rights?

What's most disturbing is that according to the Quran, if this Catholic man were my slave, I could live with him for all my life and nothing would be considered "haram." That's IN the Quran 24:31. But if I wish to marry him and give him a status as my partner and the father of my children, somehow THAT is wrong.

I am at a loss at times to explain these discrepancies between what I see to be true morally versus religiously. Please help me.

A. Thanks for your observations. Let me at the very beginning point out that our perception of the Qur'an may differ from many of our coreligionists. We feel that historical, anthropological, and other approaches cannot be overlooked. Many a Muslim has pointed out that the Qur’an is a document situated in history, and among them are intellectuals such as Fazlur Rahman and Nasr Abu Zayd. ALL Abrahamic scriptures are subject to this "time-place" factor, therefore representing values and mores of the medieval and pre-medieval Middle East. They are NOT meant to be seen as immutable laws, but rather derivations that are to be examined in terms of cause. For this reason, jurists have the term "illa" or ratiocination, wherein a law is examined for the reason that brought it into being. So for example, the witness of two women has nothing to do with any innate intellectual weakness on the part of woman qua woman, but rather woman qua medieval Arab woman. The society the Qur'an is addressing was one wherein men and women had established roles: women being the homemakers and men being the breadwinners who engaged in trade, etc. It was therefore presumed that in such a situation, a man would typically have the capability to read and write, while a woman would not. Other researchers in other religions have approached the androcentrism of the Abrahamic texts too: among them, Professor Judith Plaskow in her book "Standing Again at Sinai."

The Christianity that the Qur’an speaks about is one of tritheism, and you ought to make some effort to understand THAT Christianity rather than to assume that the Qur’an is addressing ALL forms of Christianity. How could that even be possible when researchers agree that there is no ONE Christianity? We have already addressed the issue of interfaith marriage at our website, and suggest that you read up on that rather than seek to do atomistic readings of the Qur'an. But where in the Qur’an do you find that Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim believers of God? The verses people use in this context speak of "mushrikeen" or polytheists. The Qur’an CANNOT be speaking of Christians since it has 2:62, and then allows marriage to Christian women. As we have noted elsewhere, the Qur’an does NOT have to tell you what is allowed, for then it would be an endless volume. However it can tell you what is forbidden, and so, to those who do NOT allow such marriages, the onus is on them to produce a clear verse of prohibition from the Qur'an.

Your reference to jurisprudence brings up a reason that I have never heard from a bona fide jurist, nor one that I find in Islamic jurisprudence or any approach to law. If the Qur’an does allow something, it is because the permissibility of such a thing has been questioned, or needs clarification. But for this, we take all things as permitted unless there is a clear prohibition in the text. Silence on a matter does not equate to prohibition.

You cited Q24:31 out of context; that is a reference to a SLAVE, not a spouse, and as we noted earlier, something that was specific to the Arabia of the Prophet's time. No person of ethics and spirituality nowadays has slaves. The way to read the Qur’an is via what Fazlur Rahman calls the double movement theory: try to understand history, see the rationale behind certain rules and regulations, then realize that the Qur’an is not a law book but a guide to living, and then act in accordance with good ethics as shown in Q2:177. We suggest that you take another look at the website and browse / search for some more insightful information on the issues that you raised as they are addressed in more detail, and we wish you all the best.

Posted June 13, 2015