Interfaith Marriage (Frequently Asked Questions)

We have received many questions about interfaith marriages. Indications are that there is a higher divorce rate among interfaith couples compared to marriages between Muslim couples. Regardless of gender, we encourage Muslims to marry within their faith and only resort to an interfaith marriage after all options to find a compatible Muslim spouse have been exhausted. Having said that, we are also aware that some Muslims have found happiness with non-Muslim spouses, an ingredient that was missing when they tried relationships with Muslims. Below are some common questions and answers that we have addressed before:

1) What are the links at your website that deal with interfaith marriages?

 - The links at our website on the subject are:

Interfaith Marriage Fatwa

Qualifications and Affiliations

Interfaith Marriage Question

Marriage to non-Muslims

Clarification on interfaith marriage

Additional interfaith exchanges

2) Does the shari'ah explicitly state that marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is not allowed?

- We have to differentiate between "shari'ah" and "fiqh". The first is an abstract, the latter is based on decisions reached by human judges, as it literally means "understanding." The traditional understanding, based on exegetical warpings of the verses prohibiting marriage to "polytheists", is that marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is not allowed. These interpretations do not take into consideration that times and mores have changed, and that wives nowadays have influence and rights that would have been unthinkable only a century ago.

3) Will an interfaith marriage be valid and will the children of that marriage (e.g., a Muslim woman to a Christian man) be considered illegitimate?

- In our interpretation, as long as both parties do not coerce each other in matters of faith, there is love and respect, and there is no compulsion in religiosity, then the marriage is valid and the children are legitimate. What sin have the children committed? We do highly recommend a prenuptial agreement in which the parties agree that there will be no religious coercion, how any children will be raised, if there will be pets, alcohol, and pork in the home, etc.

4) Are there any other Imams who subscribe to your views on interfaith marriages, and is a traditional nikah ceremony still required?

- The majority of Muslims believe that the Qur'an's guidelines are immutable, so they take the traditional position of Muslim men being allowed to marry women from the "People of the Book" but not vice versa. There are a few scholars / Imams who subscribe to our views on interfaith marriage. Since a traditional nikah ceremony is usually done only when both the bride and groom are Muslim, Dr. Mohammed's position is that a civil ceremony in the State or country of residence meets all legal / religious requirements (including Islamic).

5) In your interfaith discussion, you allow marriages with Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. One may buy your concept regarding Jews and Christians as "People of the Book", but the other religious groups present a problem as they are not referenced in the Qur'an and may even qualify as idol worshippers. What is your justification for permitting marriages with these religious groups?

- Restricting the definition of "People of the Book" to Jews and Christians only is clearly erroneous since the Qur'an does acknowledge that revelations were sent to other people. Muslim thinkers have for centuries acknowledged that there are others who fall within the fold of "People of the Book", which is why the Zoroastrians have a special status. Do note that the contemporaries of the Prophet could only relate the revelation to their surroundings and their circumstances. If you wish to read the Qur'an that way, then you also have to restrict yourself to living by the standards of the Hijaz during the seventh century.

When it comes to Hindus, you might benefit from learning more about them and their religion before issuing such sweeping judgments. Check out what the "Nirguna Brahman" concept is. If you are so strongly defensive of monotheism, it is possible that this interpretation might be very attractive to you since it is even more rigid than the normative Islamic interpretation on unicity.
Regarding Sikhs, their theology, while it may apparently differ from Islamic constructs in some ways, acknowledges a single divine beyond description. There are mystic aspects that, because of the inherent nature of mysticism, might seem problematic for many. That is akin to Sufi mysticism that is very much a part of Islam. Finally, as for Buddhists, they do not deny the existence of a god. Buddhism simply focuses on what is here, and is very much a reaction to the Hindu concept of the divine of the Siddharta Gautama's time. Buddhism does not advocate that if God is proven, one has to deny it. The Noble Eightfold path is very much in keeping with Islamic perspectives.

6) You speak of Muslim women being permitted to marry people of other faiths, but what about a Muslim woman marrying an atheist while retaining her faith?

- While the norm is that one speaks of Islam as an institution with laws and regulations, the fact is that every Muslim must make his / her decision regarding life based on a personal perception of the Divine. An atheist is not a kafir (i.e., one who believes that God exists but arrogantly denies His existence), for the latter is by logic prohibited from marrying a Muslim, while an atheist simply says that there is no evidence that allows for the acceptance of the God idea. To know and reject is not the same as to make knowledge contingent upon evidence. If one wants to be very Bibliocentric, one may state that the only prohibition in the Qur'an is against polytheists. We answer based only upon our perception, while acknowleding that other Muslim scholars will opine differently.

7) Who are some of the jurists that opine that the marriage is permissible given that the woman will not change her religion and the children will be raised as Muslims?

- The jurists who allow permission will all be moderates and / or intellectuals, and Dr. Mohammed is one of them. The matter is rather new so you would have to do independent research on others. The position of all jurists who subscribe to the "maqasid al shari'ah" approach is that such a marriage is allowable, and among them is the famous contemporary Shaykh Abdallah bin Baya. Regardless, our view is that a correct position is not determined by the plurality of subscribers, but by the cogency of the argument.

8) Does Dr. Mohammed perform interfaith marriages, and is he licensed to officiate at marriages that are within the Islamic faith as well as interfaith?

- Dr. Mohammed is licensed to officiate marriages within the US only. Due to his teaching schedule and frequent lecture commitments, which involves travel on many occasions, Dr. Mohammed might be available to perform marriages on a case by case basis depending on his availability. He lives in San Diego, California and should he agree to perform any marriages, the requesting parties will have to cover the costs such as his fees, travel, lodging, meals, etc.

9) Does Dr. Mohammed perform marriages via the phone, i.e., remotely?

- Given the negative aspects of telephone marriages, and the fact that they may sometimes involve transnational parties, and we cannot verify that such marriages are without coercion, ulterior motives, etc., Dr. Mohammed does not perform such marriages nor does he endorse them.

10) Some imams (priests) say that a civil ceremony in Islam is haram (prohibited) and the only legitimate marriage for a Muslim is a nikah ceremony, what is your response?

- You may wish to inform the imams who gave you such advice that the ruling of haram is reached by scriptural guidance since the Qur'an says: "...And He has clearly detailed what He has forbidden unto you." In ALL of Islam's legal history, the marriage has been regarded as a contract, something that is enforceable by the State's rules and regulations. For this reason, imams performing the nikah ceremony have combined it with the signing of the marriage license. Incidentally, the concept of "aqd al nikah" simply means "a contract of marriage." This is precisely what a civil marriage is. The recitation of the Qur'an, etc. simply adds an Islamic touch, but the contract is nonetheless valid. For this reason, in Islamic law, the rulings come from jurists and qualified qadis (judges), not from "imams," the title signifying simply those who lead the prayer, and not people who are qualified to judge. For this reason, the Qur'an asks: "Are those who know equal to those who do not know?" The Qur'an also asks: "Do they not think?"

Posted October 28, 2006