Interfaith Marriage Question

Q: I notice that you and Dr. Turabi are posted on the Internet as supporting interfaith marriage. You both adduce what you deem to be proofs from the Qur'an. You have expressed in the past your great admiration for Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, yet he goes against you on this subject. In his response to a question about interfaith marriage, Dr. Abou El Fadl says that he cannot find proof by any of the scholars that support your position. How do we know you are just not concocting some story just to appear ecumenical?


A:  I still admire Dr. Abou El-Fadl as I put him in the very vanguard of eminent scholars on Islam. I have reread the article to which you refer and I am afraid you may have misinterpreted the entire issue. Dr. Abou El-Fadl is correct in stating that he did not find any dissenting views from the normative position of Muslim scholars, however, he is referring to the classical fiqh texts. And as any scholar knows -- foremost among them Dr. Abou El Fadl -- those fiqh books are based on the intellectual endeavors of HUMANS (in the case of classical works, that should be MEN). They do not claim to receive revelation, and as such, function very much as servants of their time and culture. That does not preclude the interpretation of the Qur'an in a different way as times and environments change. Indeed for us, that is one of the proofs of the miraculousness of the Qur'an: its ability to be read in a different light and reinterpreted throughout history. As we have noted, our approach is very much in line with what Dr. Fazlur Rahman calls the double reading: we read the Qur'an and apply its philosophy to life, and we take into context the people to whom it was revealed, as well as its historical and cultural context among other things.


Note that Dr. Abou El Fadl expressed astonishment at the juristic agreement on the prohibition of a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man. He was being a faithful historian and a good scholar. Note also that he left the matter up to the individual, to be made with due God-consciousness. Our position is no different; we have provided what we deem as our proofs for our interpretation of permissibility, and we always leave it up to the individuals concerned to make their final decision. If you feel that our evidence does not meet your standard, then you can simply ignore our position. Since I do not rely on any historical precedent to support my position, I don't see any "story" being peddled. The hermeneutics and process of deduction I apply are pretty evident, and in concordance with the Islamic view of the law of permissibility in all things unless God has expressly forbidden such a thing. The normative fiqh proscription of interfaith marriage is NOT based on this rule, but breaks it. The proscription is based on a nuanced reading that since God permitted the MEN to marry outside of their faith and not the women, then the case is closed. Our point is that the Qur'an was following the norms of its time where men were seen as the decision makers, and since God never detailed any prohibition for women, then we cannot read and follow the Qur'an today as one would have in seventh century Arabia. If you disagree with our position, then you are free to follow your own viewpoint or the majority opinion. Our view is that ecumenism is a part of Islam, and if that is offensive to some, then we will run the risk of offending them since our duty is to God.


Webmaster’s note: The subject of interfaith marriage is not the only controversial issue wherein we have gone against the majority opinion of Muslims scholars. Other topics include punishment in the grave, the second coming of Jesus, stoning to death, etc. For more on interfaith marriages, see our FAQ section and the referenced material.


Posted January 24, 2010