Q: I have read several responses to your permission of interfaith marriage. Many say that you are a fringe academic, do not know Islamic Law, do not know that a child must follow its father's religion, associate with Irshad Manji, and do other things that are not right. How do you respond to these claims?

A: In the first place, this website mentions my qualifications. Anyone can google my name and find my place of employment as well as contact the universities from which I graduated. You will note that those who say I am unqualified never tell you THEIR qualifications; that ought to be enough to raise some questions about them. Rather they use some unsavory terms to describe me. I can use the same towards them, but would rather keep the discussion to the topic at hand. If someone wants to debunk my proof, then do with the appropriate evidence, detailed and focused.

In the second place, what they mean by "fringe academic" is beyond me. I publish in academic journals and present at conferences. I have done so in several countries. I have taught and delivered papers at the headquarters of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Virginia for several summers. I have presented a paper and had it published by the 2009 OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) in Azerbaijan. I have had articles published in "Islamic Studies", a Muslim journal from Pakistan. I associate with Muslims that I respect in my city. In spite of all that I have said, even if I WERE a fringe academic (I presume to mean that I work solely within ivory towers), that would not make my views wrong, would it? As I noted, debunk my views with proof, not express opinions about my person.

In the third place, I am a specialist in Islamic Law, and the Qur’an says that God has detailed what he has forbidden. This means that everything in the category of "haraam" must be clear and indubitably so. We have no such verse on intermarriage with males from the “People of the Book.” We cannot assume that simply because the Qur’an does not mention it means that it is expressly forbidden.

In the fourth place, the Qur’an says: "If it is said to them, follow what God has revealed, they say we follow that upon which we found our fathers following. What! Even if their fathers did not think, nor were rightly guided!" While we do agree that for administrative reasons based on a bygone era, some governments may consider a child to follow its father's religion; this has nothing to do with actuality – a child has the right to choose. Religion is not that which is imposed upon a child; that would be coercion. For us too, we focus on righteousness as the criterion of Islam, rather than nomenclature. If a person claims to be a Muslim and does wrong, we feel that a non-Muslim scriptuary who does right is better, based on Q2:62.

In the fifth place, if religion were the reason for prohibition, then we would not be allowed to marry the women of the “People of the Book”, since they remain in their religion (the Qur’an says nothing about them converting to Islam). As for those who insist on their conversion, we say that this is in violation of the Qur'an which states that there is no coercion in religion. Besides, if they converted, they would no longer be "People of the Book" from another path, the Qur’anic verses would be meaningless, and it would also be going against the Qur'an and denying them their rights.

In the sixth place, I have endorsed Irshad Manji's book because I agree with her premise that we must examine the cherished traditions of Islam. It does not mean that she and I always agree with each other. And if my association with her somehow makes me a bad Muslim, then so be it. I will not allow others to dictate for me which Islam is good or bad and what interpretation I must follow. I have studied for many years and make my judgment based on my training.

Finally, I don't know what they mean by "things that are not right." If by that they mean that I associate with non-Muslims, then so too did the Prophet. If they wish to be triumphalist, then I really do not want to be part of whatever faith they see as the one and only true religion. I give my opinions based on my training in Islamic Law. I have studied my religion (Islam) and other religions, a qualification that most of my opponents do not have. My words are directed to people who think. My colleague and I at this website presume that our views are provided for reflection. We do not blindly follow any imam, for they were, like us, mortals and could err. We do not issue verdicts as such, for in the end, everyone is answerable to God on an individual basis. May God guide us to the right path, ameen.

Posted July 10, 2011