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IslamQA: Why Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslims

Why are Muslim men allowed to marry a non-Muslim but Muslim women are not allowed?

One theory is due to genetic and psychological differences between men and women, Muslim men will be better able to  remain practicing Muslims and to bring up devout Muslim children even if their wives are Christian or Jewish, while Muslim women will be less likely to accomplish these.

Scientific studies are needed to prove whether the above is true, but it seems to be true from anecdotal evidence. It is probably true that some Muslim women will be perfectly capable of remaining practicing Muslims and bringing up practicing Muslim children when married to non-Muslims, but these will be the exceptions, not the rule. It is similar to drinking wine; some people are able to enjoy it without becoming drunkards, but Islam forbids it to all Muslims since this is better for everyone. So that fact that I or you can drink wine without it causing us noticeable harm does not mean that it is halal for us and haram for others. It is haram for everyone.

If Muslim women who are married to non-Muslims are twice as likely to stop practicing Islam compared to Muslim women married to Muslim husbands, and/or if their children are twice as likely to abandon Islam, then these can be considered sufficient justification for prohibiting it.

So in this case, as in the case of wine-drinking, a person has to refrain from it for the sake of the greater good.

There might be many other reasons for forbidding such marriages, I’m mentioning only two potential explanations.

In Islam, everything is allowed unless explicitly forbidden. In the matter of sex, however, the Quran reverses matters; everything is forbidden, as numerous verses say, unless explicitly allowed. The Quran commands the believers to “guard their privates” (abstain from sex) in five places (23:5, 24:30, 24:31, 33:35, 70:29), then in the contexts of two of these verses it makes exceptions for cases of lawful relationships (23:6, 70:30). The picture that the Quran draws is that all sexual activity is forbidden, except when it is expressly allowed. Since the Quran expressly allows men to marry non-Muslim women belonging to God’s other religions, while it does not expressly allow women to do its counterpart, this can be considered strong evidence for considering the latter forbidden.

Those who want to legalize marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men say that such marriages are in a gray area, even though they are not expressly allowed, they are not expressly forbidden either. The reasoning offered by such people is that it is in the best interests of Muslim women to be allowed to marry outside the faith, that this is more likely to ensure their long-term good, and that the prohibition may have made sense in certain societies, but does not make sense in Western-style diverse and multi-religious societies.

But as I mentioned above, if such women and their potential children are more likely to abandon Islam, then that is a very good reason for prohibiting such marriages, and it is a weak argument to say that it is materially better for women to marry outside the faith if their spiritual and eternal life is harmed by this.

Islam is not forced on people, so a Muslim woman should be free to marry outside the faith from a civic law perspective, so it is ultimately a matter between the woman and God. Marriage is one of the most important decisions in life, and a Muslim woman who truly fears God and wishes to please Him will never base her marriage on what is at best in a gray area, since she cannot be sure if God will be pleased with her.

Reader question

I am in no hurry to get married anytime soon, and when I do decide to get married I value Islam so much I’d definitely marry in Islam but in the instances I’ve read that you spoke about out of Islam marriage concerning women you are dismissive about it. (Part 1)

You even called it prohibited even though you previously called it a gray area. Growing up I didn’t even know out of Islam marriage was allowed for Muslim women and I think girls deserve to know that it’s not haram (even if it’s better not to) (part 2)

I think it’s a traditional thing that people are unwilling to let go of so they miseducate girls on it which isn’t just unfair but in the long run only makes things worse. This quote “And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al‑Mushrikoon till they believe (in Allaah Alone) and verily, a believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater), even though he pleases (part 3)

you. Those (Al-Mushrikoon) invite you to the Fire, but Allaah invites (you) to Paradise and forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they may remember” is common for saying Muslim women can’t marry non Muslim men but (Al-mushrikoon) is polytheist and men marrying polytheist women is ALSO not allowed (part 4)

And do not marry Al-Mushrikaat (idolatresses) till they believe (worship Allaah Alone). And indeed a slave woman who believes is better than a (free) Mushrikah (idolatress), even though she pleases you” Since the polytheist example doesn’t make marrying non Muslim women haram it also can’t make marrying non Muslim men haram. (Part 5)

Hii, the women cant marry non Muslim men anon. I totally get that since in Jewish/Christian households men have higher authorities in families which is why it’s easier for a woman to be influenced by a mans religion I just think that it’s miseducating how people just refer to it as prohibited (like drinking alcohol) even though it isn’t actually explicitly haram and could be argued for

There’s no evidence from the qur’an that states It’s haram for Muslim women to marry non Muslim and since it is clearly not haram for men and not clearly haram for women, women are “forbidden” from marrying non Muslim men shouldn’t be used. Also Christian/Jewish men and women are both Christians, and if a woman isn’t considered mushrikaat a man isn’t mushrikeen either. (Part 7)

Another excuse is that men have bigger roles and the woman’s sense of religion is weak so he will make her change but that’s misogynistic and I’m not “historically localizing” it because it wasn’t in the qur’an to begin with. The fact that It was specifically stated that marrying mushrikeens for both genders is haram but Muslim women not being haram to marry non Muslim men wasn’t stated shows it’s not haram. (Part 8)

The idea that only men can marry out of Islam needs to go but that doesn’t mean it can’t be voiced that it isn’t recommended for neither men nor women to marry out of Islam. (By non Muslim I mean Christians/jews) (last part, so sorry this was long) hope u’r doing well!!!

The idea that only men can marry out of Islam needs to go but that doesn’t mean it can’t be voiced that it isn’t recommended for neither men nor women to marry out of Islam. (By non Muslim I mean Christians/jews) (last part, so sorry this was long) hope u’r doing well!!!

The Quran originally prohibits all marriage with mushriks (those who assign partners to God, does not mean merely polytheist). a mushrik is any person who believes in God in their hearts but is not happy to submit to Him and follow Him. Their submission is divided between Him and other things, in this way they “assign partners to God”. A mushrik can be a Muslim who out of the desire to appear modern and liberal throws away the Quran and says Islam should only be about ethical and spiritual things.

The Quran, in another places, says that Muslim men can marry Jewish and Christian women as you mentioned.

On the one hand, marrying mushriks is not allowed. On the other, men marrying Jews and Christians is allowed. The case of a Muslim woman marrying a Jew or Christian is a bit ambiguous because Jews and Christians are not mushriks, at least not all of them. But since the Quran mentions only the permissibility of Muslim men marrying Jews and Christians, this has been taken to mean that Muslim women cannot marry Jews and Christians.

Islam functions according to democratic consensus (as I discuss in this essay). No one is forcing a particular interpretation on you or on anyone else in most societies. You are free to try to gather evidence and maybe write a paper or book defending your opinion. And people are free to either agree with it or reject it. Since most people are unable to judge religious debates on their own (due to their lack of scholarly training), they have to go by what their favorite scholars and preachers say. So anyone who tries to change or reform a part of Islam should make an effort to convince the scholars. If your argument is intelligent and well-supported enough by the evidence that it can convince a few respected scholars, then that can be considered a valid alternative to the majority opinion. But if out of 100,000 (or however many) scholars and researchers you cannot convince even a single one that your opinion is valid, then Islam’s democratic consensus decides that the opinion is invalid.

So like I have said, even if a Muslim woman’s marrying a Jew or Christian is in something of a “gray area”, that is sufficient for pious Muslim women to avoid it. They would not want to build the most important part of their lives on something that is a in a gray area and that is universally considered forbidden by the scholars.

Maybe future generations will think differently about it, and maybe they will not. Many women are willing to accept the justifications offered for the prohibition, even if a few do not accept them. We should not say that these tradition-accepting women are ignorant or mis-educated. Women have as much right to to be conservatives as they have to be liberals. It is common to pathologize conservative women by saying they lack education or are not intelligent enough to be liberals. But the same attack can be used on liberals; maybe liberals lack the proper religious upbringing and the proper spirituality to be conservatives. My point is that if you find that most women tend to disagree with you, you should be willing to accept their opinion at least as equal to yours.

We should learn to transcend the Western argument between conservatives and liberals, where each side dehumanizes the other. Only if we respect the human dignity of those who disagree with us can we consider ourselves enlightened and civilized.

My first criterion for deciding whether an intellectual is respectable is if they respect those who disagree with them. Richard Dawkins likes to demonize the biologists who disagree with him (on issues like group selection), so he is not very respectable. But the evolutionary biologist David Sloane Wilson respects those who disagree with him, so I have great admiration for him even if I disagree with him on many things.

And God knows best.
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