Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

So Long as He’s a Muslim

My post about a Jewish-Muslim couple apparently warrants some clarification. You seem to support interfaith marriage, a very polite email reads. Would you ever marry a Jew? It’s interesting that this question is raised, because I often tease my parents about what sort of partner they would approve of. My father laughs at my barrage of silly questions and replies, “so long as he’s a Muslim”. I’ve always taken that to be the bare minimum.

But I know too that racial barriers are a problem in many families. In fact, it’s not just a problem in Muslim families. A good friend of mine – not a Muslim, but of a very traditional background - is distraught because she wants to marry a man her parents disapprove of. They share the same faith and are both very decent individuals, but her boyfriend is of a different cultural and racial background. I find it hard to understand her parents’ stance, because to me, racial, ethnic and cultural differences are irrational grounds for rejecting someone. This understanding seems to be in keeping with societal norms.

I was recently speaking with one of my professors about Jewish-Muslim tensions in the community, and he lamented the lack of engagement on either side. “We’ll only get past the impasse of Jewish-Muslim tensions when Jews and Muslims start marrying each other,” my professor stated. These days, interfaith marriages are cause for celebration. A couple’s love strong enough to overcome petty religious differences - it’s the classic love story. Many do not understand why religion should keep two people from marrying each other. I tried to explain to my professor that for most religious Muslims and Jews, this idea would be preposterous, not because we are racist and hate each other - though some from each camp certainly do - but because both Muslim and Jewish religious beliefs place great emphasis on marrying within the faith.

The Quran stipulates that Muslims should not marry unbelievers. But the Quran does make an allowance for marriage to People of the Book. Men are allowed to marry pious Jewish or Christian women, though women cannot marry non-Muslim men. There are scholars who interpret this gender-specific instruction as a reflection of societal norms at the time. Nevertheless, many imams typically advise against interfaith marriages – for both men and women. I believe there are good reasons for doing so.

I should note at the outset that interfaith relationships are perfectly fine for some couples. If you do not practice your faith, you aren’t likely to have any trouble marrying someone who has different beliefs because these beliefs will not directly affect your life. But if you’re deeply religious - if religion is of primacy in your life - you will not marry outside the faith. Not because you’re racist or prejudiced, but because you believe your religion is inseparable from your identity and your lifestyle. Non-religious individuals do the same thing. If you’re a strong Conservative, you will not likely marry an individual who’s gung-ho about the NDP. Similarly, religious Muslims will look for someone with a similar commitment to their faith.

On a practical level, there can be great difficulties living in an interfaith marriage. There will be quarrels over religious differences, starting with where to hold the marriage ceremony: A church? A mosque? A synagogue? And will one partner be compromising her faith by participating in a religious ceremony that is not her own?

Then, how will you raise your children? The children of these unions have to be raised within Islam, regardless of whether or not one spouse is of a different faith. It is very difficult to create an Islamic home if one spouse is not a Muslim. This needs to be discussed thoroughly by the couple before they decide to marry. And I do not believe in the fanciful talk of “letting your children decide”. Muslims are obligated to impart knowledge and guidance to their children at a young age; parents are to teach their children how to live Muslim lives. Moreover, Islam places a strong emphasis on practice in conjunction with belief. How can a parent be expected to sacrifice his own beliefs and practices just to allow his children choice? Regardless of whether or not children are taught their faith, there comes a time when they are old enough to decide for themselves whether to continue on the path of Islam or meander away. And at that time, parents have little control over their children’s choices. But in the meantime, it is their duty to create an Islamic home.

So the short answer is that I myself would never get into an interfaith arrangement; it would be unthinkable to me because my religion is such a vital part of who I am. And I believe that individuals who are most passionate about their faith will likewise not marry outside of it. But is this cause to lose hope? I do not believe so. Interfaith marriages may ease tensions among some Jews and Muslims, but I believe that real and lasting change will arise when those who are deeply committed to their faith and their community are nevertheless willing to actively engage with the other side.


  • At 5/11/2005 02:39:00 p.m., Blogger dawud al-gharib said…

    thanks for your comments - I would echo those, and have some additional thoughts about whom i might marry, as more than just nominal muslim status is required - mu'minah, insha Allah ;)

    well put
    ma' Salaamah

  • At 5/11/2005 04:50:00 p.m., Blogger cncz said…

    as a white girl who has seen many of her white girl sisters go the way of the interfaith marriage, all I can say to those considering "staying Christian" and marrying that nice Moroccan/Egyptian/Whatever brother is convert or don't. It's too hard, and someone having a religious revival down the road only leads to a second wife or divorce. I'm all for intercultural marriages though, as evidenced by the fact that I married Nice Husband. I just think religion is the foundation when all else fails. When the love is gone, you fear God more than you fear another human being.

  • At 5/12/2005 02:59:00 a.m., Anonymous Rachel Ann said…

    I agree with you Safiyyah (and your father's comment, though "as long as s/he is a Jew". And if you state these beliefs people accuse you of "hating" those of a different religion. But to me who is a person but what they believe? What they hold sacred and holy? I've never seen racial background or other issues as important (though there are complications to marrying someone who is culturally and ehtnically different from you--but with love these can be worked out). But ones faith? How one sees oneself before and with G-d? That is forever.

    According to Jewish law, a child born to a Jewish woman is Jewish--- I think it is the opposite in the Muslim faith--- and perhaps explains somewhat the Quaran allows men to marry but not women to marry out of their faith (Jewish law never

  • At 5/12/2005 04:31:00 a.m., Blogger ephphatha said…

    What a disappointment, Safiyyah! I agree with you, though. Christians aren't supposed to marry non-Christains either. But I think that even if the Bible or the Quran said nothing about it, it would still be a bad idea to marry outside the faith for the practical reasons you mentioned.

    The was a Muslim girl in one of my philosophy classes a couple of years ago, and I thought about asking her out. I didn't do it, though, because I heard Muslims girls don't date Christian guys. But then again, I wasn't supposed to date her either.

  • At 5/12/2005 06:21:00 a.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    I hope I am not being too rude, but I think the post is a little bit simplistic (eek, there I said it). I'm one half of an interfaith marriage and being the Muslim female partner at that, so I have some experience of how interfaith marriages work.

    The reason why I say it is simplistic, is because I don't think success or failure, advisability or inadvisability is down to religion alone. There are many factors which go into making a marriage work and marrying another person of the same faith is certainly no guarantee you will share the *same* conception and interpretation of that religion.

    Put it this way, I think that a liberal Muslim and a liberal Jew are more likely to have a common religious outlook which could lead to success in their marriage, than a liberal Muslim and a Wahhabi-Salafi Muslim or a liberal Jew and a hard-core orthodox Jew. And that's not about religiousity. A liberal can be just as 'religious' as a conservative, but they are different *types* of religious expression.

  • At 5/12/2005 07:52:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Salaams Safiyah,
    thanx for dropping by my blog, and leaving sweet comments.
    Must say that you have a great blog going here. Seems like i can really enlighten my self by visiting your blog. Will INSHALLAH visit regularly.
    Allah hafiz,
    Sameera Sarwar

  • At 5/12/2005 08:31:00 a.m., Blogger Buttercup and JOHN-43 said…

    liked the blog, i don,t think anything, should between real love. if you love someone, it should not matter what the colour or where they are from, as long as you love eachother

  • At 5/12/2005 11:58:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Dawud: Would love to hear more. I pray that you will find your Mu’minah, God willing.

    Cncz: I’ve seen some interfaith marriages too, and the couples are very unhappy with each other. I’m not saying it can’t work in all cases, but marrying a Muslim is a complicated affair. ;-)

    Rachel Ann: I believe the distinction between men and women was because of what marriage meant at that time. In a tribal society, there’s no doubt that men had the upper hand in terms of laying down the law at home. It was understood that if a male married a Jew or Christian, his wife would conform to the societal norms and live like a Muslim. One could not expect the same with a non-Muslim husband.

    Sam: Your comments are hilarious. As for dating Christian men, it would depend on the Muslim girl, and how she understood her commitment to her faith.

    Maryam: No, you’re not being rude. You’re entitled to your opinions, and I respect the fact that you’ve expressed them. I beg to disagree though. :-) The question that was addressed to me was whether I’d ever consider marrying a Jew. This was my response. I don’t think I said religion alone would make a marriage work. I agree with you that there are other things that are important too, and that, for example, a liberal Jew might have a lot in common with a liberal Muslim. I’ve tried to explain why it might be a bad idea to marry outside the faith and also why it’s very different from saying you don’t want to have a relationship with someone who’s of a different colour than you are. I stand by those statements.

    Sameera, Buttercup: Thanks for your comments. Buttercup, you sound like my prof. ;-)

  • At 5/12/2005 02:18:00 p.m., Anonymous Jameelah said…

    Maryam your marriage is not halal and remember you will have to answer to Allah ta ala about your complete disregard for his word in the Quran. There is wisdom in it and you have completely trangressed your limits.

  • At 5/12/2005 06:37:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Jameelah, that's a bit harsh, don't you think?

  • At 5/12/2005 08:26:00 p.m., Anonymous Jameelah said…


    It is the truth. All she has to do is look in the Quran to see that believing women are supposed to marry MUSLIM MEN.

  • At 5/12/2005 08:29:00 p.m., Anonymous Jameelah said…

    I meant to add, before I hit sumbit that is very arrogant to think that you know better then Allah. It does not matter what she think is best, it matters that we follow Quran and Sunnah. Rationalizing why you think something is good for you is dumb when Allah says it is not good for you. Allah also says that hell is concealed by things that may appear good for you.

  • At 5/13/2005 12:35:00 a.m., Blogger al-fikri said…

    Very interesting topic that you have posted Safiyyah, especially with the various responses that it generated

    My take on this is - the crux of Safiyyah’s post is that inter-faith marriage won’t work for her simply because as a Jew (whether a liberal or conservative) that would directly conflict with her expectations of a dutiful husband that embraces an Islamic identity in all aspects of the faith. Even if the person is a liberal Jew(or Christian), which will mean that he can accept her Islamic identity, it does not matter at all. It is her expectations that counts(Please correct me if I am wrong here, Safiyyah).

    I think this is normal. Everyone has their own expectations of the potential life-partner in matters which they deem to be critically important in their marriage decision. Besides emotional love, many would consider ethnicity, cultural background and faith as other key factors. Still don't be surprised there are others that count age, employment status, social rank, family and even marital status as important too. So I think we need to respect each and everyone’s point of view on this even as we have our own understanding on what is acceptable(or halal) according to our faith.

    It is true that having chosen each one's own partner on whatever grounds that we deem important, does not necessarily mean that the marriage will work. But at least when we do have common grounds to start with, it may help to remove some future potential conflicts due to differences.

    I just want to add a little something which maybe missed by all of us - the spiritual dimension of marriage. My belief is that it is a sacred bond that will carry us through to the next dimension after we die(or afterlife) where we would continue to live with our spouses when, insha’allah God willing, we all will witness the reality of God directly. Thus when the Prophet advised on the ways to choose one's life-partner so that we may love and be kind to our partners, it also has that deeper spiritual meaning. How can we expect to face God together with our partner later when in this world our marriage is not in order ?

  • At 5/13/2005 01:05:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    people like jameela should be banned from this website. she makes me sick. look whose talking about arrogant muslims.

  • At 5/13/2005 08:15:00 a.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    Salams again,

    Point taken (re: you did not imply that religion alone meant success/failure of a relationship).

    I think sharing a common faith may make things easier at times, but the differences may come out in other areas and if a couple doesn't work on how to resolve differences then their marriage is doomed for sure. Issues to do with interfaith bring that relationship skill (or the practice of it anyway) right to the forefront.

    Put it this way, because we have had to respectfully communicate and come to a consensus on issues to do with how we should impart faith to our child now, means that we are developing skills of community that will stand us in good stead for the long run. That's how we see it anyway.

  • At 5/13/2005 08:17:00 a.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    Forgot to add, that Jameelah, you're correct when you say it is to Allah alone, that we will answer for our beliefs and actions. May He forgive us all our sins, and give us guidance to help worship Him and draw closer to Him and be merciful on us and help us to be merciful on each other. Ameen.

  • At 5/13/2005 08:26:00 a.m., Anonymous Yusuf Smith said…

    :people like jameela should be banned from this website. she makes me sick. look whose talking about arrogant muslims.:

    Jameela is at least not calling for anyone to be banned from someone else's blog! She stated a simple fact, that a Muslim woman is forbidden from marrying a non-Muslim man. She was right.

  • At 5/13/2005 10:24:00 a.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    LOL what can I say? I'm an unashamed feminist, pluralist, liberal, slightly anarchist, Muslim who's married to a Baha'i. I'm sure I break the mould in more than once place. But that's fine - I am happy to meet Allah, my Beloved, as I am.

  • At 5/13/2005 01:10:00 p.m., Anonymous Jameelah said…

    Thank you Yusuf, the truth hurts those who do not want to accept it.

    If your marriage is not halal neither are the relations from it. And Allah also tells us about the trouble our private parts can get us into. There is also many hadith about such.

    Maryam I am glad you did not take offense to my comments, you are a proud trangessor. Inshallah you can give your husband dawah and he can be guided rightly. Ameen.

    Why should I be banned for simply saying what is the Quran. Some of you must be from MWU-PMU. You want to candy coat the word of God and twist it to suit your own nafs. Astagfirullah.

  • At 5/13/2005 03:06:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    If one is to correct another person or to offer advice (naseehah), there's a way to do so...gently and with wisdom. There's no need to publicly humiliate another human being.

    Anonymous, I will decide when and if someone should be banned from this blog. So far there's only one person I've felt the need to ban. I actually think the discussion is quite interesting and I'm happy to let it continue.

    Maryam, thank you for offering your perspective. I would like to hear (if you're willing to share) how you interpret those verses that state that Muslim women cannot marry outside the faith.

  • At 5/13/2005 08:56:00 p.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    Salams Safiyyah and everyone,

    Well I am certainly aware that traditional interpretations of jurisprudence do not find room for interfaith marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, but I also believe that they were largely informed by the andocentric and patriarchal milieus in which they operated.
    Al-Ghazali is case in point, may Allah have mercy on him, masha'Allah he was a wonderful soul who did more for harmonising the methods of sufism and traditional orthodox theology and law than perhaps any other post-Prophetic figure. Nonetheless, he made some extremely misogynistic statements. For all his brilliance, he did not move beyond the andocentricity of his times in the arena of women's rights.

    Being of modernist/progressivist bent, I believe that Allah did not write books of fiqh, so I don't believe the canons of orthodoxy are divinely protected and infallible. One of the essential teachings of the Qur'an and the sunnah, as I see it, is egalitarianism and equality between men and women. I also realise the Qur'an and the Prophet were extremely practical when it came to dealing with less-than-perfect societies, and they may have been a role to play in not immediately destroying patriarchal conceptions of societal norms. But I think - and I am not alone - the Qur'an has a stronger, more universal, underlying ethic which is that egalitarianism.

    As for how do I interpret the statements in the Qur'an in regard to marriage. Well I've written about that in my blog, although it's only a brief summary of a topic that requires a great deal more attention. I am not the only Muslim woman to have kept her marriage to her non-Muslim husband, there are three others in my immediate circle of friends (one a convert who was previously married to a Christian, and two Muslim ladies who married non-Muslims - incidentally both those men eventually converted to Islam). It is a very real issue that needs attention and not glib statements such as 'your marriage is not halal'.

    What I have written as to my own personal belief is here:

    Apologies for the length of the comment, it's probably more of a post LOL.

  • At 5/14/2005 08:56:00 a.m., Anonymous Jameelah said…

    Maryam I totally understand that the books of fiqh are not written by Allah and are not protected.

    However, the Quran urges us to seek the help of those who know better then us when it comes to matters of doubt.

    So unless you know
    1. Classical Arabic
    2. Understand the science of hadith ad are have the ability to determine which ones are sahih or daif.
    3. Have access to the majority of the hadith.
    4. Understand fully the context in which the Quran was revealed.

    Unless you have those ability I do not understand how you believe you the ability to rationalize against fiqh that have held the test of time.

    The order of Muslim women marrying Muslim men makes great sense, and it has nothing to do with women not being equal to men. Men are still encouraged to marry Muslim women and most do. I also find that men are weaker in their deen would date xtian . The Quran orders that men are the protectors of women, how can a non Muslim man give you your rights as a Muslim woman? What about if Allah grants you Jannah inshallah, will be reunited with him? I think you are just trying to find things to rationalize doing what you want to dear Sister. You should rethink your position and read the hikmah behind Allah's prohibition on this.

  • At 5/14/2005 01:49:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    I felt the criticism was harsh precisely because it doesn't seem right that one should have to end a marriage because the couple doesn't share the same faith, unless of course the non-Muslim partner refuses to allow the Muslim to practice Islam. You both were Baha'i before, right?

    From what I understand, what you're saying is that the spirit of the Quran takes precedence over the text itself? So you'd interpret the verses in light of the broader message of gender equality? I can't say I agree with you fully, but I respect your opinion and I look forward to hearing more of your ideas. Thank you for sharing (and opening yourself up to criticism). Take care inshaa Allaah. :-)

  • At 5/14/2005 04:41:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Salaam 'Alaikum

    There's right and wrong, to be sure, but I'm not sure what the point is in addressing Maryam the way she's being addressed. If someone talked to me in that way, I wouldn't be the slightest bit open to hearing what else one had to say. Spread salaam. Let the matter be between the sister, her husband, and the One Who Created them both. Yes, she brought up the interfaith marriage, but I'm not entirely sure how it's anyone else's business, even if you don't agree with it. I can just see this whole thing becoming another endless, fruitless, frustrating debate b/t liberal interpretations of Shari'ah and fiqh and the "progressive" Muslim issue. My 2 cents. -- UZ

  • At 5/15/2005 02:41:00 p.m., Blogger Julaybib said…


    I am married to a lapsed Catholic - and I was when I converted to Islam in 1991. That's just the way things are. There are pluses and minuses, I suppose, but there are in any marriage.



  • At 5/15/2005 07:13:00 p.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    "You both were Baha'i before, right?"
    Yes, so admittedly my situation is a little more unusual than normal.

    "From what I understand, what you're saying is that the spirit of the Quran takes precedence over the text itself? "

    Well if you read scholars like Fazlur Rahman (who incidentally, Jameelah, was trained in the traditional sciences, so no point trying to do a 'my scholar is better than your scholar') it's not so much that the spirit takes precedence over the text, but rather the text has a historical context which must be taken into account when judging a verse or a command against the wholistic worldview of the Qur'an.

    My professor's professor once made the point that Allah, swt, always provides a context for the particularising verses of the Qur'an. So a modernist would argue that where that particularising context no longer exists, it is reasonable to assess whether the verse applies.

  • At 5/15/2005 07:15:00 p.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    (sorry for the part two). So by extension where a woman in a society has autonomy and does not fear the loss of her rights and privilege by marrying oustide of faith, then we have a right to question particularising fiqh rules (in this case).

  • At 5/15/2005 09:08:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "So a modernist would argue that where that particularising context no longer exists, it is reasonable to assess whether the verse applies."

    So, Maryam, WHO assesses? What are the limits? Are there any limits at all?

  • At 5/15/2005 11:10:00 p.m., Blogger Maryam said…

    Well, given that I brought up Fazlur Rahman's double-movement methodology, I'll stick with that at the moment. He argues that if you take a holistic view of the Qur'an and draw from that its underlying universalistic principles then you would judge a particular 'problem' by those principles. Does a specific application of a specific law fulfil those universalistic ends?

    As for 'who' does the judging, I don't hold to a theocracy where a priviledged set of (male) religious scholars get to speak for God, I tend to side with a more democratic view of how shari'a is interpreted and applied in any given society or in any given individual life.

    Eventually what is good/true will triumph and what is bad/false will wither away. I do believe that if those without knowledge (eg. Irshad Manji; MWU; authors Islam Q&A etc.) begin opining, then they might get attention for a second or two, but eventually people will incline to something with more substance.

    There is a discourse in any society about the laws and ethics of that society. In my ideal society (and the concept of the ideal society is a very interesting one which Islamic philosophers eg. al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldun etc. discussed) is one in which religion plays a very important role in determing the nature of that society, but it's a democractic discussion in the good is assessed not by majority vote, but by an organic process of consensus. It's Rahman's organic itjihad-ijma' process. (Again sorry for the long comment)

  • At 5/17/2005 01:37:00 a.m., Blogger Nzingha said…

    Maryam stated " So by extension where a woman in a society has autonomy and does not fear the loss of her rights and privilege by marrying oustide of faith, then we have a right to question particularising fiqh rules (in this case)."

    But in this case one would have to assume that is in fact limited to such an understanding i.e rights and privilege. If you remove such understanding than the position sort of falls apart.

    I would agree with Falzur Rahman on some things however I find the limitation of Islam to merely a historical one to be dangerous. Where are the limits? Can't one arge a historical understanding of most things with Islam and than do away with them? And what of the Qur'anic view of Islam being for all times rather than limited to a particular time in history.

  • At 5/17/2005 03:21:00 p.m., Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said…

    Hey SAF and others,

    Got a couple of minor points.

    1) It makes complete sense that religious faiths wish their members to marry "within the faith".

    2) The debate you are having concerning interpretations and historicity is DIRECTLY paralleled within religious Judaism. I could go through the comments inserting different names and movements and it would make complete sense.



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