I am not a legal scholar and I have not researched the legal aspects of the issue of Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men. To me, the essential issue in looking at this particular issue or others that “progressive” Muslims tend to discuss is whether “Islam” allows it or not – not whether we think it should be allowed or not. What we want is too tempting in this kind of topic and can bias our interpretations of our religion, and of course what each person wants can and does vary.
How do we decide what our religion says? This of course involves figuring out what “Islam” is and what it allows, which leads us to the Qur’an, sunnah, shari’ah and on and on.
Certainly we’d want to look at the Qur’an, but even then we need to figure out how to understand it. Some verses we tend to say refer to a specific context and yet some we say refer to all times and all places. How do we decide which verses are which? And what about the sunnah, how do we use it when it is completely immersed in a specific context? Same with shari’ah. What this all gets at is methodology—coming up with one, being consistent with it and figuring out how it should mix with what we want (if at all). Now I’d like to set aside the legal issues and bring up others, while trying to come up with alternative solutions.
Why are we interested in this issue? If we are interested purely as a legal exercise, then we need to engage in a legal discussion, which this is not. I suspect that we are interested in the issue as a solution to a problem. That problem is that Muslims are having a hard time finding fellow Muslims in America to marry. I want to explore this topic now.
1) A crucial point that cannot be over-emphasized is the importance of our communities in helping people get married. Families need to be as supportive as possible when their children have found a potential spouse. Instead of disapproving of someone because they are not of the same culture, for example, families should be happy that their child wants to marry a Muslim. This is a message that parents need to hear from their imams.
At the same time, we need to develop mechanisms within our communities to help people get married. The health and vibrancy of our communities can play a crucial role in this. If I know few Muslim men and interactions with them are uncomfortable, after a few years I might become understandably frustrated with the process of meeting Muslims. This is where the community should help. A vibrant community with a variety of intelligent lectures, activities, community service, etc. would be a great place for people to get to know each other. In addition, communities can provide more obvious ways for people to meet—special events, matchmaking services, etc.
2) Widening the circle can also be helpful. If I am possibly willing to widen my circle of candidates—the people I would consider for marriage—beyond my religion, why not expand it in other ways instead, such as age, culture, divorced, etc? Similarly, we can expand our methods of looking for someone by becoming more involved and more active in our community. If we don’t like events that our community offers, we can help organize ones that we are passionate about. We can also use online methods like EHarmony to get to know people; Zahra Billoo wrote about her experiences with this in a recent article.
3) Sometimes it’s tempting to use “love” as an excuse to do a variety of things that it’s probably better not to do. Linked to this is the idea of choosing who you fall in love with. Can we choose who we fall in love with? If we put it in our minds that something is not allowed, can we more easily consciously or subconsciously avoid it?
4) I wonder how much of the issue is really about people’s priorities. If someone is concerned about their faith and raising potential children as Muslims, would they be more eager to marry someone of their own faith, especially since there are already so many challenges in raising our children as Muslims?
5) Instead of trying to make something allowed that has been recognized as prohibited for long, what if we instead avoid something that is allowed—Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women. Probably ten or more years ago, I heard a Muslim leader talk about the importance in America of Muslim men marrying Muslim women only. One point he made was that it would make it more difficult for Muslim women to get married in the future, if Muslim men married non-Muslim women. I think he may have been proven to be right.
6) What if the Muslim woman asks the man to become a Muslim. Would this be insincere, or could it be a way for the man to show that he is at least willing to follow the letter of the law, even if not the spirit?
All of this is not to sound unsympathetic or to blame people for marrying non-Muslims. Everyone has their own story, they make their own choices and I pray that Allah blesses them in them. Rather, I am exploring various issues that I think underlie the initial topic of Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men. Still, the most essential and most important element in this discussion is not my opinion or desire, but rather the development and application of a methodology to discuss our legal issues from an informed and a culturally-relevant perspective.