“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect” (30:21, Y. Ali). “I’m not against capture and convert,” a male Muslim friend of mine frequently provides this jocular rejoinder in discussions about finding solutions to the rising number of successful, accomplished, unmarried Muslim American women in their 30s.
As many families and Muslimah community members extradite the Huma Abedins of the world for marrying “non’s,” and as little to no Imams agree to perform marriages for these unions, we must ask ourselves, what is the appropriate recourse for solving the problem of a growing number of unwed Muslimahs with a proportionally dwindling stock of suitable (or even available) Muslim men? What is the solution? Should the Muslim community, with an overwhelming opposition to inter-faith marriages for Muslim women, reconsider its position in the matter?
As Ms. Mohammad mentioned, Islamic legal scholar Dr. Abou El Fadl “personally, finds the evidence regarding the prohibition to be weak and does not feel comfortable telling a woman she cannot marry a kitabiyya [People of the Book.] Although this may be the case, he also acknowledges, “I am not aware of a single dissenting opinion on this, which is rather unusual for Islamic jurisprudence because Muslim jurists often disagreed on many issues, but this is not one of them.” Since scholarly opinion has overwhelmingly established Muslim female marriage to non-Muslim men as haram [forbidden], it is incumbent for the “pro” side to prove otherwise. I, in return, offer three additional points to not just support an “against position” but also to add nuance to the controversial debate which has arisen in this age of an “epidemic case” of Muslimah singledom.
Although I am a person not interested in ideological conversion or searing into people’s private affairs with argumentative interventions, I am taking this position on three accounts.
Firstly, to argue in favor of a Muslim marriage as a source for the preservation and protection of a woman’s legal rights in marriage; secondly, to show that not Muslim women, but Muslim men have more restrictive marriage guidelines; and lastly, to explore the parameters of what a “Muslim” is and rigorously interrogate the meanings we attach to such historically evolving, morphing, and transformed terms as “Muslim”—in fact, let us ask ourselves, not just who is defined as a non-Muslim man, but who is defined as a befitting “Muslim” man to marry. This is not a legal or a scholarly intervention, as i am neither a lawyer nor an Islamic scholar, but one compelling further scrutiny of perceived axiomatic truths. I also do not take on popular sociological arguments that use the preservation of religious inheritance in a patriarchical society or continuation of the “ummah” to either support or justify their position. I find those arguments lacking in qualitative and quantitative proof.
Even though I personally subscribe to a philosophy of “live and let live,” am not a fan of cultural, racial or racially restricted endogamy, and really could not care if a Muslim woman decides to wed a goat or even a Gingrich, I am taking this position to demonstrate the need for vibrant debate on this issue and to enter into a more rigorous interrogation of perceived Islamic/Muslim community norms. So let us start:
1. “My Prerogative”: Muslim woman’s rights in a Muslim marriage:
This point can be summed up very quickly and is one that my opponent will probably concede. A Muslim woman is guaranteed certain rights in terms of dowers (4:4) (4:24) (4:25), one that cannot be taken back (2:229) (4:20). And her rights in divorce proceedings are well accounted for. The issue of whether these rights, or any of the like, are applied into social practice is a claim very few faith communities can make, that of abiding by the precepts of their scripture.
2. “Two Can Play That Game”
Upon investigation of the prohibitions on Muslimah-non-Muslim unions, I discovered more restrictions placed on a men’s prospective spouse than on a woman’s (not surprising, Ms. Mohammad had a similar finding). Both men and women are cautioned against joining into marriage with a mushrikin [simply defined as a polytheist or one who ascribes divinity to other than God] (2:221). But only men are specifically singled out when entering into a discussion about marrying a muminatin [believing women], and guarding THOSE women from returning to the kuffar [deniers of Truth] (60:10). In addition, lawful are the ones who a man has paid their dowers (33:50), and muhsanaat [chaste women] (5:5). Men are also instructed to “give them their due dower, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues” (5:5). And forbidden to men are their father’s previous spouses (4:22), mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal and maternal aunts, nieces, mothers-in-law, step daughters (4:23), married women (4:24). No such prohibitions or advisories appear for Muslim women.
With such limits, provisions, supplemental instructions on lawful and prohibitive marriage, men appear to have more restrictions than women when it comes to choosing a lawful or desirable spouse. Certain madhabs [schools of thought] find it makruh [reprehensible] for Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women, including kitabis, in non-majority Muslim state settings. Some Maliki jurists even used the Haram card when describing such geography particular unions.
So a Muslim women cannot marry a mushrikin [polytheist] and a Muslim man has the additional provisions of marrying a woman who is a mumin [believer] (60:10) muhsanaat [chaste woman] (5:5)— provisions not outlined for women. Does that mean she won the argument, that Muslim women can marry muslim men? Not necessarily because I contend that non-mushrikin men are Muslims. So, since the category of “Muslim” under my definition is a much wider net than Muslims would feel comfortable casting, I will explain what I mean by Muslim and use that as grounds to endorse Muslim-on-Muslim marriages as a sort of protection of gender rights.
3. “One Love”?: Interrogating the socially popular definition of “Muslim”
This conveniently leads us back to a rudimentary question requiring clarification, “What is a Muslim?” Who is considered a Muslim by the Qu’ran? Religious Studies Professor William Chittick in a recent article for the Huffington Post, “Which ‘Islam’? Exploring the Word’s Many Meanings,” contends that historically, the identification with the term Muslim and Islam is an innovation, and the limited demarcations that term has metamorphized to, also is an innovation. Chittick and Sachiko Murata in “The Vision of Islam” argue for four different meanings for the words “Islam.” Those include: “(1) The submission of the whole of creation to the Creator; (2) the submission of human beings to the guidance of God as revealed through the prophets; (3) the submission of human beings to the guidance of God as revealed through the prophet Muhammad; and (4) the submission of the followers of Muhammad to God’s practical instructions” (6).
Being that I am the purveyor of this argument, I will subscribe to the second of the four to make my point. Examples of mentions of such an Islam, with such Muslims counted as its adherents, can be seen here (I have added the original Arabic words in those instances where it is relevant):
“And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims (almuslimeena), both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector – the Best to protect and the Best to help!” (22:78, Y. Ali)
“When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: “Who will be My helpers to (the work of) Allah.” Said the disciples: “We are Allah’s helpers: We believe in Allah, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims (muslimoona).” (3:52, Y. Ali)
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book (alkitabi), except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (muslimoona).” (29:46, Y. Ali)
As was demonstrated by the above examples, the term “Muslim” was used to describe Jesus’s disciples, (who I have heard people refer to as distinctly different than us Mooz-lams), who are part of the “cult of your father Abraham,” and who include kitabis as those who bow to the one God they share.
Furthermore, as we see in Yusuf Ali’s translation, there is a distinction made between People of the Book and “the unbelievers,” or the kitaba and kafaroo, aligning kitabis with the mumins:
“And We have set none but angels as Guardians of the Fire; and We have fixed their number only as a trial for Unbelievers,- in order that the People of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the Believers may increase in Faith,- and that no doubts may be left for the People of the Book and the Believers, and that those in whose hearts is a disease and the Unbelievers may say, “What symbol doth Allah intend by this ?” Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom He pleaseth, and guide whom He pleaseth: and none can know the forces of thy Lord, except He and this is no other than a warning to mankind.” (74:31, Y. Ali)
And the mumins are grouped together with the Muslims:
“For muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” (33:35, Y. Ali)
So what is a Muslim? Based on the above examples that include kitabi in definitional explanations of mumins and Muslims, I argue that a Muslim can be a kitabi, and thus that these kitabis, counted in my books as Muslims, are eligible for Muslim women to marry. So thus, a Muslim woman does not have to invent arguments demonstrating her legal Quranic ability to marry a non-Muslim since there is nothing to disprove, unless that is that she wants to marry a polytheist.
The underlying problem is the way we frame our understanding of the parameters of “Muslim-ness,” limiting a “Muslim” is to an ethnicized notion of Muslim performance. Marriage in a post-Christian West means that religious identities splinter off into ethnic identities and religious identities. As such, there is a development of different Muslim identities, that of an ethnic and religious nature. Herein lies a cultural transformation paralleling the process of development of ethnic Jewish and Christian communities, where we become an ethnicized or racialized Muslim who must fight for civil rights or cultural preservation, and not simply Muslims on a spiritual path towards submission to the Divine Noor. This convolutes and restricts notions of Muslim-ness that historically enjoyed more ideological flexibility.
As Chittick points out in his HuffPo article, “The Quran uses the word islām and derivatives like muslim (one who has the quality of islām) about 80 times. A small number of these instances can plausibly be interpreted as designations for the religion that the Quran and the Prophet were in the process of establishing. Historians have pointed out that the word came to be employed as a common designation for the religion only gradually, a process that has intensified enormously in modern times.”
Similarly, so focused are we on the nominal line that is drawn between “Muslim” and “non-Muslim” men when it comes to marrying our Muslimahs, we have been distracted from the task of dissecting, as a community, what passes for an unsuitable Muslim who banks on the nominal association or exclusively wears Islam as an ethnic identity. It is possible for a Jewish man or a Christian man to adhere to and practice more Islamic values than a nominally Muslim man. As a minor example, in Surah Ahzab the munafiqeen [hypocrites], who can be Muslims, are grouped with the kafireen, opposite of mumin (the desirable spouses for men), as those who should not be given any counsel:
“O Prophet! Fear Allah, and hearken not to the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites: verily Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.” (33:1, Y. Ali)
Oh parents, would you give your daughter off to a nominally Muslim hypocrite who is mentioned in an association with a kaffir, that denier of Truth, instead of a muslim Jew or Christian?
By these guidelines Huma Abedin should not be publicly paraded around with a scarlet “H” (“H” for “haram”—I felt like a Sesame Street character for breaking that down). If her husband is indeed a believer in God and not a polytheist Jew, she entered into a marriage with a Muslim. So what is not the benefit for a Muslim woman to choose to marry a Muslim man or enter into a Muslim-on-Muslim marriage, if it confers certain rights and protections onto the women and includes kitabis in its definitional breadth? Utilizing a cost-benefit analysis, Muslim marriage adds benefit with minimal sacrifices in terms of “choices” and “options.” It is the community’s narrow-minded vision of an appropriate “Muslim” who in their eyes turns out to be more an ethnic Muslim, rather basing the criteria of Muslim on one who’s submission is predicated on a love for God, that misrepresents the permissible choices that are in front of Muslim women, and consequently creates a false perception of limited options.
And lastly, I would like to conclude by emphatically agreeing with my opponent:
Allah knows best.
*kufis off to the person who can guess the theme that ties the headers together
 And although I am not attempting to convince readers of this highly unpopular position and as uncomfortable as the following statement will make both Muslims and non-Muslims, (as a believer in Murata and Chittick’s (1) definition for Islam) for me, can also include Zorastarians, Hindus, Sikhs-those believers in monotheism who are not counted amongst the mushrikin.
This article was previously published at The Goatmilk Debates. A counter position will be published here on Friday.
Photo Credit: Parekh Cards