Fatwa: "The wife must obey her husband, and if a Muslim woman married a non-Muslim man, her obedience to him would conflict with her obedience to Allah"

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Translated from the original Arabic by Al Mutarjim

The fatwa below addresses the issue of why a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman (Jew or Christian), but a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man. The fatwa quotes numerous highly-respected Muslim imams, both classical and modern (including Yusuf al-Qaradawi and al-Azhar University), and makes it difficult to doubt the fact that Islam, or at least mainstream Islam, does indeed forbid the Muslim woman from marrying a non-Muslim. It also lays out the reasons for why this is so, one of the most important of which is Islam's view that the man has wilaya wa-qiwama (guardianship and trusteeship) over his wife, and that the "wife must obey her husband." Since Islam must be always be supreme--or in the words of Shaykh al-Qaradawi below, al-Islam y'alu wala y'ali 'alayhi (Islam is exalted over all, and nothing is exalted above it)--therefore the Muslim woman cannot be in a state of inferiority, i.e. married, to a non-Muslim.

This is also interesting in the context of a fatwa from an officially-sponsored Kuwaiti journal which says that, "Among the clearest evidences of Islam's tolerance and guaranteeing of freedom of conscience, is its permitting marriage to a non-Muslim woman from the People of the Book." If that is so, then this fatwa would seem to contain one of the clearest evidences of Islam's supremacist and intolerant attitudes.

Q: What is the ruling on a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man?

A: In the name of Allah the most merciful.

Praise be to the Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be upon our lord Muhammad, and upon his family and companions.

Allah Almighty said: "Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! a believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you. These invite unto the Fire, and Allah inviteth unto the Garden, and unto forgiveness by His grace, and expoundeth His revelations to mankind that haply they may remember" [Qur'an 2:221].

This noble verse indicates that it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. There is no disagreement on this from any Qur'anic commentators, and it is agreed to by all scholars. The meaning of non-Muslim here includes any infidel or polytheist, whether he is an idolater, Magi, or one of the People of the Book.

The following are a few statements from scholars (on the topic):

Imam al-Qurtubi said: "The Muslim woman may not be married to a polytheist. The ummah is in agreement that the polytheist may in no way have sexual relations with a Muslim woman, for that would be a shame for Islam."

Imam al-Razi said: "There is no disagreement here that the meaning here is all--or rather, all non-Muslims. (It means) that the believing woman is not permitted to be married to the infidel under any circumstance, and this includes all different types of infidels."

Imam al-Shafi'i (may Allah have mercy on him) said: "The verse was revealed which made Muslim women forbidden for polytheists, including the idolaters--as Allah Almighty said: [Qur'an 2:221]. According to the Qur'an, this also includes polytheists from the People of the Book, due to the severing of guardianship between Muslims and polytheists [i.e. polytheists may not have guardianship over Muslims]. The people have not differed on this point, as far as I know."

Imam al-Kasani said: "It is not permissible to marry a Muslim woman to an infidel, due to the saying of the Most High: "...and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe..." [Qur'an 2:221]. This is because if a Muslim woman is given in marriage to an infidel, there is fear that the Muslim woman might fall into unbelief, for the husband will invite her to his religion. Women generally follow men; they are influenced by them in their actions, and follow their authority in matters of religion. This is indicated in the end of the verse of the saying of the Most High: "These invite unto the fire." Wherefore they invite the believing women to unbelief, and inviting to unbelief is the same as inviting to the fire, for unbelief requires the fire. Therefore since marrying a Muslim woman to an infidel is a cause which invites to that which is forbidden, it is also forbidden. Although the text stipulates polytheists, since the cause for this is the invitation to the fire, it can be generalized to include infidels. All (scholars) are in agreement in generalizing the ruling, since the cause (for the ruling) is generalized. So it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a man from the People of the Book, just as it is not permissible to marry her to an idolater or a Magi. For the shari'ah prohibits the guardianship of the infidels over the believers, according to the saying of the Most High: "And never will Allah grant to the unbelievers a way (to triumphs) over the believers" [Qur'an 4:141]. For if an infidel were to marry a Muslim woman, he would be granted "a way (to triumph)" over her, and that is not permissible."

Imam Malik said: "Do you not see that it is not permissible under any circumstances for a Muslim woman to be married to a Christian or Jew? For if a Christian woman were married to a Christian man, and she converted to Islam, then she would be under his possession, as if she were in her 'idda. Even if a Christian began a marriage with a Muslim woman, the marriage was void."

Imam Ibn Jizzi said: "All scholars are in agreement that it is absolutely forbidden for an infidel to marry a Muslim woman."

Imam al-Shafi'i said: "It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to marry an infidel under any circumstance unless he converts to Islam, owing to the saying of the Almighty: "...and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe..." [Qur'an 2:221], as well as His saying: "if ye ascertain that they are Believers, then send them not back to the Unbelievers. They are not lawful (wives) for the Unbelievers, nor are the (Unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them" [Qur'an 60:10]." [...]

[Goes on to quote from Ibn Muflih, Ibn Qaddama, Ibn Hazm, Muhammad bin Abu-Bakr, and Dr. 'Abd-al-Karim al-Zaydan, all essentially agreeing with the previous quotes]

Shaykh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi says:

"The Muslim woman is not given in marriage except to a Muslim, according to the saying of the Most High: "Wed not idolatresses till they believe," and then He says "...and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe..." [Qur'an 2:221]. Then He made an exception, saying, "The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book" [Qur'an 5:5]. Thus it is permitted to marry chaste women among the People of the Book, but it is not permissible for men (among the People of the Book) to marry Muslim women.

"This wisdom is this: The Muslim believes in all the messengers, including Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them). (He also believes in) all the books, including the Torah and the Gospel. On the other hand, the People of the Book only believe in their messengers and their books. Islam has permitted for the wife from the People of the Book who is married to a Muslim to go to her places of worship, such as the church or temple. On the other hand, the People of the Book do not permit the Muslim wife--if they had married her--to go to the mosque and manifest the rituals of Islam.

"And what's even more important: Islam is exalted over all, and nothing is exalted above it. Marriage is guardianship and trusteeship. A Muslim man may be a guardian and a trustee over his wife from the People of the Book; however, a non-Muslim may not be a guardian and a trustee over a Muslim woman, for Almighty Allah said: "And never will Allah grant to the unbelievers a way (to triumphs) over the believers" [Qur'an 4:141]. The wife must obey her husband, and if a Muslim woman married a non-Muslim man, her obedience to him would conflict with her obedience to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him).

"If perchance there is another hidden ruling which prohibits the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim, Allah Almighty knows, for He knows everything which is good for His servants: "Does He not know, Who created? And He is the Knower of the subtleties, the Aware" [Qur'an 67:14].

"It is not for the believer to say anything of Allah, or His wisdom and knowledge, except: "We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys" [Qur'an 2:285]."

This comes from a fatwa from al-Azhar:

"It is true that Islam permits the Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman (Christian or Jewish), and does not permit a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. At first glance, this might seem like inequality. But if one understands the true reason for this, one ceases to wonder, and ceases to imagine that it is inequality. For Islam has a point of view on this which clarifies the wisdom behind it. All laws in Islam are based on wisdom and true benefit for all parties.

"Marriage in Islam is based on "love and mercy" and cohabitation. Islam seeks to build the family on sure foundations, which are guaranteed to perpetuate the marital relationship. Islam is also a religion which respects all of the previous divine religions, and makes faith in all of the previous prophets part and parcel of the Islamic creed. Therefore if a Muslim man is married to a Christian or Jewish woman, he is commanded to respect her creed. He is not permitted--from the Islamic point of view--to prevent her from practicing the rites of her religion, and going for that reason to her church or temple.

"Therefore Islam desires that the husband gives an element of respect to the creed and worship of his wife. This guarantees and protects the family from collapse... [ellipsis in original]

"However, if a non-Muslim man marries a Muslim woman, this element of respect for the wife's creed is lost. For the Muslim man believes in the previous religions, and believes in and respects the previous prophets of Allah. But the non-Muslim does not believe in the Prophet of Allah, and does not recognize him, but considers him a false prophet. He believes, usually, in all of the fabrications and lies rumored against Islam and its prophet, and other rumors. Even if the non-Muslim husband does not openly state this in front of his wife, she still lives under the stress of feeling the lack of respect from her husband toward her belief. This is an issue which is not helped merely by words of appeasement and courtesy, for it is an issue of principle. Mutual respect between the husband and wife is the foundation for the perpetuation of the marital relationship.

"Islam was being logical when it forbade the marriage of a Muslim man to a non-Muslim woman from a religion other than Christianity or Judaism, and for the same reason it forbade the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man.

"The Muslim does not believe in any religion except for the divine religions, and others are considered religions of men. For in that case reverence and respect toward the religion of the wife--to say nothing of courtesy--would be lost. This would adversely affect the marital relationship, and would not result in the "love and mercy" required in this relationship."

Signed by: Dr. Mahmud Hamdi Zaqzuq, Minister of Islamic Endowments and President of the Egyptian High Council for Islamic Affairs; Dr. Wahbat al-Zuhayli; Dr. Nasir Farid Wasil, professor of Islamic shari'ah at al-Azhar University and former Grand Mufti of Egypt; Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali; Dr. Muhammad Rafat 'Uthman, former dean of the College of Shari'a and Law at al-Azar, and member of the Islamic Research Academy; Islamic thinker Dr. Muhammad Salim al-'Awa; and Dr. Amir 'Abd-al-'Aziz.

From what has been presented, it has been made clear that marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man, without exception, whether he is from the People of the Book or not, is forbidden, and such a marriage is not permitted, based on the words of scholars both ancient and modern. If such a marriage does exist, it must be annulled immediately.

Almighty Allah knows best.
What is the ruling on a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man?
Islamic Fatwa Council of Jerusalem, February 17, 2009