People often ask the question that if Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women, why Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. Firstly it is important to point out that Muslim men are not allowed to marry any non-Muslim women. The only people with whom the Muslim man is allowed to marry are from the People of the Book i.e. those who have faith in the previous revelations informed by Allah(swt).
“… (lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time, - when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” – [Quran 5:5]
Also from the Quranic Ayah it is important to note that lawful are not all the women among the People of the Book but only the chaste ones. Apart from these, a Muslim man is not allowed to marry any other woman. Hence the question asked by people should be rephrased into ‘why can’t a Muslim woman marry from among the People of the Book?’
Islam being a complete way of life gives us the minutest details of how to live our lives and the roles we have in society. Man by nature tends to be dominant and woman by nature tends to be compromising. This is a fact which cannot be denied. Some women might claim that they are more dominant in their marriage etc and hence it is not always true that men are dominant. Even if I do agree that there are some women who are more dominant as compared to their husbands, these still are rare cases. Like two in a thousand and thus a minority. Islam is a universal religion and thus needs to secure people at a global level and thus in certain issues its rulings are based on the majority rather than minority.
One might ask here how Islam is securing the woman by its rulings on this matter. Primarily Islam teaches us to believe in all the prophets(pbut) that were sent by Allah(swt) to Mankind. Thus a Muslim by default believes in Jesus(as) and Moses(as). On the other hand, the Christian does not believe in Prophet Muhammad(saw) and the Jew does not believe in Muhammad(saw) nor Jesus(as) as prophets of Allah(swt). This is a very important point because a Muslim man would by default respect the prophet which his non-Muslim wife believes in but a non-Muslim man would not believe or respect the prophet which his wife believes in. After the couple has children, the non-Muslim wife would teach their child to love and respect the prophet she believes in. The Muslim man would certainly not object if his child is being taught to love Jesus(as) or Moses(as). On the other hand the non-Muslim husband might object when his Muslim wife would teach their child about Islam.
It is highly likely for the man to teach his children the religion he follows. A non-Muslim man with a Muslim wife would then teach their child to be a Christian or Jew. This would mean that the mother would have to be a witness to her child being led onto the wrong path. In such a situation the mother might retaliate by teaching her child the Islamic values and principles. This in turn would lead the relations between the spouses to turn sour. This could also lead to domestic violence.
The United States is a country which is most vociferous regarding rights of individuals. In a survey carried out by The Commonwealth Fund in 1998 and it was seen that there was an estimated 960,000 cases of domestic violence. They stated that around one-third of the American women report being physically or sexually abused by their husbands or boyfriends. Moreover they add that around thirty percent of the American people claim that they know of a woman who was abused physically by her husband or boyfriend. These are the realities which one tends to overlook when they speak about Islam being unfair to the Muslim woman. Further the non-Muslim spouse could end up divorcing his wife, which would lead to trauma for the Muslim woman and the children.
The non-Muslim husband would naturally not recognize Prophet Muhammad(saw) to be a prophet of Allah(swt) and might object to the Islamic practices of his wife. He could object to the hijab which the wife would wear. He could want the wife to dress more ‘moderately’ especially when accompanying him to a party. Moreover he could ask the wife to sit with him while he consumes alcohol. The husband could want the wife to serve alcohol for him and a couple of friends after dinner. It is a huge sin in Islam for a person to have anything to do with alcohol. Moreover the husband could want to eat pork for lunch or dinner and could ask the wife to cook it for him. Again this is something not allowed for a Muslim to do and thus would cause trouble in the family. The husband could find it okay for him to drink where his wife is offering prayers. It could be okay for the husband to keep a pet dog inside the house. This is another thing which is not allowed by Islam but the non-Muslim husband might not understand it. As it can be seen, there can be a lot of issues which can arise between the marriage of a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man.
It is also important to point out that the non-Muslim man could later on, either of himself or out of pressure from his family, compel the Muslim woman to accept the faith he follows. On the other hand, a Muslim man respects the People of the Book and is under strict instructions from Allah(swt) not to compel his wife to change her faith. Hence the rights of a non-Muslim wife are secure and protected in the house of a Muslim man whereas it is not necessarily the same in a vice versa situation.
One might say that it could also be possible for a non-Muslim wife to disrespect the Muslim husband’s beliefs as well. What is interesting is that such a case is highly unlikely to occur because of the teachings present in the books of the People of the Book. The Bible tells us that when Eve committed the sin, the punishment she received from God was:
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” – [Genesis 3:16]
Thus to the women of the People of the Book, their scripture teaches that their husband will rule over them and they are not to speak against them as the husbands are given this position by God. It should be noted here that such a concept does not exist in Islam and both Adam and Eve are blamed equally for the sin they committed. For details on that issue refer to my article “Original Sin or Original Forgiveness – What is the lesson?”
Now let us further see what the religious scriptures, of the People of the Book, teach. They state that the wives are to submit to their husbands just as they submit to God. The wife is told to submit to their husbands just the way the church submits to Christ.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. – [Ephesians 5:22-24]
Another verse that is important to mention is as such:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. – [1 Peter 3:1-2]
As one can see that the women of the People of the Book are told to completely submit to their husbands regardless of whether the husband believes in the word or not. To them the husband has been given a position by God to rule over them. Thus it is highly unlikely for her to disrespect her husband. At the same time the non-Muslim man comes from the line of thought that they are in this world to rule over their wives and that their wives should submit to them like they would submit to God. Hence it is highly likely for there to be clashes between the marriages of non-Muslim men with Muslim women.
However this would further give rise to another question which people could ask. They could say that Islam teaches the wife to be respectful towards her husband so then there should be no clash between a Muslim wife and her non-Muslim husband. This line of argument would hold to be true only if the husband was given a status above God in Islam. That is of course not the case and Islam asks for complete submission to Allah(swt) and then come other responsibilities. Islam stresses on Muslims to respect their parents yet Muslims are not supposed to follow their parents’ orders if they are contrary to the teachings of Islam. Similarly a Muslim woman is not to follow what her husband says if it is contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Thus keeping all the factors in mind any Muslim woman would agree that she is better off marrying a Muslim man as opposed to a non-Muslim man. Allah(swt) has Absolute Wisdom and thus He has set laws which are only better for us. We, being humans, have limited wisdom which is negligible in front of Allah(swt) and thus at times we might not be able to comprehend the true reason why certain things are forbidden in Islam. Allah(swt) does know that many would not recognize that which is bad for us and thus He says in the Quran:
But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not. – [Quran 2:216]