Although the Quran rendered women of the People of the Book halal, why did Umar (ra) oppose it?

The Details of the Question

- Is it not considered to be against the decree of the Quran?
- What is the evidence of the small number of scholars who do not regard it as permissible?
- Did they make such a decree based on Umar (ra)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Umar (ra) did not say that it is haram to marry women who are from the People of the Book, which is rendered halal in the Quran. As a matter of fact, a narration from Umar (ra) regarding the issue is as follows:

“A Muslim man can marry a Christian (People of the Book) woman, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a Christian (People of the Book) man.” (see Tabari, the interpretation of al-Baqara, 2/221)

It is known that there are certain conditions sought for women who are declared to be permissible to marry in Islam. For example: Coming from a generation that has always been from the People of the Book, being chaste, not belonging to a community that is hostile to Islam and Muslims, the marriage in question not being against the interests of Islam in general, etc.

“…(Lawful unto you in marriage) are chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time...”(al-Maida, 5/5)

In the verse above, the word “Muhsanat” is used for women from the People of the Book. Some of the Companions and other scholars understood it in the sense of “free” and some in the sense of “chaste”. Ibn Abbas regarded it as “chaste” and said that it was not permissible to marry women who were not chaste from the People of the Book. (see Tabari, Razi, the interpretation of the verse in question)

-Umar (ra) did not render haram what the Quranic verse rendered halal. He did not abrogate - God forbid - the decree of the verse. The verse does not order such a marriage; it only says it is permissible. Such permissible deeds might be banned for a period deemed necessary by the head of state if their damage is seen in the course of time.

Since he saw it contrary to the interests of the Muslims, he temporarily tried to prevent the Muslims from doing it. According to some narrations, he took this decision because he was afraid that some Christian women, who became citizens of the Islamic country, would be preferred for marriage by the Muslims because they were beautiful.

- We can understand the reason for Umar’s decision regarding the issue from the following narrations:

According to a narration, Hudhayfa b. Yaman married a Jewish woman. Umar (ra) wrote him a letter and said, “Divorce her!” Hudhayfa wrote a letter to him and asked: “Is it haram to marry women of the People of the Book?” Umar (ra) wrote the following: “No, it is not haram but I am afraid that you may meet those who are not chaste among them.”

In another narration, Umar (ra) said, “I am afraid that it will be an element of sedition for the Muslim women as other Muslims will imitate you and prefer women who are from the People of the Book/Ahl az-Zimmah - because of their beauty.” (see W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 9/146)

According to the Hanbali school, it is not good to marry women from the People of the Book, it is “khilaf al-awla” (better not to do). According to the other three madhhabs, it is makruh (ibid)

- It can also be said that Umar (ra) made this decision because he thought that it was for the benefit of the Muslims and that marrying them would be harmful. He acted in accordance with the famous hadith and fiqh principle: “La darara wa la dirar - It is not appropriate to harm in the first place or to compensate a harm with another harm.

So, it is permissible to marry women from the People of the Book. However, Muslim women should be preferred first, and marriage with the People of the Book should be considered in cases of necessity and benefit.

In addition, attention should be paid to the following: the woman to be married should be chaste and that she should not have a secret friend; those who believe in tawhid (oneness), those who know the concept of family, those who believe in the sanctity of marriage should be preferred, and efforts should be made to establish and continue the home based on belief and guidance.

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