If a Christian or Jewish woman (a woman from the People of the Book) who is married to a Christian or Jewish man becomes a Muslim but her husband does not become a Muslim, does the woman have to divorce her husband?

Details of the Question
If a Christian or Jewish woman (a woman from the People of the Book) who is married to a Christian or Jewish man becomes a Muslim but her husband does not become a Muslim, does the woman have to divorce her husband?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Verse 221 of the chapter of al-Baqara definitely prohibits Muslim men and women from marrying mushriks (polytheists).

Mushrik is a person who associates partners with Allah in terms of His personality and attributes, who believes that there are other gods and beings that have the attributes of God and who worships them.

What is meant by the People of the Book is the people who believe in a prophet and the religion brought by him and believe that "this religion, which has been distorted according to Islam", is the true religion although they had moved away from their religions, deviated to wrong paths in worshipping and lost the origins of their books when Islam came.  It is seen that the People of the Book - at least some of them - have the elements of polytheism in their faith. They think some attributes and properties that are peculiar to Allah also exist in some creatures like Isa (Jesus) and Maryam (Mary) and worship them. 

Therefore, the belief of the People of the Book - if they do not give up shirk - do not enable them to attain salvation in the hereafter and do not save them from Hell. However, Christians and Jews were given some privileges and were exempted from some practices peculiar to unbelievers since they have some beliefs and practices, though partly, based on revelation and probably since they are more prone to believe in the true religion. One of these exceptions related to this issue is that "it is permissible for Muslim men to marry women of the People of the Book".

In verse 5 of the chapter of al-Maida, after it is stated that the food of the People of the Book is halal for Muslim men and women, it is stated that "only the women of the People of the Book" are halal for Muslim men; it is not stated that Muslim women are halal for (can marry) the men of the People of the Book though the context is appropriate.    

Since there is no explanation like that it is necessary to find such a decree (that whether it is permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a Jewish or Christian man) in the practices of Hz. Prophet (pbuh); if it does not exist in his practices, it can be obtained from qiyas (analogy).

Since women and men are subject to some different decrees related to marriage, it is not possible to use a decree about men for women or vice versa. Therefore, such an analogy was not made. In fact, sunnah (the practices of the Prophet and his Companions) comes before analogy. Some Companions and mujtahids who interpreted the verse differently came to the following conclusion: After the death of the Prophet (pbuh), "it is not permissible for Muslim men to marry women of the People of the Book".

As for a Muslim woman marrying a man of the People of the Book, the Islamic scholars did not even discuss it. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), there were men from the People of the Book and Muslim women living in the same region but no such marriage took place; it was unanimously agreed that such a marriage is not permissible.

The fiqh scholars who adopted this decree based their decree on the following verse along with the pieces of evidence mentioned above: Verse 10 of the chapter of al-Mumtahina states the following about the women who migrated to the Muslim land: "...if ye ascertain that they (women refugees) are believers, then send them not back to the unbelievers." Supporting it by some evidence, they came to the conclusion that the word unbelievers included the People of the Book too, hence, a Muslim woman could not marry a man of the People of the Book and could not continue a marriage like that. (see al-Baqara, 2/221)

Most of the fiqh scholars did not make a distinction between the women who were married when the verse was sent down and the women who would marry after that but acting upon some practices in the periods of especially the Prophet (pbuh) and Hz. Umar, some fiqh scholars decreed that such a marriage was not permissible but if somebody had been married to a non-Muslim before being a Muslim, the marriage would not be annulled because of conversion.(Ibn Qayyim, Ahkam'u Ahli'z-Dhimma, Damascus 1961, , 317, ff. , 340, ff.) Qardawi, one of the contemporary fiqh scholars, adopted this ijtihad.

It is natural for the true religion to want to spread and be adopted by people. It is also a natural outcome that its members and their descendants would like to preserve their religion. Preservation can be ensured through education; the most important means of education is family. If there are two religions in a family, children will be influenced and there will be an important risk for the children about which religion to adopt. Therefore, the ideal marriage for a Muslim is the one with a Muslim spouse. If there is no obligation, a Muslim man should marry a Muslim woman.   

It is more important for a Muslim woman to have a Muslim husband in terms of preservation, education and influence. If the father is a non-Muslim, there will be problems about the continuation of the lineage, inheritance, guardianship of the children, etc. When these reasons are taken into consideration, it becomes easy for us to understand why it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.    

Author

Hayrettin Karaman (Prof. Dr.)

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