Muslim Men Marrying Non-Muslim Women
Prof. Gabriel Sawma
The Quran, a primary source of Islamic Sharia, permits a Muslim man to marry non-Muslim woman. It reads: “[be lawful to you in marriage] are chaste women from those who were given the Scriptures [i.e. Christian and Jewish women]”.
Early Muslim jurists ruled that the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian or Jewish woman is considered “makruh” (not desirable) if both live in a non-Muslim country. In fact the second Caliph, Umar bin Al-Khattab (634-644), denied interfaith marriage for Muslim men during his term as “Amir al-Muminin” (Prince of the Believers, i.e. Muslims).
However, the majority of Muslim jurists in modern days do not prohibit a Muslim man from marrying a Christian or Jewish woman; this, in their view, ensures that over many centuries, the Islamic patriarchal society would gain more adherents to Islam relative to Christianity, Judaism and other co-existing religions. Additionally, a Christian or Jewish wife will face difficulty converting Muslim husband into their religion.
Following are the legal impacts of a Muslim man marrying Christian or Jewish wife:
1-Muslim Man’s Ability to Marry More than One Woman
Islamic Sharia does not prohibit a Muslim man, marrying a non-Muslim woman, from marrying more than one woman. Islamic Sharia allows a Muslim man to marry up to four wives at the same time. This means that, even though he is married to a Christian or Jewish wife, he can also marry up to four wives.
2-Children Born of Such Marriages are Considered Muslims
Under the rules of Islamic Sharia, children born of mixed marriages, involving a Muslim man and non-Muslim woman are considered Muslims. The religion of children born of a Muslim father always follows the religion of their father. It does not matter even if the child is baptized in the Christian faith; he will always be regarded as Muslim and governed by Islamic Sharia.
3-Custody of Children in Case of Divorce or Husband’s Death
In the event of divorce, or death of the husband, Islamic Sharia determines that in mixed marriages where the husband is Muslim and the wife is not, the wife will lose her custody to the children. Here is what the Sunni Schools of jurisprudence say on this matter: (1) The Hanafi School states that the “murtaddah” (i.e. one who converts from Islam to another religion) loses her custody immediately. According to this School, a non-Muslim woman loses her custody in the event of divorce or death of the husband. (2) The Shafi’i School forbids a “kafira” [infidel: Christian or Jewish woman] to have custody over a Muslim child; the text of this School reads: “no custody is given to “kafir” (non-Muslim, or infidel) over a Muslim”. (3) Hanbali School does not allow “ajnabi” [a foreigner, i.e non-Muslim] to have custody over Muslim. (4) In Maliki Jurisprudence, fidelity is in religion; this means a person outside the religion of Islam is not qualified to be “hadden” (Arabic, custody of children).
4-Wife Cannot Travel with her Children without Permission of the Husband
Islamic Sharia does not allow a divorced wife who has custody of the children to travel from a Muslim country with the children without permission of the husband. If the husband is dead, the wife can leave the country with the children provided that the guardian of the children, who has been appointed by the father before his death, or a guardian who has been appointed by a judge, permits the wife to travel with the children. Only then she can leave the country.
It is important to note here that the general rule in Islamic Sharia is that the wife cannot travel outside an Islamic country without permission of her husband.
5-Huband Traveling with the Children to an Islamic Country may decide to stay in his Home Country
Non-Muslim woman who is married to a Muslim man should know that if the husband travels with the children to his country and decides to stay with them in that country, she is not afforded protection of US law to bring the children back to the United States. If for example, husband travels with wife and children to any Muslim country in the Middle East and chooses to stay with the kids in that country, the wife may not be able to bring her children back to the US. The reason for that is the fact that Islamic Sharia will prevail by granting custody of the children to the husband in case of divorce or death of the husband.
6-Conversion of One Spouse to Islam
Under Islamic Sharia, if a non-Muslim woman is married to a non-Muslim man, and she converts to Islam, the marriage is suspended until her husband converts to Islam. In theory, she could leave the non-Muslim husband and marry a Muslim man. This is based on the Quran, which reads: “O ye who believe! [i.e. Muslims] When there come to you believing women refugees, examine them: Allah knows best as to their faith; if ye ascertain that they are Believers, then send them not back to the unbelievers [i.e. Christians and Jews]. They are not lawful [wives] for the unbelievers, nor are the [unbelievers] lawful [husbands] for them.” (Quran 60: 10).
If the non-Muslim husband converts to Islam, a new marriage is not needed. He can marry up to four women at one time.
The general rule in Islamic Sharia is that women inherit half the shares of men who have the same degree of relation to the deceased. For example, where the deceased has one son and one daughter, a son’s share is double that of his daughter’s.
A Christian or Jewish woman married to a Muslim man does not inherit from her husband because she is not Muslim. Only Muslim widow inherit from her Muslim husband. A non-Muslim wife does not inherit from her Muslim husband unless she is mentioned in his will as a beneficiary.
8-Muslim Women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim Men
Every single country in the Middle East allows Muslim men to marry Christian or Jewish women but Muslim Women cannot marry Christian or Jewish men. Turkey is the only country in the Middle East that allows Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men through secular laws. In Islamic Sharia, a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim woman. The offspring of such unions are automatically Muslims and all Muslims are, by virtue of the Islamic Sharia, prohibited from leaving Islam.
In Islamic countries, a Muslim man or woman who converts from Islam to another religion will be subject to stiff penalties. In certain Muslim countries, the penalty can be death by execution.
DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 915-2237.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background; Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law and Islamic law; Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in US Courts and Canada; admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; former Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State. http://muslimdivorceinusa.com/about-us/