The question of marriage outside of one’s faith is not specific to any one religion. Each religion, I am sure, encourages adherents to marry within the faith. Yet while this is true across faiths, and even cultures, Islam is often singled out in a negative light. It seems that there are many who are willing to listen to critiques of Islam that show it to be backwards, oppressive, and intolerant without considering the viewpoints of the adherents and without considering its history and diversity. As a case in point, I want to focus on the issue of marriage in Islam, specifically on Asra Nomani’s article “My Big Fat Muslim Wedding” in Marie Claire, G. Willow Wilson’s response, and the recent Doha Debate on whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to marry anyone she chooses, in which Nomani appeared.
It is true that Muslim women are allowed to only marry Muslim men, while Muslim men are permitted to marry among People of the Book, i.e. Christians and Jews. However, there are stipulations that are often ignored not only by non-Muslims, but also by Muslim men themselves. These stipulations recognize the role that commonality of faith can mean for a marriage. Stipulations include marrying a Christian or Jewish woman who is practicing and dedicated to her faith and raising the children as Muslims. This dictate, some explain, is tied to the idea that children in Islamic culture follow the religion of the father. Now let’s stop and analyze this. If the woman is a practicing member of another faith, would she really be comfortable raising her children in another? Probably not. Moreover, religion is something that may not initially be a big problem between two people, but with children it comes to mean much more. Therefore, if a Muslim man chooses to marry a Christian or a Jew he has the burden of guaranteeing that the children will be Muslims.
Turning to Nomani’s article, she describes her own journey with marriage. Nomani calls for a re-reading of Islam so that Muslim women are permitted to marry non-Muslims. She found herself falling in love with the “wrong” people as well as facing a troubled marriage to a Muslim man. This experience motivated her call to change the rules. For Nomani, the rules of Islam that limit Muslim women to marrying a Muslim man lead to loveless marriages, like her own. Thus, Nomani argues that Muslim women should be allowed to find love in whomever they choose regardless of their faith.
G.Willow Wilson sees Nomani’s assessment to be problematic. Wilson argues that Muslims, specifically the men, are often already condemned, as if loveless marriages only occur when they are a part of it. For Wilson, who herself is a convert to Islam and married to a Muslim man, Nomani’s complaint about troubled marriages is not specific to Muslim men; its just that critics of Islam get the most attention. A common religion, Wilson states, is something that all religious groups advocate.
The Doha Debate on the topic underscored the sensitive nature of marriage outside of the faith. Nomani articulated much of the same opinion as in her article. On the other side of the table, Yasir Qadhi raised a different element not addressed explicitly in Wilson’s response. He argued that a person who identifies as Muslim, man or woman, choosing consciously and purposefully to adhere to the dictates of the faith and who believes that the Qur’an is the literal word of God must stay within the boundaries of the faith. For him, marriage is tied to self-identification. Qadhi also emphasized that, while he doesn’t agree that Muslim women should be allowed to marry anyone, some reformation is needed within the Muslim community to alleviate the subjugation of women that occurs in many societies.
Are you part of an interfaith marriage? What do you think the challenges are? Does your faith encourage marriage within the community? Do you think that the Islamic dictates are harsher? Please share your comments.