Abstract Chatter

Why can Muslim men marry non-Muslim women (people of the book)? But Muslim women can’t?
November 2, 2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: 1

A few weeks ago, I posed this question as a Gmail status message, and within seconds of posting it, 4 women IMed me asking to share my answers. But how can there be an answer if the conversation is left out of our mainstream Islamic/American-Muslim discourse. How can there be a resolution if both men and women of the Muslim community are afraid to step into the realm of the unknown in an attempt to tackle such questions. Why is this question so heavily neglected in our discourse? What exactly are we bounded by? Is it Tradition? History? Is it because we’re so accustomed to the answer that there is no reason to question it? Does it lie under the absolute category alongside “Muslims cannot eat swine or drink alcohol”? Or are we simply afraid of what doors this could potentially open?

Why are our eyes wide shut? Let’s drop our pre-existing baggage and view it with open hearts. It’s evident that there exists a high need to engage in such dialogue but it somehow gets halted from moving forward… reasons for which remain mysterious to me. I dare not approach this topic from the ubiquitous perspective of “needing to marry a non-Muslim man because great Muslim men just aren’t out there,” as it seems this conversation is thoroughly played out.

My thoughts on why we as Muslim women couldn’t marry non-Muslim men.

From a traditional standpoint:

  • Point: Men, as they went off to war would never return home or be away for extended periods of time and therefore were allowed to marry women of the land where the war was taking place
    • Counterpoint: By the same token, I wonder about the women who are left behind. If this rule pertains to men, for what reasons could it not be applied vise versa? Moreover, women were left alone to be caretakers of their respective families. So why is an identical ruling not applied?
  • Point: Men played a dominant role in a given family structure and therefore dictated much of what took place in the household, including religious and daily activities. They were accountable for educating their children on issues regarding this world and the hereafter. Women were uneducated and incapable of engaging in the family process or traditional “head of household”  responsibilities.
    • Counterpoint: If you take a look at any contemporary family structure, women have dominated and flourished in every capacity both domestically and professionally. At least from the “western” perspective, women have educated themselves in everything from religion to philosophy to medicine. We are the leaders, educators and healers of our respective communities.
    • The Prophet (saws) has stated that the woman is a caretaker in the home, ra’i— the same word you use for a ruler. How likely is it then, that women are strictly susceptible to the influences of her husband?
    • Women now play a leading part in educating their children in terms of religion.

God only knows. I pray that we can put our minds and hearts together to contextualize our own history. To come up with answers which align with God’s words.


“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”- Galileo