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Journal ArticleDOI

Interfaith marriage in comparative perspective

18 Mar 2015-Acta Orientalia (Akadémiai Kiadó)-Vol. 68, Iss: 1, pp 59-86

Abstract: This article examines interfaith marriage in different cultures focusing on Islamic law. The modern approach to this social phenomenon is also studied. In order to provide the reader with the legal background, juristic approaches to interfaith marriage are highlighted. Some court cases as well as the universal declaration of human rights and the Cairo declaration of Islamic human rights are examined for this purpose. The article aims at giving a broader perspective on interfaith marriage.
Topics: Interfaith marriage (66%), Human rights (57%), Sharia (54%), Islam (50%)

Content maybe subject to copyright    Report

Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. Volume 68 (1), 59 86 (2015)
DOI: 10.1556/AOrient.68.2015.1.4
0001-6446 / $ 20.00 © 2015 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
INTERFAITH MARRIAGE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
RECEP ÇIĞDEM
The University of Harran, Osman bey Kampusu
Sanlıurfa, 63300, Turkey
e-mail: recepcigdem@yahoo.co.uk
This article examines interfaith marriage in different cultures focusing on Islamic law. The modern
approach to this social phenomenon is also studied. In order to provide the reader with the legal
background, juristic approaches to interfaith marriage are highlighted. Some court cases as well as
the universal declaration of human rights and the Cairo declaration of Islamic human rights are
examined for this purpose. The article aims at giving a broader perspective on interfaith marriage.
Key words: interfaith marriage, Islamic law, Judaism, Christianity, human rights.
Introduction
Interfaith marriage refers to marriage between partners professing different religions.
Although this type of marriage was not common until the modern age, beginning
with the 20th century and the disintegration of the empires, a combination of popula-
tion, mobility and migration for economic reasons led to an increase in the incidence
of such marriages. Economic problems of the third world countries caused the influx
of people to migrate to economically prosperous countries. This brought about many
problematic issues. One of these issues is mixed marriages. The first generation of
immigrants typically did not enter into such unions to the extent that the subsequent
generations did. Now one can find instances of a Muslim girl falling in love with a
Christian boy or vice versa.
1
A 2007 Pew Research Center poll of Muslims in Amer-
ica revealed that “fifty-four percent of women and seventy percent of men say inter-
1
Leeman quoting Feuer states that interfaith marriage is discouraged by various religious
authorities such as Vatican and Muslim leaders (Feuer 2004; Leeman 2009, pp. 759 761, footnote
150).

60 RECEP ÇIĞDEM
Acta Orient. Hung. 68, 2015
faith marriage is acceptable” (Leeman 2009, footnote 141). According to the 2006
General Social Survey, 25% of U.S. households identified themselves as interfaith and
approximately one in four Jews and Catholics in the USA marry outside their faith
(Qanta, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-02-12/islam-
muslim-interfaith-marriage/53062730/1).
As a matter of fact, “women who marry non-Muslims may face being disowned
by their families
2
and ostracised by the community” (Leeman 2009, p. 760). Leeman
quotes Daily Telegraph (London, September 29, 2003) that a sixteen-year-old Iraqi
girl in the United Kingdom was stabbed to death by her father for planning to run
away with an eighteen-year-old Lebanese Christian boy.
3
Since this article is strictly dedicated to religious and legal aspects of such
unions, the social and physiological issues will not be examined.
4
Monotheistic Religions
A. Judaism
To begin with, religions do not expect their adherents to tie a bond or get married
with a person who professes other religion. Some strictly prohibit interfaith unions.
Others may allow it in limited circumstances.
5
In this respect, the Torah writes:You shall not make marriages with them, giv-
ing your daughter to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons” (The Holy
Bible, Deuteronomy, 7:3). Jewish scholars extend this prohibition to non-marital rela-
tions.
6
Intermarriages between Jews and Christians were prohibited by the Emperor
Constantinus in 339 and those who did so, were subjected to death penalty.
7
In 1236,
Moses of Couchy ordered Jews who had married to Christian or Muslim women to
break up their marriage. In 1844, the Rabbinical Conference of Brunswick declared:
2
It is reported that a Pakistani Muslim woman who married a Christian was threatened to
be killed by her family. (http://www.worthynews.com/9748-pakistan-interfaith-couple-in-hiding-
amid-death-threats).
3
“A twenty-three-year-old Faten Habash, a Christian living in Palestine, was killed by her
Christian father for her desire to marry a Muslim man” (Leeman 2009, p. 760, footnote 148).
4
For social and physiological issues of interfaith marriage, see Schwartz, http://psychcentral.
com/lib/2006/the-emotional-challenges-of-interfaith-marriage/all/1/; Saifuddin, http://peopleofsunnah.
com/fiqh/rulings/marriage/80-interfaithmarriage; Lemmons, http://foryourmarriage.org/catholic-
marriage/church-teachings/interfaith-marriages/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interfaith_marriage_
in_Islam; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interfaith_marriage_in_Christianity.
5
Only marriage within the same cast is allowed in Hindu custom (Tümer Küçük 1993,
p. 88).
6
For more, see http://www.torah.org/learning/halacha-overview/chapter27.html.
7
There are passages which support intermarriages, such as that of Joseph to Asenath, and
that of Ruth to Boaz. The classical Rabbis regard these passages as having occurred only after the
foreign spouse had converted to Judaism. No writer, ‘Interfaith marriage’, (http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Interfaith_marriage#cite_ref-JewEncInter_3-0; Acar, http://e-dergi.atauni. edu.tr/index.php/
ilahiyat/article/viewFile/3051/2944; Eskan 2007, p. 7).

INTERFAITH MARRIAGE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE 61
Acta Orient. Hung. 68, 2015
“The marriage of a Jew with a Christian woman or with any adherent of a monothe-
istic religion is not prohibited if the children of such issue are permitted by the state
to be brought up in the Israelites religion.” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/
articles/8137-intermarriage). Modern scholars of Judaism still oppose mixed mar-
riages. Some Rabbis such as Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hol-
lywood, however, are willing to conduct interfaith marriage ceremonies. He is quoted
to have said: “My policy of officiating only when both partners were Jewish was
based upon voices from Judaic texts and tradition, teachers and mentors who taught
me that I was ordained a Rabbi to help fulfill three vital purposes: to preserve the
integrity of the Jewish covenantal relationship with God, the viability of the Jewish
family, and the survival and continuity of Judaism and the Jewish people. Those
voices have sounded inside my head for decades along with the voice that commanded,
‘Thou shalt not officiate at an intermarriage ceremony!’ I’ve come to the conclu-
sion that based upon the new reality in which we find ourselves and the fact that
many intermarried families are seemingly successful in raising their children as Jews
here at Temple Israel, I now believe that I can better serve the Jewish people by offi-
ciating at their weddings, and that it is time for me to change my policy” (http://www.
jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/rabbi_ reverses_interfaith_marriage_policy).
B. Christianity
There are different approaches to interfaith marriages in Christianity. Some churches
forbid it on the basis of Deuteronomy 7:3, and of 2 Corinthians 6:14,
8
while others
permit it on the ground of 1 Corinthians 7:1214: “To the rest I say, not the Lord,
that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him,
he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he
consents to live with her, she should not divorce her. For the unbelieving husband is
consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her
husband.”
Walter H. Cuenin, a Catholic chaplain and the co-ordinator of the Interfaith
Chaplaincy at Brandeis University offers his approach to interfaith marriage as:
“All decisions about ceremony and children need to take second place
to the love relationship of the couple … For the Catholic, the ceremony
can take place in a non-religious setting, and a priest is not even required.
It is even possible for the marriage to be done simply by a civil minis-
ter, and the church will still recognize it as a valid marriage … It is very
important for me that the couple comes to a decision about which way
they will raise the child. Sometimes that decision needs to be based on
whichever of the two is the practicing person … Whatever tradition chil-
dren are raised in, hopefully they would be exposed to the other faith and
8
The verse reads: “Do not mismate with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness
and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”.

62 RECEP ÇIĞDEM
Acta Orient. Hung. 68, 2015
share to some extent in the rituals of that tradition. But as they do that,
they need to know their own identity The Church recognizes that
there may be cases in which the children will be raised in another faith.
But the marriage can still go forward. It is always a greater challenge
when both parties are well connected to their faith. In some of these
situations, when no possible agreement can be reached as to the chil-
dren’s religion, it may even be best if the marriage is postponed or even
rethought. It also seems to me that we need to appreciate the good that
can come from interfaith marriages. In a strange sort of way, these mar-
riages do remind us that God’s call for the human family transcends all
religious boundaries. There is no religion that has the only path to God.
While we find great benefit in our own faith traditions and want to see
them passed on to future generations, no one tradition has an exclusive
hold on Gods attention. When people of radically different yet connected
traditions marry, perhaps they are imaging a new way of viewing life.”
(Walter, A_Catholic_Priests_Perspective …)
Ottoman family code which was promulgated in 1917 prohibited the marriage
between the different sects of Christianity (Article 29) let alone a different religion.
Accordingly, a Catholic may not marry a Protestant (Aydın 1985, p. 248). Article 58
also prohibited marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man
9
and so a
Christian lover may not marry his beloved Muslim woman. The opposite is, however,
allowed.
C. Islam
1. ORTHODOX APPROACH
Muslim jurists, except for a few 20th-century scholars, unanimously hold that Muslim
women may not marry non-Muslim men. However, Muslim men may marry non-
Muslim women of ahl al-kitāb, that is Christians or Jews.
10
This is the view of Sunni
scholars but Shia jurists, however, do not allow Muslim men to marry ahl al-kitāb
women in a normal marriage although they allow it in temporary marriage (muṭ‘a).
11
19
It is worth mentioning that there are Sultanic decrees prohibiting marriage between the
Ottoman and the Iranian nationals even though they both share the same religion. This might indicate
historical rivalry between the Ottomans and the Iranians. For more see Çiğdem (2011, pp. 4546).
10
Some claim that Sabians and Zoroastrians are also ahl al-kitāb. ‘Abdurraḥman b. ‘Awf
reports from the Prophet Muhammad: “Deal with the Zoroastrians as ahl al-kitāb, without marrying
their wives and not eating their slaughters.” It seems that the statement without marrying their wives
and not eating their slaughtersis later added to the hadith. It is reported that Huzayfa, a compan-
ion of the prophet married a Zoroastrian woman (Malik b. Anas, Zakat 24; Jassās 1985, Vol. 3,
p. 327; Ibn Humām, no date, Vol. 3, pp. 230232; Kuzgun 1985; Özevin 2006, pp. 13 16; Canan,
http://www.hadis.resulullah.org/index.php?s=oku&id=2969).
11
For more, see al-Marghinānī (1986, Vol. 1, p. 193); Ibn Humām (no date, Vol. 3, pp.
228234); al-Ḥalabī (1981, p. 106); al-Shirbīnī (1958, Vol. 3, p. 187); Ibn Rushd (no date, Vol. 2,

INTERFAITH MARRIAGE IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE 63
Acta Orient. Hung. 68, 2015
If a non-Muslim woman who married a non-Muslim man converts to Islam, the mar-
riage is suspended until her husband converts to Islam. If the non-Muslim husband
does convert, a new marriage is not needed.
12
The second Caliph ‘Umar denied interfaith marriage for Muslim men during
his rule in 634644 on the ground that it may open the door to marriage with non-
Muslim women leaving Muslim counterparts single. This suggests that ‘Umar was
rather concerned with the future of Muslim girls. He might have thought that Mus-
lims prefer non-Muslim women for different reasons and not the Muslim girls. This
fear led him to temporarily suspend such marriages.
13
The Muslim jurists based their view on several Qur’anic verses and prophetic
traditions (ḥadīths). One of these verses reads:
Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave
woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though
she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe:
A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he
allures you. Unbelievers do beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons
by His Grace to the Paradise and forgiveness, and makes His signs
clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.” (Baqara 2/221)
Another verse:
O ye who believe! When there come to you believing women refugees,
examine (and test) them: Allah knows best as to their Faith: if you as-
certain that they are Believers, and then send them not back to the Un-
believers.
14
They are not lawful (wives) for the Unbelievers, nor are the
(Unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them. But pay the Unbelievers what
they have spent (on their dower), and there will be no blame on you if
you marry them on payment of their dower to them. But hold not to the
guardianship of unbelieving women: ask for what you have spent on
their dowers, and let the (Unbelievers) ask for what they have spent (on
the dowers of women who come over to you). Such is the command of
Allah. He judges (with justice) between you. And Allah is Full of Knowl-
edge and Wisdom.” (Mumtaḥina 60/10)
————
pp. 3334); Ibn Quda (1992, Vol. 7, pp. 500503); http://www.sistani.org/index.php?p=741491
&id=56&pid= 3263.
12
Some scholars have the view that if the wife converts and not the husband, the marriage
should not necessarily be cancelled (al-Marghinānī 1986, Vol. 1, p. 220; Ibn Humām, no date, Vol.
3, pp. 418419; al-Askalānī 1407/19861987, Vol. 9, p. 333; Karaman 1991, Vol. 3, pp. 383
386; Dalgın 2003, p. 146; Dalgın 2005, p. 192; Eskan 2007, pp. 87, 111, 121).
13
Ibn al-Humām (d.861/1457) states that ‘Umar opposed such marriages on the ground that
the mother may influence her children (Ibn Humām, no date, Vol. 3, p. 230; al-Jassās 1985, Vol. 3,
pp. 323325; Sābūnī, no date, Vol. 1, p. 194).
14
Some Muslim scholars hold that her being Muslim protects her from being deported. This
is because the prophet broke the covenant between Muslims and the polytheists of Mecca when a
woman named Umm Kulthūm bint ‘Uqba sought refuge in Medina, by not returning her to Mecca
when her relatives demanded that she be turned back to Mecca (al-Jassās 1985, Vol. 4, pp. 327330).

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