Mixed-Faith Marriages between Muslims & People of the Book

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

There are several opinions with regards marriage between Muslims and the Ahl al-Kitab, the People of the Book.  In many part of the Muslim world, including Singapore, it is makruh, considered abrogated.  In other Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Indonesia, it is recognised.  However, the recognition may be with conditions.  Thus, such a marriage may be halal, makhruh or even madzmum.

In shari’ah, marriage is a legal bond and a social contract between a man and a woman (only) before Allah (s.w.t.).  There are only two types of marriage contract, nikah, mentioned in the Qur’an.  There is the standard nikah.

And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer. (Surah an-Nisa’:4)

And what some interpret to be the nikah al-mut’ah.

Also (Prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess.  Thus hath Allah Ordained (Prohibitions) against you: except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property, - desiring chastity, not lust.  Seeing that ye derive benefit from them give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, ye agree mutually (to vary it) there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Surah an-Nisa’:24)

It should be noted, however, that many scholars of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah do not recognise this ayat as referring to nikah al-mut’ah.  Sunni Islam believes that nikah al-mut’ah has been abrogated and there is a strong fatwa from ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) declaring it abrogated.  The Twelver Shi’ah do not agree.

Additionally, there is nikah al-misyarNikah al-misyar is contract carried out via the normal contractual procedure, except that the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives in cases of polygamy, the wife's rights to housing, and nafqah, and the husband's right of home and access.  This is essentially because the couple continues to live separately from each other, as before their contract, and see each other to fulfill their needs in a halal manner whenever they please.  This is also known as the traveller’s marriage.  Its status in the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah is controversial at best.

The Ahl al-Kitab refers to three main groups of people in the Qur’an: Sabians, Christians and Jews.

Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabeans, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their Reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Surah al-Baqarah:62)

Some people say that there is an abrogation in the verse with regards to marriage with the Ahl al-Kitab is that the Ahl al-Kitab in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is different from the Ahl al-Kitab now.  This is erroneous.  As Muslims, we believe that the Qur’an is for all time.  It is without error and irrefutable for those who have taqwa.  That Allah (s.w.t.) has Named the characteristics of the mu’minin, it is for all time.  That Allah (s.w.t.) has Stated the characteristics of the mushrikin, it is for all time.  This if these are the characteristics of the Ahl al-Kitab, they are for all time.  The Qur’an is not just for Muslims but for all mankind.  It is, thus, Addressing the Ahl al-Kitab then as now.

Christianity as we know it was already settled in its doctrines, liturgy and the composition of the Bible by the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  The last of the Ecumenical Councils on the major aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity, were over by the middle of the 3rd Century CE.  Therefore, there is little doctrinal difference between Christianity then and Christianity now.  By the advent of the last Prophet (s.a.w.), two of the three Christian denominations, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, had already been in existence for more than half a millennium.  The Protestant movement would only appear after the Reformation.  The Qur’an implicitly acknowledges this in its address to the Christians.  For example:

He begetteth, not nor is He begotten.  (Surah al-Ikhlasw:3)

If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the Revelation that was Sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side.  There is from among them a party on the right course; but many of them follow a course that is evil.  (Surah al-Ma’idah:66)

O people of the Book!  Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth.  Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He Bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit Proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers.  Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son.  To Him Belongs all things in the heavens and on earth.  And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.  (Surah an-Nisa’:171)

The Jews call Uzayr a son of Allah and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah.  That is a saying from their mouths; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say.  Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!  They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were Commanded to worship but one Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to him: (far is He) from having the partners they associate (with him). (Surah at-Tawbah:30-31)

The Qur’an, therefore, Addresses the Christians and the Jews for all time.  There is no major difference in the creeds of both faiths from the time of Muhammad (s.a.w.) and now.  Therefore, it is erroneous to say that the Christian and the Jews then are different from the Christian and the Jews now.

Within Islamic marriages of any sort, the inherent power structure presupposed by the faqih is that the Muslim shall be dominant over the non-Muslim to preserve the faith; and the man shall be the imam.  Therefore, it logically follows, that under no circumstances shall a muslimah be married to a non-Muslim.  All marriages with the Ahl al-Kitab shall be understood to be between a Muslim male and a non-Muslim female.  Anything otherwise, would upset the relationship power structure.

This day are (all) things good and pure Made Lawful unto you.  The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them.  (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, Revealed before your time ― when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues.  If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good). (Surah al-Ma’idah:5)

In the early days of the ummah, there were far more male Muslims than females.  In light that these people needed to marry, it was far preferable that they marry people who believed in one God as opposed to the outright idolaters.  Allah (s.w.t.) does not enjoin upon us unnecessary burdens.  Later, with the growth of the ummah, there were more than enough Muslim females.  When the armies of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.) entered Egypt, they camped at Fusthath in the beginning of Fath al-Miswr.  Using the above ayat as a basis, their commander ‘Amr (r.a.) wrote back to the Caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.), requesting permission for the Muslims there to marry the Christian women.  ‘Umar (r.a.) replied, “Are there not enough Muslim women?”

Some of the ‘ulama take this to be a fatwa by ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.).  If the majority of Muslim men preferred to marry women of the Ahl al-Kitab, what recourse did the Muslim women have?  There is a consensus of opinion of the ‘ulama that marriage with Ahl al Kitab women was permitted at first.  It was the practice of the swahabah of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) such as ‘Utsman ibn al-‘Affan (r.a.), Thalha (r.a.), ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) and Hudzayfah ibn al-Yaman (r.a.); and tabi’un such as Shaykh Sa’ad ibn al-Musayyab (r.a.), Shaykh Sa’id ibn Jubayr (r.a.), Shaykh al-Hasan (r.a.), Shaykh Thawus (r.a.) and Shaykh Akramah (r.a.) amongst others.

In spite of the practice of the swahabah and the tabi’un, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) was of the opinion that one should not marry any Ahl al Kitab.  He used to say, “Allah has Forbidden us to marry polytheists, and I do not understand anything other than greater polytheism when a woman says that her Lord is ‘Isa (a.s.) who is a servant from the servants of Allah.”

Do not marry disbelieving women until they believe; a slave woman who believes is better than a disbelieving woman even though she allure you.  Nor marry (your girls) to disbelievers until they believe: a man slave who believes is better than a disbeliever, even though he allure you.  Disbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire.  But Allah Beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of Bliss) and Forgiveness, and makes His Signs Clear to mankind: that they receive admonition (Surah al-Baqarah:221)

This is a general verse declaring all pagan women Forbidden for marriage to Muslim men, and vice versa.  However, there is a specific ayat mentioned above, Surah al-Ma’idah:5, that specifically Allows it.  Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) stated in explanation of this verse, “And it is said regarding this ayat that all mushrikat were Forbidden, then Allah (s.w.t.) Revealed the rukhswah that it is halal to marry the free women of the Ahl al-Kitab specifically.”  ‘Rukhswah’ means ‘dispension’.

On the contrary, Imam an-Nahas (r.a.) quoted Imam Ishaq al-Harbi (r.a.) as saying, “A group of the scholars forwarded the view that the verse in Surah al-Baqarah abrogated the verse in Ma’idah.  So they deemed it haram to marry every mushrikah, whether she be a Kitabiyyah or a Laa Kitabiyyah.”  Imam an-Nahas (r.a.) further stated, “And support for those who say this is what is authentically reported that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar was asked about a man marrying a Christian or Jewish woman to which he stated, ‘Allah (s.w.t.) Forbade the believing men from marrying the female pagan, and I do not know of any greater shirk that for a woman to say her ‘Rabb’ is ‘Isa.’”

It is qiyas for the majority of the ‘ulama to this is that the verse of Surah al-Baqarah was Revealed prior to Surah al-Ma’idah, so it is impossible for an ayat in al-Baqarah to abrogate an ayat in al-Ma’idah.  But according to the Maliki madzhab, we have the definite example, the ‘urf of the people of Madina and it was an accepted practice of them to marry Ahl al-Kitab.  Further to that, it can also argued that the narrative of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) is not proof, as it is possible he was not informed of the naskh.  It is the personal opinion of a single swahabah and not a consensus of the swahabah.

After Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) recorded the narrative of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.), Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) stated in his Fath al-Bari, “Imam al-Bukhari did not clarify the ruling of this issue due to the standing probability.  The majority of scholars hold that the verse in Surah al-Baqarah is general whereas the verse in Surah al-Ma’idah is khasw.  And it is reported from a group of the Salaf that what is intended by the term ‘mushrikat’ is the slave girl of the idols and the Magian women, this was forwarded by ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mundzir and others.”

‘Abdullah ibn al-Mundzir (r.a.) stated, “It is not preserved from anyone from the earliest (generations) that it was Forbidden.”  Therefore, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mundzir (r.a.) disregarded the report of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) totally, deeming it irregular and baseless.

Some scholars maintained that it was makruh to marry a Kitabiyyah.  In the Muswannaf of Imam ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.) it is reported via a hasan sanad that Abdul Malik (r.a.) said, “I asked ‘Atha’ regarding the marriage to Jewish and Christian women and he stated that he hated such.  He said, ‘That was when the Muslim women were few.’  In other words, ‘Atha’ (r.a.) deemed it hated in the law, and that the rukhswah was given in the case when the Muslim women were few and the disbelievers many.

There is yet another report from ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) in the Muswannaf of Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq (r.a.) that stated, from Qatadah (r.a.) who said, “Hudzayfah married a Jewish woman in the time of ‘Umar.  So ‘Umar said, ‘Divorce her for verily she is jamrah’.

Hudzayfah asked, ‘Is she haram?’

‘Umar said, ‘No.’  So Hudhayfah did not divorce her due to ‘Umar’s words, but eventually he did end up divorcing her.”  ‘Jamrah’ literally means ‘coal’, or ‘embers’ - figuratively, from Hell.

Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) reported regarding this issue, a narration from Abi Wa’il (r.a.) that Hudzayfah (r.a.) married a Jewish woman and so ‘Umar (r.a.) wrote to him telling him to separate from her.  Also, it is reported by Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq (r.a.) from Shaykh ‘Amir ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.) that Thalhah ibn ‘Ubaydullah (r.a.) married a noble from the Jewish women.  So ‘Umar (r.a.) told him to divorce her.

However, Abu ‘Ubayd (r.a.) stated, “The Muslims, today, are upon the rukhswah.”

Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) stated, “It is beloved by me that one does not marry them and marries a Muslim woman.”

Imam ibn al-Habib (r.a.), the Imam of the Malikiyyah in al-Andalus, stated, “Marriage to a Christian or Jewish woman, though halal, is madzmum,” meaning that it is blameworthy.

The scholars further placed conditions to marrying them.  Imam ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.) reported from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) that he said, “It is not permissible to marry women from the Ahl al-Kitab when they are at war.”

It is also reported from Abi ‘Ayyad (r.a.) that he stated, “The women of Ahl al-Kitab are halal for us, save for the people of war, for their women and meat are haram for you!”

The faqih and muhaddits, Imam al-Hakim (r.a.), stated. “Verily, there are those from Ahl al-Kitab who it is not halal for you to marry or eat from their food: The people of war,” meaning the people at war with the Muslims.  Imam ‘Abdullah ibn as-Swiddiq al-Ghumari (r.a.) wrote a detailed treatise wherein he released the fatwa that it was haram to marry the English, for they were fighting the Muslims in India.  It was haram to marry the women of Eastern Europe as they were fighting the Khalifah of the Ottomans in Albania, at the time he wrote the fatwa.  He stated the same regarding the Palestinians marrying the Jewish Zionists, the French because of their wars in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, as well as the Spanish for their wars against the Moroccans.

The ‘ulama also forbid marriage to them if the children would be raised under their religion, or the possibility existed where such would be applied.  This is by the application of the principle of sadd adz-dzara’i or “stopping the means to a greater harm.”

Imam ibn al-Jawzi’s (r.a.) tafsir explained Surah al-Ma’idah:5 as follows: “And this ayah permits marrying the Kitabiyyah.  It is reported from ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan that he married Na’ilah bint al-Firafisah and she was a Christian.  Thalhah ibn ‘Ubaydullah married a Jewess.  It is reported from ‘Umar that he disliked that.  There is disagreement regarding the Kitabiyyah that is at war with the Muslims.  ibn ‘Abbas said that it was not halal.  The jumhur disagree with him.  Rather, they deem it makruh.  The proof for those who forbade it is the verse of al-Mujadilah that States, ‘You will not find a people who believe in Allah (s.w.t.) and the Last Day having affection for those who oppose Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messenger (s.a.w.), even if they were their fathers or their sons or their brothers or their kindred,’ as marriage necessitates love.”

Thou wilt not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred … (Surah al-Mujadilah:22)

Regarding the word ‘muhswinat’ there are two issues that are dealt with by the scholars.  It is generally interpreted to mean the free women of Ahl al-Kitab.  That is because the slaves were whores and prostitutes in the days of the Muslims.  However, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), as reported by Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (q.s.) in his tafsir, stated that the meaning here is ‘chastity’ not ‘freedom’.  The Shafi’iyyah disagree however, and state that it is not permitted to marry the slaves of the Kitabiyyah; that they must be believers.  With regards, al-’afifah, sexual chastity, Hafizh ibn Katsir (r.a.) stated, “And the thahir intended meaning of this phrase is that it is a woman who is chaste from zina.  Just as Allah (s.w.t.) the Exalted has Said in the Qur’an:

If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess: and Allah hath Full Knowledge about your faith.  Ye are one from another: wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: they should be chaste not lustful nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for free women.  This (Permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practise self-restraint: And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah an-Nisa’:25)”

In conclusion, whilst it is accepted in much of the Muslim world, marriage to the Ahl al-Kitab was started as an alternative to marriage to the polytheists in a time when the Muslim women are few.  That time has since passed in much of the Muslim world.  We now live in a situation where the women outnumber men in many places.  One of the duties of the husband is to be the imam of the family.  We live in a time where the iman of the Muslims is weak and ‘ilm is of a low standard.  Marrying into a non-Muslim family will only exacerbate the situation.  The Muslims will lose their religion and the children will lose their legacy.  Modern fiqh within the context of an established Muslim minority is not very well developed.  There will be complications in the areas of fara’idh, parental rights in the event of divorce and tarbiyyah by both sides of the family.  In short, if possible, Muslims should marry Muslims, and good Muslims should marry good Muslims.  And Allah (s.w.t.) Knows Best.


  1. I copying your article, and convert it to PDF ebook..

  2. AssalamAlaikum,

    This is such a detailed analysis~ Great reading!

  3. Wa'Alaikumus Salaam,

    Thank you.

  4. Great article.
    only a typo:Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah killed Hasan (r.a.) at Karbala

    1. Noted with thanks. I will change it immediately.


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