This piece received a lot of angry and confused responses when it was first aired in August last year. Now that I have relocated my blog I’ve decided to unleash it again in the hope of raising a few more eyebrows. Let the battle commence!
One thing that has always bugged me about a lot of religious people is their propensity to look down on others, and to assume that anybody failing to commit themselves to their particular religion of choice couldn’t possibly hold the same morally upright values that they hold. Having spent some time recently looking for reasons as to why historically Muslim women have been forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men, I’ve managed to come across a fair few of these self-righteous attempts at justifications, that leave me questioning the arrogance and ignorance of the rule-maker as much as the validity of their judgment. There doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence that marriage to a non-Muslim man is forbidden and the main arguments I’ve come across are weak, sketchy and make uncomfortable reading for anybody who doesn’t judge non-Muslims as inferior and immoral.
The first and perhaps least substantive reason given for the prohibition is that Muslims and non-Muslims do not share the same holy book or believe in the same prophets. However if these things were required for a successful marriage then the same rule would be applied to men marrying non-Muslim women. In a marriage where both partners are respectful of each other it shouldn’t matter what their religious views are, as faith is personal, it increases and decreases over time. When lecturing women about our limitations in marriage, perhaps people ought to bear in mind that we have a substantial number of Muslim men who believe they are within their rights to physically discipline a disobedient wife. Until our scholars start dealing with these issues, and other important issues that affect our community (especially with regards to the abuse of women) they have no right to be making restrictions on us.
Another of the reasons given is that a non-Muslim man would stop his wife from raising their child Islamically. Complete rubbish. The two parents would surely share the same values and outlook on life before making the huge decision to get married, so would continue along those lines when raising their children. Children don’t inherit or learn faith, it can’t be taught or handed down through the generations. It shouldn’t matter whether both parents are Muslim or not as long as the children are raised to be good people who may one day make the decision for themselves whether they want to label themselves Muslims or not. Even within families where both parents share the same religion there’s not necessarily agreement on all matters of religion and children’s upbringing. Many Muslims who hold liberal views would find they have a lot more in common with non-Muslim British men than a lot of Muslim men in this country who cling on to old cultural habits and expectations.
We need to stop holding on to traditions and beliefs that have no place in this country, and need to start questioning more the rulings we’ve been given and looking at the reasoning behind them to decide whether they apply here and now. For a Muslim in Britain to accept that they can’t marry a non-Muslim man because he will naturally be unreasonable, intolerant and disrespectful of his wife and her beliefs is misguided and makes me wonder whether they’re mixing at all with the wider community. If a woman meets a man who has all the personality traits a Muslim man is supposed to have, yet he doesn’t label himself a Muslim ,who is anybody to tell her she has to reject him? Why should Muslim women have to wait around for a decent Muslim man when there are plenty of good non-Muslims around, yet again being martyrs because it would seem too many of our ‘own‘ men can‘t move into the 21st century? It’s time Muslim women looked deeper into their faith and stopped being shackled by the expectations and restrictions of ‘the Muslim community’, that in reality have little to do with Islam and more to do with some men’s desire to control and subjugate women.
In a society such as we live in today there really is no reason why Muslims can’t have successful marriages with non-Muslims and raise families together, understanding and passing on the real meaning of tolerance and respect for others whose views differ from our own. Britain today promotes equality and respect for all citizens irrespective of religion; isolating ourselves from the rest of society in marriage goes against the very values we enjoy in this country.
Ideally everybody would marry somebody who they share as much as possible in common with, however faith should be just one part of it and not the be all and end all. If we really do still have people nowadays who think non-Muslims hold lower values and morals than Muslims, then that’s the biggest possible argument for exactly why we should have more mixed-faith marriages so that such false ideas and intolerance can’t be carried on generation after generation. It’s about time the Muslim community opened up a bit more and embraced all the different people living around us without making our own restrictions that really have no basis in religion.
If nothing else, just support interfaith marriages so we can get some more interesting and varied names in the Muslim community. There’s only so many Abdullahs and Aishas I can bear (apologies to my friend Aisha).