Answering Revisionists: Can a Muslim Woman Marry a Jew or a Christian?


Waqar Akbar Cheema


Muslim community has from the beginning unanimously held that it is impermissible for Muslim women to marry Jewish and Christian men. In recent times certain revisionists have advocated the permissibility of such interfaith marriages. In this paper the arguments of such revisionists is critically analyzed and it is convincingly shown that their opinion is based on flimsy grounds and is devoid of academic merits besides contradicting the scholarly consensus.

1. Introduction

There is general consensus among the ummah on the impermissibility of a Muslim woman’s marriage to a disbeliever, whether he is from People of the Book (Jews/Christians) or otherwise.

Sayyid Sabiq (d. 1420/2000) states:

أجمع العلماء على أنه لا يحل للمسلمة أن تتزوج غير المسلم، سواء أكان مشركا أو من أهل الكتاب

The scholars are unanimous that it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim, whether he is a pagan or from People of the Book.[1]

Likewise it is stated in al-Mawsuat al-Fiqhiya al-Kuwaitiya (Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Jurisprudence):

ولا يجوز زواج المسلمة من غير المسلم، ولو كان ذميا أو كتابيا. وذلك باتفاق الفقهاء

A Muslim woman’s marriage with a non-Muslim is not permissible, whether he is a dhimmi or one from People of the Book. This is by the agreement of the jurists.[2]

However, lately some of the modernists have been challenging the unanimous position of the Muslim ummah contending that there is nothing in shari’ah to prove the impermissibility of such a marriage.

Moiz Amjad, an affiliate of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi’s al-Mawrid institute, answering a question on the issue states:

… because of the silence of the Qur’an in the related issue, marriage between a Muslim woman and a Jewish/Christian man cannot be termed as prohibited by the Shari`ah.[3]

His contention is that where Qur’an (2:221) forbids the marriage of Muslim women with non-Muslims the word used is “mushrikīn” (lit. polytheists) which refers to pagans only and does not refer to Jews/Christians. And where the Qur’an (66:10) uses the word “kāfir” the context of revelation is clearly related to pagans.[4]

This position, however, is totally unfounded. Not only does it go against the agreed upon position of the ummah since the very beginning, it even fails to take into account the true implications of related Qur’anic verses.

2. The word “mushrik/in” applies to People of Book as well

It is true that Qur’an uses the word “mushrik” in the verse forbidding inter-faith marriages but it is wrong to assume that it does not apply to Jews and Christians. The verse states:

وَلَا تَنْكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّى يُؤْمِنَّ وَلَأَمَةٌ مُؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ مُشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ وَلَا تُنْكِحُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَتَّى يُؤْمِنُوا وَلَعَبْدٌ مُؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِنْ مُشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ أُولَئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you.[5]

2.1 Evidence from the Qur’an

It is evident from the Qur’an itself that the word “mushrik” can apply to People of Book as well. The word “mushrik” does not apply to pagans/idolaters only

In Surah al-Tawba we have a clear mention of shirk on the part of Jews and Christians regarding their beliefs about ‘Uzair and ‘Eisa;

وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ عُزَيْرٌ ابْنُ اللَّهِ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَارَى الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ قَوْلُهُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ يُضَاهِئُونَ قَوْلَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ قَاتَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ أَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ (30) اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إِلَهًا وَاحِدًا لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ (31)

The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of Allah’; and the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the son of Allah.’ That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.[6]

In fact al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1143) refers to this verse under Qur’an 2:221 to prove that Jews and Christians are also included among those who commit “shirk.”

Likewise, in Qur’an 2:135 and 3:67 after the mention of Jews and Christians’ contentions regarding Ibrahim (as) it is said “he was not from al-mushrikīn:”

مَا كَانَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ يَهُودِيًّا وَلَا نَصْرَانِيًّا وَلَكِنْ كَانَ حَنِيفًا مُسْلِمًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (67)

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists.[7]

Scholars have said that the last phrase “and he was not of the polytheists” is by the way condemnation a reference to polytheism (shirk) found with the People of Book despite their claims of being the followers of Ibrahim (as). Al-Razi (d. 606/1209) states:

وهو تعريض بكون النصارى مشركين في قولهم بإلهية المسيح وبكون اليهود مشركين في قولهم بالتشبيه

It is an indication to the fact that the Christians are polytheists (mushrikīn) for their saying regarding divinity of Christ and Jews are polytheists (mushrikīn) for their similar saying (regarding ‘Uzair).[8]

Al-Zamakhshari, al-Baidawi, al-Nasafi, al-Mazhari, al-Shawkani, al-Maraghi etc. have also mentioned the same.

2.2 Evidence from Hadith

The use of the word “mushrik” for people of the book is evident from Hadith as well. Following are the two versions of the one of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) last advices to the Muslims;

عن أبي عبيدة، قال: آخر ما تكلم به النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم:  أخرجوا يهود أهل الحجاز، وأهل نجران من جزيرة العرب، واعلموا أن شرار الناس الذين اتخذوا قبور أنبيائهم مساجد

Abu ‘Ubaida bin al-Jarrahnarrated: The last words spoken by the Prophet (ﷺ) were: “Expel the Jews of Hijaz and the people of Najran (i.e. Christians) from the Arabian Peninsula. And know that the most evil of people are those who take the graves of their prophets as places of worship.”[9]

In other versions of the report the wording is:

عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما: … وأوصى عند موته بثلاث: أخرجوا المشركين من جزيرة العرب

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: The Prophet (ﷺ) on his deathbed, gave three orders, [one of them was] “Expel the polytheists (al-mushrikīn) from the Arabian Peninsula.”[10]

Explaining this version Abu al-‘Abbas al-Qurtubi (d. 656/) writes:

يعني بالمشركين : اليهود ؛ لأنه ما كان بقي مشرك في أرض العرب في ذلك الوقت غيرهم ، فتعيَّنوا ، وقد جاء في بعض طرقه : ((أخرجوا اليهود من جزيرة العرب )) ؛ مفسّرًا .

Mushrikīn here means Jews because at the time of this saying there was no mushrik left in Arabia except them. They are thus specified. In other versions it is clarified, “Expel the Jews from Arabian Peninsula.”[11]

Similarly, Qadi ‘Iyad (d. 544/1149),[12] al-Muzhiri (d. 727/1327),[13] Ibn al-Malak (d. 854/1450),[14] and al-Kawrani (d. 893/1488)[15] have also stated that this hadith uses the word mushrikīn to refer to Jews and Christians.

 Likewise, after quoting these reports in the same sequence al-Albani (d. 1420/2000) commented:

وفيه دلالة على جواز إطلاق لفظ ” المشرك ” على أهل الكتاب، فإنهم هم المعنيون بهذا الحديث كما يدل عليه الحديث السابق

In this is the evidence for usage of the word “mushrik” for People of the Book, for they are intended in this report (using the word “mushrikīn”) as evidenced by the hadith prior to it (i.e. report of Abu ‘Ubaida).[16]

 2.3 Companions’ take on Qur’an 2:221

Companions, the first recipients of the message, and most of the scholars of later generations have understood the word “mushrikāt” in Qur’an 2:221 to refer to Jewish/Christian women as well. Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1200) writes;

وفي «المشركات» هاهنا قولان: أحدهما: أنه يعُم الكتابيات وغيرهن، وهو قول الأكثرين . والثاني: أنه خاص في الوثنيات، وهو قول سعيد بن جبير، والنخعي، وقتادة

On the word “mushrikāt” there are two opinions: One is to take it in general sense including women of People of the Book and others. This is the opinion of the majority. And second is that it is specific to pagan women and this is the saying of Sa’id bin Jubayr, al-Nakha’i and Qatadah.[17]

 Narrations with al-Tabari and Ibn Abi Hatim tell us that among the majority who counted Jews and Christians in polytheists (mushrikīn) include companions like Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn ‘Umar as well. Other authorities besides being few odd are not companions, the students of the Prophet (ﷺ).

It must, however, be remembered that even the few odd early scholars and those who followed them in saying  that the verse is specific to pagan women never ruled for the permissibility of a Muslim woman’s marriage to a non-Muslim man. Apparently, they said so only in wake of Qur’an 5:5 which effectively limits the Qur’an 2:221 to pagan women. Whereas the majority commented to the verse in its own right even though they also knew that in the final assessment the prohibition for Muslim men is only regarding pagan women.

Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373) records;

وقد كان عبد الله بن عمر لا يرى التزويج بالنصرانية، ويقول: لا أعلم شركا أعظم من أن تقول: إن ربها عيسى، وقد قال الله تعالى: {ولا تنكحوا المشركات حتى يؤمن}

‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar did not approve marriage with Christian women. He used to say; ‘I do not know shirk greater than a person saying “‘Eisa is his Lord” and Allah has said, “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe.” (2:221)

عن ابن عباس قال: لما نزلت هذه الآية: {ولا تنكحوا المشركات حتى يؤمن} قال: فحجز الناس عنهن حتى نزلت التي بعدها: {والمحصنات من الذين أوتوا الكتاب من قبلكم} فنكح الناس [من]  نساء أهل الكتاب.

Ibn ‘Abbas said: When the verse “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe” was revealed people stayed away from [all] polytheistic (mushrik) women until subsequent revelation of the verse, “And [lawful to you in marriage] are chaste women of the people who were given the Book before you.” (Qur’an 5:5) Thereafter, the people married women of People of the Book.[18]

Point to note is that despite their mutual difference both Ibn ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbas considered “mushrikāt” (polytheist women) to include Jewish/Christian women as well. And if “mushrikāt” in 2:221 includes Jewish/Christian women, naturally “mushrikīn” (polytheist men) in the same verse includes Jewish/Christian men as well. And then we have exception for Jewish/Christian women but nothing of the kind for Jewish/Christian men. Allah says:

الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And[lawful in marriage are]chaste women from among the believers andchaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking [secret] lovers. And whoever denies the faith – his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.[19]

Therefore, Ibn ‘Abbas’ report makes it clear that this is the case of relation between general and specific law. General law (Qur’an 2:221) forbids both Muslim men and women to marry all of the people who have polytheistic beliefs, be they the Jews and the Christians or the pagans whereas the specific law (Qur’an 5:5) permits Muslim men to marry the chaste women of the Jews and the Christians. However, the specific law does not in any way affect the general law establishing impermissibility of a Muslim man’s marriage to a pagan woman and that of a Muslim woman to a man whether a pagan or one from the People of the Book (Jews and Christians).

3.  Why different ways of referencing pagans and People of the Book?

In the light of the foregoing one may ask why then Qur’an maintains a difference in referring to pagans and People of the Book.  The reason for reference to mushrikīn and Jews/Christians with a conjunction (as in Qur’an 98:1) and special rules for the latter is that the Jews and Christians unlike the pagans have an organized religion. It is for this reason that Jews and Christians are mentioned with their particular names but the pagans are identified with their general characteristic i.e. shirk as they had no specific and systematic religious identity. This explains different ways of referencing the two.

As for the separate rules, it is because People of the Book (Jews and Christians) despite their polytheism (shirk) believed in scriptures, prophecy and revelation and had some solid stuff to make them refer back to. For this reason Qur’an tells us to ask them to turn to what is agreed upon i.e. not to ascribe partners to Allah: Qur’an 3:64 (This itself suggests despite the agreement on tawhid at some level People of the Book had got down to the level of polytheism).

For the above reason the variance between pagans (mushrikīn) and People of the Book (Jews and Christians) can be maintained but only where there is some textual evidence.

4. An interesting point on Islamic law on marriage with Jews and Christians

Quite often non-Muslims raise the question as to why does Islam not allow Muslim women to marry Christian or Jewish men while it allows Muslim men to marry Christian or Jewish women.

Muhammad Asad, the famous Muslim scholar much before his reversion to Islam witnessed a Greek asking the same to an illiterate Egyptian and the found an interesting reply. Here is the account in the very wording of Muhammad Asad. The Greek speaks to the Egyptian:

 ‘You people say that your religion is so equitable. Couldst thou perhaps then tell why it is that Islam allows Muslim men to marry Christian or Jewish girls but does not allow your daughters and sisters to marry a Christian or Jew? Dost thou call this justice, huh?’

‘I do, indeed,’ replied the portly umda [a village headman] without a moment’s hesitation, ‘and shall tell thee why our religious law has been thus laid down. We Muslims do not believe that Jesus-may peace and God’s blessings be upon him-was God’s son, but we do consider him, as we consider Moses and Abraham and all the other Prophets of the Bible, a true Prophet of God, all of them having been sent to mankind in the same way as the Last Prophet, Muhammad-may God bless him and give him peace-was sent: and so, if a Jewish or Christian girl marries a Muslim, she may rest assured that none of the persons who are holy to her will ever be spoken of irreverently among her new family; while, on the other hand, should a Muslim girl marry a non-Muslim, it is certain that he whom she regards as God’s Messenger will be abused … and perhaps even by her own children: for do not children usually follow their father’s faith? Dost thou think it would be fair to expose her to such a pain and humiliation?’

The Greek had no answer to this except an embarrassed shrug of his shoulders; but to me it seemed that simple, illiterate umda had, with that common sense so peculiar to his race, touched the very kernel of a very important problem.[20]

5. Summary and Conclusion

1. The People of the Book do commit shirk and for this reason they have been referred to as mushrikīn in both Qur’an and Hadith.

2. Qur’an 2:221 prohibits marriage of both Muslim men and women to all those who committed shirk including People of the Book. However, the specific ruling in Qur’an 5:5 permits marriage of Muslim men with the Jewish and Christian women. While the specific law takes precedence over the general law, the implications of the general law not addressed in the specific law remain operative.

3. There is total consensus among the scholars that marriage of a Muslim woman with any non-Muslim man including Jews and Christians is impermissible.

4. The opinion held by Mr. Ghamidi’s student Moiz Amjad and his ilk is totally unfounded and rejected for contradicting Qur’an, Sunnah and the scholarly consensus of the ummah.



[1] Sabiq, Sayyid, Fiqh as-Sunnah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1977) Vol.2, 105

[2] al-Mawsuat al-Fiqhiya al-Kuwaitiya, (Kuwait: Dar al-Salasil, 1986) Vol.7, 133

[5] Qur’an 2:221

[6] Qur’an 9:30-31

[7] Qur’an 3:67

[8] al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din, Mafatih al-Ghaib, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1420 AH) Vol.8, 254

[9] Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 1691; classified as sahih by al-Albani in Silsala al-Ahadith al-Sahiha (Riyadh: Maktaba al-Ma’arif, 1995) Vol.3, No. 1132

[10] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 3053; al-Albani placed it in his Silsala al-Ahadith al-Sahiha No. 1133

[11] Al-Qurtubi, Abu al-‘Abbas, al-Mufhim li ma Ashkal min Talkhis Kitab Muslim, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 1996) Vol.4, 561

[12] Al-Yahsubi, ‘Iyad bin Musa, Ikmal al-Mu’lim bi Fawa’id Muslim, (Cairo: Dar al-Wafa, 1998) Vol.4, 216

[13] Al-Muzhiri, Al-Hussain bin Mahmud, Al-Mafatih fi Sharh Al-Masabih, (Kuwait: Dar Al-Nawadir, 2012) Vol.4, 458

[14] Al-Karmani, Ibn al-Malak, Sharh Masabih al-Sunnah, (Kuwait: Idara al-Thaqafa al-Islamiya, 2012) Vol.4, 476

[15] Al-Kawrani, Ahmad bin Isma’il, al-Kawthar al-Jari ila Riyadh Ahadith al-Bukhari, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2008) Vol.6, 141

[16] Al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Silsala al-Ahadith al-Sahiha, Vol.3, 125

[17] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Maisar, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1422 AH) Vol.1, 188

[18] Ibn Kathir, Tafisr al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyah, 1419 AH) Vol.3, 38

[19] Qur’an 5:5

[20] Asad, Muhammad, The Road to Mecca, (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1985) 186-187

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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