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. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember. (Al Baqarah 2:221)
By the laws of Allah, Muslims are generally supposed to marry only Muslims. The injunctions against a Muslim marrying a non-Muslim are clearly set out in the Qur'an and there should be no further debate about it. There are certain exceptions for Muslim men as set out below:
And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste 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. (Al Maeda v 5:5)
When we see an Islamic regulation, we should ask the wisdom behind it, rather than question the validity of the regulation. The Almighty can question us, but not the other way around. Lately the topic of interfaith marriages has been up for debate, however every ruling in Islam has a wisdom, and our obedience to Allah should be above our loyalty to politics, personal beliefs and other ideologies.
In the case of women, the injunction against marrying a non-Muslim man is absolute. If she marries a non-Muslim man, scholarly consensus is that she is not only continuously committing the sin of fornication, but she will also fall out of Islam entirely for flouting Allah's laws. If she did this without knowledge or intention, she should leave her non-Muslim husband, make taubah and declare her shahadah afresh. This prohibition is unqualified and it does not matter if the husband is Christian, Hindu or atheist.
Muslim men, under some circumstances and subject to very strict stipulations, are given a license to marry chaste women who are descended from the People of the Book (practicing Christians and Jews who fulfil certain conditions). This exception comes with many conditions, but many men take advantage of the exception and ignore the conditions that accompany the marriage.
The predominant marriage structure universally is for the wife to take the lead from the husband. In most households, the husband is the head of the family. The husband is able to assert more authority over his wife than the other way around. Most women, whatever their religion and culture, are inclined to follow their husbands' wishes and goals in life.
The danger of a Muslim woman being in a non-Muslim marriage and potentially living with a non Muslim family unit (the in-laws) is that she would be placed in an environment where she is receiving no support for her journey in Islam. In fact, she could potentially face plenty of opposition from her husband and his family, and be placed under constant pressure to abandon her faith. There are also other issues, such as the upbringing of the children, in which she might not have a decisive say.
The children of such a marriage will adopt their surnames from the husband's side of the family, but whose deen will they inherit? They might agree in theory that the wife can provide a Muslim upbringing to the children. However, consider the following scenarios. The ten year old child does not want to get up in the morning to perform the fajr salat. What if the child complains to the father and both of the come bearing down against the wife's authority, because the husband thinks sleep is more important for the child than prayer? What if the child refuses to fast and the husband accuses the wife of violating the human rights of the child? What if the child wants to eat pork and it creates chaos in the household about free will and freedom of choice? Who will support the wife then in trying to impart values of Islam to her children?
What if the husband commands that the children follow his religion, what then of the responsibility of the Muslim mother towards the children's spiritual upbringing? Will she be in a dominant position to defy her husband and ensure that her children are brought up as Muslims, or would she be in a position of vulnerability or dependence (whether emotional, financial or physical) where she has to place her husband's wishes above hers? The results on her deen and her children's are potentially catastrophic, which is why Islam does not allow for Muslim women to be placed in such a position in the first place. It is not about equality and women's rights, but a far more important matter of protecting the Muslim woman's deen.
The early Muslim women left their non-believing husbands once it was decreed that a believing woman cannot be with a non-believing man. Their deen was more precious to them than their husbands, but that is not to say that they did not genuinely love their husbands or that the parting did not cause great heartbreak. Zainab AS, the daughter of the Prophet SAW, was one such lady. She emigrated from Mekah, leaving her non-believing husband behind. Although the love for each other continued to burn bright in their hearts, she knew they could not be together because obeying Allah in this matter took precedence over her love for him. After many painful years of separation, her husband eventually, of his own accord, took the shahadah, and only then were they reunited as husband and wife.
In the case of a Muslim husband, he is allowed to marry the People of the Book – the chaste, sincere and practising followers of the Abrahamic faith. Many aspects of their religion and way of life, if they were to apply the original teachings of Judaism and Christianity, are consistent with Islamic tenets. This special permission does not extend to Buddhists, Hindus, free thinkers or those practising religions apart from those observed by the People of the Book. However, in doing so, the marriage must with the intention of inviting such wife to Islam.
As the leader of the household, the Muslim husband should not compromise on the matters of the deen. The Muslim husband is supposed to give da'wah to the non-Muslim wife, and not the other way around. He should be firm as to the matters of implementing an Islamic lifestyle within the home and Islamic instruction for the children. This assures that the Muslim legacy lives on even if the wife continues practising Judaism or Christianity. In practicality however, the mother, as the educator of the next generation, wields much influence on the children's upbringing. Hence in practice, how will the Muslim husband ensure that the children are properly brought up as Muslims?
If the intentions are not sincerely for Allah from the beginning, an interfaith marriage will have disastrous results which spills over to the next generation. We met a person who was raised by such an interfaith marriage, where the mother was a Catholic. Growing up in Europe, the Muslim father allowed his children to attend church and to participate in church activities, including joining the church choir. Because the father had anglicised his name, his sons did not even realise that he was Muslim. They only discovered their Muslim heritage when they were teenagers, while going through his things after he had passed away. Without knowledge or education on Islam, Islam was not an option for them and they remained Catholics. This story is one of thousands of such family structures across the world.
According to authentic scholarly opinions, such an interfaith marriage is forbidden if the harm outweighs the benefit. Harm here is measured in terms of the damage done to the deen of the entire family structure.
Many Muslim men marry non-Muslim women for dunia reasons and convenience – such as to obtain a green card, status or right to stay in a Western country. Whatever the reason, if it is a marriage of convenience, from an Islamic viewpoint, the marriage is founded on a lie and is not valid.
If, from the beginning the couple does not have mutual understanding on Islam, and the husband does not give her da'wah to Islam, scholars agree that such a marriage is makruh (highly not recommended) verging on haram (forbidden). If you cannot play your role, then please think twice before making such an immense commitment that will not only have consequences on your soul, but your children's as well.