Interfaith Marriages

Understanding the verse 2:221 of Quran, Sura Baqarah

Interfaith marriages are gaining ground and the one verse that is constantly discussed is verse 2:221 from Sura Baqarah in the Quran. Some among us are tied to a point of view expressed by scholars from earlier period of Islam, and some understand it as it applies to them in the timeless Quranic point of view. Quran calls on us to think and reflect, and it means that we must shine on every verse, we must find answers to why God must have said that, God does not want us to be blind believers. If it is not common sense, then it is not Islam

God loves us and expresses it through his guidance for us to be free from tensions, pain, misery and apprehensions, after all we are his creation and he wants each of us to live in peace and in harmony with fellow beings.

The Quran is about God’s wisdom for his creation to live in tranquility. God is selfless like mothers, as it says in the Quran that his love is more than the love of a mother. 70 was a metaphorical number used in Bible to mean infinite, I am sure the guidance is in every holy book of every religion.

A few followers in every religion follow the teachings of their religion, much of the religion we see today is smothered with culture. It is in this context we will discuss 2:221.

Islam is about creating cohesive societies where every human feels secure and at peace, regardless of his religion, race, ethnicity or any other uniqueness, indeed, peaceful societies is the end goal of Islam. God says he has created everything in balance (Quran 55:1-11) and obviously expects us not to cross the limits and continue to preserve that balance for our own good. After all he called us (all humanity) the manager (Khalifa) of what surrounds us; life and environment. The phrase is Tikkun Olam in Judaism and Islah al-Alam in Islam*.

The mission of Prophet Muhammad was to create and develop such societies; his role was given to be a peacemaker (Rahmatul Aalameen Quran 21.107), a conflict mitigator, and a goodwill nurturer. Jesus had said six hundred years earlier on the Mount Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Yes, all the great religious men have inscribed similar values.

The Quran is for all times, and we must look for it from that perspective. For example, 1400 years ago, when the Prophet told us to go to Mecca to perform Hajj, everyone understood it to be riding on the Camel. Then, 200 years ago, when someone wanted to go to Mecca, they thought of going on a boat (from India, Indonesia, and other distant places), and 50 years ago, the talk was going by an airline; today, you think about which airline? The essence is the same – going to Hajj, but its application is in current times.

Most Muslims have understood the explanations given by the past scholars as the final truth, indeed, it suited them at that time, but we don’t ride the camel anymore but fly in the plane and still go to the Hajj.

The Muslims, like the people of most other religions were persecuted in the beginning, and developed mechanism to protect their flock. That culture was embedded into religion, we need to keep them separate. America and Canada are the lands where we can see the difference between religion and culture.

The essence of 2:221

The essence of the verse 2:221 is about compatibility and not religion. The Muslims of that era thought, who would be compatible with my daughter or son, and simply took it for granted that only a Muslim would be compatible.

Quran or Islam does not prohibit a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim, our culture, the Muslim culture does. The same is true about other traditions. The condition laid out in the verse 221 is that they believe in accountability to one ultimate God, you cannot have many Gods as no one should have many bosses in the company they work. Hindus believe in one ultimate Parmatma (God), belief in the creator and caring for his creation. Please visit the article can a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim-

I am pleased to present a few translations of the verse, you can see the differences and figure out the essence. No translation can be said to be the word of God. If you prefer to look in the light of Quran, it is for humanity, all humanity not for Muslims. However, Muslim are those who subscribe to the three guidelines laid out in the following verse as explained by Muhammad Asad, and they are; i) A belief in God, ii) Belief in accountability (Day of Judgement) and iii) Caring for his creation the universe and everyone and everything in it.

وَلَا تَنكِحُوا۟ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكَـٰتِ حَتَّىٰ یُؤۡمِنَّۚ وَلَأَمَةࣱ مُّؤۡمِنَةٌ خَیۡرࣱ مِّن مُّشۡرِكَةࣲ وَلَوۡ أَعۡجَبَتۡكُمۡۗ وَلَا تُنكِحُوا۟ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِینَ حَتَّىٰ یُؤۡمِنُوا۟ۚ وَلَعَبۡدࣱ مُّؤۡمِنٌ خَیۡرࣱ مِّن مُّشۡرِكࣲ وَلَوۡ أَعۡجَبَكُمۡۗ أُو۟لَـٰۤىِٕكَ یَدۡعُونَ إِلَى ٱلنَّارِۖ وَٱللَّهُ یَدۡعُوۤا۟ إِلَى ٱلۡجَنَّةِ وَٱلۡمَغۡفِرَةِ بِإِذۡنِهِۦۖ وَیُبَیِّنُ ءَایَـٰتِهِۦ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمۡ یَتَذَكَّرُونَ ۝٢٢١

Muhammad Asad “2:221  AND DO NOT marry women who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for any believing bondwoman [of God] is certainly better than a woman who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though she please you greatly. And do not give your women in marriage to men who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for- any believing bondman [of God] is certainly better than a man who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though he please you greatly. [Such as] these invite unto the fire* whereas God invites unto paradise, and unto [the achievement of] forgiveness by His leave; and He makes clear His messages unto mankind, so that they might bear them in mind.”

Yusuf Ali, “2:221  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 (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 may celebrate His praise.”

Safi Kaskas, “2:221  Do not marry idolatrous women until they believe; a believing slave woman is better than an idolatrous woman even if she pleases you. And do not give your women in marriage to idolaters until they believe. A believing slave is better than an idolater, even if he pleases you. They [idolaters] invite [you] to Hell, whereas God calls for Heaven and forgiveness by His permission. He makes his signs clear to people so that they may remember. “

Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar “2:221 Marry not ones who are female polytheists until they believe. The one who is a believing, female bond servant is better than the one who is a female polytheist even if she impressed you and wed not the ones who are male polytheists until they believe. And one who is a believing, male bond servant is better than the one who is a male polytheist even if he impressed you. Those call you to the fire while God calls you to the Garden and to forgiveness with His permission. And He makes manifest His signs to humanity so that perhaps they will recollect.

Mike Ghouse, “I understand that the Quran calls for you to marry someone compatible with you so you can live peacefully with them. The maid-servant would be more compatible with you as they know everything about you and how you live, versus someone who is rich or beautiful but may not know what you eat, wear, and live. The focus in the first part of the verse is compatibility.

The second part calls on marrying someone who is not a Mushnik, that is, someone who does not believe in the sovereignty of God. The Mushriks of the Prophet’s time were irresponsible; they buried their daughters alive and killed each other with no remorse. Even in Wild West America about 200 years ago, men and women had no qualms about shooting someone they did not like, and in India, even Today, the fetus of a female child is aborted with no sense of guilt. That is why the Quran calls to marry someone with a conscience and morals, but in Today’s world, almost everyone is responsible for their deeds; no one goes scot-free, regardless of religion.

*Fire means, living in tensions and apprehensions and fighting with each other. Whereas paradise means husband and wife living in peace and enjoying the God-given life.

**Indeed, the story is the same with all religions, they allow their boys to marry girls from other faiths or no faiths, but not the other way around. It was simply because, in old times, the girls were dependent and did not work outside the home, in case of the death of the husband, she had no choice but to come back to her parents creating economic and social difficulties for parents at that time, but that is not the case today. She is as independents as men and takes care of herself and not a burden on the parents as they assumed. All of us are equals in the eyes of God, where you are accountable for your own actions.

Frequently, I have conversations with parents, and most support their kids’ choices as they trust them, and want the best for them. A few parents, however, want to know more and then endorse the relationship. No matter how difficult it is for some parents and kids to accept the interfaith relationship, they all have accepted over a period of time. They see that God brings two souls together to live in tranquility (30:21), and when parents support the relationship, it brings tremendous joy to their children.

Besides officiating traditional Nikah ceremonies among different Muslim traditions, I have officiated Interfaith Marriages between Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists. As a subscriber to Rabbul Aalameen (Lord of the universe –ٱلۡحَمۡدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلۡعَـٰلَمِینَ ) and follower of Rahmatul Aalameen (Mercy to Humanity – وَمَاۤ أَرۡسَلۡنَـٰكَ إِلَّا رَحۡمَةࣰ لِّلۡعَـٰلَمِینَ ) I consider our duty is to be the Mukhlooqul Aalameen – مخلوق لِّلۡعَـٰلَمِینَ i.e., a being for the good of all humanity.

Hindus figured compatibility in terms of matching Janam Patri (birth charts) and alignment with planetary positions. The restriction for their girls to marry outside their faith is similar to Jewish, Christian and other traditions. All problems in all religions are cultural.

The Quran explains compatibility in verse 2:221 as marrying someone familiar with your lifestyle instead of someone beautiful/handsome or rich. The second part of the verse has a similar meaning: do not marry someone who is Mushnik – i.e., someone who does not believe in the sovereignty of God, thus not accountable to any.

Genuine compatibility occurs when the man and the woman know each other well. They understand what builds each other and makes them feel secure and happy. Before becoming a prophet, Muhammad worked for Bibi Khadija for several years. She found him compatible, reliable, and someone she could trust and live happily, and she proposed to marry him, and he accepted it.

When you are accountable and compatible, married life becomes a smooth sail. That is what God wants, and that is what parents want, and that is what I want as a wedding officiant. As of December 31, 2023, I have officiated 357 weddings, and 40 of them were Nikah among Muslims of different denominations; the rest were all marriages between people of different faiths.

* Islah al-Alam is a phrase to express the duty of Muslim toward the creation, and article is in the making to be completed by Spring 2024.

Dr. Mike Mohamed Ghouse is a social scientist, pluralist, and an Interfaith Wedding Officiant. Since 1999, he has officiated over 400 weddings between Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Humanists, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and others. Through consultations with the couple and, if needed, the parents, he skillfully customizes the proceedings to include their faith and cultural traditions. They can choose Interfaith, Nikah, Civil, Hindu, Christian, or any combination. You can text him with your name(s) and email(s) to (214) 325-1916 to set up a conversation to discuss how you want your wedding to be.

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