In soorah al-Nisaa’ verses 22-24, Allah has delineated what women a Muslim man may marry. Those categories are straightforward. However, there are a couple of issues that may be of extreme importance for Muslim converts, especially those living in non-Muslim lands. (Note that the question of remaining with non-Muslim spouses was discussed earlier.)
One important issue is that of marrying men or women who are not chaste. There is a difference of opinion among the scholars over whether or not it is allowed to marry a woman whom one knows to be a fornicatress. The majority of the scholars (meaning the Malikis, Shafiis and Hanafis) seem to think it is disapproved but allowable while a group of scholars say that it is forbidden. The difference of opinion revolves around the understanding of the verse, “The fornicator marries none but a fornicatress or a polytheistic woman and the fornicatress marries none but a fornicator or a polytheist. Such a thing is forbidden for the believers” (24:3). The majority of the scholars state that this verse is showing that the act of marriage with such a woman is blameworthy but not prohibited. They also based this on the following hadith: “A man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and said, ‘I have a wife who is most beloved to me but she does not keep the hand of the toucher from her.’ He said, ‘Divorce her.’ The man replied, ‘But I cannot live without her.’ He said, ‘Then enjoy her with that [deficiency].”
However, a number of early scholars clearly stated that it is forbidden to marry a fornicatress until she repents from her act of fornication. This was the opinion of Ahmad ibn Hanbal among others. This seems to be the strongest and correct opinion based on the verse above. As for the hadith that is quoted, Imam Ahmad considered it a weak hadith. Assuming it is authentic, as some scholars have stated, it is not explicit that the woman would actually commit illegal sexual intercourse. Instead, one could say that the woman was a little promiscuous or free with other men but not to the extent that she would commit illegal sexual intercourse. If a man has a wife of that nature, he should divorce her as the Prophet (peace be upon him) explicitly told the man in this hadith. This, in fact, is further evidence that one should not marry a fornicatress.
It could be argued that in the case of a Muslim convert, he should be extremely careful about this issue. If the person is new to Islam, he should want to be with a spouse who would improve his faith and strengthen his resolve to worship Allah properly. A spouse of immoral character would obviously not be the right choice for anyone hoping to be a true believer but it may be even more dangerous for someone whose faith is still new and vulnerable.
Another important question is whether it is allowed for a Muslim man to marry a Jewish or Christian woman. This has been a hotly debated question among the scholars, with the majority permitting it (based on Quranic verse 5:5), a minority prohibiting it and another minority applying strict conditions to it. Without getting into the details of that debate, once again, for the convert, he should consider his particular situation carefully. Being new to Islam, he should not open up doors to temptation and reverting from his new faith. It is not expected that non-Muslim women will support him in his faith and aid him to grow in his faith like pious Muslim women would. Hence, there is no question that, in general, converts to Islam should refrain from marrying non-Muslim women.
As for a Muslim woman or a female convert marrying a non-Muslim man, Al-Ghummaari wrote, “The marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man is forbidden, as is clearly stated in the Quran, and this is something that is known by necessity in the religion. If anyone believes that such a marriage is permissible, he is definitively a disbeliever.” In general, the man is the head of the household. Hence, women marrying non-Muslim men presents a much greater danger for the woman and is thus prohibited.
- A parallel discussion could be given for the question of a woman marrying a man who is known to be a fornicator.
- A form of this Arabic word can be in reference to sexual intercourse. However, when it is explicitly used with the word, “hand”, as it is in this narration of the hadith, it is in reference to touch and not to sexual intercourse. Allah knows best.
- Even those who allow it (and disapprove of it) lay down some conditions for its permissibility. (1) She must be practicing her religion. (2) The woman must not be from Ahl al-Harb (those peoples who are at war with the Muslims). Ibn Abu Shaibah records in his Musannaf that ibn Abbaas stated, “It is not allowed to marry the women of the People of the Book if they are from the people fighting Islam.” Similar statements were also made by other early scholars. The difference between ahl al-Dhimmah (the non-Muslim women citizens living under the control of the Muslim state) and others seems to be clear, especially when compared to the women living in, for example, the United States. In the United States, the courts tend to favor the mother in custody battles and aspects of that nature, without taking into consideration the question of the religion of the child. Such would not be the case in an Islamic state. (3) The Woman must be afeefah or chaste. A Muslim is not allowed to marry a Jewish or Christian woman who is unchaste, who does not believe that fornication and adultery are bad and so forth.
- Abdullah al-Ghumaari, Rafu al-Shakk wa al-Irtiyaab an Tahreem Nisaa’ Ahl al-Kitaab (Tanjah, Morocco: 1989), p. 25.