Marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is something that has been clearly prohibited in the Quran and Sunnah, thus not permissible in any way. The only exception to this general rule is the marriage of Muslim men with Christian and Jewish girls, and that also with certain conditions.

Allah Most High says:
“Do not marry unbelieving women until they believe. A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though if she attracts you. And not marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though if he attracts 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 receive admonition”. (al-Baqarah, 221).

The above verse of the Holy Quran along with many other statements of the Quran and Sunnah clearly mention the impressibility of Muslims marrying non-Muslims. Therefore, a marriage between a Muslim and someone from another religion will not be lawful or even valid according to Islam. The exception, however, is mentioned in the following verse:

“Lawful unto you in marriage are chaste women who are believers and chaste women among the people of the book”. (al-Maidah, 5).

Thus, it would be permissible, in principle, for Muslim men to marry women from the people of the book (ahl al-Kitab) namely Christian and Jewish girls. However, this is also subjected to certain conditions.

The reason behind this is that, marital relationships demand mutual love, affection and intimacy and without this, the purpose of marriage is left unfulfilled. If such close relationship of love and intimacy is established with a non-Muslim, it may emotionally incline a Muslim towards disbelief (kufr) or, at least, the abhorrence of Kufr and Shirk may not remain in the heart. Consequently, it may lead one to disbelief and eventually the fire of Hell. This is why Allah Almighty said towards the end of the verse of Surah al-Baqarah quoted above:

“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 receive admonition”. ( 221). (See: Maarif al-Quran, 1/ 540).

Therefore, the fear that a Muslim man or woman may well be affected with his/her partner’s religion, thus go on to a path that leads to the fire of hell, is the main cause for this prohibition. Hence, a Muslim woman will not be allowed whatsoever to marry anyone besides a Muslim man, and even if she did, the marriage will not be valid in Islam. Similarly, a Muslim man will not be allowed to marry any non-Muslim girl, such as a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or any other non-Muslim woman. However, it will be permissible for him to marry a Christian or a Jewish girl. This is explained in the following section.

Marrying Christian and Jewish girls
Islam has allowed Muslim men to marry women from the people of the book (ahl al-Kitab). This permission is explicitly mentioned in the verse of the Quran already quoted:

“Lawful unto you in marriage are chaste women who are believers and chaste women among the people of the book”. (al-Maidah, 5).

However, there are certain points that need to be taken into consideration here:

Firstly, the exception of Christian and Jewish girls is because the difference in belief between the people of the book and Muslims is relatively lesser and lighter as compared with other non-Muslims. They are all monotheistic religions and known as the Abrahamic faiths. The basic difference between Islam and the other two religions is the belief in the last Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Therefore, the fear and danger of corruptibility is less as compared to marrying with women from other faiths, thus Islam gave this permission for Muslim men to marry Christian and Jewish girls.

A question may arise here, that if the difference between Muslims and people of the book is considered to be lighter as compared to other faiths, then why is it unlawful for Muslim girls to marry Christian and Jewish men?

The answer to this question is that, women are somewhat weak and emotional by nature. Then the husband has been given a care taking and controlling role over the wife. As such, it is very likely that the Muslim wife may fall prey and become impressed with her husband’s faith. The chances of the husband becoming affected by his wife’s faith are remote, thus the difference between the two situations is clear.

Moreover, by marrying a Christian or a Jewish man, the status of the Muslim wife would be affected, for the wife normally takes the nationality and status given by her husband’s law. A Christian or a Jewish woman marrying a Muslim man would be expected eventually to accept Islam, while the possibility of a Muslim woman changing her faith to that of her husband is very likely. Therefore, only Muslim men were given this permission of marrying with women from the people of the book.

Secondly, women who are Christians and Jews merely by name, and do not really believe in any religion, like a large number of people in the west, cannot be termed as people of the book (ahl al-Kitab). They are atheist in reality and it will not be permissible for Muslim men to marry them.

Therefore, one must first make sure that the woman is truly a believing Christian or Jew, and then consider contracting marriage with them.

Thirdly, it should be remembered that the meaning of the permission of marrying Christian and Jewish women is simply that, if a marriage contract was performed with them, it would be valid according to Islam and the children born out of this wedlock will be considered legitimate.

However, there are various narrations that establish its undesirability. A Muslim man is advised in the Hadith to select a life partner who fully observes the injunctions of Islam, so that she becomes a means of attaining piety. If that is the case, then marrying Christian and Jewish girls would be disliked.

This is the reason why Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) prevented many such marriages in his lifetime because of what he had seen of the corruption that resulted in Iraq and Syria. (See: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, Kitab al-Athar).

Finally, this permission is only when one is confident that he himself or his children will not be affected by this marriage. In the early days, Muslims were duly equipped with adequate Islamic knowledge and an unshaken commitment towards their religion. As such, there was no risk of the husband being affected by his wife’s religion. Rather, the wife would see the glory of Islam, thus enter into the fold of Islam.

Therefore, if a Muslim male is confident that marriage with a Christian or Jewish girl will have no affect on his and his children’s Islamic identity and commitment, then there is no bar against such marriages. However, if he is not so confident, he must avoid entering into such marriages.