United States: Special Ruling Permits Newly Converted Woman to Remain Married to Non-Muslim

Asharq Al-Awsat

The following is the text of a controversial interview that Asharq al-Awsat conducted with Sudanese Islamist leader Dr. Hassan Turabi, which resulted in him being branded an apostate by Sudan's Muslim scholars.

Q) Fatwas that you have issued, regarding the permissibility of marriage between a Muslim woman and a man of the Christian or Jewish persuasion, have been the subject of much controversy. Do you mean that married women who converted to Islam can remain married to a non-Muslim husband, or that a Muslim woman can marry a non-Muslim man?

A) First, we have to look at the context of this matter particularly from the framework of ijtihad [interpretation] when it comes to the general issues of women in Islam. The modern and contemporary Islamic discourse on women lags far behind the authentic Islamic rules and principles as contemporary Muslims do not think deeply about these principles when it comes to the marriage of their daughters.

The [above-referenced] fatwa was a response to issues in the Muslim community in the United States. There was an incident in which an American woman went to one of the Islamic centers to convert; however, she wanted to remain married to her non-Muslim husband after she converted. The center's officials told her that if she was sincere in her desire to become a Muslim that she would begin divorce procedures, despite the huge costs and even if this meant that she would lose custody of her children. They did not consider that this was too much to ask from someone who was still taking their first steps towards Islam. Such an attitude in fact causes many women to be reluctant to convert.

Of course, before issuing the edict, I had to undertake a lot of research concerning Islamic law, particularly by reading books on Islamic jurisprudence that were written at certain historical intervals. All the past fatwas that prohibited the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men were issued during periods in which political disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims were taking place. On the other hand, I could not find a single word that prohibited such marriage in either the Quran or the Sunnah.

In the particular case of the woman who wanted to convert in the United States, my opinion was that she should have remained married to the non-Muslim man. She may have been the reason that her non-Muslim husband converted. Perhaps even other families of female American converts would have followed the same path. Many people were perplexed by what I said and attacked me for it. Some even decided that I was now an infidel! They depicted the whole issue as if it was a matter of honor. However, if you look at it objectively, the conversion and Islamic conduct of the wife may have positively influenced the husband, an influence that the Muslims of the West need.

We should let the Muslim minorities, who live amongst the 'People of the Book' in the west, evaluate this issue and decide what is appropriate for them, as they are the first group affected. They would conclude that they should allow their daughters to marry Jews and Christians because perhaps these marriages will bring the husbands to Islam or else the women may remain a Muslim. In the West, the individual freedoms are generally wider and the Western Muslims to decide when it comes to this issue especially.