Islamic Voice
Jamadi Ul Akhir 1422
September 2001
Volume 15-09 No:177

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Adil Salahi

Status of Marriage on Becoming a Muslim
When a relative's behaviour is unacceptable?

Status of Marriage on Becoming a Muslim

Q. I am a Christian and I am now convinced that Islam is God's religion. Before I declare myself a Muslim I would like to know answers to some very important questions. First, must I separate from my Christian husband if he refuses to join me in embracing Islam? What if he raises no objection to my becoming a Muslim, but does not follow suit? Second, I am told that I could marry another man, but in my home country, divorce is not allowed. Should I marry, would I be open to a charge of bigamy?

A. For many years I have been repeating a view that is practically known to most people, and all scholars that when a married woman becomes a Muslim, then the marriage is nullified, either instantly or when her waiting period is over, if her husband remains a non-Muslim. This view is based on the ruling that no Muslim woman may be married to a non-Muslim. Just as a Muslim woman cannot enter into a marriage contract with a non-Muslim, a woman may not remain married to her non-Muslim husband once she becomes a Muslim. But I have always said that I am only a student of Islamic law and jurisprudence. There is certainly much that I do not know.

Very recently I read what Imam ibn Al-Qayyim has written on this question in his book Ahkam Ahl Al-Thimmah, (or Rulings for non-Muslim subjects). He points out that scholars up to his generation differed a great deal on this question, and he enumerates nine different views. He then discusses these views and states the argument of scholars who rule that marriage is nullified once either party has become a Muslim and the other has not.

Ibn Al-Qayyim speaks at length on one of the nine views which is based on a report by Muhammad ibn Sireen on the authority of Abdullah ibn Yazeed Al-Khutami, a companion of the Prophet’s, stating that “a woman embraced Islam, while her husband was a Christian. Umar ibn Al-Khattab gave her the choice either to separate from him or to stay married to him.” Ibn Al-Qayyim explains that this does not mean that she stayed married to him in the full sense of the world. She simply waits for him. When he becomes a Muslim, she is his wife, even if that takes several years. He comments: “This is the most valid view on this question, as evidenced by the Sunnah. It is the view preferred by Ibn Taimiyah.” He also explains that the marriage in this case becomes an option, not a binding status. This means that the woman may choose to terminate it, or to keep it, provided that she does not put it into effect until her husband becomes a Muslim.

Explaining his and Ibn Taimiyah’s preference, Ibn Al-Qayyim, who was one of the top scholars in our history, takes up the case of Zaynab, the Prophet’s daughter, who became a Muslim in Makkah. Her husband was very late in adopting Islam. She stayed married to him, living with him in Makkah, even after the Prophet had migrated to Madinah.

In the Battle of Badr, her husband, Abul-Aas ibn Al-Rabie’, was in the unbelievers’ army and he was taken prisoner by the Muslims. On his release, it appears that the Prophet asked him to send Zaynab to Madinah, which he did. Six years later, Abul-Aas, still a non-Muslim was in Madinah, under the protection of his wife. She asked the Prophet, her father, whether he could stay in her home. He said: “He is your husband, but he may not have you.” A few weeks later, and after he had been to Makkah and back to Madinah, Abul-Aas embraced Islam, and he was reunited with his wife, without a new marriage contract. What the Prophet’s order to his daughter means is that if the wife is a Muslim and her husband is not, they may not have intercourse. That is because the marriage remains in force only as an option. The woman has the other option of separation and marrying a Muslim man. (This is the summary of the view Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim supports).

Imam Ibn Taimiyah says: “To say that once either spouse has become a Muslim while the other has not, separation takes effect, whether the marriage has been consummated or not, is very flimsy. It runs against what is well known to have been the repeated practice under Islamic law.” Ibn Taimiyah records hundreds, if not thousands of cases of people becoming Muslim before their marriage partners during the lifetime of the Prophet, and the marriage was not nullified in any of their cases.

The sum up of this view is that the woman who becomes a Muslim, while her husband remains a non-Muslim, has a choice either to separate from him, or stay married to him without sexual contact until he becomes a Muslim.

Sheikh Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi, a leading contemporary scholar, also discusses this question, and concludes by putting forward two views which may form the basis of rulings on individual cases. The first view is that given by Ali ibn Abu Talib, which allows the marriage to remain valid unless the woman leaves her hometown to live with a Muslim community. The second is the one advanced by Az-Zuhri, a famous scholar of the generation that followed the Prophet’s companions. According to this view, the couple remain married unless a court ruling is issued to separate them.

Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi also states that in these views we find much scope for women who choose to become Muslim. Many would hesitate to do so for fear of losing their children and families. This view, he says, may be hard to accept by many Muslims, because it is at variance with what they have learned and accepted over a long period of time. But we all know that Islam has allowed many situations to continue, if they were started before the parties to them became Muslim, while it would not allow them to be initiated by those who are Muslims already.

I have here quoted great scholars who have commanded great respect throughout the Muslim world for many generations, and a contemporary scholar of the highest caliber. Their views must be taken with the seriousness and respect of which they are worthy.


When a relative's behaviour is unacceptable?

Q. A relative of ours ran away from home and married a Non- Muslim. Although her own family boycotted her at the beginning, gradually relations were resumed until now they are at the normal level. Recently, her sister was to be married to a Muslim man, and we received invitations to attend the wedding. My father inquired whether the first daughter and her husband would be attending. On being told that they would, he decided not to attend. Is this the correct attitude? Should we maintain relations with the family of that woman who married the non-Muslim man?

A. The marriage between a Muslim woman and a man who does not belong to the Islamic faith is invalid. Therefore, the marriage of your relative to the non-Muslim man is considered null and void. The relationship between them is not one of marriage, unless the man decided to convert to Islam at the time of the marriage and declared his belief in God’s oneness and in Muhammad as God’s messenger.

Whether the woman who committed this unacceptable relationship should be boycotted is debatable. If her family boycott her, she will continue to live with the man she has chosen and he will have more influence on her. However, if relationship is maintained, it may lead to a rethink which could, in time, bring about a rectification of the situation.

The woman should be advised by someone in the family whose opinion she values. That person should adopt a wise approach that would not alienate her. Gradually he or she should explain to her the difficulty of her situation from the Islamic point of view and try to bring her round to change the situation. That change could only come about if the man converts to Islam on the basis of conviction.

If this is the right approach, then we do not begin by boycotting a wedding in the family simply because she is attending. Rather, the wedding should be attended and the woman should be treated properly so that she knows that she cannot really afford to be separate from her family.


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