Taboo Topics 1 and 2: Giving Muslim Women and Children Choice

In Islam, Muslim men are given the choice of marrying either a Muslim woman or a “woman of the book”, which refers to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. However, Muslim women are not given the same choice. They can only marry a Muslim man. Why is this?

Most arguments that support this say that it is for the children; to make sure the children are raised as Muslims. The man, the argument goes, is the head of the household and it is he who determines the faith of his children.

But is this really true? What are the statistics (are there any to begin with?) of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women and ending up with all Muslim children? How much of the non-Muslim woman’s faith is actually instilled in these children?

A more important question is this: why is it that we feel the need to brainwash our children (I apologize in advance for the harsh terminology but if you want to be truthful and sincere this is what we do) into believing in one religion? What is so wrong with having children grow up learning about more than one religion and making their own choice when they come of age? Is religion such a delicate and fragile concept that the only way for a person to believe in it is for that person to have it pounded day after day into his/her head from the day they are born?

So today’s topic is about choice:

Giving Muslim women the CHOICE to marry whomever they want regardless of religion, creed, race, or nationality.

And giving children – all children – the CHOICE to think for themselves and decide what they want to believe based on knowledge and faith and not on what they were groomed to believe is truth.

I will probably be “crucified” by some Muslims for even raising a topic like this. We believe in the word of God and the words of His prophet and we do not necessarily need to understand the wisdom behind them. I wonder when Muslims started making up that phrase. Since the dawn of Islam and until only rather recently, Muslims were allowed to discuss and philosophize about the most sensitive of topics; even about the “whatness” of God Himself. When was there ever only one truth in Islam? When was there ever only one understanding of the script? When did we stop relearning Islam and re-understanding it as times changed?

At the same time, other friends, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will probably see these questions as very backward and long overdue. Many Muslims are way past discussing these “petty” issues and have gone on with their lives. And for non-Muslims, some might relate to a degree because their religions are not very different and others will not because they live with the times and are more in tune with the universality of the world and the intrinsic right to freedom of choice.

These two topics stem out of a discussion I had with a group of female Egyptian friends of mine. These friends and I have basically gone through similar phases as conservative Muslim women and are now going through a similar phase of questioning some of the most essential “truths” we have learned along the way.

So regardless of whether you are going through the same phase, or you are past it, or you never thought this needed to be a phase to begin with, I’m looking forward to hearing all of your input on this topic. And expect more to come!


  1. you were completely serious when you said you want to talk about controversial issues. Yes, I also don’t buy into the ‘we must just accept’ ideology.

    However, since there are no ‘reasonable’ explanations for a subject like this & a few others, I do just accept it, because I believe very firmly in all other laws & thus I regard this as a test of faith.

    Knowing people who married non-Muslim women, & then seeing their children not practice Islam, I certainly don’t agree with the ‘man is head of family’ BS. Family structures have changed dynamically.
    However, I do think it confuses children when their parents are of two faiths. As for choice, each Muslim needs to know why they are Muslim, & not just follow blindly.

    I blogged about this a while back. Growing up, we were taught not to question the ulama, to do so was heretical. When I was 15 I questioned why I was Muslim, & thus if Islam was the right religion for me.
    Alhamdulillah, it was & is.

    1. Bibi-Aisha, thanks for your feedback. I do not think that our children are given a choice. I do not believe it is their choice if they are given only one version of truth; even if it is a very good version. Choice means being given many alternatives and being given the option to study various alternatives and then to choose what one wants to believe from one’s own free choice. What most parents do – of almost any religion – is to feed their children information on that one religion. They might also explain why that religion is the correct religion while other religions are not. THat is usually the most exposure the children get to other religions until they grow into adults. But by then – in my opinion – they are so brainwashed that it is very difficult to openly and freely and open-mindedly visit other religions and doing some truth-seeking of their own. There are some items of faith – by that time – that are so ingrained in our psyche that it’s almost impossible to analyze and open up to other ideas.

  2. السلام عليكم

    أعجبني المقال، وأفضّل كتابة التعليق بالعربية
    لقد شغلني هذا الأمر منذ فترة، وقرأت الكثير من أقوال العلماء، لكنني لم أسترح لمعظم الآراء…هذه من المرات القلائل التي يجتمع فيه أصحاب المنهج السلفي وأصحاب المنهج الوسطي (إن صح هذا التقسيم) حول إباحة زواج المسلم من أهل الكتاب، وتحريم زواج المسلمة من أهل الكتاب

    لا أدري! هل الإسلام يهتم فقط بالمسميات وبما يكتب في خانة الديانة بالنسبة للأطفال.. أم يهتم بسلامة المعتقد والاقتناع به؟
    لا أحد يستطيع أن ينكر دور الأب في الأسرة ومدى تأثير آرائه وقراراته على الزوجة والأطفال..لكن في زمن كالذي نعيش فيه، حيث يقضي الأب معظم الوقت في العمل ولا يخالط أسرته إلا لماماً
    من سيكون له التأثير الأكبر في تكوين عقلية ووعي الأطفال؟ في تشكيل معتقداتهم وأفكارهم؟

    أعتقد أنها الأم..

    وبالتالي تبطل حجة العلماء في إباحة هذا النوع من الزواج
    أنا لم آت بكلام غريب بالمناسبة… فمعروف أن عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه كان يكره هذا الزواج بل اعترض عليه ومنعه في خلافته

    أنا أميل أكثر إلى عدم إباحة هذا الزواج من الجانبين، إلا إذا وردت إحصاءات تؤكد مدى فعالية تلاقح عقائد شديدة التناقض بين الإله الواحد والثلاثة…وأشك في وجود مثل هذه الإحصاءات

    وفي القرآن نجد آيتين تقف إحداهما أمام الأخرى..فبين تحليل الزواج بنسوة أهل الكتاب “وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ” (المائدة: 5)

    وبين تحريم هذا الزواج!
    وَلاَ تَنكِحُواْ الْمُشْرِكَاتِ حَتَّى يُؤْمِنَّ وَلأَمَةٌ مُّؤْمِنَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكَةٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ وَلاَ تُنكِحُواْ الْمُشِرِكِينَ حَتَّى يُؤْمِنُواْ وَلَعَبْدٌ مُّؤْمِنٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن مُّشْرِكٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكُمْ أُوْلَئِكَ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ وَاللّهُ يَدْعُوَ إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ} (221) سورة البقرة

    بالتأكيد هناك مفهوم خاطئ هذه الأيام
    ولكني مازلت لا أرى إباحة الزواج ذكوراً كانوا أو إناثاً
    لا أتخيل اجتماع عقيدتين متناقضتين في بيت واحد…باعتبار أن العقيدة تعتبر من أهم وأقوى الدوافع الفكرية التي تشكل وجدان الأفراد وشخصياتهم

    آسف للإطالة وأشكرك على الطرح


    1. Thanks, Hamza, for your response. What I would say to that is similar to what I said to Bibi-Aisha. What you are saying is that we want our children to basically have no choice in religion and no exposure to other religions. They MUST become Muslim because WE know what’s better for them. But is this how true faith comes to be? Are we feeding our children with true faith? Do WE even have true faith? Have we, now we are adults, open-mindedly researched other religions the way we ask non-Muslims to research our own expecting that the minute they start reading about Islam they will find the truth? Do we do ANY real truth-seeking?

  3. I like this topic so much, and it was in m head since i were in a discussion with American students, and they asked me why it is possible for a Muslim man to marry non-muslin women while the opposite is not allowed, and my response was “i think because of the children”, but deep inside i was not convinced with what i said.

    then one of the people(muslim woman) who were in the discussion with us said ” that is because the man will give the woman the freedom to practice her religion, because he is the head of the house” then i said to my self i am not convinced at all with what she said, because i think if any man from any religion was open minded enough to marry a woman from a different religion, he will be open minded enough to let her practice her religion freely, it is not a matter of what religion he is, i think it is a matter of what his mentality is. also i thought that explains why a Muslim man can marry a non Muslim woman, but it is not an explanation for why a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man.

    and till know i really do not know why?

    and if that role was made for the children, i think May be the man is the house head-although it is not the rule any more- but i think the women (the mother) is the most influential person in the house, she stays with the children most of the time study for them, raising them, plant values in them, while the man( the father) is away most of the day time working hard to support his family. i do not try to minimize the man role but i think this is what actually happen in life. so if it is all about the children i think they will tend to what their mother do and say and practice as a religion. so if that role made for the children i do not think that is a good point.

    and another thing thing you pointed to dr Nadia is the freedom to choose your religion, i think being a Muslim coz my parents are Muslims or because it is written in my birth certificate is not enough, and i think all what we see around us from corrupted teenager and adults is part of being muslim without thinking about it. because they never thought about them selves as real muslims, or even the islam was in there calculations for life, they really do not know anything about islam or being muslim.
    that is why you may find a man just converted to be a muslim is more conservative and understanding to Islam than a man was a muslim since he was a child.

    Religion and here i mean any religion not only Islam, is not a title in our ID, it is about thinking, understanding then following the instruction of God.
    so i think our children are Muslims coz we are muslims that is a good thing, but you have to give them other reasons to be good muslims.

    sorry for any mistakes or if my ideas was not clear, i intend to write down in English to be part of the discussion.

    Thanks Dr Nadia for the great topic, keep it coming, i am waiting to read more.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Ola! One thing that is common in the three replies so far is that all three people believe that the mother’s role in the home is much larger than it seems the scholars argue (in terms of who influences more in a child’s choice of religion). Family dynamics have changed so much in the past few decades but has religion in general and Islam in particular changed enough to accommodate those changing family dynamics? Should it? Can it?

  4. Ok, let’s roll up our mental sleeves and really start to break these issues down… But let’s take it one at a time. I agree that in reality, children aren’t given any choice at all, and that is true of a lot of faiths, not just Muslims. They grow into the faith of their parents almost by just imitation rather than choice. I don’t think that the word “brainwashing” is completely accurate, though, not because it is too “harsh”, but because I think it would be more accurate to say that what happens with kids is is social conditioning – whether the belief is that getting a college education is better than not getting one (although history is full of examples of highly successful and heroic people who did not get a higher education), or that belief is that Islam is “THE TRUTH” and, more specifically, that the parents’ version of Islam is the only true understanding of “THE TRUTH”. Why is this happening? I think it is because of a general, widespread condition that I will call here: the Muslims-have-stopped-thinking-syndrome. Muslims have stopped thinking about why they believe what they believe because they have stopped thinking about a lot of things – not just their faith. I realize that I am really generalizing here, but allow me to do so for the sake of the argument. It is much more difficult to seriously consider why you believe what you believe, than to just continue to live within your comfort zone of your belief. It takes much more effort and a whole lot of painful soul-searching. I’m someone who went through that when I was a teenager. I was brought up as a Muslim, but went through a phase where I was seriously starting to doubt the existence of God, and thought I would be an agnostic forever. However, I did go through a spiritual transformation that made a lot of logical sense as well as spiritual sense, and arrived back to Islam, where I still feel most spiritually comfortable with (to me, nothing else makes as much sense). My parents never gave me that choice, and probably don’t know that I went through that phase, but I ended up giving myself that choice. It’s much easier to not give your children that choice because it would mean that you would be faced with the option that they might choose not to be Muslim. We forget that Ali, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as well as Prophet Muhammad’s own daughters were all given the choice of becoming Muslim. Giving children choice also means that whatever you then teach them about Islam has to make sense. You have to seriously consider their questions and answer them in a way that you hope would convince them. This means that you yourself have to be consciously convinced. You would have to break down all the “givens” you grew up with and rethink them. That’s not easy to do at all. I think that Muslims have turned Islam into a bunch of rules and taken the beauty out of it, and this is why we are struggling with making sense out of everything. We aren’t dealing with its ability to be flexible, diverse, beautiful, personal, spiritual, and emotional. Instead, we are considering the colors we are wearing, our eyebrows, whether we wipe on our socks, and how we position our hands while praying. These are tangible, easy things to do and consider. But digging into your heart of hearts and really looking at your soul and considering that instead is much more difficult. Moral of the story is: “we” brainwash/condition our children because it’s the easy way out.

    1. I really like the way you put that, Marwa. And it makes a lot of sense. It IS the easy way out. This still doesn’t answer, however, what we are doing as Muslims to give our children some breathing room not only to question their own religion but also to learn about other religions. Whether in my own family or later on within the circles I’ve gone around in, I’ve always been told that the Prophet Muhammed prohibited Omar from reading the Bible because his faith was still too weak to face other faiths (or something along those lines anyway). The message was that I had to become completely knowledgeable about my own religion first and to have COMPLETE and UTTER faith first in Islam and then I could study other religions. Then I’d be “strong” enough. But that essentially means that I’m being told: Girl, you have no choice at all. Believe in Islam alone, and when you want to study other religions it is in order to be able to pick out their fallacies. That logic really bothers me deep down.

  5. I agree with you ya Nadia, but how many people regardless of their faith actively encourage their children to question their faith and learn about other faiths in that spirit, and not just as a cultural topic they take in school? I don’t think that there are a lot of them out there.

    But coming back to Muslims, I think we should stop spoon-feeding our kids and start equipping them with how to think for themselves, how to nurture their own personal relationships with God, and how to face the consequences of their own actions. I don’t think we realize how much stronger this will make our children. We tend to think that this will be a problem because instead of believing that our kids can learn from their mistakes, we think that they can learn by never making mistakes. I think it would take a brave Muslim parent who can tell his/her children: “Look, this is Islam, I’m Muslim, and I believe that Islam is the best way, and right now you are Muslim because I brought you up as a Muslim, but you can’t continue to really be Muslim because someone else tells you to be one, you really have to believe deep down in your heart, and it’s up to you to either believe or disbelieve, because every person will be judged for their own actions.”

    Regarding this issue, I once heard a scholar say that once children reach puberty (or some other age-marker), they should say the Shahadah (testimony of faith) as a way of expressing that they chose Islam willingly. I haven’t heard anyone else say that, but I know that there are a lot of topics that scholars don’t discuss because they think that if people knew just how many different interpretations of some issues in Islam, it would cause “confusion” and “fitna” among Muslims. Personally, I think it is causing more fitna and confusion not to discuss these issues, because society is changing way too fast and there is an unprecedented massive amount of information that we are being bombarded with on a daily basis. To me, it just frustrates me more to know that there are a whole bunch of different opinions, but that scholars refuse to discuss them to “avoid confusion”.

    It’s obviously so easy for me to say everything I am saying about parents and kids because I don’t have children of my own, but I know that we can get ridiculously over-protective about kids. I, for one, seriously worry about my niece getting teased or hurt – emotionally or physically – at her pre-school, and agonize about whether her peers enjoyed her first show-and-tell (she chose a shoebox full of her stickers and various paper cuttings).

    But back to our topic, one thing Egyptian parents in particular are very bad at is allowing their children to choose. Egyptian parents don’t want their children to make mistakes, they don’t want them to be hurt, they don’t want them to regret their choices. And they mistakenly think that they know best just because they are the parents. But Egyptian parents forget – or choose not to think of the fact – that one day they will not be around for their children, and THEN, their children will truly be helpless, because they’ve never exercised their ability to make a decision and live with the consequences of that decision. I think that this is because Egyptian parents feel responsible for everything their children do. They believe that their children are a reflection of themselves. Part of this is intrinsic (“where did I go wrong?” is a question parents all over the world sometimes ask themselves), and part of this is social (society will accuse parents of being bad parents if their kids make bad choices/misbehave, etc.).

  6. التدوينة فعلا جميلة
    بس عايز افكر في الموضوع من زاوية ممكن تكون شوية مختلفة
    بعيد تماما عن موضوع الاطفال
    اعتقد ان السبب الاساسي لتحليل الامر للرجل وتحرميه للانثي
    هو ان اي منزل ،يكون فيه الرجل بشكل كبير هو الشخص المتحكم ، وده بعيد حتي عن مجتمعنا الشرقي وذكوريتنا المنتقدة علي طول
    الفكرة ان لازم يكون الراجل مؤمن بدين المرأة عشان يكفل لها حرية ممارسة عباداتها
    وده متوفر بالنسبة للمسلم المتزوج من مسيحية او يهودية
    لكن مش متوفر في المسيحي اللي متزوج من مسلمة

    1. مش موافقاك في الرأي يا أحمد…أولا لأن الرجل مش متحكم في الأسرة كما في الماضي لا في الشرق ولا في الغرب…لما تتزوج حتشوف
      أما مسألة الإيمان بديانة الآخر من أجل تكفيل حرية الممارسة فمش لازم…هناك رجال كثير جدا في الغرب بإمكانهم التزوج من امرأة من ديانة غير ديانتهم فتمارس شعائر دينها بكامل الحرية وهو يحترم رغباتها وممارساتها تلك. يعني الست المسلمة بإمكانها التزوج من رجل غربي غير مسلم وتمارس شعائرها الاسلامية طالما كان الاتفاق على ده منذ البداية

  7. What Nadia said. There is a simple reason why parents do what they do and we start from having to accept our parent’s religion without question (as that would be heretical and send us straight to Hell). So Muslim kids are not given any real choice (unless they have very liberal parents who have not put the fear of Hell into them for actually pondering whether they want to be Muslims or if Islam makes sense to them) – especially when you are told by your parents if you do not believe you will go to Hell, well you’re not likely to challenge that are you? Not without good reason anyway. The reality is actually more and more Muslim kids are choosing not to be Muslim – but not advertising this to their families. Ironically, if there was more open-ness at home about the possibility of not having a hybrid set of beliefs, there would be fewer people ditching the religion completely. The focus is always on the converts ‘in’ and not on the leavers. Why is this? Don’t people want to know the stories of, and how, and why people who grew up in Muslim families – reject the religion of their communities?

  8. أختى العزيزة
    بارك الله فيكى و هدانا و إياك إلى صراطه المستقيم الذى لا عوج فيه
    لى تعليق بسيط
    هل عندما
    نعلم أطقالنا و هم صغار ا لأخلاق الفاضلة
    وعندما نقول لهم لا تكذب لا تنافق
    لا تتفوه بألفاظ سيئة
    احترم الكبير و اعطف على الصغير
    هل بذلك نحن نقوم بغسيل مخ له
    هل يمكن لنا أن نقول له اختر إذا كنت تريد ان تسرق أم لا أن تقتل أم لا
    إذا كانت الإجابة بلا
    فنفس المنطق ينطبق على الإسلام
    فالإسلام هودين
    الفطرة و عبادة الله الواحد الحد هى الفطرة السليمة
    ففإذا كان طفلى لديه هذه الفطرة السليمة أتى انا إليه و أشوهها و أقول له اختر ان تعبد الله الواحد الأحد أو المسيح عليه سلام أو اعبد أصناما أوكم ملحدا
    إنها الفطرة التى خلق الله عليها جميع مخلوقاته
    ألآ تذكربن أن كل مولود بولد على الفطرة و أن أبواه بعد ذلك هم الذبن يغيران
    فطرته الإسلام إلى ملل أخرى
    أفى الله شك فاطر السماوات و الأرض

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