The truth about Muslim-Christian marriages: Some Friendly Advice to Christians

Islam says that a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, but a Christian man is not permitted to marry a Muslim woman. What does the Quran say on the matter? What does the New Testament teach on interfaith marriages?

I remember hearing an interview on the radio with a Muslim, a few years ago. As the interview began, the host asked the Muslim guest whether he was married. He replied that Islam is so open and tolerant that he is married to a Christian. Islam means equality and no discrimination, the guest said.

However, the quick-minded interviewer asked him if Islam allows a Jewish man or a Christian man to marry a Muslim woman. The guest's enthusiasm dropped a little. He had to concede that Islam does not allow this. The radio host pressed home the point, saying that the guest's first statement was a little misleading, wasn't it? They argued for a moment or two. Then, if I recall correctly, the radio host sensed his guest's unease and changed the subject.

This short article from a Muslim website, representing many others, says about religiously mixed marriages:

It is not permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.

It is permissible for a Muslim man to marry a Christian/Jewish woman strictly under these two conditions: 

  1. She is a true Christian/Jew - not by name and/or ancestral background.
  2. She did not renegade from Islam and become a Christian/Jew.
Why is marriage allowed in only one direction?

The Quran

For the historical and literary topical context of this next surah (chapter), please click here.

The Quran in Surah 5:5 says:

[. . .] Likewise you are permitted to marry chaste believing women [Muslims] or chaste women among the people who were given the Scripture [Jews and Christians; the Book is the Bible] . . . . (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 427)

This verse, as noted, says that Islam permits Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women who are Christians and Jews, but a Jewish or Christian man may not marry a Muslim woman. (In this article I will address only the Christian community.) What is the rationale behind the ruling?

Beyond any doubt, traditional Islam tends toward patriarchy. For example, Surah 4:34 says that a husband may hit his wife, but no verse in the Quran says a wife may hit her husband - as if domestic violence in any form is acceptable. For the most thorough discussion throughout the entire worldwide web on the Quran and wife-hitting, see this article. At least look at the Table of Content. It has numerous hadith (traditions about Muhammad outside of the Quran) and many interpretations of classical scholars, who still have a lot of authority in Islam today. The article should put to rest the false claim that Surah 4:34 does not really say hit or beat.  So this means that in seventh-century Arab culture a Muslim man may dominate his wife or wives.

It may be true that Muhammad at first respected Judaism and Christianity, but he turned against them later on in his life, as seen in the articles Muhammad and the Jews and the Truth about the Islamic Crusades and Imperialism, which covers the Islamic Crusades, launched by Muhammad himself, long before the Europeans responded with theirs.  

Islam claims to be the best and final religion for all humankind, and the Muslim man may convert his submissive wife. Perhaps in Muhammad's mind no woman could ever convert a Muslim man, if he is a traditionalist. Today, this is especially true if he comes from a hard line region in an Islamic country or a hard line Muslim family. Therefore, Christian women must be careful about this. Islam does not give the same rights to women as it does to men. In fact, the Quran clearly says that women are inferior to men. Women's testimony in a court of law counts half that of men (she has a mental deficiency, says the hadith), and she receives less in the inheritance than her male counterparts (click on that link for both Quranic injunctions).

If a Christian woman marries a Muslim man, but she holds on to her beliefs, such as the Sonship and Lordship of Christ, then ipso facto she holds on to a false belief and may be considered a "heretic" or an "infidel," if the Quran and traditional Islamic theology are followed consistently.

Also, would the children be Muslims or Christians, or secular? The answer is clear, if Islam is followed consistently.

The New Testament

The New Testament starts the soon-to-be married couple on an equal footing in the selection of a mate.

The New Testament in 1 Corinthians 7:39 says that a Christian woman may marry only a Christian man (and vice-versa) (see also 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). At first glance, this divine counsel seems too restrictive, but looked at more deeply, it demonstrates a lot of wisdom. If a married couple starts their walk together with the same faith and theology, then this takes the pressure off of possibly converting the partner to the other's faith. One partner does not have to "evangelize" the other partner. Neither partner starts off as an "infidel" or "heretic."

In Biblical Christianity, the man and the woman must have a deep, spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, individually, before they become one flesh in marriage. This means their spiritual intimacy with the Lord will be shared in the couple's own intimacy with each other.

Also, this true spiritual equality takes away any patriarchy. The woman already agrees with the husband in matters of religion, so what need does he have to control the relationship and lay down religious law?

In a way, Islam acknowledges this restriction when it forbids a Muslim from marrying a polytheist or idolater (Sura 2:221). They are too far apart theologically. Likewise, though neither religion is polytheistic, Islam and Christianity are too far apart theologically and spiritually. Islam wrongly demotes Jesus to a mere prophet. The New Testament everywhere affirms the Sonship of Christ, which the Quran explicitly denies, along with other Biblical doctrines about Christ.

These vast differences mean that a marriage between a Muslim and a Christian would be unequal. And this is risky for the Christian. A Christian couple must keep spiritual unity. They must raise their children in spiritual harmony, as followers of Christ.


This article is all about values and theology. More important, it is about our relationship with Jesus Christ - or absence of this relationship.

Also, this article has nothing to say about race. Both Christianity and Islam allow the marriage of different races. But in Biblical Christianity, each one must be a believer and follower of Christ.

The difference between Islam and Christianity on religiously mixed marriages is simple.

Islam allows Muslim men to marry Christian women, period. It does not allow a Christian man to marry a Muslim woman. So Islam's alleged openness and tolerance and non-discrimination is a one-way street. Men are in control. It may be true that individual Muslim men may not control things, and they may even be saintly. However, if they follow their Quran, then they have permission to exert a lot of patriarchal authority, as noted earlier, for example, in Surah 4:34. The potential for family disharmony is high.

Christianity, in contrast, says that a married Christian couple should be equally yoked together spiritually, in Christ. This means that the couple does not have to worry about deep theological differences. They start off in unity. The man does not have to worry about her being an infidel. The man does not have to exert patriarchal control, just to keep a semblance of unity. The children are raised Christians, little followers of Christ. The family is therefore harmonious.

Supplemental Material

Top Ten Rules in the Quran that Oppress Women has many links to the Quran and hadith. It also periodically updates women's life in Islamic countries (scroll down to "Supplemental Material").

This webpage offers support to a Christian woman who may be having trouble in her marriage to a Muslim man, and the page clarifies other issues.

This article describes the life of the Dhimmis (spelled "Zimmis" in the article) in an Islamic state. Dhimmis are Jews and Christians who live under Islam as second-class citizens. Life was not a bed of roses for non-Muslims, and this may carry forward to today and non-Muslim wives.

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