In countries across the region, men are legally allowed to marry anyone outside of their religion. But women have never been allowed to do the same (with the exception of Tunisia, where such legislation dated to 1973 and was aborgated by President Beji Caïd Essebsi in 2017).
The freedom of choosing one’s spouse has always been a right reserved to men in the Arab world, and while some women still choose to date and marry outside their religion, they’re often met with the harsh reality that the act is frowned upon. It’s a pretty sensitive topic, particularly for Muslim Arabs.
When it comes to Islam, the act is deemed ‘haram’. For men, interfaith marriages are in line with Sharia law, and societally widely accepted. Women on the other hand, are required to provide proof that their previously non-Muslim spouse converted; otherwise the marriage is not valid.
With the world becoming more and more globalized, one would assume that interfaith marriages would become increasingly common, and that more Arab Muslim women would open up to the idea of dating, and even marrying non-Muslims. But is this really the case?
To find out, we talked to five Muslim, Arab women about their thoughts on interfaith dating and marriage. Here’s what they had to say:
Soumaya, 22, Tunisian
“I was very happy to hear about the law changing in Tunisia to allow women to marry non-Muslims just like men have always been able to. I guess it’s a good thing, but I live in a country where most people are Muslim anyway, and I don’t have any prospects of leaving. So it kind of doesn’t matter to me. And just because the law has changed, it doesn’t mean my parent’s views are going to change too.”
Layla, 25, Egyptian
“I’ve always made sure I dated Muslims. I guess it’s because I feel like I don’t have any another choice. It’s weird because I’ve just never been very religious, and my family is pretty open to the idea of dating, but I guess it’s like an unspoken understanding that I would at least only date Muslims. I’m not sure how they would react if I dated someone outside of my religion. Maybe my mom would be cool with it, but my dad would probably freak out.”
Fatma, 26, Omani
“My decision to date a non-Muslim man was tough to get to because I believe my society conditioned me to think that I would be looked down upon if I chose to be with a non-Muslim. It took me years to get to the decision to let go of the stigma behind dating outside my race or culture. Through heartbreaks and disappointments, I finally came to realize that in the end, all we really should be looking for is how good of a human your significant other is. Strip away their religion / colour / passport away, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
Sana, 39, Moroccan
“I married a French man who was a non-believer. He’s atheist, but he’s the love of my life. I fought for my relationship. I was shunned by my family, I was alone for a very long time. It wasn’t easy. These things are never easy. How can someone easily make a choice between their family they already have and the family they want to build? But I am happy with my choice. My family came around eventually, but that didn’t happen until I had my daughter, but they don’t like that she doesn’t believe in God either…”
Elyssa, 31, Algerian
“I never dated a non-Muslim. At first, I never wanted to because I knew I couldn’t get married to a non-Muslim. And I perceived relationships as having the purpose of finding a husband. Over the years, my vision has changed, but I never really dated a non-Muslim anyway. When I decided that it was theoretically OK for me to date a non-Muslim, I realized that the assumption that women weren’t able to was only based on the idea that [Muslims] were better men, but I don’t think they are anymore. It’s the opposite. I don’t think that in comparison to other men, that it’s ‘safer’ for a Muslim woman to be with a Muslim man. But considering all of this, I guess I’m OK with the idea, but it still never happened.”