Question 114:

Islam permits the marriage with Christians and Jews, but Christianity forbids the marriage with those of different faiths. Is that your idea of love and tolerance?


Answer: In today’s world, in which not only baptized persons, i.e. Christians of different confessions, live and work together in the same cities and regions, there are more and more marriages between Catholics and baptized non-Catholic Christians, as well as between Catholics and non-baptized people, i.e. between different religions. While mixed marriages between Christians of different confessions require special care from both marriage partners as well as their pastors, even greater care is required in the case of marriages between different religions.

In its Arbeitshilfe Nr 172: “Christen und Muslime in Deutschland” (Working Paper No 172, „Christians and Muslims in Germany” of 2003 (, the German Bishops Conference considers the questions which arise when Catholics marry Muslims [Nos (370) – (401) (= p. 186 – 200)]: “In this context it is important for the Christian partner to understand the particulars of Islamic-Christian marriages and families from the point of view of Islamic law.

1. Islamic law permits the marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian woman, not, however, between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. This rule is based on the premise that in marriage and family life, Islam is the ultimately valid and simply superior religion in the eyes of God, and that in the case of disagreement the husband has the final word. According to traditional Islamic views a Christian husband is not acceptable for Muslim wife, because his presumed dominance in the family would bring with it the certain dominance of the Christian element. Although the secular Turkish family law does permit the marriage between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, such a marriage generally meets with much more opposition among the general Turkish public than the opposite constellation.

2. According to the Islamic view the children of a Muslim man and a Christian woman are Muslims by birth, and their parents have the duty to bring them up as Muslims. This duty, the fulfillment of which is primarily the responsibility of the Muslim husband, is objectively incompatible with the Catholic wife’s duty to raise her children in her own faith. This can bring with it especially difficult problems for such a union and it is therefore urgently recommended that the question of which faith the children should be brought up in and their religious education are decided as bindingly as possible before the marriage takes place.

3. Prior to a Christian-Muslim marriage, the following questions have to be clarified: Is the Christian wife of a Muslim man allowed to attend worship in her faith, and can she maintain contact with her faith community? Will she be allowed to use Christian symbols and Christian writings for her own personal purpose in her marital home? Will she be allowed to diverge from Islamic rules concerning eating and drinking? Will she be expected to conform to Islamic requirements concerning ritual cleanliness, for example in connection with her monthly cycle and after giving birth? In the course of history, representatives of the different Islamic law schools have answered these and similar questions in many different ways. A Christian woman who plans to marry a Muslim should do everything she can to discover her partners views and those of his nearest relatives regarding those issues prior to getting married. She should also try and agree to ways of living together which allow her to live as a Christian and to live in a manner that is consistent with her understanding of her own dignity as a person.

4. It is important for a Christian woman who considers marrying a Muslim to know that according to Islamic law she cannot inherit after his death. Even more important can be the fact that Islamic law allows the man to conclude a second marriage, even if he has married a Christian woman.

5. A Christian woman who considers to marry a Muslim man must understand that there may be a great difference in terms of the development of her marriage and her personal development, as well as for her being able to live unhindered according to her religion, whether she and her partner remain in Germany or in another Western country, or not. If she follows him to his Islamic land of origin she must be prepared for the possibility that even if he personally would be willing to allow her those freedoms, her social surroundings, especially his family, can exert an enormous pressure to conform, maybe even to convert. This could be much stronger than if they remained in Germany. This is all the more the case because in most countries with a Muslim majority the largely independent living together of a married couple with their children in the form of a nuclear family is still not the rule (with the exception of Turkish cities), on the contrary, that living in an extended family is the norm. The question of where the couple is to live has to be considered carefully prior to getting married, and if possible should be decided in such a way that the woman is likely to be able to expect a family life that does not demand an intolerable extent of adapting.

6. According to Shari’a law, the rights and duties of both marriage partners are very different, and not always to the detriment of the woman. According to Shari’a law and the traditional Muslim understanding the legal position of the wife in the marriage is markedly weaker than that of her husband. Sura 4:34 (Translation by Marmaduke Pickthall. London: Fine Books, 1976) states clearly:”Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made one of them excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded...” The continuation of the above cited verse from the Qur’an permits a husband who believes that this obedience is not assured, to apply a graded scale of punishment which goes as far as physical violence. The cited verse (sura 4:34) continues: “As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.” Despite this text, which is in danger of being used by violent husbands as a religious justification of their actions, the actual behavior in a Muslim marriage, like in a Christian one, does not depend on a single verse from Scripture. Whether it comes to such violence or not is, in reality, not primarily decided based on the right to physical punishment, which the Shari’a traditionally grants the husband, but is dependent on the level of culture and harmony the partners have achieved.

7. According to Islamic law, the husband has the right to determine the whereabouts of his wife. In today’s society this also means that he can forbid her to work outside the home and that he can prevent her from traveling to her European home country. The question of whether a husband can prevent his wife from having contact with her own immediate family has been answered in various different ways by individual Islamic schools of law.

8. We should also have to consider the Islamic divorce law with view to the male and female marriage partner, and the question of custody of the children after a divorce. According to Islamic law, the custody of the children is always granted to the Muslim husband. Islamic law does not even grant the mother visiting rights. Where this rule is applied, the mother literally loses her children after a divorce, even under conditions where German courts would clearly grant her custody. In any case it can be said that: if a German woman marries a Muslim with foreign nationality, she should urgently acquaint herself the current laws governing marriage in her future husbands home country. She should always insist to solemnize the marriage at a German registry office.


Regarding the Catholic view of marriage and marital law the following points should be mentioned:

1. The Catholic Church considers marriage as a lifelong loving union between man and wife, which is aimed at the well-being of the marriage partners and the conception and upbringing of children. The main characteristics of marriage are faithfulness to the marriage partner and its insolubility. The valid marriage among Christians is a sacrament, the marriage of a Catholic with a non-Christian (inter-religious marriage) is a non-sacramental marriage.

2. In order to conclude a marriage that is valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church both partners have to enter the married state freely and without hindrance according to the understanding described above (marriage consensus).

3. With regard to their own faith and the faith of their future children, Catholic believers may find it difficult to conclude and live a marriage with a partner who does not share their Christian faith and belongs to another religion. Out of a sense of responsibility for the faithful life of its members, the Catholic Church has therefore postulated that different religions constitute an "impediment to marriage”. A marriage with different religions can only be considered valid if the impediment is removed prior to solemnization of the marriage (dispensation).

4. For the dispensation from the impediment to marriage, two conditions have to be fulfilled: the Catholic partner promises to retain his or her faith and to do everything possible to ensure that any children will be baptized into the Catholic faith and brought up in the Catholic Church. The Muslim partner must have been informed of this promise and have knowledge of the content of the Church’s teaching on marriage. The Catholic priest must be aware that the Muslim partner, too, has the duty to pass on his faith. This can contain the seeds of conflict and enormous difficulties for the relationship of the marriage partners.

5. Conversations with the Catholic and the Muslim marriage partner should begin as soon as possible before the marriage takes place, so that these decisions are not made under time pressure, but after careful thought. The specific problems inherent in a Catholic marriage and the differing views of Catholics and Muslims with regard to the understanding of marriage (monogamy, insolubility) and marital daily life (role of the wife, bringing up of children) will have to be raised no later than during the necessary marriage preparation talk.

6. The marriage to a non-Christian partner who believes in God can take place in a “Liturgy of the Word”. The prayers, readings and hymns can be chosen to reflect the particular situation to enable to Muslim partner to understand then and to participate in them within what is possible from within his own faith.

7. If a dispensation from the canonical marriage ceremony has been granted and if therefore the marriage does not take place according to Catholic norms, the marriage between a Catholic and non-Muslim partner can also be concluded in another form of public marriage, for example in a registry office. If, following a dispensation from the canonical marriage ceremony, the couple has opted for this form of marriage ceremony it has to be borne in mind that the Catholic Church law excludes any other form of marriage ceremony, including a public marriage according to Islamic tradition.

Notes on the conclusion of a marriage contract

1. Despite the insolubility of marriage according to Catholic understanding and the intention of the female partner to conclude her multi-faith marriage as insoluble, it can be sensible for her to consider a marriage contract. This obtains especially with view to the Islamic position on marriage and the softening of possible consequences of a divorce.

2. The main item of an Islamic marriage contract is traditionally the kind and amount of the dowry or the property the husband has to give his wife on the morning after the wedding night. Christian European women, who are not familiar with this custom, often feel like rejecting such a contractually agreed present, often because of the spontaneous emotional belief that the only thing that truly matters is the love between the marriage partners. They believe it is superfluous and even reject it with the argument that they cannot be bought. In reality, the dowry represents a necessary insurance against the financial consequences of a divorce, especially in view to the relative ease with which Islamic law allows for a woman to be divorced even against her own wishes, and the subsequent tight time-limited period of maintenance payments.

3. In this context we advise in favor of setting the dowry at a very high level, a custom often practiced in Islamic countries, and at the same time to agree that the larger part will only be paid out in case the husband pronounces a divorce. In the interest of the wife, this is an effective means of reducing the possibility that the husband light-heartedly initiates a divorce. To protect the Christian wife from a later polygamous union, it can also be agreed that the husband desists from exerting this right which is his according to Shari’a law.

4. We also strongly recommend the inclusion of further points into the marriage contract: agreement on the wife’s right to attend worship, to receive pastoral care, to participate in parish events and to live a personal life within her family that corresponds to her religion. Depending on the country of origin and social sphere of her husband, it can also be appropriate to contractually lay down his general consent to possible paid employment for his wife, that she may travel to her home country and to contact with her relatives.

5. An important point in every marriage contract with a Muslim man who comes from an Islamic country other than Turkey, is the regulation of custody of children in the case of a divorce, which is acceptable to the Christian mother.

6. We stress in particular that the conclusion of a marriage contract which is valid according to the criteria of Islamic law is an additional safety device for Christian women who marry Muslim men from Islamic countries other than Turkey, is strongly recommended even if the couple marries at a German registry office after a dispensation from the canonical marriage ceremony, or if the Muslim partner accepts a Catholic wedding and both partners are not currently considering to move their marital home to the husbands country of origin. It is possible that later unexpected circumstances arise which make it seem advisable for the husband or both partners, to move to his country of origin.

Furthermore, it does happen not too rarely that following the divorce of a Muslim-Christian marriage in Germany the husband kidnaps the children with the support of his relatives and against his wife’s wishes, and hides them in his country of origin, claiming that their Islamic upbringing cannot be ensured in any other way. In such cases the wife has virtually no chance of success to be granted custody from the courts in the country of the husbands origin, if she cannot show a valid Islamic marriage contract which lays down that the husband has agreed to the custody regulations of the German courts, should the case arise.

7. According to Islamic law a Christian wife cannot inherit from her Muslim husband after his death. She should therefore at least try to include a clause in her marriage contract stipulating that this law does not apply. Alternatively, it is also possible to soften the situation through a clause in the husbands will in favor of his wife. This could possibly also be agreed upon in advance in the marriage contract.

8. In any case, one point has to be taken into account: even if the Christian wife has a marriage contract and if this contract strengthens her position, there is still no guarantee that the courts in her husband’s country of origin support her in a legal case she begins, either regarding issues of custody or inheritance. Especially in custody disputes the public courts of law would have to rule against the pressure of public opinion, which in most Muslim countries supports the view that fort he sake of their Islamic upbringing the children of a Muslim should remain with their Muslim father or his relatives, and not their Christian mother. A Christian woman wishing to marry a Muslim man from one of those countries should be aware of this remaining risk from the outset.


Contact us

J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

Kolleg Sankt Georgen
Offenbacher Landstr. 224
D-60599 Frankfurt
Mail: fragen[ät]

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