The truth about Muslim-Christian marriages

James M. Arlandson

A Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, but a Christian man is not permitted to marry a Muslim woman.

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.

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? Maybe seventh-century Arab culture will answer this question. Perhaps the Quran itself does not honor women, married or not.

What does the New Testament say on the matter?

The Quran

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

The Quran in Sura 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] . . . . (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, Islam is patriarchal, so a Muslim man must have final control in the relationship. For example, Sura 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.

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 this article and this one. So this means that in seventh-century Arab culture a Muslim man may dominate his wife or wives, but not a Christian man who would dominate his Muslim wife.

Islam allegedly is 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 marrying Muslim men. 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.

Further, to be blunt, but also factual, Islam generally is a cruel and harsh slave-master. This article shows that Muslim men are permitted to have sex with their slave-girls. This article gives the top ten reasons why Islam is not the religion of peace. And this article offers the top ten reasons why Islamic law is bloody and excessive—six hundred years after Jesus showed us a better way. Finally, this article gives the top ten rules in the Quran that oppress and insult women. Islam, as the whole world knows by many, many reports, does not honor women.

Therefore, Christians must not trade in the eternal Son of God who sets people free today and offers the love of God, for a human and mortal messenger Muhammad (Suras 3:144; 39:30; 41:4), who is too often cruel and harsh and misogynistic. Islam does not honor women.

If a Christian woman marries a Muslim, but 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.

What kind of marriage would this be? Where is the spiritual connection and agreement between husband and wife and God?

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, through the power of the Holy Spirit 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, notably in Muhammad’s denial of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, an essential, non-negotiable doctrine in Christianity. Islam wrongly demotes Jesus to a mere prophet. The New Testament everywhere affirms the Sonship of Christ.

On a heart-felt level, the Muslim does not receive the Holy Spirit because he does not receive Christ as Savior and Lord. In fact, Islamic theology erroneously reduces the Holy Spirit to the angel Gabriel. This means that a marriage between a Muslim and a Christian would be unequal. And this is risky for the Christian, since she would be most vulnerable to a particularly strong patriarchy that may rear its ugly head later on in the marriage.

Remember, the Quran gives permission to husbands to hit their wives if the husbands merely fear high handedness or rebellion in their wives (Sura 4:34).

Besides this practical reason, if a Christian understands the New Testament, then he or she must not marry a Muslim, for spiritual and theological reasons.

A Christian couple must keep spiritual unity. They must raise their children in spiritual harmony, as followers of Christ.


My criticism is not leveled against Muslims but against Islam as a religious system and against its early violent history, when Muhammad himself was founding the original community, and against its later violent history.

The truth about these things must get out.

Thus, this article has nothing to say about race. Both Christianity and Islam allow the marriage of different races. For example, a white Christian can marry a black Christian. No problem. In Christianity, the only requirement is that each one must be a believer and follower of Christ and receive the Holy Spirit.

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

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 Sura 4:34, which permits men to hit their wives. The children would be raised Muslims, if the Muslim man—the head of household—follows Islam. Thus, the family would not be harmonious.

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.

In Christ, there is family harmony. In the religion of Islam, there are family differences and potential strife in religiously mixed marriages.

Supplemental Material

See the Conclusion to a long article for more on the Quranic confusion on the identity of Jesus.

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.

Copyright by James Malcolm Arlandson.

Articles by James Arlandson
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