A Liberal Approach
In 1980 Jamal Khwaja, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University in India, wrote an article titled “Inter-Religious Marriage And Islam” which was reprinted in IslamiCity on November 16, 2018. Professor Khwaja advocates a very liberal position on Inter-Religious Marriage:
"The prohibition against inter-religious marriage is dinned into our ears from childhood with the result that the idea sounds to most of us as almost unthinkable. When such marriages do take place, they are looked upon as unfortunate social accidents and generate a lot of tension or resentment within the concerned families and also society in general. Such marriages are not tolerated but merely endured by the family. One frequently hears of parents disowning their son or daughter. Both Hindus and Muslims reject the idea of inter-marriage on grounds, which are religious as well as social, psychological or cultural."
He goes on to add, "Parents and society in general should respect the authentic choice of every adult, even if it be against any particular religious tradition or against religion as such. To the extent that parents encourage the child or the youth to attain to a state of spiritual autonomy and inner honesty they guide the child into the portals of true religion and into the arms of Divinity. No religious creed can, possibly be proved in the logical or scientific sense. It is, therefore, essential to accept and tolerate the diversity of faiths not as a thorn in the rosebush, but as different flowers in the garden of the human family. Even the total rejection of religion, provided moral values are not abandoned, should be fully tolerated by parents and by society.”
The Other Point of View
As a Rabbi I respectfully disagree with Professor Khwaja. As a Professor of Philosophy, he thinks of religion as an individual’s cerebral, intellectual ideology. As a Rabbi, I think of religion as the personal identity that one feels as a member of a traditional religious community. The religious community of course has a theology which connects it with the revelation of its sacred scriptures; and the traditional teachings of its most important commentators.
If a religious community has survived for many centuries; it also contains sub-groups within it that have different views on some issues: like Orthodox, Conservative and Reform within Judaism or Sunni, Shia and Sufi among Muslims. Theologians, sectarians, and radical politicians often call the divergent individuals or groups heretics and sectarians; but most of the normal believers in the religion do not think of these groups in this way.
For example, I am a Reform Rabbi who believes that Muhammad was an authentic Prophet for non-Jews; and a forerunner Prophet of Reform Judaism for Jews. I first studied Islam when I was a student at UCLA over 58 years ago. Then again I learned about it while I was in Rabbinical school. Over the years I continued to read the Qur'an and other Islamic books. I read these Islamic books as the Prophet taught his followers in a Hadith “not as a believer, and not as a disbeliever”. What does that mean?
The Qur'an, of course, is sacred scripture for Muslims. A disciple of Muhammad named Abu Huraira related, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Apostle said (to the Muslims), "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’” (Bukhari book #92, Hadith #460)
Following Muhammad’s teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur'an. If I believed in the Qur'an I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur'an because I do believe that Muhammad was a prophet; and I respect the Qur'an as a kindred revelation, first revealed to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the people, the language, and the theology are closer to my own people, language, and theology than that of any other on earth.
Thus, I feel that I am a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. (Reform Jews are now the largest of the Jewish denominations in the U.S. In the U.K..Reform Judaism is called Liberal Judaism, and Progressive Judaism in Europe.) As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham, the first Jew to become a muslim, and I submit to be bound by the commandments and covenant God made with the People of Israel at Mount Sinai.
My views are unusual in the Reform Jewish community but not considered heretical by other Reform Rabbis. Most Orthodox Rabbis would consider all Reform Rabbis as heretics yet we all identify ourselves as belonging to Banu Israel— the Jewish People.
Opposing Inter-Religious Marriage
My sacred scriptures also oppose Inter-Religious Marriage: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your children away from following Me to serve other gods.” (Bible, Deuteronomy 7:3-4)
The Qur’an permits the marriage of Muslim men to Christian and Jewish women: (“Today (all) good things are made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers (Muslims) and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (Jews and Christians) when you give them their marriage portions and live with them in honor, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines.” (Qur’an 5:5)
There were no exceptions from the prohibition against inter-faith marriage in the Hebrew Bible because there were no other ongoing monotheistic communities in existence during those many centuries. Later the Rabbis did not consider Trinitarian Christians using statues in worship, to be monotheistic. Today, most Protestant Churches no longer use statues and pictures of Jesus in worship, although most still remain Trinitarian in belief.
However, Muslims and Jews consider each other’s religion, Islam and Judaism, to be a totally monotheistic religion. So why do Jews and Muslims still face family opposition to marriage with non-trinitarian Christians?
Divorce in Mixed Religion Marriages
One issue is the higher chances of divorce in mixed religion marriages. Most Americans are concerned that the divorce rate has stabilized at a little under 40%. Some are resigned to high divorce rates as a side effect of individual freedom that we can’t do anything about. Yet study after study shows that people with no religious identity have divorce rates over 50% while people who are very religious have divorce rates that are 40-50% below the 40% average. Although “Hollywood” doesn’t like the idea that religion is as important as love in maintaining marital happiness, the evidence is clear for those who are willing to look at it.
First, we need to admit that love is a powerful but not very stable emotion. Most marriages that break up do so within seven years of the wedding. Couples who are living together break up faster, and in even higher proportion than married couples. Many of the couples I married over the last 50 years have lived with, and broken up with, two or three people before they enter into their first marriage. Although the entertainment industry fervently advocates the idea that love is the answer to every problem, singles in the trenches are increasingly skeptical.
Second, religiously mixed couples face extra high divorce rates. This has been well known to sociologists and marriage counselors for 6-7 decades. However, new research found that for all religious groups unifying the family religiously reduces the extra-high divorce rate substantially. Alas, most mixed couples do not try, or do not succeed, in unifying their family religiously, and thus do not reduce their extra-high probability of divorce. Jews and Muslims are the least likely to convert to a spouse's religion (less than 4% do) and only 10-12% of non-Jewish spouses become Jewish. Catholics and Protestants are more likely to convert or to influence their partners to convert. But, in recent decades the percentage of Catholic-Protestant couples that unify their religious identity has declined substantially.
Third, how to raise their children is the most important decision facing a Jew or a Muslim planing to marry a Christian. Some couples frankly admit that they do not intend to give their children any religious education or spiritual direction at all. Most people do not find this solution to be acceptable since usually one or both of the parents believe that it is important for children to believe in God and have a clear religious identity.
Exposing the children to both religions sounds better to most people. It sounds more liberal, evenhanded and even spiritually richer, but it risks really confusing the children. Catholics and Protestants both believe in the Divinity of Jesus. Jews and Muslims do not. Marriages between Christians and Jews or Muslims are much more problematic than marriages between different denominations of Christians. Almost all Christian denominations teach that Jesus is the Son of God. Judaism and Islam deny Divinity to Jesus. Thus the children will be taught two contradictory beliefs. This is a good way to create less belief rather than more.
In addition, it is hard enough to practice one religion religiously. To do two, is extremely difficult. Even when both partners are Christian, but of different denominations, there is a falling off: although 81% of those in mixed Christian marriages say they desire religious training for their children, only 62% of those who currently have children are providing religious training for them (vs.75% in same-faith marriages). When a Jew, or a Muslim, marry a Christian, the problems are much greater. Will the family go to a mosque, or a synagogue, or a church?
Although some couples do try hard to give their children a good Islamic or Jewish education and also a good Christian education and a true experience of both religions, very few actually go through with it. After a few years almost all Jewish-Christian couples sink to the lowest common denominator; celebrating Hanukkah plus Christmas, and visiting the grandparents for Easter and Passover.
To be honest, a few superficial practices engaged in a couple of times a year will hardly be spiritually enriching for anyone. In effect, these couples are not doing both: they are really doing neither. They usually don't like to admit this, because it sounds like they are depriving their children of any real solid religious identity. For parents to admit they do nothing is to admit that belief in God and a positive religious identity for their children is unimportant to them.
Nevertheless, the both/neither option is the most popular one in Jewish/Christian marriages. It should not be surprising therefore that the most popular religious category for the children of Jewish/Christian marriages is “none".
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over two dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.