Are the Islamic Rulings Regarding Marriage Racist?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Assalam alaykum

In Fiqh books, upon discussion of marriage, there is a section regarding compatibility. This includes compatibility in race, lineage, religion and profession. It mentions how it is looked down upon and the marriage can be invalid and/or made annulled by a judge if a man marries a woman of “higher” status.

How do I understand this in the context of the final sermon of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) where he said No black is greater than a white and no Arab is greater than a non-Arab except by Taqwa?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

The issue of marital compatibility (kafa’a) is one which returns to local custom and other contextual considerations. It is not an absolute rule.

As for superiority, it never returns to considerations of wealth, skin-colour, ethnicity or otherwise, and that is why there is no contradiction between the final sermon and the conditions of compatibility. Allah Most High said, “In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him” [49:13]. And the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), “Indeed, Allah does not look at your forms and wealth, but rather your hearts and works.” [Muslim]

Marriage is a coming together of families, not just two individuals, and it was considered culturally dishonourable and undignified [though valid] to marry your daughter to someone of a “lesser” status. A noblewoman of Qurayshi lineage, from a family who deem this to be a lofty matter, would thus be unsuitable for a British Indian, for instance. This is not because the Sacred Law (shari‘a) deems it wrong, but because the family would be offended by it.

The Sacred Law takes these matters into consideration because it is (1) important in some societies, and (2) the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would also point to such practical considerations in suggesting suitable spouses.

Hence, in a society where such considerations are important, and a marriage took place without parental permission [which is wrong for other reasons], the father or guardian could raise the case to the judge, and then a judgement would be made on the marriage. But there are some secondary issues here, too, which the judge would need to keep in mind.

Interestingly, the religious scholar is deemed compatible to any woman, regardless of her background, lineage or status, because his religiosity trumps all else, signifying the station of sacred learning in the wider context.

I hope that answers your question.

[Mawsili, al-Ikhtiyar li Ta‘lil al-Mukhtar (2.116); Ibn Qutlubugha, al-Kafa’a fi al-Nikah (30/35); Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar (2.324); Qadri Pasha, al-Ahkam al-Shar‘iyya fi al-Ahwal al-Shakhsiyya (14)]

Please also see: Do I Have to Marry Someone Within My Caste to Please My Family? and: Would it Be Wrong To Avoid Interracial Marriages For Cultural Considerations? and: Is Islam Racist by Linking Light Skin to Beauty?

And Allah Most High alone knows best.

[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Tabraze Azam holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Leicester, where he also served as the President of the Islamic Society. He memorised the entire Qur’an in his hometown of Ipswich at the tender age of sixteen, and has since studied the Islamic Sciences in traditional settings in the UK, Jordan and Turkey. He is currently pursuing advanced studies in Jordan, where he is presently based with his family.